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Thursday, December 07, 2006

That Jesus: What a man!

COLUMN ONE
Manliness is next to godliness
By Jenny Jarvie and Stephanie Simon
Times Staff Writers

December 7, 2006

Nashville — THE strobe lights pulse and the air vibrates to a killer
rock beat. Giant screens show mayhem and gross-out pranks: a car
wreck, a sucker punch, a flabby (and naked) rear end, sealed with
duct tape.

Brad Stine runs onstage in ripped blue jeans, his shirt untucked, his
long hair shaggy. He's a stand-up comic by trade, but he's here today
as an evangelist, on a mission to build up a new Christian man — one
profanity at a time. "It's the wuss-ification of America that's
getting us!" screeches Stine, 46.

A moment later he adds a fervent: "Thank you, Lord, for our
testosterone!"

It's an apt anthem for a contrarian movement gaining momentum on the
fringes of Christianity. In daybreak fraternity meetings and weekend
paintball wars, in wilderness retreats and X-rated chats about lust,
thousands of Christian men are reaching for more forceful, more
rugged expressions of their faith.

Stine's daylong revival meeting, which he calls "GodMen," is cruder
than most. But it's built around the same theory as the other
experimental forums: Traditional church worship is emasculating.

Hold hands with strangers? Sing love songs to Jesus? No wonder pews
across America hold far more women than men, Stine says. Factor in
the pressure to be a "Christian nice guy" — no cussing, no
confrontation, in tune with the wife's emotions — and it's amazing
men keep the faith at all.

"We know men are uncomfortable in church," says the Rev. Kraig Wall,
52, who pastors a small church in Franklin, Tenn. — and is at GodMen
to research ways to reach the husbands of his congregation. His
conclusion: "The syrup and the sticky stuff is holding us down."

John Eldredge, a seminal writer for the movement, goes further in
"Wild At Heart," his bestselling book. "Christianity, as it currently
exists, has done some terrible things to men," he writes. Men
"believe that God put them on earth to be a good boy."

Cue up the GodMen house band, which opens the revival with a
thrashing challenge to good boys:

*

Forget the yin and the yang

I'll take the boom and the bang….

Don't need in touch with my feminine side!

All I want is my testosterone high.

*

The 200 men in the crowd clap stiffly. Stine races through a frenetic
stand-up routine, drawing laughs with his rants against liberals,
atheists and the politically correct. Then Christian radio host Paul
Coughlin, author of "No More Christian Nice Guy," takes the stage.
His backdrop: a series of wanted posters featuring one Jesus of
Nazareth.

"Jesus was a very bad Christian," Coughlin declares. After all, he
says, the Son of God trashed a temple and even used profanity — or
the New Testament equivalent — when he called Herod "that fox."

"The idea of Jesus as meek and mild is as fictitious as anything in
Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code,' " says Coughlin, 40.

So what's with the standard portraits of Jesus: pale face, beatific
smile, lapful of lambs?

"He's been domesticated," says Roland Martinson, a professor of
ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. "He's portrayed now as
gentle, loving, kind, rather than as a full-bodied person who kicked
over tables in the temple, spent 40 days in the wilderness wrestling
with his identity and with God, hung out with the guys in the street.
The rough-hewn edges and courage ... got lopped off."

Martinson considers the experiments with high-testosterone worship
"an important attempt to address at least one aspect of the
difficulty Christianity is facing with men." He just worries it might
go too far. "Too often, it turns into the man being in charge of the
woman," he says. "Christianity has been there before, and we learned
how wrong it was."

In fact, men taking charge is a big theme of the GodMen revival. At
what he hopes will be the first of many such conferences, in a
warehouse-turned-nightclub in downtown Nashville, Stine asks the men:
"Are you ready to grab your sword and say, 'OK, family, I'm going to
lead you?' " He also distributes a list of a real man's rules for his
woman. No. 1: "Learn to work the toilet seat. You're a big girl. If
it's up, put it down."

Stine's wife, Desiree, says she supports manly leadership; it seems
to her the natural and God-ordained order of things. As she puts it:
"When the rubber hits the bat, I want to know my husband will protect
me."

But some men at the conference run into trouble when they debut their
new attitudes at home. Eric Miller, a construction worker, admits his
wife is none too pleased when he takes off, alone, on a weekend
camping trip a few weeks after the GodMen conference this fall.

