The following represents the gist of the remarks I made at NSA’s weekly Disputatio last Friday, September 19, 2014.
What does it mean when NSA makes a point of emphasizing guy things? What is the point of that? I am referring to the presence of rugby and dirt on the NSA web page, the martial language used in the NSA promotional video, and so on. What’s going on?
I want to explain what is going on, not with the assumption that you would necessarily agree with all of it (although of course you should), but rather so that you might know that what we are doing is the result of a thought-through strategy by the board, and not simply the result of some haphazard and unexamined bigotries we found lying around in the basement.
In the late 1970’s, the number of women on college campuses passed the number of men. Today, in private institutions of higher learning, the women outnumber the men by a factor of 3 to 2. You don’t need a doctorate in punditry to see that some demographic trouble is brewing.
The Masculine Emphasis
First, let me tell you what the vision of NSA actually is on this topic. I will then move on to an explanation of why this emphasis on things masculine is not anti-feminine, not even close, and what it entails. But mostly I want to focus on what it does not entail.
This is what the NSA board has included in the Ends section of our policy manual, with a few comments of my own interspersed.
1.3 MASCULINE LEADERSHIP
The college will cultivate a student culture that encourages young men to take responsibility and to learn the meaning of sacrifice on behalf of others;
So this is masculinity, not machismo. The model is the Lord Jesus, not Rambo.
- Faculty and students will demonstrate a healthy inoculation against the prevailing doctrines of egalitarianism, particularly in the realm of sex roles and responsibilities;
Defending a biblically-grounded traditional view of sex roles is the easiest thing in the world to mock, and it takes a great deal of courage to demonstrate the inoculation we are talking about here. But our refusal to defend the city’s wall and perimeter is why we are struggling now to defend the city center on things like same sex mirage.
- One aspect of this will include the promotion of athletic opportunities for our young men (whether through intramural competitions or intercollegiate clubs), within the framework of a thoroughgoing Christian discipleship. At the same time, given the broad cultural distortions of collegiate athletics, our involvement in this arena must never become uncritical.
We know and understand that athletics apart from the explicit lordship of Jesus Christ is as hollow as every other worldly jug. We don’t ever want to find ourselves sacrificing to the sacred heifer of the inflated leather prolate spheroid at halftime, like they do in the SEC.
- Women who are enrolled in our college receive the same rigorous education as the men, but with the intention that it prepare them for their distinctive scriptural role and calling. We want to teach them to expect the men to take responsibility, and to take their complementary responsibilities alongside them.
This is the place where I need to make the point that we are not engaged in any form of affirmative action, trying to handicap the women so that the guys can catch up. We grade the way we do, and perhaps some of you have noticed the men are not disproportionately represented on the dean’s list. We want to do something about that, but we are not going to do it by lying about the women’s achievements.
Now there are clearly a number of worldview issues involved in all this, and so I want to give a brief scriptural apologetic for this stand, and then invite some questions.
Honoring Men Who Honor Women
Now what this has resulted in—among other things—is a promotional emphasis for NSA that has been noticed by some of you. It is seen, rightly in my view, as emphasizing and honoring certain masculine traits and virtues. It would be easy for some of you ladies to think that somebody in authority might be wanting to relegate you to some sort of backseat status. The reason for this talk is that this would be a false inference, and I want to explain to you why it would be a false inference.
What we are seeking to do is honor young men as a way of getting them to stand up straight. And when a young man learns how to stand up straight for the glory of Jesus Christ, and for the advancement of His kingdom, he will of necessity be the same kind of young man who knows how to honor a lady. We honor the men the way we do because we want to shape men who know how to honor women. This does not happen by itself in nature. Getting men to honor women is a rugged and ugly process, and is one where godly women frequently appreciate the results, but don’t quite grasp what is necessary for the process.
It is not hard to get a male culture devoted to drinking and fighting. I was talking once with a man who was asked by the first lady of a country in east Africa if on his next trip he could bring over videos of The Waltons. The Waltons? he thought, wondering something along the lines of what the heck. How would that help your country? Her reply—in those videos the men work.
