Nearly two months after a story was published in The New York Times revealing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, the avalanche of accusations continues. Falling from the highest peaks of authority and influence, the countless men accused of sexual misconduct represent a swath of American culture, from Hollywood to New York to Washington, from politics to journalism to professional sports. The specter of sexual assault now looms over our most basic assumptions of male decency in society.
For many, the fallout from each new allegation is yet another confirming step toward the feminist belief that male authority is dangerous. However, for Christians, there is more to the story than sexism. In fact, each of these news stories begins with the same prehistoric story. With each new allegation of sexual assault, we’re reminded of the sobering truth that, in every man born of Adam, there is a sinful craving to rule over women. (Gen. 3:16) The man of flesh is a tyrant, determined to sit atop his own food chain. (Gen. 11:4, Gal. 5:19-21) While not every man is a groping misogynist, not one man is immune to this despotic desire, nor is one man innocent of its charges. This is the essence of sin: insubordination. Adam didn’t simply disobey; He rebelled. In an entire world subject to his authority, Adam’s lusting eyes were fixed upon the one object that symbolized his submission and obedience: a tree. His rebellious heart compelled him to take what wasn’t his to take. And like grandfather, like grandsons.
Without a Gospel about a King who became a servant to die for criminals, there is absolutely no hope for those dying criminals to somehow start serving their King. Jesus quieted the raging tyrant by laying down his crown for the tyrant. He came not to be served, but to serve. (Mark 10:45) Therefore, just as unbelief will always manifest itself in an utter hatred for authority, faith in Jesus will always bear the fruit of humility and obedience. Our understanding of male headship stems directly from the Gospel itself. Christ didn’t pummel His bride into submission. He didn’t violate her sanctity. He didn’t simply seize what was His. Instead, an infinitely powerful and sovereign God took flesh and wooed His bride by serving her to the point of death. (Phil. 2:8) He didn’t physically coerce her into faith; He softly drew her unto Himself with the power of His own love. (Rom. 5:5) In a culture of secret, uninhibited male domination, Jesus calls men to publicly wedded diminution. The greatest authority and power on earth is the kind that can willingly lay down its own power – its own life – for a weaker vessel. This is the Gospel. This is real manhood.
However, it’s important to remember that misogynistic aggression isn’t the only distortion of the Gospel that we experience in our modern culture. There is another, often less criminal, view of manhood that can prove equally dangerous to our faith. This is the sin of male passivity. Just as greedy, insatiable men trigger false notions of a rapacious, tyrannical God, a picture of an anemic, reactionary Jesus can produce expectations of male passiveness that don’t correspond to the Gospel. For instance, while pornography originates in the same brand of male domination that we witness in the #metoo movement, it thrives on another form of self-indulgent misogyny: male passiveness. When a man stares at images of naked women performing sexual acts on his computer screen, he is abandoning the idea that a woman must be personally valued and pursued. He isn’t seeking after his bride; he’s promiscuously and stagnantly inviting all women to entertain his sexual fantasies so that he can neglect his male responsibility to initiate. While a false view of the Gospel does not inevitably lead to a pornography addiction, a man-centered Gospel will always mask the beauty behind the relationship between man and woman. It wasn’t the church who stepped forward to receive salvation after God waited patiently for a decision; it was Jesus who faithfully sought a faithless bride after she whored after every god. It was Jesus who pursued Her even when she was blemished. It was Jesus who initiated the relationship, not the church.
Herein lies the beautiful balance of the true Gospel that men are called to imitate: while Christ wasn’t a tyrannical force that violated the integrity of His bride, He wasn’t a lethargic bystander waiting for His bride to do her part. He took the first step. And the wedding he began, He will bring to completion. (Phil. 1:6) The bride He sought, he will sanctify, nourish, and cherish forever. (Eph. 5:25-29) The church He called is the church He also predestined and promised to glorify. (Rom. 8:30) God was never passive in salvation because it wasn’t the bride who sought Him or even prized Him. His relentless, initiating, loving pursuit of the church is the basis for Her turning to Him and loving Him. When churches espouse an anemic Gospel centered on man-centered decisions rather than the sovereign love of Jesus, they undercut the very heart of salvation and unknowingly teach men that manhood waits for women to get their act together. That’s not the Gospel and it’s certainly not male chivalry and love. Because Jesus loved the church, she became beautiful. Because He gave Himself up for her, she became clean. (Eph. 5:25-30) Whether it’s opening the car door, planning a date, cleaning the house, or doing the laundry, true love doesn’t dominate, but it does initiate.
The Gospel of Male Domination is the Gospel of Adam, abusing authority and power to “rule” the weaker. (Gen. 3:16) But the Gospel of Male Diminution is patterned after the Gospel of Jesus Christ, becoming less in order that the lesser might become something more. (Phil. 2:5-11) One sees and seizes. (Gen. 3:6) The other woos and pursues. (John 10:18) In a world of high-speed pornography and systemic abuses of power, the love of a dying King still turns male domination on its head.