Nurturing Protection

Jul 11, 2008 |Heather Koerner

If it's a Christian man's responsibility to protect ... what's mine?

I can remember last September, sitting on my living room couch, watching my TV, mesmerized and horrified.

It was an episode of Dateline NBC, and a security consultant nicknamed "Wild Bill" was showing how easy it is for women to become victims. To prove his point, Bill went into a bar with an actress accomplice. He proceeded to tell several men at the bar what he planned to do — lace this woman's drink with a date rape drug and then rape her. With the men watching, he acted out slipping a drug into her drink. The men did nothing.

Later, after he had left the bar with his accomplice and returned without her, the men congratulated him, asked him where he had gotten the drugs and admitted that they had always wanted to try it themselves.

I was a little shell-shocked. Even later that night, I kept running the episode over and over again in my head.

It's not that I, or anyone most likely, expect bar-hopping men to be titans of virtue. But, as one female reviewer wrote, "I hope this one small test does not represent the way the majority of guys would react to such a situation."

It was very disturbing. Not just that one man would do a horrible thing, but that others would look on and do nothing. That's the hard question: Why didn't the men do anything?

The Two Questions

But, really, there could be two different questions. And I think which question I ask tells a lot about what I believe about men and women and, even, about God.

As a young woman, I probably would have asked, Why didn't the men help her? But that September night, I asked it a different way: Why didn't they protect her?

Back then, I tended toward the feminist idea that there were no differences between men and women, other than plumbing. I believed in God. But I thought that those who talked of authority or submission or of God-given gender- related abilities were just stuck on a few obscure, culturally archaic verses.

Those men should have helped that woman, I thought then, because we are all humans and we protect each other.

Partially, that is right. We do have a responsibility to love our neighbors as ourselves. But now I understand that they, as men, had a unique responsibility to her, as a woman.

Why the change?

For one thing, I got honest. For all our talk about gender being a "construct," my gut tells me the truth. If I see a group of men approaching me across a dark, isolated parking lot, I will react much differently than a man who sees a group of women approaching him. Is it because men are animals and women are saints? No. It's because I understand at a gut level that men have strength and aggression that I don't have and that I am vulnerable.

And men have a gut too. Those men at the bar, while still despicable, probably understood better than I did that my "we protect each other" line falls flat. They know, too, that they are not as vulnerable and, if they got in real trouble, would probably want a man — not me — by their side.

To some, the solution is to try to make men more like women. But they have, and will, fail. Men cannot be made into women. What society has succeeded in doing, though, is convincing many men (both Christian and non-) that protecting women is no longer necessary. Even, that the urge to protect is proof of their latent misogyny.

What we're left with is either men who want authority but fail to protect (e.g., those who send women and children as human bombs or who claim polygamy as a male right) or men who abdicate both leading and protecting (e.g., the dad in Rebel Without a Cause and those men I watched in the bar).

The world's masculinity either demands to be served or refuses to be bothered.

But biblical manhood looks entirely different. In His Word, God forces men to acknowledge a woman's vulnerability and demands that they act. As John Piper writes in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

Mature masculinity senses a natural, God- given responsibility to step forward and put himself between the assailant and the woman. In doing this he becomes her servant. He is willing to suffer for her safety. He bestows honor on her. His inner sense is one of responsibility to protect her because he is a man and she is a woman.

That night, watching Wild Bill, I wasn't horrified that those men in the bar had strength. I was horrified that they wouldn't use their strength for its God-intended purpose — to serve and protect.

When I take an honest look at Scripture, that's what God commands. It's not just in archaic verses, but all the way from Genesis to Revelation that God shows a beautiful plan. God has created male and female as complements to each other. We are equal in value, but different in strengths. He has given men the great responsibility to lay down their lives just as Christ laid down His life for the church. They are to be the protectors.

So What's My Role?

But if it's a Christian man's role to protect, what is my role?

Here's where I have to make a decision and I have to be honest. My decision: Will I follow the world's model of womanhood or the Word's? My honesty: If I follow the Word, I'm going to be mocked.

But though God's way may sound like foolishness to the world, I know that He who created and loves me knows what I need to do to fulfill His plan. So, looking at the totality of Scripture, how does God want me to react to a man's protection? And what did women of faith do?

I think that John Piper summarizes Scripture beautifully when he writes about three words that define the heart of biblical femininity: affirm, receive and nurture.

Affirm. To affirm the protection of biblical manhood, means just what I would think: to say "yes." But for many of us, saying "yes" to the idea of protection is more than half of the battle. If I accept protection, my heart wonders, doesn't it follow that I am less worthy ... inferior?

That's certainly what the world thinks. In a Time essay, entitled "The Titanic Riddle", one writer mocks the ideal of protection: "'Women and children first' attributes to women the same pitiable dependence and moral simplicity we find in five year olds."

Isn't that nice? Accept a man's protection, girls, and you're just pitiably dependent and morally simplistic. It's almost as if we were back in the Garden of Eden with the serpent whispering in our ear: "Eve, God is holding out on you." But God is not holding out on me.

Satan would prefer, I'm sure, that I reject the protection of men. It would make me a much easier target. I know — and Satan knows — that I am vulnerable. Rejecting the protection of my father, my Christian brothers or my husband doesn't make me stop being vulnerable. It just leaves me isolated.

Receive. Then, I also receive protection. Here's how Piper describes it:

"Receive" means that mature femininity feels natural and glad to accept the strength and leadership of worthy men.... She does not want to reverse these roles. She is glad when he is not passive. She feels herself enhanced and honored and freed by his caring strength and servant-leadership.

I think this is where the rubber meets the road. It's one thing to speak my belief, it's quite another to act on it. For example, I can say that I want the protection of my father (or a surrogate) during my single years. But what happens when my father has reservations about someone I genuinely like or my dating behavior? Do I stomp my foot, point out how he doesn't understand today's world and go on my way? Or do I allow for the possibility that his eyes are open to things that my eyes may not see? Do I pray for him and seek his counsel or do I just treat him as a rubber stamp to my own desires?

Nurture. Finally, Piper writes about a woman's responsibility to nurture protection. Not only can I affirm and receive a man's protection, I can actually help to strengthen it.

Piper writes:

"Nurture" means that a mature woman senses a responsibility not merely to receive, but to nurture and strengthen the resources of masculinity. She is to be his partner and assistant. She joins in the act of strength and shares in the process of leadership. She is, as Genesis 2:18 says, "a helper suitable for him."

How does that work out practically? Probably in a thousand different ways. I can choose wisely while single — giving my time and attention to those who value my protection. I can refuse to demean a man's acts of protection — whether I think they are necessary or not.

But, for me at least, my major battle is with my attitude. The world has told me, in no uncertain terms, that I am foolish and a weakling if I affirm, receive and nurture biblical manhood.

It's not easy, but I have to let that go. I understand more and more that God's plan for me as a woman is for my good — not for my harm or my humiliation. God has equipped, and instructed, men to protect. Not for their glory, but for His, as they reflect what Christ did on the cross. I nurture that protection, not for a man's approval, but for God's — praising my Lord for His provision.

I didn't have to watch that Dateline show to know that it's a dangerous world out there. But the show did remind me that it is uniquely dangerous for women. Our Father knows that and is, I believe, grieved. As Scripture tells me, I shouldn't give in to fear. I know that the Lord is my ultimate defender. But He has a servant here whom He has charged to defend me as well — man.

It's a plan to help me flourish — if I'll only embrace it.

Copyright 2008 Heather Koerner. All rights reserved.

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