When people in the Christian churches talk about gender roles, it often ends up being a discussion about women and submission. If you’ve been keeping up with these discussions even a little, you’ve surely learned that good Christian women should view their role as a blessing. You’ve been told that submission isn’t a dirty word, but rather part of God’s ordained order for the church and the family. When we submit, we’re following the example of Jesus Christ and putting ourselves under His authority.
Even though I still hear ministers joke about how discussing submission will get them in trouble, I actually talk with very few women in the churches today who haven’t embraced, or at least acknowledge, the value of being a virtuous woman with a meek and gentle spirit. We might disagree on exactly what it looks like and we all still have much to learn about being godly women (though it really should be simple — a godly woman is a woman who’s following God), but we have a pretty good idea what our gender role is.
We talk about men’s roles in the church far less often (at least from what I’ve heard and seen). Women hear “submission is a good thing. It’s not always easy but it’s part of God’s plan and sometimes you just have to do it.” But how often do men hear, “leadership is a good thing. It’s not always easy but it’s part of God’s plan and sometimes you just have to do it”?
I wonder if one reason we overlook this is because we don’t understand why men might not want to take on their role as head, lover, provider, and protector. We might think, Why wouldn’t men want to be the ones in charge? Isn’t it much easier to “love your wife” than “submit to your husband”? They should be thankful they get to be leaders in the family and that they’re the ones who hold public ministry positions. After all, that’s the role everyone wants. That’s why we have to talk about submission for woman so much, because otherwise she’d be trying to steal men’s role, right?
But maybe that’s not an accurate viewpoint. Maybe both genders are tempted to shirk the responsibilities God has given us and avoid living up to His expectations. Maybe this is a human struggle we all share, and which also impacts how we live as godly men and women.
Balance vs. Extremes
As I’m so fond of saying on this blog, people tend toward extremes. Instead of finding balance, we tip toward one side or the other. We all know about the type of extreme masculinity that takes the idea of leadership/headship and turns it into aggressive despotism dominating women and other men. That’s the “toxic masculinity” our culture is so (rightly) against. But going to the other extreme isn’t good either, and that’s what has been encouraged all too often in the churches as well as the world.
We think of the emasculation of men as a modern thing, but it’s not. People have never been in balance with God’s plan. We’re always fighting it. We had the male sentimentality movement in the 18th Century and now we have the movement to destroy gender entirely, especially strong masculinity. I’m sure there have been others, but these are the two I’m most familiar with (I studied female author’s reactions to sentimentality and now I’m living in the other one and seeing the effect it’s having on my father, brother, and male friends).
Giving Men A Break
My train of thought leading to this post started with an article published on Boundless. In “Give Us Guys A Break,” Ross Boone provides an answer to the question “Why aren’t Christian guys asking Christian girls out?” by explaining the emotional turmoil guys are going through. It’s an argument I’d heard before, and the explanation that “asking girls out is too much pressure and I don’t want to risk hurting them” still frustrates me.
As I worked my initial reaction over in my mind, I wondered if maybe this is a deeper issue than just problems in Christian dating. It gets back to the idea of the masculine role involving leadership (which is the reason most Christians say it’s the man’s responsibility to ask a woman out). We don’t talk about giving women a break from their role of submission, so why do we want to encourage men to get comfortable avoiding leadership? Maybe the church should be teaching men how to lead and supporting them in that role, not making excuses for them.
We all have emotional turmoil, fears, and vulnerabilities. That realization should help all of us meet all people where they are and empathize with them, However, stopping at empathy isn’t a truly loving response. We should also encourage others to live up to their potential in God rather than hide in their insecurities (a message I need just as much as my brothers and sisters of faith). And, to be fair to this Boundless author, “Give Guys A Break” does address the need to find security and confidence in God.
I suspect one of the central problems is that the churches have adopted our culture’s views on gender instead of making a concerted effort to conform to God’s standards. We’re all affected by our cultures to a certain extent, and when we’re constantly bombarded with the messages that submission equals female victimhood and that male leadership sets up a society where men become dangerous to civilization it’s hard not to internalize those messages. There’s now a voice in the back of our minds saying that, just perhaps, men really are brutes who will hurt people if they’re allowed to lead.
The church has to stand against this false ideology and teach our young men what it means to be godly men with the same dedication that we’ve been teaching girls how to be godly women. I am seeing more of this in my younger brother’s generation (the ones just graduating from high school), but my heart breaks for so many men closer to my age, and older, who were told they didn’t fit into a very narrow stereotype of “manliness” or who weren’t allowed to be Wild At Heart (which is the title of a book that several young adult Christian men have told me changed their lives). It’s time for the whole church to step up and support men in becoming confident leaders and protectors who are submitted to and following Jesus Christ’s example of Headship. And we should do this for all the men in our churches, not just the ones with an authority role like elder or minister. At the same time, we must also keep in mind that shoving people into stereotypes isn’t healthy either — how we fill our roles will depend on the personalities God has given us and our gifts, as well as our genders. Let’s all be “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” to do and be what God has called us to, as men, as women, as Christians.