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When my wife and I found out last December that we were having a boy, we were thrilled. Admittedly we were hoping for a girl, but that was mostly because of the name we had picked out. It didn’t take long for us to settle on a boy name (Simon) and to start dreaming about our sweet baby boy.
And it didn’t take long for the fear to settle in either. No doubt there are challenges to raising both boys and girls in today’s world, but the prospect of raising a white, middle-class, male in the U.S. felt particularly daunting.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of decent white, middle-class, U.S. men. I like to think that on my best days, I’m one of them. I certainly know plenty of others, and I’m sure you do too.
But we also have to reckon with the fact that Western society was designed by and for white men.
Exhibit A: the famous painting above capturing the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The symbolic birth of our nation attended by those midwives of American democracy, the Founding Fathers.
See any women? Any people of color? That’s because there aren’t any, at least not in the artist’s rendering of the event.
But lest we fool ourselves into thinking that there simply weren’t people of color or capable, ambitious women around in 1776, let’s remember where they were.
In 1776, there were roughly 279,218 Africans enslaved in the British colonies of the Americas, a number that would swell to over 5 million in the decades before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
There were anywhere from 50-100 million indigenous Americans across the continent, though that number would plummet in the years to come as westward expansion and disease would decimate those that the framers called “merciless Indian savages”.
And that’s not to mention all of the European immigrants of color that made their way across the Atlantic.
Yet despite this bubbling cauldron of diversity outside, inside the closed-door meetings where the shape and trajectory of America was set were nobody but white men.
Is it any mistake, then, that power, wealth, and status continues to be concentrated in disproportionate numbers in the U.S. among white men? Is it any mistake that phrases like “boys will be boys” and “locker room talk” have been been used, at the highest levels of society, to excuse unconscionable acts of abuse and violence toward women for the sake of male dominance and pleasure?
If we reckon honestly with our history, the answer must be “no”.
But before I go any further, let me make something perfectly clear: I don’t believe there is anything inherent in our white boys that is more broken than in anyone else. Sin is an equal opportunity distorter. If human history had progressed differently, I believe women or West Africans or Cherokee could have just as easily accumulated wealth and consolidated power for themselves at the expense of others.
But they didn’t. Western European men did. And society is indelibly shaped by this reality.
If we had any doubts, current movements and moments have soundly disabused us: #MeToo, #ChurchToo, fresh revelations about the sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic church at the hands of male priests and bishops, accusations against powerful evangelical male leaders like Bill Hybels, the more than 300 victims of Larry Nassar and doctors just like him that we’re only beginning to learn about, the unprecedented abuse overture brought before the CRC Synod 2018.
As the church, I wonder if we can make a commitment together as this newest one plays out over the course of the coming weeks. Rather than jump into our partisan foxholes and hurl the boilerplate talking points at one another that have been pre-packaged for us by those who profit off of our division, let’s remember our history.
Let’s remember that when it comes to sexual assault, power disparities are always at play.
Let’s remember that in the U.S., society was designed to tip the balance of power toward men, especially those who are white.
Let’s remember that boys in the U.S. grow up learning to possess this power and to exercise it over women almost as a matter of course.
And as we remember our history, let’s also remember our identity.
Let’s remember that as followers of the risen Christ, we have been freed from arbitrary division and from the unjust accumulation and abuse of power.
Let’s remember that by virtue of our common baptism, we are all one in Christ Jesus.
Let’s remember that Christ came to give all of us, male and female, life, and to give it abundantly.
Let’s remember that Christ once summed up the entire law and all the prophets with two simple commands: to love God and to love our neighbor.
And in light of our history and our identity, let’s commit to a new script. One whose first impulse is to believe survivors rather than the accused. One that self-reflectively recognizes the bias toward male power and privilege and actively works to elevate and empower female voices.
One that scrubs abusive platitudes like “boys will be boys” from its lexicon, and replaces it with a new axiom. A banner under which the whole Church can rally. A guiding principle to help new parents like me and my wife navigate what it means to raise a boy born both into this troubling history and into this baptismal identity.
For the sake of our boys and our girls. For the sake of the gospel.
“Boys will love their female neighbor”.