Women and Men: Sharing Holy Ground

Women and Men: Sharing Holy Ground

Consultation XXIV on Parish Ministry, United Church of Christ

January 4-8, 1999, Miami Beach, Florida

James Newton Poling

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois


I am pleased to be with you today to talk about the pastoral care of men in light of the gender crisis of our generation. I commend you for choosing this topic for your meeting. I know that the United Church of Christ has led other churches in discussion of gender and its relevance for church life and theology. I have counted on the publications from Pilgrim and United Church Press for many years in my teaching and research. My goal today is to give a positive spin on the pastoral care of men in the churches. I say positive, because I believe that this is a time of new opportunities for men, and women, and the church. I hope we can take advantage of this Kairos time to better serve the churches and communities where we minister.

My presentation will touch on some the following issues. First, I will call to our attention some of the history of the gender crisis over the last 175 years. The U.S. Women’s Rights and the Abolitionist-Civil Rights movements started in the early 19th century, and the implications of these movements continue to be important for Christian theology. This will give a context for understanding the issues that men bring to pastors for consultation and care. Second I will identify five areas where men are in need of pastoral care: grief, couple and family relationships, work, sexuality, and aggression. The first set of issues can be approached in a fairly straight-forward way – namely, grief, couple and family relationships, and work. We need to be assertive in inviting men to discuss these issues, so they can find better support and begin to deal with their insecurities when gender issues are raised. Sexuality and aggression are more challenging because many men are already defensive and feel unfairly blamed. But there is more at stake here than embarrassment. What is at stake is a just world for both women and men in a rainbow of cultures and religions. I pray that our work here this week will contribute to God’s justice.

Also by way of introduction, we need to be careful in our language about pastoral care of men, because the social category, MEN, is not unified. There are no “typical men” about whom we can make generalizations for pastoral care. Men are different from one another depending on their social and economic class, their race and culture, their sexual orientation, and their individual experiences. We must be careful not to generalize from our own experience too much, since most pastors are over-educated professionals not typical of the U.S. population. We must be careful not to generalize from the members of our congregations, since demographic studies show that the former mainline congregations are typically older, more middle-class, and more progressive in their views. In this lecture, I will focus more on class differences than on race and cultural differences. Let us begin.

History of Men’s Movements and Gender Relationships.

The 19th Century Abolitionist movement began in the 1820’s as an outgrowth of the Revivalistic theology of the Second Great Awakening and the human rights emphasis of the American and French Revolutions. Out of the Abolitionist movement came the Women’s Rights movement.

The 19th Century Women’s Rights Movement

Elizabeth Cady Stanton summarized her gender complaints in a speech at the 1848 Women’s Rights convention. In this speech you can hear how similar the appeal for gender equality is to the appeal for racial equality. By comparing the lack of human rights of slaves and women, the Women’s Rights Movement found its argument for social change.

We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed — to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love; laws which make her the mere dependent on his bounty. It is to protest against such unjust laws as these that we are assembled today, and to have them, if possible, forever erased from our statute-books, deeming them a shame and a disgrace to a Christian republic in the nineteenth century.

Sojourner Truth, an ex-slave and minister delivered speeches which helped to strengthen the resolve and resistance of White and Black women. In her now-famous speech in 1851, “Ain’t I a Woman,” Sojourner Truth challenged the distortions of the biblical creation story and misinterpretations about Jesus’ maleness that kept women subordinate.

Then that little man in back there, he says women can’t have as [many] rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! and now they [are] asking to do it, the men better let them.

The Women’s Rights movement grew quickly after the first meeting, and Stanton, Truth, and Susan B. Anthony traveled all over the country analyzing women’s oppression, agitating for changed laws concerning women, and arguing especially for women’s right to vote. Their efforts finally came to fruition seventy years later in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote.

How did the 19th century women’s rights movement affect men?

It created a deep gender crisis that was addressed by popular men’s movements by the end of the 19th century. Historian Evelyn Kirkley, (Duke U.), has given an astute analysis of two of these movements: the Freethinkers and the Men and Religion Forward Movement.

Not long after the Civil War when memories of the violence were still vivid, thousands of men identified themselves as Freethinkers and atheists who “championed freedom of thought against Christian superstition, clerical domination and biblical tyranny.”

