1) The Dudes' Club
As a kid, I was a mama's boy. An overweight, pudgy little boy who was afraid to touch a spider even with a stick, who was so freaked out by his first week-long trip to summer camp (his first time away from home for that long) that he wet his sleeping bag every night that week, and who was afraid to try new things or meet new people. Peers quickly picked up on such things, even in elementary school, and no small amount of taunting was the result.What's wrong, Russo, afraid?
Russo runs like a girl!
Russo's got boobs!
Look everyone, Russo's got boobs!
You're such a girl.
Things in middle school were worse, of course. I was a somewhat bookish kid, with my nose in a Stephen King novel more often than not. I didn't watch football or wrestling. I didn't automatically know all the rules to every sport we played in gym class (and the teachers assumed that all the boys already knew). I kept a journal, and worked on art projects, and wrote short stories and poetry. I kept my sexual fantasies to myself. I couldn't catch, I ran slow, and I was picked last for pretty much every sport.
I was not in what Tyler Clark
calls the Dudes' Club. And the names kept coming.Queer.
Freak. Faggot.Homo. Fat-ass.Pussy.
And while I am quite straight, and while I have since evolved into the manly man you see before you, a big hairy former summer camp counselor with a wife, a large sword collection, a growing stash of homebrewed alcohol, a love of action-adventure movies, and a primitive-camping-and-wilderness-survival hobby... I still am not, and never will be, in the Dudes' Club.
I'm okay with that, really. Members of the Dudes' Club are hard to talk to. When I hang out with them, I feel like I'm constantly being weighed, measured, and found wanting. If I don't drop enough sports references, or if my voice cracks, or if I use too many art terms, or if I express an awe of beauty, or if I talk about how I love to cook, or if I'm not physically aggressive enough, or if I wear the wrong colors, or if I quote poetry... I feel as though I'm relegated to a lesser status. Not a real man. Not a man's man, anyway. (It's exhausting, being constantly under that level of scrutiny, always having to censor myself or check myself. No wonder I have an easier time making friends with fellow geeks than with manly-men.)
And this Dudes' Club exclusion is no less true in Christian circles than otherwise. More true, even.2) My Pastor Can Beat Up Your Pastor
In July of 2011, megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll posted on his Facebook page, "So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?" This under-140-character statement is full of implications: first, that some who are "anatomically male" are presumably not male in any other way; second, that many worship leaders are "effeminate"; third, that those males in Christian leadership who are not masculine enough should be ridiculed. The firestorm of anger that erupted at this posting prompted Driscoll to take the post down, but although he has since referred to the post as "flippant," he has never apologized.
In his own words, Driscoll describes the lead-up to the status update as follows: "I had a recent conversation with a stereotypical, blue-collar guy who drives his truck with his tools, lunchbox, and hard hat to his job site every day. He said he wasn’t a Christian, but he was open and wanted to learn what the Bible said. In that conversation, he told me he’d visited a church but that the guy doing the music made him feel uncomfortable because he was effeminate (he used another more colorful word, but that one will suffice in its place). He asked some questions about the Bible, and whether the Bible said anything about the kind of guy who should do the music. I explained the main guy doing the music in the Bible was David, who was a warrior king who started killing people as a boy and who was also a songwriter and musician."
All right, so this red-blooded blue-collar American--and Driscoll goes to great lengths to rhetorically establish him as such, right down to the hard hat and tools--is turned off because the worship leader wasn't as manly a manly man as him. Driscoll didn't do too wrong here, he directed the guy to a different role model found in Scripture, one who the guy might have an easier time relating to. Now, I don't know what was so effeminate about this worship director--whether he had Mister Rogers hair or a bow tie or a high-pitched voice or what. I somehow doubt that we're talking someone in full-out drag here. But whatever the issue our hard-hatted blue-collar friend had was, the post that came out of this took "this wasn't a guy I could relate to" and turned it into "this is a guy to ridicule, to put down, to tell stories about.""When you put out a call on Facebook for people verbally attack “effeminate anatomically male” men, I find myself back in high school—shoved against a locker, with the bullies calling me a faggot."
Not everyone is as vague as Driscoll, however. More recently, Reformed pastor Douglas Wilson posted the following list: "Your Worship Service Might Be Effeminate If..."
