“He is a good leader. He is a strong man. He gets things done. He says what needs to be said, and speaks the hard truth.”
This is a paraphrase of what people often say about leaders they admire, leaders in the world. They are drawn to people to represent ideals like these:
Greatness. Courage. Victory. Strength. Leadership. Power. Masculinity. Patriotism. Pride.
Think upon these words. Now, think about the following words.
Meekness. Gentleness. Humility. Patience. Purity. Mercy. Servanthood. Shepherding.
There are two different leaders, two different “Saviours” represented. One represents ruthlessness, brute strength, dominance, and power, the other represents qualities we often think of as “feminine” and “weak”. When it comes to imagining a Saviour, humans are quick to identify with the first set of words and the “Saviour” they represented. One is a conqueror, his charisma and his charm and his “triumph” the ideal.
On the other hand, the true Saviour and King was without fault and blameless, yet despised and rejected by men. They thought Him weak. They laughed at Him.
The Sermon on the Mount… Re-imagined?
In 1936, a man named Ludwig Mueller published a modernized retelling of the Christian faith. He was an ardent nationalist, a man who wanted to see the restored greatness and revival of his nation and he wanted the church to play a central role in the nation, to influence its leaders and policies.
The problem, he found, was that Christianity was not particularly suited for this purpose. Christianity was not masculine enough, strong enough, dominant enough. It didn’t cultivate the patriotic values and cement the role he envisioned Christianity would play in the emerging order of the new world.
To achieve this goal, he re-wrote the Sermon on the Mount to promote the values that he felt were more compatible with the modern world. To be blessed as the “meek”, as “peacemakers” as those who are “persecuted and reviled”? Never.
“Blessed are they that mourn” became “Blessed those who bear their suffering manfully” (Wohl dem, der sein Leid mannhaft trägt).
“Blessed are those who mourn” became “Blessed are those who always keep good comradeship. ” (Wohl dem, der allzeit gute Kameradschaft hält.)
“Blessed are the peacemakers” became “Blessed those who keep peace with their fellow nationals” (Wohl dem, der allzeit gute Kameradschaft hält).
Instead of loving their enemies, this “translation” urged Christians to be patient with only their fellow citizens and comrades.
You see, Ludwig Mueller was a Nazi trying to make Christianity a religion compatible with Nazi values, trying to carve out a space for a “positive”, Germany Christianity (Buesnell, 2020). In reality, however, Hitler despised Christianity for its inherent “meekness” and “flabbiness”, as he described, and the cross for representing suffering and defeat. His ideology was about strength, ruthlessness and dominance (Wilson, 2016).
Nevertheless, Hitler knew that the German church was a powerful demographic and occasionally threw “pro-Christian” statements as bones to keep his nominally religious supporters happy, crafting an identity that merged Germanic nationalism and a veneer of Christian tradition to garner their support.
Militarism and strength were Nazi ideals, specifically, masculine ideals.
“The German Christian church aimed to include all Aryan Germans, but within that inclusive Aryan Church the German Christians envisioned a hierarchy based solely on gender… The German Christian movement preached a masculine form of Christianity that was intended to attract young men, particularly men in uniform… After the First World War, German Christians adopted Nazi principles of masculinity and the movement began to teach that men should act with firm masculinity in both word and deed.” (Wilson, 2016, pp.19-20).
“The German Christians not only attached positive adjectives to the promote masculinity in church life they also used negative descriptions of femininity to ostracize men who did not measure up to the standard of German Christian masculinity. Words such as weichlich(weak) were used in contrast to mannlichto show the superior qualities.” (p.20).
Nazi men were expected to “fight ruthlessly, exhibit hardness and heroism, and follow orders with discipline and enthusiasm” (Bergen, 1996, cited by Wilson, 2016). They were encouraged to have the qualities of “bravery, strength, initiative, decisiveness, and perseverance” (Kühne, 2018). At the same time, while idolizing military dominance, Nazi masculinity also emphasized dominance over women and wives (Brashler, 2015). Courage and strength to them was exemplified in the literal beating-down and trampling of others, especially the “weak”.
