Conservative Christians are facing a masculinity crisis. The traditional/biblical roles of men are no longer palatable in our feminist era. Yet part of being conservative/complementarian means stressing the difference between men and women. The challenge is, how to take on the appearance of being traditional without upsetting feminist sensibilities?
At the same time, we’ve been so successful in stamping out biblical masculinity that we very often lack real life masculine role models. Because Christians enabled the divorce revolution in the 1970s, large numbers of Christian men and women grew up without fathers in the home. Making this worse, for those fathers who weren’t ejected from the home, the constant threat of ejection very often worked as designed. As a result, modern Christians are left vehemently rejecting masculine leadership while at the same time starving for it.
I’ve written separately about this phenomenon with respect to cartoonish chivalry, which is a modern Christian caricature of masculinity based on secular entertainment. Another closely related phenomenon is pastors as drill instructors. Since biblical instruction on masculinity is taboo and many in the church (including perhaps even the pastor) themselves grew up without a strong father, the temptation to mimic popular caricatures of masculinity and declare them as the Christian model is extremely powerful. This is why we so often find pastors addressing the men in the congregation by mimicking (with slight alterations) R. Lee Ermey’s character in Full Metal Jacket:
…you are pukes! You are the lowest form of life on Earth! You are not even human fucking beings! You are nothing but unorganized grabastic pieces of amphibian shit! Because I am hard, you will not like me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn. I am hard but I am fair. There is no racial bigotry here. I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers. Here you are all equally worthless.
The poster child for pastors-as-drill-instructors is former Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll, with his famous “How Dare You!” tirade:
This famous clip is actually the climax of an hour plus sermon Driscoll preached, and his abuse of the men in the congregation began in his opening prayer:
Father God, I pray that our time would be pleasing to you, that it would be profitable to us, Lord God, as well. I pray for those men who are here that are cowards, they’re silent, passive, impish, worthless men…
The focus of the sermon is one verse of Scripture, 1 Peter 3:7:
7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with youa]”>[a] of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Driscoll is using this one verse to teach the men of his congregation about godly masculinity.
…most of you men don’t know what masculinity truly is.
The irony here is profound, since Driscoll clearly has a massive hole in his life in this respect. It was Driscoll’s complete inability to model godly masculinity and his corresponding unwillingness to submit to authority which ultimately destroyed Mars Hill. According to Infogalactic:
He described a difficult family history of abuse and crime, writing: “The men on my father’s side include uneducated alcoholics, mental patients, and women beaters…. One of the main reasons my parents moved from North Dakota to Seattle was to get away from some family members when I was a very young boy.”
Very often in the sermon Driscoll’s words cause me to think he is merely repeating to the congregation the emotional tirades he received as a child, claiming they come from the Holy Spirit:
Some of you right now, you guys will get all- “Oh, how dare he yell at me.” That’s the Holy Spirit telling you, it’s you. I didn’t name you, he did. You change now, little boy. You change right now. You shut up. You put your pants on. You get a job. You grow up and maybe one day, you can love a woman. It’s for men, not for boys.
This would help explain how Driscoll came to the conclusion that the way to teach men understanding and patience was to scream at them for over an hour. This is something a good father would have modeled for him, but clearly this either didn’t happen in Driscoll’s case or it didn’t take. Driscoll goes so far as to claim the drill instructor model of masculine leadership and instruction is what the Bible requires:
Now my tone is for the men. We speak to men differently than women. Part of this is theological. Peter will say it in 1 Peter 3:7, that women are the weaker vessel. Think of a goblet and men are like a thermos. You could drop a thermos, bang a thermos, you could dent a thermos, it’ll be fine. You treat a thermos differently than you do a goblet. Were this a women’s conference, I would not call you all idiots and imbeciles and fools, that you’re a joke, okay? But you men, this is where it needs to go.
