Recently a Gillette advertisement ignited controversy with its campaign against "toxic masculinity." This ad, titled "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be," admonishes men to leave the herd of males behaving badly and join the #METOO movement. The thrust of the ad was to accuse the majority of men everywhere of being oppressive bullies who victimize women and children. The aim is to erase any distinction between male and female by highlighting all the bad things that some men do, and insist that most men do them. The push is to remake masculinity, not into the image of God, but into a softer, more pliable, easily manipulated image.
Gillette's solution to this toxic masculinity was for men to just stop it and for other men to hold them accountable. "We believe in the best in men" the ad proclaims. The ad features actor Terry Crews' testimony before a House committee about sexual assault where he said "Men need to hold other men accountable."
The backlash to this ad was swift. The Egard Watch Company quickly put out a counter ad celebrating masculinity. The battle lines are drawn, pitting female against male, progressive against conservative, and gender fluidity against binary gender. The sides emphasize their virtues, while exaggerating the flaws of the other.
Each side, however, recognizes one thing: this world is broken. They differ on who broke it and on how to fix it.
Of course men and women are flawed and behave badly. But, the problem in our society is not "toxic masculinity" or "toxic femininity." Our malady is toxic humanity poisoned by slavery to sin. Men are not wicked because they are masculine. Women are not wicked because they are feminine. Men and women are wicked because we are all sinners in rebellion against God. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23. The Apostle Paul quotes the Psalmist when he wrote "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." Romans 3:10-12. All of humanity, not just men, suffers this toxicity of sin.
Mankind was created in the image of God. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." This creation poem found in Genesis 1:27 demonstrates that both masculinity and femininity reflect the image of God. But, sin has tarnished humanity's reflection of that image. This toxic humanity has rejected God and has constantly tried to shape its own image and destiny.
The problem with the Gillette and Egard Watch Company ads is not that they point out the flaws or virtues of men. The problem is both ads underestimate the depravity of mankind. Mankind is worse than portrayed. Both ads promote the subtle belief that humanity is perfectible, that we can master our own moral purity. They ignore the reality that the human heart tends toward evil and not toward good. Jeremiah tells us that the unregenerate human heart is as dark as hell itself. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" Jeremiah 17:9.
Gillette and the social justice warriors, who appear to be trying to feminize masculinity, think that softening masculinity and having men holding each other accountable will lead to the end of rape and bullying. Egard's ad "sees the good in men" in order to encourage men to reach their highest potential. But in Scripture we find the Apostle Paul stating "For I know that nothing good dwells in me...for I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out." Romans 7:18. Both the criticizers and advocates for masculinity do not acknowledge that we are helpless to rid ourselves of sin.
The story of Naaman, commander of the Syrian army, paints a picture of one man wanting to cure himself his own way. In 2 Kings 5, Naaman suffered from leprosy. He heard there was a prophet in Israel. Naaman took his entourage from Syria to see Elisha. Elisha sent his servant to meet him. The servant brought a message from Elisha "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean."
Naaman, however, was doubly insulted: that Elisha did not honor him by greeting him along the road, and that Elisha dismissed his request by telling him to bathe in the dirty Jordan river. "Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?" Naaman was only willing to go God's way if God was going his way. The Jordan river was filthy compared to the rivers of Syria. Naaman grew angry. He wanted to get clean from leprosy his way. His servants, however, convinced him that Elisha had asked him to do a simple thing. Naaman decided to do things God's way, and was cured of leprosy. As a result Naaman declared "Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel."
Leprosy is a picture of sin. Sin is a brokenness, a separation from God. Toxic humanity is not fixable by humans, because we are all tainted by the toxicity of sin. "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags." Isaiah 64:6.
King David recognized his condition in Psalm 51:3-4 "For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away...For day and night your hand was heavy upon me." He understood that his sin was his problem and he was powerless to remove its scourge. But, he also understood the remedy. "I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,' and you forgave the iniquity of my sin." Psalm 51:5.
Our malady is not some enculturated, toxic practice of masculinity. Our sickness is sin, and we are helpless to cure ourselves. Attempting to cleanse ourselves from our sin is like trying to clean ourselves with a dirty washcloth. That is the bad news.
The good news is that the cure has already been made available to us through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was the will of God the Father that "we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." Hebrews 10:10. Tim Keller says "The Gospel is not something we do. The Gospel is something that has already been done for us." The only cure for our malady is to respond to the Gospel in repentance. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9.
Toxic masculinity is not mankind's problem. Toxic humanity is. But, there is hope. Jesus Christ is the remedy for our malady.