Criticism or Corroboration?

Having once been a regular reader there, I was happy to find that Dr. Gene Edward Veith shared my recent piece on churches’ contempt for men over on his blog.

His last paragraph as he opened it up for discussion particularly caught my eye. The piece obviously attracted a fair amount of criticism, and Dr. Veith’s questions helpfully roll a number of the most common complaints into one place:

And might men deserve to be criticized in this age of absent fathers and callous husbands? After all, if women are initiating most of the divorces, why is that? Shouldn’t a man who is the spiritual head of his family, in whom by virtue of his vocation is hidden Christ in His relationship with the church, prevent that from happening?

But even so, does he still have a point?

Let’s take these questions one by one.

“Might men deserve to be criticized in this age of absent fathers and callous husbands?”

Are we in an age of callous husbands at all? Particularly in comparison to husbands in various cultures throughout recorded history (which, if we’re talking about “ages” is the only applicable standard)? I suspect the answer here is no, in which case men don’t deserve to be criticized for it. Accordingly, I will wait for someone to make a compelling case that contemporary American husbands are particularly callous before I consider adding to that criticism.

Absent fathers, of course, are a different issue; this very much is an age of absent fathers. But before we heap the blame for that on men, we do need to consider why they’re absent. If you look at single-mother households (and exclude widows) there are two main categories:  never married, and divorced/separated.  I can’t find the stats at the moment, but I believe it’s roughly a 50/50 split between these two groups.

Let’s start with fathers absent from a divorced/separated household.  Since a supermajority of divorces are a result of the the wife unilaterally throwing the father out of the house, it’s not as though he is typically choosing to leave.  The more common circumstance is that the father is being forced out by the mother using the power of the state.  Accordingly, it seems a stretch to say that men are broadly to blame for this half of fatherless households.

The other half of fatherless households fall into the “never married” category. Here there is certainly room for blame and criticism towards men. However, the question remains whether this blame should be disproportionate to the blame that is due to women for the same circumstances. At the most basic level, it takes two people to create this kind of situation–a man who sired a child without securing a way to stay in his/her life, and a woman who conceived a child without securing a father for him/her. Men are to blame, but they’re not especially to blame in comparison to women.  If churches are only holding men accountable for fornication, then they’re not doing their jobs properly, and it indeed reveals a problem of contempt for men.

But there are deeper levels as well. Are we to assume that every never married mother actually wants the father in the home? Again, given the divorce situation, that hardly seems like a foregone conclusion. Among the never married single mothers I’ve known (at least the ones for whom I actually know the answer to the question) all but one of them didn’t want the father around. And as for the exception, she only wanted one of the fathers around–the rest she didn’t want around. (And that wanted father was in the household, though he would not get married.)

There’s also the fact that the rampant growth of this category is a result of the sexual revolution, which is largely the fault of feminism.  That’s another odd movement to lay squarely at the feet of men.

So yes, obviously men who voluntarily abandon their children deserve criticism. However, that is not the primary reason we’re in an age of absent fathers. While such men certainly exist, statistics and experience suggest that paternal abandonment is not the norm for fatherless households. The fact that so many people try to present it as the norm actually underscores churches’ contempt for men rather than refuting it.

“After all, if women are initiating most of the divorces, why is that?”

In context with the previous line, the message I’m getting here is a contention that “women initiate most divorces because men are so callous and absent.” I’ll go ahead and answer Dr’ Veith’s question from an article he linked to in one of his earlier blog posts.

“The majority of divorces today occur in marriages not characterized by serious conflict. The most common reasons cited for divorce are problems that affect most marriages, such as ‘growing apart’ and ‘not being able to talk together.'”

This fact challenges the rhetorical question’s presumption in two ways.

First of all, it’s hard to say the man is typically at fault for “growing apart” when the wife is typically the one using the law to enforce a separation, nor for being “unable to talk together” when the wife is typically the one who requires that they speak through lawyers. (You can say that no one is wholly innocent in a divorce–which is accurate corum deo–but that is true of literally every victim of every sin.  Why is divorce the only sin where that fact excuses the perpetrator and dismisses the victim corum mundo in our churches?)

More importantly, however, these majority reasons are by no means Biblical warrants for divorce. Considering what is at stake, that makes these divorces a grievous sin–typically committed against husbands (and their children) by their wives. In what other circumstances is it acceptable to look at the victims of grievous sin and assume that they must have done something to deserve it? If, for example, someone regards a victim of violent rape and assumes she must have been asking for it, it is rightly regarded by most as gross prejudice. I likewise see no reason to categorize the assumption that men usually deserve their divorces as anything other than gross prejudice.

“Shouldn’t a man who is the spiritual head of his family, in whom by virtue of his vocation is hidden Christ in His relationship with the church, prevent that from happening?”

Shouldn’t Christ, who is head of the Church, prevent people from leaving him? And yet, it happens; people make shipwrecks of their faith.  If our omnipotent and omniscient Lord does not always prevent that from happening in the Church, it seems a tall order to uniformly expect it from fallen and sinful mortals in their marriages.

American no-fault divorce is unilateral divorce. It only takes one, and the targeted spouse has no legal recourse to prevent it. You might say he could prevent it by being a better husband, but again that’s a wholly prejudicial assumption. It’s not like Christ could prevent unbelief and heresy by being a better husband to his church, so why should we assume that husbands must always or even typically be able to prevent divorce in like manner?