Strength in Weakness, Glory in Meekness
Our ideals say a lot about us, but sometimes we may not even be aware of them. While it is natural and human to glory in strength, Scripture tells us instead that weakness is not such a bad thing after all, and that meekness triumphs over pride. We are taught in many ways to lay down that which we think is an asset, like our wisdom (1 Corinthians 1) and strength (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). We’re taught that true greatness comes from lowering ourselves.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:23-25)
Paul said, “we preach Christ crucified”, and this is our gospel as part of His Kingdom. We preach a God and Saviour who died, who was “defeated”, and who laid down His life. We preach the gospel of a suffering lamb, one who did not defend Himself in word or in deed.
When we say King, this is what we mean and this is what we envision. Or at least, this is what we are supposed to envision! We do not shy away from the fact that Jesus is our conquering hero who has, continues to and will vanquish evil, yet we acknowledge that this is to be done His way, not in the way of mammon and the flesh.
Like in the case of Nazi ideology and Christianity, a good way to examine our values and ideals with regards to strength and weakness is to take a look at how we view men and women. Men traditionally represent relative strength in many societies, and the apostle Peter refers to this in 1 Peter 3 in the context of discussing what it means to follow after the example of Christ, the suffering lamb, for men and women alike.
Indeed, 1 Peter 2-3 is a very strong antidote to the traditional, militaristic ideal that many worldly societies, including Nazi Germany, glorified, which included:
- Nationalism, patriotism and the glorification of patriotic violence
- Victory, strength and dominance for men
- Servanthood and submission for women
Instead of the caricature of the “subservient woman”, meek and modest, we see across the New Testament a rejection of these constructs of greatness and power. We see Jesus saying to be the least is to the greatest. We see Jesus embodying meekness and demonstrating lowly servanthood. We see Jesus’s strength and courage and victory embodied in the cross. And we see Jesus call us to be exactly as He was. All of us. No exceptions.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28).
The world is obsessed with power and dominance, with wealth and violence and victory over others, at their expense. We are called to the exact opposite of that in the Kingdom, to put ourselves below and not above one another. While the world values liberty, Jesus and the apostles literally lowered themselves to the “shameful” status of slaves. In fact, Peter elevates that of lower status in society, such as femininity and enslavement, to be on the level of Christ the Saviour, thus subverting the values of the world.
Christ-followers must reject the idea that weakness and meekness is shameful, feminine and undesirable. We must also reject the world’s view of authority, which comes from an obsession with power and expresses itself in coercion and exertion of one’s rights.
What Jesus taught us about power is the greatest lesson of all. Laying down His life in love was a choice, a powerful act, and one that changed the course of history.
Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
Rejecting violence, embracing Christ
When it comes to relationships between men and women, husband and wives for example, we should embrace the construct of suffering servanthood rather than that such as described by the following:
“A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed……True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity.” (Wilson, 2004).
The author above makes a grave mistake by making authority and submission dichotomous, one represented in each gender. He presents the marital ideal as one that is violent, about conquering, colonizing and imposing one’s pleasure and preference above another. He presents passivity and meekness as a solely female characteristic. He glorifies domination.
This is a construct we should be aware of and reject, going back all the way to when Christianity changed from being about suffering servanthood and peace, to militarism and violence.
I believe this stems from the Constantinian error and the shift from pacifism to militarism in the church. This was when the Christian concept of God, of the Saviour and of rulership changed drastically.
When the Emperor Constantine began the adoption and institutionalization of the church within the Roman Empire, he began on a completely heretical foot. Constantine appropriated Christ, the Saviour, as the source and inspiration of his military victories. He emblazoned a “cross”, not that of the suffering lamb, but of the letters “Chi” and “Ro” in Greek, on the insignia of his army. He attributed his victory to this change, and from thence on victorious militarism and colonization became fixed in the “Christian” mind and the “Christian” imagination. Christians like Eusebius lauded Constantine as their conquering hero, a gift from God.
Is it a coincidence than Aquinas, who believed that Christians could conduct violence in the form of “just war”, also adopted Aristotelian views of women as “defective and misbegotten”, writing that women wear coverings to “designate the power of another”, that of her natural subjection to males? He believed that women had “lower reason” and men “superior”, that men were “more perfect” and that “man is the woman’s end”. A woman is “not immediately under God, but is also subject to man under God”.
“We must consider why man should not veil his head, but the woman. This can be taken in two ways: first, because a veil put on the head designates the power of another over the head of a person existing in the order of nature. Therefore, the man existing under God should not have a covering over his head to show that he is immediately subject to God; but the woman should wear a covering to show that besides God she is naturally subject to another.”
