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Be Macho Men: Is that how to Imitate Christ?

On a recent podcast by @godisgrey Brenda Davies interviews Kristen Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne. As a historian and scholar, Dumez discussed the history she outlines in her book how all the pieces of history fit together and culminated in the evangelical voter support for Trump.

Teaching Men to Be Macho

During the Cold War, Christians learned to be macho, to worship a warrior Christ to avoid Main Street Media, to unite "us against them". In the 80s, they reacted to feminism by defining biblical men and biblical women. In the 90s the wall came down, the Cold War was over, and men were confused over their role. After 9/11 evangelical Christians promoted manly heroism again, building fear and uniting against an enemy as a way to build loyalty, money, and power.

However, telling boys/ men they must all be like iconic heroes actually hurts men. Forcing them to try to be macho can frustrate them as they may not all be able to be a hero. It also denies their ability to exercise other traits to which all Christians are to aspire, because these have sometimes been categorized as feminine: kindness, patience, goodness, gentleness, nurturing, and self-control.

Pushing men to be strong and brave, and entitled to lead can mean using women as objects. These hierarchal stereotypes prop up those who have power and money. The discussion concluded with the need to love one another while in disagreement.

The podcast made me reflect on how ironic it is that when men strive to be strong patriarchal authoritarians, they become less attractive to women. Many women want to marry someone who respects them as a mutual partner. Many macho men may be sadly disappointed if looking for a marriage partner.

Does the Bible associate Bravery and Strength with Men?

No. Compare biblical translations that exhort believers to "Be like Men" or "Grow to Manhood" (1 Cor 16:13, Eph. 4:13). Accurate translations say "Be courageous, be strong, be mature adults". The letters to the Corinthians and Ephesians are written to the whole body of believers, and the exhortations are pertinent regardless of gender.

The Bible calls All people to Fear not (365x in the Bible), and to be courageous and strong (Ps. 27:14, Joshua 1:9, 1 Peter 5:10). God gives us all a spirit of boldness, love, and sound minds (2 Tim. 1:7, Proverbs 28:1). The Bible says both women and men were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31). Paul wrote that we, all believers, have boldness and access God with confidence through faith (Ephesians 31:12). Let us remember that readers of the Bible are both male and female. Traits of boldness and bravery are neither masculine nor feminine.

The prophet Hosea associates bravery and strength with women. God says she will be like a lioness hunting or a leopard lurking by the path. God is like a mother bear robbed of her cubs, who will attack the robber and rip them open. God is like a lioness who will devour those who lead her children away from God (Hosea 13:7-8). These female images of God show that strength is neither male nor female, just as God is neither.

Does the Bible associate Gentleness and Nurture with Women?

While the church focuses on biblical references to God as a father, the Bible also refers to God as a mother.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! (Isaiah 49:15).

“ will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 66:12-13)

God is like a Mother hen

The Bible compares God to a female bird protecting her young under her wing;

"Like a bird protecting its young", God will cover you with its feathers. Like a bird, God will protect you under its wings. (Psalm 91:4),

Jesus applies this mothering imagery to himself, lamenting about how often he has longed to gather Jerusalem's children together, as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34).

Luke 15
God is like a woman; God has no gender

God uses the image of a woman seeking a lost coin to describe God's seeking after us. Shepherds were often girls and women, and God uses female imagery in self-describing as a shepherd.

Paul compares himself to a mother giving birth (Galatians 4:19), and discusses his spiritual children (1 Timothy 1:2). Paul is proud to remind people that he was very gentle with them, like a mother caring for her children (1 Thessalonians 2:7).

Does the Bible Honour Both Male and Female Leaders?

quote from forgotten followers
The Old Testament shows women leaders

The Bible tells stories of male and female models of faith, shows male and female leaders, and affirms all people as equals.

Throughout the Old Testament, there are stories of women who saved God's people: prophets, judges, and activists.

Abigail saved her husband and the entire household from David's wrath (1 Samuel 25:32).

Bathsheba, the mother of Lemuel and Solomon, advised to look for a woman who bought and sold property, earning food for her family by the work of her hands (Proverbs 31:10-31).

The midwives of Moses's time endangered their lives and saved many children of Israel (Exodus 1:17).

Zipporah's quick action saved Moses from angels bent on punishing him for not circumcising his son (Exodus 4:26).

Huldah was a female prophet who proclaimed the coming judgment upon Judah and her call to repent saved Josiah (2 Kings 22:16).

The daughters of Zelophehad advocated for equal rights of inheritance and Moses agreed with them (Numbers 27:6-7).

When Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army seeks shelter, Heber's wife Jael kills the enemy by driving a tent peg into his head (Judges 4:21).

Deborah was a prophet, female judge, leader of Israel, and military leader in the Israelite victory over Canaanites (Judges 4-5).

At the time of Jesus, many religious leaders had hidden or stopped honouring women as leaders and established patriarchal power structures matching the Greco-Roman world. Jesus overturned these structures, bringing down the powerful and lifting up the lowly. Throughout the Gospels and the early church portrayed in Acts of the Apostles and the New Testament letters, we see many women active in leading the early church.

Click here to see the list of women in the New Testament.

God's traits are both male and female

The Bible explains that God made humanity in God's image: male and female (Genesis 1:27). Humans have both male and female traits, just as God has. God is our defender like a mother hen as much as a hunting lioness. God is as much like a woman celebrating a lost coin as a father celebrating a lost son. God is neither male nor female.

God's image in humans includes both male/female traits. The Bible does not associate different traits by gender. Men are told to listen to their father's instruction and to their mother's teaching (Proverbs 1:8). Children are told both their mother and their father have authority (Exodus 20:12). Paul tells both women and men that as they grow in faith, they will bear fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Those who take the Bible seriously should be leading the way in advocating for equality, not lagging behind the world. Church history and culture have actively hidden the women of the Bible, and it has led to misunderstanding God's message. I dream of a time when biblical equality is orthodox and any gender limitations on the ways you use your God-given gifts are discarded as unorthodox, untrue interpretations of the Bible.

book cover
Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes DuMez

Machoism becomes Christian Nationalism

Since Jesus and John Wayne was published in 2020, some Christian trends have morphed and boomed in a Christian Nationalism movement. The version of Christianity supported by Christian Nationalism is one with traditional hierarchies, patriarchal authority over women, and an intolerance to those of other faiths.

Dumez writes about the rise of this movement in a recent article "Understanding Christian Nationalism" (1). The article reports that in April of 2022, there were about 39k tweets with the phrase, and as of July 2022, there were 289 tweets with the phrase Christian Nationalism. Briefly, Christian Nationalism opposes the separation of church and state. It is a new term, defined differently by various people:

  • the belief that America is God's chosen nation and must be defended as such

  • America ought to be a Christian nation in a way that aligns with democratic norms

  • America should be a Christian nation, a theocracy imposed on all citizens without regard for democracy

It remains to be seen whether Christian Nationalism is a threat to American democracy. Perhaps being a Christian nation simply means many citizens are Christians, or that laws are based on Christian principles. But we need to be aware of this growing movement and as Christians, advocate for a more true understanding of what the Bible says about women and men.


Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with Christian fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:

  • Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, Book 1

  • The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role

  • Because She Was Called: from Broken to Bold, Book 2, A Novel of the Early Church, imagines Mary Magdalene's trip to testify before the emperor

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