Male Call –

Male Call – March 10, 2010

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.

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  • Becca

    I appreciate this post and have quite a few thoughts on it. I’m currently in grad school taking classes from Rosemary Ruether (one of the foremost scholars of feminist theology), my class with her this semester is entitled eco-feminist theology and deals with the relationship between the oppression of women and the oppression of the earth. She, without question, falls under the the title of liberal left. However, in her book Gaia and God she makes excellent points about the need for a purpose and role for men in any truly egalitarian society. In fact she argues that many of the destructive forms of society (abusive patriarchy, etc.) evolve out of a resentful male population.
    I say all this simply to point out that this is a problem recognized both by the right and the left. As women we cannot achieve sustainable freedom and equality if we don’t also care and provide for our brothers in Christ. We cannot have healthy families, healthy communities, or a healthy society without the active participation of both men and women at all levels. This is what Christ exemplified and this is what Paul refers to.

  • John Hinson

    If you want a day-to-day example of living within the discipline of God’s law, then Paul nailed it.

    As boys we grow up wanting to conquer, not domesticate. Girls (understandably not all) have a genetic propensity to pick dominant males who are good at conquering and who can provide a safe, successful home for domestication.

    At the root this is flawed system.

    Women get to fulfill their role of domestication, most often leading to a more rewarding life. Men however are required to snuff out their conquering spirit and replace it with passive submissive “husbandry”. Pornography and greed are popular vices for men because they appear as a playground of battles to win, and as such we will always struggle.

    That said, the higher call to men is to discipline ourselves beyond basic instincts and align our passions with Christ. That starts with lying ourselves down in front our wives, putting them and our children first. When you step into that stream of thought it becomes apparent that we face our biggest battle yet, only this time with weapons of restraint, passion, submission and servitude.

    It is easy to see why we all fail so often, it’s hard. But nut-up boys, the rewards match the effort.

    * married for 15 years, 3 kids and lover of all things conquerable

    Great post Richard, thank you.

  • sp

    wonderful missive Richard. Thank you for this. I also have a growing concern for this male crisis, and appreciate you pointing to Paul’s text as some of its possible underlying roots. I think this issue is very real, has massive social repercussions, and has a trajectory that if anything, may be accelerating downwards with the new punctuation from this economic crisis.

  • hmm, I do love this post Richard and oddly Chris and I spoke about this very issue last Saturday evening, not theologically simply in regards to our own marriage.
    We talked about how God calls husbands to be as Christ was to the Church meaning “to bring life” our marriage if Chris is not pouring life into me by encouraging, loving, caring for my needs, checking in on where I am at then it makes my job so much more difficult. I feel so full and energized going into my day after being dotted on and loved by my husband and it makes it so easy to respect and support him in his role..I understand the issues are way bigger and much deeper but in our home we teach our boys to treat women with love and nurture, and out of that they will earn respect. Men want respect and women want love bottom line..thank you for always encouraging and mentoring my husband in these ways that I think is part of the key!

  • Good stuff to think about…..but I have to think about what I am going to cook for dinner tonight and all the laundry that I have to do at home

  • David

    When applying for college, I noticed a strong bias in application pools and scholarship funding for women. At Fortune 100 companies, HR documents can be found that outline the preference for promoting and encouraging the development of talented women. Seminars, training programs, mentoring programs, all heavily skewed to attract and benefit women. Affirmative action, quotas, even the standards for termination are different. Unfortunately, the same can be said for “minority” groups (a term that seemingly encompasses a new group of people every year…).

    One of my best friends from college, who was a woman and had a black and a white parent, was rather discouraged after interviewing. She was finding that a lot of hiring managers were viewing her as a “two-for-one” with the “added benefit” that she was actually quite intelligent and capable. She hated it and ended up going for a job where she felt she was more appreciated for her actual skills, not the quota boxes they could check off.

