A long Reformation Day post.
Godmen is, according to the organizers, a series of testosterone-fueled Christian men’s gatherings across the country. Their purpose: to reassert masculinity within a church structure that they (the organizers) say has been weakened by feminization.
Uh huh. Or, in other words, Godmen is about giving men who feel overwhelmed and challenged by a Gospel message of egalitarian justice a chance to worship God without having to let go of the very things that Jesus asks them to surrender.
According to the article, a "Godmen band" sings a song called "Grow a Pair":
“We’ve been beaten down/ Feminized by the culture crowd/ No more nice guy, timid and ashamed/ We’ve had enough, cowboy up/ In the power of Jesus name/ Welcome to the battle/ A million men have got your back/ Jump up in the saddle/ Grab a sword, don’t be scared/ Be a man, grow a pair!”
I consider myself a charitable fellow, but it's impossible for me as a man, as a feminist, and as a Christian to read that without a very loud derisive snort. How do you reconcile "No more nice guy, timid and ashamed" with Matthew 5? It is the fallen culture that celebrates aggression; it is Jesus who celebrates meekness. The Godmen have managed to get it all exactly backwards. Simply invoking the "power of Jesus' name" doesn't magically transform an essentially secular message into a Christian one.
The Godmen have much in common with at least some of the secular Men's Rights Advocates I encounter in the blogosphere. For one thing, both Godmen and MRAs engage in the nifty trick of framing themselves as "oppressed victims". Since at least the 1970s, both MRAs and white conservative Christians -- traditionally the greatest agents of injustice -- have tried to steal the mantle of "victimhood" from the genuinely oppressed. In this perverse reframing, gays and lesbians who want marriage equality become the powerful forces of evil, imposing their will on a simple, God-fearing, and ultimately powerless majority.
If there's one thing I loathe above all else it's the appropriation of the language of the oppressed by the oppressors themselves; all the Godmen are adding to this tired mix is the apparent imprimatur of our Savior Himself. According to the Godmen, Jesus didn't come to build a "peaceable Kingdom". He came, it seems, to restore traditional gender roles and act as a Savior to that most noxious of cultural archetypes, the "hen-pecked husband" in danger of drowning in feminist rhetoric.
Scripture calls us to war. But it is not a war to be fought by men only, and it is a war to be fought with prayers, not swords. And war is, in the end, only a metaphor for the intense struggle we all fight on behalf of peace. Paul, in Ephesians 6:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Paul's audience would have known better than any modern one what a shield and a helmet looked and felt like. And the shields and helmets and swords Paul speaks of are entirely spiritual, to be used in congruence with a gospel of peace. Paul and Jesus take classic symbols of masculine aggression and artfully turn them into tools for building a peaceful, just world. For Paul and Christ, means and ends are radically, divinely congruent: peace is built peacefully with the shield of faith and a sword of the Spirit. To mistake the physical sword for the spiritual one is an old and tragic mistake, one that Christians have been making since, oh, the early fourth century.
For the Godmen, pornography and masturbation are apparently the "worst" sins in which a man can engage. (In the Newsweek article, they are mentioned several times as a particular focus.) This is in keeping with much right-wing Christian rhetoric about the necessity of "purity." At first glance, but only at first, the Godmen's hostility to porn seems to match that of certain wings of the feminist movement. But the similarity is, I have come to realize, only superficial.
I've never been to a "Godmen" service. But I've been to a few Promisekeepers events, and I've also got a strong grounding in secular feminism. Frankly, I don't know many other men who have spent a considerable amount of time in both evangelical and feminist circles, and who feel genuinely at home in both. (What was it old Walt Whitman said about contradictions?) I've heard lots of talk about pornography in both camps. And while the hostility to porn is often nearly identical in intensity, what undergirds that dislike of commercial sex is fundamentally different.
While the feminist anti-porn movement is concerned with the impact porn has on both women and men, groups like the Godmen only pay lip service to concepts like "exploitation" and "dehumanization." What conservative Christian men's groups find so troubling is that an addiction to porn and masturbation leaves men feeling weak, powerless, and vulnerable. In particular, for the vast majority who are heterosexual, it is the intensity of desire for women that leaves many men feeling dependent upon their girlfriends and wives (as well as the images on their screen.) Thus a man who can resist pornography and sexual "sin" is a man who can stand up to women and resist their challenge to transform himself. Feminists don't like porn because porn sends a fundamentally destructive message about who women are. Godmen don't like porn because it is a visceral, shameful reminder of male weakness, one that stands at odds with their self-flattering vision of strong, bold, Christian warriors. One group's opposition to porn is grounded in justice and a desire to see our common humanity acknowledged; the other's in the rhetoric of masculine autonomy and independence.
I am a Christian, washed clean in Christ. I believe myself to be a new creation, one who still struggles mightily to follow my Master. I am a feminist, committed to the notion that we are called to see men and women as radical equals. I am a man who understands that his strength comes not from his testicles or his Y chromosome or his bravado, but from the Spirit that is given equally to all of us, male and female.
The Godmen band use the image of the saddle and "cowboying up." But the New Testament image of the saddle is of Saul of Tarsus, proud and cruel, thrown from his saddle and left sprawling in the dust of the Damascus road. Saul became Paul -- and became a true Christian -- not when he climbed on his horse but when he fell from it. And men become followers of the Savior when they too are willing to be left sprawling in the dust, blinded and overwhelmed, surrendering all they have to Him.