Guest Blog: Working with Young Men

I am hugely privileged to have a guest blog from Rev. Anne Bennett, who is an Anglican priest based in Kent.  I invited her to guest blog on her experiences of working with young men after I did a live-tweetathon whilst reading “Why Men Hate Going to Church”.  I love what she has to say about working with young men!  Anne is on Twitter: @VicarofBorstal and she blogs HERE.

 

I read with incredulity GLW’s tweeted review of the book ‘Why Men Hate Going to Church’ by Dave Murrow.   This book’s basic premise is that we need to develop a specific ministry to men, a ministry that plays to gender stereotypes and which separates boys and girls. The author works from the premise that men like action movies while women like romantic comedies, and church should be themed thus[1].   Jesus is to be presented as a superhero, not a suffering servant.

 

I would like to humbly offer an alternative approach to ministry to men, based on my four years of working in a youth offending institution. I have never needed to use the stereotypes and methods of ‘men’s ministry’, nor do I think they would be helpful.  If there has been a book which has influenced me, it is ‘Contemplative Youth Ministry’, by Mark Yaconelli, which offers a gentler, holier way to minister with young people.

 

I work with young men who have been accused or convicted of crime. In our environment there is so much testosterone in the air you could bottle it as aftershave. There is nothing ‘sissy’ about this group, and sometimes they can be intimidating and aggressive.  Yet, in the five years I have worked with these young people, I have only three times had an empty chapel for worship. I have consistently found that some young people are called to come to worship, even to the point of being baptised, confirmed and publicly committing their lives to Christ.  I work as part of a diverse multifaith team that offers faith and pastoral care. It is stressful but rewarding work.

 

Our young people are surrounded by stereotypes and expectations.  As young men, especially as gang members, they are expected to be loud, strong and dominant.  They are fiercely loyal to their gang and hostile to strangers.  The atmosphere is often charged.

Yet something calls these young people into chapel.  Many have good memories of being taken to church when younger, often by their grandmothers.  Those older women, the ‘little old ladies’ so despised by some ministers, have sown good seed.  Some young people are looking for a less chaotic lifestyle.  Some are in despair and grasping at any straw.  Some are just looking for love, and we offer love without strings, unconditional, beautiful, divine love.

 

As they come into chapel these young men visibly relax.  The door is locked behind them, but the sense is that prison is locked out, rather than them being locked in.  The noise dies down and they know that they are in a sacred and a safe place.  I greet them and we have a few minutes of chat before God’s peace is allowed to fall on us in silence.  We participate in the ancient ritual of Holy Communion respectfully and reverently. At the start of our prayer time, each young person lights a candle.

 

After worship we sometimes have a discussion, but often we make art together. Creating a collaborative artwork brings young people together and avoids any sense of competition.  Our chapel is decorated with these works – a representation of the pillars of cloud and fire, a bright candle in a dark room, a burning bush, a tree of life.

 

I have learned much from working with this most demanding of groups.  I find these boys respond best to ministry which meets them where they are, but which then offers them a new hope.  They do not want the superhero narrative – every young person I have worked with has said that he wants to get away from violence.  They seek and struggle with forgiveness. Touchingly, for young people who have often had very disrupted lives, they often say they just want to ‘settle down’.

 

So what are the keys to working with young people, especially young men?  I find them to be the same keys as to working with anyone else.  Firstly, and most importantly, the gospel needs to be central to what we do.  This is not a social group, though we offer fellowship and safety.  We are there to worship, to pray and to open our hearts to the divine. It is our very difference which calls young people in. Church must always be there, waiting for those who one day will need to walk through the doors.

 

Secondly, young people can spot pretence from ten miles away.  I am far from being a male role model.  I am a middle-aged woman priest with liberal views and a fondness for rich liturgy and poetry.  Any attempt on my part to ‘speak street’ or to pretend to be part of their culture will produce instant alienation. Teen culture has exquisitely detailed rules and it belongs to teenagers.  I can only be myself, trusting in my vocation and my faith.  I offer what wisdom I can from my different vantage point.

 

Thirdly, we must listen to young people, and understand something of what is going on for them.  I always ask them what they would like to pray for.  I look at their body language: are they withdrawn, wrapped in their own arms, hiding in their hoodies?  Teenagers will tell you a great deal, but often without many words.

 

And finally, it may seem trivial, but for young men whose voices are breaking corporate singing is agonising.  I never ask young people to sing in an environment where their voice will be heard individually.  I also take care who I ask to read – both boys and girls can have reading difficulties.  I do not pressure young people to do anything – just being there is enough for God, and it must be enough for me.  Too many churches like their young people to perform, rather than participate.

 

I have never offered ‘men’s ministry’, just ministry.  I have never offered bacon rolls and paintball, just quiet worship and an atmosphere of positive change, forgiveness and hope.  Sometimes, by God’s grace, it bears great fruit.

 

[1] ‘The Danish Girl’ made $64m dollars at the box office, but films which do not fit action or romance stereotypes are not considered worthy of analysis.