    So, where does that leave us? Sad to say, a lot of white men just feel like the deck is stacked against them. When we have to compete harder and drive farther just to get to where someone else is… I have always understood the ways that wealth can pave the way. It has certainly been true for thousands of years. The United States certainly does a better job than most other countries, though, of providing opportunities to hard working people. I just have to wonder if the new entitlement classes springing up are going to undo all of that. They certainly have had a depressing effect.

    In the end, though, we are each held accountable for our personal decisions, through honor and ultimately, by Christ Himself through the purest and only true color/gender/ability-blind evaluation we will ever go through. I think all around, most of us could be better men. And, at the (finally, somewhat) experienced age of 32, I see the impact the mentoring my father and his peers provided to me. Mentoring from honorable men that many of my peers and the younger generations are missing out on. Personally, I was amazed to learn last year of the impact that I had on two fourth graders, reading with them once a week in their classroom at Bagley. I don’t know how yet, but I am determined to do more of this type of work.

    Anyway, life wasn’t supposed to be easy. Besides, we are men: We love a good challenge that is against the odds! 🙂

  • Ryan Thomas

    Several years ago I read “The Silence of Adam” by Larry Crabb and was moved to see the way passivity has plagued men since the beginning. I adapted the content of the book and created a weeklong study for a moutaineering trip I was leading; it was profoundly powerful as we looked at the way passivity destroys our relationships, identity, and calling. I have seen passivity in my life, and it has always been destructive!

    With regards to masculinity, I think it often confused with machismo: eating steak, watching football, and growing a big beard. This doesn’t do it for me. Masculinity should be marked by initiation, critical thinking, the pursuit of relationships, contrition, and ultimately, intimacy with Christ. And then maybe a beer to wash it down…

  • Davey

    Two thoughts:

    1. What’s the role of mentorship among males in the church today? From my view it seems to be something widely broadcasted as needed, with very little action ever taken to meet the needs people see.

    2. To what extent should our identity and fulfillment as men come from our occupation? I have seen unemployment wreak havoc on many of my friends’ lives, particularly men. More specifically, it seems to frequently breed a spirit of complacency and, for lack of a better word, laziness.

  • Adriel

    I like Davey’s 2nd point, which prompted me to think about Genesis 3:17-19 (New American Standard Bible)

    17Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;
    (A)Cursed is the ground because of you;
    (B)In toil you will eat of it
    All the days of your life.
    18″Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
    And you will eat the plants of the field;
    19By the sweat of your face
    You will eat bread,
    Till you (C)return to the ground,
    Because (D)from it you were taken;
    For you are dust,
    And to dust you shall return.”

    I have heard this passage preached on. To paraphrase, I was “taught” that work is supposed to be hard. (Particularly for men) That we will struggle with our careers (the fields). There will always be the tough boss, politics, commute, lack of appreciation, etc..

    At the time, I just listened to the message, but I think in this setting it is appropriate to ask, how much of the “original curse” is playing a role in our daily toil? Are men truly singled out? I guess it has been years since I have thought about this, and am beginning to digest the reality that there seems to be some force working against us in our jobs. For men, this seems to count for a great measure of our identity. Why is this? Furthermore, I’d like to hear from others about Genesis 3:17. As far as I know, it could be a stretch, or maybe right on the money. . . no pun.

  • Bradley


    Your second point is really interesting. I just finished reading a fascinating article in the Atlantic Monthly, How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America, and I thought you might be interested [the article is available at: The section, Men and Family in a Jobless Age, is particularly interesting in light of the question you raise.

    I found the article particularly interesting insofar as it discusses the effects the recession is having on families in light of the disproportionate level of male unemployment: men have suffered roughly 3/4 of the 8 million job losses since the beginning of 2008 (particularly in male-dominated industries like construction, finance, and manufacturing). Here are a the takeaways from this section of the article, although I’d highly recommend that anyone read it:

    – The service sector (which employs relatively more women) is growing and manufacturing (which employs relatively more men) is shrinking, and the result is men contributing a smaller share to family income.

