Huffpost Religion
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Dan Mulhern Headshot

Nun-Sensical Male Leadership

Posted: Updated:

I am a dad. And I am sick of the arrogance of some men and the dead hearts of others. To put it in the positive tone I prefer: We men must wholeheartedly embrace our roles as fathers of boys and girls. And we must preserve our traditional fanaticism about "our truth and our tribe," yet engage humbly with others whose views -- not to mention lives -- matter. Catholic nuns and the wives of U.N. ambassadors offer models to follow.

A few weeks ago, the wives of British and German ambassadors to the U.N. posted a video letter to Asma al Assad, the wife of Bashar al Assad, the President of Syria and a mother of three. In the video, mothers speak to a mother in a heart-rending plea, which asks the first lady to speak out, and "stop the bloodshed" in Syria. The "letter to Asma" gives full voice to moms' ancient role of caring for "innocent women and children." It inspires equally with its combination of compassion and courage.

Where are men in this? Typically absent, not even aware they could be present. One might wonder are there innocent "men and children?" Or do we -- men as much or more than women -- not count men as "innocent?" Similarly, does it make you wonder: Do fathers suffer grief, or do we (pretend to) swallow it as though it's just a cost of being a man? And when we do cry out for an end to senseless violence -- a leader killing his very own people -- is it because our minds tell us we must have rules and a rule of law, or is it also because our hearts tell us that every child and every life matters? Surely that is not only the province of women. Surely we, too, can find a voice?

It seems that deep in the male mind we put rules and the fear of chaos in front of human lives. Whether it's Assad, or the tough traffic cop, or the guy who told 911 in Sanford that "these a--holes always get away," we can act quite unilaterally when we think a rule is in danger. Somewhere that thinking is in the dark recesses of the minds of some marines who pose over their literally dehumanized victims. In pursuit of control we will strike, strike pre-emptively, strike harder.

I think it's high time we build a different manly culture. Maybe part of the way we get there is to reinforce our solidarity as dads, as men who seek to protect life, above all else. Stop ceding heart and compassion to women. Stop condoning the rhetoric that says Hutus have to teach Tutsis a lesson, Slavs are justified in killing Czechs, Israelis can pre-empt Palestinian attacks, and Palestinians can believe the Israeli people have no right to exist. Stop the nonsense that follows when a man's home is his castle, so he may do as he pleases against "them" -- his wife, his kids, or the a passerby to protect himself and his rightness.

The Vatican has told the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents about 80 percent of American nuns, that Vatican-appointed bishops will over the next five years rewrite LCWR's bylaws, approve all of their speakers, and edit all of their materials. The same strains that have been breaking out in American politics -- described by many as a "war on women" -- role like thunder here. Men with great worldly authority and claiming divine authority, assert absolute rules, and impose those rules unilaterally. In both cases -- the congressional hearings on contraceptives and the Vatican ruling on the LCWR -- men focused on rules and imposed them without even involving women in the negotiation or engagement.

In the ongoing battle over abortion and contraception, ruling men ignore that it's women who are the ones who physically -- as well as morally -- must answer for their own bodies. And now the Vatican seems not to notice that the nuns of the LCWR have lived the life Jesus spoke of incessantly, caring for the poor, the lonely, the prisoners and the sick. Shouldn't such a standpoint deserve respect? One would think that they would be seen, embraced and engaged as people who are the leaders, the servant leaders, following in the footsteps Jesus. Instead, the sisters of the LCWR received no advance warning, were not invited in for discussion, but instead like children their penalty was meted out, announced before the entire world. Gary Wills was pithy on the contrast: "The bishops are interested in power. The nuns are interested in the powerless."

I posit that it is time for a new masculine strength, where men in power stand for principles that matter; I for one admire that the hierarchy of the church stands for principles. But when we stand for principles we ought acknowledge that we have no corner on God or ethical reasoning. Neither dictators nor presidents nor popes are father-who-knows-best, relative to "little countries," "rebels," infidels, women or children. It's time for men to clearly articulate that a mature masculinity is entirely different than this raw arrogant paternalism. Put your guns away. Make your point. Persuade. Persevere.