Where are the men?

Yesterday as I visited numerous outreach ministries in my community in preparation for a mission training project we’re developing, one question arose belatedly in my consciousness: Where are the men?

You see at every agency except one, the directors, coordinators, facilitators and usually the clients were all women. And many of the women and children served by these facilities were without men in their lives or, in some cases, found themselves in desperate circumstances because of the action or inaction of the men they had known. Children there were plenty – evidence that at some point in time men were involved, if for no other reason than to contribute their share of genetic material. But mostly, these men were absent.

In my local community as well, which could reasonably be called “the hood” men are often absent. Walking or driving the streets of my inner city neighborhood there is certainly no shortage of male bodies, but most of the children and their mothers are unattached to any male influence whatsoever. The absence of these men from the lives of their children and their “baby’s momma” leads to all kinds of dysfunction in the lives of their children, the community and the society.

Unfortunately much of the social service system in this country, in an effort to empower and support women, ends up reinforcing the things that discourage the involvement of men in the lives of their families. Men are viewed as dangerous and superfluous at worst and paychecks at best. In an international context, I have increasingly heard of development efforts that are geared towards offering micro credit to women both to empower them and to free them from economic dependency on the men. It is ironic to me that efforts are not being made to educate and empower the men to be responsible husbands and fathers.
From a strictly economic point of view, there is little incentive for such a man to stay with his family or to support them, since his wife will control the economic resources.

At one of the agencies I visited, a place working to resettle and acclimate refugees, the director made a point to emphasize how important it was to educate the women culturally. They were, she said, used to only staying home with the children and depending on their husband to provide for them. Now that they are here, they should also work and have equal say. For the refugees this is a cultural shock; for the director, it is empowerment. For me, it is disturbing. Aside from the relatively minor issue of both names being on the checkbook, why should a wife not expect her husband to provide for her and his children? Why is her staying home and only caring for the children viewed as less valuable or less empowered? More importantly, what message does this send to the men who are being stripped of their defining roles in the family: leader & breadwinner?

Even more unfortunate is the fact that the church, although generally led by men, is geared towards the needs of women and children. So there are many women and few men in the pews. This is a well recognized problem, and there have been many efforts to understand and address it, but to little effect. And as women continue to outstrip men in college and seminary enrollment, the church will likely become less and less a place where men are present and involved.

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Manhood

Dpark, in his ever provocative way, has a post about Asian-American manhood, and asks the question how can the church work more effectively in spiritually forming Asian American men in a redemptive way.

I find the post provocatively in part because Asian American men are doing far better, by and large, than Black American men in all the ways that health and success is measured. They are healthier, wealthier, more educated, have more stable families, and of those who are Christian, have higher levels of participation in church.

I do not minimize the struggles and challenges Asian American men endure in coming to a healthy, God honoring appropriate understanding of masculinity that will help them to live as disciples of Jesus more effectively. Since I’ve waded waist deep into the waters of Asian American ministry, I get extremely annoyed and frustrated when I see emasculating images of Asian men, though they are becoming rarer. I do question however, both for Asian Americans and for my own people, if the proper way of moving towards such a healthy understanding is to begin with affirming what is already healthy and godly rather than beginning with a posture of critique.

One problem of holding up Black men or Asian men to some imagined standard of manhood and masculinity is that such standards are too often the standards of White culture dressed in the clothing of Christ. Another problem is that such standards are impossible targets to meet, and most of them are not explicit in scripture. Despite all that is written and talked about around Christian manhood, there is remarkably little in scripture about it. What we have mostly available to us are examples, positive and negative, about manhood, and a few commands having mostly universal applicability with the exception of those dealing with wives and children. Those specific commands can be boiled down to loving your wife and disciplining your children wisely. Beyond that, there just isn’t that much to go on.

This paucity of scripture increases the possibility that minority men, already under the pressure of negative images of who we are, will simply assume that the White way of being a way is better. This simply cannot be helpful, healthy, or godly.