The front line for megachurch Christianity is not feminism, but a call to renew masculinity. This seems to be a current theme, in recent decades surfacing as the Promise Keepers movement and more recently with pastors who bring a pro-man message and say that if the men in their congregations are real men then they are living in tune with authentic Christian spirituality.
Today Jonathan Merritt posts a new interview with one of America’s leading mega-church pastors and book author, Craig Groeschel. The topic is Groeschel’s call to arms in Fight: Winning the Battles That Matter Most (currently ranked #3 in Christian Living/Men’s Issues on Amazon) which challenges men to “man up.”
An excerpt from the interview:
JM: When you look at the portrayals of men in Hollywood and pop culture, we are inundated with these images of tough-skinned, violent, “manly men.” What are you seeing that is causing you to be concerned that men in America are becoming too passive?
CG: I think we see extremes portrayed in media. There is everything from the tough guy that just goes out and does everything wrong because he wants to, and then there is also a real passive portrayal of men who are unfaithful to their wives and are not involved in the lives of their children. I think both extremes are extraordinarily dangerous.
In society, I think one of the biggest problems we see is that men now–maybe because of the role models or maybe because of a number of factors–walk away rather than stay in when things get difficult. We see this in our churches whenever a marriage gets tough. Rather than staying and fighting for the marriage, it just seems like people give up rather than helping their children do the right thing and being involved in their lives. They say, “Well, I’ll let my wife handle that part.” So men may be fighting battles, but they are fighting the wrong battles. They are fighting for themselves and fighting for things that don’t matter. I look at the fight and really help to try to inspire men to try to reengage in the right battles and fight when they matter the most.
JM: Can you talk about some of those specific circumstances where you are inviting men to fight back? You aren’t referring to the battlefield, but is it the home, the workspace–what are some more specifics of those?
CG: The last thing I would want to do is say to guys to go pick fights. That is not what we care called to do. In the book, I really look at three specific areas that make men weak. We talk about lust, entitlement and pride. I think those big problems are causing guys to disengage from the real battles.
If you ask to really pick one of the most important ones, I think that we really need to fight for our marriages when approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce. We are treating it like marriage is a contract rather than a covenant. We really need to fight for our marriages. I also really believe that we need to fight for our children for them to be able to live strong in a world that is leading them astray.
Another thing is that a lot of people don’t think about, is issues of purity. A lot of men will just say, well we are men and we always have to look at women or be lustful, whatever. It is not that big of a deal. It really is a big deal. I believe we should fight for purity.
I also think that in a world that we deal with lust and talk about pride, lust is our “want it”, entitlement is “deserve it”, pride is “I can handle it.”
A lot of guys are getting ahead of themselves by pursuing material things and getting in massive financial bondage.I think we need to fight for financial freedom so that we can be generous and use our resources to help others.
JM: Craig, as you are sharing this message, how are men responding to it?
CG: The thing I know about men is that when you tell a guy what he is not, he is going to believe it. When you tell him what he can’t do, he will believe it. Even in the church world, the difference between a Mother’s Day sermon and a Father’s Day sermon is always funny to me. Mother’s Day, we tell mothers how great they are and Father’s Day we tell them how pathetic they are. That does not work with us because if we don’t feel like we can win, we don’t want to play. So, what I am trying to do in this book is really help and see that you are created with a heart of a warrior.
I want to tell men, “There is divine potential in you. You have, by the power of God, the ability to stand up and fight.” That resonates with men. It is almost like when someone you respect says, “I believe in you.” Then you better believe in yourself. I am trying to help and see that God believes in them even though our enemy specializes in making strong men weak. Our God specializes in making weak men strong. That resonates deeply with the heart of men. I am thrilled to see them responding well already even the book has barely been out.
As a long time participant in the Robert Bly-influenced men’s movement, I am sympathetic to Groeschel’s work. Men’s healing work is deep and an integral part of the deep love work which brings men and women together. The title of his book seems perhaps sensationalistic, which consequently could lead women or gay men to confuse his message as literally encouraging men to be strong by fighting with weakness or those who they feel embody weakness. I haven’t read the book, so I am cautious in this pre-review.
The front line of the men’s movement is not well described as a plea for men o take up arms. When Craig tells men where is “divine potential” within them and that this means they have a “warrior heart” and have “the ability to stand up and fight”, this is groan-producing. The divine potential in men could lead to a fight, but it could also lead to surrender or diplomacy.
Men’s work is best when it is integrative, incorporating the warrior heart with the sovereign heart and the lover heart and the magic-worker’s heart. Men who are victims have to learn how to stand up and fight; men who are perpetrators or oppressors need to learn how to stand down. All men need to get out of the trap of thinking of their identity as strictly a victim or strictly privileged, and then forge a new identity according to reality. Based on the interview with Merritt alone, it seems as if Groeschel’s message has a bullet or two of truth in its barrel but the shot he takes is unfortunately a misfire.