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Masculinity, Christianity–and the (Surprising) Truth: Nancy Pearcey

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October 10, 2023 5:15 am

Masculinity, Christianity–and the (Surprising) Truth: Nancy Pearcey

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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October 10, 2023 5:15 am

Author and professor Nancy Pearcey explores sociological data to uncover why it's open season on masculinity—and the surprising role of Christian men.

It turns out the very concept that masculinity is toxic has much deeper roots than most of us realize. Most of us probably think about the ‘60s or something, with the feminist movement, second wave. No, no, no; you have to go all the way back to the Industrial Revolution. -- Nancy Pearcey

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It turns out that the very concept that masculinity is toxic has much deeper roots than most of us realize. Most of us probably think, what, the 60s or something with the feminist movement, second wave. No, no, no.

You have to go all the way back to the Industrial Revolution. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson.

You can find us at This is Family Life Today. When we first got married, you would often say, I never want to be like my dad ever.

That was like a mission of my life. I will not become like an alcoholic, womanizer, divorce, selfish, money, idol. There were some good things about my dad, but he walked out when I was seven, so I was on a quest.

I will never become that man. But when I was a junior in college, I looked in the mirror one day and I thought, I am my dad. I wasn't a Christian yet, and I was scared. I was going to parties and drinking, and I was college quarterback, so I had women. And money was at the top. You were always thinking about money.

And one of my quests was, I got to find out what a godly man looks like, because I don't know. We're going to talk about this. We have Nancy Piercy back with us.

Nancy, welcome back to Family Life Today. We talked about it yesterday, and we ended our segment talking about this toxic masculinity and what's happening to the view of men in our culture. Is it just the United States, or is it happening worldwide of this negative opinion of men?

Well, I think it's worldwide, just because whatever happens in the United States spreads. But yes, we ended the last program on the hostile rhetoric, because you asked me why did I write the book, and part of it was because I was so blown away by how hostile the rhetoric is today, how acceptable it is to say things negatively. There are books out now with titles like I Hate Men, and No Good Men, and Are Men Necessary? You can get published with titles like that. And even on TV, you see the man is the dummy.

They're always dumbing him down, or he's the joke of the program. And it never used to be like that. I don't know if it was healthy in the past, but now we're at a whole different place. And even men. This was part of the surprise for me was I looked at a news article where James Cameron, the director of Avatar, said testosterone is a toxin, and you have to work it out of your system. Or there is a best-selling science fiction writer, Hugh Howie, who said testosterone is the problem.

Women should be in charge of everything. Another book author said talking about healthy masculinity is like talking about healthy cancer. And so these are men.

These are even male writers. And you're reading these things and getting a little riled up about it. I'm thinking, well, where does this come from? That's my question.

Where does it come from? Let me start. Where I start in the book, I wanted to start with the good news because the bad news is pretty depressing. The good news is that evangelical men are doing very well. Christian men are, in fact, doing very well. And most Christians don't even know this. In fact, the reason they don't know it is because there's a lot of criticism of them as well. So let me give you a few quotes.

It's very easy to find these online. Conservative Protestant gender ideology can clearly lead to abuse, both physical and emotional. Another quote, it's no secret that abuse is prevalent in conservative churches that embrace headship theory. Another quote, the theology of male headship feeds the rape culture that we see permeating American Christianity today.

The problem with these accusations is that they ignore the data from the social sciences. The studies have found that evangelical family men, meaning husbands and fathers, who attend church regularly are the most loving husbands and the most engaged fathers. So compared to the average American family man, evangelical men are the most loving to their wives. And yes, they do interview the wives separately. That's important because women wouldn't necessarily be honest.

Right. And the women report the highest levels of being happy with the way their husbands treat them, with feeling loved and appreciated. They are the most engaged with their children, both in shared activities like sports and church youth group and in discipline, like setting screen time or setting bedtime. They are the least likely to divorce of any group in America. And here's the real stunner. They have the lowest rates of domestic violence of any major group in America.