They thought that Christianity had developed a romantic, feminized image “numerically dominated by women and thereby weak, sentimental, and irrational.”

Austin Bierbower thought men should be ‘masterly,’ “Standing at the head of nature,” he declared, “we should, instead of deferring, make everything yield to us. Our march through the world should be a conquering one.”

In tension with this hard image of masculinity was the image of the atheist gentleman. “The man of our time is more womanly, more tender, more sympathetic, securing thus a happier home and a more beautiful society than were possible to the ages of strife and vengeance.” . . . The atheist gentleman was a self-reliant individual, but his individualism was tempered by compassion for others.”

Men and Religion Forward Movement  In response to the Freethinkers, the Young Men’s Christian Association, organized leaders of many denominations to sponsor a Christian men’s movement under the slogan “More Men for Religion, More Religion for Men.”

According to Fred Smith, [head of the YMCA], “The general fact remains that in a very real sense this is a man’s world, and if the Christian religion is to win the world, it must magnify a man’s place in the task.”

“Christian manliness was characterized by an active prayer life, an aggressive evangelistic witness, and a ‘real earnestness to the point of self-denial.’ . . .  Men were exhorted to ‘sacrificial living,’ a call to which only the ‘ablest, the most worthy, the most efficient men . . . are the quickest to respond.’

Men were also urged to practice values of cooperation, piety, purity, and active home life which traditionally had been assigned to women.

Atheists and Christian men had similar visions of manhood: “Men were to be both masterful and nurturing. This vision was nearly impossible to achieve; who could be simultaneously aggressive and tender, overpowering and domestic, dominating and sympathetic?”

In summary, the Abolitionist and Women’s Rights Movements created a political base for gender and racial equality. The arguments and public debate created a crisis in the understanding of gender and race that triggered new forms of racism and two men’s movements. The men’s movements incorporated the critique about gender into their rhetoric and programs and made possible a new understanding of masculinity. By the turn of the century, agitation on race became very quiet and the first wave of popular feminism was over until the second wave emerged in the 1960’s. It is interesting that 30 years of organization and agitation by feminists and civil rights advocates seem to have led to new men’s movements at the end of the 20th century. Without the women’s rights movement, there would be no men’s movements. Thus the men’s movements are a direct response to the gender crisis of our generation.

20th Century Men’s Movements

Promise Keepers.

At the Fall, 1997 gathering called “Stand in the Gap” organized by Promise Keepers, seven promises were written into a “D.C. Covenant” and read aloud by all the participants. Several of the statements seem to be a direct response to womanist and feminist analysis of the narratives of women. For example, # 2, “We covenant by Your grace to become men of integrity, relying on Your Word and Christ in us. When faced with moral, ethical, and sexual temptations, we commit to ask You for help that we might do the right thing.”

This seems to be a direct response to womanist and feminist analysis of rape, assault, domestic violence and child abuse perpetrated by men against women and children. The strong emphasis on racial harmony and integration in Promise Keepers seems to be a deliberate response to the Civil Rights Movements.

The Million Man March

The problem of male violence against women was much more sharply focussed in the Million Man March: “I pledge that from this day forward I will never raise my hand with a knife or a gun to beat, cut, or shoot any member of my family or any human being except in self-defense. I pledge from this day forward I will never abuse my wife by striking her, disrespecting her, for she is the mother of my children and the producer of my future. I pledge that from this day forward I will never engage in the abuse of children, little boys or little girls for sexual gratification. For I will let them grow in peace to be strong men and women for the future of our people.  I will never again use the “B word” to describe any female.”

This statement includes an admission of guilt that men do violence to women and children. Taken at face value, both of these pledges could be understood as a public form of confession, repentance, and atonement for men in relation to women. Men who repent for their sins against women and pledge to do better are in fashion these days. Leading the way is Bill Clinton who has apologized many times to Hilary, Monica, all women, all voters, and anyone else who was mad at him for his sexual misconduct.

Progress on Gender Equality?

