Sorting by

Skip to main content

The New York Times article described it as a “familiar thorn for evangelicals.” Once again, evangelicals and sex are in the news in a sinister way.

Robert Aaron Long, the suspect in custody for the shootings in Atlanta, GA that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, claimed to be a sex addict. Long grew up in a “strict evangelical community” in southern California that “emphasized sexual purity,” according to the article by Ruth Graham. The article quoted Brad Onishi, who also grew up in a strict evangelical community of purity culture and is now an associate professor of religious studies at Skidmore College: “the evangelical culture he was raised in, he said ‘teaches women to hate their bodies, as the source of temptation, and it teaches men to hate their minds, which leads them into lust and sexual immorality.’”

Evangelicals have indeed struggled with the proper views of sex in a culture that views sexual activity as a normative behavior, regardless of marital status. But to what degree have evangelical men adopted American Bro Culture?

Historian Patrick Wyman describes ‘Bro Culture’ as a creation of 21st century America. While Bro Culture is not a monolith and is full of contradictions, subcultures, and variety, it includes an idea of manhood that is centered around a physical activity (which includes body building or fighting or particular training or crossfit, etc.), connected to a community via social media. Bro Culture does include women, though it is skewed heavily toward men, usually in the 18-40 year old range, and it is “rooted in the physicality and the body, self-ownership through activity.” In many ways, it is a way of dealing with our current 21st century reality. According to Wyman, “That’s especially appealing to the many millions of American men who don’t have college degrees (many more of them than women, given the gendered trends in undergraduate enrollment) who are effectively locked out of professional-managerial culture and its straightforward path into the comfortable upper-middle class. Accomplishment through physical prowess is thus a means of building both a sense of self and community.” This has overt reminders of the rise of Muscular Christianity in the turn of the century United States, as many white middle class men viewed the influx of working class immigrants with some degree of jealousy as manhood became defined by Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Strenuous Life’ and working with one’s hands. Tanned, muscular and hard working blue collar men came to represent masculinity in the 20th century, and thus white middle class men made sport their avenue to access muscular masculinity without giving up their middle class status.

Bro Culture is also driven by consumption. It is the 21st century, after all. If you listen to the right podcasts, and ingest the correct protein powder or follow a certain diet or lifting app, you too can “deadlift 800 pounds” which is partly what makes Bro Culture so appealing….anyone can succeed with the right gear, diet, plan, community, mentor, mantra and mental game. The heroes in Bro Culture are usually military veterans or members of the police force and intellectualism is much less important than physicality. Wyman asserts that Bro Culture deserves scrutiny: “The code of American manhood that’s developing out of this social-media melting pot has some aspects that bear watching: A love of firearms centered on tactical usefulness (for use in what context, exactly?), a vision of muscular physicality, self-defense as a personal obligation, an unquestioning hero-worship of military culture, and far too often, a deep suspicion of people who don’t subscribe to this precise view of being a guy.” For myself, I like the concepts of personal responsibility, hard work, and setting challenges and reaching goals. But I’m less keen on emphasizing physicality at the expense of thoughtfulness. Wyman argues, “this kind of Bro Culture is also intimately connected to the emergence of a new kind of American ethnonationalism, rooted in its peculiar conception of masculinity, its collection of lifestyle products, its worship of guns, and its aversion to self-reflection.”

The last part about an “aversion to self-reflection” is particularly troubling. To what degree have evangelical men emphasized physicality over self-reflection?
When masculinity is focused on physicality at the expense of thoughtfulness and self-reflection, what is the result?

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.


  • mstair says:

    “But to what degree have evangelical men adopted American Bro Culture?”

    “The last part about an ‘aversion to self-reflection’ is particularly troubling. To what degree have evangelical men emphasized physicality over self-reflection?”

    I definitely see a difference between the Bro Culture and say, Romans 12. But is the lack of self reflection coming from, the culture, or a lack of enabling by The Holy Spirit?

  • I just finished “Jesus and John Wayne.” You writing today echos what I read there. Thank you again for your wonderful words.

    Have a blessed Holy Week.

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Rebecca. Does this reflect your opinion of Christian men, or only evangelicals, or men in general? Do I detect a tinge of female chauvinism?

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    I appreciate this article, but it seems to me that the only thing I’m left with is a judgment of a worldview or vision of masculinity that gives meaning to men who have been left adrift in an increasingly brain centered culture. With nothing to hold on to that drives meaning or gives shape to life, particularly a life that is primarily physical because self-reflection does not come naturally or rarely gives meaning to a man who is physical in nature, some men grasp for anything that gives meaning or directs their energy. I think there is a better approach. In Ephesians 4:28, Paul says, “Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” Paul recognizes that each person has a driving energy that cannot simply be set aside. A thief finds meaning with the gifts of her hands. Paul condemns that action but quickly moves to use that energy in a different task, work honestly so as to share with the needy. There isn’t a codemnation of the energy, just its direction. I don’t think it helps to condemn the physicality or the emphasis on fitness or strength or the energy it takes to work with one’s body. The question is where is that energy directed. Paul tells us that our bodies are a temple of the HS or to run the race as to win the prize. There is something of the embrace of the physical because the sacred is intertwined in it. I feel like a denial of that reality for 21st century men misses the point. Maybe instead we should give them a new challenging vision for channeling that energy for the 3 part love of Jesus: Love of God, Neighbor, and Self. Or maybe some other challenge that harnesses the physicality of many men and some women. I haven’t given it enough thought to offer something concrete.

Leave a Reply