I tell people this and everyone always sits back kind of like, what? How come we don't know this? The reason you don't know this is it's all buried in the academic literature. I had to read mostly academic sociological journals to pull this out. But it was there.

It was there. Sociologists have been doing these studies partly because they wanted to find out what is the data. They read these accusations and they say, yeah, but where's the evidence? Where's the evidence? So they go back and they do the studies and they found that evangelical men actually are the most loving and engaged husbands and fathers of any group in America.

We don't know that. In fact, don't we hear that Christians divorce at the same rate as the rest of society? And that's not true and it's never been true. But it is, what I found out in my research, it's one of the most widely cited statistics by Christian leaders. But what happened is the sociologists went back to the data then and they divided out truly committed Christian men who do attend church regularly. That's a fairly reliable correlate of whether they are truly committed Christians, authentic Christians, versus nominal.

That's the dividing line. Versus nominal. I have to tell my students, they don't know that word. Nominal means in name only because n-o-m is Latin for name. So nominal. Nominal Christians are men who might identify as evangelical. They might use that label. But they're not going to church, like you even said in the book, three times a month. They're going less.

Maybe once, maybe not. Really, if at all. Right. It's mostly a family background. It's a cultural background. And the differences between these groups are absolutely devastating. I mean, am I right in what I read you saying that the difference is if you're a practicing evangelical man, all the things you just said are true.

If you're nominal, you're worse than a secular man. That's what I concluded. This was shocking. That was scary. It is. It was shocking when I first read it.

Yes. On all those numbers, first, their wives are the least happy with how their husbands treat them. They're the least engaged with their children in terms of shared activities and discipline. They have the highest level of divorce, higher than secular men. And they have the highest level of domestic violence of any group in America, higher than secular men. And this is what the church is up against then, because they are claiming to be Christian. And I only found one study that gave them the sizes. You and I probably hang out mostly with very committed Christian men. So we think, oh, those nominals, that's probably a small group, right?

No, they're about the same size. In America, where there's so much cultural Christianity, they're about the same size. That means if you meet somebody who claims to be a Christian or even an evangelical, there's about a 50 percent chance that it's actually a nominal Christian who tests out worse than secular men. This is really what young women need to know this when they're dating.

Seriously. So you're saying a single girl that's dating a guy, she should say, hey, how many times did you go to church this month? And he says, why don't you say, see you later? You're going to be worse to me than that guy over there that says he doesn't believe in God.

That is a little scary. I'm thinking they need to identify them by their fruit. You're looking for the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, because they may be saying that they're a Christian, but by the fruit, it doesn't look like they are. Some people ask me, well, why are they worse than secular men? It seems to be, I mean, sociologists are number crunchers, so they don't always tell you why. But apparently they hang around the Christian world enough to get the language of headship and submission. And then they insert secular meaning of dominance, control, entitlement, and so on. But they've picked up the language that makes them feel more justified in those kinds of attitudes. And so they end up actually being worse than secular men.

Actually, I wanted to read you this one quote. My go-to sociologist here, the one who did the largest study, his name is Brad Wilcox, and he is at the University of Virginia. And he's considered like one of the top marriage researchers in the nation. And so he gets quoted in places like the New York Times. So he was quoted in the New York Times for Valentine's Day. The New York Times had published an article saying that progressive marriages are the happiest marriages, because they are at least trying to be more egalitarian. So Brad Wilcox writes a response. And he says, you know, you're right. Progressive marriages are actually better than the one of the mill marriage, because they are more intentional about their relationship. And then he says, but let me show you my evangelicals.

It's a J curve. Evangelical goes way up. And let me read you the numbers. He says, it turns out that the happiest wives in all America. By the way, they emphasize the wives because the assumption is that if there's any notion of headship of authority, it is going to be oppressive to the woman, abusive to the woman. So they usually phrase it in terms of the wives. It turns out that the happiest wives of all wives in America are religious conservatives.

Fully 73% of wives who hold conservative gender values and attend religious services regularly with their husbands have high quality marriages. So this is amazing. I can't believe the New York Times printed this.

