Following the lead of companies like Nike, Gillette’s new commercial campaign addresses a social issue – in this case, toxic masculinity. In Gillette’s new video, men and boys exhibit violent, boorish and bullying behavior. According to the ad, men need to stand up to bullying, stop other men from unwanted advances towards women and teach their sons respect. Gillette’s message: men need to take the lead to end the “boys will be boys” mentality.
Perhaps, like me, you applaud Gillette for its creative, and predictably controversial, campaign. But people of faith need to take Gillette’s message to heart and go a step farther. We need to create clear and bold messages that address toxic church masculinity.
As of this writing, Gillette’s advertisement has been viewed more than 16 million times. Many of the viewers, however, are not happy. Men have taken to social media to record their renouncement of all their Gillette products. Responses Gillette’s video on YouTube include some 439,000 “thumbs up” but 850,000 “thumbs down.” Peter Lloyd, author of Stand by Your Manhood called for a boycott. Television personality Piers Morgan blasted the ad, declaring it “pathetic,” “virtue-signalling PC guff” and “a direct consequence of radical feminists” who are “driving a war against masculinity.”
Whether or not you believe women should be pastors (I do), the men in our congregations should take a hard look at toxic masculinity and the damage it does to women and men, to churches and to the Gospel witness. I have seen the many ways religious patriarchy in churches has been used as cover for men who want to control women. In the name of “the head of the household,” this type of Christianity has done damage to men, women and children. I have seen Christian women live in fear, suffer physical and emotional abuse and become prisoners in their “Christian” marriage.
“The truth is that toxic masculinity in God’s name has nothing to do with God.”
I have had long talks with men about male and female roles from the Old and New Testaments that offer a framework for egalitarian marriage that honors partners as equals. Certainly, the Apostle Paul in his letters addressed so-called house codes of the first century, at times giving specific instruction to specific churches on the role of women. Exegetical and historical research on these passages suggest that Paul was addressing a particular conflict at a particular time. And biblical references to the influential leadership of women like Deborah, Junia, Euodia, Syntyche and Phoebe erode the theological argument that women cannot serve as pastors or in other roles of spiritual church leadership.
In the church, toxic male behavior – and the theological and cultural systems that foster it – reflect the belief that God is male. That view has held sway for millennia, but that doesn’t make it correct, biblically or theologically. Biblical names for God in passages describing our relationship with God include Father, Mother, Creator, Savior, Lord, etc.
God is not “male.” Gender is indicative of a biological reality. As Scripture attests, God is spirit, not a biological being. The truth is that toxic masculinity in God’s name has nothing to do with God.
“Churches need to create more Gillette-like messages for men and boys.”
I grew up in a dually-aligned American Baptist/Cooperative Baptist church in which women served as pastors, other staff ministers, deacons and teachers. Women were celebrated for their gifts and talents in ministry. As a youth, I visited other Baptist churches that were not so diversified in their leadership, perpetuating systems that restricted women and their gifts while celebrating men as leaders. Women were relegated to women-only Bible study and missions groups, hospitality ministries, children’s ministry and the choir.
As a result of selectively literal interpretations of Scripture and spiritualizing the Bible’s passages regarding women’s roles in marriage and church leadership, men have degraded women as subservient and unequal. Many Christians will protest that this is not true, but tell that to the girls and women who have been systematically abused because of the male authority at home and at church. Of course, not every church that believes in complementarian theology is actively trying to harm women and girls, but the culture that surrounds complementarianism is toxic.
Churches need to create more Gillette-like messages for men and boys. Christian men need more messages that being a man is not about control or power or about keeping women under our feet. We need more messages that being a man is about exhibiting the behavior of Christ as men who are loving, compassionate and humble.