Three hundred men -- all Christian -- gathered behind closed doors at a Tennessee mall trying to figure out the difference between being "nice" (which is not good) and being "good" (which is). They struggled in the dimly lit hall -- after a Christian rock band handed it off to the comic in charge -- to make sense of the message they were hearing from the stage: that church has been "feminized" and that the Jesus talked about in many modern churches is too wimpy and gentle.
The men had to decide by day's end (that is, after six hours of listening) whether they were ready to take up the challenge of becoming a "Christian warrior" modeled on the "manlier" version of Christ they were told has been overlooked -- the Christ who took a whip to moneychangers, and used the word "dung" when he had to.
This was GodMen, a movement that is still a work in progress, according to principle founder Brad Stine, who calls himself "America's comic" and is often written up as "the Christian comic."
Stine is convinced that American men in general, and Christian men in particular, have surrendered their masculinity to the shackles of political correctness, especially within the framework of the typical present day church. So he started GodMen as an antidote, to be a place, he says, "where men can be fully men." Or, as the posters for the mall event put it: "GodMen, When Faith Gets Dangerous."
There have only been two GodMen events so far, both in Franklin, Tenn. But more are scheduled for the coming year in six other states.
In reality, the most recent event was more seminar than hunting trip. A series of lecturers took the stage, interspersed with "guys'" entertainment like a strongman bending wrenches in half with his bare hands, and video clips of NFL bloopers.
'No More Christian Nice Guy'
When the laughter died down, however, more serious messages were delivered, most notably by a Christian writer named Paul Coughlin, author of "No More Christian Nice Guy," who laid out the main theme of the day:
"I want to encourage you to be good instead of nice," he told the assembled, several of whom were pastors from churches in the South and Midwest. "But know that you are going to make enemies in the process."
And that, Coughlin argued, can be a good thing. Coughlin contends that the Christian man in America has become passive, straitjacketed by a church culture that insists he emulate a version of Christ who is mild to an extreme, almost "wimpy" in some eyes. This Jesus avoids confrontation, is overly patient and is devoted -- to a fault -- to the dictum "turn the other cheek."
Coughlin can be blunt; in his book, he calls this version of Jesus the "Bearded Lady."
"The fact is," he told the gathering, "a meek and mild Jesus eventually is a bore. He doesn't inspire us." The same applies, he argued, to a meek and mild man.
"Those men end up divorced," Coughlin said. "Their wives find them boring. They have no -- I call it the 'jalapeno factor' -- in them. There's no inner heat that causes them to actively, assertively go out and do what needs to be done as a man."
'Who Doesn't Want to Look at a Naked Lady?'
Stine, once he'd finished his stand-up act, took a more serious turn, encouraging his audience to acknowledge that Christian men face challenges that they cannot talk about in church, or, as a rule, in front of women -- namely, the fact that men, including happily married Christian men, lust for other women, and that they are attracted to pornography even if they believe it is sinful.
"Who doesn't want to look at a naked lady?" he asked, the rhetorical question you'll never hear on Sunday. Stine's point: That's why a Christian hooked on pornography -- "some of you are addicted," he intoned, without requesting a show of hands -- may simmer in shame indefinitely, rather than ask for help to stop.
GodMen ends with Stine asking those who want to "join the tribe" to step forward and accept a series of assignments to complete at home, like memorizing some scripture or volunteering at a soup kitchen. Stine is interested in hearing back from those who try.
"You're the guinea pigs," he told the audience. "We're still figuring this out."