There’s been a lot of debate and discussion on the role of women on the Twitter/blogosphere recently, most of it healthy. All the time as I have been reading – and there have been excellent posts in the last week by both Vicky Beeching and Anna Blanch on this subject, amongst others, and indeed I myself posted on the Biblical role of women earlier in the week.
But to me there was something missing.
I felt a man’s perspective on gender issues was just not there. You see, I think we should all absolutely be championing women in leadership, and that the Bible is pro-women, and it’s absolutely right that women find their voice. I made that clear in my post earlier this week, with some theological background.
I just know, from my own experience as a man, that one danger of going to far with feminism can be that men no longer know what it is to be a man. They grow up without a clear definition of masculinity. We are told to ‘get in touch with our feminine side’, and then criticised for not being ‘man’ enough, all the time trying to be men and be positive about masculinity, without being anti-women or sexist in any way.
I think this is a serious problem, especially in church where people have different perceptions of the role of both men and women. I’m an egalitarian, I believe the question isn’t gender when it comes to leadership and teaching, it’s about character, gifting and calling. If you have those, then your gender, although part of who you are, is not relevant.
Your gender should never preclude you from any role.
God created men and women equal – completely. Not the same – equal. That’s a slightly different concept. Men and women simply aren’t the same, and I think that’s pretty clear. But they are equal. For example, obviously there are some things men can’t do physically – the most obvious is getting pregnant and having children (although our culture is trying to change even that!), but in terms of roles in church, marriage and society there’s not much a man can do that woman shouldn’t be able to do provided they have the calling, gifting and character, the same requirements demanded of us men – so they are equal, not the same.
People have banded about terms like feminism, and I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with them. To be honest I’m less interested in labels – they are far to restrictive and can be liable to misinterpretation. If what I believe fits with one label or another, I’m not going to give it that label, though others are welcome to.
I believe myself and am part of a church which advocates equality in the role of women – not positive discrimination, because positive discrimination is still discrimination, and in my view can be just as damaging to whoever is on the other side of the argument, which isn’t Christ-like at all.
If that makes me a Christian feminist, in the best, most Christ-like interpretation of the word, so be it. If not, I won’t lose sleep over it. But I am pro-women, and believe Jesus is too, and am in favour of equality for women in all spheres of life. Whatever you want to call that, that’s your decision.
In the end, I felt this was too difficult a topic to do anything other than merely tell my story.
There’s so much potential to offend people without ever intending to, it’s such a hot topic that I felt the most honest way to do this was simply to tell my own story, to share my experiences on this subject, and see where that takes us.
If you are woman reading this, and in some way I do offend you, I apologise. This was not my intention writing this. In fact, I’m on your side believe it or not.
So what’s my story? Well I’ll be honest, growing up in the church I have had little or no definition of what a man is or should be. Pretty much none. There was plenty of girl-power, plenty of empowering women and talks on how to be a woman of God – absolutely correctly – but for me there was nothing on masculinity or what it means to be a man of God.
I’ll be totally honest too, the amount of girl-power around often felt intimidating and suffocating – as a man I got told on one hand to be in touch with my feminine side, then going out on dates with Christian women and meeting female friends all I heard was that there weren’t enough ‘real men’ out there, that men were too soft and too feminine.
I just sat and thought, well what am I meant to do?
On one hand I apparently need to be more feminine and in touch with that side of me, but on the other hand you are wondering why I’m not more ‘masculine’?
I mean, what do people expect? How do I get this balance right without offending someone, without looking either a total wimp or a complete misogynist?
It was quite frustrating, especially for a man who was desperate to find his true masculine side and was also trying to champion the role of women, because every time I tried to be more masculine, take more responsibility, I felt like I was upsetting the women out there. There was an inner conflict going on in me, as I tried to be more the kind of man God made me to be, but at the same time was desperate not to offend the women I knew or appear sexist.
That’s before we even get to Mr Mark Driscoll. A man who has caused great hurt to a great many women in his attitude to their role. A man who, I confess, makes me pretty angry at times with his attitude and theology. Now God is clearly using Mark in a positive way, bringing people to faith and into a church environment, changing lives for the better. I have no doubt God is using Mark Driscoll and he is doing some good in terms of helping men find there true identity.
