I’m grateful for the zealous effort to recover biblical manhood in the African-American and wider context. We’ve needed such a movement for a long time. I pray the efforts of brothers like Chris Broussard at K.I.N.G. Movement and Lecrae’s Man Up Campaign bear much fruit to the glory of God and the blessing of Black communities.

With the hope of contributing to positive momentum and direction, I want to offer a couple of pastoral notes.

Be careful of baptizing worldly views of manhood with Christian cliches.

Many of the leading voices in the biblical manhood movement in African-American communities are rather young men who themselves lacked fathers. I put myself in that category, since my father left the family when I was 13. It’s important that we both depend on the sufficiency of scripture to define manhood and resist the temptation to over/under-react to our own fathers’ absence. We can fill the voids with essentially worldly assumptions, attitudes, and actions. For a while, I filled these voids with the apparent disciplined living of Islam. It’s incredibly easy to equate “biblical headship” with patriarchy, chauvinism, and self without seeing it clearly or intending to do so.

I sometimes see young men who are “gung ho” for biblical manhood essentially acting like a more polite and moral 50 cent. A hip hop bravado or a youthful aggression gets equated with being strong and “biblical.” One definition or image of “strength” or “manhood” squeezes out all others. Gentleness loses its place. Meekness continues to be mistaken as weakness. We need to be careful to renew our minds rather thoroughly lest we find we haven’t recovered biblical manhood as much as we’ve simply rehabilitated fallen manhood.

Help the followers not to take the leaders’ message to unhelpful extremes.

“The followers have gone farther than the leader.”

Major movement leaders tend to produce devoted followers who lack the leaders’ sophistication, experience and nuance. I see it quite frequently. Young men are ever so certain that “Piper would do this…” or “Keller would do that…” and “Dever would definitely….” Then you ask the Pipers, Kellers and Devers, “would you ever…” and they recoil in horror at the thought. The followers have gone farther than the leader.

We need to communicate the basic message, but we also need more studied application so young men learn healthy limits. It’s as important to say, “manhood does not mean” or “manhood could never include” as it is to say, “manhood means.” The pitfalls come in the details of application. That’s where most of us need help and skillful leadership.

Don’t forget to join manhood with marriage.

Marriage makes men. Nearly every study of the effect of marriage on men indicates that men work harder, earn more, provide more and are healthier when they marry. Now, the marriage needs to be a reasonably good marriage. But the research is clear. Most men grow up when they step up to love and lead a wife and family. This suggests to me that discussion of manhood independent of one typical role of manhood — husband — leaves our manhood discussion incomplete. We should continue to give men a vision for faithful husbandry.

Give serious and repeated attention to preventing domestic violence, abuse, and oppression.

I can’t stress this enough. The research also makes it clear that marriage rates remain low in the community in part because of high levels of mistrust, abandonment, and abuse exist between men and women. As quiet as it’s kept, abusers find it too easy to hide beneath the talk of “manhood,” “biblical leadership,” “gender roles,” and “complementarity.” I see a lot of young men throwing these terms around as justification for not involving their wives in important decisions, for hangin’ with the boys whenever they wish, and for neglecting to participate in household routines. And these are the guys who intend to do things biblically! The guys who really are abusers are far, far worse.

We need to put a stop to both the ignorant malpractice and the willful abuse. Domestic violence is a manhood problem, not a women’s issue. Women are not beaten and mistreated because they’re women. They’re beaten and mistreated because they’re not with real men, and real men aren’t standing up in large numbers to put down the cowards who abuse women. Protecting women is a Christian man’s responsibility. It’s a “love your neighbor” command. As we encourage young men to grow into manhood, let’s give them a vision of manhood that serves and protects the sisters. Their lives may depend on it.

Conclusion

I’m greatly encouraged by the efforts to recover men from the throes of cultural confusion and place them squarely on the foundation of God’s word. I pray the Lord restores and revives our men, marriages, and families in great abundance. I hope these few thoughts are useful as little encouragements and amens to these efforts.

The Front Porch
Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Receive the latest updates from The Front Porch

Invalid email address
Stay up to date with us.

5 Comments

  • Avatar Steven says:

    Mr. Anyabwile- this is really bad theology.