 

Jon Jorgensen and Repackaged Patriarchy

In the last week, I got my first introduction to Jon Jorgenson after stumbling across his video “Who You Are: A Message to all Women” after it found its way into my Twitter feed.  The video is well on its way to having 6 million views.  Jorgenson is a Christian spoken word poet and although this video’s title is aimed at women, the video is set in a lecture hall and seems to be seeking an audience of younger women and girls.

 

A white man telling girls who they are didn’t seem like a particularly liberatory model.  So I decided to have a watch.  With emotive music and short dramatic sentences, the video is designed to create a specific emotional response.  He tells girls they’re smart and precious and funny and insists we have a responsibility to set free the “world changing woman” within ourselves.  Incidentally the video is entirely produced by men.  So he doesn’t think women are actually smart enough to be involved in creating his videos with him.

 

After moaning about the video on Twitter, I was informed that he has also created one for men.  So I had a watch of “Who You Are: A Message to all Men”, it has close to 2 million views.  The thing that is MOST fascinating is comparing the words of the videos (and though I don’t have time to delve into them, also the tone and body language within them and soundtrack lyrics behind them).  The subtly (or not so subtly) different language devices within stories that are broadly the same.  The overarching narrative of both videos are:

 

  1. You Are Awesome
  2. Things get in the way of you feeling amazing
  3. You have the capacity to change the world
  4. Jesus died for you
  5. The devil will tell you you’re not amazing
  6. Reject the devil
  7. You Are Awesome

 

The image below has the words typed up in two columns in order for you to compare them.  I’m hoping you can zoom in and read it…

 

Screen Shot 2016-12-02 at 21.15.13.png

Here’s some of the issues when the videos are compared:

 

Women are passive: Beautiful, smart, funny, kind, unique, precious

Men are active: Strong, brave, capable,

 

Women receive: they “are worthy of love and affection”

Men give: they have ability, potential, gifts, talents, kind words, wisdom, jokes, joy to spread, they are full of qualities, traits and virtues

 

Women are “the most stunning of all God’s creation”

Men are “the Lord’s most valuable creation”

 

Women are objects: a diamond, rose, pearl, “the most

Men are subjects: writers, athletes, inventors, artists, musicians, technicians

 

The things that get in the way of women knowing their worth are all related to how they look (except maths test scores and pottery modelling): weight, hair, shoes, whether girls envy them or boys want to “have” them, clothes, modelling, hot list or not list (yes it says that), cheerleader, can’t stand to look in the mirror,

 

The things that get in the way of men knowing they are loved by God are related to activities and physical size: being muscly, being small (and in the library), baseball, swing dancing, fastest, slowest, tallest, smallest, skinniest, fattest, captain of the team or last one picked,

 

For women it doesn’t matter whether “you’re Miss Popular or never really had someone you could call a friend”.

For men it’s doesn’t matter whether “your dad could beat up his dad or you never had anyone in your life who could fill that role”.

 

Women “deserve someone who would give their life up for you because you are powerful and strong, capable”

Men “have a power inside you that was formed before the beginning of time in a secret place by the God of the universe”

 

Women get to change the world, but he gives no examples of what they do.  Just to read about women ing the Bible: Esther, Ruth, Mary, Martha.

Men get to change the world with their gifts, talent, courage, ability, and joy

 

Women are cherished, loved, adored by God

Men are treasured, entrusted and love by God

 

This videos are seeking to change the world, to change how women and men perceive themselves.  But particularly the messages Jorgenson sends to women are regressive and reinforce women as objects and ornaments.  It’s all very well wanting to challenge the cultural messages that women and girls are oppressed by.  But you cannot dismantle the devil’s house with the devil’s tools.

 

As well intentioned as these videos are, they continue to perpetuate the same models for women and girls that exist across society.  Perhaps that’s why the one for women has so many views.  It isn’t enabling women to reject the messages that oppress them, but rather to hear God tell them those same messages in a nicer voice.

 

The messages given to men are slightly more benign, there’s less about aggression and redemptive violence.  However, the comparative messages in the videos still leave men to conclude they are the actors (reinforced by a man performing both videos), the agents and that women are put on earth by God to be attractive and passive.

 

We must challenge these messages wherever we find them and remain steadfast in recognising that girls and women deserve better than repackaged patriarchy to empower and inspire them.

 

When Men are People and Women are Novelty

This week Donald Trump’s misogyny became clearer to the world.  We now all know that he likes to sexually assault women.  Many were upset because they have wives and sisters and daughtersOthers were upset because he used bad wordsYet others wanted people to grow up and stop being so sensitive about the things men say in private.  Even when those things are a man admitting sexual assault.

 

Another thing that happened this week is that two brand new Christian events were announced.  Naturally Supernatural is a new event from the Soul Survivor team and replaces Momentum.  And Jesus Culture announced a new event that will be happening in Manchester.  These new events that haven’t happened previously.  Currently the Naturally Supernatural line-up includes five white men, one black man and one white woman.  The Jesus Culture event has seven white men (two of them are called Chris) and one white woman.  This event has more Chris’ speaking than women speaking.

 

Now, dear reader, you may be wondering how on earth Donald Trump’s misogyny is related to two new Christian events.  So I shall tell you.

