Act Like Men

  • Nathan Schneider
Bathroom sign

By the time I write my blog next Wednesday morning, the 2020 presidential elections will be in the past…not the outcomes and consequences, just the election. In fact, I would venture a guess that whatever happens next Tuesday will not end Tuesday night at 11:59pm but will drag on for days, weeks, or months [or years, gulp!] thereafter. I’m not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, so I won’t prognosticate on how I think things will work out, but it goes without saying that these elections have massive implications, and that ultimately no outcome will solve the issues our nation is facing, for the simple reason that you can’t fix spiritual problems using politics.

On Monday of this week, my wife and I braved the early-voting lines to cast our ballots in this year’s election. We even had a brief moment of fame as we were interviewed and later quoted in an article for the local newspaper. Honestly, I think the only reason we grabbed the reporter’s attention was because of our 7-month old who was adorably strapped onto Natasha. But anyhow, later on after we had returned from our election outing (the best kind of date there is!), a memory popped into my head seemingly out of nowhere. I hadn’t thought about this event in quite a long while, and on any other day it might seem to be a rather inconsequential memory. But not today. No, today’s issues, be they political, social, etc., heighten what once could have been called an inconsequential event to a level of significance I haven’t necessarily considered before now.

For some reason, I was taken back momentarily to when my dad and I loaded up in his little white ’84 Nissan pickup and drove down to the local post office in Fairbanks, AK. It was a sunny day, as they normally are in early June. We strode in together through the glass doors and made our way to the table with all the forms on it. But we weren’t shipping a package or picking up mail. Instead, we were there because I had just turned 18 years old, and I had something I needed to do. For one, I needed to register to vote, but that I would do later at the DMV. That day, I was at the post office because I needed to register for Selective Service.

Selective Service is another way of talking about the military draft. It’s a mechanism that our country has in place that allows our government to have “a list of names of men from which to draw in case of a national emergency requiring rapid expansion of our Armed Forces” (SSS website FAQ). Looking into Selective Service a bit more, it surprised me to discover a few facts. First, every male age 18-25 is required by law to register. Second, there are few to no exemptions. Are you a conscientious objector? Disabled? A minister? Undocumented? The last surviving son in the family? It doesn’t matter. You still must register. In fact, about the only exemption allowed is for men who are in the United States on a valid non-immigrant visa. Third, the penalty for failing to register could result in up to five years in prison and/or up to a $250,000 fine.

Those facts, by themselves, are pretty straightforward. Undoubtedly, the U.S. government takes Selective Service registration seriously. But there are some other facts that truly surprised me, considering the current cultural climate in our country. For one, women are not required, nor are they allowed to register for Selective Service. As stated on the SSS website, the Military Selective Service Act, as it is written, only authorizes the registration of “male persons”. Not just “requires,” but “authorizes.”

Now, if you read the phrase, “male persons,” I’m sure you asked the same question most people would ask now-a-day’s…what does “male persons” mean? It remains a baffling reality that such a question needs to be asked or addressed, which brings up the point I made earlier…these are spiritual issues, not political ones. But at any rate, even this question is addressed. As stated on the SSS website:

“Selective Service bases the registration requirement on gender assigned at birth and not on gender identity or on gender reassignment. Individuals who are born male and changed their gender to female are still required to register. Individuals who are born female and changed their gender to male are not required to register.”

This is a massive statement. It is so seemingly “behind the times,” that when I first read it, I thought, “Surely I’m not understanding this correctly.” After two or three more read-throughs, it dawned on me that it indeed stated exactly what I thought it did. When it comes to Selective Service, men are men, women are women, and no sense of personal confusion on gender identification is acknowledged to change that. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re a woman, or you believe you’re supposed to be a woman, or if you’ve even gone through steps to physically alter your body to that effect, if you were born as a male, the Military Selective Service Act of the United States of America considers you to be a male, pure and simple.

Now, I’ll immediately pop the cultural balloon by reminding us that all that could change in a hurry. The various acts which account for this language date back to the 1940s, and Congress could eventually change them or pass a new law pertaining to transsexual and transgender persons, as well as to the requirement for female registration. But as it now stands, the law is what it is, and it really stands as a window back into a time when there was a completely different sense of masculinity and what it meant to be a man.

