For those who are different and want to make a difference.
May 17, 2023

Change: Zachary Wagner: Challenging Male-Centric Theology and Abuse

Change: Zachary Wagner: Challenging Male-Centric Theology and Abuse
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In this episode, author Zachary Wagner recounts his personal journey and explores the irony of the purity culture movement in the white American evangelical subculture, highlighting the need for men to join the conversation about sexual violence and misconduct in church spaces.

In this episode, you will be able to:

  • Identify the repercussions of toxic masculinity within the Church and initiate constructive conversations.
  • Confront the issues of power abuse and spiritual maltreatment, promoting healthier religious communities.
  • Recognize the impact of cultural norms and pornography on men's behaviors and attitudes.
  • Advocate for the inclusion of women's input in discussions about harmful male stereotypes.
  • Prioritize personal well-being and self-care in pursuit of a mentally and emotionally fulfilling journey.

My special guest is Zachary Wagner

Introducing Zachary Wagner, a writer, researcher, and ordained minister dedicated to tackling the issue of toxic masculinity. Currently based in Oxford, England, Zachary is pursuing a PhD in New Testament Studies and serves as the editorial director for the Center for Pastor Theologians. As a co-host of the CPT podcast, he shares his knowledge on topics like ancient economics and New Testament masculinities. A staunch advocate

The resources mentioned in this episode are:

  • Purchase Nontoxic Masculinity: Recovering Healthy Male Sexuality by Zachary Wagner.
  • Check out the Center for Pastor Theologians and listen to their podcast.
  • Follow Zachary Wagner on social media for more updates and insights.
  • Read more about the Church Two movement and the MeToo movement to stay informed and educated.
  • Consider seeking therapy or counseling if you have experienced trauma or shame related to sexuality.
  • Speak out against toxic masculinity and actively work to promote healthy and respectful attitudes towards all genders.
  • Support organizations and initiatives that work towards ending sexual violence and abuse, both in and outside of religious spaces.

Pornography and Its Effects

Zachary Wagner addresses the impact pornography has on male attitudes and behaviors surrounding sexuality. He notes that this cultural force often influences the formation of compulsive habits and promotes immature expressions of sexuality. Wagner also discusses the male brain's interaction with pornography, potentially shaping attitudes towards women even without direct exposure to explicit content. He encourages men to rethink their sexual responses and move away from the harmful effects of pornography. Instead, he urges them to adopt more humanizing and mature ways of engaging with their sexuality, demonstrating respect and understanding for themselves and others. By doing so, we can foster healthier relationships and a society where individuals are not subjected to the harmful consequences of toxic masculinity.

Harmful Effects of Toxic Masculinity

Toxic masculinity is a prevailing issue with far-reaching consequences beyond perpetuating negative male stereotypes. It has harmful effects on both men and women, hindering the formation of healthy relationships and contributing to a culture of abuse and violence. When discussing his personal experiences growing up within white American evangelical subculture, Zachary Wagner sheds light on the shame he felt surrounding sexuality, exacerbated by his wife's experiences of childhood sexual abuse. Wagner believes that while sexual abuse is not a recent phenomenon, the increasing awareness of its prevalence is noteworthy. For change to happen, it is vital for men to actively engage in conversations about toxic masculinity and to take responsibility in finding solutions to the problem. He calls for an effort to break free from the distorted images of manhood and gender that have persisted for so long.

Toxic Masculinity in Megachurches

The discussion highlights the connection between toxic masculinity and megachurches in the United States. These churches often prioritize pragmatism, measuring success in terms of numbers and financial gains, which can contravene genuine spiritual growth. This culture of accomplishment can lead to the elevation of people with serious character flaws, propagating an alpha male, CEO-like mentality for pastoral ministry. Zachary Wagner asserts that the fruit of such churches often focuses on external metrics rather than on spiritual outcomes and long-term growth potential. Wagner argues that addressing toxic masculinity within these environments is essential for creating a more welcoming and supportive space for all congregants. By reevaluating their approaches to leadership and power dynamics, megachurches can foster a better culture within their communities, reducing the detrimental impact of toxic masculinity.

When abusers are given a pass and often the pass is associated with their maleness in that this is the vision of male. Men are meant to be leaders.

The fact that a certain form of unhealthy masculine sexuality has found a foothold in these communities of faith is really, really not okay. And women seem to be talking about this plenty, but not enough men are engaging in the conversation. - Zachary Wagner

Until men engage in the conversation, I fear this is just going to keep happening. We'll just be playing catch up and clean up to whatever the next scandal that reveals itself is and not really addressing the problem at its root. - Zachary Wagner

The key moments in this episode are:

00:00:01 - Introduction,

00:02:37 - Inspiration for Writing the Book,

00:12:29 - Wake Up, Guys,

00:16:30 - Dangerous Male Body-Centric Theology,

00:18:29 - Criticisms of Sexual Imagery in Christianity,

00:21:49 - Minimizing Abuse Hurts Everyone,

00:28:19 - Toxic Masculinity in Megachurches,

00:29:50 - Harmful Effects of Toxic Masculinity,

00:37:05 - Dehumanization of Women,

00:45:41 - Pornography and its Effects,

00:50:06 - Toxic Masculinity is not Exclusive to Christianity,

00:54:10 - Importance of Taking Care of Yourself,

00:54:49 - Thanks to the Community,

00:55:06 - Upcoming Guest,

00:56:16 - Different Translation of the New Testament,

00:56:52 - Catching Up with Dr. Scott McKnight,

Zachary Wagner, a writer, researcher, and ordained minister, is here to share his thoughts on centering women's voices in conversations around toxic masculinity. Originally from Chicagoland, he now resides in Oxford, England, where he is pursuing a PhD in New Testament Studies. Zachary serves as the editorial director for the Center for Pastor Theologians and co-hosts the CPT podcast. His research interests include ancient economics, divine wages in Second Temple Judaism, early Christianity, and New Testament masculinities. A passionate advocate against church-based abuse, Zachary recently authored Nontoxic Masculinity: Recovering Healthy Male Sexuality.

