But really, such a condition of self-absorption isn't a man's condition alone. It's a woman's condition as well. Like Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake, and failed to take responsibility for herself. Like Adam, Eve became a self-centered being as well. Self-preservation and self-acclaim are not something unique to any gender. However, men are currently beginning to come under the microscope in our culture (and rightly so), so I want to take a look at the human condition and human responsibility from a man's perspective. Just know that these applications can be applied more broadly to all humans in their differing power structures and situations.
The first problem I have with the response we Christian men to recent criticism is our invocation of "rights." While you can find the odd example of rights invocation in the Bible (like Paul referencing his Roman citizenship), rights are more often something Christians are called to deferentially lay down for the sake of others. We see this in as simple a case as giving up meat sacrificed to idols if it offends a weaker brother or sister. My right to indulge in something does not supersede my obligation to lay down my rights for the sake of your well-being and conscience. We see Christian women married to non-Christian husbands who are told to remain in their marriages despite all that being married to a non-Christian would entail at that time (their spouse's idol worship, infidelity, etc). Women who also realized that their status in Christ meant they were not lesser in value likely began removing their head coverings, symbols not only of submission in their culture, but of value as well. If they were all one in Christ, then shouldn't they have the right to act as equals with men? Yet Paul asked the women to remain in their condition. And while men are called to be the head of their families, this leadership position does not signify self-interest power. Rather, men are called to lead by laying down their lives - by being the initiators of self-sacrifice, and giving up their rights. Like Christ laid down his life for the church, so Christians are called to take up their crosses and lay down their lives for others. While we are told not to seek bondage (e.g. a free person choosing to become a slave [I Cor. 7]), we are also told that we are not to be so worried about culture's view on us that we place a change in our cultural condition over and above our contentment and resting in our true condition in Christ.
But right deferral goes even deeper than these more simplistic issues. The Bible calls us to lay down our lives beyond the preferential. It carries over into situations steeped in injustice. Christians are called not to take fellow believers to court and trample God's name through the mud. They are to incur personal loss rather than pursue justice for themselves. We see Onessimus, the run-away slave of Philemon, told to return to his master and submit, even though Christ annihilated the distinction between slave and free. But at the same time, Paul called upon Philemon to treat his slave as his brother, though Philemon had the legal right to treat him as property. We see the persecuted church told to submit to authorities, even unto death. And finally, we see Jesus Christ humble himself, leave his Father's side, lay down his right to govern history, and submit to death for his enemies. And he asks us to do the same.
So Christian men, why are we invoking our rights when it comes to the discussion before us? Why are we more concerned about potential misrepresentations of us rather than in how we may have failed in being what the Bible says men should be - those who lay their lives down? Maybe all men are in fact being looked upon wrongly, but so was Onessimus, the slave. So were ancient women. So were wronged Christians who refused to fight their brothers and sisters for their own justice. So were the early martyrs. So was Jesus. Yet their responses were not to invoke their rights, but rather to humbly submit to their cultural critique, recognizing that peace and love were a greater message than being seen as right. They could submit to the injustices of where their culture went wrong because their identity was not in their culture's shifting misrepresentation, but rather in their sovereign, immutable Lord, Jesus Christ. We are called to do the same. If our culture mischaracterizes men in general, we can live with that because our identity is in Christ. But as Christians, we cannot live meaningful lives if we live in ways which are not Christ-like. So should our first foot forward be nit-picking semantics or laying down our lives in love? Which route is going to give Christianity the most influence and credibility? To which route does Christ call us?
The second problem I have with we Christian men today is our failure to understand biblical notions of responsibility. We're all familiar with the phrase, "to whom much is given much will be required." If you're more a Spiderman fan than a Bible fan, take Uncle Ben's words, "With great power comes great responsibility." But do we really understand that God is serious about holding those with more power and influence more responsible? We see that one of the reasons ancient Israel was exiled was because of injustice, especially to the poor. James touches on this same thread and, to the diaspora (the very Jews God exiled in part for their injustice), talks about not favoring the rich or picking on the poor. James specifically references orphans and widows as those whom God most desires for us to pursue. These aren't just empty words in the New Testament either. While we may not face exile of the church universal, we see Paul warn believers that taking communion in an unworthy manner has killed some in judgment. This judgment at the eucharist isn't a judgment for just any sin of unworthiness (as many pastors today seem to imply when they ask us to search our hearts before taking communion), but rather it is for specifically excluding the weak and showing favoritism to the strong when administering the Lord's Supper. It's great to search our hearts before God - especially before taking communion - but above all, God hates injustice and holds those in power more accountable.
