The Church is Not a Fight Club

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“If only a male janitor had been there to swing a bucket at his knees…” The National Review’s Charlotte Allen erased the heroism of several women in a short, few paragraph opinion piece, suggesting that somehow a male-identified person would have “known what to do.”

Another article, this one from a columnist at Newsweek, suggested that “a husky 12 year old” or a “football player,” or maybe even 8-10 “bodies” could have rushed the shooter. Nevermind the two adult women who did rush the shooter, and paid for it with their lives.

Erase, revise, edit, cut.

The bravery and heroism of women are all but ignored in attempts to keep ourselves from examining a toxic culture of masculinity which breeds wars and pride and anger and hate.

(To be clear: when I refer to a toxic culture of masculinity, I am referring to the Mark Driscoll’s, the Wild at Heart’s, the Doug Giles’, the John Piper’s, even the Donald Miller’s, for whom masculinity and treating people like men means not being kind and decent but instead violent and forceful. I refer not to the idea that men have a tendency to be different from women in how they behave and function, but to poisonous, irrevocably damaging conflation of “masculinity” with violence and guys and power over others.)

Masculinity as defined by violence is toxic.

It eats away at brother and sister, at father and mother, at friends and lovers. The idea that to be a man one must be willing to punch and fight and bleed (usually in "defense" of a weaker-vesseled-woman) pervades our culture. Fight Club is a popular movie not for the anti-consumerist message but for the presentation of masculinity as an untamed savagery - never mind that the main character, in the end, shoots himself to rid his life of the plague of this horrific violence.

We have pastors holding Mixed Martial Arts fights in church sanctuaries, claiming that this is true masculinity.

Religious writers proclaim that violence, fighting, and war – or, at least, the desire to participate in these actions – are inherent, natural desires of man, rather than the evidence of brokenness and sin and things that should grieve us.

Movies give us “badasses” who fight and fuck and are “manly” because they do.

Television shows praise as heroic the nostalgic image of fedora wearing, chain-smoking, alcoholic, philanderers with little self-control.

Since 1982, there have been 62 mass shootings  in the United States. 25 of those were in the last five years. Of those 62 shootings, 61 were done by men. 44 of those were white men.

We have a masculinity problem in America.

Yes, the causes behind these killings are multifaceted, complex, and impossible to pin down on one thing. I’m not saying that the conflation of masculinity and violence is the only cause, or even a main cause. But it is a discussion worth having – an important discussion, as we see more and more pastors preaching that “taking control” “asserting power,” and delighting in violence are part of what it means to be a man.

As a church, we are supposed to be a people of peace. When we preach that violence and power and control are an inherent part of our gospel, and an inherent part of the identity of men – as people like Mark Driscoll do – we cause great harm to the body of Christ.

I don’t have a succinct or neat answer or solution. Men of peace, it is your place to challenge this. It is your duty to push back against this toxic image of masculinity not only in secular society, but in the pulpits of our churches. Being a man is not about getting your own, nor about how many guns you own, nor about who you beat down in your race to the top. It’s not even about vicarious joy in violence – violence should grieve us, as it did Jesus in the Garden the night before his death.

This is a solution that is going to take all of us, and silence gets us nowhere fast. Now is the time to speak up, to be, talk, and do nonviolence, to challenge the assumption that what makes a man is how much he can make another person bleed. Man is not defined by how many people he hurts, but by how he heals.