 

Donald Trump’s misogyny started as a seed.  It grew in a soil of white male entitlement, wealth and power.  It grew as he was socialised to understand that men are people and women are novelty; where his power and wealth gained him impunity.  It has been cultivated most recently by white, male conservative Christians, who have either been silent on his comments, have undermined the seriousness of them or have reluctantly admitted that he’s in the wrong.  When these same conservative Christians have expressed concern, it’s because they are fathers and husbands.  It seems it’s only possible for men to care about women if they are emotionally invested in one.  Because men are human and women are novelty.  I wrote about that HERE.

 

These new Christian events are contributing to the soil.  At a very fundamental level they are saying men are people and women are novelty, in a Christian world where 65% are women.  Jesus Culture say, “There is a stirring.  God is on the move.  A hope for the nations.  The inescapable truth that He will do great things in our day.”  If Jesus Culture are unable to discern that God’s move involves a whole load of women, I’m not sure we can trust that they are really hearing from Him.  The world is changing, the roar of woman is finally being heard across our nations and yet Jesus Culture are deaf to her voice.  Because for them men are people and women are novelty.

 

Naturally Supernatural is “Equipping the church to live spirit-led lives.”  The Kingdom of God currently has a female majority, yet as an event they can only find enough women for novelty.  When the men who attend this event can only be upset about Donald Trump’s actions because of their wives and daughters, who can blame them when women’s only roles at the event are as wives, mothers, daughters and sisters?  There will be little that shows women are Christian teachers and leaders, competent and skilled, capable and trusted by God and by well-known Christian organisations to bring God’s Truth to all.

 

We can all imagine that we are nothing like Donald Trump.  That his words and actions are disgusting.  But unless we are actively working to create a world where women are no longer novelty, we are part of the soil.

 

Ali Campbell has also written about this over on his blog and has some really great stuff to say!  Read it HERE.

Anon’s University CU Story

I’ve been hosting people’s experiences of University Christian Unions over the last few weeks.  You can read the rest of them HERE.  Today’s story has been shared anonymously.

 

I studied for five years at a Scottish university and attended the Christian Union. It was a medium-sized society of around 40-60 regular attendees. In my first year I showed much enthusiasm for all things CU leading to me serving on the committee as secretary during my second year.

 

By and large, jobs were dished out fairly evenly. Exec committees were almost always 50:50 and bible study leaders were usually co-led by one guy and one girl. Our CU was about 2:1 female:male. This was higher than the average gender distribution in a church, likely due to the technical nature of the university. Just about every other CU-related activity mirrored that ratio except for one thing: speakers.

 

We never had a female speaker at our main meeting. Although we had many female students chairing some of those meetings, sharing testimony, leading prayer and music, the main speaker – typically a local pastor or trainee minister – was always male. We had one excellent female speaker at an evangelistic lunchtime talk in my first year. I was thrilled to see her up at the front, excited that my CU was breaking stereotypes, yet, disappointingly, she was the only woman I heard giving the main talk at a CU event throughout my degree.

 

I was on the CU committee in 2012 when news broke about Bristol CU and their controversial change in policy over female speakers. I made sure that in our next committee meeting we were aware of UCCF’s stance in case our student union approached us. It was a useful conversation but I feel we could have done much more than just be ready to give a statement.

 

I doubt whether it just so happens all the sound preachers in our city happen to be male. Despite our claim that the CU welcomes all speakers who agree with the UCCF doctrinal basis of core beliefs, we likely stuck with male speakers as the safe conservative option to keep the peace among our interdenominational society. This isn’t being balanced though. This is catering to the desires of a particular group of believers within our CU.

 

CU isn’t a church. This point is emphasised to new recruits each year so that they go and find a local church to join alongside CU. Yet, we still adopt very similar practices to congregations in who does what.

 

I recall a conversation where I was challenged by a non-Christian course mate who wanted to be president of a society she was involved with. She asked me why I didn’t want to be CU president. While there is a whole other list of reasons/motivations for being on a committee in CU versus another society, I found myself ducking around the fact that girls in the CU tend to be vice-president, not president. I was embarrassed by the backward thinking of the people I so dearly loved.

 

I noticed an increasing number of girls-only, guys-only events being run by the CU over the years and I’m torn on whether we should host such events. One-to-one mentoring of older women with younger women and older men with younger men is biblical (Titus 2) and highly useful. However, I feel too many of these sorts of events legitimise gender stereotypes associated with the church which is damaging. In my experience, if you stick a group of Christian girls in one room together, the conversation will eventually turn to weddings, not what God has been doing in their life recently. A female who doesn’t enjoy tea and cake (which is frankly just a chance to gossip) and would much rather attend the video games evening that is “boys only” will miss out on valuable fellowship with her sisters in Christ because those are the only social gathering options a CU is offering. It’s at these initial social events that friendships begin and can develop further on a one-to-one basis. That’s where discipleship starts and people miss out if they don’t feel welcome at these introductory fellowship events. We can say that these events are open to everyone but it’s unlikely many would feel brave enough to go against the grain and be in the minority at such an event.

 

Despite all of this negative stereotyping, I was particularly proud of the committee in my final year who decided to host a seminar on taboo topics. CU members were specifically asked what they would do if a friend approached them to say they were having issues regarding their sexuality/gender identity. As enthusiastic as I was about the evening (being a bisexual feminist) it was very awkward because Christians have created a culture of not being open about such subjects. I still don’t feel like I can come out to my Christian friends for fear of being judged even though it’s really none of their business who I’m attracted to but that’s another story. These topics are much more prevalent in our society today and are increasingly keeping people from investigating Christ because we paint a poor picture of what the church should be like.

