When I first read the article in Baptist News Global about Jason Allen’s comments at the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (view its entirety here), I got a lump in my throat, my shoulders tensed up, and my chest ached. I was reminded of a time when I was working and a man, not my supervisor, but in leadership where I worked, came up to me while I was at my desk. The office setting was fairly quiet. He knew I wanted to go into pastoral ministry because he overheard my conversation with a friend. And he had an opinion about it. He came into my workspace, and proceeded to
talk yell. I listened to a lecture, with strong and passionate inflections, on how I was going against the word of God in feeling called to preach. I did not get to respond to his lecture, nor did he want my thoughts. There was no way to leave my desk. If any of my coworkers heard him talking, they did not come alleviate the situation. I shut my mouth, bowed my head, and half-nodded to pretend engagement. My face was red and blotchy from anxiety, like I was embarrassed, but had no reason. I was relieved when he finally left. This incident has prompted me to be afraid, at times, to speak forthrightly with others on how I perceive God’s calling in my life. I felt like I had to hide.
This is why, as a Baptist, I felt I had to respond to Allen’s comments. This theology is dangerous, and how it’s practiced leads to the possibility and perpetuation of abuse.
Allen seems to assume that the very presence of women’s leadership in the church threatens or perhaps condemns “biblical masculinity.” This implicates that men and women need to be at tension with one another, instead of ministering together. He emphasizes “biblical manhood,” “Christian masculinity,” and what he calls “sort of sanctified testosterone” but does not define them. Instead, he alludes to them with snippets of scripture. In this brief exhortation, he does not lay out a concept of what manhood is, or what is biblical about it. The only example he cites from scripture is the church at Corinth as one that lacked such presence of “biblical manhood,” because the church was so corrupt. He narrows in on the phrase “act like men” (which is in the ESV and NASB; the NLT, NIV, and NRSV say “be strong”) in 1 Corinthians 16:13 to the neglect of the rest of the New Testament. Based on Paul’s words in that passage, it seems that verse was meant to be addressed to the entire Church at Corinth. Looking at the crucified and resurrected Jesus, along with Paul’s emphasis of weakness as strength, presents a different idea of “biblical masculinity” than the one in which Allen seems to advocate.
I imagine Allen’s demand for “biblical manhood” is rooted in fear. This fear can be located in many places. Could it be a fear of loss of power and control? Might he fear an increasing secular United States? Does the current political environment impart such fear? Perhaps it’s fear of being wrong. In recent years, white evangelicalism has been exposed for what it is: ignorant toward the least of these; patronizingly racist; and more concerned about pushing political agendas than loving our neighbors. I say this as a white Baptist.
At its heart, “biblical manhood,” “Christian masculinity,” and “sanctified testosterone” are idolatrous. These phrases turn culturally conditioned circumstances into divine sanctions. This sin is nothing new. Sojourner Truth’s sermon “Ain’t I a Woman?” rejected such false characterizations of “manhood” and “womanhood” over 100 years ago. As a formerly enslaved African American, she uncovers the stereotypes of “manhood” and “womanhood” as products of the white middle to upper class societies. She exposes that “femininity” and “masculinity” only apply to certain types of bodies (and economic privileges) to the neglect of others by emphasizing her identity as a black woman who both plowed and nursed—in her suffering, “None but Jesus heard me.” Further, when the objection arose that women should not have the right to vote because Christ was a man, she offers this challenge: “Where did your Christ come from? God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with Him.” Here, she reveals not only these prohibitions as idolatrous, but asserts woman as central in the incarnation.
That is preaching boldly.
I’m grateful for the women who have pastored me. They bear witness to the Spirit’s indwelling them in the sermons, prayers, and pastoral care. They proclaim the gospel courageously and love their congregants. They minister not because of the lack of men, like Allen infers, but because they were called by God and sent to their communities. And, as Paul exclaims in Romans 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”