    – When men do less paid work, often substantial marital problems result: (e.g. in March, the National Domestic Violence Hotline received almost half again as many calls as it had 1 year earlier; men who aren’t working at all still only do 37 percent of housework on average).

    – While the recession may lower the national divorce rate in the present (national divorce rate fell in 2008, probably because divorce is expensive), a long wave of divorces following the recession is possible.

    – Among couples without college degrees, and in lower income communities, the effect of joblessness may be even more severe and seriously impact marriage/childbearing: Kathryn Edin (Harvard Public Policy Professor) notes: “As a rule, fewer people marry during a recession, and this one has been no exception. But ‘the timing of the recession coincides with a pretty significant cultural change… a fast-rising material threshold for marrying, but not for having children, in less affluent communities… We already have low marriage rates in low-income communities… including white communities. And where it’s really hitting now is in working-class urban and rural communities, where you’re just seeing astonishing growth in the rates of nonmarital childbearing. And that would all be fine and good, except these parents don’t stay together. This may be one of the most devastating impacts of the recession.”

    – According to Bradford Wilcox, director of National Marriage Project at University of Virginia: “‘We could be headed in a direction where, among elites, marriage and family are conventional, but for substantial portions of society, life is more matriarchal,’ The marginalization of working-class men in family life has far-reaching consequences. ‘Marriage plays an important role in civilizing men. They work harder, longer, more strategically. They spend less time in bars and more time in church, less with friends and more with kin. And they’re happier and healthier.'”

    – Joblessness also disproportionately effects minorities, and threatens important economic and social gains made over the last 40 year. (e.g. late last year, unemployment among black teens ages 16 to 19 was nearly 50%, and 17% for black men 20 and older). Additionally, this joblessness may have a serious impact on inner-city life pertaining to drug addiction, family dysfunction, gang violence.

    At this point, I’m trying to seriously think about what effect the recession will have on our Seattle community and families, and I’m considering our role (both personally and as a church) in helping provide support for our brothers and sisters as they struggle with these issues.

  • I won’t blame someone else for my problems.

    I won’t ever give up.

    I won’t disengage.

    I won’t let fear or anger motivate my actions.

  • Deborah

    Mentoring came up several times in the chain of comments. I saw something recently in the Bethany Sunday bulletin about a men’s mentoring ministry beginning. Couldn’t find it on the website but anyone interested could probably call the church office to find out. Mentoring is so valuable. Go for it guys!

  • Adriel

    Here Here Deborah!
    It is statistically staggering to look at how many young men go through everyday life without any mentorship with elder men. We need it for sure. In fact, being mentored may have a great deal to do with our future ability to become mentors.

  • Ashley

    “We need to teach men that initiation, sacrifice, service, and actively blessing their wives is a vital part of their world.”

    I am hoping someone could expand on the concept of initiation in leadership. Any examples of what this refers to? Thanks!

  • Richard, I just pumped something out regarding this topic, and maybe you’ll agree. Well, not on everything, but certainly on some pretty core principles. Enjoy!

  • Richard, I just pumped something out regarding this topic, and maybe you’ll agree. Well, not on everything, but certainly on some pretty core principles. Enjoy!

  • This was a fantastic line: “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 think all men and women are individually responsible for what God has instructed us to do and be in this life. Even when it doesn’t always make sense. I found it interesting that the man’s role of Ephesians was touched on (the point of your post) and the jist of some comments were, “i am a man, i like a good challenge” or “this is how men should act so they can earn respect.”

    I get a sense from many men that they like to be challenged…so when scripture exhorts, they either “buck up” or they ignore and know they are rebelling against a command that scripture has given them to ultimately free them.

    On the other hand, we rarely touch on the command for wives to respect. I myself cringe a bit because of the definition I know many have given to that word. Can women take a good challenge? Can we realize our power and the freedom that comes with being obedient to a command?

    Just trying to figure out what each person is responsible for. I believe as women we are not responsible for men being passive, but I believe we have a huge role to play in engaging them the way God asked us to.

    I would love your thoughts and insight? Maybe a post?