On this episode of The Disciple-Making Parent Podcast, we explore the topic of toxic masculinity and its impact on society. In it, we engage in a thought-provoking conversation with bestselling author and professor Nancy Pearcey about her latest book, “The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes.”
We discuss the societal pressures faced by men and the importance of understanding the difference between the good man and the real man. We also discuss the origins of the toxic masculinity narrative and how it has affected the younger generation.
Join us as we navigate this urgent issue and discover how biblical principles can shape a positive view of masculinity.
Resources From This Podcast
The Toxic War on Masculinity, by Nancy Pearcey
The Washington Post- Why Can’t We Hate Men?
The New York Post- Myron Gaines Is the Next Andrew Tate
The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are, by Robert Wright
Men and Marriage: Exploring Society’s Decline Without Faithful Fathers, by George Gilder
The New York Times- Religious Men Can Be Devoted Dads, Too, by Brad Wilcox
The New York Times- Fathers Gained Family Time in the Pandemic. Many Don’t Want to Give It Back.
Do Fathers Matter?: What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked, by Paul Raeburn
Protection, Not Secrecy
Nancy Pearcey’s website
Love Thy Body, by Nancy Pearcey
The Soul of Science, by Nancy Pearcey
Saving Leonardo, by Nancy Pearcey
Finding Truth, by Nancy Pearcey
Total Truth, by Nancy Pearcey
Topics Covered In This Week’s Podcast
03:55 Objections to hostility against men
09:13 Competing scripts: the good man vs. “man up”
14:00 Social Darwinism and our concept of man
18:39 Passivity and falling behind, vs aggression
20:54 The stereotype of the evangelical male vs the reality
26:16 Societal changes separating men from their families
30:35 The Victorian age and the origin of the double standard
36:16 Practical steps for fathers to be more involved at home
41:08 Advice for wives and mothers
I’m Chap Bettis, and you’re listening to The Disciple-Making Parent, where we seek to equip parents and churches to pass the gospel to their children. Why Can’t We Hate Men? That was the headline of a recent Washington Post article. And let’s just stop and ask that question. Why can’t we hate men? Haven’t men messed up society and the church?
Hi, my name is Chap Bettis, and I’m the author of The Disciple-Making Parent. Numerous social influences have brought us to a time when it’s socially acceptable to express open hostility to men. Almost half of American men agree with the statement, “These days society seems to punish men for just acting like men.” If you’re a man, do you feel this way? If you’re a woman, how does this affect your husband? And for parents, how does this societal pressure affect our raising of sons? Well, in this podcast, we’re going to take a deep dive into this very subject. You can listen in on a conversation I had with Nancy Pearcey about her new book, The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes.
In our time together, we talked about where these cultural ideas have come from, and what’s the difference between the idea of the good man and the real man. You know, evangelical men are often held up as the epitome of oppressive patriarchy. But instead, Professor Pearcey tells us that the research shows the exact opposite. And finally, we’ll spend some time talking about what dads and moms can do to counter this message from society. So if you’re a pastor or a parent, you are going to want to listen to this podcast and then go out and buy the book. It’s well-researched and has a lot of references to the social sciences- Men and women who don’t believe in God, proving what the Bible has to say. It’s going to change your thinking. I know it did mine.
Well, Professor Pearcey is also author of Love Thy Body, The Soul of Science, Saving Leonardo, Finding Truth, and Total Truth. Her books have been translated into 19 languages. She is professor and scholar in residence at Houston Christian University and has been quoted in The New Yorker and Newsweek. And Christianity Today highlighted her as one of the five top women apologists.
Well, before we start, I want to remind you that we give away the audiobook of The Disciple-Making Parentabsolutely free. We’re on a mission to equip parents and grandparents to pass the gospel to their children. So The Disciple-Making Parent book is the centerpiece of our ministry and it’s been endorsed by Al Mohler and Tim Challies among others. So you can have the audiobook for free. Simply visit thedisciplemakingparent.com/freeaudiobook. And I want to also tell you about another resource that we have that may help you. If you’re struggling with anger in your home, then Parenting with Patience may be perfect for you. We’ve received numerous testimonies about how this five-week, video-driven Bible study has changed people’s lives. So for more information, visit parentingwithpatiencestudy.com. So two resources that could equip you: our free audiobook and a video study on overcoming anger. But for now, let’s think about this idea of toxic masculinity, where it came from, and what we can do about it.
