The Masculinity Crisis

Andrew Yang and Anthony Bradley Respond

Earlier this month, The Washington Post published an article by Andrew Yang, founder of the Forward Party and former presidential candidate, on the struggles of men and boys in American society. Yang first tweeted his concerns over the issue and didn’t escape his fair share of pushback; he is one of the first contemporary progressives to even express concern about men in America. In the article, he writes forthrightly, “Here’s the simple truth I’ve heard from many men: We need to be needed. We imagine ourselves as builders, soldiers, workers, brothers — part of something bigger than ourselves. We deal with idleness terribly."

Shortly after Yang tweeted on the masculinity crisis, Dr. Anthony Bradley, a religious studies professor at The King’s College in New York City, published the second of a two-part series on the Acton Institute’s blog, writing, “Progressives are finally waking up to the reality that men and boys are struggling in America. On January 27, Andrew Yang posted a Twitter thread observing that ‘there’s a crisis among American boys and men that is too often ignored and is definitely going unaddressed.’” While Yang thinks governmental policy is needed to address the issue, Bradley is skeptical, given “government’s history of failures,” and turns instead to Leon Podles’ book Losing the Good Portion: Why Men Are Alienated from Christianity for insight and solution.

Men are indeed struggling in society, but they’re also struggling in churches too, per Podles and Bradley. One of the major reasons is because men resent “clerical domination” and value their independence. Over the past century, clergyman and ministers have held themselves responsible for the moral and spiritual development of men in the congregation, when historically, clergy are rarely positive male role models for men. Bradley writes,

Throughout church history, there has been a consistent backlash over clerical overreach, if not domination, as many men generally found clergy unsuitable role models. Barbara Welter notes that 19th-century New England businessmen had a particular disdain for clergy as “people halfway between women and men.” Pastors were more at home in Sunday school and libraries rather than political clubs and salons because “they were typically recruited from the ranks of weak, sickly boys with indoor tastes that stayed at home with their mothers and came to identify with the feminine world of religion,” Podles explains. Christianity was such a female-dominated space that leaders warned, according to William Jamieson, that clergy having such unsupervised access to women made women more vulnerable to abuse. Laymen were simply not around.

Paradoxically, abuse in church became more common because men simply weren’t around to intervene as active laymen in the church. They weren’t active laymen in the church because they didn’t relate to the clergy’s methods of connecting with them. The activities pitched as worthwhile often fell flat:

Podles notes that, back when evangelicals protested men’s participation in sports, pastors sought to direct men to more sedentary and scholarly pursuits like “walks in the country, visits to botanical gardens, and the reading of works of biography and history.”

Bradley explains that men have always opted for alternatives to clergy-led spaces from the “earliest days of the church.” These spaces, known as confraternities, have always been laymen-initiated and led, and comprise ordinary men seeking to live out their vocations and callings in community and brotherhood. In short, the solution to men’s alienation from church can never be resolved from the top down. Men in churches must decide what works best for them and act accordingly. If they don’t, men fall prey to “existential loneliness” and either waste away in passivity or act out in destructive ways, as Yang points out in the Post. Bradley ends his article by writing,

The men positioned to reverse the distressing rates of anxiety, depression, suicide, death by addiction, labor force disappearance, violence, and educational underachievement are not the ministry “professionals” but average guys who do not realize how much of an asset they are to their communities.

As Yang expresses, men “need to be needed.” It can be hard to feel like a necessary part of one’s community when a man is simply being spoon-fed from the clergy and never challenged to take up the mantle himself.  This explains why young men especially are so attracted to Jordan Peterson. He calls boys to become men, to strive for excellence, and to take responsibility for their own lives. Bradley has written elsewhere on how Peterson has filled the void of evangelical pastors who have failed to be role models for men in the church:

As an observant Jungian and college professor, Peterson knows that thirty years of raising men in a culture that destroyed the archetypal, aspirational Jesus needs the antidote of empathy, encouragement, and practical day-to-day imagination to help men recover their souls so that they can live a life that means something.

Having sat under years of clerical preaching myself and noticing how women seem so much more active in the local church, I resonate with Bradley’s convictions. And in case I might be misunderstood, this is not simply about helping men, but about improving our communities for everyone, women and children included. When men live up to their full capacity as protectors, fathers, and leaders, everyone will benefit.

Bradley has written profusely on this issue in the past and is currently writing a book on fraternities, and how, contrary to popular opinion, they are often a force for good and an overall positive environment for men to bond and find brotherhood.

The answer to the crisis of masculinity is not in shaming or emasculating men, but in empowering them to be all they can be, and allowing them to have spaces of vulnerability, mutual growth, and adventure.

Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.

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