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I got click-baited this week by the headline, “How To Raise Sons Who Don’t Sexually Assault”.

This has been on my mind a lot, since watching the Kavanaugh hearings and realizing how many Brett Kavanaughs I know. It is among my great fears that I will inadvertently raise a Brett Kavanaugh.

I looked at his angry contorted face and realized that this same culture that teaches women how to try to avoid, protect, or wiggle politely out of sexual violence isn’t doing any favors for men and boys either. Should nothing change in our culture, my little future-white-men will need some unique skills to navigate a world that cultivates in them such anger, entitlement, loneliness, dominance, imperviousness, emotionlessness.

I can’t stop thinking about one of the instructions I read in the article. “Make your boys feel as comfortable as possible experiencing and discussing emotions.”

I’ve been thinking about David. The Bible one. Seems to me that David and Brett Kavanaugh had a lot in common, at least in terms of the whole rape thing and the whole power thing. It seems to me that David is a relatable guy to many of the issues that men face in modern life.

One thing that I think is refreshing about David is the clarity of his emotional range. In the Psalms we can see his shame, his fear, his joy, his vulnerability, his confusion, his loneliness. He felt it, he spoke of it.

I’ve been thinking about this — about how much we love King David, and what this tells us about church culture and masculinity. I thought about how the churches I’ve been part of have, I think, done a good job of teaching and normalizing an emotional vulnerability… before God, anyway. I know a lot of good men who can cry in church. I have been around many a dinner table when men get choked up as they pray. I love this. I need it.

And lately it makes me wonder if we church-folk have cultivated a culture where it’s (only?) appropriate for men to have an emotional range in the confines of their personal relationships with Jesus. Before the cross, men can feel shame, fear, confusion, regret. (But not before their children, coworkers, softball team.)

But what I think our boys are dying for is a culture that permits this — encourages this — in front of one another as well. How can we become families who identify and normalize, encourage and support, a range of emotions in both our boys and our girls? And beyond families — can we become churches who teach the formation of deep and intimate friendships not just at craft night but also at campout? Can we be pastors, elders, worship leaders, youth group mentors who model an emotional range, and who prize it for the depth of the human experience it affords us?

I believe that this is how we were created — to have, to name, to cope with and learn from a broad spectum of emotions in this life. I believe there is no true way to live as the beloved community without this.  

I have a deep fear that I will inadvertently raise a Brett Kavanaugh. Church, I need your help.

 

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

 

Kate Kooyman

Kate is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

29 Comments

  • Ronda says:

    You wrote as if Kavanaugh was accused of rape. Do you have information I don’t? The premise of your article is good….let’s all dig deeper and learn more about how to raise men of good character and integrity, but make sure your journalism is solid, too.

  • Grace Shearer says:

    Interesting and challenging thoughts about the Kavanaugh experience. Thanks!

  • Daniel Walcott says:

    Good thoughts.
    As in most situations, there are obvious things to work on, and then some. I am one of those older white men, no I don’t condone any violence against women, or anyone else. No I was never led to believe that taking advantage of a woman or anyone else is acceptable. I am also a teacher. The other glaring issue with Justice Kavanaugh is being raised in a culture of privilege. It seems he was never held accountable for much. When you raise your son, or daughter, allow them to take responsibility for their actions. I watched the phase of “helicopter parents” come through our schools. Now we have slipped further into “bulldozer parents,” parents who refuse to let their children see or experience anything that makes them discern, parents who continually advocate for their children even when they are clearly wrong. Parents who get up in arms when their child is required to read a book that would make them think, but think nothing of a lifestyle in conflict with Jesus. Parents who try to buy happiness, a place on the team, and grades for their children, produce the offspring we saw in Brett Kavanaugh’s yearbook.

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    Hi Kate,

    A few thoughts:

    1. If I was of a different political persuasion and was grasped, nay held, by the anti-gospel habit of identity obsession, I might likely dismiss your pontifications about what boys and men want and need as womansplaining, but I’ll resist.

    2. I have a daughter. If I was to write publicly that my great fear is that my daughter would grow up to be a Kate Kooyman, would you consider that helpful, yes even righteous, public discourse?

    3. How do you, a professed advocate for justice, justify your slander of Justice Kavanaugh as a rapist? Are you aware of the biblical standard for seeking truth and justice in matters such as this? Why do suppose that you can stand as judge and substitute a worldly standard of justice for the biblical standard?

