This wasn’t your Daddy’s religious revival. Last Saturday morning, 200 Christian men gathered in a downtown warehouse in Nashville for a day-long spiritual extravaganza. Inside, strobe lights flashed, and tracks by the Killers thumped from speakers stacked on either side of a stage. Four large video screens showed clips of karate fights, car chases and Jackass-style stunts. Then the music lowered and Christian comedian Brad Stine appeared. With his rat-a-tat delivery and aggressive style, Stine quickly whipped the crowd into a chorus of “Amens!” “A lot of guys out there wouldn’t have the balls to be here,” he shouted. “Are you ready to be a man? Are you ready to kick ass? Are you ready to grab your sword and say, ‘OK family, I’m going to lead you?’ Buckle up. This is GodMen!”
The event was the first of what Stine and other organizers hope will be a series of testosterone-fueled Christian men’s gatherings across the country. Their purpose: to reassert masculinity within a church structure that they say has been weakened by feminization. They call it an experiment for now and don't expect, or even want, their numbers to grow too quickly. Stine and his friend and manager Mike Smith dreamed up GodMen after reading David Murrow’s 2005 book, “Why Men Hate Going to Church.” In it, Murrow points out that on any given Sunday, 13 million more adult women than men attend church in America. “We have to find a way to give [men] something that matters to them,” says Stine.
One way is to create a worship space where guys can be guys. “In most churches, you’ll see flowers and ferns at the front,” says Stine. “That’s saying, ‘This is a place that a woman has composed.’” So GodMen sought to create a place where men could admit to flaws without being judged bad Christians and be unapologetically male, including plenty of rock and roll and sex talk. “There’s this idea if you don’t drink or don’t say bad words, you are doing your Christianity appropriately, and meanwhile, that same guy is on the Internet looking at pornography,” Stine says. “It’s all a smoke screen. We need to admit these issues in order to be free.”
The group has three rules. First: only laymen are allowed as speakers, never pastors. “If a pastor says the wrong thing he can get fired,” Stine says. “A layman has nothing to lose.” Second: no one under 17 is admitted. “One of the biggest issues with men is their sexuality,” says Stine. “We are tired of Christianity sounding so candy-coated. If we can’t talk about real issues, what’s the point of the church?” And third: no women allowed. (This female reporter was allowed to observe the events while remaining largely out of sight from the crowd.) “We want to create an environment where we can talk to each other the way men really do,” Smith says, adding that existing men’s groups like the Promise Keepers—an evangelical ministry for men—often mimic the same church environment that turns some men away.
The GodMen approach certainly enticed John Crawford, a father of three teenage sons from Elkhart, Ind. Between bites of barbecued pork during a lunch break, he explained that he appreciated the rawness of GodMen. “It is not wrong for a guy to be bold and to have some testosterone,” he said. “Jesus kicked over tables in the temple when he saw bad things going on.” The GodMen gathering “is a little more rated R than PG,” said Crawford, “but Jesus wasn’t always PG.”
For the GodMen, the popular portrayal of a meek Jesus promotes an emasculated ideal for the Christian male. It’s a Jesus that never existed, says author Paul Coughlin, who wrote the 2005 book, “No More Christian Nice Guy,” a seminal text for many in this crowd. “Christian men need to know that it’s OK to be tough,” he says. “Jesus is tender and he’s tough. Right now, we are more disciples of Emily Post than we are Jesus.” During a talk on Saturday titled “Jesus—A Very Bad Christian Man,” Coughlin spoke while a projector beamed a “Wanted” poster of Jesus behind him “The idea that Jesus was always meek and mild is as fictitious as anything you’ll find in Dan Brown’s books,” he told the crowd. “Jesus was mighty disrespectful toward authority.” Then Coughlin riled the audience up: “You will never be able to be a warrior of light, to really fight on behalf of justice, if you think you have to be nice all the time!”
The GodMen also reject typical Christian music. It “doesn’t usher me into the presence of God,” says Smith, Stine’s manager. “It just ushered me into boredom.” Not so with the GodMen band that played on Saturday. On stage, as a series of words flashed on screens—Boss, Bold, Brash, Bully, Blunt—the band ripped into their first tune, “Testosterone High”: “Forget the ying and the yang/ I’ll take the boom and the bang/ Give me another dose of testosterone.”
Beyond the thrashing music, Saturday’s event included a number of risqué panels. One forum, titled “Training the Penis,” addressed struggles with masturbation and pornography. These were regarded as morally reprehensible but as weaknesses that should be addressed honestly. In another talk, Nate Larkin, a former pastor, told the crowd how he picked up his first prostitute on the way to preach at a candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Larkin says that he only began to overcome his sex addiction when he stopped pretending to be a perfect Christian. “This group targets the guys who went to Promise Keepers once and didn’t go back, the guys who believe in God, but relationships in church to them seem forced and fake,” he says. “There is an under-served market and I think it is a rising tide.”
Among the new adherents is Seth Kalb, 29, from Spring Hill, Tenn. The edgy nature of GodMen, which he jokingly described as Promise Keepers on crack, drew him in. “I wanted the real meat,” he said. “They touch on real things here, like masturbation. That’s something that would never be discussed in church, where you are supposed to keep your shame quiet.” Another fan is Adam Rundell, 25, who drove 13 hours from Clay Center, Kansas, with his buddy Brian Tholstrup, 32, after reading about the conference on Paul Coughlin’s web site. Rundell says the day empowered him. “People think that you have to be a goody-two-shoes to be Christian and I hate that,” he says. “This has strengthened me. I am a man and I can stand my ground and I’m not afraid to show my impurities and if someone has a problem with that, that’s their problem.”When the GodMen band seized the stage again, they tore into an anthem called “Grow A Pair!”: “We’ve been beaten down/ Feminized by the culture crowd,” they sang. “No more nice guy, timid and ashamed/ We’ve had enough, cowboy up/ In the power of Jesus name/ Welcome to the battle/ A million men have got your back/ Jump up in the saddle/ Grab a sword, don’t be scared/ Be a man, grow a pair!” Said Tholstrup, as he surveyed the crowd: “If 200 men are feeling this, other men are feeling it too.” Which ought to provide enough testosterone for plenty of GodMen gatherings to come.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Real Men and God
I am always fascinated by the various cultural expressions of religion. This article about "kick-ass" men's religion appeared in the recent issue of Newsweek. It just makes me smile: