On January 28, 2019, Mr. Steve Pettit, President of Bob Jones University, preached a sermon called “Be a Man,” in which he exhorted his listeners vaguely and with nearly no guidance as to particulars, to be kind of like the Marlboro man, but not really. Tough, but not so much. You know, Christlike, but without content. Here are the worst parts.
In India, men hold hands walking down the street. In Russia, men kiss each other on the lips. Here we don’t do that—even with Dr. Horn–because it’s gay. Don’t walk, talk, act, or dress like a woman. Don’t let anyone confuse you with a woman. Cut your hair, son.
He could have stopped with those tidbits. But he preached a whole sermon. I have the transcript, and I wrote a full treatment of it, but it’s too long, so I’m editing it down to The Ten Worst Things He Said. (Edit: Thirteen worst. There were thirteen worst things.)
1. Manhood is comprised of what man is and what he should do.
This is not true. Manhood is a state of being. “What he should do” is not encompassed in what he is. Manhood, according to Mr. Pettit, lies in whether he has a “male part” or a “female part.” (College students are too young to hear the word “wee-wee.”)
2. Spirituality is the highest aspect of manhood. Nothing else about creation can commune with God like man can.
This is false. Women also commune with God, as do little boys and little girls. It is no use his saying, “of course I’m speaking of humans generically,” because he isn’t. He’s speaking specifically about men in this sermon, so we understand that in the absence of qualifying the word as generic, he means the word man to indicate male humans.
3. Sin affected our spirituality and marred the image of biblical manhood as God intended it to be.
This is no one’s interpretation of Genesis 1. Rather, it is the Image of God—that is in view, and this Imago Dei applies equally to men and women.
4. Jesus came so we can be transformed into the Image of Perfect Manhood.
This is false. Jesus came to atone for the sins of humanity (or “his people” if you’re a Calvinist) and to preach the Kingdom of Heaven. I have been alive for 58 years, in church for long decades (mostly fundy churches) and “the image of perfect manhood” is a thing I have never heard.
5. Men and Women are differentiated at birth by whether they have a male part or a female part.
Leaving aside the silliness of his terminology, this is not always the case. Though a small minority, there are people for whom this is not true, wholly beloved children of God, their ambiguous genitalia notwithstanding. My husband, who has been a NICU nurse for over twenty years, has been in the delivery room a number of times when neither “It’s a boy!” nor “It’s a girl!” could be said. Where parents were told, “We can’t tell yet. We’ll have to do more testing.” In some cases, it has happened that even testing proved inconclusive as to biological gender. Mr. Pettit is either cruel or thoughtless in being dismissive of those few people among his listeners who are among the intersex community.
6. Men and women should maintain proper gender distinctions so that there is no confusion of the sexes.
Excuse me? In my 58 years (did I mention I’m 58?), there have been only a very few times when I have encountered someone whose presented gender was so ambiguous (to me) that I could not conclude whether they were presenting male or female, if either. Not everyone chooses to present gendered. I use the terms I use to make sure you are aware that the person you are encountering is the boss of how they present themselves in a particular context. Their genitalia is of no concern to you unless you are considering a more intimate relationship. That is, gender confusion is an individual concern. Whether you are confused about someone else’s gender is your problem. Step back, sir.
7. Man is the lord of the Creation.
The Dominion Mandate of Genesis 1 was given to both Adam and Eve. It is not gendered.
8. (Delivered in a raised voice) All men are to be leaders. If you don’t feel like it, you don’t understand what it is to be a leader or you need to be a man. To reject leadership is to reject manhood. Men are charged to be in charge.
This is false. Jesus calls his followers to follow. To be servants. Nor does Mr. Pettit explain what all this leading is about. He mentions no specifics. He gives no guidance. “Cultivating relationship” is a non-gendered activity. “Producing results” is a non-gendered goal. There is nothing he mentions that is specific to men, let alone godly Christian men.
Furthermore: Not all men are leaders. It’s okay, gentlemen, if you are a quiet non-leader. Jesus doesn’t care. If you never give a sermon. If you never give your testimony. If you decide, along with your housemates or partner or wife to split up the income earning responsibilities or child-rearing or homeschooling or budgeting, it doesn’t matter. You do you. Jesus doesn’t care. Jesus does not put these burdens on us: How manly is manly enough? He doesn’t address it. He doesn’t care.
9. Biblical masculinity is not for the immature children, but only for grown men.
Haha, no. If there is a thing called biblical masculinity, it would be for all male people, not just the adult ones. Otherwise, you would not tell your son, “Don’t run like a girl. Cut your hair.” If you do not believe this, put your infant son in a flowered, pink onesie next time you take him to church nursery.
10. Christ is the goal of all true masculinity. Jesus is the perfect man, and in him and through him we can have the grace to be like him.
No. Jesus is the role model for all his followers, girls and boys, women and men. There are zero examples of Jesus doing anything specific to his maleness that women and girls cannot emulate in being like him. There is no differentiation by gender when looking at Jesus.
11. Manhood is a calling from God to be like Jesus.
No—and more stridently—no. Because you have a penis, God wants you to be like Jesus? Come on, now. The calling from God to be like Jesus is for all of us without respect to “parts.”
12. Manhood is a calling where he has opened up the way for us to follow in his steps.
No. Following in the steps of Jesus is not gendered. It is not gender-specific. It is not distinctly male. Your manliness is distinct from your faith. You are not more manly or more correctly-male if you are particularly devout. The flip-side is also true. If you are more traditionally masculine than other men, you are not somehow more a man of faith than others by virtue of that gender presentation. These two aspects of your life are distinct.
13. Manhood does not come naturally, and it does not come easily.
Oh, come now. Do you have a male part or don’t you?
There is so much here. So much to unpack. So much conflict. So much burden of not being able to perform in public what one has been taught is the correct amount of manliness. Manhood is a state of being. It is not a performance. Or is it?
Mr. Pettit missed an opportunity to exhort the men in his audience to respect a woman’s sexual and emotional boundaries, to stand in solidarity with the abused and oppressed, to speak truth, to give to the poor. To reject racism, rape-culture, misogyny, child abuse, and domestic violence within the church and the wider community. He missed an opportunity to exhort single men to study hard and get ready for their vocation. He missed an opportunity to tell fathers to play ball with their children and teach them about Jesus and love their mother and visit their grandma and invite in the unloved, the marginalized, the different. He missed an opportunity to talk about missions and Gospel and living for the good of others—giving money and time to good causes that help people. He focused on vague ideas of Christlikeness that apply to both men and women and then yelled at men who don’t see themselves in leadership roles. Let’s face it, a lot of men in leadership roles shouldn’t be there. He could have prayed more than “help us be more loving, gracious, good, strong, brave, and courageous”—traits that apply to both men and women.
But he didn’t say any of that, most of which would apply to any man regardless of faith. Just don’t walk like a girl. Don’t talk like a girl. Don’t act like a girl. Cut your hair. I wonder what he’s thinking exactly. And I wonder why they are always thinking about that.
No, of course I don’t have to do this sort of thing, but Brian said, “Write it up,” and what could I do? I’m all submissive to my lord and master.