Chap Bettis: Well, it’s a joy to have bestselling author Professor Nancy Pearcey on the Disciple-Making Parent podcast. Nancy, thank you for taking the time to talk with me and with us. It’s a joy to have you on the podcast.
Nancy Pearcey: Thank you so much. I appreciate being here.
Chap: Well, this is an area near and dear to my heart, raising two sons. Also you, raising two sons as well, right? And yet it’s become socially acceptable to express open hostility against men. So we even have Washington Post saying, “Why can’t we hate men?” in one of their articles. And, and actually men agree with the statement, almost half, that these days society seems to punish men just for acting like men. So you take issue with that attack. Let’s talk about that. Why? Why do you take issue with that?
Nancy: You’re right. I was really surprised at the level of hostility that’s become socially acceptable. In my book, I start by just taking people back to Genesis. Let’s go with the creational givens. Let’s start with biology, the biological differences between men and women, which have become controversial now. But it’s clear that men on average are bigger, stronger, taller, faster. They have more fast-twitch muscles. That’s a word I had to learn. It means they can react more quickly. And because of testosterone, they do tend to be more aggressive and more risk-taking. And because these are creational givens, these are things that we need to affirm as good. And I even had to train myself to think that way. We’re all so influenced by the culture. I had to say to myself, “These are good. We need to affirm these.” And it’s true that they can be distorted sometimes, men’s greater strength can be used to dominate or control, but we need to start with just saying, “This is how God made men.”
And I also bring people back in my book several times to the cultural mandate which is in Genesis as well. Because there’s kind of the notion that to be a real man means to ride off into the sunset and go mountain climbing. . . And there’s nothing wrong with being outdoors, but the idea of escaping from your responsibilities, more of the playboy mentality of escaping from family and marriage and so on. So you go back to Genesis and you say, “Wait a minute, men were actually made for marriage. That’s how God made them.” So the cultural mandate is usually seen in the verse that says- God created the heavens and the earth, he created the first couple. And what is the first thing he says to them? He gives them the job description. Why did I make you? Be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth.
And in the streamlined language of Genesis 1, we can sort of unpack many layers there because the family is not just the mother and father and kids, but historically has been the foundation of all of the other social institutions. You get the extended family, the clan, the village, the city, the nation. And you get social institutions for particular purposes, like you need a government, you need a school, a church, a marketplace. And so it’s really this very rich calling that men are called to build up all of the social institutions that make up society.
And that subdue the earth refers to harnessing the natural resources. So most cultures start with agriculture, but then… mining and technology and writing books and inventing computers and even composing music. I said that in my class one day and one of my students said, “Oh, come on, composing music?” So I said, “Well, I play the violin. What’s the violin made out of? Wood. What’s the bow made out of? Horse hair.” So all the transcendent beauty we associate with music starts with harnessing the natural resources of nature.
So the cultural mandate is often given to this particular verse because it says the reason God created humans was to create cultures, to create civilizations, to make history. And so that is a big enough and challenging enough vision to inspire men’s masculine need to have an impact, to make a difference, to influence their environment, to reshape the world. So they’re told that, yes, that’s all part of the job description.
Chap: Well, I love that you use the analogy of software and the virus on the software. And I just thought that was so helpful, because basically we need to remember that the software is good. The masculine software, the feminine software, that is good. Yes, a virus of sin has entered in and we can talk about that in a minute, but the software and the virus are not the same thing. We’ve got mills here in New England with huge towers or steeples from ancient churches from the 1700s. And I think, they’re the men who went up risking their lives to build these great structures. So need to celebrate masculinity in the best way before we start talking about the virus, that sin has attacked us.
Nancy: And what’s cool is this even comes out in studies done by non-Christians. I’ll give two of them because one of the unique things about my book is that I do draw on studies done by non-Christians. So they’re not people who are defending our tribe, so to speak. But the first one was a cross-cultural study done by an anthropologist: the first cross-cultural study of concepts of masculinity. And of course, he found some differences, but he found that there was a common code for manhood all around the globe. All around the world, he said, cultures share the notion that the good man is the man who- he calls it the three Ps- provide, protect, and procreate. Meaning, have a family, raise children, build it to the next generation.
And I thought, this is wonderful. This is not people who are from a Christian culture, even. This is global. This is universal. It seems to be inherent, innate. We would say because they’re made in God’s image. Men do know what it means to be the good man. And that’s what we should affirm. We should start by affirming that innate knowledge that they have.