While we could point to a hundred different passages to show this, my favorite is Nathan's confrontation of David for his sin with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband. Nathan's parable shows a rich man stealing a poor man's only lamb to feed to his guests. David is outraged at the theft of this one little lamb so much, he demands the rich man's life. Really? For one lamb? Yes, because a man in power didn't just take a lamb, but he wielded his power against someone who was weaker. Of course this parable was intended to show David how great his sin was, and that he used his position of power to destroy those below him.
Christian men, I think we're often like David. It's easy to feel outrage at injustice against the unborn or injustice at the "powerful liberal media" who has it out for us. But it's hard to see our own injustice until someone shines a spotlight on it. Unfortunately, someone has shown a spotlight on perpetuated injustice in our society, and rather than be self-reflective and contrite, as David was, we are self-defensive. Men, it is clear that we have maintained power for milennia in the majority of the world. Even today, the majority of those in positions of power, be that politics or business, are men. Our responsibility is greater because we have historically held and currently still hold the more powerful position in society. It is vital that we not bury our heads in the sand to injustice in order to maintain our positions of power and comfort, as I believe God will hold us much more accountable for our sins than for the sins of those in more vulnerable positions. While we may want to justify certain actions, ignore other actions, and defend ourselves where some misrepresentation may lie, we do indeed hold greater responsibility in our society and culture, and we must first search our own hearts.
Repentance and Intercession:
Finally, the third problem I have with we Christian men today is our failure to understand repentance. The Proverbs are full of wisdom directing us to heed instruction, correction, and discipline. Jesus tells us that before we seek to judge others, we take care to look at our own hearts. Repentance begins by laying down our pride and defenses and being open to correction. Before we ever levy critiques and criticisms, we must first sift through what truth may have been levied at us.
But whether most of us Christian men are completely innocent, or whether we're just not good enough listeners to see how we've perpetuated systemic wrongs against others, individual wrongness isn't even necessary for us to seek repentance. While individual sins are important to understand and confess, we are also parts of groups which need to repent. Whether it's Moses repenting for the Israelites, priests sacrificing for the nation, or the prophets repenting on behalf of Israel, the Bible depicts godly men who recognized that we can incur the natural consequences of God's judgment of sin even if we don't consider ourselves directly complicit in the egregious sin. Daniel was sent into exile with the rest of Israel though he and his friends were seemingly obedient followers of God. Like many of the prophets, the psalmists, Paul, or Jesus, all of whom cried out to God for their group and for those who sinned against them as well, we should be heartbroken for the deep rooted sin found within our groups and systems. Are we not a royal priesthood - a nation of priests? Should we men not lead the way in sorrowful intercession to God for the wrongs of our group? A willingness to humbly listen to accusations against our group, understand, and repent on behalf of the whole is not something which requires us to ourselves be terrible perpetrators of egregious sin. But it does require that we have eyes which are open to seeing systemic injustice, a heart which can break for sin, and a love which can empathize with those who are wronged.
If it isn't clear, I think the huge backlash by Christian men is shortsighted. Rather than humbly lay down our rights, listen, love, self-examine, and repent (for ourselves and/or others), we have chosen to shift blame, defend, and shut down those who have opened up about their wounds. Many of us are doing this all under the guise of seeking truth - seeking truth about what "masculine" really means (when we all know what it has truly come to mean) or about what agendas are really working under the surface. Yet we do all this in lieu of seeking the truth about our own hearts. For as likely as it is that hidden liberal agendas are bubbling under the surface of any issue related to gender, as a Christian I can guarantee you it's even more likely that human sin is bubbling under the surface of men's self-defensiveness and issue avoidance. My job as a man isn't to unsheath my sword and blaze my way through the culture for Christ. That's not how Jesus conquered the religious leaders, Satan, Rome, or Death - and as far as I can tell, such a method doesn't fit into Christ's prescription for his disciples who are called to cross-carrying and laying down our lives. The human problem tends to be that we are always so busy trying to cut through problems and find enemies to defeat, we forget that the war primarily wages within us. Sin is pervasive, and the formula for its removal doesn't start out there with "them," but rather in here, in our own hearts. The solution isn't to cut down our enemies, but to have flesh of our own hearts trimmed and circumcised. We are in need of God's transformative power more than anyone else, and until we allow God to humble us and work on our own hearts we can never expect to lead others to him. And God's transformative power shows through in one major way - love. For it is by our love - our self-sacrificial, patient, kind, and humble love - that the world will know Christ, and humanity will be healed.