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Challenging Macho Attitudes Through Faith


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE for NPR News.

Coming up the Barber Shop guys talk about the week in politics, sports and pop culture.

But first, it's time for our regular Faith Matters conversation. That's the part of the program where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality. Today, challenging the macho man in church. A new generation of black and Latino pastors are challenging strongly held convictions about what it means to be a man and how to treat women and their families. But also, how men treat each other.

To talk more about this, I'm joined by Bishop David G. Evans. He's pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in New Jersey, with nearly 30,000 members. He's author of the new book "Dare to be a Man." We're also joined by Jose Gonzalez. He's a founder of Semilla Ministries. He also blogs for the Christian Broadcasting Network. I welcome you both. Thank you for speaking with us.

Bishop DAVID G. EVANS (Bethany Baptist Church): Thanks for giving us the time.

Mr. JOSE GONZALEZ (Semilla Ministries): Thanks for the opportunity.

MARTIN: Mr. Gonzalez, can you define machismo? What is it?

Mr. GONZALEZ: It's a Spanish term and derived from the word macho, which means male. That assumes the superiority of the male over the female of the human species.

CONAN: Now, of course, you know, domineering men or men who think they're all that can be found in, I would guess, just about every culture. But the fact that Latino culture has a word for it, you think, gives it some sort of special weight, you think? You think there's a broad kind of acceptance of the idea that men act a certain way, especially toward women?

Mr. GONZALEZ: Yes, I think it's the other way around. It's because the Spanish culture prides itself and defines itself, boasts of the machismo of its men, that the phenomenon is given a Spanish name, though the phenomenon itself is universal in terms of cultures.

MARTIN: Bishop, to that point, we don't - wouldn't necessary use the word, maybe, machismo or macho in the African-American context. But do you think that there's an African-American equivalent that you want to talk about?

Bishop EVANS: It's macho. I believe that the principle is permeated in every culture and that macho actually is a cover-up for not wanting to be communicative or be responsible for your actions. So if I don't want to explain what I'm doing or why I'm doing it or if I don't want to be accountable, I take a macho position. What I'm really actually doing is covering my insecurities with a facade.

MARTIN: You have a new book out that addresses many of these issues. What made you want to take this on?

Bishop EVANS: Well, I've been counseling men and women for the past 19 and half years. And I realized last week that I had counseled somewhere around 30,000 people in the 19 to 20 years I've been doing it. And one the things that really was very obvious to me was that relationships were extremely important to all of us, but also extremely difficult for all of us, and that men and women brought something different to this equation.

So I started to look at the problem. And what I saw was that a lot of men had not been taught what their full potential was, and that women did not understand a man's mind, his actions or his thoughts. So we began to give a - write a very intrusive but sensitive roadmap for men to become all they can be, an extraordinarily insightful translation of a man's mind, actions and will for a women.

MARTIN: Why do you think it's important to take this on within the context of the church? I mean, obviously both of you are men of the church, but is it partly because that just happens to be where you are, that is the context for the work you do? Or do you think that that there's some specific relationship between the way perhaps people use their religious beliefs to warrant their behavior or to justify their behavior?

Bishop EVANS: I think in the church there has been an extraordinary use of macho principle to dominate the majority in the church. So - but in our context we've always had an equal opportunity, an equal playing field context. So we're in a situation now where we have to be very active in realigning who men and women are, how they treat one another, and therefore change the way they react with society.

MARTIN: Mr. Gonzalez, people say, well, this is - it's biblically based. I mean, people I think often sight Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, where he tells wives to submit unto their husbands as unto the Lord. And many people look at that and say it's a settled issue. Why do we need to talk about it?

Mr. GONZALEZ: Well, I think it's a crucial issue for society in general, but…

Bishop EVANS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GONZALEZ: …particularly for the Hispanic culture, which is very religious. The church is the place where our common culture gets preached, demonstrated, modeled and endorsed. And so if it is going to change in our private lives within our homes, in our families and neighborhoods, the church needs to speak about it. The verse you quote from Ephesians V, it's often misinterpreted and misquoted because…

Bishop EVANS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GONZALEZ: …it does not include the preceding verse, which is 521 instead…

Bishop EVANS: Absolutely.

Mr. GONZALEZ: …of 22, that says submit to one another, nor the following the verses. The rest of the chapter is about the men laying his life for his wife as Christ for the church.

Bishop EVANS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GONZALEZ: So when you take wives submit to your husbands in that context, you realize that it has nothing of oppression.

MARTIN: But why do you think it's…

Bishop EVANS: I think…

MARTIN: …forgive me, forgive me, Bishop, but why do you think, Mr. Gonzalez, that this is an urgent matter?

Mr. GONZALEZ: Yes, I think it's urgent because the family as we have known it is in a state of collapse. And one of the significant reasons why it is collapsing is because it is out of order. It is not in God's ordained order. And so as long as men lorded over their wives and, as the Reverend very keenly pointed out, neglect their own responsibilities, then the family cannot sustain itself. So if a proper partnership between a man and a woman, a covenant from a Christian perspective, is to be established, it needs to be established God's way.

