In the twentieth century, one of my favorite writers, Dorothy Sayers, wrote a now-famous little treatise titled, “Are Women Human?” Today I’d like to ask a more twenty-first century question:
Is it masculine for a woman to be like Jesus?
When recently my husband attended a men’s event at church, he came home with an adult-conversion-lament (Jim was 37 when he came to Christ) about the emphasis in men’s ministries on “manhood.” Having excelled at worldly manhood back in his heathen days, Jim Sumner knows firsthand how hollow “manhood” is. It is emptiness.
Jim won’t tell you this, but he was Prom King in high school and Greek King in college and professionally pursued in his twenties to be a model on account of his Hollywood good looks. Jim is muscle-bound and hirsute (i.e. hairy from head to toe) but has the clean-shaven look of an athletic Marlboro Man. Throngs of women have swooned over him and begged for his autograph. He is a super cool Michael Jackson dancer with God-given, natural stage presence. He has won first place in dance contests, yet by nature, he’s reserved, an unassuming Clark Kent, who, at once, is both a ladies man and a man’s man.
To give you some idea of how people talk to Jim, our African friend in Malawi named Yobe (pronounced Yoe Bay’) freely said to Jim without a trace of jealousy, “Jim, you are so handsome. Your jawline is so manly.”
It’s always nice to hear a genuine compliment, but Jim has had his fill of worldly manhood. Being manly did not connect him to the Father.
By this, I hope you see that the notable lack of emphasis typically placed on Jesus Christ in Christian men’s groups predictably send Jim into a swirl of masculine grief. When Jim came home and told me about the men’s event, the first thing that he said was that the men talked again about manhood instead of focusing on what it means–for men and women alike–to follow Christ.
This topic, of course, piqued my interest because (as some of you know) I have so far written two books on the intensely relevant subject of men and women in the church.
From Jim’s report of the men’s event, it turned out that the event did include a portion of time for Jesus. Indeed, the pastor said the purpose for talking mostly about manhood (e.g., sports, hunting/fishing, and anything rough and tumble) was to steer the conversation towards Jesus.
Had this event been an evangelistic effort of outreach to non-Christian men in society, it might have made more sense as to why the main subject was manhood. But since the event was meant for believers, Jim left it feeling dissatisfied and discouraged. Not that anyone at the church lacked good intentions. What they lacked is good theology. Therefore, when the men’s group finally got to the part about Jesus, everything they said about how men as men should imitate our Lord applied just as well to women
Below are 7 church teachings that men hear about being men (minus what I say afterwards in parentheses):
- Men should be strong in the Lord. (So should women. Think Mary, Jesus’ mother.)
- Men should be courageous. (Women as well. Example: Queen Esther.)
- Men are warriors. (Women are too. Consider Deborah and Jael.)
- Men need to listen to God. (Same with women. That’s why Mary sat at Jesus’ feet.)
- Men should be holy. (So should women. Leviticus has laws for sanctifying women.)
- Men should be truthful. (Women too. God struck Sapphira dead when she lied.)
- Men should study God’s Word. (Women should too. Remember Priscilla.)
Almost needless to say, all seven of these standards are good teachings that speak to men about being good men. But none of them have a thing to do with manhood that excludes womanhood.
Why, then, is it that men’s ministries, generally speaking, do not openly inform men that Christian men and women are doing the same thing when it comes to the matter of both of them learning to be like Christ?
I think Jim’s prophetic lament is that “manhood” tends to separate men and women and also subtly (or not so subtly) cause men to think too highly of their maleness.
What do you think?
- Does men’s maleness make men more like Jesus than any woman ever could be?
- Do Christian women become more male when they attempt to be like Jesus?
- If so, then does that mean it is masculine for a woman to be like Jesus?
In my book, Men and Women in the Church, I dive down into the depths of questions like these because that is where confusion lies, not only in the culture, but also in the church.
I encourage you to invite another person in the faith to read this blog and engage in thoughtful conversation with you, so that together you and a friend (or small group) can mutually be sharpened and therefore better prepared to help others (including Christians) truly hear the gospel and not be off-put with Almighty God on account of sexuality or sex roles or sex or gender or gender confusion or gender jealousy.
Stay tuned for Part 2.