“For, first of all, man is more perfect than woman not only in regard to the body, because, as the Philosopher says in the book On Generation of Animals, “the female is an occasioned male,” but also in regard to the soul’s vigor, as it says in Ec (7:29): “One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found.” Secondly, because man is naturally superior to the female, as it says in Eph (5:22): “Wives, be subject to your husband as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife.” Thirdly, because the man exerts an influence by governing the wife, as it says in Gen (3:16): “Your desire will be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Source)
Think back to the ideals listed at the beginning of this article. One on hand, we have the ideals of mankind, those embodied by Constantine, Hitler, and other violent rulers of history.
Greatness. Courage. Victory. Strength. Leadership. Power. Masculinity. Patriotism. Pride.
On the other hand, we have the example of Christ:
Meekness. Gentleness. Humility. Patience. Purity. Mercy. Servanthood. Shepherding.
It is not that we are against victory and power and strength, merely that these come from the place of the cross and the emptying out of ourselves to serve others, not from asserting ourselves and rights – this applies to all Christians. The Scriptures are unequivocal about this being what we are called to.
This is my thesis: I believe that if we take person of Jesus away from the center of our consideration, we lose the entire premise and legitimacy of our existence. Violence and coercion would be glorified rather than suffering, sacrificial love. We retain the name of Jesus Christ but lose its power, the power that comes from laying down our lives.
All Christians are to love one another as Christ loved us (Ephesians 5:2), in lowliness and meekness (Ephesians 4:2), treating others with purity, gentleness, mercy and submission James 3:17), and considering others before ourselves. This is what it means to have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:3-5).
An authentic theology of gender, of men and women and their functions and differences, should have as its center and source the person of Jesus Christ and the nature of God, because both men and women are created in the image of God as well as created by, through and for Christ. Gender is an expression of the divine nature, something we should definitely celebrate inasmuch as it was created to bring glory to God not as opposing, conflicting forces striving for dominance but as bound by the perfection of love.
“Gender differences” should be nothing more than the authentic expression of Christ in us through the person – body, mind, spirit and nature He gave us. Since we are made in the image of God to be male and female, the closer we are to God, the more “male and female” we will be by what He designed, not by what men and women try to conjure in replacement. Harmful gender stereotypes are likely what men and women create and conjure in the absence of God, in a state of sin and alienation and in rejection of everything Jesus stood for.
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (John 17:21-23)
Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:3-6)
It is no coincidence that God made Adam and Eve to be one flesh, and now calls the church to be one body. Gender as God designed is expressed in marriage and in the church. What glorifies God and what represents God in the church and in marriage is unity, a supernatural unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In unity, we reflect the glorious oneness of God. Those who lead, lead not in a caricature that gives lipservice to “servanthood” but by example, the way Jesus carried His cross and went before us, calling us to follow Him, and the way Peter, who exhorted the church to suffer as Christ did, suffered himself.
In imitation of the suffering Lamb, let us take up our cross and put on the new man in the image of Christ. Let us truly realize what it means to be buried with Him in baptism and raised in His image, and let us embody this and work this out in our homes and communities, imperfect as we are, pressing on to Christ’s perfect love.
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)
And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. (Colossians 3:10-15)
1 Corinthians Chapter 11 – Patristic Bible Commentary. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2021, from https://sites.google.com/site/aquinasstudybible/home/1-corinthians/st-thomas-aquinas-on-1-corinthians/chapter-1/chapter-2/chapter-3/chapter-4/chapter-5/chapter-6/chapter-7/-7-15-10-33/chapter-11
Brashler, K. L. (2015). Mothers for Germany: a look at the ideal woman in Nazi propaganda. (Master’s thesis, Iowa State University). Retrieved from https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/etd/14354/
Buesnel, R. (2020). ‘Positive Christianity’: Theological rationales and legacies. Religion Compass, 14(7), e12353.
Kühne, T. (2018). Introduction: Masculinity and the Third Reich. Central European History, 51(3), 354-366. doi:10.1017/S0008938918000584
*Wilson, D. (2004). Fidelity: What it means to be a one-woman man. In Fidelity: What it means to be a one-woman man. Moscow, ID: Canon Press.
Wilson, W. D. (2016). The Orthodox Betrayal: How German Christians embraced and taught Nazism and sparked a Christian battle (Honors thesis, Georgia Southern University). Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/honors-theses/160
*This book is not recommended or endorsed by the Kingdom Outpost.