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Feature 03.30.2022 6 minutes

Big T Energy

Gun and Bible.

When the church falls captive to woke ideology, secular truth-tellers win the day.

Editors’ Note

This feature is devoted to discussing Andrew Klavan’s new book, The Truth and Beauty. It is available for purchase here.

Few things are more surprising to a church lady like myself than to find better sense about sex and gender coming from a foul-mouthed cable talk show than from our current crop of evangelical thought leaders. But such is the state of the world these days—the crude pagan speaks plain wisdom while the churchmen discourse in the inscrutable, hedging language of feminist accommodation.

Bill Maher’s March 25 monologue on women’s reaction to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky offered the kind of politically incorrect truth that certain progressive Christian ladies and the pastors who pander to them have been trying to paint as cultish and troubling.

“Everyone loves, and the world still needs, grown-ass men,” Maher began in a straightforward tone. He highlighted the inconsistency of American women who shifted on a dime from complaining that masculinity is inherently toxic to panting over an embattled world leader growling (at least, we gals like to imagine him growling) such cinematic one-liners as, “I don’t need a ride, I need more ammunition.”

The problem, as HBO’s resident bad boy pointed out, is that you can’t neuter men to make them acceptable for gender studies departments yet still expect them to possess the manly leadership qualities necessary to steer homes and nations through choppy cultural waters. “There’s always going to be a little toxic mixed in with masculinity, and no amount of training will turn us into your favorite Twilight character,” he astutely observed. “Masculinity is like coffee. Even when you decaffeinate it, there’s still a little caffeine in there.”

It is this traditional masculinity—the kind that puts wives, sisters, and daughters on buses to safety so it can stay behind to fight a war—that a trio of Protestant Furies have spent the last several years deconstructing as problematic.

The most renowned of the group is historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez. Her book, Jesus and John Wayne, has been toasted in such redoubts of sound biblical reasoning as the Washington Post, the New York Times, and NPR.

Describing her book to the Atlantic’s favorite Christian intellectual, Pete Wehner, Du Mez warns that a generation of white Christian men have bought into an image of a “rugged warrior Jesus.” Their sense of male dominance, she explains, springs from the fact that they “believe God ordained men to be protectors and filled them with testosterone for this purpose.”

To which the women who make up the majority of church attendance these days can only say, Um pardon, but where did you say I might find one of those?

Du Mez goes on to lament these men who have the temerity to imagine that they were fashioned to “exhibit boldness, courage, even ruthlessness in order to fulfill their God-appointed role.” She then claims their sense of unique masculine identity and purpose, drawn from created order, has given rise to a culture of female oppression within American Christianity (never mind that the least Christian, most feminist spheres in the world—Hollywood, media, and the Democratic party—provided rich hunting grounds for louses like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and Bill Clinton).

Among rare but real predators like pedophile Josh Duggar, Du Mez lists men who have done no credible wrong, like Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. One wonders if she realizes that slander, too, is a fairly toxic sin. The final pages of her book trumpet her intent: to “dismantle” what she deems the “evangelical cult of masculinity.”

The Three Furies

While it’s hard to comprehend anyone truly believing that the modern church or modern America is suffering from too much manliness, Du Mez is hardly alone in her thesis. She’s joined by another much-feted historian, Baylor University’s Beth Allison Barr.

Barr’s book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth, takes special aim at the doctrine of complementarianism—the belief that God created men and women to fulfill different, complementary roles in the family and church and that men are to function in both as leaders.

“Complementarianism is patriarchy, and patriarchy is about power. Neither have ever been about Jesus,” Barr asserts with a measure of her own boldness. She brushes away hundreds of years of church teaching and tradition with a blithe insistence that any historic gender differences in church or family offices are simply the result of mapping Christianity onto patriarchal systems. “Instead of following a clear and plain reading of the biblical text, the medieval world grafted their imported Roman patriarchy onto the gospel of Jesus,” she writes.

Du Mez and Barr have a sister-in-arms in Aimee Byrd, who takes a marginally milder but similar position in her buzzy book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Little surprise, then, that the three have been pooling their influence, giving joint podcast interviews and recommending one another’s work.

Much as they condemn the patriarchy, however, the irony is these Liliths wouldn’t be gaining such traction with their gender-role deconstruction project if the effete, metropolitan men who represent evangelicalism within elite media weren’t helping to prop up their ideas.

The Atlantic’s Peter Wehner we have covered. He is joined by the usual suspects, who can always be reliably counted on to give the burnish of Christianese to any ideological fad that kicks men lower down the economic and professional ladders.

David French, for instance, has praised Du Mez at length as part of his argument that “evangelical culture has had an unhealthy attachment to a particularly aggressive vision of masculinity.” One of his prime examples of this disease is boyish jokes about “drinking liberal tears.” Such ribaldry is the hallmark, you see, of the harmful masculinity that “[celebrates] antagonism as a virtue.” French wants his men fully decaffeinated.

So does Christianity Today’s resident theologian and former head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, Russell Moore. When he’s not flexing about being in the same book club as Wehner and the New York Times’s David Brooks (Brooks returned the favor by naming Moore a “savior” of evangelicalism along with Du Mez), he’s calling on Christians to heed the “jeremiads” Du Mez and her compatriots offer against “hyper-masculinity” within the church.

Yet listen to his podcast interview with Du Mez, and you find that almost his entire basis of agreement that an unhealthy obsession with machismo has infected the pews is because he’s unhappy with the fact that a majority of evangelical men chose to vote for Donald Trump. The same goes for Wehner, French, and Brooks. What then, one wonders, do they do with the two-thirds of evangelical women who also voted for 45? Such women seem not to exist in their taxonomy.

Balaam’s Ass

You would have to be willfully blind to look at our culture and reach any other conclusion than that women are running the show. Much of the gender madness we are suffering through is the direct result of men who are afraid to incur female displeasure. We have a society of Adams eating poisonous fruit because the women in their lives are giving it to them.

Just one example of this: a Gallup survey in May 2021 found that 43% of women said transgender athletes should be allowed to play on athletic teams that conflict with their biology, while only 24% of men said so. In fact, in every poll measuring trans acceptance, men are consistently more skeptical of the notion that men can become women and vice versa.

Men, much more than women, know this is insanity. Yet whose opinion is carrying the day?

As for the utmost in toxic male dominance—using the superior size and strength God granted men to seize women’s identities and erase their achievements—Du Mez, Barr, and Byrd have had little to nothing to say. Nor have their famous male fans. Moore has even blamed masculinity for the rise of transgenderism, saying in a Gospel Coalition commentary, “I think, frankly, many of these stereotypical views of masculinity and femininity actually fuel the transgender movement.”

On their podcasts and in interviews Du Mez, Barr, Byrd and the men who hold them up have bemoaned the fact that young men in the church are increasingly turning to secular voices speaking about masculinity. Voices like Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, and, yes, Bill Maher. Why, they ask, should followers of Christ trust the counsel of unbelievers over spiritual brothers?

But the answer is obvious: people go where the truth is. When the church gets scared to speak it, of course secular honesty will win out over pious deceit. When God deterred the gentile king Balaam from going to war with Israel, he spoke through the mouth of a donkey (Numbers 22). God is not picky: if the church is too scared to speak the truth, He will find other messengers.

The bracing (if slightly graphic) truth Maher had the courage to utter last week is one the church would do well to heed: “Turns out, after 200,000 years, there’s still a lot of, Another tribe is coming to kill us. And when that happens. You want a little Big D energy.” Until Christian leaders recover a little masculine energy, pagan truth tellers will put them to shame.

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