Recently, Pastor Peter Jones wrote the following tweet: “Conservative mothers whether biological or ‘mothers’ in the church are often a great hindrance to the cultivation of true masculinity.” He then decided to clarify the tweet with this blog post, which I find incredibly insulting to both men and women. His argument should signal a red flag to anyone who follows church leaders who hold these opinions.
In it, he claims that conservative women, while appearing to do everything “right,” are primarily responsible for the stunted masculinity of their sons. In his view, the submission of wives and their seeming respect for their husbands is simply a show for outsiders. Their husbands go along with this charade, knowing they are being manipulated by their wives and are not the true leaders of the home. This “sin” by conservative women is supposedly emasculating their sons and preventing growing boys from learning to lead and be masculine.
After I recovered from the initial assault on my intellect and realized that I am indeed still in 21st century America, I began to wonder if there was any validity to Jones’ hypothesis.
Are conservative women undermining masculinity in their households? By Jones’ own admission, these women read their Bibles, pray, dress modestly, protect their children from the influence of the world, are active in church, and submit to their husbands. They follow all the rules! Yet unsurprisingly, it still isn’t good enough.
These women strive to please God, church leadership, and their husbands! Even then, they are somehow wrong and must repent. These women have conformed to the expectations of complementarian theology; they’re doing what they’re supposed to do! Still, church leaders pile shame and inadequacy on the women who are already giving it their all.
The worst part, according to Jones? These women don’t even realize they are doing it! And apparently, neither do their husbands. Only church leadership can see the defect in these otherwise-godly women. And they “ignore it at their own peril!”
Jones’ comments indicate that he has made some personal observations about this perceived “stunted masculinity” and has drawn some conclusions as to the cause. Logically, it follows that Jones believes boys in his church are having a hard time becoming men, and that this is also a problem in other conservative churches.
Jones’ hypothesis leaves us with many questions.
Why are boys in conservative churches with a strong emphasis on gender roles struggling with masculinity? Is the same problem present in more progressive churches? In the nation overall?
Oddly enough, Jones directs his criticism of Christian masculinity at fellow complementarians, seemingly overlooking the disproportionate emphasis on masculinity in the families and churches in question. Even stranger, Jones faults women for the failure of masculinity in highly male-centric churches and families.
What are conservative churches, usually led entirely by men, doing to supposedly emasculate these young boys? Surely “stunted masculinity” is not the sole fault of mothers?
Perhaps I have missed the entire point of male headship theology. But doesn’t it appoint the husband so-called "biblical leader" of the family? Under this theology, is it not the responsibility of the husband to set the direction of the family and of men to set the direction of the church? Jones claims mothers (and perhaps by extension, women in general) manipulate and undermine this role and responsibility. But if men are abdicating their “biblical leadership,” who are the real “sinners”?
The logic by which guilt is laid heavily at the feet of complementarian mothers does not hold up. And it begs closer investigation of the nature of masculinity in complementarian churches. Might the fault for Jones’ diagnosis lie in unreasonable expectations for men? Perhaps in the tension between the necessity of vulnerability and the expectation of strength from boys? Perhaps the cause is a disconnect between the masculinity of complementarian fathers and evolving definitions of manhood in both the church and culture.
Jones does not let up on conservative mothers in the remainder of his post. He asserts that women operate out of fear—they are fearful of everything and prevent the males in their households from taking risks and getting in the ring.
As a woman who grew up in a very conservative church culture, I admit there is a degree of validity to the idea that women can function out of cultural anxiety. However, the accusation of fear-motivated behavior should not be limited to women. Fear and performance-based theology is a staple, perhaps even a foundation, of the modern conservative church. Women are hardly the only ones tip-toeing around cultural minefields.
Fear-based Christianity is indoctrinated in men and women from the time they are very young. It takes a difficult journey and a new perspective on who God really is to develop a healthy theology and worldview, free of unholy fear. I am thankful to be on that journey.
Jones’ final arrow to the heart of conservative mothers is that they blame others for their sons’ deficiencies instead of assuming responsibility.
He writes, “As boys get older sins and deficiencies begin to appear. A mom begins to reap.” He then calls conservative mothers to repent and fix their mistakes without making excuses. Their refusal to repent creates an atmosphere of excuse-making, argues Jones, and “Excuse making is the death of true masculinity.”
It is difficult to escape the irony of this statement. Throughout the article, Jones places the blame for "stunted masculinity" squarely on the shoulders of God-fearing, conservative, complementarian mothers while paying only lip service to the role of complementarian fathers who are supposed to be doing the “leading” in these churches and families. In doing so, he casts a bit of a smoke screen himself.
If excuse-making is the death of "true masculinity," I think Jones just gave us a prime example of what that looks like. What is more, I believe Jones misses the point. If boys seem to no longer fit his (and complementarian theology’s) standards for masculinity, then perhaps it is time to ask what masculinity ought to look like for those who seek to be conformed to the image of Christ. The evolving masculinity of young boys is no threat to Christianity. Rather, it is an opportunity to redefine manhood according to Jesus’ example.
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