ENDORSEMENTS RARELY CATCH my eye, but some names that grace Zachary Wagner’s Non-Toxic Masculinity: Recovering Healthy Male Sexuality made my jaw drop. Amy Peeler and Kristin Kobes Du Mez — scholars renowned for tackling purity culture and male-centric theology — aren’t names you’d expect on a book like this. Most traditional Christian men’s thoughts on “biblical manhood” are not only flimsily dressed in culturally secular activities like playin’ sports and shootin’ guns, but also fatally based in unbiblical standards of hypersexual and violent behavior. Thankfully, Wagner swings over such pitfalls, laying out an expansive vision of masculinity rooted in the Jesus ideal: love for God and neighbor.
Wagner articulates how purity culture failed both women and men. “Many of the theological and cultural foundations of the movement were sub-Christian, even worldly,” he writes. “Dehumanizing theology leads to dehumanizing behavior” — behavior that includes fetishized virginity, body hatred, tolerated abuse, and sexual segregation. Purity culture, Wagner explains, calls men “animals” and “perverts,” confounding rhetoric I heard growing up in the church. This type of gendered, sexual denigration — especially when attributed, in part, to God’s design — only serves to further dishonor the imago dei of men and excuse sexual sin.
There’s a “pathetically low and impossibly high bar for masculine sexuality [that] trains men to resist, flee, and medicate (through marital sex) their untamable boyish immaturity rather than grow beyond it,” Wagner writes. The divinization of high libidos and heterosexual marriage can be doubly damaging for queer Christian men, who face additional stigmatization and erasure in the church.