An American Christian Chapter IX — Toxic Masculinity
Toxic masculinity is nothing new. It’s linked to almost every modern problem we have as a society. As of this writing, we even have it in the White House. There are entire online communities dedicated to nothing but being a toxic, misogynistic asshole. Places like Parler and Gab, plus large parts of Twitter, and Facebook propagate it. Idiotic controversies such as Gamergate, fascist groups like the Proud Boys, The Boogaloo Boys and the alt-Right and Neo-Nazis, and their ilk. The list is almost endless. The toxicity is obvious there. It’s presented as “Men being men” and “free speech.” What it is, are groups of cowards afraid of women. Fearful that their status as leaders of society is being questioned.
This is learned behavior reinforced by these different communities. Religious communities are certainly no exception. They not only house misogynistic thinking but teach it as a part of their doctrine.
Generation Training Center was a hotbed for toxic teachings about masculinity. Ben Jones, the pastor of the church and founder of GTC, was an old school Assemblies of God pentecostal. He loosened up as time passed, but Ben unclenching from that old pentecostal mindset had less to do with recognizing women being equal human beings than it did with letting his son Devon play the drums during Sunday morning worship.
GTC and the church taught patriarchy. It was not only a part of the curriculum; it was just the way life was. We all accepted it because “It was in the Bible.” The classic verses about “Men being the head of the household” or being the “spiritual leaders” were reiterated endlessly. Patriarchal standards are a primary element to almost all evangelical churches, as well as Catholicism, Mormonism, and other “apostate” sects of Christianity.
GTC taught that toxicity right out of the gate. Devon Jones was the poster boy for toxic masculinity, and probably still is. From the body-shaming gym time to pushing the guys in the program to participate in physical activities that made them uncomfortable. This chapter will mainly focus on stories as examples of all this, but I will explain more in between those stories.
Before I share anything, I need to acknowledge that I have lived a life of white male privilege. I grew up in a middle-class Christian household and never wanted for anything. I learned toxic masculinity from every source imaginable but was lucky to have a Father that didn’t often act like that. I was even more fortunate that I had a Mother that did not put up with that shit.
My Mom was considered a tom-boy, a descriptor I now think is stupid and meant only to ostracize women who don’t “fall in line.” The point being, she not only kept up with the boys but often outplayed them. Our church had a softball team when I was younger, on which my Mom played. This is the same softball team where I frequently witnessed the childish tantrums of both Ben and Devon Jones when things didn’t go their way. My Father hates baseball to this day because of them.
My Mom was a badass and would play softball with the gusto of a major leaguer. Somehow she did it all while laughing and enjoying the hell out of it, which always astounded me. However, despite my mother’s efforts, I still fell for the traditional patriarchal society’s lies. I have been unlearning those ways of thinking for over a decade, and I’m sure I still have much more to unlearn.
Something that happened growing up in a church with other boys was wrestling. Every winter camp, summer camp, rafting trip, or just standard horseplay somehow involved wrestling. This may have been a little bit of “boys will be boys” (which is never an excuse), but we were always pressured into it. It was like a cock-fighting match (no pun intended) where sides and factions were drawn up every time until we had a “best fighter.” This usually ended in tears because someone was injured, but that never seemed to stop the agitators. There was a group of us that hated these games, myself included. I didn’t want to wrestle, and when forced, I usually just laid there like a dead fish, frustrating my opponent with my unwillingness to participate. I was shamed by some for this and thanked by others. I had no desire to put up with it.
This sort of rowdy, childish behavior somehow continued into Master’s Commission and GTC. In my first year, Devon found two pairs of boxing gloves and made all of the guys go up to the church's gym (a place I describe in Chapter I) lit by the weakest sodium light in the known universe and box. This was required. We were not allowed to opt-out because that would have been going against spiritual authority. This was mandatory for “team building.” We did this during our small accountability group and were relieved to do, so we didn’t have to talk about masturbation.
One by one, we put on the gloves and tried to hit each other. Most of it was light, a few taps here and there along with some laughs, but as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, Devon was competitive. When it was his turn, he put the gloves on to win. Unfortunately for Devon, his chosen opponent was another student by the name of James*. James and I had been friends since middle school, and was among the few guys in the program that was even taller than me. He had the reach of a pro, and within seconds had landed a right hook squarely to Devon’s face. This enraged Devon, and he went into full attack mode, swinging wildly. Looking back, it was hilarious. James had such a significant reach over Devon that he could hold him back while Devon swung like a cartoon character.