 

As I progressed further through my degree I, typically, had less time for CU and over time spent less time there. I wish I had questioned the choice of speakers etc. My sister ended up being president of her university’s CU because she was the best person for the job. I do hope that was the reason my university CU chose the people they did to lead and teach the CU.

One in Christ Jesus – A Sermon

After tweeting earlier today about my sermon I thought I’d post it online in case anyone is interested in reading it…

 

This week has been a difficult week.  Though it may not have been reported as such, the death of Jo Cox was a political assassination.  And her death is directly linked with some of the rhetoric within the EU referendum.  Yesterday I was on local authorised preacher training and someone said that we shouldn’t make preaching political and that voting is a personal thing.  And the choice of who we vote for is personal, but the impact certainly is not.

I wrote this sermon before Jo Cox was murdered, so I will speak further about that later on.  When I saw that this passage was to be preached on today, I told our vicar I would love to preach on it, as one verse in particular has great significance to me.  Galatians 3:28..

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I love this verse so much that it is the name of a project I am involved in, Project 3:28, which is all about addressing the lack of representation of women in Christian culture.

Last month I participated in a debate at Oxford University “This house believes religious practice hinders gender equality”.  I was on the opposition with a Hindu woman and a Muslim woman.  The proposition included an atheist woman, a cultural Muslim man and a “post Christian theologian”.  Her name is Daphne Hampson and she is a post Christian theologian because she used to be a Christian and she rejected the Christian faith because of how it oppresses women.

She’s not wrong…

Though it may not have happened in our church, the experiences of many in Christian culture and in churches is…

  • Women told by church leaders to stay with an abusive husband
  • Women told they cannot lead, teach, fulfil their calling
  • The failings of male leaders often colluded with.  “Restoration plans”
  • Real work seen as male, intellectual.
  • Model of spirituality often aligns with men who often have less caring responsibilities
  • Assumptions women will do childcare in church
  • Men often encouraged into leadership roles

Women’s full inclusion can be perceived as a “secondary issue”…

Yet for Daphne Hampson and many other’s it is the reason they have rejected the Christian faith.

In today’s post-modern world, it is ethics and not reason or proof that is standing in the way of many people accepting Jesus into their lives.

How do we declare Jesus as liberation when so many who bear His name are contributing to the oppression of women?

Today is Father’s Day.  Both Mothering Sunday and Father’s Day can be amazing, positive days for those of us with loving parents.  But for many they are complex days.  For better or worse, our parents are usually the biggest influence on our lives.

And for those of us who are parents what a great responsibility it is to recognise that is also the case for our children.

Our father may not have been present in our lives or perhaps he made choices which have deeply wounded us.  Perhaps we were adopted or do not know who our father is.  Or there may be men here who hoped to be fathers and it never happened.  Or fathers whose children are no longer with us, or perhaps who are estranged.

Often the church can be a difficult place to be if our family doesn’t fit the 2.4 nuclear family that is often idolised by Christian culture.  We can feel alienated and isolated if we are single, it we do not have children, or if our family background is complicated and messy.  Just as women (and men) can be alienated from the church because it seems oppressive to women, so can those who don’t fit the nice, happy smiley family structure.  How often when we’re asked how we are at church on a Sunday do we put on our church smile and say we’re fine, even though life is actually deeply painful?

Can we be confident that the non-Christians we know with messy family situation will not put the church off them because of the mess?  Do they feel the church is a place of inclusion or of judgement?  Do they know that us people in the church have messy lives too?  Are we willing to be honest about our pain?  Be vulnerable?  Or do we want to present ourselves as a model person, as a model family?

In 2 Corinthians 4:7 Paul says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”  I imagine myself as a broken jar of clay, with a light inside.  It is through the cracks that the light of God can get out.  It is not my strength or competence that most clearly reveals God to the world, it is instead my brokenness.

In the past week we have witnessed the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States.  49 people were killed and 53 people injured when a man claiming to represent Islamic State opened fire in a Gay Nightclub in Orlando.  I have gay and lesbian friends who have been horrified and left deeply scared by this homophobic terror attack.  It can be easy to look at this terrible atrocity and condemn Islamic State, without examining how Christianity has often been deeply homophobic.

We can look at the murderer’s religion and consider Islam as the problem.  Fear of ISIS has fuelled hate crime to those who don’t have white skin.  Earlier this week we may have looked at Orlando and assumed it happened “over there in America, where everyone has guns”.  Yet, what happened later in the week?  An MP, shot dead.

Just as women and those with complex families can feel the church and Jesus is incompatible with their lives, so can lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  Do we have friends who are gay or lesbian?  Do we have work colleagues or family members?  Are there people in our congregation?  People here today?  Do they know that we care about them?  Or is their assumption that we are homophobic because we are Christian?

