Establishing a successful Christian approach to the roles of men and women in today’s world is no small order. The two preceding chapters presented a brief sketch of what this might entail. Actually putting the theory into practice, however, is not easily done. The contemporary social system presents special challenges to the development of a distinctively Christian social structure among the people of God. Many of the burning social issues in the Western world today must be answered by Christians as a Christian social order is being established. What should family life look like? What is the ideal for relationships between men and women? How should communal leadership be structured?
It is crucial for Christians in modern Western society to learn how to handle certain key areas of social structure well, and to develop an effective pastoral strategy for each of them. This chapter will consider five such areas, discussing where some of the important issues lie and recommending a strategy for developing each area in a strong Christian way. The areas include (1) strengthening family life; (2) developing a contemporary approach to Christian leadership; (3) strengthening manly and womanly personality; (4) developing good relationships between men and women; and (5) developing an approach to roles for men and women among single people.
Strengthening Family Life*
The concern of this first section is one of immense importance for restoring and strengthening a Christian social structure. Because the family is the basic unit of most social structure, its strength is a decisive factor in the strength of the whole people, while its weakness leads to societal weakness, as well as to weakness in the individuals within that society. A Christian group that cannot establish good, strong families will not survive very long. Yet today, Christians are struggling merely to keep the family together on a human level. Many seem to have given up some time ago actually trying to keep family life Christian. Much of the weakness in the contemporary churches has to be attributed to the recent inability of families to pass on their Christian life from one generation to the next. Likewise, many of the social and psychological difficulties that so many people experience can be traced to problems in the family.
Some Christian leaders have recognized this weakening process and have realized more clearly that a concerted effort is needed to strengthen family life as a whole. Perhaps the most vital attempt in the church today to strengthen family life can be found in the various programs which center their strategies around strengthening the husband-wife relationship in the nuclear family. This approach, which could be termed the “Christian nuclear family approach,” takes a variety of forms. Generally, couples are encouraged to spend time together, both socially and in various other activities. A strong emphasis is normally placed on husband-wife friendship, especially the kind of husband-wife friendship that involves a strong emotional dependence upon one another. Often a strong emphasis is also placed on the view that husbands and wives should do all of their Christian service together. In fact, it is sometimes suggested that couples should do everything possible together except for strictly occupational matters. The husband and wife should always socialize together as a couple and should probably even do chores together around the house. Along with these practical suggestions comes a strong teaching on marriage that tends to exalt and romanticize “marriage” (which usually means only the husband-wife relationship). This teaching sometimes views the man-woman relationship as the deepest of all relationships, and scriptural texts are regularly interpreted in a way that tends to understand “one flesh” and all of the New Testament teaching on marriage as exalting husband-wife companionship. In Catholic settings, this teaching is often given in the context of considering marriage as a sacrament, and versions of such teaching often develop a sacramental parallelism with baptism and the eucharist which spiritualizes erotic love (and sometimes specifically the sexual relationship) as a source of grace.
One could summarize this approach to strengthening marriage as being an approach that uses Christian words and church authority to strengthen the nuclear family design of modern society. And there is a good reason to concentrate on strengthening the nuclear family. The nuclear family design is the approach of modern technological society, and few people are ready to think that there are any real alternatives. The “Christian nuclear family approach” begins by locating the main structural lines of the modern nuclear family: It finds the husband-wife relationship to be the only stable element with enough commitment to allow anything to be built upon it, and it recognizes emotional attachment as the main bond in the modern husband-wife relationship. Having located these structural elements, this approach intensifies them in order to make them strong enough to withstand all the societal pressures that tend to weaken and dissolve the family. In the face of the increasing dissolution of family life, the “Christian nuclear family approach” is, in many cases, better than nothing. However, it carries with it significant problems of the sort which indicate that it is not an adequate solution. The fact that it interprets the scriptures and Christian teaching in a way that betrays an overall misunderstanding of what the New Testament says is only a symptom of an even deeper problem. The “Christian nuclear family approach” simply reproduces (and often intensifies) many of the problems and weaknesses of the family system in contemporary society.
The “Christian nuclear family approach” lacks the main elements needed to strengthen family life, namely, those same social structural elements that are so drastically weakened in the modern world. Rather than emphasizing these crucial elements, it tends to focus, as was noted above, upon the husband-wife relationship and upon its emotional bond. The emphasis it places on the married couple further isolates the nuclear family from the other supports which are so crucial to maintaining a good social structure (for example, larger social units, such as the extended family or the community, which transcend the generations). The emphasis on the emotional bond between the husband and the wife puts the weight of the relationship on the least reliable bond—the emotional bond—and neglects the more important bonds formed by commitment and subordination. As a result, the couple often fails to learn the kind of commitment and personal subordination that would move them away from a basic individualism (which allows commitment only when the individuals are being satisfied in their desires) to a corporate approach to community and marriage.
The heavy emphasis on always having the married couple together tends to “feminize” the men, both in their personality traits and in their ability to take a concern for the larger society. The emphasis on the couple also makes it difficult to form a social unit which the children can be fully part of, especially after they have passed the age when they are so dependent that they are cared for devotedly by their parents. In short, the “Christian nuclear family approach,” while it has some immediate short-range benefits, also presents some major long-range liabilities. As a result, it is highly questionable whether its advantages outweigh its disadvantages.
A successful approach to strengthening the family must involve a strengthening of the entire social structure which makes up the family. This strengthening must begin with the family’s functions. If the family as a unit is to be stable, and strong enough to command commitment, the functions of family life must be restored. For one thing, the family has to be the unit within which the children are raised. The raising of children involves more from the parents than caring for them during their pre-school years and merely watching over their future rearing (most of which is done by others). The parents must actually enter into a relationship with their children, a relationship in which they raise the children to become adult Christian men and women. Furthermore, the home should be a place in which many other things happen. It should, for instance, be a center of Christian life and service, of hospitality, and of care for the needy. These changes—restoring the role of the parents in raising their children, and restoring the home as a center of Christian life and service—are key elements in the restoration of a vital set of functions to the family.
Secondly, important structural elements of family life—such as subordination, commitment, and complementary roles for men and women—must be restored in order to strengthen family relationships. These elements must be restored in an effective way, however, or they will fail to bring the strength needed for family life. The “Christian nuclear family approach” tends to give husband and wife identical roles and has them do many things together and hence works against some of these essential elements. Advocates of such strategies often speak of the importance of man-woman complementarity, but in such a relationship husband-wife “complementarity” comes to mean one of two things: (1) the interaction of the different personalities and gifts of the husband and wife (the same kind of complementarity that could exist between two men or two women, or that could exist in a functional situation), or (2) the interaction of the male personality and the female personality which occurs when the two are doing the same things together. This latter approach to complementarity tends to strengthen the emotional dependence between the man and woman in marriage, but weakens the true interdependence, because each is not depending upon the other to take the primary responsibility for different aspects of their common life. If the man is not there, the woman can do everything just as well, and vice versa. On the other hand, “complementarity” in the early Christian pattern (and in most, if not all, human societies of the past) meant that the husband and wife had different spheres of responsibility which they fulfilled separately, but with the woman subordinate to the man. This type of complementarity is one which greatly strengthens family life.
Finally, in strengthening the social structure of family life, the modern competition between the nuclear family and the broader Christian community must be broken, and the nuclear family must be placed within a larger social context that supports, rather than opposes, the family and its relationships. The “Christian nuclear family approach,” in reinforcing that competition, poses a major obstacle to what is most needed for strengthening family life. The larger Christian social system is just as crucial as the smaller family unit when it comes to strengthening family life. Along these same lines, the men of the Christian community should take responsibility for community life. They should, however, assume this broader responsibility in a way that strengthens the family. They need to act as the representatives—the heads—of their families, overseeing their families’ involvement in the wider community and representing their families’ needs to the wider community. In some significant way they need to bring their sons with them so that their sons can be trained as Christian men and are not separated from their fathers. The men need to experience their responsibility as heads of their families so that they can be attentive to the real needs of their families. In short, the role of the men is the main structural link between the smaller unit of the family and the larger unit of the community. Simultaneously restoring the men’s sense of responsibility for both family and community is a key piece in the strengthening of family life, both internally and in its relationship to a larger social grouping.