In it, he lists several signs that the
worship, sermons, or people in your church might be "effeminate," with items ranging from "One of the ministerial staff has taken to wearing a clerical collar and a powder pink shirt," to "The worship team gravitates toward 'Jesus is my girlfriend' songs," to sermons not calling out sinners in the congregation, to the kind of man the minister is. Even the chords used in the music are not above scrutiny.Chris Rosebrough
, watchdog responsible for Pirate Christian Radio
, is not above such specifics either. One of the interruptions for his show begins with a recording of the contemporary worship song "Breathe." The song is interrupted by the sounds of battle, and a pirate voice saying something to the effect of, "We'll be taking your sissy girlified worship music now... and replacing it with the real thing!" The music then switches to a militant choral rendition of "A Mighty Fortress."Others complain that any worship music that sounds too romantic or talks about loving beauty is effeminate
. "But by the turn of the twentieth century, hymns had taken a decisive move toward the feminine ... Praise music has accelerated this trend. Not only are the lyrics of many of these songs quite romantic, but they have the same breathless feel as top forty love songs. "Hold me close, let your love surround me. Bring me near, draw me to your side." "I'm desperate for you, I'm lost without you." "Let my words be few. Jesus I am so in love with you." "You're altogether lovely ... altogether wonderful to me." "Oh Lord, you're beautiful. Your face is all I seek."
This sort of thing--church leaders calling out those styles and actions they consider to be "effeminate"--has become widespread enough now that the Internet Monk
even has a name for the movement now: "Esau Christianity."
(Named after biblical macho-man Esau, the red and hairy hunter.)
"They don't look like church boys, you know... wearing sweater-vests, walking around singing love songs to Jesus... The problem with church today, it's just a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickified church boys."3) "Effeminate": What does the term mean?
The first reaction of many to these Esau Christianity statements is to say (rightly so) that effeminate should not be an insult, because women are not inferior beings. But Wilson's supporters claim that "effeminate" is separate from "feminine," that the former is the sinful distortion of the latter, and that that term is biblical.
We've actually talked about this before
. There is a term used in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which is translated by several Bibles (including the KJV) as "effeminate.""Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
The word, however, is a difficult one to translate. Malakos (μαλακός) literally means "soft." That's all it usually means. So what is Paul saying, when he says that the "soft" shall not inherit the kingdom? The only other time this word is used in Scripture is to refer to the soft clothes that rich people wear. Some have translated this word as "effeminate," while others go with "male prostitutes" or "catamites."
Personally I side with the ESV's translation, which seems to feel that malakos is paired with arsenokoites to specifically refer to the receiving partner and the penetrating partner of homosexual sex--it's used here in a sense of "soft" as in "penetrable." Here's a few sources for this understanding of the term
(read all the footnotes).
And so, if Driscoll,Wilson, Rosebrough and Murrow intend their readers and listeners to take a biblical understanding of the term "effeminate," they are literally calling those they apply the term to "gay." (This is a term that should not be used as
an insult, because God loves gays
, and to insult is to be unloving.)
This does not seem to be their usage of the term, however. Wilson's list contained many things which had no real relation to sexuality at all, except maybe to the trappings of gender roles: worship styles, sermon topics, the role of women in church governance, and chord changes. Driscoll's comments in the above video complain about effeminate churches in the sense of the clothes that the "church boys" wear, the sort of colors the churches are painted--things that have little to do with sex.
This extrabiblical understanding of effeminacy has little to do with sex or sexuality at all, and everything to do with gender shaming.
adjective 4) Shame, shame, everyone knows your name.
1. having or characterized by qualities considered manly, especially when manifested in an assertive, self-conscious, or dominating way.
2. having a strong or exaggerated sense of power or the right to dominate.
Most evangelical Christians fall into one of two camps when it comes to gender roles. The egalitarian view
is that all humans, men and women alike, are equal in God's sight, and that there are no distinctions in role or status--ministry positions in the church and in the home are available to anyone, regardless of gender. The complementarian view
is that, while men and women are of equal value in God's sight, they have different functions and roles which they were created to fulfill. For complementarians, certain ministries may be intended for a particular gender, such as the role of pastor.
Theologically, I dance between the two (or hold them both simultaneously in a Chestertonian paradoxical unity), so I at least somewhat understand where Driscoll and Wilson are coming from. They believe that certain activities and roles, which are intended for the female, should not be performed by the male. Driscoll comes out against stay-at-home dads
, for instance, because he believes that provision is the responsibility of the husband, and a stay-at-home dad is shirking his male gender role for a female gender role.
However, even if I granted him that (which I do not, not entirely), there is a world of difference between a role, a function
(like that of nurturer or provider) and a trapping, a peripheral
(like a style of clothing or a style of worship).
It's interesting that by making their complaints issues of effeminacy, Driscoll and Wilson are both assigning gender "roles" to nongendered aspects of Christianity. Between them, here is the list of gendered qualities we can find implicit in their statements.
