Malestrom by Carolyn Custis James

In her latest book, Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World (2015), Carolyn Custis James challenges the perception that our world is characterized by a zero-sum game, where gains for women must come at a loss for men.  The source of her highly compelling alternate vision for men and women is the Bible.

While many find Scripture to be sexist, James discovers many stories of men who transcended the patriarchy of the biblical world.  The examples of these men and the women they empower and bless point back to the garden, and point forward to the cross.  She retells the stories of Adam, Abraham, Judah, Barak, Boaz, Matthew, Joseph (the carpenter), and Jesus.  While none of these men, except the last, were without faults (Abraham used Sarah twice to protect himself in a foreign land; Judah slept with his daughter-in-law Tamar), each of them took a bold and courageous stand against the domination of patriarchy.

As a white male, who has experienced many of the privileges that come with my demographic, I found her vision of manhood not as a threat, but as a blessing, a reminder of God’s original design for his sons and daughters as modeled by our savior.  “Jesus’ definition of manhood is every man’s true identity and calling—his birthright” (p. 182).

I felt particularly challenged by her discussion of Joseph (p. 155-172), husband of Mary, and adoptive father of Jesus.  Joseph is often ignored, but Matthew’s gospel calls him righteous.  Instead of following the cultural mandate of patriarchy, he is sensitive to angelic guidance, marrying a woman already pregnant by another father, and agreeing not to consummate the marriage until after Jesus’ birth.  Patriarchy would demand shaming her for betraying his trust.  For the sake of his wife and son, he quit his job, to move to Egypt—not a good career move.  Then he moved again, this time to Galilee, for the sake of his family.  As a husband who’s made my family move for my career multiple times, Joseph’s example is humbling.

Rarely do I find authors writing on biblical stories that I’m familiar with giving as many unnoticed insights into the biblical text as James.  Her examination of the story of Tamar in Lost Women of the Bible influenced my discussion of Tamar in Prostitutes and Polygamists (which James endorses).

I would hope that anyone, male or female, would welcome her message, since it would lead to more husbands empowering wives, and fathers empowering daughters.  We need more men who, like Jesus, use power to bless women and men.

What biblical examples of men empowering women that you find compelling?

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