The previous chapter outlined some principles for the development of a Christian social structure in contemporary society. However, applying many of these principles and developing a whole social system need to be done within the context of some larger Christian communal grouping—a context not enjoyed by most Christians in the modern world. Instead, most Christians today are forced to deal with their situation within the limits set by modern technological society. Even if a communal grouping is lacking, however, there is still one place where Christians have a chance of doing something effective. That place is family life. Even granted that family life will continue to weaken under the influence of technological society, it is there that Christians can fight the most effective rear-guard action until they are actually able to develop a new social approach. Also, it is often in the family that the most Christian support remains, both because relatives are often of help and because younger couples in Christian parishes and congregations are among those who are most highly motivated to support one another.
Strengthening family life, then, is a key step toward the restoration of Christian social structure. It must be pursued with clarity of purpose and vision: No piecemeal, “band-aid” measures will do. Neither will it suffice to achieve some short-range gains at the expense of long-range losses. Christians today should value and foster those elements of genuine social structure that remain among them, and at the same time develop as much as possible other important elements which have been lost. They should also avoid attempts like the “Christian nuclear family approach” which appear to offer immediate improvements, but whose longer-range value is highly dubious. In doing these things, Christians will develop a stronger family life and, as a consequence, a greater overall strength as a people.
Structures of Christian Leadership*
The pastoral approach sketched in Chapter Twenty-Two draws the elders (heads) of the Christian community from among the qualified men. This approach is primarily based upon the directives in scripture and tradition, but it is confirmed by the social scientific research material noted in Chapter Seventeen. In the church today, however, the roles of men and women in leadership is a much-debated subject, and many Christians seem somewhat more inclined to preserve the headship of the man in the family than to preserve the headship of men in the community. Even if the husband should be the head of the family, they ask, why should there be no women among the elders of the community? In order to adequately understand how to resolve questions of sex roles in leadership within the Christian community, two different sets of considerations should be examined: leadership considerations and social role considerations.
The understandings of leadership which people bring to this question can lead to some very different positions on the place of women in Christian leadership, even if there is general agreement on the roles of men and women. At least four models of leadership are often used by Christians, and the dynamics of each model are quite different:
- The functional approach. In this model, the main leader or leaders are primarily administrators and policy setters. They are managers who need to get a job done. Both functional effectiveness and personal leadership qualities are requirements for such a position. The more functionally oriented the situation, the more the functional effectiveness requirements predominate and the more the basis for choosing leaders will simply be competence.
- The gift-functional approach. The main leader or leaders are seen as representing certain “leadership charisms,” that is, certain spiritual gifts needed in the leaders’ group. The primary requirement for becoming a leader is competence in exercising one or more of these charisms. Under such an approach, if it is felt that the charism of prophecy needs to be represented in the leaders’ group, and the person who seems to have that charism most is a woman, then this woman should be in the leaders’ group, precisely because she seems to have such a strong prophetic charism. In many ways the gift-functional model of leadership is a spiritual version of the functional approach described above; here the competency requirement is spiritual rather than practical.
- The political representative approach. The main leader or leaders are seen primarily in terms of how they set direction or mold the way things are done. They represent an interest group, a viewpoint, a method, or even a style of doing things. Each leader’s presence is important in the leadership, because together they will shape the outcome. The primary requirement for leadership according to this model concerns what a person represents. A second requirement is that he or she be able to represent it well.
- The communal approach (the elder approach). The communal approach is significantly different from those described above. The main leader or leaders are the heads of a community. They are in a relationship with the people in the community that involves a personal commitment between them and the community they lead. They care for the people personally, directing and correcting them as necessary. The primary requirements for this kind of leadership are the qualities (both spiritual and natural) which lead the others in the relationship (those in the community) to respect the head in a personal way. Skills in leading groups and the exercise of specific charisms are important, but secondary, requirements. Also, in a real community, what a person represents is not a major requirement for consideration.
These four models differ considerably, but they are not necessarily in opposition to one another. Rather, in the appropriate situation each has its usefulness. If the leadership required is the kind which produces effectively in a task-oriented, technological situation, the first model has much to offer. If the leadership required is the kind which primarily involves ministry through the operation of spiritual gifts, the second model has some obvious advantages. If the leadership required is the kind in which a plurality of approaches and positions need to be reconciled, the third model has many things to recommend it. But if what is required is the kind of leadership which produces a community of people who are committed to one another in a lifelong way, the fourth model is the one to choose. Community leadership is very different from functional leadership, gift-functional leadership, and political representative leadership.
The early Christians took the communal approach, establishing elders who would be heads of the Christian community. Men were chosen as the elders for good reasons, not simply because it was a cultural tradition. First, the natural structure of leadership in a communal grouping puts overall leadership in the hands of certain men. In this natural structure, women exercise leadership too, but their leadership is subordinate to that of the overall male leaders. Secondly, some of the differences between men and women (discussed in Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen) indicate that men are in a better position to provide the overall personal leadership needed in a community situation. The patterns that emerge in most societies (including modern Western society) would indicate that both men and women generally prefer leadership to be exercised by the qualified men in the group, especially when that leadership is exercised on the personal level. Evidence also indicates that there is a significant evangelistic advantage in having men who can lead effectively presiding over the Christian community. Much of the Christian church today experiences a serious inability to effectively draw men to Christ, largely because Christianity is often more identified with women than with men. Other men will tend to be more attracted to a community led by men.
Christians today are rarely in favor of having only women acting as the main leader or leaders of a Christian community. They are sometimes, however, in favor of a “mixed” elders group. In many cases a mixed elders group is favored because the model of leadership which is being adopted is not that of early Christian eldership. For instance, people frequently favor a mixed elders group because they conceive of the position of elder primarily in functional terms (the first approach above). In this view, the elder is the person who leads a committee, or who directs one of the major activities of the community, or who can teach a good course. With such a conception of elder, a mixed elders group might often make good sense. But the early Christians understood an elder primarily as one who governed the Christian people. Only secondarily was he also one who led special activities. Because of his primary role as governor of God’s people, an elder must be able to exercise authority over a segment of the Christian community that includes both men and women. He has to be capable of gaining the respect of, and of being over, the strongest men in the community. The position of elder in the early Christian approach is a position for men.
Another reason why Christians may favor a mixed elders group is that they conceive of the position of elder primarily in terms of the operation of certain charisms (the second approach described above). The elders are those with the strongest spiritual gifts in certain areas (prophecy, teaching, administration, discernment, etc.). According to this conception of elder, there is some real point to having a mixed elders group. For one thing, it is certainly true that elders need spiritual gifts in order to serve well. It is also the case that many women have strong spiritual gifts, some of which are gifts for leadership, given to them by God for the building of the body of Christ. Yet in the early Christian understanding, an elder was not chosen primarily on the basis of spiritual gifts, but on the basis of his character and his ability to govern his family well (1 Tm 3:1–7; Ti 1:5–9). Spiritual gifts were not by any means irrelevant, but they were secondary to the qualities which would allow a man to take the kind of overall responsibility in the community that he took within his own family. Also, the early Christians clearly recognized the spiritual gifts exercised by the women in their communities. The issue, then, is not whether such gifts should be exercised on behalf of the community, but how in the life of the community they should be expressed. Women in the early Christian communities exercised a wide range of spiritual gifts, including the gifts associated with leadership, but they did not do so as elders.