Timestamped summary of this episode:

00:00:01 - Introduction,

Lori Adams-Brown introduces Zachary Wagner, the writer, researcher, and ordained minister who has written a book titled Nontoxic Masculinity: Recovering Healthy Male Sexuality. The episode is centered around the topic of toxic masculinity and its impact in the evangelical church.

00:02:37 - Inspiration for Writing the Book,

Zachary Wagner talks about his inspiration for writing the book. He shares how his personal experiences growing up in the white American evangelical subculture that promoted purity culture, and his own struggles with pornography and shame, as well as his wife's experience with church-based sexual abuse, motivated him to address the problem of toxic masculinity in the church.

00:12:29 - Wake Up, Guys,

Zachary Wagner discusses the church's long-standing problem with sexual abuse and misconduct against women and children. He emphasizes the need for men to take responsibility and join the conversation to address the problem of toxic masculinity in the church, which often stems from a sub-Christian and dehumanizing vision of what it means to be a man.

00:16:30 - Dangerous Male Body-Centric Theology,

Zachary Wagner comments on the recent controversy surrounding an article that compared the gospel to sexual assault and marital rape. He clarifies that the text it was based on, Ephesians Five, is very careful in what it does and does not say about the relationship between Christ and the Church and the relationship between husband and wife. He warns against a dangerous male body-centric theology and the need for a more holistic and

00:18:29 - Criticisms of Sexual Imagery in Christianity,

Zachary Wagner discusses the use of sexual imagery in Christianity and highlights the potential theological criticisms. He emphasizes that in the current cultural climate, it is unwise to use such imagery. Wagner also draws comparisons to pagan sex cults and Greco-Roman values regarding masculinity.

00:21:49 - Minimizing Abuse Hurts Everyone,

Wagner reflects on the harms of minimizing abuse, particularly in the context of male-centered theology and toxic masculinity. He stresses the importance of men speaking up when they see women being harmed or rhetoric that perpetuates harmful ideologies. Wagner argues that when abusers are not held accountable, both the victim and the abuser suffer.

00:28:19 - Toxic Masculinity in Megachurches,

The conversation turns to the prevalence of toxic masculinity in megachurches and evangelicalism in America. Wagner argues that many have wedded themselves to cultural pragmatist ideals about results and numbers, leading to a certain type of masculine, macho, alpha-male CEO vision for pastoral ministry. He notes that this has led to elevating leaders with serious character deficiencies and neglecting the spiritual outcomes for congregants.

00:29:50 - Harmful Effects of Toxic Masculinity,

The discussion centers on the harmful effects of toxic masculinity, particularly in evangelicalism in America. Wagner notes that the focus on toxic masculinity has led to abuse in many instances, both for men and women. He argues that it is critical to shift the focus towards a kind

00:37:05 - Dehumanization of Women,

Toxic masculinity leads to dehumanization of women, objectification of female bodies, and a harmful culture of male sexualization. The book, Every Man's Battle, popularized the idea that men have a hyper-sexualized lens through which they view the world, leading to the objectification of women. As a result, women are often questioned, not believed, and placed on trial when men's sexuality goes awry. Pornography use reinforces these negative attitudes towards women and trains men's sexual response cycles, even years after they stop watching it.

00:45:41 - Pornography and its Effects,

Pornography is one of the most powerful cultural forces in shaping men's toxic attitudes and behaviors towards their sexuality. Many Christian communities stigmatize and pathologize pornography, leading to cycles of lying and deception by men who use it. Even men who no longer watch pornography may still be shaped by it and have their brains and bodies interact with women in toxic ways. The book encourages all men to think deeply about how pornography has shaped their sexuality and to find a more healthy and mature expression of it.

00:50:06 - Toxic Masculinity is not Exclusive to Christianity,

Toxic masculinity is not a concept exclusive to Christianity, but something that affects all people, regardless of faith. Women are often excluded from spaces where men coalesce unhealthy perspectives and approaches to certain issues and problems. This hyper-sexualized vision of male minds and attitude of fear directed towards female bodies creates a system where women are not heard or believed. The book encourages men

00:54:10 - Importance of Taking Care of Yourself,

Taking care of yourself is not only beneficial for your own well-being, but it also sets an example for others to follow. It's important to make time for self-care, such as eating, drinking, resting, and taking breaks from daily routines.

00:54:49 - Thanks to the Community,

The host expresses gratitude towards the community and acknowledges the difference it has made in her life. She encourages everyone to continue making a difference in their own way.

00:55:06 - Upcoming Guest,

Dr. Scott McKnight will be the next guest on the podcast. He will be discussing his upcoming book, the Second Testament, which includes a unique translation of the New Testament. He also talks about spiritual abuse and advocacy for survivors.

00:56:16 - Different Translation of the New Testament,

The Second Testament provides a different translation of the New Testament, which may challenge readers' preconceived notions of familiar Bible characters. Dr. Scott McKnight will explain some of the changes he made and discuss the concept of dynamic equivalence in translation.

00:56:52 - Catching Up with Dr. Scott McKnight,

The conversation with Dr. Scott McKnight will also touch on his advocacy for survivors of spiritual abuse. He will share his insights and what he has learned since writing his book, A Church Called Tove.

