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To understand contemporary Christian ideas about gender, and specifically masculinity, we need to go all the way back to the values that shaped Christian origins in the first century.
The pattern across Greek, Roman and Jewish society was that men were the he of households, and households were the primary economic unit. Women managed the internal affairs, while men managed the external ones.
: Evangelical churches believe men should control women. That's why they breed domestic violence.
Most men, at around 30 years old, married a girl barely more than half their age. With such an age difference, the girls were less experienced and less emotionally mature. So men believed themselves to be superior to women — a fallacious conclusion that, to them, seemed obvious.
Paul, one of the most influential Christian leaders, argued that male and female, slave and free, were all loved by God and were one in Christ, but women should dress like women, even in leadership, and should normally leave public discourse to men. This tension — between equality and the conformity to social norms — still has a long way to go for women in some Christian circles and in the wider community. : What the early church thought about God's gender.
For men, how they saw themselves shaped how they saw God, and they saw God shaped how they saw themselves. This also had implications for how they saw women. Powerful men, kings and fathers were most often used to portray God. Greek sculpture, Roman macho ideals and oriental images contributed to an image of God who behaved just like such men: he was concerned primarily with power and control and, at best, fatherly benevolence.
: The man who painted Jesus. But other voices challenged such masculine models — including Christian men com of Nazareth. Every time, Jesus refutes their values. Christian men com then subverts their assumptions by depicting Jesus as a king enthroned on a cross and wearing a crown of thorns.
Here was a model of being a person, including being a man, which put love and service at the centre. Elsewhere, Jesus had appealed to parental compassion, arguing we need to see God as caring and compassionate, not as aloof and unforgiving, much less obsessed with power and control. What often prevailed was the notion that Jesus was, in Christian men com, an exception to the masculine ideal and the way God is. : HimToo — why Jesus should be recognised as a victim of sexual violence.
Jesus is the exception
Such violence, sometimes horrendously depicted as being tormented with fire, was deemed fair, because God is just and had made the options clear. This is a view many will still defend.
They are diametrically opposed and reflect two very different understandings of God. One sees greatness in power and control and the right to exercise violence when one is in the right, and is depicted predominantly in male terms. What people value in their God, they value in life.
Today, this might mean men can conclude that if they are right, they, too, have the right to be dominating. That may show itself in physical cruelty, but also in the subordination or exclusion of women. : Forceful and dominant: men with sexist ideas of Christian men com are more likely to abuse women.
Christian men images
In religious contexts, it can be associated with appeals to the authority of the Bible above reason and reasonable love, whether in church communities or in the home. But where people give priority to reason and Christian men com reasonable love that lies at the heart of the Christian tradition, the effect for both men and women is liberating. ificant social changes also play a role here. If, in the first century, women were deemed inferior and lived pregnancy to pregnancy, nearly half of them not surviving beyond the age of thirty, over the past half century effective contraception has helped even the playing field Christian men com women to engage in leadership as much as men.
Though sadly that is still not the case in many communities including churches. : Medieval women can teach us how to smash gender rules and the glass ceiling. For many men, schooled in traditional models of masculine superiority, this has caused a crisis of identity.
Despite the advent in the 20th century of pop psychology, which gave men permission to cry, many still have not made it. Sadness morphs into anger and anger, violence, towards others and sometimes towards themselves.
We need to call out the myth of masculine superiority and the abuse it generates. Plymouth Contemporary — Plymouth, Devon.
Edition: Available editions United Kingdom. How men saw God shaped how they saw themselves, and in turn, how they saw women.
Small groups worksheets available
William LoaderMurdoch University. This article is part of our Gender and Christianity series.
Christianity Masculinity Jesus Toxic masculinity.