Frequently Christians also favor a mixed elders group because they see the elders group as a place where all positions should be represented (as in the third approach described above). The women’s voice has to be heard among the elders, and the women’s influence has to be brought to bear. There is something to be said for this approach. Women are important in the leadership of a Christian community, and if they do not actively take part in it, many areas are not handled well and many important considerations are not taken into account. The issue, however, is not whether their voice should be heard, but how the overall leadership of men and women in the Christian community should be structured. The early church model involved some of the men leaders acting as the elders and taking headship as a group over the Christian community, while some of the women leaders functioned as deaconesses or widows, working along with, and subordinate to, the elders (or bishop). Christians today can often miss the significance of the early church model. For one thing, modern Christians tend to put the accent on the decision-making role of the elders and the need for some kind of input on that level from women. Yet in the early church, decision-making was a small part of the elders’ role; their primary responsibility was the personal government of people. What decision-making they did normally occurred in the course of taking responsibility as heads for the people. The dynamics of modern society might indicate the need for more formal consultation or opportunity for input on the part of women (deaconesses?) to the decision-making process of the community than was present in the early church, but their participation should be structured in such a way that it does not weaken the ability of the elders to lead the people. Secondly, modern Christians tend to miss the importance of the change in dynamics that results when leadership is shifted from a group of men to a mixed group. As was noted in Chapter Seventeen, there is a natural linking which occurs between certain men in a community. This linking allows the men to become a natural backbone for the formation of a strong communal structure. Also, and very importantly, they can come together as a team in a way that produces stronger, more aggressive leadership in a Christian community than would be the case if there were women among them. There is clearly a change in dynamics from a male-group to a mixed-group, and it is important to take that change in dynamics into account when forming any type of leadership team. (Of course, in other situations, the desired dynamic will point toward forming a mixed group.)
Sometimes it is argued that since men and women are complementary, both are needed in the elders group of a community. Women are able to care for people in a way that men are not, and vice versa. Thus, it is argued, men simply cannot lead a community alone. There is some truth to this position. It is by no means the case that all the important leadership positions in a Christian community should be held by men. Again, the primary question at issue is how male leadership and female leadership are to be structured together. Complementarity between men and women is of great value, but it need not be expressed within the same position or role. The model of complementarity which leads to having a mixed elders group assumes that complementarity between men and women is best expressed as they perform the same functions in the same position (elder), but in a different way. The model of complementarity which can be seen in the early church, however, is quite different. In the early church model, complementarity in community leadership is expressed in two different and complementary leadership positions—elders and deaconesses/widows. The pattern for men and women in the community is similar to that for husband and wife in a family (see Chapter Twenty-Two, pp. 617–619). Rather than filling the same position in a different way, men and women take on complementary roles, serving in different, interdependent ways. This expression of complementarity most effectively and naturally allows the full strength of male leadership and female leadership to be realized. Their leadership works together interdependently, without adversely affecting the natural pattern of overall community leadership by the men.
Another consideration should be brought into the picture when considering complementarity between men and women. The differences between men and women are not such that one sex has certain abilities that the other does not have at all. Most of the female characteristics are to be found in men, and vice versa. In the case of ability differences, it is more a matter of which abilities or qualities predominate. The differences between men and women are more evident on the level of the structure of their personalities than on the level of ability differences or even trait characteristics (though these latter differences are not absent). If the differences were on the abilities level rather than on the personality level, it would not make sense to hold, on the one hand, that women should not be the elders, and to state at the same time that they should have an important role in the leadership of the Christian community. That is, if ability differences were the chief disqualification for women’s eldership, those differences would probably also disqualify women from any other important leadership. The issue about eldership, however, is one of personality differences: In which sex are the personality characteristics structured in a way that better fits it for the overall headship of people in a community relationship? It is men who are formed in a way that fits them to more naturally and easily govern people and to move them forward as a community.
There is a further consideration which points toward the desirability of having the men be the elders of the Christian community—one that is more easily stated, and of greater importance than the preceding one. The structure of the leadership of a community is only one element in a community’s overall social structure. Therefore, the structure of leadership has to be set up in a way that supports the entire social structure of the community. If the men are supposed to be the heads of the family, they must also be the heads of the community. The community must be structured in a way that supports the pattern of the family, and the family must be structured in a way that supports the pattern of the community. Men and women learn how to be men and women in the family. It is in the family that they learn their community roles as well. Conversely, what they see in the community reinforces what they learn in the family. Thus, to adopt different principles on the community level weakens the family, and vice versa.
The preceding material has considered eldership in the community primarily from the standpoint of leadership and how leadership should be structured. A similar set of considerations concerning community eldership derives from the nature of social roles. Social roles, unlike functional roles, are not easily changed. Much of their value for the life of an individual and the life of a group comes from their stability and from the communally understood nature of the way they function. If the roles of a Christian man and a Christian woman are to have strength and vitality, they should apply in all of a man’s or woman’s social relationships in the Christian community.
Sometimes people suggest that exceptions should be made to the approach outlined above. They will agree that in general it is better for men to be the heads of the community, but they also say that if a woman has special gifts or abilities, she should be chosen as an elder. It is important at times to make certain exceptions when the circumstances demand them, but it is a mistake to make exceptions to a pattern of social roles on the basis of judgments about particular individuals. Social roles are not formed on the basis of the characteristics of individuals. If social roles for men and women are to be reestablished, they cannot be modified in this way for particular men and particular women. To do so weakens the social role and its functioning in a community.
At the source of some of the contemporary pressure to have women elders in the Christian community is an under-evaluation of the woman’s role in the community. In the modern world, the argument goes, women are as educated and technically competent as men. They need an appropriate outlet for their abilities, and a community would be throwing away its resources if it did not use those abilities to the full. Yet, according to the scriptural approach, the women’s area of responsibility in a Christian community is as important as that of the men. It requires a very high level of ability and, especially in the modern world, demands a creative and competent exercise of responsibility. To give a very capable woman a man’s responsibility on the basis of her abilities betrays a lack of appreciation for the importance of the woman’s role and the woman’s leadership in the community. Of course, it also commonly represents a situation where there is an absence of a real woman’s role and where all the important functions actually are given to the men. If that is the case, however, the problem is due primarily to the lack of a well worked-out system of responsibility for men and for women. Women were created as they are because the human community needs them as they are, and needs them to take on certain responsibilities. Leadership ability is needed as much among the women as it is among the men.
Another source of pressure for having women elders today is the perception that a particular woman can sometimes be more capable than the man to whom she is supposed to be subordinate. It is certainly true that not every man can be over every woman. A capable woman with personal strength and leadership ability is often more able to be a head than many of the men in a Christian community. Building a social structure along the principles this book has outlined does not mean that any man and any woman can be placed in complementary positions of headship and everything will work out well. An incompetent man should not be put in place of, or over, a competent woman. Only if the right men are chosen as elders will the social structure work well. If the elders are the right men, they should be able to be heads for the women who are in women’s roles of leadership.
Once again, the approach sketched above can by no means be universally applied in contemporary Christian situations. The context for this discussion on the restoration of role differences for men and women has been the overall restoration of a system of Christian personal relationships in the modern world. The consideration of elders, then, occurs in a context of a community life of committed relationships, in which having elders is one element in a restoration of such relationships. Many Christian situations today, however, do not involve such commitment or relationship. Often they are unstructured and should remain so, or they are institutional situations and should remain so. The above discussion does not directly apply in such cases. In general, it can be said that this discussion points to elements which are important for the strength of the Christian people and which cannot be absent without a loss, but these elements often cannot be instituted well without also instituting a new approach to Christian personal relationships—one which differs considerably from the approach which normally prevails in technological society.
Male and Female Personality*
It is vitally important to restore a Christian social structure which is faithful to scripture and which will provide certain elements for people which the modern world fails to provide. Two key elements in this restoration are the strengthening of the Christian family structure and the reestablishing of a pattern of Christian community leadership. The social structure of a people is also very closely related to their personality and character: Social structure forms personality and character, and a particular kind of personality and character makes a social structure possible. Part of the program of restoring a Christian social structure, then, must be the restoration of Christian masculine character and personality and Christian feminine character and personality.
Character formation is central to Christian pastoral care as well as to the formation of a Christian people. From the beginning, the Lord wanted a people formed in his image and likeness—a people who look like him. Every time he began a new stage of his work in restoring the human race, he called his people to be holy as he is holy (Lv 19:2; Mt 5:48; 1 Pt 1:13–17; Heb 12:10). Under the New Covenant, the ongoing work of redemption in people’s lives is spoken of as “restoring the image of God,” and that restoration is primarily understood as the formation of certain Christian traits, such as love, faithfulness, humility, and self-control (see, for example, Eph 4:1–3; Col 3:12–17). Christians, then, are to be formed in the image of God.
