Are Women Fallen? Answering a Theological Question About Marriage

Earlier this week, I posted a short theological quiz about marriage and our feminized church.  My question was simple.  What is wrong with this statement?

Men, you must love your wives.  A woman responds to your sacrificial love (the love that Christ has towards his church), and if you love her sacrificially, she will reward that love with her admiration, her respect, and her affection.  You would never think of withdrawing money from an ATM without first making a deposit, would you?  You must invest in your spouse through your care, your attention, your romance, and your pursuit of her.  A woman thrives in such circumstance, and she responds with an overflow of love towards you and your children.  Yet men again and again try to “withdraw” love from their wives without making a sufficient deposit.

I received a number of excellent answers, both on the blog and on my Facebook page.  My favorite answer, which combines brevity with truth, comes from “BikerDad.”  His first paragraph absolutely nails it:

It places all the burden on the husband. If a woman doesn’t “respond with an overflow of love”, it’s HIS FAULT. The possibility that she is a deeply flawed individual wth her own issues that he CANNOT control doesn’t exist.

Exactly.  Many answers made variations on this point: the pastor’s description not only placed the entire burden on the husband, it presumed a virtuous response from the wife.  In other words, if the fallen man could only bring himself to love a woman in the right way, his virtuous wife would respond, and their marriage will prosper.

The ideal man?

While I have little doubt that if you ask the average evangelical pastor, “Do women suffer from original sin just as men do?” they’d quickly answer yes. But in spending a lifetime in our feminized church, we often don’t treat women as suffering from the same tendency towards depravity as men.  In fact, the number of self-flagellating sermons I’ve heard from men could fill an iPod, and the detailed attacks on men are by now well-known. We’re emotionally closed.  We’re too focused on sex.  We’re too aggressive.  We’re potentially violent.  We’re too focused on careers.  We’re too focused on sports.  We value male friendship too much.  Again and again comes the message: Spend less time at work, less time with friends, less time on sports, and open yourself to your wife and children.

Yet after more than a generation of such a relentless messaging, the experts tend to agree: men are in crisis.  We do worse in school, we’re doing worse in careers, and boys are heavily medicated.  Yet do we ever ask whether an educational system and culture that essentially does its dead-level best to drain every bit of aggression and martial courage and emotional toughness from young boys is actually good for boys?

With my own eyes and ears, I’ve seen and heard pastors and church leaders take traditionally male characteristics and turn them into vices while taking traditionally female characteristics (and yes I know that everyone is an individual, but in general men and women are different) and turn them into virtues.  Yet aggression isn’t inherently a vice.  In fact, it’s a tremendous virtue if properly channeled and a vice if not.  On the other hand, emotional openness can be a vice in the wrong context.  We’re all fallen, and all of our characteristics are relentlessly turned and warped and twisted by our enemy, and if any of us — male or female — uncritically indulges our “nature,” then we soon become agents of destruction.

Ironically enough, even as the culture has pounded the manhood out of men, women still don’t like them.  Women initiate the vast majority of divorces.  (Interestingly, it’s tough to argue this is because men are still louts, because lesbian “marriages” fare no better.) In other words, our culture has created a vision of manhood that no one likes.  Men naturally rebel against the “woman-with-testicles” ideal of popular culture, while millions of women ultimately find emasculated men to be, well, pathetic.

There is a created order.  We were created “male and female” with different natures and different needs.  In other words, gender is not just a “social construct.”  Yet our natures are corrupted by sin — both male and female — and we depend on God’s grace not just for our next breath but for anything good and virtuous that comes from our lives and character.  We would do well to understand the created order and seek diligently God’s redemption within that context rather than rejecting that order, exalting the feminine, and hectoring men into becoming better women than their wives.

  • Gina

    With all due respect, if you think women don’t get more than their fair share of “flagellation” in the church as well, you haven’t been paying attention. Your point is a fair one, but you’re only looking at one side of the issue.

  • Karen

    Seconding Gina. The solution to this problem is not more harangues addressed to women. As the kids say, people suck, and people come as both men and women.

    Also, please no more references to the “feminized” anything unless you’re a biologist discussing the effect of fertilizer runoff on fish. The fact that women get some credit now is not actually a problem in any circumstances unless you think women should never be allowed in public.

