December 7, 2006
Armed for Armageddon, revisited
The strobe lights pulse and the air vibrates to a killer rock beat. Giant screens show mayhem and gross-out pranks: a car wreck, a sucker punch, a flabby (and naked) rear end, sealed with duct tape.
Brad Stine runs onstage in ripped blue jeans, his shirt untucked, his long hair shaggy. He’s a stand-up comic by trade, but he’s here today as an evangelist, on a mission to build up a new Christian man — one profanity at a time. “It’s the wuss-ification of America that’s getting us!” screeches Stine, 46.
A moment later he adds a fervent: “Thank you, Lord, for our testosterone!”
… Stine’s daylong revival meeting, which he calls “GodMen,” is cruder than most. But it’s built around the same theory as the other experimental forums: Traditional church worship is emasculating.
Hold hands with strangers? Sing love songs to Jesus? No wonder pews across America hold far more women than men, Stine says. Factor in the pressure to be a “Christian nice guy” — no cussing, no confrontation, in tune with the wife’s emotions — and it’s amazing men keep the faith at all.
… Stine races through a frenetic stand-up routine, drawing laughs with his rants against liberals, atheists and the politically correct. Then Christian radio host Paul Coughlin, author of “No More Christian Nice Guy,” takes the stage. His backdrop: a series of wanted posters featuring one Jesus of Nazareth.
“Jesus was a very bad Christian,” Coughlin declares. After all, he says, the Son of God trashed a temple and even used profanity — or the New Testament equivalent — when he called Herod “that fox.”
… [M]en taking charge is a big theme of the GodMen revival. At what he hopes will be the first of many such conferences, in a warehouse-turned-nightclub in downtown Nashville, Stine asks the men: “Are you ready to grab your sword and say, ‘OK, family, I’m going to lead you?’ “ He also distributes a list of a real man’s rules for his woman. No. 1: “Learn to work the toilet seat. You’re a big girl. If it’s up, put it down.”
Stine’s wife, Desiree, says she supports manly leadership; it seems to her the natural and God-ordained order of things. As she puts it: “When the rubber hits the bat, I want to know my husband will protect me.”
And besides, Stine is making real men out of church mice:
Such in-your-face aggression at first troubles Howard Stephenson, who paid $68 for a day at GodMen in hopes of forging friendships with other Christian men. When Stine, a born-again Christian, shouts that it’s OK to cuss — and then demonstrates with a defiant “bull....” — Stephenson shifts uneasily.
“This is so extreme for me,” he says.
A few weeks later, Stephenson, 43, is still not sold on profanity. But he has ditched the nice-guy reflex of always turning the other cheek. When he spots a Wal-Mart clerk writing “Happy Holidays” on a window, he boldly complains: It should say “Merry Christmas.”
The clerk erases the offending greeting. Chalk one up for Christian testosterone.
“I wouldn’t have done that before,” Stephenson says proudly. “I am no longer a doormat.”
Rare is the Christian warrior who would go so far to prove his manhood.
Stine argues that the genteel facade of a Christian nice guy inhibits introspection and substitutes cliches for spiritual growth. GodMen is his attempt to encourage men to get real. His speakers admit to masturbation and adultery. A workshop called “Training the Penis” encourages men to talk openly about temptation and bond with guys who share their struggles.
Such honesty, Stine contends, molds better, more godly men than a typical Sunday service.
“We want to force you out of the safe places that have passed for spirituality,” Stine says. “Maybe worship could be hanging out with a bunch of guys, admitting we like blowing crap up.”
Or, at the very least, bravely complaining to Wal-Mart store clerks.
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