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Published Date: January 30, 1991

Published Date: January 30, 1991

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More Than “Vacuum Cleaner Commandos”: Affirming Egalitarian Males

Recently my neighbor told me about a widower living in double jeopardy. With no homemaking training in his past and no wife to clean up after him, his house was piled high with junk, dirty dishes, and soiled clothes. In addition, he had to share that house with a virtual stranger: his child.

“I know very little about my nineteen-year-old,” was the effect of his complaint. “We haven’t talked in years. We don’t know each other at all. I’m living with a total stranger.”

This man’s trouble struck me deeply because yesterday was my own son’s twelfth birthday. As my son hugged me and chatted happily about his day and his gifts and his plans for the future, I was thinking “Nineteen years old is not that very far away for us – only seven years.” Seven years ago our family already lived here in this house in Massachusetts and my son was already in school. That year I was working on my “Male Afterword” for my wife Dr. Aída Besançon Spencer’s book, Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry (to which this article is a kind of sequel).

No, seven years is a very brief time. How could a father who lived day in and day out with another person, his son, fall so far out of touch that his son had become a stranger to him?

Blasted by The Past

Kenneth Taylor, of Living Bible renown, wrote a poignant article entitled “The Father I’d Like To Have Been” (Sunday Digest 1/4/70). He began by listing regrets that plagued both his parenting of his ten children and his communication with his wife. Some regrets were letting career worries kill family fun, not bothering to play with his children when they asked him to do so, fighting at the dinner table over “some trivial disagreement that threatened my security as the head of the house,” and his difficulty in displaying affection.

Such regrets are the fallout of the old traditional model of fathering. Males in this model are cast out of the home into the market place and, though nominally “head of the house”, are forced to be strangers in their homes and to their children. (For instance, when I was born my father was not even allowed to be in the delivery room – a symbol of distancing male lives from their loved ones.) Men can be shut out by societal expectations from all the truly important moments in the lives of the humans they love most deeply.

I was co-captain of my wrestling team in high school, but in my four years of wrestling I only let my father come to one match – one in which I was certain I would annihilate my opponent. I loved my father dearly and he loved me dearly, but I felt I could share only my victories with him, not my defeats. We groped toward one another as distant friends would, revealing to each other only our best sides, afraid to show any weakness.

Now my own son is a wrestler too, and in fact a much better one that I was. In this, his first year in middle school, he won a New England regional 68-pound championship. He has let me come to all his matches – his defeats as well as his victories. I wish I could have let my father watch me lose as well as win.

I, for one, looked at the loneliness of my own father: always out alone hunting deer on my, my mother’s, and his own birthday, or buying me any book I wanted for my collection, but never able to apologize or tell me verbally he loved me. When I looked at societal expectations mapping a life like his out before me, I said, “No, thank you.”

Making the Right Tactical Decisions

Good thought is always contemporary, no matter when it was written down. When I was working on my doctorate, I spent time with Thomas Aquinas as one of my areas of study and I was struck by his concept of habit. Every choice we make, argues Thomas, limits our future choices. When we make a bad choice, we limit all our future choices and make bad choices subsequently easier to make than good choices. Each bad choice forms a habit that makes good choices more and more difficult to make. Similary, each good choice makes choosing the good easier and easier to do.

On the same principle that each day slips into the next day, building on the last, we see that good relationships don’t just happen. Each morning I awaken my son, hug and kiss him. We do our morning devotions together, and we pray together. I send him and his mom off to their respective schools, and by 7:45 a.m. I am ready to start on my own work.  Any dad working 9:00 to 5:00 with less than an hour commute could begin the day this way, and a dad working the night shift, 11:00 to 7:00 might pull it off too. Day slips into day; five years old becomes twelve years old becomes nineteen years old. My son and I change together and we do not grow apart.