As we consider how to vote on Thursday (and there will be people here who vote both ways) as Christians, our vote must not be based on how the referendum will affect the price of our house.  As Christians we must prioritise firstly loving God and then loving our neighbour.  And who is our neighbour?  WHO is our neighbour?  If Jesus was here today, the story of the Good Samaritan would perhaps be about our neighbour being Muslim people or refugees.  As Christians we must vote based on how that vote will affect the last, the least and the lost.

The passage from Galatians includes a statement of equality that was unheard of in that time.  “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  We must always be careful not to elevate one passage above others when discussing theology, however this passage has special significance for us today.

In Jesus, the prejudices that separate us from each other dissipate.  Those people unable to accept the Christian message because it is sexist or misogynistic have a place to come in the Bible which suggests a difference truth is possible.  Maybe our differences are not as important as the love Christ came to bring to us?

Though there are many stories of how the Christian faith can be oppressive to women, we must also acknowledge that the reason women can vote today is because of the pioneering work of the suffragettes, many of whom were driven by their Christian faith.  So however the Christian faith can be a force of oppression for women, it can also be greatly liberating.

When we delve into the Bible further we find that far from 2.4 cereal box families, the Bible story is full of messy families.  Cain killed Abel, Abraham impregnated Hagar his wife’s servant, King David refused to deal with his son raping his daughter,  Joseph’s brother’s sold him into slavery, Rahab was a prostitute, Jesus was raised by a step-father.  We have a faith founded in the messiness of real life and people’s bad choices.

We don’t have to be ashamed of our messy families.  Though we may need support and help to overcome the challenges, the church should be a place we can be honest and know that messy families are in our faith’s DNA.  Let me challenge you today, if anyone asks you how you are after the service, to be honest rather than offering the default church smile and the very British “I’m fine thank you.”

As for the Orlando massacre and the many people who have been affected by it.  The church has a complex, theologically difficult road to walk with issues of sexuality and gender identity.  However, we are called first to love.  And may we represent the Jesus of love and life-in-all-its-fullness to those who currently find the Gospel to be oppressive.  May we be people who love deeply and live honestly, even when it hurts.  And may we know the God who binds our broken hearts; the God who is truly the greatest Father and Mother each of us can ever have.

Petitioning Hillsong: Unfair or Justified?

Last week I set up a petition to ask Hillsong to remove Mark Driscoll from their platform at their Europe conference.  His contribution has been downgraded from “MAINSTAGE SPEAKER” to “Interview Guest” alongside his wife Grace.  Driscoll was on the programme for Hillsong before he resigned and his behaviour within Mars Hill and beyond had been made as public as it is now.

I did not create the petition because I’m slow to forgive.  I did not create the petition because I am “shouty and ranty” or because I’m “emotive” or because I’m not very “Christlike”.  I did it because I believe it is unjust for Mark Driscoll to be given one of the biggest Christian platforms in Europe while those he hurt are still trying to rebuild their lives.

Stories have been told of how Driscoll encouraged people to give up their jobs and lives to move and work with Mars Hill, to then fire them.  The destruction and damage caused to those families?  Horrendous.  Stories of him asking church leaders’ wives inappropriately sexual questions, of him spending church tithes on getting his book into bestseller lists, of him plagiarising other people’s work; stealing their ideas and words and calling them his own.

He has not publicly repented, no matter what Charisma News tell you…  HERE is a blog I wrote about the PR apology he offered when resigning from Mars Hill.

Mark Driscoll used power in a dangerous and damaging way.  Just as an alcoholic uses alcohol in a way that is hurtful, to their own body, to their family and to others.  Or as a workaholic uses work in a way that damages themselves and others, Mark is a “Poweraholic” (Yes, I made that word up.  You are welcome…)  It is not that leadership is wrong or inherently damaging.  But it does come with risks (like drinking).  That’s why Jesus gave us a specific model for leadership, “The leaders of the world dominate, IT SHALL NOT BE LIKE THAT AMONG YOU.” (Matthew 20:26)

It is intensely unloving to provide Mark Driscoll with a platform.  Firstly to the many, many people broken by Mark’s actions and those around him who colluded with and enabled him to continue as a poweraholic.    Secondly, to his family and friends.  Poweraholics are like alcoholics, their need to maintain and increase power damages all those around them.  Thirdly, to Mark himself.  Poweraholics are not loved and cared for by giving them more power.  Just as loving an alcoholic involves enabling them to avoid alcohol, loving a poweraholic means enabling them to avoid power.

Mark DeMoss, Hillsong’s spokesperson has responded directly to the petition, and the mention within it that it would be a form of “cheap grace” to give Driscoll their platform; “I don’t think that is ‘cheap grace,’ but rather, a thoughtful approach to challenging circumstances. I think it would be fair for the petitioners to judge this appearance after it takes place, but advance judgment seems premature and a bit unfair, in my view.”

I would suggest what is slightly more unfair is that Mark DeMoss is the same person who did the PR management for Mark Driscoll’s resignation.  So, we have the person who equipped Mark Driscoll to do his slick PR apology (referenced above) now telling us that Hillsong is right to keep Mark Driscoll on the programme.  Isn’t that interesting?

