Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Man’s Man or Everybody’s Jesus? The Problem of Re-Masculinizing Christ

I follow a lot of religion-related accounts on Twitter. Huffington Post Religion, Oxford Press American Religious History, American Academy of Religion, and so on. I recently began following OnFaith, and an article they tweeted this morning had got me thinking about gender and Christianity (Disclaimer: my Church History class this week is focusing on gender and sexuality, so I’ve had this topic on the brain…Okay, full disclaimer: I am going to write my Master’s thesis on sex and Christianity, so I have this topic on the brain all the time).

Back to OnFaith. John McDougall wrote a piece titled, “7 Arguments Against a Pretty-Boy Jesus.” Before engaging the content, I want to point to the language used just in the title. The phrase “pretty-boy” is clearly negatively used here, which indicates that McDougall is about the throw it down and argue that Jesus is a “real man.” McDougall’s opening paragraph is this:

Picture the Jesus of most Sunday School lessons. What do you see? Chances are, you envision someone a lot like Mister Rogers — kind, gentle, and compassionate. A bearded therapist who pats Timmy on the head and tells him to be “a good little boy.” A handsome prince with perfect hair and impeccable manners. A preppy pacifist who always did what was expected and was loved by everyone.

This is not the real Jesus, says McDougall. Here are McDougall’s seven arguments of why Jesus is not a pretty-boy, in order:

  1. He grew up in tough circumstances.
  2. He hung out with rough people.
  3. He challenged societal norms.
  4. He picked fights.
  5. He confronted injustice.
  6. He stood up to lynch mobs.
  7. He faced torture without fear.

What is most interesting to me is the identification of these behaviors with hyper-masculinity. Reading this article I have now learned that all these things I thought were characteristic of Christians (standing up to hatred, challenge social norms and structures, confronting injustice) are actually characteristic of a real man. As he articulates each point, McDougall repeatedly uses the image of a preppy, clean-cut, peaceful man in stark contrast to the rugged, tough, country boy Jesus really was. McDougall goes so far as to say, “The meek Messiah is neither accurate, nor effective. We need something more.”

McDougall’s article reads like literature from the nineteenth century efforts to masculinize Christianity: women have femininized the Christian church and Jesus, and those pretty boys are buying in to this flowery faith; Jesus’ masculinity must be redeemed if he is to truly be our Savior. By allowing women and pretty-boys to run our churches, we are emasculating men and creating a culture of pansies. These are the same arguments, only superficially updated.

As a woman and as a friend to many men, I find McDougall incredibly sexist and damaging. To argue for any one image of gender is oppressive to those who do not identify with the “norm,” and when Jesus is made spokesperson of the “real man,” Christianity has closed the doors to millions of men and women. If McDougall took out his gendered language but kept his arguments, this blog post would be very different. Yes, Jesus was all those things McDougall pointed to. Yet why does this make Jesus the model of a real man? Is it really so radical to associate these characteristics with being Christian rather than being male?

Sure, Jesus is a rugged man, a country boy, a warrior; Jesus is also a pretty-boy, clean cut, peaceful; Jesus is also nurturing, caring, loving. Jesus is Jesus, God Incarnate, everybody’s Jesus.


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Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner: Legal Prostitution and the Christian Church

Maybe it’s just me, but I read articles about Christianity and various topics on sexuality all the time. Sex and the body is a point of tension for the Christian Church, an area of human life constantly under scrutiny and attempts at regulation. I think I have heard the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner” in conversations about sex more than in conversations about any other topic.

Last week, NPR published an article about Rome’s plan to create a zone of tolerance for prostitution. The southern neighborhood of EUR, full of parks, buildings, and people with money, has become a hot spot for sex workers; while aiding and abetting prostitution is a crime in Italy, exchanging sex for money is legal. This has led to EUR becoming a popular area for sexual solicitation and neighborhood leaders are attempting to deal with the problem by drawing boundaries. Under the plan, prostitution would be banned near home, schools, churches, parks, and playgrounds, pushing sex workers to the margins of the neighborhood. Along with zones of tolerance the plan “also calls for specially trained social and health workers to assist prostitutes and help women who want to get off the streets” (Rome’s Plan for Prostitutes Upsets Sex Workers And The Catholic ChurchNPR: April 2015). One supporter of the plan, Paolo Lampariello, sees the plan as protecting Rome’s women from the unsavory business of prostitution: “This is not a problem for us men, but women — wives, mothers — should not have to see this,” he lamented. “We now have grandmothers going out on their balconies and looking down at, at, at you know what” (Rome’s prostitutes, church opposes ‘zones of tolerance,’ The Star: March 2015).

Rome’s EUR neighborhood

While the zone of tolerance idea has support from many community members who agree with Lampariello, the Catholic Church has vocalized its opposition to the plan. Many Catholic organizations charge the plan with continuing and legitimizing the exploitation of women, and Father Aldo Buonaluto is quoted saying, “It is shameful that the city of Rome, the cradle of Christianity, can carry out such a proposal, endorsing the sale of the human body” (Rome’s Plan, NPR).

What the zone of tolerance plan highlights is the continual struggle of the Christian Church to reconcile human sexuality. In Rome, the Catholic organizations dedicated to helping women out of prostitution have been some of the most opposed to the zones of tolerance, calling instead for a criminalization of those who seek out sex for money. What I find particularly interesting is that Amsterdam, with its infamous red light district, has not inspired the same kind of criticism in modern media. A Google search for articles about Christianity and prostitution in Amsterdam turned up almost nothing; the most interesting article that popped up was a brief piece from this past February about Christian Democrat city council members proposing a minimum age for prostitutes [21 years old] and more strict licensing rules (Amsterdam city council as pimpDutch News: February 2015). Wikipedia offers a reference to religious efforts in the 20th century to end prostitution in Amsterdam, but it is just a few sentences in the bigger history of the area.

