I found myself agreeing with the well known transvestite Grayson Perry this morning. Now before you free church types climb on your high horse in your brown suits and say that you always knew I was a dodgy Anglican who likes dressing up as a woman at the weekends - let me clarify!
There was an extract from his book "The Descent of Man" in my paper on Saturday. In it he bemoans the present state of masculinity. He reflects on his own childhood and youth, which is a life littered with some of the common experiences of those who struggle with questions of gender and sexuality later in life. But there was one poignant episode that struck me.
He wrote about being out on his mountain bike in rugged terrain (presumable not wearing the garb that he is most famous for!) when he came across a young boy, standing beside his bike on a steep incline, crying. Perry passed him and about 200 metres further up came to the lad's father. He was standing, arms folder, looking angry. Perry imagined his thoughts, about his wimp of a son whining lower down the hill.
I think that I have been that father too often. Both to my children. (We definitely veer towards the "get up its nothing" school off dealing with children in tears on the ground, rather than the "my poor darling what happened, let me scoop you up in may arms" school.)
I can also be like that father in the church. I am too quick to have a form of care bred on the rugby fields of public schools and the distant corners of the British Empire.
The problem with Perry's solution is that he ascribes this lack of compassion to a rather stereotyped view of modern masculinity, which has nothing to do with what it is to be a man in the Bible. Rather strangely for a transvestite, in the rest of the article he maligns the image problem that men have and how their dress is a sad reflection of the messages that they want to give each other!
The Bible offers a much more nuanced and attractive view of masculinity. It is seen perfectly in the Lord Jesus. He was both gentle and strong. He was both compassionate and clear about God's standards. He was both able to stoop to the weak and stand up to the bullies. He was both powerful enough to walk resolutely to his own death and humble enough to lay down his life for others.
The Bible also suggests that there are characteristics of both genders that the men who lead God's people need to ascribe to.
The apostle Paul writes to the Thessalonian church "Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well." (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8)
When Paul wants to describe how he was willing to give up his own comforts for their sake, a nursing mother is the best image he can think of.
But he also reminds them "For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory." (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
When he wants an image of someone who is willing both to speak tenderly (comfort) and forcefully (urge) then it's a Father that he uses.
If we want a right view of what it is to be a man or a woman, a father or a mother, a pastor or church member, then the Bible must be our source. Not the stereotypes of the sinful cultures of the past nor the stereotypes of our sinful culture in the present.