Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
–Romans 12:10, ESV
Last week Pastor Michael Foster and I had an excellent exchange in the comments of my post Unless the men are *Christian*.
The discussion was around what it takes for Christian young men to gain the respect of older Christian men, as we both agree that this is very important for a Christian man who hopes to attract a Christian wife. Pastor Foster explained that for a Christian man to be respected by other Christian men he needed to prove himself to be exceptional:
In general, men gain status through diligent work. They outwork their peers in efforts and/or wisdom. That is what he meant by, “You’ll get men to respect you by working hard.”
I pointed out that only elite Christian men would be able to marry under this model, since he had also argued that earning the respect of other men was essential to finding a wife. We can’t make the average man extraordinary, we can only improve the average. Pastor Foster responded graciously and said he will consider the issue. This is as much as I would ask for. In the meantime I wanted to explore the question further in a post.
The larger issue is that modern Christian men tend to outdo one another in withholding honor. This isn’t true just for young men looking to marry, it is true for married Christian fathers who bring their families to church. This is why Christians have turned a secular holiday dedicated to honoring fathers into a day to dishonor fathers. It is also why the much loved movie Courageous modeled discussing our fathers with contempt:
I wonder where all the good fathers went.
Ain’t that the truth?
What? I remember you talking about your dad.
Wasn’t he an usher at your church?
Yeah, but that doesn’t mean anything.
Soon as the church service started, he’d step out back for a smoke.
You know, one time he says to me, “I better not catch you drinking. ”
Had a beer in his hand when he said it.
My mom used to nag him.
That is, till they got divorced.
Look, it’s not like I don’t love the guy, but it’s hard to respect a hypocrite.
What about you, David?
I had a good dad.
I mean, the guy wasn’t perfect.
My parents split after he had an affair.
But I think he regretted it.
Part of the temptation here is pride, but another part is finding a way to seem traditional without offending our feminist and chivalrous sensibilities. Surely Christian women deserve only the best husbands; they are after all the daughters of the King most high, the pearl of great price. Non exceptional men don’t deserve a wife. This last part is technically true. No man deserves a wife. But we should keep in mind that just like men half of all women are below average, and the vast majority of women are unexceptional. Most women can’t attract an exceptional man. All of those women who are married to the poor excuses for men that we look down on? They are every bit the losers their husbands are! If they had better options they would have taken them. Even if a woman had better options but chose a poor slob for a husband, this generally tells us the woman was gifted with attractiveness but blew it due to being below average in wisdom. Granted there will be a handful of true exceptions, but these aren’t the rule.
So when we look down on unexceptional men as unworthy, we are implicitly looking down on the loser women who can’t do any better. But as Romans 12:10 reminds us, this isn’t a Christian way of looking at things. It also sets marriage up as something only for elite men and women. For if we take the non elite men out of the marriage market, who will their counterpart women marry?
And it isn’t just weddings we are saying unexceptional Christian women should be shut out of. For those who are married, we strongly tend to deny them the hallmarks of Christian marriage. We may be willing to hold our nose and go against chivalry and tell a woman married to an exceptional man to submit to him with fear and reverence, but we draw the line at the wives of those other slobs. This is framed as an act of love for these women, with the implicit claim that God’s design for wives isn’t good. For we would never deprive a Christian man of his obligation to love his wife and wash her in water with the word simply because he couldn’t attract an exceptional wife.
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t challenge fellow Christian men to excellence. It is good for a man to demand excellence of himself and of his brothers (according to their individual capabilities). It is not good to expect men in general to be extraordinary.