    – “Marriage makes men” I thought the image of God made men. Instead of looking to marriage for male formation, why not remind men of the divine image they carry. Whether married or unmarried all failure to act like a real man comes down to a deviation from God’s design. In your world many of the biblical heroes (even Jesus himself) were deficient men.

    – “…marriage rates remain low in the community in part because of high levels of mistrust, abandonment, and abuse exist between men and women.” You fail to mention one of the main reason black men don’t get married- unemployment. All recent studies have shown that men in general are delaying marriage because they can’t support their families. Why portray the black community as a hyper-dysfunctional community where most men abuse women and most women mistrust men. The reality is black men are disproportionally unemployed or underemployed and this has a lot to do with low rates of marriage.

    – “Domestic violence is a manhood problem, not a women’s issue.” What world are you living in. Long-term patterns of domestic violence can’t be only a manhood problem. Women stay with men
    who abuse them and men abuse women who stay with them. Your assertion is absurd. Again both men and women must be reminded of the image of God which frees them from co-dependent abusive relationships.

    – “Many of the leading voices in the biblical manhood movement in African-American communities are rather young men who themselves lacked fathers.” Who are these men? What a broad assertion.

    – “A hip hop bravado or a youthful aggression gets equated with being strong and “biblical.” One wonders if the only form of manhood which would please you is a white, western evangelical manhood. God has created different cultures for his glory. The “hip hop bravado” you doubt so much might just be the right path to biblical manhood for many black men. If you think it’s not biblical please tell us where it falls short, or should we assume you won’t be satisfied with anything less than the demure manhood (which is no less manhood) of the average white evangelical male.

    Steven

  • Avatar Allen says:

    Pastor T,

    There are few I admire as much as you. I can not agree with you more for the need of maturity among certain black males. Unfortunately I agree with Steven’s assertion of “marriage makes men” not in the same degree however. If the statement “makes men” is being used in the context of familial and social responsibility then I understand how anyone who is placed in any leadership position will learn to mature. Similar to the old adage that God not only calls the qualified but qualifies the called. Then yes, added responsibility in any area of life usually leads to maturity.

    However, my concern is “makes men” is being used in a Christian context; which seems to be context of this particular blog. If that is the case then I would have to vehemently disagree with your assertion. Unfortunately the definition of a man is not just found in marriage. I do not believe that is what you believe, I do believe that is how the message came across. I don’t want to be a petty proof texter but I’m sure you could reference more scriptures than I over Biblical Manhood definitions.

    Allow me to share my last concern. I personally know many men and have observed many more who were selfish and single but once they are married they have become responsible providers for their wife and children. However, the sphere of their selfishness has changed. They are unmotivated about discipleship; unmoved concerning evangelism; unconcerned about the sick; unless…… It affects their own household. I have seen men forsake “mama” for AAU basketball game or Pee Wee football games for their children. To excuse their deplorable, reprehensible behavior punt “I’m loving my wife; like Christ loved the Church”.

    As my mother taught me long time ago, whenever you hear a statement, true or false, rational or emotional, consider the source. With that being said I want to reiterate “No, I in no way believe that “marriage makes men” is your definition of manhood. I could be wrong, I doubt it.

    Thanks, and by the way my earlier “un” aliteration exposes me for the Black Baptist Preacher I am:)

    3rd John 2

    Allen

  • Avatar Thabiti Anyabwile says:

    Hi Steven and Allen,

    Thanks for taking a seat on the porch and joining the conversation.

    I appreciate your comments and disagreements, though actually we probably don’t disagree as much as you think. Once you allow that many of the statements you quote are a preacher’s flourish, and not at all an exhaustive theological statement, I think we’ll be closer in perspective. And if you read this post in combination with my earlier post on biblical manhood, I think you’ll be able to read this post as an addendum that zeroes in on some areas I think are weaknesses in some “manhood” discussions.

    But let me try to reply briefly to your good concerns in the order Steven listed them.