"She was a little bit leery of it, as we have an infant," he reports.
"She said, 'I need your help around here.' "

Miller, 26, refuses to yield: "I am supposed to be the leader of the
family."

He's pretty sure his wife will come around once she recognizes he's
modeling his life after Jesus', like a good Christian should. It'll
just take a little explaining, because the Jesus he has in mind is
the guy on the wanted poster: "confrontational and sarcastic when he
needed to be," Miller says, and determined to use "whatever means was
necessary to achieve his goal."

Or as another song from the GodMen band declares:

*

You're not a slave, break the chains...

We've had enough, "cowboy up"

In the power of Jesus' name.

*

SUCH in-your-face aggression at first troubles Howard Stephenson, who
paid $68 for a day at GodMen in hopes of forging friendships with
other Christian men. When Stine, a born-again Christian, shouts that
it's OK to cuss — and then demonstrates with a defiant "bull...." —
Stephenson shifts uneasily.

"This is so extreme for me," he says.

A few weeks later, Stephenson, 43, is still not sold on profanity.
But he has ditched the nice-guy reflex of always turning the other
cheek. When he spots a Wal-Mart clerk writing "Happy Holidays" on a
window, he boldly complains: It should say "Merry Christmas."

The clerk erases the offending greeting. Chalk one up for Christian
testosterone.

"I wouldn't have done that before," Stephenson says proudly. "I am no
longer a doormat."

The virility crusade is, in part, a response to a stark gender gap.
Though churches have tried all sorts of gimmicks to attract men —
even sponsoring clubs for motorcycle riders and paintball players —
more than 60% of the adults at a typical worship service are women.
That translates into 13 million more women than men in the pews on
any given Sunday, according to David Murrow, author of "Why Men Hate
Going to Church."

Women are also significantly more likely than men to attend Sunday
school, read the Bible and pray regularly, according to the Barna
Group, a Christian polling firm.

Murrow, 45, blames men's lackluster attitude on the feminization of
mainline churches: "Lace curtains. Quilted banners on the wall. Pink
carpet. Fresh flowers at the podium."

Even in evangelical mega-churches, which tend to use more neutral
decor, the mood is hardly alpha male. Dancers wave flowing banners as
the choir sings. TV screens glow with images of flowers and sunsets.

As for the music, "Onward, Christian Soldiers" is long gone. Instead,
there are ballads about Jesus' eternal embrace. "Very Barry Manilow,"
says Mike Smith, Stine's manager.

Millions of men, of course, find such worship peaceful or
inspirational, not stifling. And there remain some staunch defenders
of the Christian nice guy. "It's a wonderful thing to see a man
welling up in tears," says Greg Vaughn, who teaches men nationwide
how to write love letters to their wives. "It takes a lot more
courage to do that than to talk about football."

The most famous men's ministry, Promise Keepers, packed stadiums
throughout the 1990s with men who wept and hugged one another as they
pledged to be dutiful and pure. Men at Promise Keepers rallies today
make the same vows, but in a nod to the new ethos of manliness, the
conferences now carry titles such as "Storm the Gates" and
"Uprising." This year, the theme is "Unleashed," as in unleashing the
warrior within.

"It is not about learning how to be a nicer guy," the website declares.

Coughlin and others in the manly Christian movement are unconvinced.
Promise Keepers still emphasizes obedience and purity. Participants
still shed tears. Plus, children are invited, and women work the
arenas as support staff, so the conversation never gets too raw. In
several years of performing stand-up at Promise Keepers events, Stine
never cursed; the closest he came to vulgarity was his liberal use of
the word "stinking."

"I get tired of trying to maintain that Christian persona," he says.
"I hate that sense of decorum. I hate thinking, 'Boy, I hope I don't
say the wrong thing.' "

Stine argues that the genteel facade of a Christian nice guy inhibits
introspection and substitutes cliches for spiritual growth. GodMen is
his attempt to encourage men to get real. His speakers admit to
masturbation and adultery. A workshop called "Training the Penis"
encourages men to talk openly about temptation and bond with guys who
share their struggles.

Such honesty, Stine contends, molds better, more godly men than a
typical Sunday service.

"We want to force you out of the safe places that have passed for
spirituality," Stine says. "Maybe worship could be hanging out with a
bunch of guys, admitting we like blowing crap up."

A similar — though less ribald — approach is taken by Men's
Fraternity, which was founded in Little Rock, Ark., in 1990 and has
expanded around the world, with hundreds of chapters meeting weekly
at 6 a.m. in churches, office buildings, even car dealerships.