Amsterdam’s Red Light District

There are a number of social and cultural differences between Rome and Amsterdam that may account for the differing religious responses to prostitution, but I am more interested in the tension between Christianity and legal prostitution. Human trafficking is a problem, and women and men who are forced into prostitution certainly deserve assistance to get out, but what about those who willingly engage in legal prostitution? How can the Christian Church support men and women who choose sex work as their profession? Should Christians attempt to stamp out all prostitution, legal and illegal? If this is the chosen response, as is the Catholic Church’s in Rome, there’s got to be support for all those who will lose their jobs. What will the Christian Church do for all the men and women who worked the streets or the brothels?

Rome’s zones of tolerance and the Catholic Church’s opposition demonstrates, to me, a bigger trend in Christianity: often Christians call for the end of a practice – prostitution, capitalism, denominational hierarchy – yet there is rarely a plan for the aftermath. It is not enough to hate the sin and love the sinner: to simply do away with systems of sin or oppression [hate the sin] leaves hundreds and thousands of people with nowhere to go. Is that really loving the sinner? Perhaps it is time to really put away the hate – of the sin, of the sinner, of unsavory businesses – and instead fight against the sin and love everyone, not only those who are given the label of “sinner.”

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Catholic Lent, Minus the Guilt: How Sobriety Made Me Confront My Depression

Happy Easter! It’s been many months since I’ve written for this blog: between grad school, two jobs, and living in the big city of Chicago, Everyday Religion has been pushed to the back burner.


I am renewing my commitment to keep this blog updated and post regularly. We’ll begin the new season of blogging with a guest piece from a close college friend of mine. In fact, this piece inspired me to dust off the WordPress link and start writing (for fun!) again. So enjoy this piece by Julia Cook, and check back for new content soon!

Catholic Lent, Minus the Guilt: How Sobriety Made Me Confront My Depression | By Julia Cook

Though they may not remember what happened next, everyone remembers the first time they got drunk. For me, it wasn’t sneaking booze from my Dad’s crystal decanters—though that would have been easy enough—but at the end of high school, when the resident bad boy brought Smirnoff apple ice and forties of Hurricaine to my parents’ house for a fourth of July party. My mother’s reaction, upon finding a few dead soldiers in the trash, sums up just how easy drinking should have been for me:

“The next time you have a party, and we’re not home, and there are boys, and there is drinking, you need to tell your friends that we recycle!

You see, coming from a long line of WASPs I also come from a long line of drinkers—not habitual, beer-with-breakfast types that build up a tolerance over time, but reactionary drinkers. Drinkers for whom Lent is a symptom of Catholic guilt pervasive to the lower classes. Hence, at eighteen I was the perfect storm of terrible drinking habits: a Catholic school student encouraged to drink by her parents, yet surrounded by priggish teachers and classmates for whom coloring outside the lines was unacceptable. That bad boy with the Smirnoff? The only other Protestant in my class.

I started observing Lent half in solidarity with my starving friends and half because I wanted to break a habit—not of drinking, but of slashing myself with a razorblade when I was beset with self-loathing. And at a school where, on one occasion, a teacher told me my prayers didn’t “count,” this happened quite a bit. So, in my own silently rebellious way I used Lent to improve myself, to fit in with my classmates even if they didn’t know the existence of my perverse mortification. My religion teacher, for once, was right: it took 40 days to break the habit.

Since then, to the constant befuddlement of my parents, I’ve observed Lent every year, with sacrifices ranging from healthy (Diet Coke, Facebook) to surprisingly difficult (Peanut Butter), to silly (Fall Out Boy). Each time, I’ve been able to kick the habit. Except peanut butter—still working on that.

But why I decided to give up drinking this year is a lot less interesting than what actually happened. I should say I’m not a huge drinker, but definitely a reactionary one, more prone to binge when emotional events pile up. After getting dumped last summer I crashed a wedding, took someone home, reminded him to step over the cat vomit I’d neglected to clean up earlier, and finally burst into tears when it was over. Really, that was when I should have given up drinking. But going cold turkey makes you process these things—really confront them—without the relative social acceptability of “blowing off steam.”

In the past few weeks I’ve become reclusive, intense, and paranoid. My thoughts started to move at a spiraling pace. At work my numbers were down and around my friends I overanalyzed every interaction to the point where I stopped getting invited to things. And finally, I thought about self-mutilating again, something that hadn’t even come up since I’d gone to college. I’d given up drinking because being drunk made me sad, and instead of uncovering the reason I had just sunk further into it. Finally my boss sent me home. “Don’t come back until you’re 100 percent,” she said. “Have a beer, or get some help.”

Every year I get a Good Friday text from one of my high school classmates. It’s because of the time my car broke down, leaving three of us on the side of the road in Ohio during a downpour of biblical proportions. We spent hours in a pizza parlour making futile calls, waiting for someone—anyone—to pick us up. When three people who used to hate each other sing along to Taylor Swift on the radio it makes you realize that breaking a habit is all about forgiving yourself. It’s okay to say that your problem—whatever it is—is part of who you are. But you can’t let it define you, and it certainly doesn’t determine who you become.

So I did get help, which has made me see that drinking and everything that comes with it does not occur in a vacuum. These things are reactionary, unfortunate by-products of unfortunate feelings. Of course I’m still that misfit teen—focusing on what I dislike about myself rather than what I like—but there’s also a clarity that comes from forty-plus days of thinking. You realize what you’re capable of, even as you peel off the old, forgotten band-aids of your past.

Julia Cook lives in Seattle, where she’s working on her first book. She’s been published in Paste Magazine, Seattle Weekly, and JENESIS, and is a recovering peanut butter addict.

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