Wake Up, Guys

The #MeToo movement hasn’t been limited to the secular world. Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s, evangelical Christians have been at pains to differentiate their vision for human sexuality from permissive and liberated attitudes in the broader culture. The “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” movement championed the nuclear family, marital fidelity, submission and motherhood for women, and leadership and hard work for men. Another wave of evangelical responses involved a slew of popular books on sex, dating, and marriage, the most influential of which was Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye, published in 1997. The movement that gave rise to these books is often referred to today as “purity culture,” which is characterized by a rejection of typical dating and a strong emphasis on premarital abstinence and moral sexual purity. 

The stated goals of these movements have been to uphold Christian values against secular ones and to protect God’s people from the moral stain and consequences of sexual immorality. Christians have often presented themselves as having the moral high ground as it relates to sexuality, but has this proven to be true? Have biblical manhood, biblical womanhood, and an emphasis on sexual purity spared the church from the scourge of toxic masculinity? The answer to this question—tragically, but clearly—is no.

In late 2017, Emily Joy Allison, a survivor of church-based sexual abuse, helped launch #ChurchToo, a parallel hashtag to the viral #MeToo. This and the related #SilenceIsNotSpiritual hashtag brought to light hundreds of stories of abuse, assault, and cover-up in churches and Christian organizations.

Many have noted with sadness that the sins of the men, many pastors, involved in these scandals have compromised the witness of the church and destroyed ministries that had won many to Christ. But the church’s evangelistic mission should never be at the expense of victims who are traumatized by suffering and abuse. If the preaching of good news comes with violence and dehumanization at the hands of the preachers, is it still “good” news? Jesus told his disciples, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt 7:15-16). The ravenous wolves are not those who deny the gospel through false doctrine, but those who deny the gospel through their sinful conduct.


But this isn’t just about pastors. The fracturing of institutions often involves abuse and domestic violence perpetrated by church elders, lay leaders, and attendees. The knee-jerk response to these situations has often been to guard the leader. Keep it quiet. Protect the institution. Is this the appropriate response? Paul exhorts the church in Ephesians, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph 5:11). Have we done everything we can to root out this wickedness? Any refusal to confront the epidemic of sexual sin and violence infecting our churches is an indictment on all of us, not just the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes. 

Our first response should be to grieve for and with the countless women, men, and children who have been harmed, abused, victimized, and raped by men who claim the name of Christ. The path of care and advocacy for these victims includes holding their abusers accountable by both church discipline and legal measures. We can no longer tolerate the routine victimization of women and children by men in our churches. It never should have been tolerated in the first place. 

Is it any wonder that the broader culture has a hard time taking evangelicals seriously when we speak about sex, gender, and marriage? Our house—God’s house—is not in order. It has become clear that the church is not in a moral position of strength from which to speak to the culture about human sexuality. They have known us by our fruits. 

Some of you might be thinking, not all Christian men are abusers! Yes, and thank God for that. I don’t believe, as some do, that most Christian men are actively trying to maintain a system of power-hungry patriarchy. I don’t believe Christian men are indifferent to sexual sin and the suffering of women. On the contrary, I believe most Christian men see sexual sin as serious in their own lives as well as in the lives of others. Most Christian men are genuinely, even deeply grieved by violence and abuse. Most Christian men do not want to succumb to temptation, much less become predators. 

But why is it that so many Christian men fall short of their own ideals? Why is it that an insidious, toxic masculinity has found a safe haven in our churches, hidden behind a veneer of respect for women? 

The church as an institution is sick. Some may object, “It’s not the church that’s sick, it’s the culture!” But the church should be better than the culture in this regard. As Christians, our first and primary concern should be the righteousness of the church community. As the apostle Paul wrote in response to a sexual scandal in Corinth, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wickedness from your own community’” (1 Cor. 5:12–13).


The scandal of abuse in the church is every Christian man’s problem. Even if we ourselves are not abusers, we are not precluded from having participated in the subculture that produces and shelters abusers with alarming regularity. Is simply not being a predator where the bar is set for Christian leaders and Christian men? Surely, we can do better than this. The victims of these crimes are image bearers of God, our sisters and brothers in Christ and coheirs to the kingdom. If you are in Christ, this is your problem—and you should be part of the solution. 

We now bear a sober responsibility of asking hard questions. What has gone wrong with Christian men? More specifically, what has gone wrong with the sexuality of Christian men? Even those of us who are innocent of abuse may not be as guiltless on these issues as we may think. As sinners, all men fall short in many ways. Would any man be so bold as to claim he has never sexually mistreated a woman? If you’re a man, it’s worth taking a moment and asking yourself how your wife or even your girlfriend (or former girlfriend) would answer the question of whether you’ve ever wronged or harmed her in any way sexually. 

Sexual frustration and unhealthy, sinful modes of sexual behavior remain all too prevalent. This isn’t just about violence and abuse. Despite speaking out against pornography, Christian men still use pornography at alarming rates. Christians who would like to be married remain confused about the “right” way to date. 

The fight against sexual brokenness involves more than an individualistic fight against temptation. It is a fight for justice on behalf of the men, women, and children who have been dehumanized by a deficient and sub-Christian view of what it means to be a man. It is a fight against the contagion of toxic masculinity that has infected the church. Expelling this wickedness from our communities is, indeed, every man’s battle.

Adapted from Non-Toxic Masculinity by Zachary Wagner. ©2023 by Zachary C. Wagner. Used by Chris P. Rice permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com.