You see, when I registered for Selective Service on that June day in 2000, there was a statement that was being made, regardless of whether I, personally, recognized it. No, it wasn’t the same kind of statement made when you walk into the recruiter’s office and voluntarily enlist. That kind of act isn’t restricted to men, nor do I believe it needs to be. That’s because it’s one thing for an individual, regardless of their gender, to willingly enter military service for his or her country. I am so thankful for all those servicemen, whether male or female, active or retired, who have served our country.

But Selective Service is different. It’s not a voluntary act. If enacted, the draft mandates (if selected) an individual to military service, and undoubtedly during a time of national military crisis with great likelihood of personal risk. And in moments like that…when the danger is high, it says something either positive or negative about a nation and a society depending on who they mandate to military service. It says something about that nation’s character and its view of manhood and womanhood, and the responsibilities those genders carry.

Regardless of what’s culturally vogue, the biblical view of manhood is not overly complicated, summarized in the words of Paul by the very straightforward statement in 1 Corinthians 16:13…

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

Paul could have simply told the entire church in Corinth to be watchful, stand firm, and be strong. But he added something else: “Act like men.” The word is andrizomai meaning “to be brave,” or “to be courageous.” But it’s a figurative use of a word that is used outside the New Testament to mean “to be manly,” or “to be or act like a man,” which is why the ESV has translated it the way it has. So even though the intent of Paul’s words is for courageousness and strength, there’s no separating the reality that this is what men do. This is how men act. Real men. Not macho men who watch too many movies and think they need to swagger when they walk. Real men, biblical men, remain “watchful,” attentive to the situation and to possible threat. Real, biblical men stand firm in truth. They have convictions upon which they act and are guided, and they are unmovable regardless of threat. Real men are strong. They are courageous. Real men act like men.

But more than that, manhood makes sense only in relation to womanhood. Yes, men are called to these things on behalf of each other, but more than anything, real, biblical manhood shows itself in how it demonstrates watchfulness, conviction, faith, and strength in relation to women. Perhaps John Piper articulated biblical manhood best when he defined it this way:

At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships (Piper, Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 35, emphasis added).

Later in the chapter, Piper unpacks what he means specifically when he speaks of the protection component of masculinity. He writes,

“Suppose a man and a woman (it may be his wife or sister or friend or a total stranger) are walking along the street when an assailant threatens the two of them with a lead pipe. Mature masculinity senses a natural, God-given responsibility to step forward and put himself between the assailant and the woman. In doing this he becomes her servant. He is willing to suffer for her safety. He bestows honor on her. His inner sense is one of responsibility to protect her because he is a man and she is a woman.

He goes on,

It may be that in any given instance of danger a woman will have the strength to strike the saving blow. It may be too that she will have the presence of mind to think of the best way of escape. It may be that she will fight with tooth and claw to save a crippled man and lay down her life for him if necessary. But this does not at all diminish the unique call of manhood when he and his female companion are confronted by a danger together. The dynamics of mature masculinity and femininity begin the drama with him in front and her at his back protected–however they may together overcome the foe or suffer courageously together in persecution. A mature man senses instinctively that as a man he is called to take the lead in guarding the woman he is with.” (Piper, 43-44).

Now, relate that back to Selective Service. It says something when a country, in the event of national emergency, when the need to expand military resources is urgent, mandates its men to military service in protection of the nation and its citizens. It says something about masculinity and the role of the man to protect others. And it says something completely different about that nation when it would mandate its women to do the same thing. And it says something even more when that same nation no longer recognizes manhood and womanhood as distinguishing categories at all.

Manhood and womanhood are categories that are diminishing rapidly in today’s egalitarian, gender-neutral culture. When I look around for expressions of masculinity, I don’t expect to find them anymore in our national legislation. And regardless of how long the language of the Military Selective Service Act remains as is, where I do expect to find expressions of true masculinity in is Christ’s church. The church really is the last vestige of truth when it comes to masculinity and femininity. Now, more than ever, we need churches to do what Paul exhorted the Corinthian church to do: “Act like men.” Especially when it comes to the issue of gender, masculinity, and femininity. Churches need to be vigilant. Be convictional. Be strong. Be courageous. We have no idea what the future will bring, but it certainly won’t be utopia. The churches that survive long into the future…whether or not they look the same as they do now…are the ones that live and die on the truth. They will be the ones that remain strong amidst persecution, that refuse to back down despite cultural hostility and coercion. They are the ones who are brave, who say what the Bible says, whether about the gospel, or about manhood and womanhood, who remain courageous through it all. They are the ones who act like men.