What does the Bible say to America’s masculinity crisis?

June 3, 2019

David Brooks has a new article out this week on the "haphazard self." In the piece, he highlights a number of economic and cultural trends related to working-class men in the United States that are both important and disconcerting. Brooks cites research from an academic study conducted from 2000-2013 in which 107 working-class men sat down for detailed interviews about their occupations, families, and spiritual lives. The common denominator among these findings is detachment.

In the article, Brooks engages the alarming trends revealed within the study, namely that working-class men today are intentionally seeking to limit their obligations as parents, romantic partners, employees, and religious adherents. More and more, men today are seeking to live, what the study characterizes as, unattached and autonomous lives. But this is more than an interesting data point. The fact that men in the United States are self-consciously opting to remain unattached to the basic institutions of our society is a perilous trend. And the implications of this behavior are vast and dire.

Social bonds

Each of the men interviewed for the study were fathers, but in most cases the production of offspring was accidental rather than intentional. And though the men often expressed a desire for involvement in the lives of their children, most were reluctant to formally commit to their romantic partner, sought to delay a future marriage, or, if married, expressed some measure of regret regarding marital obligations. Even with respect to their children, the researchers concluded these men more often thought of themselves as "helpers" rather than "providers."

Similarly, the men interviewed for the study eschewed a traditional approach to employment. Instead of committing to a job suitable to their skills and credentials, many sought to avoid the "monotony and limited autonomy" afforded by working-class jobs, either through a combination of side-jobs to cover expenses or by striking out as entrepreneurs. Most, however, experienced little success and were forced to return to wage jobs.

A similar pattern held true for religious involvement. While most respondents attested to the significant role faith plays in a person's life, few displayed any meaningful attachment to a religious community. Many described themselves as spiritual but not religious. Others characterized their church attendance as occasional, or even frequent but noncommittal. But according to the researchers, religious faith was mostly a non-factor in shaping their identities or constraining their behavior.

Attachment and masculinity

In all three areas, the study revealed a stunning reluctance to assume the obligations that are traditionally associated with these basic social structures. Instead of accepting these responsibilities as a part of adulthood, the study showed a concerted effort to redefine each role in order to preserve autonomy.

This shirking of responsibility creates two major issues. The first is that these institutions are foundational for our society. Both the economy and our culture more broadly depend on them—in different ways—to function properly. Prolonged refusal on the part of men to enter the labor market and raise stable families ultimately spells disaster for society. And this leads to a second problem, which is that these attachments are indispensable for moral formation. Men are supposed to be committed to work, family, and church. But that isn't just conventional wisdom; it’s the wisdom of God revealed in the Scriptures.

Instead of running from these obligations, the Bible gives specific instruction for men to take responsibility in each one of these areas. As a first principle, a man's life is foremost to be grounded in his relationship with his creator. Proverbs 9:10 says that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." From his fear of the Lord, a man will seek to understand God's pattern and design for manhood, and to faithfully embody those things.

Masculinity applied

The Bible does not shy away from the language of masculinity (1 Cor. 16:13; Eph. 4:13). Instead, the Scriptures make clear that masculinity is a distinct and worthy calling. Standing in stark contrast to the trends revealed in the study, the overarching biblical principle related to masculinity is that men are called to take responsibility. It is no accident that the Bible applies this principle of taking responsibility to a man's duty in the areas of work, family, and religion. Even more, it makes perfect sense that men living in a fallen world would buck against God's intent.

When it comes to these institutions, the Bible is clear that men bear a unique responsibility for each one. As a husband and father, a man is called not only to lead his wife (Eph. 5:25-33; 1 Pet. 3:7), but to take responsibility for his children as well (Eph. 6:4). Regardless of their inclination, men are called to bear the burdens of leading their homes and instructing their children in the way of the Lord. For the good of his family, a man is to manifest the kind of humble, sacrificial leadership Jesus modeled in both his words and deeds. And while his wife is both a suitable and irreplaceable partner, he retains the obligations to exercise spiritual and physical leadership, protection, and provision (1 Tim. 5:8).

The same is true of his obligations to work. Every man is called to provide and produce (Gen. 1:28; 1 Tim. 5:8), and eschewing these responsibilities is to rebel against God's design. This doesn't necessarily mean that a husband will always earn a larger paycheck than his spouse, but every man is created to work and has a duty to commit himself to productively using his time and resources in order to care for himself and his family.

Finally, this is surely the case with regard to a man's religious practice. The call of Christ on every person is: “follow me.” For husbands and fathers, this call is not one to private spirituality or even individual obedience, but for the discipleship and spiritual oversight of his wife and children. In addition, the church is the visible family of God on earth, and every man is called to be a faithful member of Christ's body. Too often God’s church because men neglect these responsibilities, leaving women to shoulder these burdens in addition to the service God has specified for women.

True masculinity

Though not every portion of the study spelled bad news, the findings mentioned here are definitely cause for concern. America is a facing a crisis of masculinity, and it is clear that the problem is driven by sin. Manhood is a worthy calling, but its demands are difficult to meet and often involve deep sacrifice. Those things are true by design, so it is little wonder that many would seek to escape such a challenging calling. But like Jesus, God calls men meet this challenge by leading and taking responsibility in ways that require placing the welfare of others ahead of their own.

Brooks is correct that "the autonomous life is not the best life." But the truth goes even deeper. A man’s desire to avoid attachment and shun the obligations that are inherent to things like work, faith, and family can be traced all the way back to the garden. Adam hid, avoided responsibility, and was content to allow his wife to face the consequences he deserved.

In many ways, these current trends are simply an extension of Adam’s sin. True masculinity is found, though, in the person of Jesus—the second Adam. And it is by looking to him that men can learn to embrace the call to manhood that God has set before them. While it might seem desirable to escape these burdens, it is only in embracing them that men can experience the fullness of God’s design.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24