What Should Christians Know about Toxic Masculinity?
- Candice Lucey Contributing Writer
- 2021 1 Dec
The Western world has spent the last several years exposing the ways in which rich, powerful, and famous men have oppressed vulnerable individuals, both male and female. One might hear the words “toxic masculinity” and instantly form an image of someone holding a Bible, saying that God has told women to obey men. But is that image accurate, and is the toxic male the norm or the exception?
1. The Toxic Male
A toxic male speaks and/or behaves as though he is entitled to oppress women and the more vulnerable sectors of society generally. In the church, such men take Paul’s words on marriage out of context. “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).
This man believes that anyone weaker than himself — employee, co-worker, friend, relative, spouse, congregation member, student, or child — could and even should be his subject.
Some versions translate Paul’s words as “be subject to” rather than “submit.” There is a subtle difference in the emphasis. The “to be” is passive; “submit” is active. One is a choice. Decide, to let the man direct you.
Some men want to give women identity according to a supposed (and incorrect) interpretation of Scripture but, more importantly, to help them fulfill their sense of superiority.
Do as he tells you to do, this interpretation would say because the wife is her husband’s subject and property. His instructions are right and good. Iterations of this attitude can be extracted from the Bible itself, such as where Jacob took Leah as his wife after Laban’s deception, and then treated Leah with contempt, although she was good enough for sex; she was successful as a child-bearer.
He never loved or respected her. Another would be David’s abuse of Bathsheba; taking advantage of her while her husband was away at war. Or Amnon, who raped his half-sister Tamar, abandoned her when she begged him to marry her and was not punished by his father (although his brother Absalom, in another toxic move, relieved his anger by murdering Amnon, but did so without restoring his sister’s dignity and spiritual wholeness).
Toxic masculinity says that women are less than men. They do not need to be paid as much as men to do the same work because they are not as good as men. Or, some men would argue, they should not be in the same fields as men anyway.
Their proper place is in the home having babies and looking after their husbands. And typically, “female” jobs (social work, nursing, etc.) come with lower salaries than typical “male” jobs (managers of large companies, CEOs, surgeons, etc.).
2. God’s Answer to Toxicity
The Lord gives each person his or her identity and it is the same for all believers. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
The biblical directive is for a wife to submit to the husband as to the Lord. Submission to God is yielding to the safety and sovereignty of the one true King and Savior.
One can do this safely, male, and female, disciple alike; but if the woman is to submit to the man as to the Lord, God’s expectation is that a man will strive to be like his Savior and lay down his life for his wife.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
This is the biblical paradigm for masculinity: self-sacrifice. There is one perfect example, Christ himself. While no man can be perfect, he can focus on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Philippians 4:8).
This is Jesus. So, any so-called “biblical” paradigm, which belittles and oppresses women is way off the mark as far as the Lord’s Word is concerned. There is no excuse from God’s Word for suggesting that, for instance, female lawyers should be paid less than male lawyers, or that men should dominate that field.
As for the Bible characters above, God punished their behavior. The Lord features these stories in his Word because there are men and women, today as then, who can relate to those people and their experiences or actions.
Amnon was murdered for his injustice. Absalom was eaten alive by his anger towards both Amnon and David and ultimately died because of it. David had to face his son’s treason because he failed to treat Tamar’s distress with the seriousness and tenderness she needed.
Jacob had to wait an extra seven years to marry Rachel, and all that time he was unloving towards Leah. “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb” (Genesis 29:31).
The Lord punished David for his crime with Bathsheba, although she also suffered because of him. But many of David’s Psalms have given Christians today the words to face the Lord with their pain, whether self-inflicted or caused by the cruelty of others.
His hardness — his toxicity — was tenderized against the Rock, the Almighty, and his hard-won softness has become an inspiration.
3. The Example of Jesus
If one wishes to justify male abuse in society on the basis of a biblical example, such a position is impossible to uphold when confronted with the real Jesus; Jesus of the gospels. He treated women with respect and love.
Rebecca Mclaughlin wrote that, in Christ’s time, “the idea that every woman had the right to choose what happened to her body was laughable.” But Jesus turned that notion upside down.
Those who witnessed his actions and attitude towards women would have been and often were shocked. “His longest recorded conversation with any individual was with a Samaritan woman of ill repute [...], and this wasn’t an isolated incident. Jesus repeatedly welcomed women his contemporaries despised” (Ibid.).
4. Toxic Masculinity Should Be Shocking
This is why examples of toxic masculinity are so shocking to the world: Christian men should know better. Men who claim to love Jesus while abusing women or anyone weaker than themselves give the faith a bad name.
A watching world hears them defend their actions as “biblical,” and in this way, such individuals lie about who Christ is. But “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Our behavior — whether towards the vulnerable or as we stand up against male toxicity — is an important part of how we share the good news about Jesus.
In order to reflect a proper and truthful picture of the merciful and gentle Christ, one must know him. Every young man being raised in the church today needs to hear this: that Christ treated women with such inherent tenderness and respect that even the most enlightened man today would struggle to emulate him.
This is because his attitude stemmed from the heart, and from obedience to the Father. In everything, he submitted to God. Jesus went ahead, demonstrating that he could trust the Lord with his life so that all who choose to follow him will know that, though we must come emptied and weak, the Lord will be tender and merciful with us in our weakness.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.