Serving in an Organization Built on Right Habits

The nastiest response to male oppression I ever heard was delivered as an aside at a conference of a very conservative denomination, when a male speaker was recounting how Jesus said that because He had gone to prepare many mansions for his followers we should all look forward to heaven. “Yeah,” sneered one woman to another in a low voice, “we’re gonna get to clean the mansions up there too!” Traditional males are standing on a volcano. No wonder they are feeling the heat. Is there a positive approach we can offer?

Christians for Biblical Equality is an organization set up to affirm both females and males: using love to combat suspicion, confusion, and error. Resisting the male-bashing that traditionalists erroneously think is an essential quality of feminism, CBE values males as fully as it does females. However, a lot of confusion does exist in the church on just what an egalitarian male is, and many people fail to understand just how beneficial our viewpoint is for men. Single egalitarian Christian males want equal friendships with women as well as men. Rejecting the world’s immorality and secular society’s “war of the sexes”, egalitarians see people as brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers in Christ. Biblically feminist evangelical males – similar to Martha’s sister Mary in Luke 10:42 – have chosen the good part of life. All of us are equal family members under the Lordship of the true head of the Church: Christ.

Yet today resistance has risen among young males who think “masculinity” will be lost if they jettison the lonely shamly-authoritative (but generally manipulated) “traditional” role for males. While understandable on account of the inexperience of its proponents, their position would not confuse others into thinking that some valuable trait of our fathers will be lost.

On the contrary, we egalitarian males have everything our fathers had – careers, honor on our jobs, the affection of our spouses, and more. We have communication with our spouses and communication with our children as well, two things that all my twenty-four years of ministerial counseling have impressed upon me that our fathers did not generally have. Few of our dads apparently knew how to talk to us, their children, or play with us, or tell us they loved us. And many of us fought bitter battles with them as we became teenagers because they never changed with us, and so they did not notice that we had grown up. In addition, they did not let their wives be more than appendages to their own careers, so they bred resentment on two fronts.

Once we attended the retirement celebration of a renowned and well-loved professor. A colleague recited all the contributions this man had made throughout his decades of teaching service, but what I remembered most poignantly happened at the end of that recitation. His wife turned to us, looked at us for a moment, and then said in a quiet voice, “And what do I have to show for all those years?” Unable to have children, not encouraged into a career, she had a clean house. That was soon sold and the couple moved away.

In contrast, we egalitarian males are helping our wives be stewards of the gifts they have been given. Twenty, thirty, or forty years down the road our spouses will not have to echo this woman’s pain. We will reap the same harvest of appreciation from our wives for their fruitful, productive lives of service that we will give them for their support of us.

“Vacuum Cleaner Commandos”

James Johnson, creator of the Sebastian spy series, was one of my favorite authors. Imagine my chagrin, then, when in his 1977 book What Every Woman Should Know About a Man he referred to males who put homemaking above careers as “vacuum cleaner commandos.” In his usual hard-hitting style, James Johnson inveighed against males who were created by God for victories in the workplace being stuck in what he saw as the women’s world of aprons and diapers.

Ten years later, when James Johnson himself was dying, he re-evaluated the position that males are made solely for the workforce:

“Take time to smell the roses…I failed to do that as much as I should. Don’t forget to walk a mile every day. I didn’t. So now you know how important that is. Take time to look at the stars on those warm July nights…and those beautiful winter nights when all the galaxies are like crystal…the kiss of setting sun on green grass or white snow…the flush of greenery in Spring, the majestic finalities of Fall.”

Many traditional males we know long for the joys that come from the increased sensitivity of egalitarian relationships (and in actuality, many so-called traditionalists do indeed practice equality in their own homes.)

Rather than “vacuum cleaner commandos,” we egalitarian Christian males simply want better, more openly loving lives with our families than our fathers had. But, in one sense James Johnson may be right: Maybe we are commandos, for the home is where the real battle is fought! The home is the training ground for our future leaders, the bootcamp of the church.

So why be an egalitarian male? The benefit of being an egalitarian is that a man gets intimate honest relationships with spouse and children, and cordial relationships with women outside the family.