Some people object to the idea of character formation on the grounds that people should be encouraged to assert their individuality. People should become what they want—if a man comes out more feminine than a woman, that is fine. However, the choice is not really between “formation” and “no formation.” Rather, it is between two different kinds of formation. Christians who do not receive active character formation do not simply express their individuality. Instead, they are formed (for the most part unconsciously) by the dominant social influences around them rather than by someone who has Christian wisdom about how people should be formed. The “feminized” male is not expressing the individuality with which he was created. He is, rather, manifesting the fact that he was raised in an environment which feminized him.
Men and women are different from the moment of conception. Their differences have an important part in shaping everything they do. This fact might lead people to assume that men will automatically turn out manly, and women will automatically turn out womanly. For reasons discussed earlier (see Chapter Seventeen), this expectation does not prove to be correct. Differences between the sexes are only one factor in the human personality: Socialization, personal experience, and many other factors are also important in shaping the final product. Males do not always turn out manly, and females do not always turn out womanly. In fact, as males and females grow up in our society, their sexual identity is often a major problem for them.
Restoration of the human race according to God’s plan involves restoring manly character and personality and womanly character and personality. The differences between these two types of personality arise from God’s purpose in creating the human race and from the natures he gave to men and women. Scripture gives some indication of how manly and womanly character should be formed when it calls for a gentle and quiet spirit in women and when it exhorts men to courage and aggressiveness. Psychology can also offer wisdom in this area, as, for instance, when it shows that aggressiveness is more natural to men and nurturance to women. A person’s character should also be formed by the role he or she is supposed to fulfill. For example, if men are supposed to take the roles of governor, provider, and protector, they should be formed in such a way that they can naturally fulfill those roles. Moreover, if they are formed to see the value of their roles and to be confident in fulfilling them, they will naturally want to do so.
Human beings should be formed in a way that maximizes the strengths of their sex, minimizes the weaknesses, and equips them to live a social role effectively and constructively. In this, neither sex has an advantage or disadvantage. It is easy, however, to fall into idealizing or denigrating the opposite sex. Yet both sexes have their own strengths and weaknesses. Both sexes are born in sin and need formation in Christian character in order to fulfill God’s purpose for them.
Some of the sinful tendencies of men and women may be somewhat different. For instance, in trying to get power, women may tend to be more manipulative and may use their tongues more to control situations through talkativeness and gossip. By contrast, men may tend to be more brutal and to more directly grasp at positions of power. Yet both sexes are seeking the same thing: to be in a position where they can get their own way. For another example, both sexes let their emotional tendencies dominate them, but in different ways. Women may tend to be more moody, depressed, anxious, and easily upset. Men may tend to be more impersonal, unexpressive, alcoholic, and suicidal. Of course, each sex can get into the other’s area of greater expertise in sin, but, for all that, each sex has its more characteristic shortcomings. Likewise, each has a disposition that is capable of good and evil and which is neither ideal nor problematic in itself.
Christian character is formed by correcting, as well as by strengthening, the natural lines of personality (whether individual personality or gender tendencies). The basic Christian ideal which provides a guideline for this process of correcting and strengthening is the character of Christ. All Christians should be loving, humble, courageous, self-controlled. In fact, the bulk of the exhortation and instruction in the New Testament for the formation of Christian character is the same for men and women. But there are also ideals for the Christian man and the Christian woman which differ somewhat because men and women have different roles, and because some of their sexual characteristics better equip them for some things than for others. As is the case with other kinds of character differences, strengthening Christian manliness and Christian womanliness will provide greater strength for the whole Christian people. Christian character, then, is formed primarily according to the nature of God, but it can vary in secondary ways according to the inner qualities of gifts and personality, and the external needs of service.
Some of the rhetoric of the contemporary feminist movement would lead people to believe that men have it easier in the world and that it is women who suffer the most. This view is based on some elements of truth. Currently, women suffer a more acute role conflict than men, and because women have traditionally been dependent in their position they have been more powerless than men in providing for themselves in an individualistic society where one must provide for oneself. Nonetheless, there is solid evidence to indicate that the male role is achieved with greater difficulty than the female role, and that men actually suffer more from an inability to achieve a successful sexual identity. For instance, more men than women are social misfits, suicides, and criminals. A number of social scientists have pointed out that men experience a drive to achieve a status of success in being men that women do not seem to experience in being women. Also, men fail more often in their own eyes.1
A lack of Christian manliness is particularly a problem for two types of men—the socially disruptive man and the “feminized” man.2 The socially disruptive male is prone to becoming a delinquent if he is young or a criminal if he is older. If he does not actually break the law, he is at least habitually socially irresponsible. He is often unstable occupationally and in his family commitments, and if he is not violent, he is at least a social problem. The socially disruptive male is fairly easy for the Christian to perceive and understand as someone lacking in Christian character. Christians less frequently realize that a significant contributing factor to his condition is often an unresolved problem with being a man.
Christians do not as easily identify the “feminized” male as someone for whom Christian manliness is a particular problem. This in itself is revealing. Contemporary Christians often lack an ideal of manly character, and they do not value some of the character traits that ought to be prominent in a man: courage, aggressiveness (zeal), and readiness to lead in personal relationship situations when one is the proper person to do so. The contemporary picture of Christian character is all too often feminine, and the Victorian notion of feminine at that. The fact is that many men in our society have been “feminized” to some degree, and this is true of an increasing number of them.
The term “feminization” as used by many social scientists should not be confused with such words as “femininity,” “effeminacy,” and “homosexuality.”3 “Femininity” is a natural womanly quality. A woman is “feminine” when she has an appropriate womanly personality, when her strength, assertiveness, and interests are expressed in a womanly way. “Effeminacy” describes the condition of a man who acts like a woman, whose psychological structure is womanly.4 Effeminacy usually betrays an underlying difficulty in psycho-social adjustment. “Homosexuality” refers to people who relate sexually to those of the same sex. Homosexuality is often associated with effeminacy, but the two do not necessarily accompany one another.5 Many homosexuals are masculine in personality (often pointedly so), and many effeminate men have sexual desire predominantly for women.
Being “feminized,” then, is not the same as being effeminate or being feminine. A feminized male is a male who has learned to behave or react in ways that are more appropriate to women. The feminized male can be normal as a male, with no tendencies to reject being male and no tendencies toward homosexuality, and yet he can have been so influenced by women or can have so identified himself with a world in which women dominate, that many of his interests and traits are more womanly than manly. Compared to men who have not been feminized, he will place much higher emphasis and attention on how he feels and how other people feel. He will be much more gentle and handle situations in a “soft” way. He will be much more subject to the approval of the group, especially emotionally expressed approval (that is, how others feel about him and what he is doing, how others react to him). He will sometimes tend to relate by preference to women and other feminized or effeminate men, and will sometimes have a difficult time with an all-male group. He will tend to fear women’s emotions, and in his family and at work he can be easily controlled by the possibility of women (his mother, wife, or co-worker) having an emotional reaction. He will tend to idealize women and, if he is religious, he will tend to see in women the ideal Christians or the definition of what it means to be spiritual. He will identify Christian virtue with feminine characteristics.
As technological society develops, men tend increasingly to spend time in situations dominated by women. Men also tend to have more successful relationships with women and fewer with other men. The home environment tends increasingly to be dominated by the mother. In some countries males as young as ten to fourteen years old begin to “hang around with” one girl—to relate together erotically, but also to have their primary companionship with one young female. This pattern of predominantly female companionship for males continues because they spend their main social time with their wife and little with other men. The historical novelty of this social arrangement is pointed out dramatically by Marion J. Levy Jr., a sociologist who has studied extensively the process of modernization:
Our young are the first people of whom the following can be said: if they are males, they and their fathers and their brothers and sons and all the males they know are overwhelmingly likely to have been reared under the direct domination and supervision of females from birth to maturity. No less important is the fact that their mothers and their sisters and their girl friends and their wives and all of the ladies with whom they have to do have had to do only with males so reared. Most of us have not even noticed this change, nor do we have any realization of its radicality. We certainly do not have any systematic body of speculation on what the significances of so radical a change are or could be. To put the matter as dramatically as possible, we do not even know whether viable human beings can over any long period of time be reared in such a fashion. After all, this has never held true of any substantial proportion of any population for even one generation in the history of the world until the last fifty years. This has not held true for two generations, for any substantial portion of any population for more than twenty years at the outside. It has not yet characterized any substantial portion of any population for three generations, but most of those living today will live to see what this will be like! . . .
