Friday, April 13, 2007

The Death of Manhood

Dear Steve,

Although I normally enjoy your writing, I can not say I agree with the last piece you wrote. You made it sound as though it was the woman’s fault and the church’s fault for the reason why ‘supposedly’ Christian men watch pornography. Doesn’t the responsibility fall on men themselves? I appreciated your self-deprecating honesty, but it seems unlike so much of your other work that advocates responsibility for one’s own life. Am I wrong? Or have you trained your attack on women to excuse your own struggles? I am sorry for sounding so harsh, but I just don’t understand where you’re coming from. Isn’t it time we call sin a sin?


I stared at the unblinking email on my screen and took another sip from my coffee. Unlike some comments, this one had been sent directly to my inbox. Two things I noticed and liked about the letter immediately. The first was the tone, neither condescending nor harsh as the woman thought, but thoughtful and carefully written. The other thing I liked was that she’d sent it directly to my inbox. Now I don’t care what anyone says about my work and I love it when people voice their opinion, because conversation is a good thing. But sometimes discretion can reveal the character of someone’s true intent faster than their words.

I had penned my first column with the idea of a second. Part one and part two. But it only seemed fitting to include, encapsulated by this letter, some of the criticisms of my earlier article.

Starbucks was quiet tonight. Midweek was always slow, and I watched some of the students working at their studies, and two young mothers wheeling their quiet charges around the magazine racks with only a passing glance. The intent of the first article was to provide context for the next one. The idea was to help people (especially women) understand just how slanted the church had become. Unfortunately, it wasn’t only women who took offense to my observation that the church brushed over the typically women’s struggles while excoriating the men.

Especially when it came to sex.

Sex sins are considered, by far, the most grievous and gruesome within the church. (Is there anything more sensational than a sex scandal) Unfortunately, the Bible does not give hierarchy to any sin. But the church does, and every man knows it. So while his wife can “be sensitive about the weight thing”, men must dance to the invisible fiddler if they struggle with pornography or some other carnal sin. That, dear friends, is ridiculous.

However, the real problem is not the ‘unbalance’ in the church, but the fact that it even matters. This is, ironically, the real problem. And that responsibility falls directly on the shoulders of men.

Whatever you say about the church, it is hard to escape the claim that too many of us evangelicals in North America are fat, over sexed, over consuming individualists who seem only interested in ourselves. The two biggest cultural sins of our time are individualism and consumerism… not pornography.

And yet, the core of the church’s struggles lie with something else, the foundation for so many of our cultural weaknesses. It lies with our failure to confront fear. The Bible says that the Spirit of God has not given us a spirit of fear, but for most men in North America, that simply isn’t true. The real struggle, the one that breeds so much of our weakness here in the West, is passiveness. And if it isn’t corrected, it will spell the end of manhood. In some ways, it has already happened.

I rubbed my forehead leaned back against my seat. At the table next to me, a young woman was trying to persuade her boyfriend about something. His noncommittal grunts only seemed to add fuel to the fire. I shook my head and turned back to the screen.

It was indicative of the age we lived in, as my astute female reader had pointed out, that my column had pointed to largely external factors in regards to the issue of pornography. Now context is important. It is. But no matter what argument you make, everything stops when you ask why men don’t simply act on their struggle. The first sympton of a man who refuses his manhood is one who is too afraid to be transparent.

A Letter to all men:

Do you feel trapped in your life? Do something about it. Are people at church are talking behind your back? So what. Do what you believe is right, but do something! Are you afraid what people will say if you’re honest about who you are, about your struggles? Get over it. A man who worries what others think is not acting like a man. Who cares if ‘the church’ thinks it's scandalous? The essence of manhood is one who is willing to face his fears, to face the storm, and do what is necessary to change. Don’t sit and whine about how the world has wronged you.

Women complain to me all the time that “real men” have vanished. They have. In their place we have inserted a slobbering mass of sycophantic infantiles who have decided that they either need to placate every person in their life or ignore them.

Men in our culture tend to be aggressive or passive aggressive. But what women are really searching for is assertiveness (As Paul Osbourne so elegantly makes the case for in his book). Jesus was assertive. Emotionally authentic, passionate, but never pandering. Men, if “the church” disagrees with you, so what. Stand up and say you think differently.

You are the church.

Pornography is a form of passive aggressive pandering. Nobody gets hurt (not true of course) and no effort required. All for one low price. How truly North American of us. Individualism and consumerism and reactive passivity in one product…

So long as men continue to blame their external circumstances for an internal problem, pornography will continue to flourish. (Fact: Christian conventions are well known throughout the pornography industry to be the most lucrative in the business) As well, the church will continue to lean towards women. An inevitable result of a sad but growing problem. If men are not willing to balance the ship, it will not be the fault of the opposite sex. And as long as men refuse to be men, refuse to stand up for what they believe, refuse to trust God to rule their life instead of their fears, than the problems of an emasculated culture will continue to grow.

And the death of manhood will be complete.