And then it was followed up by another study done by a sociologist. And he found the software and the virus, to use your analogy there. So he gets invited to speak all around the world. And he too then came up with a clever experiment where he would ask young men two questions. First, he would ask them, What does it mean to be a good man? You know, if you’re at a funeral and in the eulogy somebody says, “He was a good man,” what does that mean? And the sociologists said all around the world, young men had no trouble answering that. They would immediately start listing things like honor, duty, integrity, sacrifice, do the right thing, look out for the little guy, be a provider, be a protector, be responsible. And the sociologists would say, “Where’d you learn that?” And they’d say, “I don’t know, it’s just in the air we breathe.” Or, if they were in a Russian country, they would often say “It’s part of our Judeo-Christian heritage.” So that’s the software.
And again, I find this so encouraging that men around the globe understand what it means to be a good man. And the ones who don’t know where it came from, it’s in the air we breathe. It’s because they’re made in God’s image. Or we might say it’s general revelation, right? That means what we can know, because we’re made in God’s image, live in God’s world, as apart from special revelation, which is the Bible. So these are people who may not have the Bible, were not raised with the Bible. They know what the good man is.
But then he did follow up, this sociologist, with a second question. And he would say to young men, What does it mean if I say to you, “Man up, be a real man”? And the young men would say, “I don’t know, that’s completely different.” They would say that means be tough, be strong, never show weakness, win at all costs, suck it up, play through pain, be competitive, get rich, and get laid. I’m using their language. And the sociologists concluded that men really are trapped between these two scripts, that they do know what it means to be a good man, that’s universal, it’s inherent. And yet many cultures are also putting pressure on them for a very different set of traits, which are not all bad. We all want people who can stand tough in a crisis. But if it’s disconnected from the moral vision, it can become what we now consider more toxic, entitlement, dominance, control, and so on.
The Andrew Tate phenomenon: fast cars, fast money, fast women. He’s become a much bigger phenomenon even since my book came out. I had a, an email from a former graduate student who now teaches high school. And she said, “All my male students are into Andrew Tate, they’re fans of his. They even are using his quotes in the yearbook.” I said, “Where do you teach?” She said, “At a classical Christian school.” So even Christian young men are being drawn in. Andrew Tate is one of the top online influencers. Even though I heard him in an interview openly say, “I’m a pimp.” He calls himself a pimp. He says he’s made his money producing pornography. And yet, in a sense, he’s the virus these days. It can come across as attractive but is incredibly immoral, and unless we come up with a much more positive biblical view of masculinity, even Christian young men are being drawn in. So that’s the urgency of this issue today.
Chap: Well, that’s very helpful. And you talk about the good man versus the real man, and without a clear vision of the good man, I was trying to think, who have I seen in the media? And maybe I’m sure there’s a lot. I don’t want to watch a lot of movies, but I think Peter in the Chronicles of Narnia, he grows up, but He matures into a sacrificial good man. And then the real man you have is, at least the classic from my generation was James Bond. You know, he’s tough, but he uses people and is harsh at the same time. Is there anything else you want to say about, the battle between the good man and the real man? It sounds like we’re really in a fight for that for this next generation.
Nancy: Yeah, I think so. And by the way, the New York Post just had an article on a person that they’re calling the new Andrew Tate. His name is Myron Gaines. And he says, “I help men transform from simps into pimps.” So it’s that same James Bond appeal that comes across as, you know, get strong, get a job, but then use women. In fact, he actually says, don’t get married. A man should never settle with one woman. He can have a main girlfriend, but he should always have several on the side. And I’ll say one of the things that has brought us to this point- one of the things I do in my book is I try to show where the virus came from. Historically, how did it develop? Our young men, like the young men at that high school, need a critical grid or they’re going to get drawn in.
And so one of the key stepping stones was the rise of Darwinian evolution. And that was a bit of a surprise because we think that’s a science issue. We don’t know that actually Darwin had a huge impact on the secular script for masculinity, on the virus. Because Darwinian thinkers began to say the men who came out on top in the struggle for survival would be ruthless, brutal, savage, barbarian, and predatory. And so this became what secular people picked up. Instead of urging men to live up to the image of God in them, they began to urge men to live down to the animal nature within. Their authentic self was actually, their favorite phrase was, “the beast within.”
