Masculinity and Violence (or Please Stop Saying WRONG things about God)

gun adYou may have seen this ad making the rounds on Facebook. It’s for one of the guns used by the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary. In addition to discussions about gun control and mental health care, the recent killings are also prompting a much-needed discussion of gender roles and societal definitions of “manhood.”

We do not know–we cannot know–what was going through the mind of the young man who violently killed children, teachers, his mother, and himself last week. Even if we could know, I’m not sure I would want to. There are some dark places I prefer not to go.

But we do know that there is a strong connection in our society between violence and ideas of masculinity. Last Friday’s massacre was, in part, a desperate grab for power by someone who likely felt–at least on some level–powerless.

Unfortunately, one man’s sin of physical violence has been a catalyst for many more men to commit the sin of spiritual violence. Prominent “Christian” male leaders are saying that Friday’s shootings are a result of God’s judgment on our sinful nation. (You know, abortion, gay marriage, couples sleeping in the same bed on TV shows.) Some of them are saying that God was not at Sandy Hook Elementary School that Friday because too many Americans don’t believe in God and we’ve kicked God out of our public schools.

(I’m not going to honor any of these violent men by posting their names here. But if you want the gory, infuriating details, you can read this Huffington Post article.)

These men have been blaming the brokenness in our world on abortion and gay marriage for years. From 9/11 to natural disasters to school shootings–it’s all because God is mad at us for the same stuff that these men are mad at us for. Convenient, huh?

This type of theology has all kinds of horrible implications for how we view God–as vindictive and unfair. For how we view each other–as potential causes of God’s wrath, as expendable pawns in some Divine lesson God is trying to teach us.

It is a violent theology that damages the spirits of many people. It suggests that God does not love us deeply and intimately, but is merely using us–and the precious lives of our children–to bolster the GOP platform. The worst part of this theology is that it does the greatest damage to the most vulnerable spirits. These recent statements are spiritual violence at its darkest.

And I think this spiritual violence, like much physical violence, has deep roots in cultural ideas of masculinity. Just as we send cultural messages that “real men” are physically tough, we also live in a culture that expects “real men” to be mentally tough. To know all the right answers. All the time. Changing your mind is a feminine quality–thus there are not many worse accusations in Washington than saying someone is a “waffler.”

Well, these prominent men certainly are not waffling. They have been spewing this theological garbage for decades now. And I think it is because they cannot bear the alternative. Their fragile egos and their warped sense of masculinity will not allow them to speak the truth.

The truth, of course, is that they do not have a clue. They don’t know why terrorists flew planes into the twin towers, why cities are devastated by hurricanes and tornadoes, why a young man would walk into a school and start shooting. They have no idea, but they simply cannot bring themselves to say it: “I do not know.”

And because they cannot bring themselves to speak the truth, they have to speak lies. It’s all that’s left to them. All their male egos will allow them.

Fortunately for me, as a woman, I am not burdened with expectations of confidence and infallibility. So I boldly proclaim the truth of my ignorance. I don’t know why horrible things happen in this world and I don’t know exactly where God is in it all and I don’t know how to protect my children or fix all the problems.

In the midst of my ignorance, though, there is one truth I am willing to stand by: that the work of God in this world is always toward healing and peace.

These men who commit spiritual violence–who further break the already broken–these men do not speak for God.

8 thoughts on “Masculinity and Violence (or Please Stop Saying WRONG things about God)

  1. Amen! Well spoken about the broken. These men are broken too and they cannot bring themselves to live the mystery with faith.

  2. “In the midst of my ignorance, though, there is one truth I am willing to stand by: that the work of God in this world is always toward healing and peace.”


  3. Pingback: Masculinity and Violence (or Please Stop Saying WRONG things about God) | Our Stories Untold

  4. I know plenty of women that completely agree and align themselves with your so-called “male leaders”. So what does your perfect world look like, all men getting sex changes? My point here is that blaming all society’s ills on masculinity is ridiculous. How do you propose to bring about meaningful change by attacking 1/2 of the population- men.

    • Jerry, it is not my intent to attack all men. My concern is with images and expectations of masculinity in our society. Men are as much victims of these harmful expectations as women are.

      If by “masculinity” you mean the idea that the strongest and loudest and richest should control everyone else, then I do blame all–or at least most–of society’s ills on masculinity. Call me ridiculous if you want. (I’ve been called worse.)

  5. I agree with your concern about images and expectations of masculinity. I also think many of those societal pressures start with women. It is ironic in terms of this conversation that the weapons used in the Connecticut massacre were purchased and supplied by a woman, the perpetrator’s mother, who was subsequently murdered. What I take issue with is using the word masculinity in the same article as this unspeakable mass murder. As if masculinity, and by extension, men in general, was the cause or was somehow responsible, as if somehow if we could all become more feminine that this would not have happened.

    • I think I understand the disconnect now between what I wrote and what you apparently read. By “masculinity” I do not mean “men in general.” I do not think that men in general were responsible for the shootings. (Your are right that women contribute a great deal to the disfunctional images of masculinity in our culture.) I do, however, think that the loudest and most offensive voices claiming to speak for God in the wake of this disaster are coming from men. And I blame those men in particular for their statements–not men in general.

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