MARTIN: Bishop…

Bishop EVANS: I think there's been a misinterpretation. The umbrella of submission is submit yourself one to another. Man submit to woman, woman submit to man. So that flips macho right on its back and kicks it down the hallway. You know, so the man is supposed to be a chief servant, his voice is supposed to be the thing that brings security, not fear to his family. A man is supposed to be a source of strength - actually what I call a safe place to love, not just a person, but a safe place to love. And you can't be macho and be a safe place to love.

MARTIN: If you are just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly Faith Matters conversation with Bishop David G. Evans and Jose Gonzalez. We're talking about machismo in the church, particularly in the African-American and Latino churches. And we're talking about whether the sense of the man's role needs to change or whether it's been misinterpreted. Bishop Evans - you seem to be, both of you seem to be suggesting that people have misinterpreted these passages to…

Bishop EVANS: Absolutely.

MARTIN:…warrant sort of male domination and female submission to its own ends. But they are those, I think, who would say, well, you're just cherry picking, that's just politically correct for now and that if you really, you know - that history doesn't lie.

Bishop EVANS: It's not cherry-picking. If man and woman were created in an image and likeness of God, and I believe in my heart that the oppressive principle that has been pressed in the church, where men are superior to women, started because the minority needed an instrument to control the majority. Scripture is open to interpretation and God never ever contradicts the presenter at the moment he or she is presenting. So if you have a people that are willing to accept that God has first created you in equal image but with different roles and responsibilities, the different roles and responsibilities don't necessarily call for a superior and a subordinate. Partnership, co-rulers, co-submission, is what the Bible really teaches.

MARTIN: How is your message being received, each of you? Both of you teach, both of you work with lay folks and women in the church. How is your message being received?

Bishop EVANS: Well, at first when I started, I started in 1990, I believe, and came right out with this principle working and I got some flak from my peers. Well, of course the females were waiting for a liberator to come along. And the men, some of the men rejected it, but most of the men, once you show them in Scripture that Jesus can't possibly be who he is and be a discriminator, their mindsets changed. So it's - now we're known for promoting women. We have some of the strongest women in our vein of activity in the country. I train women to do what we do. So it - for some people, there is still a problem. I think Elder will appreciate that. There is still a problem with that, but I believe they're fast becoming the minority.

MARTIN: Mr. Gonzalez, what about you? I know you also work in Latin America. How is your message being received?

Mr. GONZALEZ: Typically, in a congregation, there will be a great silence when this subject is brought up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GONZALEZ: The men elbow each other and say things like on whose side is he? And later, typically privately, I get all manners of feedback from enlightened men, a few, and from just about every women in the place.

MARTIN: And it's an interesting question because Bishop, I was interested in a passage from your book, where you talk a lot about this whole concept of biblical submission and what it means. And you share this very thing, how this whole word submission sends ripples through the crowd.

Bishop EVANS: Absolutely.

MARTIN: You said, to many men, female submission is thought to be the birthright of all men and the only acceptable behavior for godly women. And to many women, submission has become a profane word that is merely the means by which men seek to dominate women.

You also point out that submission is mutual, but you also say women should choose men to whom they can submit. So the question I would ask is: is this a dressing-up of the same behavior in a nicer costume?

Bishop EVANS: Not at all, not at all. I think that for a man to submit to a woman, he has to respect her mind, her judgment, her wisdom. For a woman to submit to a man, she must respect those same things. She must respect him spiritually; he must respect her spiritually. So all submission is, is love and cooperation with the person that you've chosen to love.

MARTIN: Mr. Gonzales, do you feel that you are making headway with this message? Whenever people ask a fundamental change in self-concept, it can be very challenging for people. And as you point out, Mr. Gonzales, I know you've talked to other reports who you've mentioned how you were raised with a certain sense of the way the world was supposed to be and how challenging it can be when you sort of change the way you ask people to see themselves and walk in the world. Do you feel you're getting somewhere?

Mr. GONZALEZ: Yes, it is very challenging, but yes, I see headway being made, particularly as men and women wake up to their proper roles because change cannot be done alone. It takes two to tango, and so women must assume the role of self-respect and of confronting, if necessary, the men they love, to cause them to grow and mature as he desire to.

Part of the problem is that women have believed the lie of their inferiority and the inherent superiority of men, and therefore, they failed to confront their husbands, their boyfriends, their children, their male children and their partners in such a way that they don't help them. And so they are not the suitable helper that the Scripture calls for in the divine order for marriage, but fail in that, and they become accomplices, getting instead their power from the domination of their children, which is how machismo gets reproduced from generation to generation.

It's women who reproduce it. The example of the men, yes, but the actual teaching of values, the nurture of the young, is in the hands of women. So women bring up boys to be machistas and girls to put up with it.

MARTIN: And Bishop, do you think that you're making headway with this message?

Bishop EVANS: I think we have. I think you have to have courage in order to do it, because you're going to get some peer pressure from those that like things the way they are. But absolutely, we've made tremendous strides and have the lives of men and women to prove over these 19 or 20 years.

So yes, we're in a position of leadership, which means we have to be change agents, which means we have to be fearless at times, especially as we break molds that tradition has so concretely erected.

MARTIN: Bishop David G. Evans is the Pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in New Jersey. He's also the author of "Dare to be a Man." It's his latest book, and he was kind enough to join us from Chicago. Jose Gonzalez is the founder of Semilla Ministries, and he joined us from WRHO in Norfolk, Virginia. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Mr. GONZALEZ: Thank you.

Bishop EVANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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