Thursday, January 8, 2009

Muscular Christianity will destroy the Gospel of Peace

There are certain people and organizations now who are reviving Muscular Christianity to masculinize the Church. It generally comes from a certain group of guys who want to validate their lifestyle choices within the context of Christianity. I'll have to give a bit of background first.

Different people have different personalities. Surprising? Some people are quiet and some are loud. Some are timid and some are proud. Some are gentle and others violent. Some live indoors and others out.

This type of person promoting Muscular Christianity is the type who likes to get dirty. They're into sports, excitement and beer. I'm into arts, narrative and wine. This is a classic beer v. wine situation. Some experts say this is also a divide between Northern Europe (beer and barbarism) and Mediterranean (wine and democracy). It seems like the beer type doesn't have an outlet within our modern congregational settings, but the wine type does. I can appreciate this, and clearly an underlying motive behind the movement is to make the fellowship of believers more attractive to men.

I'm immediately repulsed by the movement, however, when they phrase their goals as a reformation of the Church as a whole. They talk like there is no room for divergence of personality. If you are male you have to fit this mold, and it is more often modeled after William Wallace and David son of Jesse than it is after Jesus Christ. Further, some of these men (including Mark Driscoll) are demeaning to men who don't enjoy bloodsport. Driscoll is crude and calls the wine type "boys who shave" and says they're "chick-ified," amongst other things. They would boot out the wine type to make the Church into the beer type.

The Church is segregated enough. Rich congregations, poor congregations. White and black. English, Spanish, Korean, et al. We shouldn't have a schism over personality types. I know in the subconscious that we're attracted to like-types, but the Body of Christ has many types and we all need to join together to work together.

But aside from simply being offended by their derogatory language, there is great danger in redefining the Gospel of Peace. This happens by projecting certain personality traits onto Christ Jesus. In order to sell their case these men try to define our Savior as a rough-and-tumble character who liked fighting and pain. They say being sensitive is a feminine trait not fitting for men, so Jesus wasn't sensitive. Gentleness is also excluded from Christ's manly character. Driscoll has a slogan, "Meek. Mild. As if." slamming the characterization of Christ as either of these things, regardless of Christ's proclamation that "the meek shall inherit the earth."

It rolls over from character traits of the Son of Man and onto the Heavenly Father. Driscoll says, "God hates you... God can't even look at us because he is so disgusted… You have been told that God is loving, gracious, merciful, kind, compassionate, wonderful, and good... That is a lie... God looks down and says 'I hate you, you are my enemy, and I will crush you.'" This is in contrast to God proclaiming His name on Mt. Sinai as "Merciful." He proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness." (Exodus 34:6) David echoed this very phrase. (Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8)

This isn't the first time a masculine movement has tried to redefine the Church. When the Germanic barbarians controlled much of the Northern Holy Roman Empire, the (beer drinking) barbarians wouldn't accept "a God I could beat up" because of their warrior culture. To "Christianize" the Germans, the Church adapted to this culture turning Jesus into a warrior, Heaven became Valhalla, and the disciples became Christ's warriors. The Germanic tribes were indeed converted, but Christianity became a militarized religion as a result. Centuries later you will never guess who drew on this Jesus as a warrior model in the 1930s to create a masculine, nationalistic movement in Germany. If you guessed Adolf Hitler, you'd be right. He drew on the Germanic folklore, blended with Christ, to create the Aryan race. He called Jesus his "Lord and Savior" and "a fighter." Jesus was a warrior punishing the Jews.

I don't mean to invoke Godwin's Law, it just happened to be a historic fact that the blending of tribal Germanic myth with Christianity lead to a "fighter" Jesus which just so happened to inspire Nazism, which was a decidedly masculine movement as well. (Is it any coincidence that our current masculine movements tend towards being nationalistic?)

As time went on, the rugged, pioneering American spirit brought another masculine movement opposing the traditional clergy who were viewed as wimps because of their refusal to fight, and their piety. This lead to more individual ministers instead of the traditional clergy with elders, deacons and the rest. Again, Jesus was redefined to fit this cultural model of man and he became muscular and militant.

In the latter 19th Century another movement arose in the United Kingdom and transplanted to Canada and the USA in the form of Christian men's clubs. This started the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), Boy Scouts, and other athletic clubs for Christian men. Professional athletes almost achieved a clerical level at this time. High school and college sports were used by evangelists to promote Christianity to young men.

There's nothing new under the sun, we are now at present times with strikingly similar movements. Men are trying to project their own culture's masculine traits onto Christ Jesus to validate their own lives. This usually means they sanctify a lifestyle that is not any different than worldly men. They have their sporting events, but they pray first. They aren't merciful, forgiving and compassionate, they'll get in your face and beat you down. Violence is baptized in Christ's blood.

Without getting into an egalitarian/complementarian discussion here, making the Gospel decidedly masculine alienates women, if it doesn't outright denigrate them. By promoting the masculine qualities of God, they are reducing feminine qualities to an inferior place. While they say it is man's responsibility to lead the church, blame is shifted from men and onto women. Women are at fault for feminizing the Church; they're to blame for being a majority in congregations. The way they talk makes it sound like Women have ruined the Church.

Women are degraded so much that Driscoll mocks congregational buildings that have feminine architecture. The wall and carpet colors. The wood paneling. If it's not decidedly masculine, it is "chick-ified" and is inferior.

Negative socio-economic changes in the culture are blamed on the women in the Church. What is bad in culture is feminine and what is good is masculine. This is true even in popular media. Violent bloodsport such as mixed-martial arts contests are lauded by some male Christian leaders (such as Driscoll) while they demean women's literature, talk shows, and (apparently) kittens (clearly God only loves dogs).

It's harmful to the spiritual development of the Church. It's harmful to families. And it does violence to the very Gospel we confess. The movement doesn't have as a goal the plan to reduce Christ, but when he is used to support the American male culture at the exclusion of any other cultural expression, Jesus becomes a tribal god. When they would project their most base instincts onto the living Savior to justify their desires, we've lost sight of sanctification.

When these men would have us focus on cultural expressions of masculinity, we lose sight of the biblical mandate for mercy, compassion, forgiveness, charity and love. These traits are deemed feminine and are rejected. When these men would sanctify bloodsport in the name of Christ, they reject the Gospel of Peace, given to all men which is good news to the poor.

Clearly the Gospel is given to all nations, all tongues, and all genders. We shall not exclude any. The Gospel should be appropriate for all, not just a certain niche within a gender within a certain nation. The Gospel belongs to the poor girl in Zimbabwe as much as to the rich man on Wall Street.

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