  • Purchase Nontoxic Masculinity: Recovering Healthy Male Sexuality by Zachary Wagner.
  • Check out the Center for Pastor Theologians and listen to their podcast.
  • Follow Zachary Wagner on social media for more updates and insights.
  • Read more about the Church Two movement and the MeToo movement to stay informed and educated.
  • Consider seeking therapy or counseling if you have experienced trauma or shame related to sexuality.
  • Speak out against toxic masculinity and actively work to promote healthy and respectful attitudes towards all genders.
  • Support organizations and initiatives that work towards ending sexual violence and abuse, both in and outside of religious spaces.

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Welcome to the A World of Difference podcast. I'm Lori Adams Brown, and this is a podcast for those who are different. And want to make a difference. So many of you enjoyed our episode with Sheila Ray Gregoir where we were talking about her book she Deserves Better. And we have a man on the show this week who also is talking about toxic masculinity, but from a male perspective.


But he's a writer, researcher, and ordained minister, and his name is Zacharyary Wagner. He has a new book that's come out, and it's called Nontoxic Masculinity recovering Healthy Male Sexuality. And he is originally from the Chicagoland area, but he now lives in Oxford, England, and he's pursuing a PhD in New Testament studies, but he also serves as the editorial director for the center for Pastor Theologians, where he co hosts the CPT podcast. And his research interests actually include economics in the ancient world, divine wages in the Second Temple, Judaism and early Christianity, pauline Epistles, the Gospel of Matthew, and New Testament masculinities. And so it was sort of not completely in line with everything he's been researching to write this book, except for as he's studied New Testament masculinities and he's seen everything that's been going on in recent years in the Evangelical church in the US.


This sort of compelled him to write this book. He has other writing interests about being an evangelical and being a post evangelical. He talks about Christian discipleship in this realm and also theological formation and speaks out against church based abuse. So he's coming on the podcast today. To talk about this latest book.


And I know many of you are really excited to hear this perspective, and we are just so honored to have Zacharyary on the show today. So let's give a very warm welcome to Zacharyary Wagner.


Hello, Zacharyary. A very warm welcome to The World of Difference podcast today. Thank you for having me, Lori. I'm excited for the conversation. Me too.


I'm really excited about this new book that you've written. It's such a needed conversation. It's not a comfortable conversation for many, so we're going to talk about some maybe things that might make people squirm, including me, who knows today. But I'm glad that you're here. I just wanted to start off by saying thank you for writing it and putting it out there and doing the hard work that is required to have these uncomfortable conversations and give you a chance to just start off by saying what inspired you to even write this book about nontoxic masculinity.


Sure, yeah. I think there are two really streams that led to me making the decision to write this book at what was objectively a not good time for me to be doing it. I was just starting out on a PhD program in England and had two small kids, and during the process found out that we had a bonus baby on the way as well. So definitely a crunch in terms of other things that I had going on. But like I said, those two streams.


Number one were this broader cultural conversation beginning with the MeToo movement in 2016, but then extending into what some people may be familiar with as the Church Two movement, which was an offshoot of this broader cultural conversation around. Sexual violence and sexual abuse against women in particular and showing that this problem was also common in church spaces and Christian spaces in particular. And that kind of came to a head in a certain way, at least in my following along with what was going on in early 2021, there were a sequence of a lot of things that came up. The Ravi Zacharyarias News was a big one, as well as Southern Baptist Church expose published in the Houston Chronicle, which catalog Robert downed hundreds of instances of sexual abuse and cover up in Southern Baptist churches. And Josh Duger trial was going on at that point, who then was charged with and has since been convicted of child pornography possession and is now serving, if I'm not mistaken, a 40 year prison sentence for that.


And also on the heels of news about Bill Heibels at Willow Creek Community Church, which is arguably the most influential church, I think you could say, on the planet, you could argue over the past 30, 40 years, and the one that really stuck deep into my heart and my soul as I was processing this. I think, like many people, I was disturbed and grieved, really, to see all these things happening and all these scandals coming to light. But the one that really got me was the Atlanta Spa shootings in early 2021, where this young man went around to a few different massage parlors in the Atlanta area and killed eight people, mostly women of East Asian descent. And later, when he was being questioned by the police about his motive for doing this, he said, Well, I am a sex addict. And he thought of this as like a public service.


I was eliminating my temptation to sin. And come to find that this was a young man who was a baptized member of a Southern Baptist church in the area and had been involved in the youth ministry as recently as a year previous, if I'm not mistaken. That really bothered me, not least because this description of women as a temptation to sin and he had taken it to this logical extreme, this avoidance of women to this logical extreme of actually murdering them. This idea that women are temptation was not entirely dissimilar from the ways that I had grown up and received messaging around sexual purity and avoiding sexual sin and all sorts of things. So that really, really bothered me.


I ended up writing a short article to kind of process because I just couldn't get it out of my head. Yeah. So that's kind of part one of the story of the book. Sorry, this is a bit of a. Long answer, but then it's a beautiful answer.


I'm glad this compelled you to write. Yeah. Part two is my personal journey. So I was born in 1991 and grew up very much in the middle of the white American evangelical subculture that bubble, as you might think about it. I was homeschooled for some amount of my life and focused on the family adventures and odyssey, the whole thing.


And part of that for me and for many of my generation was what is sometimes today termed purity culture, which is this movement of resources and events and an entire rhetorical strategy and theological approach to commending traditional Christian sexual ethics, I believe, as a kind of reactionary movement in response to the sexual revolution of the. So I talk about that a little bit in the book. So that was my background growing up, was I read, I kissed, dating goodbye before I even hit puberty, every Man's Battle, Elizabeth Elliot, the whole thing. I was all in on this and it was very much a part of my home life in the way sex and sexuality was talked about. I was the personality type.


