Mass Violence Against Unarmed Civilians: It’s a Guy Thing.

August 20, 2012

It’s been quite a summer for acts of male, public, mass violence,  especially if you include not only shootings like the ones in Aurora and Oak Creek, but things like the mosque burning in Joplin.

Elizabeth Drescher has written a helpful article, noting that the causes of this violence are quite complex, and race and religion are important factors, but asking why the issue of masculinity, common to all of this summer’s bloodshed and destruction, isn’t being talked about.

A few thoughts:

1) If the common denominator is masculinities, or more accurately, the gender performance of particular, violent, dominating masculinities, then why can’t we in the church seem to mount a robust, Christian alternative?  As Drescher points out, feminists have been developing a critique of “religiously sanctioned masculinities” for some time, but they are hardly audible above the din of Avenger movies and misogynistic song lyrics.  What role model or ideal can possibly compete with that?  It’s long past time that we figure it out.  We need more faith-based alternative ideals and role models.  Fred Rogers (may his memory be a blessing) is my hero, but he can’t do it alone – especially in reruns.  At some point my youngest son will have seen enough army recruiting ads and David vs. Goliath Sunday school lessons that he begins to wonder if Mr. Rogers is a wuss.  We need more of what our sisters and brothers in the Black church call exemplars.  (Have you ever wondered why there are no children’s books about people like James Zwerg, or Jonathan Daniels?)

Fred Rogers is my hero, but he can’t do it alone…At some point my youngest son will have seen enough army recruiting ads and David vs. Goliath Sunday school lessons that he begins to wonder if Mr. Rogers is a wuss.

It’s true that there’s a lot in the biblical tradition to bolster the dominant constructions of masculinity in our culture.  But the fact that there have been a number of campaigns to “re-masculinize” Jesus in history points to the fact that something in his teachings and way of life that may run counter to the requirements of hegemonic masculinities.  How can we build up the Jesus whose gender performance is marked by healing rather than violence, mutuality rather than domination, collaboration rather than coercion, and resistance to abusive power?  There is a cost, of course, that comes with “refusing to be a man” as John Stoltenberg says.  Even so, there is a crucial moment of spiritual growth when a man’s faith begins to call into question the construction of masculinity he has always been told is a biological given.

2) When will there be enough violence that we actually start protesting the expiration of the assault weapons ban, the lax and inconsistent gun licensing system?  Is there any reason why it isn’t the church’s role to engage in this kind of protest?

3. It’s valid to point to all kinds of ongoing violence, from wars to gang violence, and ask why people are suddenly concerned when there’s a big news event.  Even so, we are clearly in a season of violence that needs to be addressed.

Photo: Candlelight vigil for the victims of shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Aug. 5, 2012, at Cathedral Square in Milwaukee.  Photo by Chris Wilson/AP.

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