Maybe you’re been following the saga of Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito and the Miami Dolphins. Martin walked away from the team because he was being “bullied” by Incognito, apparently by the use of racial epitaphs and threats of violence. The fascinating thing to me is that there are voices on both sides of this issue–some condemning Incognito and some condemning Martin. Those who condemn Martin say that this is a part of the culture of the NFL and that he should’ve handled this in house. He should’ve stood up to Incognito, and, even if he took a beating, “acted like a man” and gained the respect of the clubhouse.
It’s hard for me to relate to the Martin bashers. Admittedly, I don’t play in the NFL and don’t understand what it takes to withstand the violence of the sport. And, therefore, I just don’t understand the culture.
Maybe. But I know what its like to be bullied. In the 7th grade, I endured weeks of intimidation and abuse from a number of my male classmates. Before and after school were a living hell for me, avoiding beatings and the worst kind of name calling. My blood was in the water and there was a feeding frenzy. I felt deep shame over my inability to successfully fight back and I hid the whole series of incidents from my parents. I can’t express how horrible it was. As a result, I’m taking Jonathan Martin’s side in issues like this no matter the circumstances. Could I have handled is differently or better in 7th grade? Yes. Could Martin have handled this situation better? Maybe. But there’s no reason why anyone ever should have to feel this way.
So, since 7th grade, I’ve been wary of male group-bonding. I’m suspicious of what kind of culture will be produced in a testosterone exclusive environment. It’s too easy for me to equate the kind of chest-thumping, show-no-weaknesses, humor-at-the-expense-of-others, male togetherness rituals with the abuse I endured in 7th grade. They are of the same piece. They smell the same to me.
Is this my problem? Maybe. But the Incognito-Martin incident tends to underline for me the connection. I’ll admit that NFL locker rooms are an extreme instance of all-male culture, but I’ve seen it other places as well, even among preachers. There’s not a bigger bunch of chest-beaters than a room full of preachers.
You can imagine my reaction to the kind of macho, male-centered, brand of Christianity popular in certain circles these days. Driscoll’s famous quip that he couldn’t worship anyone whose ass he could kick isn’t too far from the Dolphins’ locker room.
I have no illusions that this is only a male problem. One of my favorite scenes from Seinfeld is when Jerry and George are explaining to Elaine how giving someone a wedgie is the male way of maintaining a proper pecking order. Elaine is incredulous, having never heard of such barbaric practices. Jerry asks her what the female equivalent to a wedgie might be. “We tease each other into eating disorders,” is her classic response. Estrogen has its own forms of violence.
So, one way to deal with this is to say that God needs men to be men and women to be women and to blow-up certain understandings of masculinity and femininity as God’s design for the family, the church, etc. Men will act like men and women will act like women and that’s the way God wants it.
I see it another way, however. I’ve noticed the difference in meetings when a member of the opposite sex is present. The difference is striking. The humor is different. The way differences are dealt with is different. The level of respectful speech is raised. And I think this is a good thing. And to me this gets at the teaching of both creation and the new creation. Male and female, taken together, are created in the image of God. Not one over another. Not each separate from the other. But both, taken together, represent the image of God. There’s something that happens when we can live into this reality which runs counter to either a male-centered or female-centered culture, that points to the way we were created and also to the coming realities of a new creation.
This perspective neither denies the differences that exist between men and women, nor does it glorify them. Instead, it says we need each other to appropriately bear the image of God in the world.
So, I think a room full of preachers is better when some of them are women.