And that’s not just historical. Two current books, one’s called The Moral Animal, and it’s a bestselling book. And by the way, social Darwinism is now called “evolutionary psychology,” but it’s the same thing. And this author says the human male is an oppressive, possessive, flesh-obsessed pig. Giving him advice on how to have a good marriage is like giving a Viking a booklet on how not to pillage. I thought, “How can he get away with being so demeaning to men?” And then there’s another book that’s just come out. It’s an older book that was reissued by George Gilder. And his message is the same. He says because of evolution, we know that the human male is by nature sexually predatory, violent, irresponsible. . . and what else? It’s the virus! But he’s claiming this is our true nature. And by the way, then he adds to that, and it’s up to women to tame these men. So there’s the double standard.
But these messages are becoming more and more common actually because of the manosphere. The manosphere is a term for these online men’s groups. And more and more, they’re picking up that language of the true nature, being the virus, being the secular script that says being tough means being immoral or even amoral and just being the dominant one in the room, that’s what masculinity is. So, yes, I’m very concerned about this as well. Men were falling behind. At first we were concerned that men were becoming more passive, right? Living in Mom’s basement playing video games. But what I’m seeing now is those passive boys are starting to say, “Okay, I can be tough. I can be the next Andrew Tate.” I think we’re seeing that as the trajectory right now.
Chap: So if I’m understanding you right, you’re saying that some of these guys who’ve been told that they were toxic, are now acting on that in a false narrative, or at least a false biblical narrative. Some guys will forever struggle with passivity, but I think some guys will struggle with a harsh reaction to that. It sounds like that’s what you’re saying.
Nancy: You know, if you’re not biblical, you’re going to go one of those two ways. If you don’t have a biblical, strong, positive view of masculinity, you’ll either go passive or aggression. And I think we’ve seen that more in recent years. You know, boys falling behind at school starting in kindergarten. Boys are falling behind. There’s books out now with titles like The Boy Crisis, Why Boys Fail, The Trouble with Boys. So for the last several years, there’s been a concern about boys falling behind.
In university today, the average university is 60 percent female students, 40 percent male. More women than men are going to graduate school and even professional school like law and medicine. There was a program that got a lot of publicity in Michigan, where they got donors to pay for scholarships to any kid who would go to a state university. They would get a free ride. Who took it? Girls. No boys. The boys didn’t take it, even when it was handed to them on a platter, so clearly there has been a problem with boys being passive, not being motivated, so that they don’t even take opportunities when they do come.
But, it’s also true that now you’re seeing boys, almost in reaction to that, saying, “Okay, it’s time to get out there and get tough.” Jordan Peterson was the turning point, but at least he had a moral vision, right? He had a moral vision, but it seems that he has kind of opened the way for the Andrew Tate types who do not have a moral vision. But they’re the ones who are dominating the airwaves now.
Chap: Well, let’s talk about how the bad guy seems to be the evangelical male. You point out in your study that that’s not actually true. So, tell us the good news about that, that I am not one of the problems. My sin is, but there’s actually good news that we don’t hear about, about evangelical men.
Nancy: So this was the final reason I said I have to write this book, because I was studying up on the history of masculinity and then I ran into these sociological studies done on evangelical men. And of course, evangelicals are said to be exhibit A of toxic masculinity. It was easy to find quotes, but I’ll give you just one. This was the cofounder of the “#ChurchToo” movement, which followed the “#MeToo” movement. And she said the theology of male headship “feeds the rape culture that we see permeating American Christianity today.“
So what happened is social scientists were listening to this and asking, “Where’s your data? You’re making these charges, but where’s your evidence?” And so, over the years, they have gone out and done the studies. And I quote some dozen or so studies, all finding that actually, evangelical men who are sincere about their faith, who attend church regularly, test out at the top in terms of being the most loving husbands and fathers. Their wives report the highest level of happiness. And yes, they are interviewed separately. I always get asked that. They spend more time with their children, 3.5 hours per week more than secular men. Evangelical couples are the least likely to divorce, 35 percent less likely than secular couples. And then the real surprise is they actually have the lowest rate of domestic abuse and violence of any major group in America.