While Pastor Driscoll is the most famous and over the top example of this, the basic pattern is very common in a less extreme form. As Sunshine Thiry’s pastor explained, this is most common on the day set aside to honor fathers:
…I have to tell you from history I’ve learned that often Father’s Day is one of the worst days that dads can ever choose to go to church. Because often it’s the only time churches feel like they’re going to have the ears of dads and so what they do is they plan to beat them up royally for all they’re not doing right. Ever been to one of those Father’s Day services? Oh man, I have. In fact, here in the early days of my ministry here, you know what we’d do? Oh man, we planned. We planned for you guys. And then what we did is we’d sing “Cats in the Cradle and the Silver Spoon”. And we’d talk about how you have so royally blown it, the world has gone to hell in a hand basket, and then we’d try and help you recover.
While less obvious, this is still clearly the drill instructor (or if you prefer sports training camp) theology Driscoll practiced. In saccharine Christian culture WWJD? has morphed into WWED? (What Would Ermey Do?) And thus, a sermon on 1 Cor 13 morphs into something like:
Listen up maggots! Love is patient!
Didn’t your mama teach you worthless fucktards that love is kiiiind?
You are the most miserable excuse for Christian husbands and fathers on the planet!
I feel sorry for your wives and children for having to put up with such worthless nancy boys!
Fast Food Fatherhood
The boot camp/sports training model itself is not the problem. In the right context it can be a very effective way to mold a group of men into a team. But it is being used in the wrong context, to teach what it cannot teach. Fathers do at times need to strongly discipline their sons, but the vast majority of the time their instruction is far more subtle. There is no shortcut to teaching patience. You can’t scream love and kindness into a man. You won’t teach courage by taking the easy path. And you won’t teach that love does not boast by declaring yourself the only real man in the room.
In a very real sense modern Christians have become the Saddest Boy Ever, craving strong fatherhood so much we seek out pastors who will abuse us.
The big difference however, is the drill instructor in the video quickly realized that the boy craving a father didn’t need to be publicly humiliated. He hugged the boy, and took him away from the cameras.
Sorry son, mommy had to cut daddy from the team.
There is yet another problem with the drill instructor model, and that is that the model is not just about tearing men down so the instructor can build them back up as a unit over time (something the pastors can’t do in a sermon). The boot camp/sports training model is also about weeding out the weaklings. There is no way around this when adopting this model. The quote from Full Metal Jacket that I referenced above is bracketed by this fact:
If you ladies leave my island, if you survive recruit training, you will be a weapon. You will be a minister of death praying for war. But until that day you are pukes. You are the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human fucking beings. You are nothing but unorganized grabastic pieces of amphibian shit! Because I am hard, you will not like me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn. I am hard but I am fair. There is no racial bigotry here. I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers. Here you are all equally worthless. And my orders are to weed out all non-hackers who do not pack the gear to serve in my beloved Corps. Do you maggots understand that?
Not only do pastors never get around to building the men in the congregation back up after demolishing them in front of their families, the whole model invites more of the very rebellion that started our masculinity crisis. The message is that the men in the congregation are worthless pukes, but those who survive the divorce revolution the pastor is enabling will be an elite team of whipped husbands.
Even more sick is the fact that the very husbands and fathers this method is ostensibly intended to help are the ones most harmed by it. More accurately, it is the wives and children of these men who are most harmed by the pastor-as-drill-instructor routine. The wife and children of a failing man aren’t helped in their already difficult situation by having him abused and undermined in front of the congregation. A strong family will survive the pastor’s onslaughts with just a few more bruises, just as they survive the onslaughts from the rest of the culture. But the weak families, the suffering ones, are the families the pastor’s drill instructor strategy will most likely “weed out”. This is after all the intent of the model the pastors are thoughtlessly adopting, but in the new context pastors are using it in it is truly evil. The only person in the congregation who benefits from this model is the pastor himself, who is able to promote himself as the only real man in the room, the man the other wives should wish they married, and the man the other children should wish they had as a father.