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Masculinity vs. Machismo

January 12, 2012 – There has been, in our culture, an ongoing trend towards effeminacy at work for many years.  That trend has advanced now to the point that those who deny it are either woefully naive or deliberately obtuse.  It shows itself in the fact that American television and movie audiences sympathize more easily with clean-shaven and gentle actors these days (such as Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, etc.) as opposed to the rougher-hewn, gristled actors of a couple of generations ago (John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, etc).  As a result of this trend and the corresponding dearth of obvious masculinity in Hollywood, it has been observed somewhere, that when American movie producers want overtly masculine actors, they are forced to hire Australians (Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth, not to mention Mel Gibson).
The evangelical church faltered somewhat in this slough of gender confusion for a number of years.  Christian men have never been as assertive of their proper roles as they should be, preferring instead to watch with sleepy satisfaction as their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters manfully shouldered the burden of ministry, both in the church and in the home.  The cultural trend observed above only reinforced this inherent slothfulness, wedding the nullification of gender distinctiveness in the culture to the spiritual lethargy in the church to create from the two one very non-masculine flesh.
In recent years however there has been a not unpredictable backlash against such non-masculinity in the church.  A movement has emerged promoting “manliness” and all that that word entails.  This movement while obviously necessary has been, in its application, totally misdirected.  Had Christian men focused their attention on the spiritual malaise afflicting their gender, exhorting one another to awaken from their stupor and become the men of the Word, the spiritual leaders which God has created them to be, then all would be well.  Had they attacked the unbiblical teachings of the world (and parts of the church) that there are no significant differences between men and women, either in biological form or spiritual function, then, perhaps, ground would have been gained in the fight.  Instead, the men in our evangelical churches have contented themselves with focusing almost exclusively on the outward trappings of masculinity and neglected the spiritual realities which determine the true nature of Man.
Rather than saturating ourselves with Scripture and pouring ourselves into the spiritual biographies of the heroes of the faith, we read half-baked devotional books and conclude that manliness is summed up in a love of danger and daring (helpfully justifying our love of action movies into the bargain!).  Add to this a healthy neglect of hygiene and good breeding, a disgust with the “metro-sexual” tendencies of our society (which owes more to sinful homophobia than biblical conviction) and the result is the newly-reformed Christian male, belching his way through his prayers and chalking it up to “being a man.”  I know of one church where it became common practice for the male leaders to scrutinize one another, looking for signs of non-manliness and then calling them out when found, all in the name of promoting biblical “masculinity.”  This is not masculinity.  This is machismo.  This is not character.  This is caricature.  And it’s not even good caricature, it’s Tim Allen, grunting like an ape.
But men are not apes.  Men rule apes.  Men are not barbarians (sorry Erwin McManus).  Men civilize barbarians.  The effort to correct our gender confusion by adjusting these stereotyped emblems of masculinity is as ludicrous as attempting to fix a country’s economy by tweaking the shape of its coinage.  We must go deeper than that.  We must understand what true masculinity is.  True masculinity is primarily about being, not doing.  It is about who we are, not what we wear or how we act.  True masculinity is about ruling and naming, and about growing and loving as part of the ruling and naming.  When a man’s identity is firmly rooted in the knowledge of who he was created by God to be, then his actions and habits will follow.  I do not do something because it is manly; it is manly precisely because I am the one doing it.
If we do not correct this misguided movement in our churches, we will find in the end that we are not any better off than when we started.  We will be a community of male-type people, wearing the right clothes, saying the right words, avoiding the right things (lest anyone think us unmanly) but we still won’t have the slightest clue what a real man is.  And we will be teaching our sons to do the same: we will have provided them with the form of masculinity but denied them its power.  We will be guilty of doing what C.S. Lewis warned about in a different but related context: we will have castrated and bid the geldings be fruitful.

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