    • Matt

      First, Mr. French is not claiming that women should not get credit nor is he asserting that women should “never be allowed in public.” The critique is shrill and misses the mark.

      Second, the definition of Feminized in the Oxford English Dictionary is “That is or has become feminine (in various senses) in nature or character; made feminine; emasculated.” It has been used in this form since at least 1731. The biological definition you champion is listed second by the OED and reflects a more modern usage (1914). Mr. French’s use of the term conforms to the primary definition and is, therefore, correct.

  • Karen

    Has anyone ever used “feminized” in that first sense to mean anything other that “this has been infected with Evil Girl Cooties?” “Feminized” is in its original sense only an insult; no one ever uses the word as praise. French clearly believes that women’s influence has contaminated the church. How does that not mean he thinks women’s public roles should be reduced?

    • Abram Hess

      Yes, “feminized” is only meant as a negative, because it is only ever applicable to things that should not be feminine to begin with. Women don’t become feminized, because they’re feminine to begin with. But it is bad for a man to be feminized, because God made men to be masculine. That’s exactly what French was getting at in this article: God made men masculine and women feminine. Masculine men are what God intended, and feminine women are what God intended. Feminine (or “feminized,” or “effeminate”) men are bad, manish (or “butch”) women are bad.

      As pertains to the Church: Jesus was a masculine man, and He appointed masculine men to be His apostles and lead His Church. Femmy, limp-wristed, mealy-mouthed, make-up-wearing pastors with a “helpful thought for the week,” or a “helpful suggestion for the week” are not representative of Christ’s ministry or the leaders that He appointed for His church, because such a pastor is effeminate. Men will not follow women or effeminate men. That’s why feminized churches, led by femmy, limp-writsted pastors, and shaggy metrosexual worship leaders with half-closed eyes singing breathy love songs to My Boyfriend Jesus are full of women. Christ did not appoint a foppish limp-wristed metrosexual to suggest a helpful thought. No, He appointed men to proclaim the Gospel with authority, because all authority in Heaven and on earth already belongs to Christ.

    • Kristen inDallas

      If someone were to Feminize a tomboy, it could be a compliment. And I’m pretty sure if we talked about masculinizing women, that’d be an insult to. It’s not good to “over-romanticize” certain facts and it’s also not good to “politicize” moral values and faith. “ize”ing anything away from it’s true nature is bad. Their is nothing specifically anti-woman about saying that men shouldn’t have to be them. I shouldn’t ahve to act like a man to get by in the world, at work, school or anywhere else. let’s just extend the same courtesy, can’t we?

  • Liz

    Woah. I guess there is a war on women going on in some quarters. The quote from the preacher seems reasonable. Treat women well, and they tend to be nice back. Preachers typically deal with the rule, not the exceptions. Yes, there might be some psychotic types that respond violently to kindness, but really now. “Women initiate the vast majority of divorces.” Now that’s rich. That supports the preacher’s implied contention, that maybe women aren’t having as good a time of it as their husbands. I’ll tell ya, men typically set the tone. My husband doesn’t golf, watch sports, or “hang out” with the guys. If he did, I’d probably find time to play Bunko, go to book club, or shop with the ladies. Instead, we commit our spare time to kids and family matters. It can be done, people. And the kids are the better for it.

    • Karen

      Preach it, Liz! I want every advocate of a “masculine” anything to please define the term. What activities are “masculine?” Is it permissible for a male to do any housework? How much? How many loads of laundry can he do before he’s no longer the “leader” in the home? As for church, I agree on the wimpy sermons and fakey pop song hymns. Fanny Jane Crosby wrote some of the most beautiful hymns ever. Should the church drop “Blessed Assurance” because it has girl cooties? The praise songs Abram Hess rightly dismisses are musically simplistic and lyrically dimwitted. There’s no need to bring sex into condemning them at all.

      When French and Abram Hess and the guy who wants Christianity to have a “masculine” feel used gendered language, they always use it to equate female with “bad.” The masculine stuff is good and to be praised, unless it’s a woman who trespasses onto male territory. Women have to be reminded constantly that we’re worse than men. Men are supposed to be “sacrificial” leaders in their homes, but every single conservative discussion on this explains that “sacrificial” leadership means hubby gets to win every argument and make every decision. How “sacrificial” is it to know he’ll always get his way?