This sexual revolution has come on little cat’s feet. So far no high levels of violence have been directly associated with this revolution, though we certainly don’t know that these changes have nothing to do with the increasing levels of violence that seem to characterize both the highly modernized and latecomers to modernization as well. If the change to which I point has taken place on anything like the scale that I allege, nothing is less likely than that it makes no difference or very little difference.6
Some males respond to this situation by becoming (usually before adulthood) socially disruptive, by asserting their masculinity in some uncontrolled or irresponsible way. Others accept a female-dominated social world and become feminized to a greater or lesser degree. Among contemporary Christians this latter process is accelerated by a kind of teaching which encourages males to be more feminized by teaching them that emotions and emotional relationships are the most important things in life from the Christian point of view (a kind of teaching which is bad for women as well as for men).
The popular masculine caricature of the impersonal, unexpressive, unemotional, rugged individualist out for himself is not the ideal for the Christian man. Nor should men be self-consciously manly all the time, always trying to prove the point that they are men. A confident man should be capable of readily doing something that is “for women” if he judges that it is right to do so. But at the same time there is great importance—both social and Christian—in having men of masculine character. Manliness equips men to take social responsibility for groups, to work together with other men, to exercise authority and discipline over people, to move a social grouping forward in becoming what it should be, and to protect the group and those in it from harm. If the men in a group are feminized, the group as a whole is weakened and a healthy expression of roles for men and women becomes more difficult.
The feminizing process affects different men in different ways. Some feminized men take on characteristics which, from the Christian point of view, are bad for both women and men, but which more frequently characterize female groups or groups dominated by females. As they are feminized, some men become, for instance, sentimental or very subject to social approval. Christian character formation would attempt to correct these characteristics in women as well as in men, but these characteristics more often pertain to females than to males.
Certain other feminized men do not necessarily take on such faults. Instead, they will take on a structuring of their character that is more appropriate for Christian women than for Christian men. For example, a feminized man may have a character in which the traits of gentleness and quietness are stronger than the traits of aggressiveness and courage. Both Christian men and Christian women should be both gentle and aggressive (zealous). Yet, in the scriptures, quietness and gentleness are particularly emphasized in forming women, and aggressiveness and courage are especially underlined for men. Men are supposed to respond more aggressively than women in social situations and are, in general, more aggressive than gentle. The opposite is true for women. This does not mean that women should never be aggressive and men should never be gentle, but there should be a certain overall difference in how the two sexes express these traits. Feminization, then, not only can give men female faults; it can also give their virtues a female structure.
Social Responsibility and Aggressiveness ▷ Two crucial areas in the character formation of men must be dealt with successfully if men are to be effectively formed in manly Christian character. These areas are of great importance both in raising young boys to be Christian men, and in raising new Christians—young and old men alike—to Christian maturity. The first and primary area is that of training men to take social responsibility. Men have a natural tendency to avoid social responsibility and instead follow one of two other directions. Either they will tend to follow the course of self-aggrandizement and pleasure-seeking or, if they are feminized (or at least are cowed by women in social situations), they will tend to withdraw and take responsibility only in the areas which they stake out for themselves as being those where they will achieve. This does not mean that there are no natural factors in men which lead them to take social responsibility. Indeed, there are such factors, but these do not operate very easily in unstructured social situations. Men assume social responsibility most naturally and effectively when (1) it is clear to them that the primary responsibility for the well-being of others rests on them and that others are relying on them, and (2) when they have been trained from an early age by the men in their lives to recognize and assume that responsibility faithfully.
The second crucial area for developing manly character is aggressiveness. Men are, and should be, naturally aggressive. They will be aggressive, unless early in life they are taught to be afraid of hurting themselves. Rather than being a disruptive or harmful factor, this natural male aggressiveness can be one of the greatest social contributions men can make. But they need to be trained when to be aggressive and when not to be. They have to learn to control their aggressiveness according to Christian ideals, to learn courage and how to put their aggressiveness to a constructive use. Such training is most effectively provided by older men that young boys can respect.
The key factor in forming manly character is the right social structure. The primary component of this structure is a context within which men can form strong relationships with other individual men and with a group of men. Men achieve a healthy masculine identity primarily when they are relating successfully as men with other men. The most important of these relationships is normally that between father and son. A young man should instinctively identify with his father and model himself after him. If the father-son relationship is good—if the father is not indifferent to and distant from his son, and if he is not brutal or cruel toward him—the son will receive a great deal of his personal confidence and his identity as a man from his relationship with his father. A young man’s father should be instrumental in bringing him into groupings of men so that, under the sponsorship of his father, he can make contact with adult male society. The father’s role, of course, can be and often is supplemented or replaced by other older men—an older brother or an uncle, perhaps. A young man should also experience a sense of co-responsibility and camaraderie as part of a group of men with whom he can identify. It should be added here that the common notion of the male as being a self-reliant, independent individual is a myth of American individualist society. Psychological and anthropological evidence point instead to the view that men function more naturally in groups and, if anything, are less individualistic than women in their personal relationships (though men are more concerned about their own personal accomplishment). If a young man’s relationships with his father and with a social grouping are good and are working properly, those relationships will be a major help in developing his sense of social responsibility as a male and in his learning how to use his aggressiveness in a constructive way. (The same principle applies to training men who are new Christians, whatever their age, in Christian manliness.) The restoration of the Christian father-son relationship and of Christian brotherhood among the men in a Christian community is one of the more important tasks in restoring Christian community life.
If they are going to develop manly character, men must also be given positions of social responsibility and a set of social tasks that are acknowledged as manly. This statement holds true, of course, in a corresponding way for women. When a person can observe a clear role model operating in a role that he or she will eventually be filling, identification with that role and personal change are much easier. In certain ways, however, the proper role model is more important for men than for women. Men in modern society tend to be socially irresponsible, leaving the responsibility of caring for people to the women. Only when younger men see older men exercising responsibility for groupings of people will they develop a sense of social responsibility. Male headship in the family and community also tends to counteract the male tendency to “leave it to the women,” because it allows the man to identify his care for his family and community with personal accomplishment in a way that produces a commitment to his responsibility that he would not otherwise have. Moreover, the evidence seems to indicate that men have a more difficult time than women identifying with their social role. Certain social scientists have stressed the importance of a society having socially recognized male tasks in order for proper male development to occur.7
Finally, if men are going to develop manly character, they must be freed from the dominant social pattern of spending most of their time with women. This comment, to be sure, applies primarily to recent Western society. In most societies, even in sexually permissive cultures, men and women have little tendency to spend most of their time together in pairs. Yet the pattern of men relating primarily with women is developing in increasingly large sectors of contemporary Western society. This pattern seems to have the effect of feminizing the male rather than of masculinizing the female. To make these observations is not to say that men and women should have nothing to do with one another. The point is, rather, that when the primary social support for a male (or a female) is one individual of the opposite sex, the effect is harmful—both on the character of the individuals involved and on the type of relationship that is fostered in the social grouping.
Machismo ▷ Some cultures and environments are noted for a special problem among males which in Latin America is called “machismo.” The “macho” man is a type of the socially disruptive male, irresponsible in his family commitments (and often in his work commitments) and overly assertive about his manly prowess, especially in the sexual area. Machismo is frequently accompanied by a great deal of violence, alcoholism or other addiction, and crime. The term “machismo” was developed in Latin America because of the acuteness of the problem in many sectors of Latin American society. Yet the problem is also acute both in other societies and in sub-groupings in other societies. The Black American culture, for instance, breeds a similar machismo.
The macho male is a familiar type, but machismo is only one expression of a broader social problem. It is often not recognized that in many societal groupings characterized by machismo there are also large numbers of effeminate, homosexual, and feminized men. In fact, there are few males in those groupings who do not show strong tendencies in one direction or the other. Another important observation about societies where machismo is common is that the families in those societies are generally dominated by the mother. Frequently the father is simply absent from the scene.