Given the importance of these popular movements, the feminist movement for gender equality and the corresponding men’s movements, what kind of progress have we made in gender equality in 175 years? Sylvia Walby in her book Gender Transformations tries to evaluate the actual progress. Women have moved from one-quarter to almost half the workforce, but “much of this. . . is not performed under conditions equal to men.” p 1 Half of all women who work make hourly wages in part-time work, thus they are ”vulnerable to poor wages and conditions.” p 79 Women are more independent from men because of liberalized divorce practices, but they are poorer than before. p 3 More women are present in public positions in politics, government, and business, but there has been a strong backlash to their leadership p 4.  There is increased discussion of sexuality and more sexual freedom, but an increase in domestic violence and pornography. In summary, Walby says, “Changes have been taking place unevenly in . . . gender relations.” p 2

What has happened to men during this period? As a group, male workers have maintained their economic superiority over women, but have lost ground in terms of the percentage of U.S. wealth going to workers in the U.S. economy. More men are working in temporary and part-time positions, and benefits have declined. Job security and promise of upward mobility has decreased for most men, especially the more than half of men who work for hourly wages. Likewise, men have suffered a loss of control over their working conditions as more and more control goes to decision-makers at the top levels and computers routinize many jobs. For example, mergers into huge companies mean that local shops have little control over what is produced and how.

As professionals in ministry, those of us who are pastors, salaried workers, and teachers in the churches need to be careful not to generalize from our own experiences. Most women and men in the U.S. do not have daily control of how they spend their time; they do not have the same economic security including health and retirement plans, nor the educational opportunities. Most pastors are part of the professional class that makes up only 30% of the workforce. Only 25% of the U.S. population over 25 has a college degree and 17% has not finished high school. Average income for high school graduates is only 56% of the income of college graduates.

30% of U.S. workers are in technical jobs, sales, or administrative support; 14% are in service jobs, including domestic service; and 15% of workers have only part-time work.

Gender, race, and class make big differences in the psychological and religious world that people live in.

In summary, gender changes have greatly affected the situation of men as they struggle to understand themselves and their responsibilities in family, church, and community. That is, men are being asked to make changes in how they think of themselves and how they relate to others. But the social and economic realities for most women, except for a small percentage of younger, well-educated, professional women, have not dramatically improved in the last twenty-five years. During this time the economic position of many men, including satisfaction and control at work, has worsened because of global capitalism. Thus, what Walby calls, “convergence and polarisation” p 2 has made gender relationships very complicated. Convergence means that the idea of equality between men and women is more widely accepted and, in some cases, written into law. Polarisation means that men and women too often think of themselves as adversarial classes in the struggle for survival in the face of global capitalism and individualistic society. Into this complicated picture we come as pastors, counselors, and teachers for the religious communities. What can we do for the pastoral care of men in a church committed to gender equality?

Five major pastoral care needs of men need to be addressed: grief, couple and family relationships, work, sexuality, aggression.


Grief is an important issue to address among men. Herb Anderson has given us a good summary of the many grief issues facing men,

and Mytho-poetic leaders, such as Robert Bly, have provided the explanation for this phenomenon.

Because men are socialized to deny feelings and disidentify with their own bodies, men are not trained how to recognize or deal with losses. Beginning with the premature separation from mother

, boys are trained to put on a brave front. Whatever losses boys experience because of distancing from mother and identifying with an often-absent father, they deny. Beginning in elementary school, boys are taught to avoid being sissies like girls, which often means ignoring painful feelings. Mytho-poetic retreats have been successful because they give men permission to read poetry, cry, hold one another, and admit that life has not always been good. Pictures from the Million Man March showed men holding hands, praying, hugging, and crying together as they lamented the suffering they have experienced but never expressed.

My experience as a pastoral psychotherapist with men is that grief is about half of the healing work. Good psychotherapy, just like good prayer meetings, good charismatic worship, and good men’s groups, creates a safe space for grieving. Loss of family members through death, loss of sexual integrity through abuse, loss of spouses and children through divorce, loss of parents through distance or death, loss of jobs and careers, loss of male friendships: all of these losses surface and require weeks and months of sadness, crying, regret, shame, guilt, anger, and depression on the road to healing. In the midst of grieving comes a capacity for greater intimacy, deeper feelings, greater faith, and a different hope for the future.

