Over the last few weeks, you can hardly turn on a news program without coming across an opinion piece or news story about Ray Rice, the professional football player whose career has been ruined after a video surfaced of him punching his fiancee. Having seen the clip, I can’t fathom how anyone can call it anything but reprehensible. As the larger culture debates what sort of action should be taken and whether or not the league acted appropriately, fathers need to take the opportunity to talk with our sons and educate them as to how God calls them to act toward women. In a culture that is increasingly hostile to the dignity of women, treating them as sex objects, humiliating them in pop culture, or glorifying their mistreatment; it is vital that we make our stance clear and stand firm on the matter. Raising a young man into a superhero requires more than just teaching him to carry a football; it involves teaching him to act with integrity toward women, whether that woman is his wife, sister, date, neighbor, or a stranger.
There are all sorts of biblical passages that describe the importance of men protecting women and treating them with a special degree of gentleness. The prophet Malachi offers a strong statement on the subject when he writes:
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.Malachi 2:16
In the ancient world, women who were divorced were put in a difficult situation, as remarriage was difficult and there were limited employment and property ownership rights. This resulted in poverty, indentured servitude, or prostitution as the only options for women who did not have a husband. God’s declaration of anger toward men who do not love and take care of their spouse is no small matter. God expected men to care, protect, and provide for their wives. Further, the act of abandoning her is described as an act of great violence. The message seems clear, violence against your wife isn’t okay. Even more so, husbands are expected to not only to abstain from violence toward wives, God considers not taking care of them as being on par with violence. Men are to treat women with an extra measure of gentleness and protection.
Another powerful verse that is worth considering is found in Peter’s comments on how various groups ought to act. Interestingly, Peter’s list offers special concern to groups who were less powerful and more likely to be oppressed. His instruction to men is sometimes misread:
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.1 Peter 3:7
It’s easy to see the phrase “weaker partner” and assume that it’s a condescending statement. What Peter means here is that women are typically physically smaller and not as physically strong. Peter’s wording refers to loving, considerate, and gentle treatment of the wife. This is based on the reality that the husband is physically capable of hurting his wife. Peter’s direction is for Christian men to be gentle. Peter also points out that women are heirs of eternity, in the same way that men are. This puts women and men on equal footing before God. As such, they are to be treated as equals in all other respects.
A final passage worth considering is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus specifically directs His followers not to look at women lustfully, because in doing so, he commits adultery in his heart. This passage explicitly teaches that men are to remain sexually pure in their thought lives. However, it is reasonable to read the passage as also teaching that treating women as sex objects is not acceptable.
Raising a young man, one who stands apart as a hero to those around him, requires that he learn to treat women right. It is vital that the fathers persistently talk to their sons about God’s directions for us to treat women gently and with respect. Sons need to be taught that they are supposed to physically protect women, as is their responsibility before God. Treating a woman roughly or violently is totally apart from God’s direction for them. Further, God repeatedly describes Himself as a protector of those who are most exploitable. This is an example Christian men are to emulate. We should not engage in any activity that treats women with less dignity than is afforded to God’s beloved creation. This is foundational for raising a young man to be a real world superhero. Beyond teaching them, fathers must model the behavior in their relationship with their wife and the women around them. Boys learn to be men by watching their fathers and the other strong male figures in their lives. A father must model right behavior to raise a superhero son.