Toxic Masculinity: The Bro-Jesus

Practically everyone involved in the Christian social justice sphere knows who Mark Driscoll is. He is, as I said last week, the favorite punching bag when it comes to conservative visions of masculinity. He is an easy target. But at the same time, he achieved huge popularity as a spiritual authority and his teachings on masculinity will continue even if his Mars Hill empire falls (as it seems to be this year). His teachings are, in many ways, a microcosm of a larger trend of what I refer to privately as “bro-riffic Christianity.” It is a Christianity by bros, for bros, with bros.

But what’s a bro? Bro connotes a certain kind of man. The Bro builds his self-esteem and confidence on how stereotypically, culturally masculine he can be. He takes selfies in gym mirrors, wears baseball hats unironically, and believes his worth as a man comes from how much better he can be than other men. The Bro centers himself in all discussions.

A perfect example of a bro in pop culture comes from one of my favorite reality competition shows – which are, naturally, filled with bros. On this season of America’s Next Top Model, there’s a model named Adam who declares himself “the party king.” He referred to himself in interviews as a “professional partier” and the first night in the house, he was the one who broke out the drinks. Bros are concerned with creating situations where they can be the center of attention, even under the guise of helping others to have fun.

One moment from Adam that I believe crystallizes the bro mindset happened during an episode a couple weeks ago. One of the men in the house, Will, is a gay man who enjoys playing with feminine presentations of gender – to the point where he walks around in six inch high heels (something I have to admire because I admire anyone who can walk in those without breaking their ankles). One of the other men in the house commented that he “doesn’t want to lose to a man who walks around in heels,” implying that this effeminate presentation made Will less than a real man. This hurt.

What does Bro Adam do? He tells a story about a time when he said something similar and got in trouble for it and proceeds to offer his “apology to the entire gay community.” He made Will’s pain about himself.

This, ultimately, is the problem of bro-ness and the central conceit of bro-riffic Christianity. The faith becomes not about Jesus but about what Jesus does for masculine people. Jesus is important insofar as he teaches men how to be men, not much else. In many ways, Bro-riffic Christianity, as exemplified by Driscoll and his ilk, is a remaking of Jesus in the image of 20th century hyper-masculine ideals.

Jesus becomes the ultimate bro, the man who uses violence to get his way, and who sees people as parts of a machine built to center Him in the universe. Such a Jesus lacks self-sacrifice; his masculinity is a toxic cloud of violence, misogyny, and narcissism. He is, as Driscoll describes him, a fierce leader with a tattoo down his leg, not the man who washed his disciples feet and died on the cross for our sins - that would be far too weak. No, Jesus is the conqueror, the victor, the leader of the New World Order.

These images of Jesus, rampant throughout bro-Christianity, become the full image of Jesus. Instead of the man we see in the Gospels, telling us that love sacrifices all for the good of all, Jesus stands before us with a whip in his hand and anger on his face. Such focus - to the exclusion of all other readings - creates a violent atmosphere for both Christianity and masculinity. Masculinity becomes defined by its violence, instead of its grace.

Not only does this vision of masculinity create a narrow, narcissistic view of Jesus, it makes it hard for men to live up to it without going awry. Masculinity, when defined by violence, easily becomes about getting one's way by force instead of putting others first. It is more likely to, say, yell about how God hates you instead of embracing you in your pain. Such masculinity, endorsed by the Bro-Jesus, opens the door for abusive treatment of others.

We need a whole, complete picture of Jesus and a whole complete picture of Christianity. All of us have masculine and feminine in us, and we lose part of ourselves when we emphasize one over the other. We need to embrace all parts of ourselves to become whole and we need to embrace all aspects of Jesus, not just the ones we like.

[Photo by Tor-Sven Berge on Flickr]