Not everybody was where I read all the books and I was kind of going nuts on it, even as a very young person. And then going on, I think again, as was the case for many young men and young people in general in my generation, was exposed at an early age to pornography and was having early sexual experiences with that and masturbation and all of that when I was a young teen and through high school and college. And this was high speed. Internet was brand new. Smartphones were brand new.


And the collision of those challenges on the one hand and then all this purity rhetoric where compromising your sexual purity, quote unquote, was like the worst thing you could possibly do as a Christian made for a really intense experience. And of shame and cycles of shame for me. Growing up, but was working through that, doing all the accountability and scripture memory that I could. And it was kind of not really working, but was muscling through. And then in my dating relationships, I ended up in a relationship late in college with my then girlfriend, now wife Shelby, and we were good and we followed the rules that we had been commended and we didn't sleep together until we got married.


But the purity culture narrative around that, that you hold off and you follow God's plan for sex and sexuality and then this will lead to a more fulfilling, more free, shameless, frequent, satisfying intimate life in marriage, we found almost immediately that that was not panning out for. Us in our like many couples. Yeah, like many couples, yeah. Super, super common. And that was a source of frustration and measure of dysfunction, I think, in our marriage for the early years.


And I found that my experiences of shame tied mostly to pornography, I carried with me into marriage. That kind of temptation didn't go away, and the negative associations that I had around my you could say, like my sexual response cycle were very much ingrained in my body.


So that's my half of it. And then the other half is and Shelby's very open about this and happy to have me share it and gives her consent in my context like this. And in the book for me to talk about this, we found a few years into our marriage that she is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, church based sexual abuse, no less. And, man, when you add those two things together, no wonder we were having a hard time working through this. And this part of our life wasn't going together kind of as purity culture would have had us believe.


And those two streams. So this kind of broader cultural conversation and what I came to understand as the way my sexuality had been malformed by some of my experiences and the resources and messaging that I had received as a young person just came together in early 21 where I thought, you know what? Maybe I should write something about this. And here we are. Well, thank you.


Because I feel like as I've read what you're writing and I hear you talk about it and I see what's happening all across Twitter and things people are writing, I don't think your experience is so rare. In fact, it's probably quite common for people who grew up in those circles that you grew up in. What's often more common is that people aren't talking about it or they aren't finding solutions. They're not coming together with vulnerability, working through that shame and doing ourselves a favor. And when I buy ourselves, I mean all of humankind, everyone who's an empath bearer of God and helping to work for human flourishing.


So you start kind of early in the book with a chapter called Wake up, guys, tell us why guys need to wake up.


Because the sexual abuse crisis, such as it is, is not new. Our awareness of it may be new, which is one of the really powerful things about me, too, and church two and these movements. But I'll just speak to the church context. It seems to me, if nothing else, churches should be a physically safe place. Like, that's a very foundational starting point.


And the fact that they have so often for women and children and men not proven to be safe in the way that they should be as it relates to sexuality and sexual violence, that is extremely serious. And a lot of women are calling attention to the problems that they see, not only as it relates to abuse and sexual misconduct, but the entire culture around gender and sexuality in the church. And of course, to varying degrees, and there are healthy spaces and less healthy spaces, and very toxic spaces, but the fact that a certain form of unhealthy masculine sexuality is the focus of my work has kind of found a foothold in these communities of faith is really, really not okay. And like I say, women seem to be talking about this plenty. If in the space you've already referenced Twitter a couple of times and different writing and books, and a number of books have been written on this topic over the past eight years or so.


Not enough men are engaging in the conversation, it seems to me. So I wanted to step out and not in a lot of ways I feel like I'm not really saying anything new. I'm entering a conversation that women have been leading in already and I think it's so important that men join the conversation because until men do, I fear this is just going to keep happening. We'll just be playing catch up and clean up to whatever the next scandal that reveals itself is and not really addressing the problem at its root, which to me seems to be a malformed and sub Christian and dehumanizing vision of what it means to be a man. Absolutely.


Yeah. So, yeah, speaking of Twitter, there has been something going on for the past little bit here around a Josh Butler article, which was originally through the Gospel Coalition, endorsing it, and then there's been some kind of back and forth around that, but ultimately a little bit it's been a little bit of a wild ride on Twitter. Anyway, comparing the gospel to this imagery that sounded very much like sexual assault and marital rape. And so obviously women have been calling it out for the last bit, but as we all know, there are many dudes out there that don't listen to women or read things by women or take women seriously. And that's just the oxygen people breathe.


That's just the ocean people swim in. I get that on a certain level. And yet we're so grateful when men do speak out. And so you did speak out recently about this dangerous sort of male body centric theology. That's dangerous not just theologically, because I think someone I can't remember who it was, described it as penis idolatry, which is just like, yeah, that's also not okay.


Putting any that's one of the Ten Commandments, don't put anything before God. And apparently that got placed in the wrong place. But also just from the male centric point of view, the fact that it was missed, I'm not even a sexual assault survivor, and even I read that and thought, oh my gosh, my poor friends that have walked through marital rape, this is horrible. So, yeah, what did you say about it and why is it important? Well, a couple of things that I said.


I wrote just a short article on my personal website and I think as it relates to Ephesians Five, which is the imagery that this excerpt was working from which describes the relationship between Christ and the Church as akin to marriage and the relationship between a husband and a wife. That text, if you go and read it, is very careful in what it does and does not say. First, it is in reference to marriage broadly and not sex narrowly, and it does not enter into graphic descriptions about the mechanics of sexual intercourse, which this excerpt very much did. And it's not as if no one in Christian history has ever made connections between sex and salvation or the church or something like that. So I don't think it's not like Butler is doing something entirely new.