"It's testosterone-friendly," says Rick Caldwell, global director of
the program. He urges chapter leaders to have NFL bloopers on the big
screen when the men come in, and oldies or country-western on the
radio. "No opening prayer. And for heaven's sakes, don't ask the guys
to take the hand of the guys next to them. That scares them to death."

Leaders don't even bring out the Bible until they're well into the
curriculum; instead, they teach ideals of Christian manhood through
Steve Martin movies and clips from "Braveheart."

"Do not think Sunday morning worship," Caldwell says. "Think Saturday
afternoon tailgate."

The ironic bit about all this rough-and-tumble manliness is that it
often leads to what can only be described as touchy-feely moments.

Eldredge runs "soul-searching" wilderness retreats in Colorado that
prompt men to bare their innermost needs. Men's Fraternity gets guys
talking about their psychological "wounds" and encourages them to ask
their dads: Do you love me? Are you proud of me? BattleZone
Ministries, based in Clovis, Calif., has posted an online video on
how to pray for a man without freaking him out — but its recommended
approach still involves guys laying hands on their buddy.

Even Stine is thinking that GodMen could use a slightly softer look.
He hopes to roll out the conference nationwide next year, but he
plans to downplay the profanity, make time for group prayer — and
maybe even get a sing-along going. Not a sappy sing-along, mind you.

He'll be looking for a manly Christian hymn.

*

jenny.jarvie@latimes.com

stephanie.simon@latimes.com

latimes.com Click here for the original text.
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-
godmen7dec07,0,5040895.story?coll=la-home-headlines


Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times =

6 comments:

Caminante said...

More 'muscular Christianity' -- just what we need. Ugh. I have lost my appetite. Lee

Weiwen Ng said...

This guy is a moron. Men do not need to be boorish to affirm their masculinity. We do not need to be 'man of the house' at the expense of our wives. That stuff is, dare I say it, bullshit.

That having been said, I would like to see Christian men reclaim their masculinity in a way that is affirming of the rest of creation. Stine does raise one good point: Jesus did curse people out and he did trash the temple, when the situation called for it. Although the meek shall inherit the Earth, Christians, men and women alike, must never be too meek if the truth needs to be spoken.

Perhaps transgendered men can teach us a bit here :)

Jon said...

A few thoughts come to mind when I read this...

First of all: dateline - Nashville... As one who has some experience with that city, I can't say that I'm terribly suprised.

But as I read this, I'm betting that these men think that they're really up to something entirely new. Unfortunately, men have attempted to "masculinize" Christianity basically since there was a Christianity. We all know that women played important roles in the earliest days of church history, particularly in their founding and supporting "house churches". It wasn't until the church became an institution that women were asked to politely wait on the margins so the men could make the church into a political and military machine. But what really frightens me about this is when we look at 19th-20th century American church history. In the late 19th century the men who were ministers began to notice that they were among the only men in the buildings. They attempted to "masculinize" the church and it played a role in bringing about the great fundamentalist movement of the 1920s. Now that I see the church on the cusp of a new fundamentalist movement I'm frightened to see the way things are lining up.

One final thought - for all you folks who enjoy useless information - that effeminate Jesus that the article speaks about... I would assume that it is in reference to Warner Sallman's "Head of Christ" that has, in its various forms, become the primary icon of protestant evangelical Christianity. That "not man enough" Jesus was the result of Sallman as a young Bible student who was given, by his Dean, the task of conceptualizing a more "manly" image of Jesus.

Mike in Texas said...

Thank you, Elizabeth, for doing your duty to help me stay away from all those delicious empty-calorie treats that are starting to fill up the kitchen.

Recently a local church of some kind has been airing radio advertisements along this vein. The pastor dons a rather unconvincing cowboy accent and concludes the spot by saying, "And we won't make you hug anyone."

Gag ....

Weiwen Ng said...

The Seattle Times profiled Mark Driscoll, another pastor with a simiar theology to Brad Stine. I reposted the article on my blog, weiwentg.blogspot.com. like the article posted by Rev Elizabeth, I think it speaks for itself.

marnanel said...

"She was a little bit leery of it, as we have an infant," he reports.
"She said, 'I need your help around here.' " Miller, 26, refuses to yield: "I am supposed to be the leader of the
family."


There is just so much wrong with that. How does "being the leader" mean "getting to be as selfish as you like"?