    4. Do you not see the inconsistency in noting Kavanaugh’s anger at accusations that he denies (and which have not been proven by a biblical standard) and then accusing him of being emotionless? Is not anger an emotion? Or must men only express emotion as meets your approval? Do you think you make yourself look wise as you poke fun of Kavanaugh’s facial expressions (“contorted”) as he expresses the very emotions that you say does not possess? How does that encourage the expression of emotion? Did not Kavanaugh also show emotion when he “teared up” during testimony, or will you now suppose to also judge his heart and say that this show of emotion was fake or insincere? Anger to tears – somehow not indicative of public emotional range?

    5. You have said in a previous post that it is the job of the church to #believewomen. How does a standard of default belief for one party or the other in a dispute comport with the following passages?
    Deuteronomy 1:17 – “You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike.”
    Deuteronomny 16:19 – “You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality.”
    Leviticus 19:15 – “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”
    Exodus 23:3 – “and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.”
    Examples can be multiplied, but you get the idea. If you posit that there is a problem in certain areas of society where men are believed over women, how does the bible say that is to be corrected? Certainly the Bible does not say to commit the same error in the opposite direction. Justice is not about believing one sex over the over, but is found in practicing impartiality. Your recent posts do not evidence such an impartiality. How did “believewomen work out for black men in the south in days past? History teaches us (not to mention God teaching us) that partiality is no way to arrive at justice.

    6. It is sad to me that your training in identity politics so consumes you that you dehumanize your own sons at an early age and reduce them to externals as you refer to them as “future-white-men”, that culturally acceptable bogeyman. May you be spared such inconsideration as you are willing to heap on others.

    7. Have you considered that the church’s love for King David has nothing to do with “masculinity” and everything to do with the fact that he was (despite his failings) “a man after God’s own heart”, the author of many Psalms, and indeed the father of our Lord?

  • Michelle Wondaal says:

    Well may God help your sons, Kate. Someday your sons will grow up and some women may accuse one of them of a crime with no date, no time, no location, no witnesses. no evidence, no collaboratiion of any kind. Your view seems to indicate you are okay with that.

  • Evelyn A. Pastoor says:

    Eric Van Dyken , You are right on!!!!!!! Look at Moses’ wrath in the Bible, Jesus own wrath. I would have been so angry had I been accused as he was.

  • Marc Peterson says:

    Kate, I don’t think you are raising a rapist and it’s beyond reason to think that Justic Kavanaugh’s Mom did either. There was no evidence or corroboration or history at all so it seems almost slanderous to put those statements into print. As the father of a daughter and 3 sons, I think I’ve thought about this from all angles. We are able to work towards a culture of safety and fullness for our daughters while still keeping the centuries-old idea of jurisprudence to protect our sons and frankly it seems insulting that you are saying we’re coming down on just the side of our sons. My parenting is not perfect and neither are my sons but they are being raised with a healthy sense of God-given masculinity. This has already started to surface as they have multiple stories about protecting those younger or physically weaker than them. They know that if word ever gets back to us that they did not interject themselves to calm a situation down or protect someone who needed it, there will be severe punishment from us. This is apparently what Justice Kavanaugh’s mom did or he wouldn’t have made it through years of working with women and coaching girls and still passed 6 background checks.

  • Martin Dam says:

    Kate:
    I hope we someday get past this cultural trend towards overreaction among keyboard warriors. I will try to keep my comments balanced
    On the one hand, there are parts of yourarticle that trouble me. Automatically equating Kavanaugh’s rage with guilt and entitlement is problematic. B/c if he is innocent; if this is a mis-remembered story, how else could he react? Equating a man who was not convicted of any crime with sexual violence feels like click-bating to me, especially since there are so many other famous names, like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinsteen, who could easily have been substituted, if a famous name is what was needed. And as a white man, the “fear of raising a white man” line bothers me. And equating David with Kavanaugh is problematic, if only b/c David definitely wronged Bathsheba and Uriah, and Kavanaugh’s guilt is still in question.

    But that doesn’t mean the core thrust of yours article is wrong. Are any of us really against a wider emotional range among boys? You are not wrong that men have a harder time expressing emotion than women, and that men would benefit from the wider range. But I would suggest, if you really wanted to address the click bait article, the real emphasis is not a need for more emotional range. It’s changing the narrative around how men pursue women. That getting drunk and getting laid is not the rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. That there is a godly way to pursue a mate and embrace your sexuality. B/c as long as every 3rd song on the radio is telling the women to “shake it” and the men to buy shots for the women who do, and those songs shape what young love and lust are supposed to look like, these kinds of things are going to keep happening.