      • Abram Hess

        Miss, you’re completely missing the point. When something that is supposed to be feminine is feminine, that’s good. When something that is supposed to be masculine is masculine, that’s good. When something that is SUPPOSED to be masculine is feminine, that is bad. When something that is SUPPOSED to be feminine is masculine, that is bad. God made you female, therefore you should be feminine. If you were to deliberately make yourself masculine then you would be rebelling against God’s will demonstrated in how He created you. God made me male, therefore I should be masculine. If I were to deliberately make myself feminine then I would be rebelling against God’s will demonstrated in how He created me.

        It is simply not true to represent that Mr. French or I implied that “female is bad.” Go back and reread the article, and reread the comment that I wrote above. Neither of us implied any such nonsense. What Mr. French DID actually say is that it is bad for something that should be masculine–a husband–to be feminine. And he is absolutely, 100% correct: it is not good for a husband to be effeminate.

        • David French

          The core of my post is that feminizing men in the name of pleasing women results in a brand of masculinity that no one likes. Women are not more inherently virtuous than men, and men are not more inherently virtuous than women, and turning men into women isn’t a step towards joy or peace or justice but is instead an emasculating misery for all concerned.

      • Kristen inDallas

        Maybe you are drawing from other posts by this author. But in this article, it doesn’t say anything about feminine qualities being “bad.” He’s saying that by making men act like women in order to earn love, we create men we don’t love. I I really doubt he’s talking about who does which house chores or what TV station gets precedece…. he’s talking about nature. (in general) women like to talk and men like to fix or do. Men DO have to learn how to listen to his wife and recognize all the talking as her way of saying I love you. But women also need to learn to recognize their husband going out and tinkering with her car in the garage for hours as an equally valid way of communicating love.

        I for one consider myself a strong empowered female. Id not feel “empowered” though by preachers in the quote above who imply that I am some perfect little robot that spits out love if only my knight in shining armor would treat me right. I like being told that I’m not perfect (fallen) because I know the person telling me knows I’m tough enough to handle it. And I am.

        • David French

          Great comment Kristen. You totally get what I’m saying.

  • Karen

    So what is it about what you call ‘breathy’ hymns that can’t be described as “saccharine” or “trivial” or “insipid?” Why do you immediately rush to use gendered language to condemn something?

    • Abram Hess

      I never disagreed that breathy praise songs are saccharine, trivial or insipid. Perhaps they should be condemned for those characteristics, too. But in the context of Mr. French’s article, the breathy (and saccharine, trivial, and insipid) praise songs delivered by emo-looking metrosexuals crooning with half-lidded eyes, making out with a mic on-stage and singing to My Boyfriend Jesus–as is all-too-common in so many churches–are wrong because they’re femmy. Scripture is quite clear that worship should be led by men, and men should be masculine. The examples of worship given in the Bible are led by men, and are masculine (good grief, the psalmist wrote about bathing his feet in the blood of his enemies; not exactly My Boyfriend Jesus). The fact that congregations led by above-mentioned emo-looking metrosexuals are short on men just further indicates that the worship is femmy. And probably the pastor in such a church gives helpful suggestions, rather than commanding all men everywhere to repent of their wickedness and worship the Son of God.

      • KLeAnneP

        How is worship masculine OR feminine? I completely agree with you that men need to step up and be men, masculine just as women should realize it’s OKAY to be feminine – no matter what American culture tells us. However, your overuse of the words “limp-wristed,” “femmy” and the such sounds like your words are being written with a bit more animosity than perhaps you feel. Like you’re trying a bit too hard.
        But back to my question. When I look out and see both men and women praising God, eyes closed, hands lifted up in surrender to Him, I’m not sure I would call that masculine or feminine. In this case, I’m afraid calling any insincere “worship” “feminine” goes against your words that neither masculine or feminine is bad.

  • Jesus Morales

    You’ve raised a contentious issue here Mr. French. I’ll have to think on it. I see a lot of your point, but I can also see where people would object with you.

