Safe?

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What does it mean to be a man in Christ, made and redeemed in God’s image? We hear a lot about Biblical manhood, about taking the lead, about not being weak, about being distinctive in terms of body build, clothes and length of hair. Recently some US pastors have felt it important to pronounce judgement on the man-bun. Now admittedly I tend to think that the man bun is worthy of some kind of judgement, I think they look ridiculous but then I’ve never been really qualified to comment on fashion. 

However, I am inclined to think that these are not the things that distinguish true Biblical manliness. Instead, I was rather struck by these recent words from Eleni Brooks.

Now put those comments alongside Kristin Kobbs Du Mez’s description of the Donald Trum presidency.

“Trump embodied an aggressive, testosterone driven masculinity that  many conservative evangelicals equated with a God authority to lead.”[1]

Notice the contrast there. First of all, there is the very explicit contrast between what Eleni associates with Jesus and what Du Mez associates with US conservative evangelicalism. Secondly, there is also the clear contrast between what Eleni sees in Jesus and what she sees (or doesn’t see in reformed/complementarian teaching.

It should convict and challenge us to hear women saying that they do not feel safe among evangelical men. First, there has been the issue of physical safety. We have heard too much about bullying and abuse (spiritual, emotional, physical and sexual) by the prominent and powerful over these past few years. However, it goes beyond that. If you haven’t read Nay Dawson’s series of blog posts on “she needs” yet, I would encourage you to do so. The strong sense which comes through is that too many evangelical women do not find in our churches a safe place to both be discipled and to disciple others. They do not feel safe to express their visions and dreams, they do not feel safe to pursue their gifting and calling.

I have heard others talk about the fear involved in seeking to use their gifts and to receive training, the fear that by simply seeking to use and develop gifts will be portrayed as an attempt to usurp men and exceed their position. We are hearing these observations not from feminists or egalitarians but from women who themselves hold firmly to a complementarian understanding of Biblical teaching on marriage, the family and church leadership. These are not women seeking to take over the leadership of their churches from the male elders.

I’m not proposing to take the thinking much further in this article. I’d rather at this stage encourage us to pause, think, pray and talk.  I’m not going to propose solutions. I simply want us (my fellow brothers, especially elders and pastors, and me) to hear what our sisters are saying.

Then I want to point out to myself and my brothers that things should not be this way. First because we have the example of Christ, the one that women felt safe to come to, to seek healing by touching his cloak, to share their grief when a brother had died, to weep at his feet and watch at his tomb. 

Secondly, I want to suggest that we do have things in Scripture that tell us something of what it means to be truly a man.  If the Bible points us to anything specific about Biblical manhood, it is this. Men are meant to provide and protect.  My starting point for this claim is Genesis 2:15 where we are told:

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

The first man’s role is to “work and keep” or “tend and guard”. The language here points us right at the start to provision and protection. The garden was to be kept safe, the animals in Adam’s care were to be kept safe, his wife and future children were to be protected too.

Now go to Acts 20:28 where we find Paul giving final instructions to the Ephesian church elders. He says:

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God,[e] which he obtained with his own blood”

Elders are shepherds with a responsibility to feed the sheep with God’s Word (provide/tend) and to watch out for the danger of wolves (protect/keep).  This is in effect why we see male elders in the church because they have their responsibility to ensure that the church family are safe.  Note that provision and protection or safety come ahead of taking big strategic risks when it comes to being an elder.

I would argue that you see this positive pattern throughout Scripture for fathers. Husbands, kings and elders.  They are responsible for ensuring that those in their care are and feel safe.

Before we go looking for any other markers of manliness whether that be our hair length, muscle size, dress code or ability to use power tools our first question should be “Do the women in our care feel safe?”  Do our daughters know that we will provide for them and protect them from harm? Do our church families know that we are looking out for their spiritual safety? This is about getting the basics right. So how are we doing?

Now, let’s take that beyond our immediate personal responsibility. Pastors, think about what you are teaching the men in your congregation about what it means to be be Biblical/godly men. When was the last time you challenged them with the question “do women feel safe around you?”


[1] Kobbs Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne, xiv

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