David Brooks wrote a NY Times column last month in which he posited that the current economic crisis has been much harder on men then women, pointing out that nearly a fifth of all men between the ages of 24 and 54 were unemployed as of this past November. He notes that for every 100 men graduating from college, there are 185 women doing so, and ponders the loss of masculine identity.
I applaud Brooks for bringing a subject to light that few people want to address: the crisis of the American male. It’s seen not only in graduation and unemployment rates, but also in post-grad programs and addictive behaviors. Even anecdotally, I hear of mission trips cancelled due to lack of male participation. At every turn, the trend lines aren’t encouraging. What are the reasons for this seeming social and emotional paralysis among men?
Speculations range from easy access to pornography, to the empowering of women in the marketplace. Like so many issues, the problem is a large fabric with countless interwoven threads. I can’t and won’t attempt to unravel these threads and look at each one. I’ll only offer two thoughts, from the scriptures.
1. When Paul talks about men and women submitting to one other in Ephesians 5, he unpacks specific ways in which this submission is to be lived out, with unique callings for each gender. Men submit to their wives by loving, sacrificial, servant leadership, laying down their lives for the well being of their spouse. Women submit by opening themselves to this relationship as receptive partners. In this way, marriages that are rooted in Christ will display the relationship between Christ and the church through the relationship of husband and wife. I didn’t make this up, Paul did. The fact that this calling is rooted in Genesis, even before the fall, makes it relevant and applicable today.
That we’ve neglected to address this adequately may well be one of the reasons there’s a crisis today.
Even as I write this, I can hear the politically correct anger, but I’m convinced that those who call for abolishing these exhortations can only do so by ignoring the text, or resorting to some sort of tortured hermenuetic that so deconstructs Paul’s intent that we’ve nothing left to learn, either here or elsewhere. Such deconstruction is often a reaction to the abuse and misapplication of Paul’s words, rather than Paul’s words themselves. Don’t throw the text baby out with the dirty bathwater of abusive patriarchy.
I don’t presume to fully understand what Paul means by declaring that men are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, but I know this much: He’s not talking about domination, cruelty, neglect, abusive hierarchy, or anything remotely close to those concepts. Embodying this can only look beautiful and life giving when lived out properly.
We need to teach men that initiation, sacrifice, service, and actively blessing their wives is a vital part of their world.
2. None of the injunctions about headship, however, apply to the relationships of men and women in the rest of culture, including the church, because in the church, ALL of us are the bride of Christ, submitted to our head, who is Jesus. Paul’s injunctions about silent women were clearly not universal and absolute, as he tells women to ‘cover their heads’ when they prophesy. Junias, a name that is always feminine, is called an apostle in Romans 16, a role that was obviously authoritative in the church. The case of I Timothy 2:12-14 has strong leanings towards being about marriage, both linguistically and contextually.
Just as its frustrating to see the left disengaged from Paul’s words to husbands in Ephesians 5, it’s frustrating to see the right blaming egalitarian church’s for the male crisis. That’s like blaming promiscuity on the fact that we’re created as sexual beings. Don’t blame sex, a good thing, for bad outcomes. Likewise, when it comes to the crisis of the male, don’t blame the empowerment of woman.
It’s an interesting issue to be sure, and I’ve more thoughts, but no more time. I welcome your thoughts if they’re respectful for a dialogue… and will respond as I’m able.