10.11.13

A Pastoral Concern Regarding Black Manhood Discussions

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.

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

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