I attended the ‘Act Like Men’ http://actlikemen.com/ conference last week. I’m not an expert, but I am a man seeking to live out the Gospel of Jesus. And here I feel compelled to use my voice. My hope is to shed light on the helpful teaching and also pay attention to the areas I found concerning, embarrassing and heartbreaking. I’m not attempting to wade into the theological debate about gender roles, but as a man entrusted with discipling young people, I feel compelled to address the insensitivities expressed when men were being called to step up.
I entered Friday night knowing that I would not agree with everything taught. I have an egalitarian view and advocate for gender equality. The conference leaders do not. Knowing my belief, I had chosen to be aware of my heart and open to receive from God. As I expected, God did show up and the Holy Spirit was present. It was beautiful to see 200+ men deciding to (re)commit their lives to Jesus and live into the forgiveness he has given them. It was also fun to be in a space where men were worshiping and seeking relationship with Jesus. One would think I would have peace and joy leaving from the conference that night. I cannot say that was true.
Chauvinistic mistreatment of women and pointless insensitive generalities peppered the teaching earlier in the night. Women take forever to get ready. Real men aren’t vegetarians. Women are only helpers. Men don’t follow, they lead. Real men don’t order low fat decaf lattes. Women are the weaker vessel.
In essence, let’s make fun of women and call them weaker; but we were told “it’s ok because women are awesome and we get to go home to them after this conference is done”. Phew.
I was embarrassed to be a man in this setting. I was saddened by the attitude of these teachers who shared my gender. And I was actually texting a woman mentor for advice, wisdom, and prayer in those moments. Does that make me a weaker vessel?
I didn’t want to go back the next day. But I did. I believed God wanted me to receive teaching and be present in the conversation. Saturday brought more peace than the previous night and I valued a lot of the teaching. I appreciated Matt Chandler calling us to “know that we are justified by God, to enjoy being His adopted sons and to receive love from him.” These are great lessons to learn.
Sadly, just as I was beginning to appreciate solid teaching, a pastor opened his sermon with a gay joke. “1 hotel room + 3 men +1 bed = ineligible to speak at a men’s conference.”
I mean, surely no man in that arena has ever experienced same sex attraction or identifies as being gay or bisexual. That’s not what real men deal with, right? Wrong. My heart was broken.
And the trend continued. Conference organizers drummed up audience support with ‘the most insensitive man ‘ competition, literally celebrating the lack of sensitivity towards others. Judges picked finalists and sat them on thrones about the stadium floor. At first we were laughing at farting jokes, but then we were booing and laughing at the church treasurer who tried to completely cut the women’s ministry budget. Next we were boo-laughing at the man who told a hopeful woman that he doesn’t dance with anyone heavier than him. These men’s stories were insensitive (and sinful), but we failed to talk about how we can repent and be forgiven. Instead we crowned the winner (literally) by boo-cheering and gave him an Ipad.
Abuse your power. Demean women. This is what gives you the prize.
Men, my dear brothers, if you want to learn how to act like a man, look at Jesus. He’s arguably the best example we’ve got. (an argument sadly missing from the conference). Mark, Matt, James, Greg, and Eric called men to step up and centre their lives on Jesus. That is the right call to make. We need men to be leaders and influencers. At the same time, the organizers need to be held accountable for their unjust and unloving treatment of women, gay men, men confused about their sexuality, men who like soy, and men who like to wear aprons over their pants etc. This teaching is not the way of Jesus. It is neither funny nor harmless. I felt gross being a man leaving that place.
Conversations about identity, gender, and faith are important. I will to continue to ask Jesus what it means to be a man. I see in Jesus one who depends on women, is vulnerable before women, elevates women, and educates women. I hope you consider, men, what it would be like to have someone tell you that you shouldn’t preach the Gospel. Or you don’t have the gifting to do so. Or that your interests aren’t masculine enough. I hope that we can be men who embody Jesus. So much is at stake here. We must do the hard work of seeking Jesus and ask together – what does his life teach us about being a man?