I witnessed a conversation on facebook last night where one of these young, restless, well informed Christian guys was being a mansplaining stereotype of himself. There is a particular form of Christian thought that causes people (usually men because of how we’re wired but occasionally women) to think they’re experts in the faith after maybe a couple of years of serious Bible study. Their expertise then gives them the duty to “mansplain” Christianity, e.g. do things like ask patronizing, predictable rhetorical questions of complete strangers in social media in order to help them become experts in Christianity too. This morning while taking a bath, I thought of five C’s that characterize Christian mansplanation: clarity, conclusiveness, conformity, commodity, and control.
To be fair, there is more than one form of mansplainer. The five C’s below refer to mansplainers who have been programmed with 18th century presumptions about how human knowledge works. There is also another creature called mansplainer emergenticus that is every bit as obnoxious and probably has another five qualities that start with a different letter. To avoid confusion, I’ll deal with that in a different post some other time.
One phrase that you will hear Christian mansplainers use a lot is “The Bible is perfectly clear that…” Confidence in the clarity of God’s truth is important, because it allows the mansplainer not to have an opinion on anything. He is simply a faithful conduit of the truth that passes from God through the Bible through him to his listener. Mansplainers are very suspicious of the word “interpretation” especially if the pronoun “your” is attached to it. If Bible verses did have multiple, equally valid interpretations, how could we ever be sure of the truth about anything? People talk about there being multiple interpretations when they don’t like what the Bible has to say. Because the Bible is perfectly clear, mansplainers only need to read each Bible verse once, after which they occasionally refer back to what they’ve already understood in order to receive the confirmation that it still says exactly what it did before.
There are two forms of conclusiveness in Christian mansplanation. Sometimes mansplainers who have been given the spiritual gift of discernment arrive on their own at the decisive conclusion to a particular topic that nobody else has ever thought of and nobody else will have to think about again if they listen carefully to the mansplanation. Usually this involves an even simpler way of breaking the gospel down that is culturally relevant to our times but absolutely consistent with the truth that has always been the same. But the form that the mansplainers’ conclusiveness usually takes is that they’ve already read the book that addresses the topic you’re discussing exhaustively and anticipates all the possible objections you might make so they simply encourage you to read the book before you attempt to discuss these matters on your own. Often the books that mansplainers read simply confirm that a particular figure from the past was infallibly correct about the subject, whether it’s Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, or Wesley depending on your branch of the Christian tree (I’m not sure who the guy is for Eastern Orthodoxy, maybe Gregory Palamias? Anabaptists? No clue!).
The two most important concepts that Christian mansplainers preoccupy themselves with when they have conversations with each other are “leadership” and “orthodoxy.” The purpose of leadership is to enforce orthodoxy. Orthodoxy means that everyone is in agreement on the fundamentals. There is one gospel to which everyone should be striving to conform, not five gospels! It’s okay for each leader to have a different way of packaging his What We Believe statements as long as they really mean the same thing under the surface as every other leaders’ What We Believe statements. Until they become leaders themselves, mansplainers are entrusted with enforcing conformity to their leader’s What We Believe statements. You become a “leader” or “teacher” or “communicator” (depending on the dialect) once you have at least three thousand more twitter followers than people you follow.
The standard Christian mansplanations out in the world behave like commodities in the free market. This is because they are designed for mass distribution and easy training and meme-ification. The most prevalent example of a Christian mansplanation commodity would be the Four Spiritual Laws brochure designed by Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright in the 1950’s. With over 2.5 billion copies printed, it is the most widely distributed religious booklet in history. It’s a commodity because despite whatever initial intentions Bright himself had, the brochure has taken on a life of its own and become a primary means by which many mansplainers interpret the Bible even if they never read it directly because its basic truths have been transmitted through several layers of oral mansplanation.
We live in a world that is out of control. Two words explain why: The Sixties. Christian mansplainers have either been rescued from or sometimes happily shielded from out of control lives and trained in their duty to take control. Control is one of the hardest aspects of the Christian mansplainers’ job; it is something that must be approached with sober reverence and humility. But what mansplainers have learned is that when they allow themselves to kowtow to other peoples’ feelings and let go of their gentle but firm control of the conversation, then inevitably heresies start to creep in and people get hurt.