And I would argue theologically there are important criticisms to be leveled against applying this imagery to this sexual imagery, to the Christchurch relationship. And my friend Amy Peeler has also written and spoken about this recently. But one of the first things that I said is read the room. I'm not sure this is in our current cultural moments, the time to be getting really innovative and edgy and graphic in our associations between male bodies and male pleasure. And certainly like describing women as vessels or receivers or any number of things as the kind of object of this godlike masculine physicality that just seems really unwise in this cultural moment that's almost separate from the theological debates, which is this kind of question of just like, this is not the time to be talking about this in this way.


But then there is the theological questions and the theological imagery that's that's being raised here. And you know, I echo what others have said that this when I read some of the excerpts from and I should I should say I have not read the book in its entirety. I I do plan to eventually. I don't know when I'll get to it, to be honest, but not just the excerpt, but other quotations and things that have come out that do seem to continue this pattern of association between the man and God in the act of sex. That reminds me a lot of pagan kind of Ancient Near Eastern ideas around sex cults and divine interactions with human beings where the gods were kind of sexually aggressive towards humans and any number of things that just strike.


Me as paganism, not Christianity. As well as this value that I think is present in certain subtexts behind the New Testament of the Grecoroman world where the more masculine one was a way of expressing that was through sexual. Dominance and of others, including young men, including women including women who were not your wife or slaves or whatever the case may be, that masculinity was expressed through a certain type of sexual dominance.


I could say more, but I'll leave it there for now and happy to go in whatever other direction you think might be helpful. Yeah, I mean, obviously it's disturbing on multiple levels. I think that what is really so important about you writing this book and. Even speaking out publicly. And thank you for doing that on Twitter about the harms of something like this.


It's that the entirety of the Gospel Coalition approved this. And so I think that what is so shocking is that nobody in the room saw anything wrong with all of this very troubling. Like you said, it sounds like a pagan sex goal. It's like, not only is it theologically troublesome, it's incredibly damaging, the fact that. No one even considered how women would perceive this.


And when you have a very male centric theology, that's also a toxic masculinity in addition to that, that's what's so troubling, that something like this could be sent out from the Gospel Coalition. And so thank you for just writing about that, speaking out about it and this book. But I want to kind of dig into a little deeper about. When men. Come out and minimize abuse in all its forms, because that's sort of been the backlash a little bit.


There were several things that went on around it, but it was portrayed as though there was this mob of women out to get this man and ruin him. And that's the narrative we see replayed over and over again in the Church Too movement, where it's not curiosity around how this happened, how can we get out of the shame spiral. It's more just blaming women. And so when men minimize abuse in all its forms in these circles, how does that hurt both men and women?


Well, first, I'll say that's part of the reason it is so important for men to enter into these conversations and space and speak up when they see women being harmed or they see rhetoric. If you just are in conversation with women, certainly survivors.


I don't want to unfairly beat up on Butler because he's trying to do something. He's trying to do something good. He wants there to be a kind of beauty around the vision of human sexuality. But if I'm honest, it's difficult for me to imagine any survivor of sexual abuse, male to female sexual abuse, not feeling really disturbed by this. And the fact that it is perceived as this female led, kind of woke feminist mob that is just jealously or unfairly or some sort of liberal theology agenda or whatever people might assign motives to it, I think could partially be addressed if more men were also lending their voice to the problems that they see.


But this is how kind of comfort and privilege works, that it's easy to kind of sit there and kind of both sides it. And this doesn't directly affect me. If I speak up about this, this will make friends, perhaps feel like I'm associating myself with people who are outside of the tribe or any number of things.


Well, first we should say that not all victims of sexual assault are women. Yes, exactly. And this is when we're quiet on sexual assault and sexual violence. It's not just women that are being harmed, but also children and men. This is just about the dignity of all human beings.


And if men are given if abusers, which again, not all abusers are men, the strong majority are. But it's important to note that there are abusive situations that involve a woman leveraging her power or position relative to a man. And because that's rare, there can be a unique taboo and shame associated with those types of situations. So I want to flag that, but let me just see if I can get my train of thought back. Yes.


When abusers are given a pass and kind of often the pass is associated with their maleness in that this is the vision of male. Like, men are meant to be leaders. They're meant to be submitted to. They have the power and influence. So we don't want to rock the boat.


Or if we flag this, then it'll compromise the integrity of the community or the situation, the institution. All of that is really just fear leading when righteousness and doing the right thing ought to be.


And when the men who are the perpetrators of the abuse or even just the misconduct or whatever kind of lesser levels of dehumanization you want to flag here, they are not getting the help that they need when this is excused and they are not being held accountable and we are leaving things open for other people to be harmed. So when abusers are not held accountable, both certainly the victim and any future victims are suffering. But I would argue that also the abuser, him or herself is not served by that. And, man, nothing is more frustrating than you went to me than when you see a pastor or a leader or a person who was credibly, accused or convicted even of some sort of abuse or misconduct. Kind of take their six months and then be invited right back into the situation that they were in or leadership or less or given access to their children that they were harming or whatever the case may be, without the appropriate accountability measures.


And yeah, it's really hard to see. It is hard to see. And it's kind of gotten to the point where it's so common. I mean, there's people that literally have a full time job just reporting on these things. Like Julie Royce, it's full time and she actually has other people because it's more than she can even report on.


Like how sad, right? It's gotten to the point where everyone suffers, right? This is harming men, women and children with these toxic imagery expectations. My understanding of Genesis was God created male and female. It was not good for man to be alone.


We need to do this work together. Woman was created as an Ezzer connecto, a warrior rescuer helper, like God himself, who rescues and helps in times of trouble. The same Ezzer word, right? And connecto meaning shoulder to shoulder, eyeball to eyeball. It's too much to expect the entire world to be run by men.