But I’ll be honest. Whatever his intent, the impression I got from Driscoll was unless you’re a cage-fighting, can win-in-a-fight, mega-successful professional with a wife and a few kids, leading in a church environment (of course your wife won’t be, as if you follow Driscoll you’re a complimenatrian), then you’re not a man, in fact you might not even be saved or forgiven by God.
If you’re single in your mid-30’s, like me, you’re bordering on not being a real man. A real man gets married younger. If you have issues – doubts, fears and insecurities, which to be frank we all have in one way or another, and I think are healthy in many ways, you’re not a man.
Driscoll’s heart was right in one sense – even if his theology is, in my opinion, completely wrong about the role of women especially – he wanted to help men reclaim their masculinity.
But as tends to be our human nature, he went way too far. I felt like a complete failure, a total loser, a wimp, merely because I didn’t fit with his identikit for a man. I never agreed with his theology on the role of women but due to a lack of resources on masculinity (and because I like to listen to those I disagree with) I did listen to his material on how to be a man – with a big pinch of egalitarian salt.
Frankly, although he’s done some good, there’s a lot of damage that’s been done with that type of theology – to both women and men – and I know that I have experienced that in myself.
The longer I devote to I reflecting on this whole subject, on both my last blog post & this as well as the other posts and twitter debates that have arisen in the last few weeks, the more clear it becomes to me.
It is vital that our culture – and the church – reclaim both Godly masculinity and femininity, and that we need more education culturally and especially in our churches for both genders on these subjects.
Equality means just that.
It doesn’t mean positive discrimination, because in the long run that ends up having just a negative impact as ‘negative’ discrimination. Equality means equality. It means we learn about masculinity and femininity and celebrate the differences and the similarities between them.
I am aware some have written on this – and that some women don’t want or need to be told how to be a woman (and a man should never be teaching women on how to be women). But in my experience there are a lot of younger Christian women especially who are hungry and desperate to learn more about how to be a woman in the way God made them – and in relation to Biblical masculinity I think ultimately I think we all need to get a better understanding what that really is and means.
I’m still discovering what it means to be Godly man in a healthy way, a way that celebrates my masculinity but at the same time is positive and affirming in it’s view of women, rather than damaging and restrictive. Maybe I’ll be discovering a bit more about masculinity every day for the rest of my life. But it’s absolutely crucial to have good teaching on these subjects.
Men need to be taught, in my view that part of being a man is championing women, being an advocate for the rights, freedoms and opportunities of women, for women finding their true voice and role in the world, the role God ordained for them, whatever that is.
By the same token, more women need to be taught about masculinity, and to be able to do the same for men, and allowing us men to be men in a healthy way, a way which celebrates our differences rather than uses them to divide us.
Men and women are different, and those differences should be celebrated and rejoiced in – but at the same time, both male and female are capable of playing many of the same roles – such as leadership, teaching and other roles which have previously been held mainly by the men.
I have said many times in my writing that following the way of Jesus is like walking a tightrope – and the metaphor certainly stands true when it comes to masculinity and femininity.
On one hand we need more men celebrating and understanding their masculinity without going off into a sexist, traditional and complimenatrian view. That view is unhealthy and doesn’t fully understand scriptural ideas of the role of women, and can end up doing tremendous damage.
On the other hand, the women should be celebrating their femininity and empowerment as women, finding their voice rightly, without making men feel guilty for being men and allowing men to be men in a healthy way.
That’s the masculine/feminine balance.
God created this world with men and women – we are meant to be working together, in relationship – not just within the context of marriage or ‘a relationship’, but as friends, brothers and sisters together, working together to make God’s kingdom a reality here, right now.
We are His body, His church, and there are masculine and feminine dimensions to this which should be acknowledged and celebrated, and it’s our job to play our part in doing that.
Now, time for you to join the discussion:
How much do you know about true masculinity and femininity?
Do you agree with the egalitarian view of the role of women, or are you more traditional or complimenatrian? Why?
If you’re a man, were you ever given a definition of what it meant to be a man that was unhealthy? Do you know what it really means to be a man?
How can we – as women and men – have a more positive view of masculinity whilst at the same time affirming equality, and being an advocate for the freedoms, rights and voice of women?
Related blog posts: God’s divine destiny: A few reflections on the role of women