Me neither. What was the response? Did people push back on that? We'll have to go online and read the reader responses.

I just pulled out the quote because even Christians don't know this. We don't have the confidence that we are doing so well compared to the rest of the culture. You asked me in the earlier section, what was your ultimate motivation for writing? It was when I read these statistics that I said, we need to get these statistics out there. Brad Wilcox is not the only one.

I have about a dozen different sociologists and psychologists that I quote in my book, but nobody knows about it. And you're saying this is hopeful. This is hopeful news. Then it's good news when you're talking about and hearing about so much toxic masculinity. There's good news in the midst.

Isn't it? It's so encouraging. And how do we get men to behave better? Tell them why they're doing a good job.

Tell them why they're doing great stuff. There's your book. That's the book she's writing next is how a woman can influence a man in the positive. But think about this, because I was one of those pastors that didn't know the data on divorce and the church. I had heard what we all heard.

And I had said from the stage, I'm sure I said it more than a few times. Hey, the divorce rate in the world is 50 percent. Divorce rate in the church is the same. It's 50 percent. It was always not true. Chauncey Feldhahn in her book of Happy Marriages said, no, the actual divorce rate in the church of practicing churchgoing couples is less than 25 percent.

So I think it's 23 percent a few years back. But here's the thing. If you're sitting in church and your pastor up there says, divorce rate here is the same as there, that is not hopeful. You think, OK, we might as well get divorced. We're not working out. I'm in church.

The couple sitting beside me is getting divorced just like anybody that doesn't believe in God. But if you hear what you just said, men are better. Wives are happier. They're more emotionally engaged.

The violence in the home is so less. When you are regularly practicing your faith, this is one of the results. That inspires people to say, I am going to get serious about my faith. That's good news. Exactly. Most of the numbers put these two groups together.

I like your word, practicing. If practicing evangelical men do better than secular men, but nominal Christian men do worse than secular men, if you put these two groups together, which is what most surveys do. Most surveys just say, oh, are you an evangelical? OK, we'll put you in this box. Obviously, the numbers are going to be completely skewed.

So that's where most of our statistics get it wrong because they put these two groups together. Well, let's talk about how the script turned to toxic. This revolution of... Do you really want to go toxic? I'm kidding. I love this good news.

I just want to live here. Because I thought it was really interesting of just how this played out over our history. And you laid that out. So take us back in time. I really wanted to understand where this is coming from because you can't really effectively counter something if you don't know where it's coming from, how it developed. It turns out that the very concept that masculinity is toxic has much deeper roots than most of us realize. Most of us probably think, what, the 60s or something with the feminist movement, second wave.

No, no, no. You have to go all the way back to the Industrial Revolution. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the colonial age, men and women worked side by side. Husband and wife worked side by side.

Farming. On the family farm, the family industry, the family shop. So the husband and wife have a partnership day in and day out. Plus, men are working with their children all day. They're the ones who are teaching them, training them, and teaching them adult skills. Men were expected, fathers were expected to be just as involved with their children as mothers were. And so the social expectation at the time was much more that men were in the caretaking role. And they were supposed to be not only fathers of their families, but a very common phrase back then was, fathers of the community. They were supposed to bring that caretaking role into the community.

In a very loving way. Exactly. Yeah.

Exactly. One of my historians that I quote, you know, not Christian, said that in the colonial age, the masculine wall was defined in terms of duty, duty to God and man, is how you put it. That was the phrase back then. You were to look out for the common good. The concept of authority was not, hey, I'm in charge, I get to do what I want. So it wasn't domineering.

The concept of authority was very clear. This is in the literature of the time. It means you're responsible for the common good. I look out for my good. You look out for what's good for you. But who looks out for the common good of our marriage, of our family? That's what authority was for.

To look out for the common good. When I read that, I was like, man, that man is so different than the man today. Even the fact that cooking books were written for men.

