While returning from teaching at an Iron Sharpens Iron men’s conference in Hartford, CT last weekend, I chuckled out loud while on the long plane ride home back to the West Coast. I recounted in my mind some of the hilarious comments men made during the question and answer portion of my seminar about how important emotional engagement is today in marriage.
We discussed a lot of topics during the seminar: How wives, not husbands, are more likely to begin a serious conversation more harshly, so be prepared. Why responding in anger is the wrong way to get to a win-win in marriage. How childhood trauma causes many adult men to be passive and timid when it comes to emotions, and how important it is for such men to do the soulwork necessary to overcome this problem in order to meet the emotional needs of our wives.
But what sticks out most in my mind are the “Amens” and “Say it Brother” I heard when I talked about the tremendous prejudice against their male nature. When I embarked on my unusual ministry to Christian men, I assumed that it would be the younger Christian men who saw this problem the clearest, and who would be willing to undergo the hard work to correct it. Turns out, it’s men in their 50’s and 60’s who express the most disappointment, resentment, and anger toward well-meaning messages that have mishandled their masculine nature. But it makes sense to me now: they are the group that bought the propaganda the longest, tried to live by it, and who, along with their wives and children, have paid the largest price.
Here are some of the messages Christian men have been told, some for decades:
· If there is a major problem in a couple’s marriage, whether or not it leads to divorce, it is ultimately the husband’s fault.
· Women are more moral and spiritual than men.
· Women are more sensitive to the Holy Spirit than men.
In addition, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are an opportunity in many churches to tell men how to be better fathers instead of honoring them as fathers. One man said he no longer goes to church on either day. “The pastor’s wife preaches on Father’s Day and tells us how bad we are. Then on Mother’s Day we have to get on our knees and beg our wives for forgiveness.” Ask yourself: What would happen if women were told how to be better mothers, or told to beg for their husband’s forgiveness during these special days? You know the answer.
To drive a better understanding of this prejudice home, I point out how one popular Christian author said that in 30 years of counseling, he has never seen a divorce that was not ultimately the husband’s fault. Let that radical statement from a traditionalist sink in for a moment, because this man represents much of what we hear on Christian radio, what we read in Christian books, and what he hear from guest speakers at church, supposed “experts” on marriage.
To say that in three decades of marriage counseling that you have never seen a case where the husband was not to blame for the divorce is to go through life seeing what you want to see. It is a form of spiritual delusion. Such a person should have his counseling license pulled and he should apologize to the men he has wounded.
I saw this wounding in a man who sat in my office, his foot twitching. He was told by a Christian man who claims to be a counselor that his wife’s battle with depression was really his fault. “I was told that I wasn’t the spiritual leader that I needed to be,” he told me, face turning red, anger swelling his throat. “He told me that if I would just get ‘back up on the cross’ that my wife’s depression would go away.” He no longer goes to church, yet he speaks about the church with the passion of a spurned lover. He stopped reading Christian books and listening to Christian radio long ago because he feels double-crossed.
I do what I can to help such men, but the bleeding is so great that I can only do so much. I point out during conferences that nowhere in the Bible does it state that men are ultimately to blame for their failed marriages. Or that women are more moral and spiritual and sensitive to the Holy Spirit. These are cultural fabrications put in the mouth of God. And I call this message against men what it is: Bigotry.
The Bible states plainly that though groups have distinctions, they remain equal before God in value. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (I Cor 12:13). “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
I also point out that beating up on Christian men in church is good business in Christian media. The Apostle Paul wrote about this tendency in his second letter to the church in Corinth. “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word.” (IICor 2:17) Some Christian authors and speakers know that they can malign men and get away with it because guys will “suck it up” and keep coming to church. They know that their message plays well with some women. It’s hard to get a person like this to understand the problem when their paycheck depends upon them not understanding the problem.
Christian men don’t like the prejudice against them, they complain--sometimes bitterly--in private, but they keep going, though something happens to many of them beginning in their late thirties. Church becomes a chore. And a bore. They go out of duty, not because they receive much inspiration there as men, or truly helpful instruction regarding marriage and gender differences. They go because they feel they have to.
If you question this prejudice against men, then ask yourself: Why do men have “Accountability Groups,” at church, yet women have “Fellowship Groups”? Men are treated as if they are one step away from committing felonies. So they require constant monitoring, constant “accountability,” as if they are at risk of jumping a form of spiritual bail.
Bigotry robs people of dignity and value. It frustrates common and healthy human desires, creates dark psychic storm clouds, and unless a man is unusually robust, creates spiritual fissures. Bitterness, anger, and resentment seep into men’s souls, as I heard during the question and answer portion of the conference. One man used some words that I can’t restate here regarding his wife’s behavior and how handcuffed he felt defending himself and his children against her wicked tongue. He’s been told that a “good Christian man” does not confront his wife about her behavior. His spiritual training has told him that accepting abuse is synonymous with sacrifice, so he sits there and takes it. He doesn’t feel right protecting his children either.
But the biggest problems aren’t that such bigotry takes place and those who are guilty of it get away with it. The biggest problem is that with enough intensity and duration the group under fire believes the propaganda against them.
Minorities believe they are feckless.
Blondes believe they are stupid.
Christian men believe they’re spiritually deficient.
No wonder they don’t lead as they should. Or they lead, but with the unsure footing that accompanies fear, inspiring confidence in no one. Or they lead, but with ambivalence, inspiring no respect in no one either.
Paul Coughlin is the author of No More Christian Nice Guy, and the upcoming, No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps: Raising Secure, Assertive Kids in a Tough World (June 2007). He is the co-author along with his wife Sandy of Married But Not Engaged. He's also a founding member of GodMen (www.godmen.com). To have Paul speak at your men's event, contact him at www.christianniceguy.com. Sandy can be reached at http://reluctantentertainer.blogspot.com/