One of my clients was rescued from an abusive family when he was three years old with few conscious memories of what trauma he might have experienced there. In his first foster home, he was beaten with a bull whip and rescued again because he could not sit down in his desk at school. He lived till adulthood in another foster home where hundreds of other foster children came and went. Whenever he misbehaved, he was threatened with being sent away. Much of my therapy with him was expressing the deep sadness, hurt, and anger at what he had been through.

One of the challenges of therapy with him was that he had learned to blame women for his hurts. I had to continually remind him that women were not the cause or the solution to his pain and grief. From him I learned that many men look to women to help them deal with their feelings of hurt and anger, and often feel disappointed when their expectations are not met. In our society, blaming women is acceptable behavior for many men, and it causes much emotional and physical abuse of women. When we work with men in pastoral care, we need to be alert to this tendency by men to blame women and develop the skills for firm and gentle confrontation.

Couple and Family Relationships.

Grief and intimate relationships with partners and children are probably about equal in terms of he reasons men come for pastoral care, at least in my experience. Many men who have done good work with me in pastoral psychotherapy came because of their commitment to couple and family relationships.  They want to save their marriages, or they want to salvage their relationships with their children. One of my clients was starting his third family with children – he had fathered five children altogether. Grieving these many losses was a big part of his work with me. But he also spent significant time examining himself as a father and working on how he could keep in touch with the children from past relationships.  He thought a lot about how they were doing; he visited his son’s baseball games at the high school; he sent money to the mother of his three-year-old daughter; he sent his children birthday presents even when he could not visit them. Because of the tremendous damage he had done over the years, maintaining these relationships was not easy. But his genuine concern for his children and his commitment to their well-being enabled him to stay in pastoral counseling during periods of depression where he cared little whether he lived or died. He did not care enough for himself to seek healing, but he did care enough for his children to endure the pain of change.

Couple and family relationships also have a challenging aspect, because many men also want to be dominant in these relationships. They say they will do anything to preserve their relationships with female partners and children. But they have limited ability to understand their own behaviors within these relationships. I remember one man who came to therapy to preserve his marriage after numerous affairs. He said he would do anything to reestablish communication, trust, and forgiveness. But when his wife disclosed that she had also had an affair with a co-worker during a period when he was never at home, everything changed. Suddenly his patience was gone, and he expressed his rage without regard for her feelings. He thought that her infidelity was much different from his “because she was more emotionally involved.” He failed to see how his irresponsible behaviors had created the kind of marriage he most feared – one in which he was betrayed. It took many months of work to help him focus on his own behaviors and not blame her for everything that was wrong in his life.


During the downsizing and redistribution of wealth from workers to the rich of the last twenty years, work has become a crisis for many men. Multinational corporations can move a plant from Flint, Michigan to Mexico and cut their labor costs by 80 percent. The effects on workers are profound, and a sense of despair and anger has permeated the whole US labor force. The Big One  is a recent movie by Michael Moore about how working people feel about work. Everywhere workers are afraid that they will lose their jobs, that they will be replaced by cheaper, more compliant workers, or that they will have to endure whatever abuse the company hands out just to keep their lousy jobs. Barbara Ehrenreich recently went undercover as a waitress and domestic worker in Key West, Florida to try to understand the economics and culture of people who live on the edge. She reminds professionals how different it is to live on the edge economically when housing, health care, and working conditions are beyond one’s control. We must remember that 30% of U.S. workers live in similar conditions where they make less than $8 an hour, have no benefits or job security, and live in fear for their livelihood.

Some recent stories suggest that even upper middle class managers are vulnerable to the same forces because of downsizing and corporate abuse of employees.

Sometimes I wonder if the decline in the former main-line churches is not partly the result of our inability to understand the effect of capitalism on the U.S. workers. As one United Methodist leader recently put it – “We used to be the church of the people. But we have become so middle-class that we have lost touch with how most U.S. Christians live. The rise of fundamentalism may be partly due to their greater understanding of the pain and anger of working-class and poor people in the U.S.”

I suspect that the former main-line Protestant Churches have lost touch with working-class and poor people and the everyday realities of their lives and work. It is hard to be a doctor coping with Health Maintenance Organizations; to be a lawyer coping with the meaningless work of real estate or corporate mergers; or to be a self-employed business person coping with endless government regulations and economic pressures. But we dare not equate these pressures with the insecurity and humiliation of being a faceless surplus worker in a corporation or in the service industries of restaurants, hotels, and hospitals. What pastoral care needs do these realities create?