Machismo, in short, develops in a societal grouping characterized by social disorganization. In such a situation, the males often manifest the worst effects of the culture’s disorder. They find themselves with very few solid models of responsible manliness, and they often grow up under the domination of women. As a result, they usually either rebel against women and become irresponsible, macho males, or they accept the domination of women, identify with them, and are in some way formed by them. This pattern is caused by the breakdown of male responsibility in the family and the unwillingness of older men to assume responsibility for younger men.
Christians in these societal situations frequently tend to work primarily with women because they find them more cooperative and reliable. Their hope is that by strengthening the women, they will be strengthening—and Christianizing—the social grouping, and hence gradually overcoming the problem. In fact, their efforts have little effect on the problem because they are relying upon women to form the men in a situation where the failure of men to form men is the origin of the difficulty. Unless men are effectively reached and formed in social responsibility by other men, the problem cannot be overcome.
Christian women in contemporary society likewise face difficulties in growing into a womanly personality formed by Christian character. In recent years, the pressures on womanly personality have become much stronger due to the fact that part of the ideology held in some sectors of the feminist movement advocates a change in personality for women—one that is supposed to allow them to compete more equally with men. While this aspect of the feminist movement does not seem to have received anything like universal acceptance, it has at least made the question of personality for women a much more pressured one.
There are three main types of women for whom Christian womanliness is a particular problem. The first is the woman who is characterized by a great deal of personal insecurity and dependence. Like the feminized man, this type of woman has often been overlooked by Christians, because her tendencies toward submissiveness, self-abasement, and a great desire to please others are equated by many with charity, humility, and a gentle and quiet spirit. Her difficulties are more readily recognized than those of the feminized man, however, because she normally experiences a great deal of unhappiness and personal dissatisfaction and has a strong tendency to seek help.8 Few Christians, though, will view her personal difficulties as problems in her Christian character, even when they are recognized. Yet her anxiety, lack of faith and joy, and lack of personal confidence and strength, even though they may not “be her fault,” do not correspond to Christian character traits.
The second type of woman for whom Christian womanliness is a particular problem is the “masculinized” woman. Masculinized women are women who have learned to behave or react in ways that are more appropriate to men. Although the basic psychological development has been normal in their identification as women, they have in the course of their lives learned or been formed in manly ways. They tend to be more unexpressive and more personally distant. They often seem hard and are aggressive in a way that seems “pushy.” They often dress in a more masculine style, even when they do not wear masculine clothes. Their interests are frequently closer to those of men.
Sometimes women become masculinized out of a lack of confidence that they will be accepted as women. Sometimes, however, and perhaps more importantly, they seem to become masculinized out of a feeling that male roles and activities are more important and provide greater security than female roles and activities. This feeling can often develop at an early age. Finally, women sometimes seem to become masculinized by the experience of competing with men in situations that are predominantly male in composition or standards. The “career woman” has a reputation (not always justified) for being masculinized. Just as boys seem to become feminized in social situations where their contacts are predominantly with women, girls seem to become masculinized in male-dominated task-oriented situations.
The third type of woman for whom Christian womanliness is a particular problem is one who has had her “consciousness raised” by the feminist movement. According to feminist theory, this woman is a new personality, socialized into equality with men. Outside observers, however, are often more inclined to view the “new” personality as a female personality with the more-than-ordinary amount of inner anger (frustration, resentment, bitterness), and often an assertiveness that is appropriate neither for a Christian man nor a Christian woman. Often, women of this sort also exhibit a competitiveness, especially with men, that indicates that their new confidence is based more upon particular achievements in tasks and situations that have been traditionally understood as male than upon an inner peace and confidence about being women. Whatever the inner dynamics of the new feminist personality, many feminists have a character which is not formed according to the basic Christian character for men and women, and much less according to the specific aspects of a womanly Christian character. Furthermore, Christian feminists often betray the fact that the primary formative influence upon their characters has been a group of non-Christian women who make no pretense of forming themselves in Christian character.
To say that there are shortcomings in what feminism produces in many women is not to imply that everything feminists say is wrong. For instance, their emphasis on female assertiveness has something to recommend it: Women have often been taught to be unassertive in a way that makes them ineffective in some of their responsibilities. However, the assertiveness that feminists teach is often based on the premise of women trying to get their own way (a characteristic that has never been absent in women, or men, before). It is often an assertiveness characterized by anger and hostility. Nonetheless, Christian women could well learn to be more assertive, not indiscriminately but selectively, especially in situations where their responsibilities call for it. Another potentially valuable feminist emphasis is that placed on women controlling their emotions and being firmer in the way they respond to situations. This can be an expression of Christian self-control, although it does not have to be done in a way that eliminates the warmth traditionally associated with Christian women or that produces hardness in women.
As was true for manly character, there are several crucial areas that must be dealt with successfully if women are to be effectively formed in womanly Christian character. In our society, one of the most important of these areas is that of women learning the value of being women. Women frequently feel second-rate because the achievements that are valued in our society are masculine ones, and because women are normally placed in situations where there is no difference in how men and women are evaluated.9 The contemporary situation is unusual, despite views to the contrary often presented by the feminist movement. Women of past ages have not shown the signs of dissatisfaction with being women that modern women have manifested. Most societies (not all) have valued and respected women and have had ways of expressing this value and respect. Women have been conscious of being subordinate, but subordination (whether for a male or female) was not experienced as degrading in the way it often is in modern society.10 A massive cultural change has occurred in this area, a change which has produced an inner dissatisfaction in women. Training women to compete successfully with men will probably only increase, rather than eliminate, this dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction will be eliminated only when women can experience being valued precisely as women and as different than men.
A second crucial area in character formation for women is that of trust. The “gentle and quiet spirit” that scripture says should characterize women is the fruit of trust. By contrast, women in modern society are frequently characterized by anxiety, anxiety about their own lives and about how the circumstances of life will work out for themselves and others. This anxiety may manifest itself in a great deal of aggressiveness and assertiveness, but the inner core of it is lack of trust. For a Christian woman who wants to accept a Christian woman’s role, anxiety and lack of trust must be replaced by an experience of the dependability of other people, especially the dependability of men in taking responsibility for those areas in which she is relying on them.
Again, as with the formation of manly character, one of the key factors in the formation of womanly Christian character is the restoration of a Christian social structure. Women need a clear role they can accept and fulfill, and they need clear tasks they can become confident in performing and for which they know they are valued. This womanly role must be respected by others, especially men, and respected in a way that women can experience. Women should be honored precisely because they are women. The restoration of expressions of respect connected with social roles is particularly important in a situation like contemporary society where there is a tendency not to value the role of women. From the Christian perspective, the true dignity of women is not based upon their ability to do the same things as men. Rather, it is based upon the value of women precisely as women—as different from men and as equally valuable in that difference, making contributions that men cannot make.
Relationships among women are also important in the area of forming womanly Christian character. They are not, perhaps, as important as they are for men, but they are important nonetheless. The mother-daughter relationship is instrumental in effectively developing Christian womanliness in young girls. As a young boy can grow more confidently and readily in his role as a man through identifying and modeling himself on his father, so also can a young girl grow more confidently and readily in her role as a woman through identifying and modeling herself on her mother. Moreover, if a young girl experiences her mother as someone who is glad to be a woman and who wants her to be womanly, she will have much more inner confidence in that position. Strong relationships with other women must also be restored. The women of the community should support one another and work together in a spirit of sisterhood. Just as in the formation of young girls, women who are new Christians develop greater confidence in Christian womanliness by belonging to a group of Christian women and by being raised in the Lord by women with greater Christian maturity. Correlative to a restoration of relationships among men should be the restoration of relationships among women.
