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Evangelicals Need to Stop Shaming Men
They need to stop delivering hectoring "Man up!" lectures that simply drive men away
Welcome to those of you who just joined after seeing me on Dr. Steve Turley’s show. Thanks so much for signing up. I cover a lot of topics here but the main focus is the intersection of the future of the evangelical church with men’s issues. I recently wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about why men turn to online influencers instead of traditional authorities. And I just finished a five part series digging a bit deeper into some of the reasons I highlighted.
What Jordan Peterson Can Teach Church Leaders (in the Wall Street Journal)
The Problem With Servant Leadership (An Aspirational Vision of Manhood)
Wouldn’t you know it, this week in World magazine’s opinion section, Nathanael Blake from EPPC wrote an essay arguing that an aversion to marriage by men is unmanly. He writes:
Anti-marriage influencers claim to be looking after men’s interests, but they are directing men toward unhappy, cowardly lives…The rejoinder from Davis and her followers was that the problem with marriage is in the potential for failure—sure a happy marriage might be great, but a bad one may be so miserable, or a divorce so devastating, that marriage is not worth attempting. Though Davis overstates the prevalence of these ills, they are real. Men can have their hearts broken, their bank accounts drained, and their children taken from them. Thus, though Lyman Stone is correct that the risks of divorce do not, on aggregate, offset the benefits of marriage, and furthermore that “divorced men have the SAME HAPPINESS as never-married men,” this is not really about the data. Rather it is about courage and what it is to be a man. [emphasis added]
He goes on to say:
Some risks are not worth taking, but marriage is not so intrinsically foolhardy as to be among them, even in 2023. Indeed, marriage is the vocation that the great majority of men are called to—and it is not as if Davis and the rest are encouraging men to remain unmarried in order to devote themselves to the service of God and His people. Rather, those telling men not to fulfill their vocations as husbands and fathers are basing this counsel on reasons that are weak and cowardly. For all of their supposed sympathy, it is they who seek to stunt men's nature and sacrifice our calling in exchange for the promise of a tame security. This is unmanly.
Men are not made to sit quietly, avoiding all perils in this life, but to grow and brave them. Cowards will shrink from this, but men—who want to live as men are meant to live—will welcome the dangers and difficulties as well as the joys and satisfactions of love and marriage.
I don’t know Blake’s own faith background, but I am assuming that he is evangelical given that this op-ed appears in an evangelical magazine. Evangelicals are certainly the target market.
Blake’s essay is classic evangelical shaming of men. They need to man up and marry all those single ladies in the pews. And if they don’t, they aren’t Real Men - they are cowards.
Notably, he doesn’t deny any of the arguments made by the anti-marriage advocates online - who are just the latest incarnation of a movement called MGTOW, for “men going their own way,” arguing that men should avoid marriage (and often any entanglements with women as much as possible).
These advocates tout things like the divorce risk facing men. It’s one of the most well known facts in social science that women initiate the vast majority of divorces - around 70% or so depending on the source you look at. It’s a fact I have never heard an evangelical pastor mention. In fact, as one feminist scholar found in her academic research, in evangelical sermons “women are framed primarily as receivers of divorce rather than initiators.” And, while there have been improvements, divorce court and child custody practices still favor women.
Now, I happen to be an advocate for marriage myself, which I believe is the normative pattern of human life (though isn’t for everyone, and I affirm that people are entitled to make their own decisions in life about what they think will work best for them). I too believe that the benefits of marriage outweigh the risks. I would also agree that there are things you can do to reduce your divorce risk. One of the most important is weighing the statistical likelihood of divorce based on the characteristics of both you and the woman you are planning to marry (“moneyball for marriage”).
At the same time, simply accusing men who are hesitant to get married in this environment of being “unmanly” or “cowards” is not productive.
It’s also worth asking what Blake - and by extension the rest of the evangelical leadership class - are doing to reduce these risks, help men manage them, or to create an environment in which men have a better chance of marital success.
The answer is basically nothing.
They could be equipping men to navigate this world by giving them the real facts around divorce risk, how online dating works, etc. But they don’t. In fact, they may be more likely to be giving bad advice than good.
They could tell men, “Get married and we’ve got your back.” But they don’t. Instead, should some man actually get married and any troubles arise, they will almost certainly blame him for it. In their public proclamations, they make clear that they blame men for everything that goes wrong in a marriage - some of them even make this a theological point.
They also don’t advocate for reform to divorce and custody laws to make modern marriage more fair to men, something even a secular feminist scholar like Richard Reeves wants to do.
They could create an aspirational vision of what it means to be married that attracts men to want it. Instead, they say that if you do get married, you job is to be, as in moralistic therapeutic deism’s view of God, a sort of combination butler and therapist to your wife.
Evangelicals portray marriage as an unattractive life of troubles and drudgework. They blame men for everything that goes wrong in a marriage. Then when men decide not to get marriage or delay it for a significant period of time, they try to shame those men into getting married by calling them names.
These are the people who pile up heavy burdens on men’s shoulders, but won’t lift a finger to help carry them.
As evangelical scholar Anthony Bradley, who is one of the best and strongest voices on men’s issues put it:
We've been down this road before. Shaming men to "get married" is a failed strategy in culture where many of them experienced the reality of divorce. What Pearl is talking about has nothing to do with why the vast majority of men in their 20s are marriage avoidant. This type of article is exactly why young guys prefer Peterson, Rogan, etc. Most of the young men I've worked with on this issue for 25 years who are marriage-avoidant aren't "cowards" nor "unmanly." Most are children of divorce and/or were raised in homes of overbearing/smothering/emasculating mothers in the matriarchal South. This is missing somehow in the discourse about this issue. This is what we really need to be discussing. Pearl's not relevant. Since women initiate most divorces, young men aren't marriage-avoidant so much as they are divorce-avoidant or they don't want to be in emasculating marriages like the ones their fathers were in and have witnessed for 30 years. They don't want to live a life of domesticated emasculation. It's actually, in many ways, a rational choice. [emphasis added]
Bradley is exactly right. We treat men like this and then wonder why they go somewhere else for guidance in life.
Do evangelicals actually want to reach men? If so, they need to start changing some of these things and correcting their approach. One simple and easy thing to do right away would simply be to stop shaming men.
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Featured image credit: Anthony Easton/flickr, CC-BY 2.0