One of my clients worked in the shipping division of a railroad signal factory. His job, along with several hundred others, was to fill the orders for parts when they came in. During the three years I worked with him, dozens of people were laid off every few months, and at least once a year, they heard rumors that the plant would close down. The owners were in Europe, and the work he did could have been done in any country in the world. The workers were unionized and paid more than average pay for the area. But during the time I knew him, the workers experienced increased tension, increased work load, and increased insecurity. The joke among the men was that they could always become greeters at WallMart. Unfortunately, this was not impossible, because the chance of finding a similar job at equal pay was virtually nonexistent. Just before Christmas this year, a T.V journalist told the story about hundreds of layoffs, but then added – “fortunately 40% of such workers find new work within six months.” How many become greeters at WallMart and experience the daily humiliation of nothing to do at minimum wage?

We pastors need to learn how to talk with men (and women) about the humiliation, insecurity, and fear that comes from working under global capitalism. Our stereotype that working class and poor men are the most sexist is a convenient prejudice among professionals that blocks our ability to do this. Some of the work on sexual harassment indicates that the hostility and abuse women get at work is a pathological displacement related to men’s anger at their job insecurity and humiliation. Men are angry at affirmative action programs and at women and people of color who seem to benefit from them because they feel their own work situation deteriorating. When we counsel with men about their work, we need to watch for hidden racism and sexism that function as projections of feelings men don’t know how else to deal with. We need to know how the manager and owners of capitalism exploit sexual and racial tensions to prevent workers from concentrating on the real threats to their economic survival.


So far I have talked about grief, couple and family relationships, and work. We need to understand the pain of men around these issues and analyze the way sexism and hatred of women are expressed in these areas. When we move into issues of sexuality and aggression, the conversations become more conflicted for men and for pastors. Because our theories of pastoral counseling are inadequate, we often founder when we try to talk with men in these areas.

Sexuality, even more than feelings of sadness, is a difficult area for men to talk about. On the one hand, in the U.S. culture, everything is sexualized. I saw a recent commercial where a beautiful woman was selling “Depends, the sanitary protection for people with bladder control problems.” Sex sells everything in market capitalism. On the other hand, talk of genuine sexuality is repressed. A good example is the Starr Report. In one way of looking, the Starr Report was pornographic, because it described explicit sexual acts with high potential for sexual arousal among the population. The Religious Right has recommended abolishing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts for similar material, though they supported publication of the Starr Report. How ironic. In another way, the report was not about sex at all, rather, it was written to expose the weakness and immorality of Clinton and his unfitness for the presidency. The Starr Report was ingeniously written to use sex to get the attention of the U.S. public, and also to argue for a repressive sexual ethic that would prevent such reports from being written.

Sexuality lurks around the edges of almost every discussion in our society, often in the form of indirect references to male-female relationships and possible embarrassing behaviors. I remember one young adult church group I attended where sexual banter was the electricity that held the group together, but the group also forbade direct naming or critique of the sexual dynamics, and excluded anyone who was uncomfortable or unwilling to join in the complicity. In other words, sexual talk is highly regulated in U.S. culture – required in certain ways, and forbidden in others. No wonder men (and women) have trouble discussing sexuality.

For example, the official statements on sexuality of most mainline denominations, given the defeat of more recent statements in the 1980’s, still forbid sex for singles, sex outside marriage, and use of pornography. Yet, we know that most members of our congregations do not live by or believe in these rules any longer. In spite of the Religious Right’s campaign to legislate chastity for singles and fidelity in marriage, Christians in the U.S. do not follow these rules anymore – if they ever did. How many pastors in this room have conducted services for couples who previously lived together, for couples who were pregnant, for gay and lesbian unions? Which extended family has not accepted a wide range of sexual behaviors and attitudes in the last twenty-five years? Yet, we have no other official statement of sexual ethics, and the recent statements that tried to address these issues were soundly defeated, often before debate, such as the Lutheran statement that had to be withdrawn because it purportedly allowed masturbation.

