Evangelical Christian Culture Devalues Men: An Example

Russell Moore

You may not know who Russell Moore is, but you should. He is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is also an outspoken cultural critic who recently gained even greater prominence as committed member of the NeverTrump movement.

Moore is squarely in the mainstream of “conservative” evangelicalism. For many in the movement what he says matters. I have long attended to his public statements and appreciated much of his work, particularly his unwavering defense of the unborn.

Dr. Moore’s broad influence, however, makes an exchange on a recent episode of his podcast even more troubling.  His guest for this episode was author Jen Wilkin, another “conservative” evangelical who is very concerned with expanding women’s role in the church.

As I have written before, evangelical churches are feminist strongholds. This is not always easy to see, so I bring to your attention this interchange between Moore and Wilkin:

Moore: You know sometimes I feel guilty because I feel I’m the only one in ministry who hasn’t used the phrase “I really married up.” And I haven’t used the phrase, not because it’s not true, but because it’s always felt to me kind of condescending. I’ve never heard a woman say this about her husband, but have heard husbands say this about their wives. I can think of all kinds of times where there’s been a panel at a conference, with one woman and a group of men, and somebody will make a comment about “the rose among the thorns.” Do you think that it’s the case that often in our churches there are some subtly condescending ways of talking about women?

Wilkin: I think it’s well-intentioned. When I hear something like that, I never think that person woke up that morning and said, “How can I keep the woman down?” I do think that we can sometimes speak in ways that intend to honor but end up sounding like overcompensating, but I do always assume it’s well intended.

Moore is correct in noting this tendency among evangelical men. I have heard such things said many times in evangelical circles. Hearing them makes my skin crawl, but I understand why men say them.

Many evangelical men have internalized the feminist notion that holding and exercising their natural authority is shameful. Yet, they hold a theology that tells them men are supposed to lead in the church and at home. Thus, they are left in a painful bind. They must look for a way to escape the pressure of these conflicting beliefs and saying things like this is a means to do it.

Saying things like “I married up” eases the tension because it implies that, even  if God has made him the leader in the church and home, he recognizes her as his moral superior. It is a way of saying, “Isn’t it funny that God would make the dumber, more sinful one of us the leader! That’s not the way I would have it, but God said I’m the leader, so I guess I have to be.”

Moreover, using phrases like these is intended to show that the speaker is really a “nice guy” who desires the approval of the women listening. “I married up,” is a way of saying, “I recognize that I am not fit to be a leader for my wife, or for any woman for that matter, but God has forced me into this role. Please don’t be mad at me.”

Men denigrate themselves in this way to appear humble. In these circles, recognizing women’s innate moral superiority is often a defining mark of a kind of humility. But this humility, of course, is a false humility.

True humility means being open to hearing about one’s faults and sins. True humility leads to a life or repentance and struggling to improve. What true humility does not require is denigrating oneself before a gaggle of church ladies in order to gain their approval.

Obviously, a man could find ways to praise his wife publicly without disparaging himself. Any Christian man could say, for example, “My wife is a beautiful woman of great character who has been a real gift to me.” But, saying that kind of thing does not achieve the same goal as saying, “I married up”, because the point of saying “I married up” is not really to raise others’ opinions of his wife, but to raise their opinions of him by demonstrating his “humility.” And, of course, secretly working to raise others opinions of you through verbal trickery is the opposite of true humility.

If Moore had stopped there, he could have been helpful. He could drawn attention to this negative habit among evangelical men and suggested better alternatives. But, in the next few sentences, Moore leads the discussion in a direction that makes clear how hostile much of the evangelical subculture is to men.

After describing one way evangelical men have been shamed into routinely maligning themselves, Moore then casts the phrases they use to insult themselves as actually being insults to women. The point is clear: in the evangelical world, if a man speaks and acts unapologetically as if he believes God has invested in him the authority to lead, he is a malicious tyrant; if he verbally prostrates himself before women he is a well-intentioned, though condescending, tyrant.  Either way, men lose.

And people wonder why men aren’t interested in church.

8 responses

  1. “And, of course, secretly working to raise others opinions of you through verbal trickery is the opposite of true humility.”

    Note where Moore says at the beginning of his quote ” you know sometimes I feel guilty because”. This is more verbal trickery. He does not in any way feel guilty. He feels proud.

    Substitute the word guilty with proud and the sentence would then be straightforward.

  2. The self denigration of men in evangelical culture is the result of male guilt. Christian men feel guilty about the patriarchy of the Bible and attempt to alleviate their guilt by placing women on a pedestal. A few years ago, popular theologian John Piper declared that God gave Christianity a “masculine feel.” Cue outrage. To this day I still can’t decipher what it was that Piper said that was offensive or even necessarily wrong. People didn’t get angry because they thought he was wrong, they got angry because, deep down, they know he was right. Evangelicals are big on respectability politics, including making themselves respectable to feminists.

    Well done Dean, this post reminds me of LeeLeeinBabylon’s great piece deconstructing the pop theology of the “servant leader husband.” I consider that her magnum opus.

    P.S. The only example I have of a Christian blogger highlighting this self deprecating trend is a woman named Michelle Lesley. The post, on her eponymous blog, is entitled “Feminist Infiltration and the Emasculation of Christian Men.”

  3. Dean, you raise a valuable point and make it well. I’ve also heard this said by Christian men and some have even said it to me in the context of “Your wife is waaay out of your league.” I’m sure it wasn’t meant as an insult but deep down it is.

    I like how you brought the issue of Christian headship resting with the males back into focus. That’s a concept that is lost in the liberal church and is being lost in the mainstream evangelical churches too. I’ve been at several weddings where the woman does not vow to ‘submit to her husband’.

    The ‘submission’ baby gets thrown out with the ‘sacrifice’ bathwater. Biblically, as wives submit to their husbands, a man must love his wife with the intensity that Christ loves his Church. Even if that means dying for her sake.

  4. Thank you for stepping out in faith to shine a light on this issue! As a woman, I strive to understand why many culture made popular Christian women write and believe what they do, and what Bible they are reading, to desire SO much control and admiration. I never equated it with feminism until recently. It helps me understand where the strong men of God are hiding…maybe at home?

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