So I was blown away. I had no idea. Like you, I read the news, I hear the media stereotypes, and the evidence has completely debunked them. And let me give you one quote because sometimes a quote can crystallize it. My favorite sociologist, he actually did the largest study. His name is Brad Wilcox at the University of Virginia. And to give you a sense of his stature, he gets published in places like the New York Times. So this was a New York Times article where he said, it turns out that the happiest of all wives in America are religious conservatives. They’re focusing on the wives because of course the assumption is these marriages are oppressive to the wives. But no, the happiest of all wives in America are religious conservatives. Fully 73 percent of wives who hold conservative gender values and are married to evangelical husbands who attend church regularly have high-quality marriages.
And then he turns to his secular colleagues. Sociology is a secularized discipline, and this is my favorite part of the quote actually. He says, “Academics need to cast aside their prejudices against religious conservatives and evangelicals in particular. Protestant evangelical married men with children are consistently the most engaged fathers and the most loving husbands.”
So this is not a pep talk from a religious leader. This is solid empirical research. It’s evidence-based findings that we should be very bold about bringing into the public square to debunk the secular narrative, but we need to get it into the churches too. Because churches are unaware of this and I’ll just give you one anecdote on this.
One of my graduate students is the leader of the women’s ministry at a large Baptist church here in Houston. And she said, “On Mother’s Day, we hand out roses and tell the mothers they’re wonderful. On Father’s Day, we scold the men and tell them to do better.” So I tried very hard to avoid a scolding tone in my book. I think we need to get past the scolding tone. We should start really affirming and supporting men who are doing a good job, who are committed to their faith and who are living it out. The social science data shows they’re doing a wonderful job and that’s objective evidence.
Chap: I really enjoyed that part of your book. I mean, the whole book is a must-buy, but especially that part where it just shows the evidence. This ministry is aimed at helping parents and grandparents pass the gospel to their kids. Even as an apologetic to the young 20-somethings, the 18-year-old who may go to secular college and may start to hear this attack on the evangelical church, to actually say, “No, the social science shows that. . . Certainly, your mom and I are not without flaws, but when you peer into the homes of the secular world, there is a happiness there. So I think it’s even helpful to that audience as well.
Well, today’s rhetoric casts the men as the villains and women as victims. Let’s talk a little bit about the history of that. Where did that come from? Why are we here? We talked a little bit about the whole Darwinianism, but there are other things as well.
Nancy: So when I talk to people about this, typically they assume the attack on masculinity started, say, in the 1960’s. It was second wave feminism. But actually, it started much further back. And I was surprised to read the historical data showing that this hostile view of men goes way back to the 19th century. So before the industrial revolution, men worked alongside their wives and children all day on the family farm, the family industry, the family business, and so the cultural expectation on men focused much more on their caretaking role.
In fact, surprising historical fact: most books on parenting and childbearing were addressed to fathers. Now, you should go to the typical bookstore today. Most of them are addressed to mothers. So this was really new. They really thought men were the primary parent and men did, in fact, spend as much time during the day with their children as mothers did, which is almost hard for us to imagine today. And even secular historians, I love this, will say things like, “The masculine virtue was defined as duty to God and man.” So the question is, how did we lose that?
Well, the Industrial Revolution took work out of the home, and of course, men had to follow their work out of the home into factories and offices. And that’s when you see the literature start to change. People began to protest that men were losing their caretaking ethos, because after all, they were no longer working with their family members, with people they loved and had a moral bond with. Instead, they were working as individuals in competition with other men. And their character was changing. To use the language of the day, they protested that men were becoming “egocentric, self-interested, greedy and acquisitive, and turning their job into an idol.” That’s the actual language used. So it was the first time you see negative language applied to the male character.
And so of course, if that’s where it started, that’s gives you a hint to what the solution is. It started when men were disconnected from their families. And so the solution has to be finding ways, even in an industrial age, to reconnect fathers with their children. Can we nudge their workplace? The pandemic, actually, was a game-changer. Harvard University did a study, this was more recent, so it’s not even in the book. But Harvard University did a study in which they found that 68 percent of fathers said during the pandemic, they got closer to their children and they don’t want to lose that. They are really preferring some kind of hybrid arrangement, something that allows them to do some of their work from home so that they can reestablish closer relationship with their kids. So I thought that was good. Not only is it good that Harvard did the study, but the New York Times reported on it, that’s how I learned about it. And I thought that was pretty cool too.