Even within DeMoss’ statement he describes Mark Driscoll’s choice to damage hundreds, if not thousands, of people as “challenging circumstances”.  I think that suggests what is to come in the interview.  There’s no acknowledgement of the pain Driscoll has caused.  And as Donald Miller tweeted:

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 09.33.19

It is fair to offer advance judgement when there is no acknowledgement of the broken, vulnerable and hurting.   It is fair to offer a chance for people to be heard.  There are ex-members of Mars Hill signing, like this person who says:

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 09.37.12

Conveniently for a PR person, not offering “judgement” until after the event, allows Mark Driscoll’s career to be relaunched on one of the biggest Christian platforms in Europe.  And afterwards, the voice of (perhaps) the majority of people will be silenced by the swathe of media reports coming out of Hillsong, rewriting Mark Driscoll’s choices as “challenging circumstances” and his PR apology as Full Repentance.  And before I’m labelled as cynical, in advance of Mars Hill church being dissolved, Driscoll had already launched a new website, complete with opportunity to give to his ministry.

I will continue with the petition, and as I told Warren Throckmorton, am considering organising a peaceful protest at the Hillsong Conference because, when I finally have the opportunity to stand before Jesus and account for my actions, I can say that I stood with the broken and hurting and created space for their voices.  I did not walk by on the other side or as has been suggested, simply “vote with my feet”.

For another useful and important perspective, have a read of Jem Bloomfield’s blog: “The Punishment of Mark Driscoll”

WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?!

I am enraged.  THIS article written by Carl Beech and published by Childrenswork magazine has left me ENRAGED.  According to Carl Beech being stressed should lead me to “become vocal and chatty”.  I am not feeling vocal or chatty, I am angry and I want to smash things.

 

I have known Carl for quite a few years.  I had the privilege of working at the men’s event he runs for a couple of years.  I’ve seen him call an event with hundreds to their knees in repentance of violence against women.  In many conversations I had with women who were uncomfortable with some of his ideas and views I defended him, explaining that he loves Jesus and is a good guy.  At the all-male events I attended he was very careful to ensure there were no derogatory comments about women, much more careful than I’ve seen organisers of women’s events be towards men.  Yet over the last few years our paths have crossed less and less and our views have polarised more and more.

 

So here’s my thoughts on what he’s written.

 

The article is framed as “Christian Vision for Men’s Carl Beech thinks it’s time to man up and face the reality of a feminised Church.”

Man up is a term that has often been used towards male victims of sexual abuse to describe how they should respond to the choice of someone to violate them.  It has been used to sneer at little boys when they are hurt and it has been used to bully and devalue men who don’t conform to gender norms.

What does it mean that the church has been “feminised”?  When it’s used to suggest the church is failing, it suggests women are the problem.  It assumes that feminisation is an agreed upon thing.  That we all know that women are touchy feely emotional creatures who love quiche and liturgically dance their way around the building, snogging paintings of Jesus as they cry at the slightest upset, demanding that men join in, insisting they hold hands and skip.

 

Carl explains: Premier Childrenswork dropped me a line and asked me to pen a feature on…take a deep breath: What kind of men do we need in the 21st Century? What does an effective children’s work look like? What needs to change?’

Who decided Carl was the expert on writing about working with children in church?  Unless I’m very much mistaken he hasn’t done a whole lot of it.  He has been very open about his views on masculinity and what he thinks works, with many people at many times suggesting that there are alternative views to his.  Why didn’t they think to invite a few people to comment?  Perhaps Ali Campbell who is an actual expert in working with children?  Why only one perspective and a very narrow one at that?

 

Carl says: “I fully believe that men and women think differently”

That’s fine, believing men and women think differently is fine.  We can all believe things whether they are true or not.  I mean, there’s a flat earth society.  I’m totally up with respecting Carl’s belief in the difference between men and women’s thinking.  Unfortunately he doesn’t stop there…

 

“Our brains are different. Some parts of our brains are bigger or smaller depending on our gender. For example, areas that deal with spatial awareness are bigger in men, while problem-solving areas are bigger in women.”

Yes men an women’s brains are different, but what neuroscience has discovered is that this difference is far too complicated to ascertain what it means.  And what is clear is that neuroplasticity means that there’s no such things as hardwired difference between women and men.  So so many neuroscientists have written rebuffing the so-called science Carl quotes here.  At no point does he reference evidence for his views, but rather infers it is well accepted science, which it is not.

 

Research has shown that stressful situations seem to activate an almond-sized part of the brain called the amygdala, which processes fear, aggression and action. While in men it triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response, the female reaction has been dubbed ‘tend and befriend’. Men, as a whole, get angry when they are stressed. Women become vocal and chatty.

Responses to trauma are much more complex than Carl is allowing for here.  We cannot underestimate the impact of socialisation on how people respond to trauma, girls are socialised to be “good” and not to fuss, we are told “boys will be boys”.

 

Hormones also play a role. It seems as though it has almost become a criminal offence these days for men to have testosterone. Athletes who inject additional testosterone get angrier and have a much higher sex drive. Men live with a higher level of testosterone 24/7. Women have fluctuating hormone levels according to their monthly cycles.

I don’t know anyone who has suggested men should be banned from having testosterone.  I have however seen many suggest that testosterone is not a justification for rape, violence or other actions that perpetrated by almost exclusively men.  God made men with testosterone.  He also made men with free will.  So whether it is men and testosterone, or women with monthly cycles, our hormones do not in any detract from the choices we make as humans gifted with free will.

