Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Complementarian Teachings Hurt Men Too
A friend of mine shared a blog post written by his wife, Brianna, a few days ago. In the post, she was praising him for being such a wonderful, supportive husband and father. She talked about how he supports her in her parenting and is in tune with their children's needs. It was a beautiful post, the kind that makes women think "I want a man like that." The kind that makes men think "I want my wife to appreciate me that way." Their relationship is beautiful and it shows in the way they speak about each other and their children. She ended with this sweet paragraph: "Ben lets me parent by instinct everyday…and as he supports my gut feelings, he also goes by his. It’s a beautiful pattern- a beautiful way to parent together. I love being so in sync with each other on our parenting journey! I’m so thankful to have the rare gift of a husband who’s as passionate about natural parenting as I am…a husband who’s gung-ho for meeting our kids needs and parenting naturally, rather than putting me in a “choose me or them” position. Together, we can seek what works best for everyone, instead of the pressure being put on me to choose between instinct and marriage, for instance. I’m pretty confident I’ll never have to say, “Well, Ben really wanted (such and such), so we’re working on that. It’s hard, but it’s what he wanted, so….I guess it’ll all work out.” "
You'd think people would be encouraged by this post. I certainly was. Yet the very first comment left was by a guy who felt the need to condemn this couple. He accused them of their roles being reversed, that Ben was being the "helpmeet" to his wife and his wife was leading by emotions. He told them their kids would suffer for not doing things God's Way (TM). He pretty much said that because their marriage doesn't fit his beliefs of The Godly Marriage (TM) that they were all doomed. And he got this from a blog post where a wife was praising her husband for being so awesome.
Something I've been wanting to write about for a long time is how strict gender roles, as taught by complementarianism and the church, are harmful to men too. We focus a lot on the women in these teachings and the way they are suppressed and abused, but I think the men get the short end of the stick here too. Men who are gentle and kind and have no desire to order their wives and children around like army troops are told they aren't good enough, manly enough, and are "whipped" by their wives. The men are forced into a harmful mold that they weren't created for and don't fit.
And lest you think this is exclusive to extreme patriarchal types, think again. Mark Driscoll does it. John Piper does it. Many "mainstream" christian teachers do it. The movie Courageous did it. They define Real Men according to their interpretation of the Bible, which is read through their own paradigm and pre-conceived ideas, declaring that any man that doesn't fit their definition isn't a true, godly man. Then they predict all manner of doom on these men's souls, their marriages, and their children. Any man that isn't the "strong, commanding leader" is obviously not a true man. Or he's abdicated his position to his wife and "the feminist agenda".
The madness has to stop.
Somewhere along the line, we lost what it means to be people, children of God, in favor of "real men" and "feminine women". Instead of worrying about whether we were loving one another, being kind to each other, showering grace on everyone, we started worrying about whether we were "feminine" enough or "masculine" enough. Whether we were filling our prescribed roles or not. We started defining men and women according to strict views that someone decided came from the Bible and were caught up and perpetuated by the Church. We redefined "godly" and "good" as "gender appropriate". And if you didn't fit those molds, you just weren't godly enough. We separated the fruits of the Spirit and one-another principles in the Bible, given to all people, and branded some "feminine" and some "masculine". So that when men display too much tender-heartedness, they are branded effeminate and when women follow the command to rebuke a brother in sin they are branded as defiling their feminine role. Women who are strong and courageous, and men who are meek and kind have no place in this paradigm. Yet strength, courage, meekness, and kindness are supposed to be a part of the character of all who follow Christ; men AND women. God never placed gender-prescribed boundaries on tender-heartedness. Man did that. And the church continues to perpetuate and "teach as doctrine the commandments of men". How many men trade gentleness for severity because gentleness is a "feminine trait", forgetting that it's also a fruit of the Spirit? How many men are ignoring who God made them and forcing themselves into a mold, denying the Spirit's transformation in their lives and hurting themselves and their families because of it?
And the judgment that flies around from men to other men in the church is outrageous! Men are berated from the pulpit for not being manly enough. Instead of encouraging a man to partner with his wife to raise their kids, other men castigate him for not being a "strong leader" and for letting his wife make too many decisions. His very identity as a man is attacked for displaying traits that Jesus Himself exemplified. In a very real way, the men of the church (and some of the women) are placing gender identity worship over being imitators of Jesus. And when a man steps up and says "this is wrong", he is mocked for being weak and effeminate. Since when did we get so numb and complacent that we allow the teachers of our faith of trade the gospel of Jesus Christ for gender worship?
