It’s hardly surprising that the word ‘masculinity’ seems often to be linked with the word ‘toxic’ these days. The ‘me-too’ movement has seen revelations about perverted behaviour by men in powerful positions not only in the Hollywood world but also in business, in politics, in sport and the media and, most shamefully of all, in the church. This week, Pope Francis’ summit on Clerical Sexual Abuse has highlighted the challenges faced by churchmen wishing to take seriously the abuse of sexuality and power among them. Not for the first time, the church has opened itself to accusations of doing too little, too late. Clearly, there’s still a long way to go.
It’s a complex problem. But today, I’d like to focus on the challenges in this area faced by a particular group of men - the young men of the church – many of whom I have worked with in the classroom and the counselling room. These young men – like their women contemporaries - invariably need help with the task of maturing. Where do they find that help? Their contemporaries - young men in urban settings are sometimes finding that knife-wielding gangs one way out. In the worlds of sport, politics, entertainment and the media, a bewildering stream of individual ‘models’ or ‘icons’ present. A macho approach is frequently legitimised by prominent sportsmen and politicians. But however they choose their models, and however subtly they pursue the search, nothing will alter young men’s core question, ‘What does it mean to be a man In 2019?’
In the church, young men are faced with even more complex questions. Not only what does it mean to be a man, but particularly ‘what does it mean to be a Christian man?’ Once again, they look around at the variety of models to find the nearest 'fit'. The cultural questions complicate life further: What does it mean to be a European/African/ Christian man? Or, what does it mean to be a young Syrian Christian man growing up in Europe?’ And then come the professional questions, ‘What does it mean to be a Christian man in the pulpit and in the world of financial deals and in relationships with women? Telling young men in this stage of life, ‘Just be a good man’ is not enough. The old answers to these questions are too simple.
In an article in the February issue of Therapy Today, Nick Duffell, a couples therapist and long-time facilitator of men’s groups, writes about de-toxifying masculinity. At the heart of the matter, Duffell describes the importance of present, attentive male models -ideally, but not necessarily, fathers. ’ He quotes the German psychoanalyst Mitscherlich who said ‘if a boy doesn’t feel his father, a ‘hole’ inside results, into which (because nature abhors a vacuum) rush ‘demons’. The ‘hole’ of the absent father develops when the father is either physically absent or physically present but emotionally absent. Fathers themselves, of course, may well be challenged by the demands of their work lives and their ‘own emotional difficulties with intimate relationships’.
‘Emotional difficulties with intimate relationships’…hmmm. And in a church context, maybe emotional difficulties with spiritual relationships. I believe the problems all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. In this blog, I have only begun to put the pieces together! Like so many jigsaw puzzles, the solutions depend on team efforts – in this case, I believe, between men and women. One thing is certain - the men meeting in Rome this week don’t need to look far to find other churchmen and churchwomen ready to engage in the effort – if only they will ask for help!