So I think the pandemic may help change people. Oh, and in the book, I quote CEOs too, because the business leaders have to be behind this as well. And so I quoted business leaders saying things like, We were always worried about accepting remote work because, well, of course we thought people would slough off. They wouldn’t work. The pandemic has completely exploded that fear. That was a direct quote from the CEO, “completely exploded that fear.” We were not seeing any drop in productivity. So, and I quoted other CEO who said, “If you let men have time to be better fathers, they actually are better workers.” So bring these quotes to your boss. We need to get business behind it as well, helping them to see it. So it’s a win-win. It’s a win-win for families to have their fathers closer. And actually they are better workers as well.
Chap: That’s really good. Really helpful. Talk about the Victorian age. I found that very interesting, this whole idea as we progress in the industrial revolution where men are the bad guys and women then become the virtuous ones who are to tame the men. And as a pastor, I’ve thought, I wonder if I’ve fallen into this a little bit, where, and then that’s going back to the software virus, I’m basically saying, okay, men are mostly virus and women are mostly software, which is meaning the virus has not infected women as well. That was just very helpful to me to think through just this idea. So can you expand on that a lot better than I did?
Nancy: Yeah, it’s the double standard. And I’ve had students who say, “Wait, wasn’t the double standard just forever?” No, it came out of the 19th century. The Industrial Revolution created a huge divide between the public and the private. When you had home industry, it was not a huge divide. But now there’s a huge divide with these large public institutions like factories and financial institutions and universities and the state. . . People began to say that these large public institutions should operate by “scientific principles,” by which they meant value-free. In other words, don’t bring your private values into the public realm, which is what we still hear today.
And who was in the public realm? Well, it was men who were getting that secularized education and who were working in the public realm. And so they began to lose their commitment to biblical principles earlier than women did. People began to say, men become sort of secularized working in the rough-and-tumble arena of business and industry, and they come at home at night and are supposed to be renewed and refined and reformed by their morally superior wives.
But to give you a sense of how new that was, all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, people had thought that men were morally stronger. The thinking went like this: they thought that insight into right and wrong was a rational insight, and they thought men were more rational, and therefore men were more virtuous. In fact, the word virtuous comes from the Latin, vir-, the root, is Latin for “man,” as in the word virile. So the word “virtue” had overtones of manly strength and honor. So this was completely new when in the 19th century, people began to let men off the hook morally and say, Well, now it’s women who are morally superior.Values have been kicked out of the public square and now values are in the private sphere and they become the domain of women. And so for the first time ever in human history, women are seen as sort of moral guardians of society.
By the way, I was interviewed by a young couple who had their own podcast. They were newly married. I asked them a question: I said, “Do you think that the double standard is still evident among young people in the church?” And they said, “Absolutely!” The ethos in the church is that men are more prone to sin and vice and temptation, they’re more prone to porn, they’re more prone to sexual sin. And that it’s up to women to sort of hold them in check, draw the line in dating or whatever, they’re the ones who uphold the standards. And I thought, Okay. Your introductory sentence statements to this question are absolutely true. If they’re right the church has tended to have a double standard and has tended to see women as somehow, well, I’ll use the language of the 19th century. A woman who was one of the best-known women of the 19th century and wrote a lot said, she literally argued that men had fallen into sin at the fall, but women had not. She literally argued that women were not fallen. That’s how extreme it was in the 19th century.
Now, no biblical Christian would say that, but I think you’re right. We have kind of absorbed that double standard still. And my main concern is it meant it lets men off the hook. If men are just naturally more prone to sin and vice and temptation, well, we kind of shrug our shoulders then. We’re saying that’s their inherent nature. We’re accepting the virus and not calling them to live out the software the way God originally created it.
Chap: And I think men live to the challenge, but I even know as a pastor, when I was preaching full time, I had heard stories of the 50’s where a pastor would preach one sermon to husbands and four sermons to women about submitting. And so when I came to that, I really came down on the guys. And then when I came to preaching to women, I danced around, I qualified it. So I wonder if some of the reason that it’s more hard on the men is because male preachers are coming down on them and feel more comfortable doing that. So that’s just really helpful. Really interesting. I just think pastors need to read this and think, How do I present the gospel and call out sin and encourage equally? So it’s just really helpful.
Let’s get practical now, thinking about the home. We began talking about dads; what are some practical steps that fathers can take to be more involved with their sons? And their daughters, but we’re talking about sons.