Pornography is another issue that should be on the church’s agenda because of its effects on men’s attitudes and behaviors. Videos, CD’s, hotel rooms, and the internet have increased the exposure of men to pornography.  Feminist researchers concerned about the negative attitudes of women portrayed in much pornography have produced startling statistics about its use and impact on the normal population. One estimate is that 52 million people are regularly exposed to the five largest magazines that exploit women – Playboy, Hustler, Oui, Penthouse, Gallery, and Chic.

My barbershop carries Playboy for customers waiting for haircuts. One study suggests that one-half to two-thirds of the population has used pornography at some time in their lives.

In another study 15% of pornographic videos were rented by women alone, 45% by couples (both gay and straight), and 40% by men alone.

Many women reported being uncomfortable when viewing videos with their male partners.

Computers and Compact disks are the new frontier for pornography. Last Friday I typed the word “pornography” into “Infoseek Advanced Search” and received 90,514 entries. The dramatic stories of child pornography have made the internet a public issue, but the accepted pornography available to men is another matter. It seems clear that pornography has increased exponentially as men have access with less risk and expense. The question is this: If we assume that the attitudes about sexuality of a majority of men in our congregations are shaped by pornography, what is the impact on the attitudes and behaviors of men toward women?

In the vacuum of leadership left by progressive Christians, the Religious Right has become the moral police force in U.S. society. Not surprisingly, progressive forces are divided about the basic direction to go. For example, feminist, gay, lesbian, and other progressive groups have exposed the sexism in much pornography, and the amount of sexual violence that is covered over “because it is sex.” Pictures and videos that show women in vulnerable and humiliating sexual positions would not be tolerated if they were racial in content. Catherine MacKinnon has been one of the most vocal scholars writing on this topic.

On the other hand, there are pro-sex feminist, gay and lesbian contingents that argue that sexuality should be kept personal and private and not regulated by governments or churches.

One thing the Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on is that Clinton’s sexual behavior was private; it was only lying and obstruction of justice that was impeachable.

With such a public debate, it is predictable that many men are confused about sexuality. Men are the targets of much advertising, manipulation, and sexualizing by global market capitalism, yet the church where they look for moral guidance is not having a very sophisticated debate about these issues. The popular anxiety about sex means that the repressive message of the Right sometimes sounds ok.

How do we talk with men about sex in the context of pastoral care? The answer to this question is not easy since men are not coming to pastors with such questions. I think we are at the time when religious leaders need to create opportunities when sex can be discussed. Predictably, men will be defensive when sexuality is introduced – just another form of male-bashing. In my experience with sex offenders, these topics can be addressed. The Masters and Johnson clinic in St. Louis addresses pornography, sexual fantasies, and appropriate sexual behaviors in their offender-treatment programs, and they believe that reorientation of offenders is never completed until fantasies are directly addressed.

One of my clients closed down many of his feelings, including sexuality, because he was sexually abused as a child. He managed to be a successful pastor, and helped raise four children who were relatively well adjusted. When his wife ended the marriage after 25 years and married another man, he was devastated. In the midst of working through the multiple traumas of his childhood and adult life, sexual understanding emerged as one of his primary needs. He had survived a full career as a pastor without dealing with sexuality in his own or his parishioners’ lives. Now at age 60 he was a child in terms of understanding himself as a sexual being before God. The freedom to discuss his sexual feelings and desires in pastoral psychotherapy opened up levels of creativity that had been stifled all his life.

Fortunately, there are many new materials for exploring sexuality today. Dozens of books on sexuality, masculinity, and pornography have been produced by both male and female scholars. It is time we familiarized ourselves with this material and brainstormed about how we can introduce it to the men in our churches.


If sexuality is difficult for men to talk about and address, aggression is even tougher. At the core of the masculine ideal in the U.S., (see Rambo, etc) is insensitivity, anger, aggression, abuse and violence. Whether we are talking about driving the biggest SUV through Chicago, “killing” the running back as he turns the corner, bombing Iraq with smart bombs, or getting the most beautiful girl, men are encouraged to do what they want, when they want to, and to hell with the consequences.  Of course, the gentle side of masculinity can be showcased whenever necessary. Remember the “Religion Forward Movement” and Promise keepers – the kinder face of patriarchy.