Like, this was not God's plan. And when women aren't safe next to these toxic masculinity situations, we all suffer. So there is this image, and I live in Silicon Valley where there's Elon Musk, right, and there's people with this toxic version of what it means to just bulldoze over people, which when he took over Twitter, somebody quit because people are like, no, right, we're not going to work harder at 05:00 p.m. On a Friday. But I worked for a megachurch pastor who ended up spiritually, psychologically and emotionally and verbally and financially abusing me and many other people.


But he always wanted to be Elon Musk as a pastor. It felt strange, right? But honestly, there is this imagery I've seen in evangelicalism in the United States, megachurch in particular, where the ends justifies the means. So it's like you need this toxic male leader to be awful to get things done, and you're just collateral damage, like you just got in the way. But it turns out nice guys don't always finish last.


That's not in the data. I work in tech and so I. Work in leadership development. And I know that that's true kindness and caring leadership actually helps your career. It helps your whole company flourish.


And by and large, most people are that way, are trying to be working toward that. So how is it that in the church we have so often an evangelical church in America, I would say in particular, excused this toxic masculinity and what. Can we do to make it better? Well, yeah. One part of it that comes to mind is hearing you talk particularly about the megachurch movement is the way that certain segments, many segments of evangelicalism have wedded themselves to cultural pragmatist ideals about results and numbers and conversions and baptisms and anything that you can measure with a kind of financial yardstick or something like that.


And that is what is considered the quote unquote fruit of these ministries, is how big can we make the church? Not things having to do with is the culture inside the staff actually a life giving culture? And I think, what are the spiritual outcomes? If you want to use that language, I might not prefer to use that language, but for the sake of this conversation, not just six months, one year, three years down the line, but 20 years, 30 years, how are we setting people up for a lifetime of continued growth and trust and authentic community together? And I think we're seeing now that much of the fruit of the megachurch movement, the system itself tends towards elevating leaders with serious character deficiencies and centering a certain type of masculine, macho, alpha male CEO vision for what pastoral ministry is.


But pastor doesn't mean business executive, it means shepherd. And the character qualifications, not the, are central in the text. That we see around qualifications for elders and ministers in the New Testament, not competencies or certain types of charisma or something like that. Yeah.


Alpha males in this kind of business, CEO. And I appreciate that I'm not part of that world, but I appreciate you citing the kind of studies and data that show kindness. Actually goes a long way, but I think we can see the personality profile of certain successful men, and it might slot into this kind of macho. Alpha male. I don't know, enneagram Eight ish sort of thing.


Not that all enneagram eights are bad. I shouldn't say that. Thank you. I am one, so I appreciate it. Okay, great.


But I mean, in as much as failed megachurch pastors are often unhealthy Enneagram. Eights, my abuser was an Enneagram Eight and very unhealthy man. I could give you a half a dozen examples of people that I know who know these people. This isn't just me kind of like guessing from the outside that person looks like an Eight. This is people like, by their own admission, people that actually based on their ministry profile.


Externally, you might not think, oh, he might be an Eight. I would like, oh, I would have guessed that what guy was like a Three or a one. And you actually come to find he's an Eight and all this. So again, not all Eights are bad. But I think that personality can tend towards certain positions of leadership, especially the.


White male version in America. Right. There's just too much power. As a woman, I'll never have that even opportunity in that way, which is good. I don't need the opportunity to turn bad.


I wasn't expecting to talk about the Enneagram here. I think what's really beautiful about Eight as a personality type is the way their courage and genuine in a healthier state, their advocacy for people who are in harm's way or whatever the case may be, and their ability to just kind of grab a mission and go 180% after it is really attractive to people. And people tend to gravitate around these people. But then the kind of the other edge of the sword is that without some growth and integration, and I think moderation by the Holy Spirit, like any personality type needs, there can be a lot of harm around people like this.


It's a good answer. It's long form podcast. That's right. That's why we love it. Yeah.


I mean, I think when you give power to somebody who's at the top of the social hierarchy of power, white male, megachurch, I mean, all of it like, you're just given so much power, and whether you start off unhealthy, you almost always end up there without checks and balances. No one can handle that kind of power, especially an unhealthy white male Enneagram Eight. It's a set up for everyone to be harmed. I just can't imagine a scenario where it goes, well. It would take a.


Miracle. But obviously it's a spectrum of various degrees. And we do talk a lot about sexual assault. And obviously, I was Southern Baptist for many years. I grew up Southern Baptist, so I know many people who are sexual assault victims from within the SBC.


So grateful for Robert Downey and his work. I was reading it as an SBC IMB worker overseas when I first saw some of that come out. And there were people in the articles that I knew or knew their family members and that kind of thing. And so it's tough. We talk about it, but I think even that has so not been dealt with.


That talking about other forms of abuse, abuse of power, spiritual abuse, which is always happening when you're sexually abused in a church, you're also being spiritually abused because that's just the nature of it all. And so many survivors will talk about that particular element being so difficult, the aftermath of not being believed. Right. And so when we talk about toxic masculinity, we can't separate it from the fact that women often experience being overly questioned, not believed, because of how dehumanizing toxic masculinity can be toward women. So talk about the dehumanizing part of women and what you kind of you.


Have a whole chapter about the dehumanization. Of men and women separately. But how does that show up with women in particular? Yeah, let's start with women. How do women get dehumanized in this part?


Yeah. Well, I think there is and this you can tie back to any number of things, but it's a key one that I talk about. The book is not original to them, but certainly massively distributed through their book. And influence is every Man's Battle by Fred Stoker and Stephen Arterver. And almost the thesis of this book is this idea that men, because they're men, have this hypersexual lens through which they view the world.