Of course, the fun and games of this impromptu boxing match quickly ended, and we all stopped before it got carried away. Meaning, we stopped because it got carried away. Someone got their brains rattled, and we collectively decided that it was enough.
Later during my first year, while in Scotland, another required wrestling match broke out between the guys during some downtime. This was also forced on us to encourage “team participation” and “bonding.” This ended shortly after one student pushed another’s face so far into a mattress that we could no longer see his head.
These sorts of physical matches of strength were sold to us as a fun way to bond or to release stress in a safe environment. It was never a safe environment, and we were never allowed to question it. We were certainly not allowed to be against it.
This sort of toxic masculinity was perhaps the most prominent. Of course, we were taught patriarchal standards, but we had already learned most of that crap our entire lives. GTC just reinforced it. The girls were taught separately how to be a good wife and how to serve their husband best.
Another element that was not only taught, or otherwise learned from other ministerial influences, was the whole “God will bless you with a super hot wife for being a man of God.” Despite our church somehow being ahead of the curve on letting women preach or be in leadership positions, they were still objects — prizes to be won. The women were taught that their purity was more important than anything simply so they would be good enough for their mighty man of God and husband-to-be.
It’s a joke now to mock how some youth pastors will point out their “smokin’ hot wife” and say how “if you follow God’s teachings; you’ll be blessed the same way.” The irony of a pastor objectifying his wife while preaching about purity and shame is beyond comprehension, hence the joke.
Devon talked about this constantly while at the same time engaging in a secret relationship with another member of the team. Later, he would discuss his fiancé, Janice, in this way. “Guys, look at how hot she is.” was a common phrase we all grew tired of hearing. This same kind of talk was heard nearly everywhere. Young pastors and youth leaders talking about how much sex they had while also talking about how God called them.
While I know plenty of youth leaders and pastors who have now recanted their toxic mentality and have encouraged others to do the same, this way of thinking and objectification is still incredibly prevalent in the modern Church.
It’s gross, sexist, misogynistic, and utterly hypocritical. It also teaches young men that they are owed sex by women just because they follow their Church’s teachings. This leads to abusive relationships as well as marital rape.
Men who are reading this, YOU ARE OWED NOTHING. No one owes you sex; no one owes you a “smokin’ hot wife.” Your partner is your equal, and your partner is exactly that, your partner — no matter their gender identity, background, or orientation. You are not above them. You are not called by God to lead them. You attempting to subjugate your partner, wife, girlfriend, paramour, or whatever label you prefer to use is not ok. Don’t fucking do it.
One of our annual trips included driving to several cities throughout Eastern Washington. We had all stayed the night at a larger church somewhere east of the cascades during my second year. It had a full gym as well as a locker room. This was advantageous for us since we didn’t otherwise have access to any showers. At this moment, Devon believed it was an excellent male bonding opportunity for all the guys to take a group shower, considering that’s the only form of bathing we had available. Some of us scoffed at the idea because we thought it was a joke, others because they were uncomfortable with it, but homophobia was also ingrained in the program, and that worry rested in the back of our minds.
This, however, was not a joke. Devon was serious, and he was not going to take no for an answer. The more we pushed back, the more adamant he became. The guys were going to take a shower together, and that was final. He had spoken.
One student, an ex-football player in high school who was plenty used to showers like this, was not in the mood. He was outright against it no matter how intense Devon became. He eventually snuck off and took a sink-bath in a private bathroom. When Devon found out, he came unglued and berated the student for quite some time. The student was told he had a spirit of rebellion and every other guilt-inducing Bible verse that could be mustered.
The shower itself was weird. We mostly tried to maintain eye contact or face the walls, but Devon happily moved around in a small space and pretended everything was normal. This was not normal, nor should it have ever happened. Nothing sexual took place, but it certainly would have been an opportunity to do so should anyone been inclined. I don’t believe Devon did this for any sexual gratification either; this was simply, without mincing words, a dick measuring contest.
Toxic masculinity makes others feel as if they are less of a man for not participating in something that makes them uncomfortable — berating those that don’t fall in line. Normalizing bullish behavior and subjugating women and making them objects.
Devon is a toxic person, but he is not alone, nor is this behavior uncommon. These situations may have been unique to the guys in our program and me, but it is not a unique experience for many young men in the Church. Everything I’ve written about in this chapter is common. Men are taught that their privilege is a right, and it is their right to take what they want; however, they want to.