Nancy: I was hoping we would have time to talk about this. There was a study done of the 35-year longitudinal studies, it won several awards, very well-done study specifically on the question of how do parents effectively pass on their faith, their religious convictions. And by the way, the researcher became a Christian during that 35-year period. I thought that was pretty cool. As he was studying these Christian families, he converted. But anyway, what he found was two things that were surprising. One, fathers matter more than mothers. And my female students say that’s not fair. I’m sorry, it’s a fact. I don’t care if it’s fair or not, it’s a fact. Fathers have influence whether they want to or not. If the father is committed to his faith, the children are more likely to follow him. And mothers tend to have influence, but not as much.
But the second thing was, to have that influence, the father had to have a warm, loving relationship with the child. In other words, it didn’t matter if he was a leader in the community, a pillar of the church, a moral exemplar, perfect doctrine and theology. If he was perceived as cold and distant, the children did not follow him. His children would not follow him. So those were the two findings that were most influential out of that finding.
And there was a secular study that kind of dovetails along the same lines. This was a study done again, but not by a Christian this time, on what makes a son masculine. That’s very relevant to this question. How are we going to have sons to be more masculine? And they found the same thing. This was amazing. It didn’t matter, the father’s own masculinity did not matter, whether he was a tough James Bond type or whether he was a gentle type. What mattered was the warm, close relationship with the son. And there’s a whole book on the subject. I think it’s called Why Fathers Matter [The title is Do Fathers Matter? -ed].
But it’s from a secular perspective, and they were saying, what is it that helps a young boy grow up feeling secure in his masculine identity? And it was being close to his father. Another psychiatrist put it this way: We’re not going to have a better class of men until we have a better class of fathers, because of course, the problem insofar as there is toxic behavior in men is, it’s fathering the next generation that’s going to make the biggest difference. And frankly, I suggest in my book even that maybe churches should put a higher priority on a ministry to fatherless boys because 40 percent of American children are now growing up apart from their natural father. It is the highest rate of single parenthood in the world. What a thing to be at the top of for, right?
So it’s very important that we encourage fathers, but I think we should also think about ministries to fatherless boys. The, the 35-year-long longitudinal study, by the way, had a whole chapter on grandparents, saying that after the father, the grandparents can have the greatest impact. And so that was encouraging. I do get questions on that from older people: What about grandparents? And so I say, “Yep, you’ve got a whole chapter in in that book.” So grandparents and extended family members, and obviously teachers, coaches. . . coaches have a large impact, big brother programs and church youth group pastors. So these substitute fathers can actually have an impact as well. So that was encouraging to know. That means it’s something we can all do something about, right? Even if we happen not to be a father, we can all contribute to solving this problem.
Chap: That’s really good. That’s just so helpful. I got choked up as you were talking, because that’s the whole power of fathers and we want to help them pass the gospel on to their kids. And it affects women. I think you quote a feminist where you say, “When we denigrate masculinity, women will be stuck with boys.” And so it’s not just for the sake of men and boys. It’s a beautiful dance where men and women compliment each other.
So we’re talking to dads, but imagine you’re talking to a group of young moms in different marriage circumstances. Maybe some strong marriages, maybe some that are not as strong, but they want to love their husbands. They want to follow Christ. They want to love their husbands and they want to raise their children for Christ. What would you say to them, both in their relationships to their husbands and their sons that they need to keep in mind from this material?
Nancy: Yeah. Because the attack on masculinity has been so, so fierce, I think most of us sort of come into marriage- well, even you mentioned that we have that kind of a double standard. We do have a tendency to think that men are just more naturally prone to having the virus and not living out the software. My own story, which I told the beginning of the book, was that I did grow up in abusive home. My father was severely physically abusive. In books on abuse they sometimes ask, “Was it open hand or closed fist?” And it was closed fist, with one knuckle extended to create a sharp stab of pain. So my father was incredibly abusive and not surprisingly, I did walk away from my faith, from my religious upbringing, about halfway through high school and ricocheted off into extreme feminism for many years. Because, yes, I really resonated with their anger against men and the overwhelming sense that most men are pretty bad.
And so then I became a Christian and had to rethink all of this from scratch. I was interviewed by a Christian psychologist and he said, But at least we know you’re not writing from an ivory tower. You’re writing from the trenches here. You really had to work it through. Or as I put it in my introduction, in a sense I’ve been writing this book my whole life, because I’ve had to really work out for myself what a biblical view of masculinity is.