They were very comfortable in the kitchen. Again, I'm not saying that's not true today, but it was like that was what a man's role was in a home. He was a nurturer of his family, of his kids.

And we live in a culture now, it's like that's a woman's job, not a man's job. And that was never true. I love reading some of these historians. That was one of the quotes in the book, is that men were as comfortable in the kitchen as women were, was a direct quote from one of the historians. The colonial era, and of course, it was mostly Christian back then. I'm happy that I was able to start with early America, because that gives you kind of a Christian concept of masculinity, too. When I talk about the Puritans with my students, they say, I never heard anything good about the Puritans before.

Exactly, right. And I have some beautiful quotes on their marriages. Their marriages were incredibly affectionate. Their respect for their wives permeates all these quotes from the Puritans at the time.

The view of marriage and the view of masculinity in the colonial era was extremely positive. And so it gives us a baseline that we can compare to. And then came the Industrial Revolution. And work is taken out of the home. And that seems like a fairly simple thing, but what happens is, of course, men have to follow their work out of the home into factories and offices. And for the first time, they're not working with people that they love and have a moral bond with. They're working as an individual man in competition with other men.

And that's where you see the script start to change. It was protest at first, by the way. People protested that our men are changing.

Really? In the industrial workplace, it seemed like men had to be much more self-assertive, aggressive, look out for number one, egocentric, make it financially. The language at the time was our men are losing the Christian ethos that they used to have. The language becomes more negative, but not in condemnation, but in protest. Men are becoming more secular. Oh, it's more secular. That was part of it, too.

As the public square becomes large, with factories and offices and banks, academia and so on, these large public institutions grow up. People began to say, well, they should be run by scientific principles by which they meant value-free. We need to keep your personal morality out of the public realm, which is what we hear today. That's when it started. Don't bring your personal values into the public square.

Keep those at home. So men were being socialized into a secular worldview through their education and the workplace much sooner than women were. What was happening with the women in that time? So somebody had to stay home with kids. But if values don't belong in the public square, well, people still wanted to maintain values, like love and altruism and self-sacrifice and religious devotion and so on.

So who's going to be in charge of them? Well, if they're at home, women are in charge of them. So for the first time ever in human history, women start being held up as morally superior to men. All the way back to the ancient Greeks, the insight between right and wrong was seen as a rational insight. And men were thought to be more rational, and therefore men are more moral. Men are morally stronger than women. In fact, the word virtue, do you know what its root is?

V-I-R is Latin for man. So virtue had overtones of masculine strength and honor. So men were thought to be more virtuous. In the 19th century, for the first time ever, you see culture shifting and saying women are more virtuous. Women are more spiritually stronger, more morally, you know. Men are out in that rough and tumble, amoral, secular realm of the marketplace and commerce and politics. And at night, they come home and be reformed and refined by their morally superior wives. That's where you get the double standard.

What was Me Too all about? You know, women are more virtuous, and we can call these men to account. So we still have that double standard, and this is when it began. I'm thinking about the attendance in a church, and I don't know if this is true, I'd have to research it, but most churches I go into, generally speaking, have more women than men.

And I'm wondering... Still true, statistically. That's what I'm saying, but I'm wondering back before the industrial age, if you would have gone into a church, would it have been more even? Different historians have different opinions on this, so I couldn't quite get a clear count. Today, the average church has 60% women, 40% men. That's David Moreau's statistic. But in the early church, too, there's a historian, he's a sociologist, but he studies the history of religion.

His name is Rodney Stark. He says, from the beginning, women were more drawn to the Christian church because they were given such higher status in the church than they were in the surrounding Roman culture. Women had very low status in the culture. So when they went into the Christian church, they had much higher status and much more honor. He says, all the way from the beginning, we see evidence that there were more women than men because women were so much more honored and respected in the Christian church. There's one of the church fathers who complains that we have so many Christian maidens, that's his ancient word, we have so many Christian maidens that we're having trouble finding husbands for all of them. And that's why 1 Peter talks about what you do if your husband's not a Christian.

