It had to happen some time. I have written before about how most people’s knowledge of the Bible is a CliffsNotes version, just the sketchiest of outlines of what is says. This is convenient because it enables each group or individual within Christianity and Judaism to pretty much adopt any lifestyle and morals and values and claim that it is how god would want them to live.
But in actual practice there are some restrictions. In contemporary America, there has grown up the consensus that to be a religious means at the very least avoiding drunkenness and profanity and promiscuous sex. Dressing nicely, going to church on Sundays, being polite and nice to others, and shaking hands with strangers in the pews are highly recommended. This has to be limiting to people who like to think of themselves as ‘real’ men and want to drink and swear and run around but still want to be considered Christian. Such people are worried that Christianity is becoming a religion for wusses.
But not to worry. If there is one thing that capitalism has taught us, it is that if there is enough of a market for something, then that need will be filled. And a January 12, 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times titled Manliness in next to Godliness suggests that a new movement for unwussy Christianity has appeared that says that exhibitions of raw testosterone are completely compatible with the Bible. Here’s a description of a church service for this new manly religion. (I give an extended quote so that you get the full flavor.)
The strobe lights pulse and the air vibrates to a killer rock beat. Giant screens show mayhem and gross-out pranks: a car wreck, a sucker punch, a flabby (and naked) rear end, sealed with duct tape.
Brad Stine runs onstage in ripped blue jeans, his shirt untucked, his long hair shaggy…”It’s the wuss-ification of America that’s getting us!” screeches Stine, 46.
A moment later he adds a fervent: “Thank you, Lord, for our testosterone!”
In daybreak fraternity meetings and weekend paintball wars, in wilderness retreats and X-rated chats about lust, thousands of Christian men are reaching for more forceful, more rugged expressions of their faith.
Stine’s daylong revival meeting, which he calls “GodMen,” is cruder than most. But it’s built around the same theory as the other experimental forums: Traditional church worship is emasculating.
Hold hands with strangers? Sing love songs to Jesus? No wonder pews across America hold far more women than men, Stine says. Factor in the pressure to be a “Christian nice guy” — no cussing, no confrontation, in tune with the wife’s emotions — and it’s amazing men keep the faith at all.
“We know men are uncomfortable in church,” says the Rev. Kraig Wall, 52, who pastors a small church in Franklin, Tenn. — and is at GodMen to research ways to reach the husbands of his congregation. His conclusion: “The syrup and the sticky stuff is holding us down.” John Eldredge, a seminal writer for the movement, goes further in “Wild At Heart,” his bestselling book. “Christianity, as it currently exists, has done some terrible things to men,” he writes. Men “believe that God put them on earth to be a good boy.” (my italics)
Says Christian radio host Paul Coughlin, author of “No More Christian Nice Guy”: “The idea of Jesus as meek and mild is as fictitious as anything in Dan Brown’s `Da Vinci Code.’ “
So what’s with the standard portraits of Jesus: pale face, beatific smile, lapful of lambs?
“He’s been domesticated,” says Roland Martinson, a professor of ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. “He’s portrayed now as gentle, loving, kind, rather than as a full-bodied person who kicked over tables in the temple, spent 40 days in the wilderness wrestling with his identity and with God, hung out with the guys in the street. The rough-hewn edges and courage … got lopped off.”
Stine’s wife, Desiree, says she supports manly leadership; it seems to her the natural and God-ordained order of things. As she puts it: “When the rubber hits the bat, I want to know my husband will protect me.”
But some men at the conference run into trouble when they debut their new attitudes at home. Eric Miller, a construction worker, admits his wife is none too pleased when he takes off, alone, on a weekend camping trip a few weeks after the GodMen conference this fall.
“She was a little bit leery of it, as we have an infant,” he reports. “She said, `I need your help around here.’ “
Miller, 26, refuses to yield: “I am supposed to be the leader of the family.”
. . .
The virility crusade is, in part, a response to a stark gender gap. More than 60 percent of the adults at a typical worship service are women. That translates into 13 million more women than men in the pews on any given Sunday, according to David Murrow, author of “Why Men Hate Going to Church.”
Women are also significantly more likely than men to attend Sunday school, read the Bible and pray regularly, according to the Barna Group, a Christian polling firm.
Murrow blames men’s lackluster attitude on the feminization of mainline churches: “Lace curtains. Quilted banners on the wall. Pink carpet. Fresh flowers at the podium.”
Even in evangelical mega-churches, which tend to use more neutral decor, the mood is hardly alpha male. Dancers wave flowing banners as the choir sings. TV screens glow with images of flowers and sunsets
. . .
Stine argues that the genteel facade of a Christian nice guy inhibits introspection and substitutes cliches for spiritual growth. GodMen is his attempt to encourage men to get real. His speakers admit to masturbation and adultery. Such honesty, Stine contends, molds better, more godly men than a typical Sunday service.
“We want to force you out of the safe places that have passed for spirituality,” Stine says. “Maybe worship could be hanging out with a bunch of guys, admitting we like blowing crap up.”
I have to thank the ever-vigilant Jesus’ General for alerting me to this trend. The good General, whose blog proudly claims that he is an “11 on the manly scale of absolute gender,” is always ahead of the curve when it comes to manly expressions of Christianity.
I wanted to end this post on a very manly note and what could be more appropriate than the Village People singing their hit Macho Man?