It's kind of to be male is to be erratically, sizing up anything that comes into your field of vision. Of course, by default, women and women's bodies, and that is a recipe, of course, on the surface, that objectifies women. And flowing out of that is if this thing about male nature is like an immovable fact, you can see how the objectification of women and things like the strict regulation of women's clothing and debates around yoga pants and all this thing that just won't seem to go away is exactly a result of this vision of maleness and this attitude of fear directed towards female bodies. So too often in Christian spaces, it seems that men just can't bear to be reminded that women are women and have female bodies. That's such a quote right there.


Can we just pause on that for a second? They're actually human beings, right? Yes. And the only solution is not for men to grow up and mature in the way that they view and interact with and think about women, but to create structures around male out of control male sexuality and sexual desire. So we create accountability software and accountability groups.


And women need to dress like this and four inches below or above this and three finger widths. Finger widths across all this craziness. Yeah.


And it creates a system in which when something goes sideways and there's a situation in which someone is hurt or there's a marriage that is compromised or something, it is the woman who is by default on trial, because we assume that the man boys will be boys. This is just what men do. So was she having sex with him enough? Or what was this person wearing? Were they allowed to be alone together?


And I'm not saying that we should eliminate all wisdom and caution probably isn't the right word, but wisdom around relationships and appropriate context to be interacting with other people. Of course. But Jesus didn't follow the Billy Graham rule. Even Billy Graham didn't follow the Billy Graham rule.


Yeah. I think you can see the way all of these things that people sometimes and the way I can just keep adding things here. The way women are often excluded from elderboard meetings or senior leadership in the church and this important check on male biases and male perspective and the way men sometimes often coalesce into unhealthy perspectives and approaches to certain issues and problems when women are just not at the table. Yeah. It all stems back to this hyper sexualized vision of male minds, I would argue, and this hypersexualized disposition towards female bodies.


It's sad. It's so sad because it's not only a low bar for men. Yes. And Sheila Ray Gregoir has written quite a bit about that. Men are not animals.


They're made in God's image with the same power from the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. Why are we acting like men are. Just completely out of control? It's, like, really sad. I have boys that I'm raising.


I've not raised them to think that way about themselves. It's a horrible thing to, I guess, have parents tell to their children. It's awful. I also don't want their sister walking around thinking men are all thinking that, because that's a horrible feeling and thought. And so some of the new research that's coming out that Sheila Ray Gregoire has done in her new book is about how internalize those messages when you're growing up are also really damaging.


So your book and addressing this whole aspect of this toxic masculinity is really important. And you also talk about in your book a little bit about pornography and how it can be harmful to men's health and relationships. It seems as though so often it's portrayed as though in certain evangelical spaces. Well, everybody's doing it, so it's not a big deal. Although it is a big deal because they have these things on the computers, covenant eyes and things that are supposed to break it.


But how is that also just contributing to dehumanizing women that male pastors might be on staff with and not expecting her voice to be heard and centering himself. Like, how does that play into even their interactions? Well, yeah, I mean, pornography, it seems to me and this goes outside the church, is one of the, if not the most kind of powerful cultural force in shaping men towards toxic attitudes and behaviors having to do with their sexuality. And in the church, I think we've so stigmatized and pathologized pornography use while also there's this ambivalence about it. It's like all men do it, but kind of no Christian men should do it, but we also know that a lot of Christian men are and we really hope that pastors aren't, but data shows that a lot of them are.


And we just kind of can't do anything other than just accountability the crap out of it. And there's always going to be ways around accountability, software, accountability relationships. And it incentivizes these cycles of lying and then people get better at lying and better at deception. And that's man, that's a recipe. So I think attacking the inevitable.


So one thing to start, not all men actually struggle with this. There are men who never really have a hard time with it. I've met these people and they're not unicorns. Like they exist and there probably are more of them out there than you think, number one. And number two, there are men that grow beyond and out of this in a really meaningful way.


And I should also qualify, like, this is not exclusively a male thing. I think it so often gets associated with men which creates stigma around women who feel like and this is all about this narrative about sexual desire is like part of a male role and sexual desire is not something that women should or we expect them to experience. That's another conversation. But what I would say is a compulsive porn habit is a sign of an immature expression of sexuality. And that's something that you can grow past and grow beyond and it's dehumanizing for the users, but also, of course, for the people who are part of the pornography industry.


And there's so much sexual violence and abuse and coercion and human trafficking that are part of that industry that if we're committed to human flourishing, all people should be opposing. And then just to tie it back, I think even men who maybe have gotten some better habits in place and are not indulging in pornography regularly and I want to say, praise God, that's good. Like, I'm glad that's not something you're doing. A lot of these men are still in positions of church leadership and the way that their brains interact with and think about women and female bodies is still profoundly shaped by pornography, even if it's been years since they use pornography regularly. And that's something that comes out in cringy anecdotes that pastors will say from the pulpit and attitudes and dispositions and advice that they give to younger men and married couples and their own relationship with their spouse if they're married.


Articles that might get written. Yeah. Yeah. Not not having anything in particular in mind but man that shapes you, whether or not you're still indulging in it or not. And I think more men should do the work of thinking about the way pornography has shaped their brain and their body and the way it has trained their sexual response cycle, not least in the way they relate to their wives, and really dig into what is a more humanizing and mature way of living out my sexuality.


Yeah. What a good answer. Well, I just want to say thank you for this conversation today. For those of you who have not bought the book Nontoxic Masculinity Recovering Healthy Male Sexuality, here it is, and I highly recommend that you do read it and pass it around to men and boys in your life that are of appropriate age to handle this conversation. It's a much needed conversation, but we're going to stick around with Zachary for a little bit longer to talk to our Patreon supporters and give an exclusive interview there.


