I love men. I cherish them. I have a father and a stepfather, and I love both of them dearly. I have a brother whose humor and goodness light up every room he enters. I have pastors who encourage me, guide me, and answer all of my many questions with the patience of Job. I have several male friends who have known me for years and love me as a sister. Their counsel, affection, and encouragement are of inestimable value. I also have a husband. He is the greatest gift God ever gave to me. He is my partner in all things, my friend in all things, and the greatest source of human love, counsel, and comfort I have ever experienced.
I love men and value the masculine, so it pains me when I see men maligned or dismissed as unnecessary, unworthy, or somehow morally inferior to women. It happens a lot, nowadays, and it is ugly. It is poison. It is a sin.
It was crucially important to begin by telling you how much I love and appreciate men and masculinity. You have to understand that first, because I can’t go another day without writing on the subject of men mistreating women in the church. There is so much swirling in the public discourse right now about several high-profile incidents of abuse, and there is a growing awareness of sexual and professional misconduct against women within the Body of Christ.
Gone are the days when Protestant churches can smugly sit back and say this kind of sin is a Roman Catholic problem. It’s never been a Catholic problem or a Protestant problem or even a Christian problem. It’s a human problem. It’s a sin problem.
I know that men, like women, are the image-bearers of God, and I know that when we unite as one, we bear that image more fully. We are made with equal value, equal dignity, and roles of equal importance in the eyes of God. I know this, and so does every man in a leadership position within the church.
So the question I wrestle with is this: Why do so many Christian men choose specifically to sin against girls and women, and why are so many Christian men silent about it?
I have prayed on this and thought on this and worried myself ragged over this in an attempt to understand it, to categorize it–to find an appropriate heading to file it under. I am still at a loss. In the world at large, men have abused women since the beginning. The foundational unity of man and woman is something Satan has attacked and delighted in corrupting since the day that sin entered the world. We don’t work well without each other. Our work is incomplete without each other. We do not fully image God without each other. Of course this is a place where the enemy will aim his arrows.
But we know this. It’s obvious. It’s like “fire is hot” and “water is wet.” Men need women and women need men. We can’t be born without both. We can’t be whole without both. So why? Why have men collected women like toys and livestock since the dawn of time? Why do men beat women and silence women and take out their power frustrations on women? Why do men seem to value physical purity in women only to turn around and steal it from them through violence? Why do men acknowledge the devastating crimes men commit against women but then turn around and ask a victim what she did to bring it on herself? Why does this happen? Why has it always happened? What do we have to do as a Christian body to make it stop?
I spent most of my adult life totally separated from church, so I suppose I entered church life, at the age of 41, totally naive about the realities of “how things are.” I have been shocked and had my breath taken out over and over again by the things I did not know. The biblical illiteracy. The rampant, loveless legalism that refuses to extend mercy or grace. The subjugation and suppression of women. The worship culture that disdains and refuses to serve the emotional needs of men. The refusal to allow men and women to study God’s Word together. None of this looks like Jesus. None of this looks like glorifying God. None of this looks like the pursuit of faithful image-bearing. There are so many institutional and subcultural barriers put up and vigorously defended to prevent it. In the church. In His house. In His body of believers.
I don’t get it. It grieves me.
I go to women for commiseration on this, but I go to my husband for comfort. I have poured out this frustration, disbelief, and horror to my husband more than once. He is patient and he is good. He doesn’t get it, either. It grieves him, too. He comforts me with explanations of how men process this information. One of his explanations went something like this:
If it isn’t happening in our church, and if I don’t know anyone who has committed these crimes or any victims of these crimes, what am I supposed to do? Who do I yell at? Who do I make a plan to protect? Men can’t get worked up emotionally over something if there isn’t a tangible person or situation to get worked up over. We can see something horrible on the news that happened somewhere else and think, “Wow, that’s tragic,” but what am I capable of doing about it?
That made sense to me. As far as we know, there isn’t anything like this happening in our church. There haven’t been any of these crimes in our church, and we don’t have pastors doing or saying sketchy things. We’re lucky. Our church is small and hasn’t encountered any of this. It makes sense that not every man is going to take to the airwaves and the internet to rant and scream about something he cannot personally work to correct.
That gave me some measure of peace about the seeming silence of Christian men on these issues, but it still–it just gets me when I watch panels of Christian leadership speaking to a room filled with hundreds of Christian men…and I see no response. What women are feeling is a pressing and frightening question it the pit of our stomachs. Among the massive number of Christians in the United States, why are the super vast majority of articles, comments, and speeches being made about this coming from women? We see the women. We see the female Christian leaders. We see the female victims telling their stories. We see the mothers of juvenile victims giving lists of how the church failed their children. Where are the dads? Where are the pastors and elders and bishops and laity?
Where are the men?
The last time I brought this to my husband was last week. I had just read a disappointing article about another sex abuse scandal in a Protestant church I’m actually familiar with. I was floored by the non-committal, “gee, shucks” comments from a pastor I listen to and respect about abuse that took place in his own church. It brought up all of the emotional swirling again, and when the feelings threaten to overcome my reason, I take it to my husband.
My husband said something extraordinary and obvious. He said that men respond to specific instructions and plans of action. “If you want men to do something particular, all you have to do is tell them what that particular something is.” That makes sense to me. So here it is.
This is what I want. This is what Christian women want to see. This is what we’re asking for. All these women on panels at the SBC and in megachurch discussion groups on YouTube…they’re all looking for the same thing. This. This is what we are praying and pleading for the men to do:
1.) Question a pastor or elder if you become aware that a woman is being mistreated in your church. Don’t simply trust that your leaders will handle it. Stand up and protect the weak and the innocent in your local body.
2.) Make your leadership give a biblical reason for refusing grace to a congregant you believe is being unfairly or harshly dealt with. Whether it’s divorce, unplanned pregnancy, or some other consequence of sin, stand up if you believe church discipline steps over the bounds of biblical advice. Don’t accept a platitude or a flippantly-quoted verse about Jezebel. Stand up in a firm and manly posture to demand an account from your brother.
3.) Challenge a pastor or elder when proper biblical complementarian doctrine is used as a screen to implement improper and non-biblical practices that prevent women from exercising their spiritual gifts or following their Spirit-led callings. Stand up even if it doesn’t affect your wife or daughter. If you see it and you know it isn’t right, stand up for your sisters in Christ.
4.) Stand up and shout the roof down if church leadership refuses to protect female and juvenile victims from a perpetrator in your congregation. Demand that the perpetrator be turned over to authorities for violent crimes. This is not about “man’s justice” vs. “God’s justice.” This is not a time to consult your covenant agreement. This is a time to protect the women and children from the wolves.
5.) Stand up and shout the roof down when church leadership prioritizes the reputation of the church over the safety and care of the women and juvenile members of the church. God doesn’t need the reputation of your church. He desires your obedience.
6.) This is the hard one, so I’m putting it at the end. When you are in a room, and only men are present, if you hear a man saying something incorrect, immoral, unbiblical, or unjust about a woman or women in general…say something.
I promise you that I will always do the same for you in rooms full of women. So, please. I beg you. Stand up against this bleeding cancer in our body, even when it’s minor. Even when it doesn’t seem to matter. Even when it makes you or someone else uncomfortable. We have to start somewhere or this will only get worse. Let’s work to repair it before it kills the church.
Don’t sit in the pew, silent and stoic, saying nothing. Don’t pretend you didn’t see it. Don’t delegate your authority as a man in that church, assuming someone else will do the standing for you. You are men of God. You are the head. Act like it.