    • Kate Kooyman says:

      I appreciate the push-back (and the gracious tone, too). One thing is obvious — as this particular culture war’s lines are drawn, I’m one of those who found Dr. Ford’s testimony believable and Justice Kavanaugh’s the opposite. We all have chosen our side on that, and lacking a criminal trial I guess we all get to perpetually disagree. 🙂 That said, I can see your concern that because the accusation of attempted rape has not been proven (or disproven), the line about David and rape was flippant. I can hear that. (Truthfully, I’d consider editing that line in response, but I think doing so makes the comments here — and the ones on the Returning Church string — confusing for folks.) As for the “fear of raising white men,” I think I need to better understand what you’re hearing me say there. I think my point was that I’m trying to take seriously the idea that my sons will grow to become adults who have power and privilege as a function of their race and their gender. And also they will have been shaped by a culture that has done them some harm in what it’s taught them about emotions, about strength, about sex, about power, about many things. I hope once they’re grown, I’ll be able to say that I’ve done what I can do, as a parent, to form them in ways that better reflect the kingdom of God. It feels scary, yes. But I didn’t say I was scared to raise a white man. I said I was scared to accidentally raise someone like what I saw in Brett Kavanaugh on the stand that day. Many saw someone defending his honor, but I didn’t. I saw someone entitled, defensive, aggressive, belligerent, disrespectful, and dishonest. That’s my fear — not that they’ll be white or male… that they’ll be like that. Good thing I know lots of great, kind, nurturing, loving, humble, emotionally-mature, Christ-like, white men. 🙂

      • Brian Eric Polet says:

        Kate,
        What was believable about Dr. Ford’s testimony? The reason I ask is because the whole premise of your article hinges on that fact. If you believed Justice Kavanaugh, we would not be having this discussion about boys, emotions, and bad examples.

      • Sarah Van Zetten Bruins says:

        Martin and Kate,

        Thank you for modeling what it looks like for sisters and brothers to disagree in unity, kindness, and love. I am grateful that both of you seem to be working to listen well, be curious about the other’s perspective, and speak what you believe with kindness. This exchange gave me hope this morning!

  • John Vanderploeg says:

    I am with Eric. Who gave this person the right to determine how all of us should feel?
    John Vanderploeg

  • Eric Kas says:

    Thanks for the article, Kate. I am truly in agreement and my wife and I have had some great conversations about or two little white boys fueled by Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly Chapter 7 about parents modeling vulnerability for their children and working hard to not unconsciously place shame on them.

    Also, I just read an article by David Brooks NYT columnist called Two Cheers for Feminism! https://nyti.ms/2A5ddAN my favorite quote: In other words, as the editors of the anthology put it, the culture teaches girls not to talk and boys not to feel. Girls begin to say, “I don’t know.” Boys say, “I don’t care.” They’ve been pushed away from honest sharing and deep connection. As one of the characters in “The Breakfast Club” put it, “When you grow up, your heart dies.”
    Thanks again for the article, Kate!

  • Eric Kas says:

    Thanks for the article, Kate!
    Focusing on your main point: I think its a deep and pressing issue for men to understand their emotions, process them verbally, understand how to take criticism, and be vulnerable. My wife and I had a stimulating conversation not too long ago fueled by Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly chapter 7 when she talks about parenting, modeling vulnerability and being conscious of the ways we often place shame on our kids. I have similar fears of raising my two little white boys in a culture that appears to becoming more and more extreme, defensive, and callous.
    I also read a great little article by David Brooks today titled Two Cheers for Feminism! (https://nyti.ms/2A5ddAN) My favorite quote: “In other words, as the editors of the anthology put it, the culture teaches girls not to talk and boys not to feel. Girls begin to say, ‘I don’t know.’ Boys say, ‘I don’t care.’ They’ve been pushed away from honest sharing and deep connection. As one of the characters in ‘The Breakfast Club’ put it, ‘When you grow up, your heart dies.'”

    It’s going to be hard to raise these boys to keep their full hearts.

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    “As for the “fear of raising white men,” I think I need to better understand what you’re hearing me say there.”