    At the very least, you’re right that both partners need to work with each other. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a man realizing his wife has different needs and trying to be sensitive to them. I assume you don’t either. However, men also have needs that a wife could be attentive to. Our society skips that part entirely for the most part, as do our churches.

  • Jodi

    Alrighty, I didn’t quite read everyone’s responses because it is quite the battlefield that was stressing me out to be honest. For the most part you all seem to prove eachother’s point: most men don’t want to lead in love and most women do not want to “submit” to a man’s leadership. This has been true since the fall and has been carried out through human pride ever since. I can tell you from my seemingly logical standpoint that there are good reasons not to do either based on how everyone treats eachother. I have my own experience with men stepping all over me and it seems many men have their experience in that women won’t follow their lead. Good thing none of you are God and good thing I am not. This is why we have scripture to help us remember what we are COMMANDED to do, not what we feel like doing. Hey, it’s up to you what rewards you want from God in heaven and it’s up to you whether Jesus will say if He knew you or not on that last day. It seems quite clear if you really pay attention to scripture that the only one’s Jesus will really know are the one’s who have suffered with Him. You can’t suffer WITH Christ if you don’t walk with Him and you can’t walk with Him if you don’t obey Him.

  • Belinda French

    A hearty congratulations to BikerDad for nailing the quiz with brevity and truth! I suppose that would mean an A + for him.

  • Brian Klem

    It seems that this is article is a specific application of the general principle that “society should not pressure people into acting like something they’re not”. If the author seems overly focused on one gender, it’s because that’s where he sees the greater problem. Personally, I agree.

  • Agkcrbs

    Very thought-provoking post by Mr. French, as always.

    I feel there’s been a vague level of detail in this discussion, confounding every competing notion, good and bad, of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ into two great, confusing opposites, when they never really were opposites, but complements. Opposites disrupt and cancel each other; complements add to each other — this demands some kind of mutual transmission of characteristics, though not in the way the carnal and ignorant world suggests, which is to take the worst parts of each side and smear them on the face of the other. But women, for example, were not meant to be emotionally frail, to lack analytical prowess, or to cower behind men like animals; and men are most weak who are unable to restrain aggression or desire, or to show gentleness.

    It’s true that the natural woman is a shrill and unholy terror to a man, and also that the natural man is a vehicle of cruelty and coldness to a woman. If a decent man happens to marry a woman still locked up in youthful self-interest, or given over to her nature, who is not instinctually inclined toward virtue, that was his own bad judgment. But as it usually turns out, women do prefer virtue. The pastor’s quote represents a sad reality: women fill more of the pews of churches. As a race, our men stand a degree further away from essential morality, a coarse and selfish version of ‘masculinity’ having always had a greater allure for them. They were given this flaw not to revel in or defend, but to acknowledge and correct.

    Mr. French must also take care to avoid the same emasculisation trap that he has critiqued. Only a wrongly feminised man will squirm and cavil at a self-deprecating anecdote, and insist on equal gender treatment, equal share of blame for the difficulty of marriage. Women and particularly mothers have their own shadowy valleys to walk, but the proper pursuit of ‘manhood’ has always taken tremendous and constant spiritual effort — so place this heavier moral burden within the stronger vessel. Men are quite good enough at managing self-blame anyway; if there is blame in a difference of human nature, let men shoulder it. Men were made tougher precisely in order to be blamed. This is the chivalry of our time, alive and well at least in that pastor’s church: to first honour womanhood. If someone admits that men and women are created differently, let him also admit that men are created with a much higher likelihood of abusing their divine characteristics. Let him accept that fact, not conceal it; let him struggle to overcome that likelihood, knowing that it can be overcome.

    …Even if it requires him to take a break from the endless competition of sports once in a while, or make time at home, or open himself to his family.

    • jbranson

      I would recommend everyone read “Agkcrbs” comment. I believe it can’t be said much better than that. Even though I would add one thing, while Agkcrbs acknowledges that men recognize their own flaws I would note that ask any woman her flaws and she will give you a list so long it could fill a book. So when Mr French notes the Biker Dad’s response is his favorite for pointing out that a woman could have deep flaws that contribute to the decline of the relationship I would say most woman are pretty hard on themselves already and to pile on top of that most women are hard on other women as well. So I agree lets not make men women or vice versa but I do think their is something to be learned from both sides.