Finally, women must be freed from excessive emotional dependence upon men. In our society, a woman often feels an extremely strong emotional dependency on a man—either a boyfriend or a husband or a son. Mothers tend to hold on to their sons, girlfriends let their lives center emotionally on their boyfriends, and wives constantly reach out for more of their husbands’ companionship and concern and are resentful when they do not get it. Modern women do not do these things from conscious decision. Modern Western society has been structured in such a way that a woman’s only hope for any personal support is to have a man who will make her the center of his life. For this situation to change, a change must be made in social patterns as well as in the kind of media-supported view which makes a woman feel that the only truly satisfying relationship is a relationship with one man who is her man. To be sure, husbands are important in the lives of their wives, but excessive emotional dependency often makes it difficult even for very dedicated husbands to satisfy their wives. For single women, it should not be the case that they are constantly fixated on finding a man. If women are to grow into confident, responsible, Christian womanhood, they need a certain emotional freedom from men.
This section of the chapter has been concerned with the formation of character, not with imposing behavioral norms on people. There is a limit to how much an adult or an older child can change which varies from person to person and area to area. Nonetheless, Christians can be formed so that they reflect the image of God more and more fully in their lives, and so that they are more the kind of men and women who can most freely serve in the way the Lord is calling them to serve. It is one thing to accept limitations and to respect individual needs and possibilities. It is another thing to completely give up the formation of Christian personality or to have no guiding vision of how a Christian should be. If Christianity should do anything, it should produce a new kind of man and woman.
Relationships between Men and Women*
As might be expected in a study such as this, the subject of relationships between men and women has threaded in and out of many of the chapters, including the present one. This section will raise the subject again, but the treatment given to it here is not intended to be exhaustive or to be a synthesis of all that has been discussed previously. The most important elements of relationships between men and women have been treated already, especially in the first pastoral guideline of Chapter Twenty-Two. The aim of this section is to distinguish between the sexualized ideal of man-woman companionship which operates increasingly in our day and age, and a stronger, healthier Christian ideal which situates man-woman relationships in their proper context of the overall social life of the Christian people. When wisely placed in the broader picture of all social relationships, relationships between men and women contribute richly to Christian life without distorting social roles or undermining other important relationships.
Unfortunately, a balanced placing of relationships between men and women in their proper context does not characterize much of modern society. Rather, sexualized man-woman companionship has become a growing focus.11 Even among Christian teachers and theologians, man-woman companionship has been increasingly discussed, praised, and exalted. Some of them would view it as the most fulfilling of all human relationships and the most perfect image of God’s love for mankind. (To make the latter point, they must usually interpret marriage images in the scriptures according to modern “companionship marriage,” and not according to marriage as it existed in scriptural times.) Behind this increasing emphasis on companionship between men and women is a sociological shift of the sort that was discussed in Chapter Eighteen. But rather than romanticizing man-woman companionship or viewing it as something in itself, one must see it in its social structural perspective.
Man-woman companionship tends to increase with the development of technological society. This trend seems to be more apparent in socially unstructured Western society than in a more disciplined Communist society, but the observation is true in both cases. In particular, the trend is for men and women to pair off and spend a great deal of their leisure time with one individual of the opposite sex—either a boyfriend or girlfriend, a marriage partner, or a “lover.” One effect of this pattern seems to be the sexualization of personal relations. A male and a female pair off primarily for reasons of sexual attraction and, when they spend time together, a sexual-emotional way of relating is either the primary focus or a prominent undercurrent which determines a great deal about how the relationship goes. Rather than producing a special depth in relationship (other than, perhaps, a certain kind of affective depth), this sort of relationship produces a personal gratification focus in the lives and personal relationships of those for whom it is a primary form of relating. Those in such relationships tend to evaluate them primarily in terms of what they are getting out of them; consequently, the pairs they form will break up as the sexual-emotional affectivity departs. Rather than centering relationships around similarity of social role and task (as are relationships among men or among women) or around partnership in social task (as is the husband-wife relationship in scripture), the modern ideal of man-woman companionship centers relationships around mutuality of personal attraction. The effect is in good part not socially constructive. As discussed above, it has the tendency to feminize males, to produce emotional dependency in females, and to weaken both sexes.
Man-woman companionship is an essential part of successful marriage in technological society, and it performs a useful social function. It cannot be eliminated. In fact, some type of man-woman companionship probably has to be fostered. When placed in the context of Christian family life, where it is one element in a relationship that exists for the sake of serving the Lord and others (and not merely for the sake of individual gratification), the harmful effects of much of contemporary man-woman relating are lessened and perhaps eliminated. But man-woman companionship cannot be the only kind of significant relationship in the lives of husbands and wives, and it should not be the predominant form of social relating among single people (until they are moving toward marriage). Sex, and the kind of man-woman relationship to which it gives rise, is at its healthiest and most constructive when it is placed in the context of stable social relationships which have other purposes than simply gratifying the two individuals involved.
In order to successfully restore Christian social relationships, an emphasis must be placed both on brother-sister relationships between men and women and on relationships among men and among women, as well as on the man-woman relationship of marriage in the context of family life. “Brother-sister relationships” should be the primary relationships between men and women. These relationships are those which occur where people relate freely to one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord—to be cared for and served, and not to be seen as candidates for a special one-to-one relationship with someone of the opposite sex. In order to have the right kind of relationships among men and among women, the importance of relationships of companionship and friendship among people of the same sex and social role must be restored. These relationships cross age group lines (older women and younger women, older men and younger men) and bring people together for a constructive social purpose, and not just because of personal interest and attraction. In other words, man-woman companionship should be part of a larger fabric of social relationships that is centered on and structured around building the body of Christ and bringing others to life in him.
Likewise, the man-woman relationship within marriage should be shaped by what the family should be as a set of social relationships. The husband-wife bond should not be so all-absorbing that the husband is unable to relate to his sons or to other men, or so that the wife is unable to relate to her daughters or to other women. The husband-wife bond is very important for family life, but it should serve to bring together the husband’s set of relationships and the wife’s set of relationships, rather than excluding all other relationships. In fact, if the children are not to feel that they are growing up in someone else’s family, the father-son, mother-daughter relationships must be strong companionship relationships, and must be centered on training the children to take on the same roles and responsibilities as their father or mother.
What is more, the companionship between husband and wife should not be the same as if they were friends of identical social role. The relationship becomes distorted if they are “best buddies” who “hang around together.” Husbands and wives are partners with complementary roles who are one flesh. The husband should be the head of the family. He should care for and protect his wife. He should provide for her a clarity in what is expected of her, and he should provide a steadying and ordering influence on her emotional life. He ought not to try to have the same reactions to situations as she does, nor should she try to share his. In fact, when their companionship leads them to share each other’s emotional reactions, the effect is to feminize the man. The wife in turn should support her husband. She should serve him freely, not equating this service with something beneath her dignity. She should be a loyal partner whom he can count on as part of his own person. If Christian family life is working well, the husband should not love his wife in the same way she loves him, but there should be a complementary aspect to their love. They do not share everything in the sense that they can approach everything in the same way and feel alike about everything. One of the greatest benefits of marriage is that the husband and wife are not the same and cannot share together in that sense. Rather, the husband and wife are able to share everything in a much deeper sense, in that they belong to one another and make up one person.
One can distinguish between two major categories of single people. The first category are those for whom being single is simply a consequence of youth and of the fact that they are not yet married. The second category are those for whom being single is a long-term condition, either because they have chosen not to marry (celibates, those “single for the Lord”), or because marriage has not come their way, or because their marriage partner has died and their children no longer live with them. Some single people, especially the younger ones who have not yet married, can be provided for in the context of Christian family life and are therefore not the concern of this section. The concern here is primarily with those for whom being single is a long-term condition, especially celibates. This section does not attempt to give a full treatment of all that is involved in integrating single people into community life (particularly the special pastoral concerns affecting single parents and older unmarrieds not living single for the Lord), but only to treat the topic of single people in relation to such social structural considerations as roles, patterns of life, character and personality, and Christian service.
Single people in general, and celibates in particular, are among the groups of people most prone to the harmful social consequences of contemporary functionalizing society. This proneness results from the fact that they commonly live outside the context of the family—the one social unit of contemporary society that retains some vitality and that has a relationship-oriented approach in which age and sex considerations are important and make sense. The structure of family life is the basic structure of a Christian community, providing the formative principles with which all other relationships must harmonize. Celibates and other single people must therefore shape their lives in a way that supports the basic form and pattern of the rest of the Christian community. Otherwise, they will become a socially disorganizing factor in the community. Social roles, including the roles of men and women, are important for celibates and older single people as well as those who are married, partly because the unmarried state does not eliminate their sexual natures, and partly because they must be integrated into the wider Christian community in a supportive way.