I look around at conservative Christianity and I see the fall-out. I see the broken hearts of angry men believing the lie that they must behave a certain way or they are not true men. I see the women who are the subjects of their anger, who perpetuate dissatisfaction in husbands that aren't good enough, godly enough, leadership-y enough. I see broken marriages and broken families because the Church has chosen superficial gender roles instead of kindness, compassion, grace, and respect. And instead of stepping back and asking "could we be wrong here?" the men are told they didn't lead well enough and the women are told they didn't submit well enough. (Whatever happened to just loving enough???) People who are the victims of a man-made paradigm are told they are at fault and not trying hard enough to follow their roles within the paradigm. People who are brave enough to question and declare "something is wrong with this picture" are labeled "feminist", "humanistic", and "worldly". And so the broken cycle continues.
My friend, Ben, is a good man, a good husband and father. But because he and his wife lead their family together, and because he is kind and gentle and desires an equal partner for a wife, he gets berated. By another Christian. Because Ben is compassionate and cares about the hearts of his wife, children, and everyone he speaks to, he is told he isn't quite godly enough....not quite manly enough...not commanding enough or leading enough, like a real man. And because Brianna takes initiative and uses her strengths to make good choices for her family, she is "usurping her husband's role". Something is very wrong with this picture. It is insane to tell a man that when he listens to his wife's concerns and treats her with honor he isn't fulfilling his role as a husband to lead. How backwards and illogical can we be? The church needs to wake up.
I've shared this before...my husband and I trying to make ourselves (and each other) fit into the church's prescribed roles for men and women almost tanked our marriage. The more we tried, the more we failed, and the more we came to resent the other for not doing it right and blaming our shortcoming on the other person's failure to follow their role. He wasn't the "strong spiritual leader" the church said he was supposed to be. I wasn't the perfect little wifey that always deferred and submitted to my husband. Guilt was heaped on guilt by every marriage book we read and every seminar we went to. "Just submit more" and "just be a better leader" didn't fix anything, it only served to make our problems worse as we tried in vain to follow someone else's rules. What saved our marriage was realizing that God made us with the strengths we each have, our strengths and weakness fit perfectly together, and we didn't have to try to fit into a mold that others said we did in order to have a good marriage. We completely gave up and threw those stupid gender role teachings out the window. Peace suddenly reigned over our marriage and we were free. Free to each be who we were created to be and to love each other in the ways we needed to. We both bring amazing gifts to our marriage and we just don't care anymore if by using those gifts we are playing the correct gender role or not. We don't believe in playing roles anymore. We're too busy living life, loving others, following God, and raising our kids.
What I didn't realize until recently was just how much my husband was hurting from these teachings. I remember going to church without him one week years ago and listening to a guest speaker rail on the men for not being better leaders, better husbands, and better fathers. (This was his usual sermon when he visited.) How I wished my husband had been there! I confess I thought he could use a good ass-whipping to be the man he wasn't being (and since I was trying to be the perfect submissive wife, I certainly couldn't give it to him). When I told him later who spoke, he muttered under his breath "Another guilt-trip for not being a good enough man. Oh yay." That hit me hard. Thing is, in listening to these things, I almost missed the man he really is....the man I love and who has much to offer his family. I almost missed the blessing that he is in favor of a made-up image of what he wasn't. I DID miss it for a long time. I perpetuated the hurt and guilt that he was experiencing and all for what? The church's idea of a Real Man? How lost can we get?
As women, we have to stop. We have to stop the crazy cycle of trying to make our husbands be something they're not just because other men say they should be. Forget being labeled "feminist". Who cares? If you're ruled by the fruits of the Spirit and a desire to honor, let others label you what they like. Love your husband, respect him for who he is, confront him when he's wrong, appreciate his strengths and understand his weaknesses without enabling. Men, follow Jesus, not what some man in a pulpit or a book said you must be to be a man. If you're a strong leader, lead with compassion and learn to submit to others (Eph. 5:21). If you're not a leader type, it's OK. You can still be a man who loves well and follows God. Love, respect, grace, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, faithfulness, strength, courage, justice, honor, integrity, and peace know no gender limits.
I'm encouraged by the many men I know who aren't concerned about whether they're being manly enough. Who are more concerned about whether they are loving well. "Real men" come in every shape and size. You'll know them by their love for other people, regardless of their unique talents.
"Anthropology teaches us that the alpha male is the man wearing the crown, displaying the most colorful plumage and the shiniest baubles. He stands out from the others. But I now think that anthropology might have it wrong. In working with Booth, I've come to realize that the quiet man, the invisible man, the man who is always there for friends and family, that's the real alpha male."
- Bones (thanks to my friend, Lore, for sharing this quote)