submission issues

Note: This is not the gender post I have been promising. That one is still in the works. This is another, related one which I have been percolating for more than a year.

I have come to the conclusion that most evangelical churches don't teach enough about submission.

Hear me out, now.

I have a number of dear friends-- all men, all in their twenties and thirties, and all having grown up in relatively conservative evangelical churches-- who have serious issues with aimlessness, dissatisfaction, and general malaise.

Some of this, I think is a generational issue-- as a group, we Gen-Xers are sandwiched between the bloated, self-entitled hordes of the Baby Boomers above and the sparkling Millenials below. If that isn't a recipe for malaise, I don't know what is.

But this condition seems particularly exaggerated for these young evangelical guys I know-- not all of them, or even most of them, but a lot of them.

My hunch is that this is because they have heard a great deal over the last decade or two about how they are supposed to be leaders, men of authority and action and initiative. They are supposed to be Wild at Heart Every Man's Battling Promise Keepers.

But these guys have not been equipped with the skill of submission, either to members of their communities or to Christ. After all, why would they? Submission and obedience have become so heavily gendered.

Submission to Christ has not only the character of submission to a set of rules or behaviors, but also the character of I, a person, in a relationship with another person, Christ, and that relationship being characterized, at least partly, by my submission to Him. That is incumbent upon every believer, male or female, slave or free.

When evangelicals spend all their time telling women that they ought to submit and men that they ought to be leaders, they do men a great disservice. If a man is taught that his Biblical manhood is characterized by qualities of leadership, initiative, etc., and yet within the context of his relationship to Christ he is called upon to be submissive, to receive Christ's authority over him, some conflict arises. How can he do that which he has been taught will violate his gender-- which will make him a "bad" man: that horror of horrors, a passive male?

As evangelical culture tends more and more to advocating a hyperarticulated masculinity characterized by aggression, leadership, strength, self-confidence, what happens to the servant of Christ characterized by submission, obedience, weakness, humility? I recognize that the two lists do not contain categorical opposites-- but you wouldn't know it from the widespread dysfunctionality in so many Gen-X evangelical guys. It seems to me that, just as much as many women in the evangelical church struggle to live out their gifts and vocations over against the gender constructs of 20th century evangelicalism, so must many of these guys be undergoing similar struggles.

Now, as my friend Stan rightly pointed out in a conversation just last night, submission is not easy for any human being of either gender, what with our fallen nature and all. True enough-- we all resist it. Pathological selfishness is pretty much ubiquitous in us.

But it does seem to me that the demands for particular performance of gender placed on evangelical men can have especially pernicious consequences, seeing as how that performance not only lacks but actively opposes cultivating the habits of submission and obedience so necessary to healthy discipleship and spiritual formation.

Of course, this is all speculation on my part. What do you think?


Kimberly said...

What's with all this serious talk? I wanna see your submission to BooMama's Christmas Tour of Homes, not have to read all about this junk.

Kidding, of course.

Though it would be funny if you did submit to her "tour". Just the PW sheet cake would be decor enough for me!!

Re: the substance of your post: I think it is as much of a familial problem as a church problem. There is something that happened to the Boomers, and they generally wanted to do family "differently" than the Greatest Generation. And perhaps they were right, I don't know. But, however they meant it, they did it wrong. And GenX men and women have paid the price. We have no idea how to behave, absent serious teaching on the subject.

And that is why you have books like Wild at Heart, etc. It is the Boomers FINALLY getting their teeth into something. And perhaps doing it wrong YET AGAIN. But still, they are trying.

I don't think GenX folks, me included, have had any real idea of how to deal with responsibility, with relationships, with God, because we had such confusing role models. And so we have, and are, muddling through.

Some have escaped less scathed than others. Most of us had to reach our thirties before we had any idea of how to navigate this world and be 'true to ourselves' (gack...I can't believe I just wrote that...but I think it is still true).

Just like I think it took the church an entire generation to deal with the Boomer rebellion, it is going to take it some time to swing back into balance. I suppose, in the grand scheme of eternity, a few decades of floundering is inconsequential, but we are just living in the middle of it.

Seriously though, we are SOOOO much better off than if we were living in the seventies again, in terms of teaching.

Mary-LUE said...

I think the big picture explanation for what you are describing is probably somewhat complex. My stab at some perspective would be in the emphasis on defining male and female spiritual roles. In an attempt to address the perceived problems of Christian men and Christian women, there has been too much attention paid to gender roles and not enough to being just a disciple of Christ.

I know that for a long time I was so frustrated by the idea of a Proverbs 31 woman that I was supposed to be. It was used by some people to suggest that I should not work outside the home because a Proverbs 31 woman could only have a home based business. It was a new version of Superwoman. I really chafed under it because I think it was a misapplication of the scripture which is describing a noble woman with property and servants, etc. It was not contextualized for Every Woman.

I think if we focused on what it means to follow Jesus, period, the gender stuff would fall into place. If I know what Jesus wants me to know about submission, I will examine what it means to be submissive as a church member, employee, employer, wife, mother, daughter, citizen, etc. It isn't that I don't think specific gender discussion can take place--it is just the overemphasis on it.

(I'm not sure how much sense I am making. I have thought about a lot of these issues, especially when I was working at a church and saw the disparity between what was taught about the roles of women in ministry and what women in ministry were actually asked to do. There is so much to unpack here. I look forward to coming back to see what others have to say.)