Affirming Egalitarian Males

You don’t need a Napoleon to tell you you can’t fight a battle without an army. What has been difficult is for us egalitarian males to find a support base in the Christian community. Traditional males regard us with suspicion as some kind of traitors to our sex or dupes of this world’s latest cultural fad. Some radical feminist women have not been much more welcoming.

Enter Christians for Biblical Equality: What CBE did was radical for males, despite the organization’s conservative appearance to many women. Christians for Biblical Equality has committed itself to full equality between the sexes, hence the name and the multitude of males (some say too many!) as speakers at conferences and chapter meetings, and as writers for Priscilla Papers. CBE is committed to full affirmation of egalitarian males as well as egalitarian females. CBE’s program promotes wholeness for the Christian church by respecting the equal worth of men and women of all classes and races.

How can CBE members affirm egalitarian males? Here is a list that I puzzled out, and to which my wife, Aída Besançon Spencer, made several contributions as well.

How To Be Egalitarian Co-Workers

First, for women: 1. Remember, egalitarian males are not the enemy. Therefore, work to support egalitarian males in the same way you should work to support egalitarian women. One egalitarian professor we know lost his teaching position because women students did not take his classes, preferring a “more interesting” traditionalist professor to him. What’s interesting about a traditionalist approach to biblical sociology/anthropology? Paul had a similar problem with the Corinthians. They liked a flashy style over edifying content, but they learned their lesson. Why can’t we? Support supportive leaders!

2. If you are oppressed by an egalitarian male on the job or in the church or in an organization or at home you need to speak up and complain to him directly. Don’t start by going over his head. If he is truly egalitarian, he will appreciate it and change, even if he is initially resistant. You can always take more radical steps if this doesn’t work, but you can’t recall an initial over-reaction and you risk driving him back into traditionalism. Matthew 6:23-24 recommends face-to-face reconciliation when dealing with all other Christians, and your courtesy can actually move traditionalists more toward your position as well.

3. Make a point of welcoming and including males in your organizational planning and discussions, while guarding against imbalance.

4. Be merciful. Many men are sincerely trying but have had few models. The Scriptures provide few positive examples of good fathers. The Davids, Lots, and Jacobs abound, while we see precious little of the Josephs in their parenting style. We’re still creating our own role models, just as in many denominations women preachers are having to create theirs.

Second, for men: 1. Persevere. Don’t let anything sway you from what you believe is right. Don’t compromise on the egalitarian position, no more than you would compromise on any cardinal doctrine of your Christian faith or fall in with a racist conversation. Stand firm. One person with the Lord is always a majority in any battle. We are fighting for the right to love and to be loved by the ones we love. Nobody has the right to take that from us.

2. Watch yourself that your egalitarianism doesn’t slip away. We have to work on our attitudes and practice continually so we don’t become like those Paul warns about in II Timothy 3:5, holding the form of our belief but losing the power of it. We are out to serve women, to look out for our sisters. All Christians should be serving each other, but we are especially looking out for those who have been overlooked and underserved in the past. We need to forge a new practice to bring balance back into the Church. Let’s keep our words and our actions evenly matched.

3. Be supportive, not manipulative, and be merciful. Although James Johnson was worried about “role reversal,” why should any group be only in a continually subservient role? I Corinthians 12:24 indicates a time comes when each of us is praised and others ought to rejoice with us. Sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow. And let us be merciful when women lead, recognizing that there are many different but equally valid leadership styles. Don’t manipulate women into reflecting some culturally-based male expectation of female leadership. Let women develop their own unique leadership gifts.

4. Remember to keep Christ as the head of all families, churches, and organizations, and at the center of all relationships. Putting Christ first will enable us all to serve to others in love and humility. We can each be free to make our own unique contribution, and enjoy each other in a wholesome godly manner in the beautiful world God has given us.

Three women smiling at the camera, each is holding a present.

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