Welcome To MachoChurch: Medievalism and Evangelical Patriarchy

Heath Mooneyhan, pastor of the "Most Masculine Church in America"

Heath Mooneyhan, pastor of the “Most Masculine Church in America”

The response to my summer series on the medievalism of John Eldredge has me thinking more widely about the role of medievalism in present-day American evangelical culture. Even my original article on Eldredge only covers part of the h medievalism in his work, concentrating as it does on his use of William Wallace. I mean to do another post, soon, covering Eldredge’s other medievalisms, primarily on the way both Wild at Heart and its companion volume, Captivating rely (both consciously and unconsciously) on tropes from medieval romance. One thing I’m sure I’ll focus on, there, draws from other recent work on contemporary medievalisms, working in part from Helen Young’s fascinating observations on the ways in which medievalism is often deployed as a way of “naturalizing” numerous racist and sexist attitudes. The general idea, there, is that reference to the Middle Ages has become, for many, a strategy for legitimizing both racism and sexism by imagining a medieval Europe as a “purer” time, one in which white-skinned men were free to exercise their God-given right to domination. Placing that situation in something meant to read as a historical past, then, seems to set an additional layer of legitimacy under such arguments: it’s a way of saying “this is the natural state of human relationships from which feminism (among other cultural phenomena) has led us astray.” Of course, the Middle Ages themselves weren’t like that at all, and the very romances from which much of such rhetoric is ultimately drawn critique the cult of masculine violence (on very Christian grounds) at least as often as they promote it.

As I’ve been working on these ideas, though, I’ve been running across numerous other deployments of medievalism-inflected expressions of “Christian Masculinity,” as well as numerous commentaries and critiques of the same. So, while I’m working on the larger argument, I thought I’d share, along the way, some of the interesting and crazy things I’m coming across:

  • One of my favorite Christian bloggers, Rachel Held Evans, recently published a review by Nate Pyle of the documentary Fight Church about a congregation geared toward Christian males that centers–no joke–on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competition. Pyle wonders whether this isn’t an indication that the American church is too influence by American cultural ideas about masculinity. Looking through some of that church’s materials, however, I can’t help but notice that it’s infused with the language of a “warrior” mentality that has its roots in the Germanic, pagan warrior ethic (something the poet of Beowulf struggles with). That tradition has been preserved and filtered through later medieval romance and the Cult of Chivalry, through 19th century romantic novels such as Walter Scott’s, and then through James Fenimore Cooper’s portings of Scott’s knightly warrior ethic into an American setting that ultimately give rise to the American Western (of which, I would argue, Braveheart is an example, with swords and kilts standing in for six-shooters and chaps, smearing blue woad onto The Outlaw Josey Wales).
  • Speaking of Evans, she also has an interesting take on the fall of popular evangelical megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll, another evangelical leader who apparently posted a number of misogynistic rants with the pseudonym “William Wallace II,” proving that Eldredge is not the only masculinist evangelical leader to engage in the strange adoption of that fourteenth-century figure as a sort of poster-child for “authentic” masculinity.
  • In additional craziness, there’s been some attention in the Christian blogosphere lately to what was the putative most masculine church in America before its pastor got a DUI last week. The church was apparently known for its unapologetic misogynist banter and the gun collection in the basement (onward Christian soldiers, I guess).
  • Meanwhile, of all places, a relatively conservative Christian publication, First Things, turns out to be the source, via Matthew Block of the past month’s most cogent critique of the aforementioned church, and especially of the idea of baptising the “warrior identity” as an aspect of Christian masculinity.

I’ll keep posting relevant material as it comes across my desk–partially as a way of keeping track of it myself–but feel free to make me aware of what comes across yours!

Written with StackEdit

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