But in terms of signing off for here, how can people find you and your writing so they can stay connected to what you're talking about? Yeah, so I do have a personal website, You can find me there. It's information about the book. I'm due for an update to kind of list out all the interviews and things like this that I've done there.


And if I have any events lined up that'll be there as well, as well as some other articles and things. And then the place where I'm most active is Twitter in terms of social media. If you really want to, you can find me on Instagram too, I suppose, but my Twitter handle is Zacharyary C. Wagner as well. Thank you, Zacharyary, for being on the show today and I wish you all the best in this book launch and in your studies in the UK and look forward to more of your writing.


Thank you. Well, this is definitely not a light topic today, but I hope that I'll help you think more deeply about some of the issues swirling around with toxic masculinity, especially in faith based spaces. Whether you identify as Christian or a Muslim or any other of our world religions or have no faith background at. All, I think all of us have. Experienced either firsthand or have read about situations that involve toxic masculinity.


So it's not a topic that is exclusive to any one part of our human experience around the world. This is something that we all could face in different ways. And this book is really important because it's helping people dig a little deeper, wake up, understand what we have been missing, and I really appreciate his posture around this recent Josh Butler article that we mentioned, where the Gospel Coalition endorsed an article and it really had this very disturbing imagery that sounded a lot like sexual assault and marital rape. And so for Zacharyary to come out. And give his perspective on it and just this male body centric theology that can be quite harmful, especially in spaces where women aren't really heard or listened to.


And understanding that it can be a shock when women's perspectives aren't taken into account and something like this has such a backlash, right? But it wouldn't be so shocking if women were more centered in the conversation. And where even conversations about harm toward women or ways toxic masculinity has been harmful to women, if instead of having men speak about that, if having women speak about their experience on a regular basis, these kinds of things wouldn't come as such a shock in these articles being written or books coming out. And it turns out that Josh Butler's book is still being published and being widely read, it will probably, unfortunately, be read in churches, and pastors will endorse it. Because no matter what sort of speaking out people like Zacharyary or others may do over Twitter and different spaces like that, or even in substac newsletters, the reality is these books sort of get passed around by pastors who are friends with Josh, or maybe just in his network of people.


And so this is why it's so important to have books like this about toxic masculinity speaking out about it. I really hope that you pick up his book and read it. It's a really important book and that you do book studies on it, that you talk about how it's impacting your life and the lives of others. I would love to hear how you're interacting with the book or even just this podcast today. So reach out over Twitter.


We're also on Instagram, a little bit on Facebook, but patreon is really where we have these deeper conversations. And of course, I have an exclusive episode with Zacharyary that we went in a little bit deeper with a question here, just for those of you who are part of the patreon community. And I really appreciate you. It really means a lot for each of you that are involved in this patreon community to support this podcast, but also to go a little deeper in these conversations. I think when we're trying to make a difference in the world, we can't just settle for a surface level conversation.


And of course, none of us have time to dig deep into every conversation. But our patreon community is a space where we just take every one of these episodes just a little bit deeper. And I'd love to have you join. I'd love to have your perspective so we can all learn together. In the meantime, I know that many of you are doing really great work.


Some of you who have kids in school, the month of may can be really busy. I always feel like May is just bonkers. I don't know what it is about. May, the last month of school. Everybody tries to cram everything in, but if you're a parent with kids in school, I hope that your life settles down soon.


And for those of you planning to get away on a summer vacation, I hope you get that break that many of you need. I know that many of you just work hard all around the world wherever you are, whether you live in Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, Europe, the United States, South America, any part of the world that any of you live in and work in. I know that many of you are just giving a lot of your time and energy and thought to making a difference. And so, yeah, I just appreciate you and I appreciate you being a part of this community. So take time to rest and take care of yourself.


If you're one of those people who's just giving a lot, taking care of yourself means that you're taking care of others too, because people look up to you or rely on you or look to you to be a person who is an example. So when you set that example of taking care of yourself, it's just mentoring in its own way as well. It makes a difference when people see us taking time to take care of ourselves. So make sure you do that, that you're eating, that you're drinking, that you're resting and planning some good time to get away. Hopefully if you have kids out for summer break this summer, just time for your families or time just for yourself.


But I do appreciate each of you in this community and I just want to say thank you for being a part of it. It's really making a difference in my life. And wherever you are, keep making a difference. And you don't want to miss next week because we're going to have Dr. Scott McKnight back on the podcast and he's going to be talking about his book that's coming out soon, the Second Testament.


He has worked on another translation of the New Testament and it has a lot to show us around what it means to read the New Testament when it doesn't sound as familiar as we often make it in our English translations in the US. In particular, where we can go to the Christian bookstore sometimes and just feel like we know these characters so well, they must have lived lives like suburban white people in the US. But his translation of the New Testament leaves some of the names in the original language just and other choices that he made in the translation to make it feel a little bit more foreign as it should feel to your average North American in 2023. And so for those who are used to feeling comfortable with the Bible and you've read it a lot, his translation of the New Testament. It might sound a little so different that it might not even sound like some of the verses that you've read your whole life.


So it's going to be a really. Interesting conversation, the reasons why he made certain decisions on how to translate and conversations around dynamic equivalent and that type of thing. But we're also going to dig a little bit into spiritual abuse and how it's been going since he wrote his book, A Church Called Tove, and he came on the podcast to talk about that a couple of years ago. And so we're going to catch up on how that's going and maybe some of the things he's learned since then around how to give advice about spirit abuse and people that are walking through spiritual abuse, because he's a real advocate in the survivor community. So don't miss Scott McKnight next week.


And in the meantime, keep making a difference wherever you are in the world. I appreciate you. Bye.