Jesus and Masculinity

Some words on respect and masculinity from Reverend Gary van Heerden

While I can't speak for Jesus, I'd like to present my understanding of Jesus' vision for men.

We live in a world where one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetimes.

The mistreatment and abuse of women by men in this country is nothing less than a pandemic. It's a toxic culture of inherited behaviour, where men seem to gain points from other men when we insult, demonise, or ridicule.

In her book, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, bell hooks writes:

"Learning to wear a mask is the first lesson in patriarchal masculinity that a boy learns. To indoctrinate boys into the rules of patriarchy, we force them to feel pain and then deny their feelings."

The behaviour goes all the way back to Adam in the Biblical narrative.

When the God confronted Adam for eating the forbidden fruit, Adam's response sounds familiar: "The woman whom you gave to be with me…she gave me the fruit from the tree, and I ate."

In Jesus' day, women were permanently on the margins.

They were little more than objects, voiceless and largely defined by their relationships to the men in their lives. This makes Jesus' treatment of women so remarkable.

Jesus' brand of masculinity was one where women were, among other things, honoured (Matthew 26:6–13), listened to (Mark 7:24–30), included in his group (Luke 10:38–42), and held up as positive examples in his stories (Luke 21:1–4).

In perhaps his single most revolutionary act around gender, in a world where the testimony of a woman was not allowed in court, Jesus entrusted the message of his resurrection to Mary – he appeared to her first, and she had to tell the disciples that he had risen.

Biblical scholar Walter Wink says that "Jesus violated the social norms of his time in every single encounter with women recorded in the four Gospels".

In light of Jesus' counter-cultural example, I offer two challenges:

1. To be aware of the language we use.

  • Words are seldom neutral – they are powerful and can cause great damage.
  • 'That's so gay' may roll thoughtlessly off the tongue, but if you're gay or struggling with your sexuality, it can be so hurtful.
  • Sexist language is always demeaning, undermining and deeply disrespectful.
    • Created in God's image, we all deserve respect.

2. Hold onto an understanding of masculinity that embraces the complexity of what it can mean to be a man.

  • Some men are assertive, while others are collaborative.
  • Some are the strong silent type, but others are loud and expressive.
  • Some are emotional; others give nothing away.
  • Some are as hard as nails, others are soft, sentimental and caring.

On the spectrum of masculinity, no two men are the same.

In the masculinity embodied by Jesus, there is room for every man, except for the toxic ones.

And so, men, young and old, let's take responsibility for our words, actions and reactions. Let's challenge this culture of toxic masculinity that is as old as Adam.

Let us pray.

God, we acknowledge that as men we are often blind
to the toxic masculinity that we are immersed in.
Help us to be more sensitive to the impact
of our words and actions.
Spurred on by the masculinity modelled by Jesus,
may we challenge both ourselves and our culture
to reject any version of masculinity
that oppresses, marginalises and threatens women.
May we be slow to ridicule and to undermine,
quick to respect and to encourage.

This speech was delivered at Assembly on Friday 5 March 2021 by Reverend Gary van Heerden.