So I would say because of our culture, I think a lot of women do go into marriage with probably some more negative notions. So two things. Christian women tend to often complain that their husband is too passive, because that’s the beaten-down side. I told my class at Houston Christian University that I was writing a book on masculinity, and one of my male students shot back, “What masculinity? It’s been beaten out of us.” I thought, Okay, even in a Christian environment, there are men who just feel demoralized and beaten down. I quote a psychotherapist, she writes regularly for the Wall Street Journal, and she said, “In my practice, I’m seeing especially young men coming in feeling demoralized and demeaned because they feel like they’re growing up in a culture that’s hostile to masculinity.” So this is the tricky part. On one hand, we bring the social science data that we talked about earlier. Immerse yourself in that data, because it gives objective evidence that Christian men who live out their faith, really are doing very well. I have one chapter on the stats, and then I had one chapter, just surveys, giving what Christian men and women say in their own words. How do you live out headship? How do you live out submission? What does it mean to you? And I was blown away. I had no idea that they would have such a loving, respectful understanding of headship. So it’s very encouraging just to read this material.
I would start there, read this material and get encouraged. And because as you said earlier, men tend to live up to what society expects of them. So it’s not just reading the Bible. Some people ask me, “Well, why didn’t you just quote the theologians?” Well, because I wanted to know how ordinary Christians live it out. You see, partly it’s for apologetic purposes. The culture is saying that Christian men are toxic and abusive patriarchs. That’s an empirical claim. So you answer it with empirical evidence. You say, “Does it? Does it turn men into these overbearing patriarchs?” And the answer is no, it doesn’t. And so just reading their own words was so encouraging.
The other side of it is, if you are in a situation like mine, growing up with an abusive father, if you end up in an abusive situation, the one part that we haven’t talked about is that nominal Christians do tend to test out as much more toxic. And this is a very important distinction that we need to make within the church. The pushback I always get is “Don’t Christians get divorced at the same rate as the rest of the culture?” And so the researchers went back and they made a very important distinction between men who are authentic church-going Christians and men who are nominal. And in the U. S. we have a lot of nominal Christians, more than any other country because of the first and second Great Awakenings, which created a lot of cultural Christianity. And so when they were tested, they test out with all the toxic stereotypes. Their wives report the lowest level of happiness. They spend the least amount of time with their children. They have the highest rate of divorce, higher than secular men, 20 percent higher. And the real shocker is they have the highest rate of domestic abuse and violence of any group in America. Worse than secular men. And so in the church, in a sense, we have these two groups.
How can the church be more supportive of men who are doing a good job? How can we reach out to the nominal men who are identifying as Christians and are using language like headship and submission, but infusing them with secular meanings. They’re taking meaning from the secular script, the masculinity, and instead of giving a biblical definition, they’re associating it with a secular definition. And then, ironically, being even worse than secular men.
Chap: Well, thank you. That’s really helpful. First of all, I just thank you for sharing your story. And I think as a pastor… We need to call this out. Even as we’re encouraging men, we need to say, “Look, women, if you’re here and your husband has some semblance of Christianity, but he’s not here and he’s going to throw these concepts at you, you need to talk to us because that’s more of a manipulation in the sense he’s not wrapping that in love. Perhaps he’s quoting the Bible to tell you to submit.” So I have actually a blog post where I talk about protection, not secrecy, meaning as a spouse, you owe your spouse protection. Meaning you don’t run around and gossip. But you do not owe them secrecy. And so your church should be a safe haven for you to bring some of these issues, assuming the wife is not a nominal Christian but the husband is.
So just thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate that. There has to be a fruit. This is a beautiful fruit of your study and thought, and God’s grace in your life. And I think it should encourage every pastor, parent, mom of boys that we want to encourage these traits in, even as we call out the sin, even as we call out the virus. But also saying, “God has made you as a boy to his glory.
So how can people connect with you, purchase a copy of the book?
Nancy: So my publisher generously redesigned my website, so it’s colorful and fun. So come on over to https://www.nancypearcey.com/ and you can browse my other books. You can see who’s endorsed them. You can leave a message. Come on over and say hello.
Chap: Well, thank you. It’s been a joy. I really, really appreciate your ministry, your hard work, your labor of love, and I’m sure it’s impacting lots of people.
Nancy: Thank you, and thank you for your ministry. I just love the title, if nothing else. Discipling. Parents who are discipling their kids. I love it. I love your vision.
Chap: Thank you.