    First, I don’t at all mean to suggest that marriage is a magic bullet that “makes men” in some absolute sense. I’m right there with you Allen. I’m very simply pointing to well-established research findings: men “do better” on almost every measure when they marry. For a very brief summary, see this piece by sociologist Brad Wilcox and perhaps check his original link: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/360993/janet-yellens-husband-men-marriage-and-fatherhood-w-bradford-wilcox. Of course manhood (and womanhood!) include more than marriage–and men may be real men without every marrying. Singleness if preferable for those called to it (1 Cor. 7). Manhood is rooted in the imago Dei and the creation mandate, both of which include the capacity for marriage and childrearing, but don’t absolutely require it. I’m simply saying marriage makes men grow up (usually).

    Second, as for marriage and economics, I gave more time to that in the first post on manhood. See the section near the bottom (http://thefrontporch.org/2013/10/defining-manhood-and-the-work-of-the-african-american-church/). I completely agree with you that empoloyment and finances play a part. But there are poor unemployed men all over the world who marry their women and remain with their families. So, economics doesn’t explain everything. Relational dynamics are powerfully important as well. Again, this post is meant to add balance and point to some things that are missing in some conversations.

    Third, on domestic violence, I think I’m living in the world we should all be living in. I’m suggesting we need to reframe the issue. Take a look at this TEDTalk and you’ll have a sense of what I mean: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2013/05/29/violence-against-women-is-a-mens-issue/. The assertion isn’t absurd. And while there’s much work to do to help women break out of abusive relationships, the fact remains that no woman would be battered if a man didn’t raise his hand to hit her. Most prevention has framed the issue as a women’s issue (“Why does Sally stay with John when he hits her?”) rather than the more direct issue of male responsibility (“Why does John hit sally?”). Do you see how the different frames place responsibility in different places? Until we put this issue where it belongs–in the laps of men–we won’t see the progress to end abuse we long for. And, as far as I can tell, there’s nowhere near enough discussion among men about ending domestic abuse. If I’m wrong, I’d be happy for someone to point out where those discussions are taking place and where men are being held accountable. Again, check that video I link to above.

    Fourth, re: men in the AA community leading on this issue, if you don’t know who these men are how can you claim it’s a “broad assertion”? I link to two such efforts in opening lines of this post. Start there. Check the stories of most of the men involved there.

    Fifth, and finally, as for “hip hop bravado,” that comment hardly deserves a reply. Frankly, it’s silly. There’s nothing in this post that suggests what you’ve written here. Furthermore, I reject the notion that the carnality and waywardness of a 50 Cent represents a “cultural” view of manhood, as if fallen thug culture somehow represents the “good” of Black culture. Please. Your comments represent more about your perspective re: “white evangelical males” and “black culture” than anything I’ve ever written or said about black masculinity. In other words, your last concern is your problem; not mine. I’d encouraged you to get both a wider view of ways of being men and wider views of the diversity of Black culture.

    The Lord bless you and keep you,
    Thabiti

  • Avatar Brian Crawford says:

    Pastor T,

    Thanks for the article as always. All points mentioned are helpful to contemplate. I’m curious on your take concerning the 2nd point, “Help the followers not to take the leaders’ message to unhelpful extremes.”
    Let me first say, I agree pastorally that we do need to help brothers fully flesh out the messages coming from the many great leaders of our day that God has graced us to receive from in a host of different areas including manhood.
    My question is do you think the real culprit is that often brothers carry MORE DEVOTION to those distant voices like the ones you mentioned versus the voices that God has blessed us with in our own local spheres? With the internet connecting us like it does, it just seems that more and more WE (capitalized to include myself) are not simply gleaning from these distant voices, but are trying to have them serve more so our pastors/elders/mentors then the local faithful men that God has placed in our lives. It appears to me that this basically leads to the problem that you are speaking of regarding the lack of nuance because these men aren’t available after service to tell the young man, “That’s not what I meant” nor are they available to see the fruit of brother’s misunderstanding lead to an unintended consequence with his relationship with family, friends, and the church.
    With the visibility that your own ministry has gained along with your passion for the local church, I would love to hear your thoughts and maybe some helpful words to guide young men through waters such as these.
    God Bless Brother,
    Brian – The Vicksburg Dude!

The Front Porch

Conversations about biblical
faithfulness in African-American
churches and beyond