If you pulled me aside during my college years and asked me how the followers of a crucified religious leader ended up idolizing a military leader in Medieval Scotland as the pinnacle of manhood, character, and leadership, I probably would have thought you were just trying to start a fight. William Wallace, the Scottish military leader depicted in the film had everything a guy could want: charisma, character, convictions, and courage, just to name a few of his qualities that made him a favorite in the 1990’s evangelical male subculture.
I wasn’t necessarily immersed in the teachings of books like Wild at Heart or the more aggressive pastors who relied on military metaphors for their messages, but I had certainly spent enough time in the evangelical subculture to get the message: real men are tough fighters who fight for things.
Men fight for their marriages.
Men fight for their children.
Men fight for their communities.
Men fight for their country when necessary.
The literature surrounding evangelical men relied heavily on military or sports metaphors in order to illustrate the struggles, battles, and competitions that men face every day. Lust was every man’s battle. The spiritually equipped wore the full armor of God (which was actually all defensive in nature, but still, it had the right ring of “battle).
While evangelical men were immersed in militaristic fighting metaphors that turned Braveheart into our narrative of choice, there’s been a notable shift among evangelical men today. In an interview on the Liturgist podcast, Richard Rohr shared that one of his largest segments of readers are these evangelical young men.
Richard Rohr is about as far away from William Wallace as you can get. This peaceful, cheerfully celibate Franciscan Friar speaks about holding tensions, finding a third way, and responding to even our worst enemies with compassion and prayer. Rohr challenges us to move beyond dualistic thinking that pits the world into black and white sides or categories. If you stick with his daily newsletter long enough, you’ll start to catch on to his contemplative, peacemaking vibe.
If you’ve read Rohr’s books such as Falling Upward and Immortal Diamond, you’ll know that he associates dualistic thinking with our younger years. Youth need to think this way as they sort the world into black and white, right and wrong. However, he also challenges us to move beyond that reductive mindset as we age so that we can see the world with greater compassion and unity in light of the love and mercy of God.
If Richard Rohr ever used a military metaphor, I can only presume it would illustrate how to be a bad soldier.
While I can’t draw a straight line between the popularity of Braveheart for evangelical young men in the 1990’s and Rohr’s popularity among the same cohort roughly 20 years later, I have a theory that Rohr appeals to many evangelical men who are weary of fighting, proving themselves, and splitting a gray world into black and white sides. While, I’ve always been more disposed toward peacemaking in the first place, I’ve noticed that the tough talk for evangelical men that I uneasily accepted in the 1990’s just doesn’t work for me or for many of the men I know. We know that loving God and loving one another doesn’t require learning to fight for things, and we can actually hold ourselves back by sorting life into sides we are for or against as we strive to prove ourselves worthy with flawless character.
Even among the men I know who hunt, lift weights, or dominate in sports, there’s a greater desire to find unity, health, and compassion in their Christian commitments. They’re interested in building rather than fighting. They want to know how Jesus can help them love others rather than preparing for the next battle against the latest enemy. The pursuit of contemplative prayer resonates with this group because this practice helps us discover that God has already accepted us and is already present. That is a far cry from proving ourselves as men, and it’s enough to make guys like me want to cry.
I recognize that these sketches aren’t true for every evangelical man I know who grew up in the 1990’s. However, I suspect there’s a sizeable number of evangelical men today who would much rather skip William Wallace hacking English soldiers to death.
It’s tempting to say that Rohr is the anti-Wallace, but then that would venture into the dualistic thinking he avoids. The truth is that deep down in our hearts, every man wants to belong and to be accepted. God’s love is more than able to meet that need. We’re all wired differently, so we may receive that message in different ways. If anything, Richard Rohr encourages us to wipe off the blue face paint, lay our weapons down, and dare to believe that God’s love is the freedom we don’t have to fight for.