Postcard from the Malestrom


In view of the current avalanche of sexual harassment and abuse allegations—implicating men from Hollywood to Congress (both sides of the aisle) to Silicon Valley to the Oval Office to the church—Christians have to get honest. We need to ask ourselves some serious questions.

What does it mean to be a Christian man in this crazy cultural moment? How do Christian brothers respond to this sexual abuse epidemic against women? The best place to start this conversation is in Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World.

The foreward (below) that I wrote for Malestrom is worth repeating here.


Consider this foreword a postcard from the malestrom.


As one born and bred in the malestrom, I know what it feeds on and how it breeds. I know from firsthand experience the father wound (see Carolyn’s chapter on this) that burden so many males. Without good role models, we flounder as young men and sometimes embrace a cultural vision of manhood that bears little resemblance to Jesus. I also know from my own life experiences that even as men pursue the various culturally defined visions of manhood, it is often accompanied by a gnawing sense within us (the imago Dei) that there is something not quite right about our behaviors and attitudes—the constant jousting for superiority, the artificial machismo, the domineering bravado, the denigration of the weaker males, and the sexualizing of women that shapes so much of male conversation.

The truth is that the malestrom produces schizophrenic males. We present to the world one version of ourselves for external consumption. We hide the true self with its wounds and vulnerabilities. Sometimes we bury the authentic self so deeply that it surfaces only when lubricated by alcohol or drugs. This schizophrenic maleness proliferates in our homes, locker rooms, movie theaters, magazines, blogs, and to our shame, our pulpits, Sunday school classes, and campus ministries. And yes, it is alive and well in our evangelical seminaries.

As a historian, I have taken a sacred vow to tell the truth even when it is painful. A few days from now I will lecture on church history and, although it grieves me to say it, far too much of our history is fraught with male aggression against various opponents—often fellow Christians. I will have to tell the story of the brutality of the crusades, the pogroms against the Jews, the Salem witch trials, the wars of religion, the marginalization of our sisters, the advocacy of slavery, and the internal power struggles that scar our story. If I am honest, I must confess that men have taken the lead role in this history of the church. Admittedly, this is not a comfortable story to tell, nor is it pleasant to see the face of a student at the moment of awful recognition that this is our story.

It might be argued that, in a broad sense, church history is essentially the struggle of what it means to be a Christian man. To be sure, most Christian men do not expresses their manhood through acts of physical violence, but that is not to say there is not an intense internal conflict between their Christian ideals and the cultural conceptions of manhood.

The fall of Adam is worse than we imagined. Theologians are skilled at giving abstract and dispassionate theological analyses of the fall. Carolyn’s book reminds us that the malestrom and its impact on males is never a mere abstraction. The malestrom is the ugly consequence of the fall for the male species.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of reading drafts of Carolyn’s books, and inevitably there are poignant moments that bring me to tears. Not so with this book. The overwhelming emotion in reading this book was a mixture of sadness and apprehension. My sadness is that the life and teaching of Jesus seem to have been missed for so long. Part of the power of the malestrom is that it obscures our reading of the biblical text and so our pulpits promulgate unhealthy notions of manhood.

My apprehension is derived from the anxiety that escape from this cultural captivity of manhood will not come easily. Jesus’ own disciples demonstrate the difficulty. Blinded by the malestrom, they failed to grasp that Rabbi Jesus was inaugurating a new kingdom—not of this world. It was not a kingdom that engages in violence to overthrow the brutish Roman government nor was it a hierarchical kingdom of superiors and inferiors. It was a kingdom of grace, mercy, and humility. This new kingdom of Jesus is comprised of those who turn the other cheek and where the last is first. This new kingdom is to be populated with a new kind of male, the kind of male who comes to life in Carolyn’s book. These men resist the malestrom and give us a new vision of manhood for this new kingdom. My sadness and apprehension remain, but they are tempered by hope and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

I confess that I have a vested interest in seeing Carolyn’s book read widely by both women and men. She is an insightful guide to steer us through our cultural blind spots to see what has been there all the time: a Bible that rejects patriarchy for the distortion that it is. I can speak with some authority about Carolyn’s extraordinary insight because I have been its first beneficiary.

Frank A. James III
President and Professor of Historical Theology
Missio Seminary

Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World

About carolyncustisjames
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3 Responses to Postcard from the Malestrom

  1. Linda Wightman says:

    My guess is that confronting this side of church history needs to come with a healthy helping of knowledge of the rest of the world and its history. If it were not for knowing something of how bad its contemporary civilizations were, I would long ago have despaired of the Old Testament.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. FRANK JAMES says:

    Yes indeed. I think CCJ’s book helps with the modern despair that might come from reading the OT today. She is arguing that the Bible does not teach patriarchy, rather that is the cultural context against which the OT is written. To be sure there are cultural complexities in the OT (NT too) for which we do not have complete answers. The Good News is that we have Jesus to lead the way.
    Can I get an AMEN.

    Liked by 1 person

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