So do churches harbor contempt for men? At the end of his post, Dr. Veith asks whether I “still” have a point despite the questions he brought up. I would contend that I have a point because of them.

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6 Responses to Criticism or Corroboration?

  1. jb says:

    Matt –

    Thumbs up to both your original piece at the Federalist, which I read before I got to Gene’s site, and to the one above.

    I really do like Gene, but some days – I think he is after clicks and comments to keep Patheos satisfied. Mea culpa, that might not be true, but the comments? Sigh.

    It is what it is.

    • Matt says:

      Thank you, sir.

      I like Dr. Veith as well–that’s why I was a regular at his blog. I can only guess, but in this case, I suspect he’s just operating out the conventional wisdom on the subject–which happens to be very off-base.

      As for the comments… the reality is that for whatever reason, this is still a very counter-cultural observation. Particularly for conservatives, it’s going to take time & repeated exposure before they’re comfortable really thinking critically about it. When they finally do, I think they’ll come around. In the meantime, you’re right: it just is what it is.

  2. L Brown says:

    We should blame men. But not men as a monolithic class engaged in a dialectical conflict with women as a class. Specific men are to blame. Not the men broken by family court, betrayed by the church, or fired for mansplaining. Not the men attempting to soberly speak truth in response to tired cliches and conventional anti-wisdom. Those to blame are, first, powerful men of prior generations who sold out their brothers and their sons to create the current system and the weak or naive men who went along. They’re mostly dead. Second, the men who prop up and enforce the current system in pursuit of self-preservation and Brownie points. Or, being charitable, simply because it’s what they have been conditioned to do. But even for these soy boys, quislings, and Dudley Do-Rights there is repentance and forgiveness.

  3. Gunner Q says:

    There’s little hope for Veith. You pointed out a massive bias against & hatred of men and his response was asking if you had a point.

    “Particularly for conservatives, it’s going to take time & repeated exposure before they’re comfortable really thinking critically about it.”

    Most clergy will never voluntarily acknowledge misandry because it will cost them too much. Tearing down other men builds you up. Telling women “yes” when you should say “no” is a cocaine high. Championing female entryism makes you popular with the gossips.

    When a church leader has already built a theological career upon misandry, getting him to stop will require shaming and punishments. Not education. It is incredibly hard for a man to understand the right thing to do when his job requires him to not understand.

  4. L. Brown blames “the men who prop up and enforce the current system in pursuit of self-preservation and Brownie points.”

    Gunner Q blames “Most clergy [who] will never voluntarily acknowledge misandry because it will cost them too much. Tearing down other men builds you up. Telling women ‘yes’ when you should say ‘no’ is a cocaine high.”

    My pastoral experience over 45 years among broadly evangelical Protestant Americans confirms that both groups are the same group, especially among evangelical pastors, who make a show of upholding marriage while simultaneously tolerating divorce within the flock for any and all reasons, including the trivial ones. For them divorce is, at worst, regrettable. For them, divorce is usually a relief, for it removes a nasty need for pastoral intervention.

    The solution will span several generations, and then only among nonevangelical Christian communities which take our Lord’s teaching on divorce and the duties of elders toward the flock with a seriousness that is, today, utterly lacking among evangelical Protestants.

  5. Matt says:

    Thanks for your comments, everyone.

    Fr. Mouser, I think you’re correct about this being a multi-generational solution. If it’s taken several generations to tear down, it’s probably going to take substantially longer to rebuild.

    However, I don’t think the folks L. & Gunner are talking about are generally the same people. The way I see it pastors (and other leaders) who practice misandry in their ministries fall into two camps, and my cynicism varies depending on the group.

    First are the celebrity and wannabe-celebrity pastors. These are the ones to whom I would apply Gunner’s harsher description. They are deliberately marketing themselves in an effort to gain a following. Naturally, that includes playing to the crowd in this and most other respects. For them, I don’t really hold out much hope. Quite frankly, their god is fame, and they serve her accordingly. Apart from a repentance that goes far deeper than this issue, if they change their practices, it will be because the culture has already changed course first.

    However, there’s also the pastors who are simply weak in one way or another. These are the ones to whom I would apply L.’s description–and I believe this is the larger group. Some (particular among older generations) genuinely think they’re helping women because they don’t really grasp how society has changed in the past generation or two. These need instruction. Others are conflict-avoidant. They know how their flock will react to God’s word and so they try to soften it up first. These need courage.

    I hold out quite a bit of hope for this latter group (and that is where I would peg Dr. Veith) because those of us who know better can instruct and we can encourage. But that is going to take time and patience–stubbornness doesn’t evaporate overnight nor does virtue develop that fast. Pastors need to have courage to do their jobs properly–but that’s easier said than done. I’ve publicly taught a lot of these things in adult Bible studies, but I’m a volunteer. At the end of the day, the worst they can do to me is ask me not to teach anymore. For pastors, it could cost them both their job and career.

    Right now, there is a great need for bold and well-informed laypeople to support, encourage, and also respectfully rebuke their pastors and teachers for the sake of their brothers. The good news is that this group is growing. The bad news is that we have to put up with a lot of flak along the way. Gunner said, “You pointed out a massive bias against & hatred of men and his response was asking if you had a point.” Sad as this may seem… given the current state of affairs, I actually considered that a positive response. That’s a door that’s opened a small crack. It’s not what one hopes for, but its better than a door slammed in one’s face. Long endeavors like this have to start somewhere, and we need hope to go the distance.

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