--Blue collar work
--Judgement, wrath, and Hell
--Calling out sin
--Calling out the specific sins of congregants
--The works of a select list of artists.
--Transcendent experiences in worship
--Sweater-vests, robes, and clerical collars
--(By contrast) Intellectual or White-collar work
--Badly behaving church leaders (?)
--Songs about love, even love for God
--Songs about beauty
--Being "tender" or "sensitive."
--Being offended by lists that call you effeminate.
I am struggling to see any connection between some of these aspects and the gender attributes they are being assigned to. After all, why would a change from an E minor to a C major be any more feminine than masculine? These assignations seem nearly arbitrary.
Thus my conclusion is, These "Esau Christians" are guilty of using gender shaming
as a way to insult those they disagree with on minor issues. Call someone effeminate, and you can marginalize them. Nitpick about their clothing, and you can explain them away as part of the problem. Associate that music style that you dislike so much with womenfolk, and you can get people to reject it. It's emotional manipulation.Faggot. Pussy. Girly-man.
It's manipulative and it's wrong. Because God, even if he turns out to be complementarian, embraces a wider and larger view of masculinity than Driscoll and Wilson and Rosebrough do. There is room in the church for all kinds of men.5) A Boy Named SueThe Internet Monk
points out, in its article on Esau Christianity
, that God ultimately rejected Esau, for all his hairy, outdoorsy manliness, and instead favored his brother--the scheming kitchen-bound mama's boy. "Jacob the wimp, the mama’s boy, the effeminate one, the scaredy-cat, weak and insecure and ineffective —
that’s who God chose to become Israel, the father of his old covenant people. Esau, the man’s man, the outdoorsman, the man of strength and muscle, the warrior who was unafraid of hard work or a fight didn’t make the cut. The very name of God’s chosen community is bound up with the story of an effeminate weakling!"
I've never felt such an affinity with Jacob before. The jocks wouldn't have let Jacob into the Dudes' Club either.
For that matter, I have to look twice at Driscoll's take on David--the man who "slaughtered people" since a young age, yes, but also the tenderhearted poet, the man who wept openly over the death of loved ones, the man who was so excited about the coming of God's Ark that he stripped nearly naked and danced in the streets. (Talk about a transcendent worship experience? Do you think the look on David's face as he danced was like "those of guys in the backseats of their cars, having just gotten to second base with their actual girlfriends"?
Even John Eldredge, foaming-at-the-mouth complementarian John Eldredge of Wild at Heart
fame, does not hold as narrow a view of masculinity as the Esau Christianity crowd does. I may be overgeneralizing, but when I read his books I never had the sense that he was saying that if I didn't conform to his understanding of men that I was a sissy, but only, "This is the cry of my heart--and it may be the cry of your heart too. Listen." In his book The Way of the Wild Heart
, Eldredge speaks of the various stages he believes every man needs to progress through, one of which is The Lover, in which he believes men are awoken to beauty. "We must not let the battle become everything. ...The Celts had a phrase, 'Never give a sword to a man who can't dance,' by which they meant if he is not also becoming a poet, be careful how much Warrior you allow a man to be. ...that which draws us to the heart of God is that which often first lifts our own hearts above the mundane, awakens longing and desire." He goes on to link the transcendent experiences he's talking about to the original Jesus-is-my-girlfriend worship song
, the hymn "Jesus, Lover of my Soul," written by none other than Charles Wesley.
His description of God's presence in beauty resonates with the heart of this poet.6) The Multifaceted God
My God is bigger than all this.
My God is big enough that he describes himself in both Father imagery and Mother imagery. He is bigger than gender, bigger than gender roles, bigger than all the silly trappings. And if in my God there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female--then there certainly isn't any demarcation between the properly manly-men in the Dudes' club and those of us who aren't macho enough to make the cut.
God, who proudly called himself the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob
, loves me. And he does not love me any less because I am bad at baseball, a slow runner, a poet, "soft," "tender," or overweight, and he would not love me less if I put on a sweater-vest or a clerical robe.
As Rachel Held Evans
said of Driscoll's controversial post, "While I disagree with many of Mark’s views on femininity and masculinity, I am convinced that Christians can talk about gender issues with gentleness and respect, without resorting to stereotypes, bullying, and scorn." This is a conversation worth having, worth disagreeing respectfully on--but that respect must be there, or conversation collapses. Labeling everyone who disagrees with you "effeminate?" Yeah, not so respectful. As it stands, those who have engaged in "Esau Christianity" are in danger of misrepresenting God through their words.How do you respond? Do you see a problem with "effeminate" men in leadership in the church? Or is the problem the fact that Christians are judging each other?