 

It’s widely known that more men kill themselves than women. However, it is also known that more women seek counselling for depression than men. Men don’t report suicidal feelings or depression, they just go ahead and kill themselves; usually in far more violent ways than women, who are more likely to poison themselves. Men chuck themselves off buildings, jump in front of vehicles or shoot themselves. That’s what testosterone can do.

The deep irony of an article which starts with telling us to “man up” then suggesting that men being less likely to talk about their feelings because…MEN ARE WIRED DIFFERENTLY will hopefully escape no one.  No wonder men don’t talk about their feelings!  Weakness and vulnerability are squashed out of boys at an early age.  The masculinity Carl discusses throughout the article perpetuates the very issues which underpin WHY men don’t talk about their feelings.  In fact, a recent campaign trying to prevent male suicide is working on men not being defined by the very stereotypes Carl perpetuates throughout the article.

God made men with testosterone.  It is not testosterone that causes suicide.  Circumstances, mental health issues, lack of support, stereotyping are all contributory factors in men being at risk of suicide.  And let us not forget that 90% of those who self-harm are female, which is inherently a violent act.

 

“We do open up and chat, but often in male spaces. I recently heard about a barber shop that created additional male spaces for guys to hang out. The owner related how men would openly share their feelings at quite a deep level and share very intimately. But when a woman came in and sat with them they stopped sharing and moderated their behaviour in an unhelpful way.”

Ohhh!  So it’s women’s faults men don’t talk?  Not the fact that having to “MAN UP” is a thing men have invented?  Carl’s following comments talk about men not being into lovey-dovey Jesus is my boyfriend stuff, but just here insists men can’t do feelings because…WOMEN.  How about men insisting other men don’t like lovey-dovey stuff perhaps impacting men’s ability to be honest about their feelings?  No…?  Let’s just blame women then eh?

 

So what’s all this got to do with children’s work? Well, a heck of a lot actually. Unless we start to ‘get’ men rather than trying to change them, we’ll never crack it. Yes, there is a broad spectrum of masculinity, just as there is with femininity. I understand that, but let’s get real. Let’s stop using a female standard to measure emotional and spiritual health.

Oh, so there’s a broad spectrum of masculinity?  I thought all men couldn’t talk about their feelings, had good spacial awareness and get angry when stressed?  Because of their brains?  But now we hear (very briefly) that some men aren’t like that, then a SWIFT MOVE ONWARDS.

Who is using a female standard to measure emotional and spiritual health?!  Who is doing that?!  Last time I checked (and I actually have checked) the national Christian platform is 62% men, so it’s not there…  How about in Christian publishing?  Christian media?  In local churches?  Oh no, on every level of the church, men are the majority of preachers, writers and holders of the message.  So unless women are controlling the message via some sort of mind meld, I’m unclear as to how the measure is in any way FEMALE.

 

“One example of this trend is the constant emphasis on ‘falling in love with Jesus’.”

I’m not sure where Carl has been in the last decade, but the falling in love with Jesus thing was a sort of 90’s cultural thing.  It didn’t last long and it certainly wasn’t (and isn’t) a CONSTANT EMPHASIS.  I’ve never heard a sermon on falling in love with Jesus.  The only church leader I know who was into it was male (who incidentally also insisted we all hold hands in a service and sing “Bind Us Together Lord”).

 

“I’ve heard pastors tell me that I need to fall passionately in love with Jesus.”

Now, I could be wrong here, but I’m guessing those pastors were MALE.  I know most of the songs Carl is talking about are written by men.  So where exactly is this message coming from?  Because it’s certainly not women who have the majority voice in the church.  Anywhere.

 

“The love I have for Jesus isn’t sexualised.”

I’m sorry to have to break this to Carl, and everyone.  THE LOVE I HAVE FOR JESUS ISN’T SEXUALISED EITHER.  What does that even mean?  How would the love people have for Jesus be sexualised?  That sort of thing is usually relegated to cults who have all sorts of alternative sexual practices.  It’s certainly not something I’m into, or any of the women I know (unless they’re secretly part of a Jesus sex cult I don’t know about…).  In fact I’d suggest it’s deeply heretical and offensive to suggest that any of us have a sexualised love for Jesus.

 

“It’s a love that I hope means I would take a bullet for him, not light a candle and gaze into his eyes dreamily. Men don’t get this eros love for Jesus stuff. They don’t fashion a strong faith in the melting pot of Mills and Boon, but in the context of sacrifice, honour, humility, grit and picking up their cross on a daily basis. Testosterone can be harnessed to this end, or we just end up switching the men off, throwing them into the cauldron of redundancy until, confused, they start to display less helpful male traits.”

I love Jesus.  With all my heart I love Him.  I hope that if I am ever given the opportunity to sacrifice my life for Him, that I would do it.  I’m not all into the dreamy eye gazing either.  Where exactly is this MELTING POT OF MILLS AND BOON?!  Seriously, it’s not something I’ve come across and I’ve been in church my WHOLE life.  Women are up for this call of sacrifice, honour, humility, grit and picking up our cross daily.  Across the world women are utterly familiar with this, what with doing it for their kids while in many countries we see men don’t do this for their kids.  As the saying goes, “a pound for the man is a pound for the man, a pound for the woman is a pound for the family”.  I know that being a mother and the sacrifice that involves isn’t the sexy taking a bullet kind of love, but it is something that women do more often than men, across the entire GLOBE.