That was so common. It appears that Christianity, to some degree, has always attracted more women than men, but it did grow worse in America, especially after the first and second Great Awakenings. The Great Awakenings, in many ways, are what framed, gave us evangelicalism. And they did a great deal of good work. A lot of people came to Christianity or were restored to their faith through the Great Awakenings.

But the problem with them was that they had some negative baggage. They tended to focus on an intense emotional conversion experience. And who was thought to be more emotional?

Women. So that did seem to put religion into the sphere of women. So yes, if you look at engravings made at the time of some of the revivals, they almost always show more women than men. And the women would often be in the center, swooning and falling over and having these great emotional experiences.

Interesting, yeah. So yes, so evangelicalism has had a greater problem even than historic Christianity in terms of attracting more women. Well, you know, one of the things I thought when I read through your chapter on industrial revolution, and obviously there was a lot of good things, you know, industry.

I mean, we're not saying it was a bad thing. It was just the net result on men and the family. One of your quotes that was a letter to the editor in The Independent, I'm just going to read it. It said, the American man, this is during this industrial revolution time, the American man in gaining the world is losing his own soul. He prostitutes his energy, vigor and courage to one's soul and materialistic success.

Mammonology, the idolatry of mammon or money is the great American religion. And you know, as I read that, I thought even today, and I want to say to the men listening, we are still prone centuries later, but we are prone. And I'm not saying women aren't as well. I think we are too in this day, Dave. We are prone to mammonology.

I've never even heard that term before. I'm like, we worship money, success. I'm not blaming it, just a revolution, but it brought that in higher success rates, money, prosperity, you name it.

All beautiful things. But the American church is plagued by that as well. And I just want to say to a man, that is not our call. Our call is to serve our wife. Our call is to serve our children.

Our call is to be the leader of the community like it was in a colonial age. I mean, not that that was utopia, but we've lost a lot of that. And I think we are easy as men today and it becomes toxic is because we become obsessed with the wrong things. And that hurts our women. It hurts our families. It hurts our kids.

Our society. It's part of me when I read your book and it revitalized my own soul to say that's what a man's called to. Not idolatry, but a worship of God. And when I, as a man and as a husband and as a dad, live that out and surrender to Jesus, the women and children in my home and in our culture thrive. You don't need feminists. There's nobody wanting to be one because they're celebrating a man who lives as Christ did, loving them and serving them.

Am I right? I mean, it just, it brings life to everyone around you. I'm clapping my hand because I think we as women, we are longing for that. We're longing for men to step into, and we as women are called to step into our identity as women of who God has made us. But culturally speaking, I look at you and think we need men to step into that loving, sacrificial, protecting in a beautiful way and serving their families, their wives and their community.

We need it as a culture and a community. Yeah. And part of me wants to say, guys, just live as Jesus lived.

You want an image? There it is. And I'll remind you, you can't. You can't apart from Christ. And if he isn't giving you the power to do that, you'll never do it. But if you do, trust me, your marriage, your home, your city, your neighborhood, your church will thrive. You know, Dave said it best there, live like Christ and know that you simply can't do that apart from Christ. One of the things that I've been trying to remind myself over and over and over again is neediness is a good thing in the Christian life if you take that neediness to Jesus and ask him to change you. So why don't you do that? Admit that you're needy and then take that neediness to Jesus himself.

Ask him to change you and watch things get different, as Dave said. I'm Shelby Abbott. You've been listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Nancy Pearcy on Family Life Today. You know, Nancy has written a fantastic book called The Toxic War on Masculinity.

This talks about how Christianity reconciles the sexes. It's a very important book and it's going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially. So you can hop online, go to or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800-F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. And feel free to drop us something in the mail if you'd like.

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You know, Toxic Masculinity overlooks the real struggles faced by men and boys. Tomorrow, Dave and Anne Wilson are back with Nancy Pearcy to talk about how to get on the solution side of this very real problem. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of Dave and Anne Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-23 13:35:02 / 2023-10-23 13:49:00 / 14

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