Be Macho Men: Is that what the Bible says?
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.
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 for us 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.
I was comparing 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). Let us remember that readers of the Bible are both male and female.
The Bible explains that God made humanity in God's own 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 warrior. God is as much like a woman celebrating a lost coin as a man celebrating a lost sheep. Men are told to listen to their father's instruction and to their mother's teaching (Proverbs 1:8). The Bible tells stories of male and female models of faith, shows male and female leaders, and affirms all people as equals.
Those who take the Bible seriously should be leading the way in advocating for equality, not lagging behind the world. Our 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.
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.