And what are these “less helpful male traits” Carl speaks of?  I guess working in the field of ending violence against women, I would suggest they are raping women, mutilating women, killing women, killing their children, killing and mutilating other men?  Perhaps sexually abusing children?  You know, the “less helpful male traits”…?  As someone working full time in ending violence against women, I can assure you feminisation is in no way contributing to the choice some men make to abuse, rape and violate.  The very thing Carl wants to perpetuate, testosterone fuelled, feeling-less MANLINESS is what underpins the violence done to women and children by men.  It is by learning empathy and compassion that men choose to stop.  It is through taking responsibility (not blaming women and feminisation) that men change.  It is through re-humanising women and seeing them as equals that men re-humanise themselves.

 

“In other words, we’re getting it wrong. We tell boys off for wrestling and scrapping because it feels unseemly and somewhat un-Christlike. It isn’t! They’re just blowing off steam the way boys know how to.”

I’m confused.  Jesus was and is the greatest advocate of non-violence that ever existed.  He didn’t defeat evil with a sword, but by being stripped and beaten.  By giving up all power as God and becoming a human baby, birthed from a woman, and raised as a weak, feeble human.

 

“We don’t let boys play with toy guns because we think they will grow up to be aggressive. Rubbish. They’ll just go out and make swords and rifles from sticks. Harness, don’t extinguish. Go with it, don’t deny it. Shape ’em, don’t destroy ’em.”

My son’s favourite game was cooking right up until he went to school.  Within weeks his favourite game became killing.  That’s what socialisation does to boys, it tells them to kill not cook.  To destroy not build up.  And that is not the Gospel of Christ.  We are called to pick up our cross, not beat people with it.

 

“We need to train our children from an early age to engage with the world around them without losing their faith and integrity. We need them to learn how to win and lose with grace. We need to show them how to be competitive without being brutal and vicious. We need to harness the testosterone of our boys rather than hoping it goes away or trying to re-programme them. We were given it for a reason.”

I feel like quoting The Princess Bride in response to Carl’s constant assertions around testosterone “You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”.

Why do we need to teach boys to be competitive?  Last time I checked the teaching of Jesus was that the first should be last, that the greatest will be the least.  And it that’s too hard for Carl’s MANLINESS, then that’s unfortunate, because that’s the Gospel.

 

“We need men who are trained and raised up not just to lead in Church, but in every sphere of society.”

I hate to break it to Carl, but men are already leading the church and society.  Women on the other hand, are a minority voice in all decision making processes the world over.

 

“We need strong men of God who can take a hit for their faith in the media and the arts; on building sites and farms; in factories and accountancy firms. The same goes for women, of course, but they shouldn’t have to do it by pretending to be masculine to compete. They have uniquely redeemable skills and qualities of their own.”

I don’t ‘take a hit for my faith’ by pretending to be masculine.  What does that even MEAN?!  Should I don a fake beard before entering any space where I may need to stand up for my faith?  Boys have plenty of role models for what it means to stand up for their faith.  The Bible stories we tell across Sunday School, the great people of faith they hear about are almost exclusively male.  It’s not boys who need role models for standing up for faith, it’s girls.  I don’t need to pretend to be masculine because I continue to be authentically who God made me to be, with the gifts and talents He gave me, to do the work He has called me to.  The same as all the women I know who are standing up for their faith are doing.

 

“What kind of man do we need in the 21st Century? A beatitudes man. A man who will live and die with Jesus Christ as his master and commander. A man who has submitted his strength and testosterone to Jesus. He is secure in his identity and doesn’t care whether he is good at sport or not. He is who God made him to be. He doesn’t feel demonised because he has big muscles, nor weak if he doesn’t have them; he is not looked down on if he is competitive and aggressive. He’s a kingdom man.”

How is the 21st century kind of man different to the 21st century woman?  As human beings choosing to give our lives to God we should all b seeking to live and die with Jesus as our Master and commander, as our Saviour.  We should all be submitting our strength to Jesus and be secure in our identity.  Surely we should be KINGDOM PEOPLE?  Really?

 

“Do you have men in crèche and in Sunday school? If not, get some.”

Oh yes, because it’s that easy!  Most women I know have been asked to be on the Sunday School rota.  How many of the men are asked?  And surely this could have been mentioned sooner?  We all know that Sunday School is run by women.  So we’ve been told for a whole article that we are the problem with the church, but now it’s our job to fix things.

 

“Do you tell the boys off when they rough and tumble? Why? Let them blow off steam and find other ways to bring the discipline into play. Bring back wide games, I say!”

The problem is we rarely tell boys off when the rough and tumble.  The “boys will be boys’ mantra sits beneath offensive banter, rape and sexual violence, sexualised bullying in schools, domestic violence and other forms of woman and child abuse.

 

“Learn to celebrate male strength as much as you celebrate more feminine qualities.”

WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?!?!?!?!