Traditionally, groupings of celibates have followed one of three main patterns.12 One pattern has been to form separate communities in which the members were either all men or all women. Normally these communities were located in the country, geographically separated from other people. Sometimes, however, they were in the city, where members lived in a separate building and restricted their social contact with the rest of the city. Usually these communities developed their pattern of life to allow for a greater focus on prayer, worship, and spiritual discipline than would be possible in normal life. The second pattern celibate groupings have followed has been to form special households in which celibates lived a life that was more integrated into the broader Christian community. Sometimes these groupings would take on special service as a household, as with households of school teachers, nurses, or preachers. Sometimes, as in Catholic religious orders, these households would be part of a regional grouping of similar households. The third pattern has been that of individual celibates living within family households. These individuals would normally live as members of the family, but would also often have some kind of special service within the larger community. Of these three main patterns—celibates living separately from the wider Christian community, celibates living in households within the Christian community, or individual celibates living in families—the primary focus of this section is on the latter two, because in them the need for healthy integration of celibates into community life is more acute.
Celibates and other single people should live authentically as men and as women even though they are without a sexual relationship. The character and personality of single males should be manly, and that of single females should be womanly. In larger social groupings, the single men should take part with the wider group of men in the community and should follow the appropriate customs; single women should do likewise with the other women in the community. Within single households (or, in the case of monastic communities, within their communities) it might not be possible to have the same division of labor as can exist within a sexually mixed household. Quite commonly, however, households of single men and women have either lived closely enough to one another to provide services for one another, or they have employed people of the opposite sex to perform services for them. The basic principle should be that single people, as much as possible, are like the members of their own sex in the wider community: in their character, in their personality, and in their social roles.
The service of celibates to the community is a larger issue, especially in contemporary society. Traditionally, when celibates have served within the Christian community, they have performed the same kind of services as the other community members of their own sex. Male celibates have been elders—priests or ministers, traveling apostles, preachers, and teachers. Female celibates and widows have provided pastoral leadership either as deaconesses, as members of an order of widows, or as co-workers of missionaries. Male celibates have taught men and boys, provided health care, and provided a work force for the Christian community. Female celibates have taught women and girls, and given charitable service. The principle is that male celibates, like other single men, engage in the work of men in the Christian community, and female celibates like other single women engage in that of the women. Their services harmonize with the social roles of the other men and women in the community.
Of course, contemporary society presents single people with a vastly different set of circumstances. Many do not serve within Christian communities, and many serve in functional Christian organizations that are associated with Christian communities. In these cases it can be difficult to apply principles which would be essential within the context of the Christian community. Adjustments must be made for those living or serving outside of Christian communities, but the basic principle of Christian tradition remains clear: There should be harmony between married and single people in expressing the social roles appropriate to their age and sex. This supportive integration of single people into the overall social pattern of the people is of great importance, especially within Christian community.
The five areas discussed in this chapter are frequently subjects of hot debate, both within the church and in secular society. It can often be difficult for those attempting to build a strong Christian life together to see the way clear through the barrage of strongly held and strongly asserted positions, opinions, and feelings, many of which derive from unchristian sources and lead in unchristian directions. Because these issues can appear to be isolated concerns which could be resolved without reference to the broader social framework of the Christian people, it can also be difficult for Christians to see the individual issues within their broader social structural context.
The fact is, however, that scattered, short-sighted approaches to one or all of these issues will simply not suffice. Neither can unchristian solutions provide what is necessary. Rather, a clear, consistent, longer-range pastoral strategy is needed—one which situates each issue in the overall context of the Christian social structure and outlines for each an effective resolution that can enhance the strength and vitality of Christian life. The overall pastoral vision which shapes these strategies points Christians in the direction of fostering the development of Christian communal life to whatever degree is possible in their circumstances as they seek to strengthen their life in Christ in the midst of a rapidly changing world.
638*For background and substantiation of this section, see the relevant material throughout Chapters Three, Four, and Twelve. Also see Chapter Eighteen, pp. 502–510, and Chapter Twenty-Two, pp. 617–618. For more detailed practical advice on supporting Christian family life in technological society, see Ralph Martin, Husbands, Wives, Parents, Children (Ann Arbor: Servant, 1978). Martin’s basic perspective is the same as that of the present volume.
642*For background to this section, see especially Chapters Five, Thirteen, and Seventeen. See also Chapter Eighteen, pp. 495–496; Chapter Twenty-One, pp. 600–604; and Chapter Twenty-Two, pp. 622–625.
651*Perhaps the most influential of these views is found in the analytic psychology of Jung. Jungians argue that one ought to articulate the dimension of the opposite sex which is present in the personality as an archetypal image (anima for the males, animus for the females). Full personality development depends, they say, upon the full articulation of the archetypal elements of the unconscious.
It is certainly to be admitted that men and women typically exhibit traits which are present in a more pronounced way in members of the opposite sex. That these characteristics are the manifestation of an archetypal form resident in the collective unconscious is not supported by any direct evidence; indeed, it rests only upon the coherence of the entire Jungian theory of the unconscious and personality development. Moreover, Jung’s account of the male and female archetypes (animus and anima) depends on his creating a model of femininity and masculinity by categorizing certain traits. A more useful approach can be found in Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen of this book.
The wisest approach is not to encourage people to articulate in their lives traits which are typical of the opposite sex, since that leads to masculinization of women and feminization of men. Rather, people should be urged to express common human traits in a way which is characteristic of their sex. For example, a man ought to express compassion in a masculine way, rather than either repress it or express it in a womanly way.
654*The distinction between effeminacy and feminization is an important one. Effeminacy is a psychological disorder involving conflicts over sexual identity. The effeminate man usually does not want to be a man, or is afraid that he cannot successfully be part of a group of men. Effeminacy usually stems from experiences in early childhood, and is more often tied to such family disorders as an absent parent, a domineering or over-protective mother, or a hostile or weak father. It may also at times be connected to some hormonal defect during the early developmental process. Therefore, effeminacy is deeply rooted in the personality, and is difficult to change totally.
On the other hand, feminization is not a psychological disorder and need not involve conflicts over sexual identity. It is a cultural pattern passed on to men leading them to take a “feminized” approach to emotions, personal relations, and values. This cultural pattern is passed on through the media, the school system, and the family, and has its greatest impact in childhood and adolescence. Unlike effeminacy, feminization is not difficult to change. It mainly requires exposure to a new cultural pattern—new models, a new social environment, a new set of values.
661*The “masculinized” woman parallels the “feminized” man discussed earlier in this chapter. In similar fashion, “masculinization” should not be confused with the words “masculinity,” “mannishness,” and “lesbianism.” “Masculinity” is a natural manly quality corresponding to “femininity”; “mannishness” is a problem in female psycho-social adjustment corresponding to male “effeminacy”; and “lesbianism” refers to a woman’s sexual preference for other women that is sometimes but not always associated with “mannishness.”
665*Emotional dependence is different from social dependence. Women are socially dependent on men when there is an interdependence (or a dependence) of function such that women need men in order to function (to live or work in some way). Social interdependence is an important part of good roles for men and women. When women depend on men and men depend on women, their interrelationships will be stronger and healthier. This is not the same as emotional dependence. When someone is emotionally dependent, that person has an inner need for certain kinds of emotional support in order to function well emotionally. Some emotional dependence is unavoidable and good. Husbands and wives, for instance, should experience a need for one another of the sort that if one should lose the other, he or she would experience a loss emotionally as well as practically. The right kind of relationships, however, should produce an emotional strength that decreases emotional dependence rather than increases it. That is to say, if people’s lives are going well, they should be involved emotionally with others but they should not be increasingly dependent on them in order to function. Rather, they should become stronger emotionally.
669*There is some background to this section in the discussions of the social roles of celibate men and women in Chapters Five and Thirteen.