Evangelicals Think Men Are All to Blame, All of the Time
There was a minor online kerfuffle last week when South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace made made a joke at a prayer breakfast about rejecting her fiancé’s sexual advances that morning in order to make it to the event on time. This produced a bit of an online controversy about her cohabitating out of wedlock as an evangelical Christian while speaking at a prayer breakfast.
One particular tweet about Mace’s comments caught my eye. It was from Joel Berry, managing editor of the evangelical humor and politics site the Babylon Bee.
I don’t know Berry and don’t want to overly focus on him. But this tweet is a sort of distilled essence of how many conservative evangelicals view gender relations.
There are a few of elements at play here. The first is how conservative Christian gender theology, which applies even to those who don’t claim the term “patriarchal”, puts the blame on men for almost everything. She’s the one making a public statement at a prayer breakfast, but her fiancé, whose name most people couldn’t even tell you, is the one who should be castigated. Undoubtedly, from the standpoint of Christian morality, he is also in sin. But that doesn’t make him responsible for her sin as well.
Berry isn’t the only one who talks like this. It includes pastors and theologians as well. Matt Schmucker, writing in a book called Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, said:
We do not want a brother standing at the altar on his wedding day looking at his beautiful bride only to imagine behind her the boys and men who took advantage of her and robbed her of the trust and confidence that she now needs for her husband. We do not want a sister standing at the altar on her wedding day looking at her handsome groom only to imagine behind him a string of relationships with girls and women he failed to honor, and knowing that images in his head from pornography use and past flings may stick with him for a long time.
Note that he blames men both for their own sins, and for the acts committed by women. Even for the bride, it is men who “took advantage of” and “robbed” her. The use of victim language here implies that she is not morally responsibility for her own action.
Back in newsletter #77 I made similar observations about the way former superstar pastor Mark Driscoll talked about single mothers.
For all too many evangelical leaders, men are 100% to blame, 100% of the time.
As pastor Justin Buzzard put it in his book Date Your Wife:
Your wife isn’t the problem. You’re the problem. I’m the problem. Men are the problem. If you want to change a marriage, change the man. If you want to change your marriage, you must first see that you are the main problem in your marriage…You are what is wrong with you marriage. It’s your fault. This is the second most important truth to learn from this book: it’s your fault. You are the husband. You are the man.
This blaming of men is justified under the principle that the Bible makes the man the head of the marriage, and thus he bears responsibility for everything that happens within it. But as in the cases of Berry, Schmucker, and Driscoll, they do this even for men who aren’t married.
Evangelical teaching about male headship in marriage is typically heavily qualified to make very clear that the man is only the head when it comes to his actual wife - not to any other women. This is usually done so as to make clear that there is no obligation by women to submit to any man other than their actual husband. But what we see here is that they want to apply the responsibility they put on husbands onto men who are not married and whom they would say do not have the authority of a husband.
Lastly, I should note that while Berry says he is a patriarchalist, he apparently has no problem with Mace serving as a US Representative. Not only does he seem to think it’s ok for her to have a career, but to serve in the traditional male role of political leader.
My impression is that most people who describe themselves as believing in patriarchy actually do believe women should not work outside the house, or at least should be primarily oriented towards the domestic sphere. But outside of the relatively small neo-patriarchy movement, conservative evangelicals frequently take a feminist inflected point of view when it comes to women and the public roles they can perform.
The net result of this is that men are expected to live up to an extremely high burden of responsibility, self-sacrifice, servant leadership, etc. In essence, they are expected, from a responsibility perspective at least, to carry out the duties and bear the burdens of husbands from the pre-industrial or pre-feminist past. Whereas women are generally allowed to reject the majority of their old responsibilities as extra-Biblical anachronisms. They tell men to be a 1950’s TV dad like Ward Cleaver, but they’d never dream of telling women to behave like 1950s TV housewife June Cleaver. I describe this in more detail in my view of Sen. Josh Hawley’s latest book on manhood where he very much operates in this style.
I don’t want to attribute the views expressed in Berry’s tweet to all of conservative evangelicals. For those who commented on Mace, the ones I saw mostly criticized her. The vast majority would reject the label of patriarchal. And we should expect that Berry, because he works for the Babylon Bee, is going to post provocative and edgy takes. Although I disagree with him here, I don’t have anything against him personally, and enjoy the Bee from time to time. At the same time, the general thrust of his tweet is an echo of a very real and even dominant strain of thinking within conservative evangelicalism. In fact, that’s almost certainly where he got his ideas from.
Some pastors might argue that this is what the Bible teaches. If that is what they truly believe, then fair enough. We all have to align ourselves with what we genuinely believe to be the truth. At the same time, they should be fully honest about what they are actually teaching.
Why do I bring this up? It’s again because of the stark disconnect between the hordes of young men being drawn to online influencers like Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, and Andrew Tate, and the comparative lack of a draw to the church and other traditional institutions and authority figures. Given the vision of manhood put forward by the church, it’s no wonder so many men don’t want any part of it. Even if they can’t articulate exactly what’s wrong with what they are hearing, they can sense that there is something off. At the same time, we also see growing post-familialism not just in society but also within the church. This too represents a major challenge.
While I do not claim to have the complete answer, I do believe that there are substantive problems in the things conservative evangelicals teach about gender. In light of the trends I just mentioned, I believe this is one of the most important areas where the church needs to course correct.
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