The movement to prevent sexual and domestic violence has done the most to unmask the destructive consequences of such virulent masculinity. The statistics are staggering. One third of girls will be sexually abused or assaulted before they are 18 years old (and 5-10% of boys). One-third of women will be faced at some time with attempted rape as adults. Nearly one-half of adult women will be hit by their husbands or boyfriends sometime in their lives. One-third of emergency room visits by women between 18 and 40 are because of domestic violence. Three-fourths of domestic violence comes from men, often in the context of marriage, family, or other intimate relationships.

Where is the male outrage about this violence? Why do men more readily identify with male batterers than with female victims? Why do men feel guilty and ashamed for being men, rather than outraged that so much violence is present in our communities? Where is the men’s movement to end violence against women and children?

I became hopeful when I heard the pledges of confession and repentance at the Stand in the Gap Rally of Promise Keepers and the Million Man March. They sounded like public commitments to change the way men think about aggression and violence, and a determination to do something about it.

However, I have waited in vain for the follow-up programs and funding. Promise Keepers had a $100 million annual budget at the height of their activity in 1997. The shelters that try to protect women from immediate harm are mostly run by volunteers and low-paid social workers on shoe-string budgets in hidden locations in our cities. In Chicago we have 600 shelter beds for victims of domestic violence and 133,000 domestic violence calls to the police each year. Five courtrooms are open five days a week handling hundreds of cases, while women are hiding with relatives and friends, hoping that their tormentors will not find them. I keep hoping that the Men’s Movement will decide to help finance the Shelter movement and organize into teams to hold batterers accountable. But I doubt it. Somehow I think that the pledges made in Washington DC were mostly for public consumption and that real accountability for those who violate these pledges is nonexistent.

How do we begin talking with men about their aggressive attitudes and behaviors toward women? Based on my experience with offenders, I know it can be done. For several years I worked as a facilitator in Batterer’s Intervention Programs. The members of these groups came from court referrals after felony convictions for injuring a female partner. While their defenses against responsibility for their behaviors are incredibly strong, and their rationalizations are ingenious, even these men have enough moral fiber left to know that their violence is not good. After weeks of education and firm confrontation of their faulty beliefs, men in batterer’s groups begin to see that there is another way. After six months they don’t have enough knowledge and discipline to carry it out, but they know nonviolence is correct.  If batterer’s can make this much progress in six months, surely the men in our congregations can examine their aggressive behaviors and hold one another accountable to a higher standard.

Actually, many sermons we preach are about nonviolence – about better ways of treating people than what we see at work and on TV. The story of the Good Samaritan is a critique of how professional people make excuses for the insensitivity to interpersonal violence and class discrimination. Jesus’ healing of the sick is a critique of society’s injustice toward the poor and dispossessed. But men need to take the next step and examine our family and couple relationships, our attitudes toward women, and the aggressiveness that is disguised as stress from work or sexual foreplay. I have seen it done, and I believe it would be a successful program for the church.


I have tried to give a positive spin on the pastoral care of men in the churches. The gender crisis of recent decades and the positive aspects of the various men’s movements give us opportunities to engage in pastoral care of men in new ways. Some of the issues men are facing can be approached in a fairly straight-forward way – issues such as grief, couple and family relationships, and work. We need to be more assertive in inviting men to discuss these issues, so they can find better support and begin to deal with their insecurities when gender issues are raised. Some of the issues are challenging – namely, sexuality and aggression. Men are already defensive and they feel unfairly blamed for being animals in their attitudes. But there is more at stake here than embarrassment. Sexuality and violence represent issues that are tearing our society apart. By their silence and inaction, many men are colluding with abusers in ways that will horrify them when the truth is disclosed. We must break the myth of male solidarity that makes the world so dangerous for women.

Part of our job as pastors is achievable in the near future, and part is a long-term goal for many decades to come. What else is new? We follow a Christ who patiently waits for the gospel to be understood and enacted. We are the generation of religious leaders entrusted with the work of Christ at this time in history. In my opinion, the gospel is being hammered out on the anvil of gender relationships. We might fear being burned during the smelting and hammering work. But the fire of God’s challenges has faced every generation until now. Why should we be spared? I pray that we will have the courage to be faithful during our watch that will soon pass. Come, Lord Jesus, Come soon. We pray.

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