October 30, 2015

Out of Focus

My camera's auto-focus feature is reliably quirky. I can never tell if it's focusing on a foreground object and making the background blurry, or focusing on a background object and making the foreground blurry. In Christianity, pastors might not realize that by focusing on a topic such as 'the role of men' necessarily makes related subjects, such as 'the role of women' blurrier.

Gender roles teachings say that men and women are equal but different. Their roles, therefore, are equally important, but completely different. So the short definition of man's gender role is: Any activity that is inappropriate for a woman. And the short definition of a woman's gender role is: Any activity that is inappropriate for a man. A church that wants to preach about what men can do, must therefore start by preaching about what women cannot do.

Now spectator Christianity has no problems with both men and women filling up the pews to watch the show from a safe standpoint of non-involvement. But if a person feels called to do something - then the questions about appropriateness arise. If one pastor believed that the church's reputation was as such that spirituality was a "women's and kid's thing" then getting men on-board with helping run the thing becomes pretty difficult.

It's an example of gender contamination, the idea that if men involve themselves in something for women, it'll make them more feminine and less masculine. Marketing and advertisement agencies noticed the pattern and began making advertisements for 'men only' versions of the same exact product. If a pastor seems to think that Christianity has a reputation of being a women's thing, then the men that must be drawn to it are less masculine than the men that are repulsed by it.

The problem is that Christianity isn't a can of diet soda or brand of writing implement. We can't just give the building a fresh coat of paint and replace all the soft surfaces with hard ones. The theology of Christianity must essentially remain the same. The theology that says 'turn the other cheek' (Don't fight back.) 'Don't make a big production of your faith' (Pray in secret, don't announce what you're giving to the poor, don't make it obvious you're fasting - act normal.) 'Don't store up treasures for yourself' (Don't get rich, buy up cars and houses.) It's not exactly a recipe for the most lauded masculine expressions. Likewise, the sort of leader that is the right stuff for Christianity isn't exactly a recipe for masculinity either: gentle, kind, hospitable, sensitive, relates well with others, empathetic, compassionate; and that's just for starters. Christianity asks a lot of men, to give up public recognition for their actions, give up wealth, and give up things like fighting and revenge. Even if Christianity made a 'for men' variation, there's only so much it could change and it might not be enough to make itself more attractive to more different kinds men.

That's one truth that Christianity doesn't always consider. Not all men are into sports or outdoors activities. Not all men respond well to being constantly criticized or pressured into taking a more active role. Not all men fit the stereotypes of masculinity perfectly. Most don't. A soft-spoken man isn't less masculine than a brash man. A pacifist isn't lest masculine than a gun enthusiast. A man who enjoys the company of friends isn't less masculine than a man who prefers to be alone. Masculinity isn't like a quantity of liquid, more or less. It's just like any spectrum that is varied from one end to the other. Not all activities ought to be divided up into the two categories of 'acceptable for men' and 'acceptable for women'.

Christianity has a great challenge to offer to men and women: to die to the worldly patterns that culture tells them that they must pursue in order to prove themselves. To fight against the prevailing winds of culture's definition of masculinity and femininity. And to become better people, not just better men or better women. Jesus never challenged his follows to be more masculine or more feminine; he simply wanted them to treat everyone around them better than everyone else seemed to. He wanted them to treat everyone with the utmost respect and dignity that all humans, not just men and not just women, should be shown.

When churches focus on the role of men, they must take the role of women out of focus because the teaching is that their roles are different. There is no common ground. But that's not exactly true. Christ-likeness is a common ground where traits overlap and and are blurred beyond distinction. Recently, a scientist pointed out that men and women are more alike than they are different, for 75% of traits common to humanity, 80% of them overlapped for men and women. We only tend to think we're more different because we focus on the extremes ends of our differences.

That's the thing about gender roles, Biblical Masculinity and Femininity - it's a set of standards set in a world that wasn't our own. We're expected to teach it, believe in it, and live by it's demands. Not once has anyone asked if they were reasonable as a timeless truth to carry on in perpetuity. We fill in the blanks with our own cultural ideas. Nobody ever asked if the combination of the two were reasonable. That's probably because we're out of focus; caring far more about masculinity and femininity than Jesus' teachings. That's what the wrong emphasis on the wrong thing will do.

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