As many of you know, Agape Church of Christ has developed a reputation in our community, among those in academia, and throughout the nation as a church that addresses intimate partner violence from the pulpit, in our groups, on the streets, and throughout our city. While we hear that few ministries in our country speak out on domestic and sexual abuse, we continue to not only speak out, but offer trainings throughout the country concerning a theology of addressing intimate partner violence. This work addresses domestic and sexual assault, pornography, the sex industry, and the various forms of trafficking that exists in many of the homeless camps in our outreach. While pushing the theological envelope concerning ministry to the abused and oppressor we have continued to educate and inform county, state, and national advocates in methods to help those from faith communities.
In 2009 I presented a paper to my National Psychology and Bible colleagues, which was published in 2010, concerning the shift in Christianity from misogyny (disrespect for women) to a more general definition of “disrespect for femininity.” It has become evident that cultural masculinity not only has negative attitudes toward women and girls, but toward those males who “act like girls” or “act feminine.” In the book Am I Sleeping with the Enemy? (2010) I discussed that this did not derive from the Biblical text, but a blending of cultural masculinity with Christianity.
A few years ago a local high school required male students suspended for violence to meet with me before being readmitted. One football player had seriously injured another student. After meeting and talking with the young man he very calmly said, “He called me a (feminine body part) so I had to teach him a lesson.” I asked why did he use such extreme violence and he responded, “Everybody has to know that I am not a woman.” I also asked why female body parts, which males talk about often, were bad to him. “No guy wants to be one, that’s disgusting. (An interesting note is that when we ask young men to use common words for sex they always use terms that suggest violence or aggressive action). Not only do young boys grow up in a culture that devalues women and feminine body parts, but they live in a world where they have to prove that they are “not feminine.” In this environment it is no surprise that males disrespect, oppress, and are aggressive toward females. It is also no surprise that males disrespect other males who do not “act like culturally defined males.”
At Agape we have continued to theologically challenge our communities and other people of faith to see the damage of the oppression of femininity. This is what is called “Gendered Violence.” Gendered Violence oppresses or mistreats individuals based on their gender (or what gender is placed upon them by the dominant culture).
This applies not only to domestic and sexual abuse but bullying, sexual harassment, violence or oppression of same sex orientations, hazing, pornography, prostitution, and using feminine terms to hurt or humiliate another individual. This is evident when:
- A well known men’s college basketball coach places a tampon in the locker of the player he felt was not working hard enough.
- A father calls his son a girl when he cries, is hurt, or doesn’t want to play sports
- A coach tells someone “you throw like a girl…”
- A father harasses males who date his daughter and acts as if he is being a good father
- Boys are taught that our schools are geared for females
- Church leaders constantly refer to boys doing ministry/mission work and the girls marrying a minister/missionary/leader
- Males joke about being immature, insensitive, and ignorant and need wives to help them be civilized or mature
- Dad’s wont change diapers but expect their wives to
- We assume males of color, homeless males, or males who are vulnerable are weak, lazy, or feminine when they don’t do things the way we believe they should
While God has given us texts discussing males and females and their uniqueness, culture has taught us to disrespect and oppress femininity. I often hear males complain about the problem of feminism when the research tells us that males who disrespect and/or oppress females and those “labeled female” are the causes of the majority of our world problems. It is time that men become what God, not culture, called us to be:
- Whether we like it or not, Jesus would have been labeled feminine as a male in the Roman Empire. The humiliation of the cross illustrated this. We are called to follow him, not cultural masculinity.
- Paul commanded that marriages reflect “mutual submission” (Eph. 5:21). Husbands should be asking how they can submit to their wives by loving and nurturing them (5:29).
- In Roman culture males did not raise their children. Slaves and women did this. Paul told fathers to raise their children (Eph. 6:4). Paul also expected church leaders to be involved with their children by choosing to avoid the common Greek work for “managing” a household and using “involvement.” (1 Tim. 3:4, 12).
- Paul referred to his mission team as both a nursing mother and a father (1 Thess 2:7-12)
- Men are to manifest the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). No matter how hard we might try to make these words “man up” to our culture they are what male and female are to manifest. The Spirit is to lead us, not cultural masculinity.
Gendered violence and misogyny have no place in the Empire of Jesus. The same Lord who told us to turn the other cheek, be humble, love the poor, and be salt and light was calling men to do the same in their culture. The church of Jesus has a powerful opportunity to teach men to be like Jesus. This requires males and females working together to show others that gendered violence, oppression, misogyny, racism, and labeling other males is unhealthy for us as a society and contrary to who God has called us to be. This work will require courage to be branded by our culture as “not manly” and in many cases labeled with the many terms men use to humiliate others. However, it is the narrow way for all of us.
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Rom 12:2