We talk a good deal about shaping culture, but it is not possible to shape culture if the relationships between the men and women are shapeless. When you shape things, they need to take distinctive shapes. You don’t shape everything into the same shape. Now given the rampant egalitarianism of our age, I know that many of the things I am saying here might be unpopular, even among conservative Christians, and some of them are quite possibly against the law. But here goes anyhow.
As you all know, I have two daughters and one son. They all got the same education, and they were all taught that they were being educated with different tactical objectives in mind, and were taught in such a way so that when they found the kind of spouse who would complement them rightly—which all three did—they would together be able to combine their distinctive tactical perspectives into a shared strategic vision.
But more is involved than complementary vision. One of the central questions that needs to come up in courtship discussions is this one—can his pick-up truck pull her trailer? Just because he is male does not mean the answer is an automatic yes.
I will give you an example. One time a group of NSA students were hanging out in our basement, and my future son-in-law, Luke, told the group he was going to tell a story. My daughter Rachel suspected that it might be an earthy sort of story, not a bad one, but of the sort you might encounter in Dutch Reformed circles, which in fact it was. She suggested it might not be good to tell the story. Luke indicated that he thought he was going to. She was accustomed to being able to get her foot on the brake in these sorts of social situations, and said that well, no, that wouldn’t be a good idea. But Luke said something along the lines of, “Well, I’m gonna,” and proceeded with his original plan. The group, of course, was flabbergasted, poleaxed, gobsmacked. Luke had ignored Rachel, and this was a wondrous thing. Rachel thought it was a wondrous thing.
Culture shaping is an impossibility if you exclude distinctive sex roles, the kind of roles that align with the distinction between the sexes themselves. The point is not to absolutize any particular cultural expression, but rather to insist that Scripture requires us to create (for ourselves) a particular cultural way of expressing the substance of what God wants us to express. For example, the Bible requires the rendering of honor as appropriate, as say in the military, but the Bible does not tell us whether to use the British salute or the American one. But if the Bible is true, salutes are necessary.
So there are two characteristics of this, and they need to be kept in exquisite balance. This balance is something that the college is seeking to do, and we would like to encourage the women here to understand this, and, mutatis mutandis, to follow the same approach yourselves.
First, you honor men by being tough on them. Perhaps you have noticed this in some of your classes? Second, you honor men by saluting them when they do well in handling you being tough on them. These two are combined—effectively—in old school recruiting posters for the Marines. What do you have there? You have pictures of men jumping out of helicopters, and you have pictures of men in their dress uniform, with a crease in their trouser leg you could cut your hand on. You have men doing hard things, and you have men honored for doing hard things. I am not making the macho Marines our standard, but rather I am arguing like the apostle Paul here. “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (1 Cor. 9:25). If they do this in order to achieve mastery in battle, how much more should we be doing this same kind of thing?
Now when women want men to be like that, they become a particular kind of woman. One of John Knox’s three daughters was named Elizabeth. She married a great preacher named John Welch, who was exiled because of his opposition to King James. He lived in France, and when he eventually lost his health, his physicians told him that the only prospect of recovery was to return to England. Elizabeth came back to England to present the petition for him to be able to return, and presented the request at the court of James. The king wanted to know who her father was.
“John Knox,” she replied.
“Knox and Welch! The devil never made such a match as that.”
“It’s right like, sir,” she said, “for we never speered his advice.”
Speered meant asked. We never sought the devil’s counsel.
The king then told Elizabeth that her husband could return if he would submit to the bishops. Elizabeth Welch lifted up her apron, held it out toward the king, and said, “Please your majesty, I’d rather kep [receive] his head there.”
So an emphasis on masculinity biblically defined does not refer to an exclusion of women. Rather it refers to a right relationship between the men and the women. That right relationship is one in which the men stand up straight, and the women provide them with a good reason to. What do the women get out of it? Well, among other things, they get straight men—in both senses. They get men who don’t embarrass them, they get men who are not a male version of Madeleine Bassett, they get men that don’t flop like a soccer player from Belgium.
We need to narrow it down a bit. We don’t need “men” over “women,” and we don’t need “women” over “men.” We need a certain kind of man, and we need a certain kind of woman. Once you have them, the right relationships form.
I would be happy to take any questions you might have.