    The above sentence will be a first-ballot inductee into the Sophistry Hall of Fame.

    I suspect you do understand what we think you are saying. Don’t try to make it difficult. The comments are quite clear.

    What you need to understand is that we find identity politics (look it up) and character assassination to be wrong.

  • Fred Mueller says:

    It has surprised me that no one has mentioned the apocryphal book of Susanna in regards to this whole thing. Barclay called it the first detective story in history. I don’t know that Susanna is helpful in this situation (a young woman is falsely accused), but it was one of the first things that came to mind when this controversy erupted. I guess it’s just me.

  • Anne Weirich says:

    Interesting string of comments. Especially in light of the fact that the writer asked for help from the church in raising sons. I also appreciate the writer backing off from her flippant comment about rape. As a survivor or an “almost” rape, the line is blurry as to its impact. So I don’t feel that the comment is quite as flippant as characterized. I am a pastor and often draw equivalencies between Biblical stories and our lives today. But I find that drawing a comparison between David, who has never in my world been beloved, but merely a human who may or may not have written all the Psalms, and Brett Kavanaugh is puny. Kavanaugh is a symptom of the larger issue… a system bloated by entitled patriarchy and distorted democracy long supported by churches and denominations who preach and teach and reflect in our own structures and DNA an endorsement of such systems. Kavanaugh is all of us. And if the church can help raise a new generation to turn the tide toward justice, peace and equanimity and love, we have to own this brokenness and truly be reborn.

  • Nancy VandenBerg says:

    Thank you, Kate for expressing your concerns.
    I, too, heard Dr. Ford and found her genuine. Then, eager to hear the other side, I only heard entitlement, disrespect, defensiveness and belligerence.
    I was profoundly disturbed that our leaders chose to excuse this behavior and ignore the caution from many legal scholars voiced.

  • Erek Kooyman says:

    I’ve never commented on a blog until now as I prefer in-person discourse and feel that there are too many people that say too many things from their keyboard. Oh, well, I guess I’ll join the fun on this one.

    As a white male who has been married to Kate Kooyman for the last 15 years, and raising children with her for the last 8, I can say with all of my heart that there is no woman that I would rather be married to or raise boys with in this day and age. I am better because of her, as are my sons.

    Some of the comments made in response to this blog post (it is not journalism or an institutional statement) are absurd, disrespectful, and say more about those making the comments than they do about my wife or the point that she is making. These personal attacks directed toward Kate are unacceptable.

    • Marty Wondaal says:

      Good first post!

      But, you do kind of sound like Brett Kavanaugh.

    • Doug Vande Griend says:

      I’ve not read any comments containing “personal attacks” toward Kate, even if one might reasonably suggest that Kate personally attacked Brett Kavenaugh.

      Maybe those personal attack comments were deleted?

  • Dick Stravers says:

    Thanks, Kate, for your blog. I too thought Dr. Ford was believable. But let’s assume for a moment that she was not telling the truth, or did not accurately remember exactly what happened several years ago and that Brett knew himself to be fully innocent of what was alleged. Given his demeanor, anger, defensiveness, and disrespect for those who were questioning him, do you who submitted negative comment after negative comment in response to this blog honestly think he is fit for serving on the highest court in America? Do you think Donald Trump nominated him and Mitch McConnel worked his butt off to push him through primarily because he is a man of the highest character? If he were being interviewed to be a pastor in one of your churches, would you vote for him? Would you choose him as the CEO or even a board member of the corporation you own?

  • Doug Vande Griend says:

    Dick Stravers: The one qualification you don’t mention in your investigatory query is Kavanaugh’s ability and perspective as a jurist. No one was interviewing him to be their pastor, or as a CEO or a board member of a corporation.

    I submit that Kavanaugh’s qualifications as a jurist were absolutely top notch, and that his prior confirmations, not to mention his extensive record of judicial opinions, confirm this. I wouldn’t want my pastor to sit on the Supreme Court–would you — or anyone else for that matter?

  • Brian Eric Polet says:

    Kate,
    Again, what is believable about Dr. Ford’s testimony? For all practical purposes, your premise in this article is debunked by the Senate report. Quote:
    “Committee investigators found no verifiable evidence that supported Dr. Ford’s
    allegations against Justice Kavanaugh. The witnesses that Dr. Ford identified as individuals who
    could corroborate her allegations failed to do so, and in fact, contradicted her.”

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