I almost feel bad criticising the people behind the GodMen conferences. The organisers aim to promote discourse, confront taboo and explore the interaction between Christian living and male identity. The church, as a cultural institution, is rife with misogyny, homophobia and sexual hypocrisy, so it almost seems churlish to criticise this effort at change.

GodMen fails. Though well meaning, the rhetoric used by the conference organisers only serves to reaffirm traditional models of masculinity, not to explore them.

The aim for the GodMen conferences is to create a male-only space where issues specific to the Christian male can be discussed. Discussion covers such topics as masturbation and pornography and, though there is still a consensus that these acts are sinful, the fact that these topics are being aired at all is a very good thing.

But there are two major flaws to the GodMen project. The first is a terrifyingly essentialist view of what a man is, and the second is an ongoing attempt to blame women for the crippled spirituality of some straight men.

The first problem is aptly summed up by the GodMen FAQ:

We have a society where men are often demeaned for the sake of a joke. When boys or men behave consistent to their male nature, our society has a knee-jerk reaction and says men must tone it down. Lower their voice. Put on a helmet. Take Ritalin. In GodMen NONE of our maleness is toned down because we believe, as the Bible states, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. It's a privilege many men never experience.

Now, that's problematic in a whole host of ways. I'll start with what they are presenting as "our male nature." The over-prescription of Ritalin, I concede, affects males more than females, but the rest is just bullshit. Why is a helmet emasculating? Why is aggression, signified by a loud voice, such a lofty goal for a guy? As a society we are too willing to sacrifice the lives of our young men in the pursuit of masculinity. We romance the concept through wars, extreme sports, hazing rituals and bar fights, but claiming it as a Christian virtue is frankly offensive. Significantly, Newsweek reports the shows opening with "karate fights, car chases and "Jackass"-style stunts" on screen and continuing with a song called "Grow A Pair." Quite what that has to do with God I'm not sure.

Though "fearfully and wonderfully made" is a powerful concept, I prefer to wonder at our variety rather than our ability to embody outmoded conceptions of gender.

Now, I'm sure some of you are wondering why exactly these discussions couldn't have gone on in the mainstream Christian community. The answer, it turns out, is women. Evil, soul crushing women with their oppressive flower arranging. Behold:

“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

Okay, I'm simplifying the rhetoric somewhat. But GodMen was designed to combat the "feminization" of the church. Ignoring the fact that the pastor is probably male, that God is represented in exclusively male terms and that the "traditional family values" being preached expect a woman to be pregnant and barefoot (or, as my father put it, "Well fucked and badly shod"), the creators of GodMen present the Christian community as a sinister gynocracy, constantly judging poor oppressed men for their god-given inability to control themselves.

I think we all recognise this as the last resort of people being asked to confront their privilege. Like the racist complaining about "political correctness", any man complaining about how oppressed he is by women is trying to fight the realities of equality by framing them as an invasion. This distorted view is carried on into the GodMen blog where we find out that, and prepare yourself for this, women are even invading the golf courses.

They argue, and it is true, that women vastly outnumber men at church services. This is irrelevant. Victims of sex-trafficking are predominantly female, it doesn't mean that the women are in charge. Flower arrangements are hardly going to destroy 2000 years of patriarchy.

In Galatians, Paul writes that "there is no man, no woman" in Christ. GodMen's ministry tells men that their biology defines them and that female spirituality inevitably leads to hypocrisy and deceit. Religion should be about communion with the Other, not backing up your prejudices with supernatural authority. I love the attempt at dialogue, but meaningful conversation relies on questions, not easy answers.

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