Toxic masculinity and church

By | January 15, 2021

The recent coup attempt at the US Capitol raises myriad questions. Among them is the role of toxic masculinity and its implications for society, as well as its implications for the Episcopal Church.

A key example is the now infamous Jacob Anthony Chansley, aka Jake Angeli, aka the Q Shaman. An avowed practitioner of shamanism and self-proclaimed clergy, Angeli, as he likes to be called, allegedly first began doing psychedelic drugs with his father at age 11. His father purportedly provided the drugs.

And while Angeli likes to babble on about his path to ascension, the chakras, compassion, and their links to psychedelic drugs, that does not appear to conflict in his mind with his Q-Anon theories, his use of Aryan hate symbols in his tattoos, or his alleged written threats against members of Congress. Or, for that matter, his protests objecting to BLM.

The rubber really meets the road when one looks at Angeli’s now suspended Twitter feed, @USAwolfpack. There, Angeli described himself as an “Alpha Male.”

But the reality is far different. Prior to his recent arrest, the 33-year-old Angeli lived with his mother, after getting evicted for unpaid rent. He is unemployed. He drives a beat-up, decrepit Hyundai. And he is often seen wandering his mother’s neighborhood, replete with horns and face paint.

Now, his mother says she is frantic to get in touch with her son, even as she laments the fact he is not eating because the food in prison isn’t organic, arguing that he gets violently ill when he eats food that is not organic.  She has not indicated whether the psychedelic drugs her son has used are organic or not, or whether those too cause him to become violently ill. Nor has anyone offered an explanation how Angeli reconciles his worldview, which often skids very close to something straight out of the Elders of Zion, with his purported Shamanistic religious practices.

In short, Angeli looks increasingly like a hyper-indulged momma’s boy, possibly suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and drug abuse, even as neighbors report he likes to dance on his mom’s roof. Nor does he look remotely like an alpha male, even needing to bum a ride home to Phoenix from his little coup attempt road trip, while his attorney is now asking that the president grant this particular alpha male a pardon.

Connection to q-anon and trump

What’s notable in all of this is how sex is wound through the threads of Q-Anon conspiracy theories. Many believe that there is a secret pedophile plot running through myriad layers of government and civil society. This heartens back to the Satanic Panic of the 1980’s, in which many Americans believed there was a Satanist on every corner — and if not at every corner, certainly every day care center.

Part and parcel of this is an even older and still more offensive myth, rooted in anti-Semitism. That is the myth that Jews and other cabals not only control the world, but they drink the blood of Christian children. This myth goes back to medieval ages, and was often invoked as the basis for pogroms and other hate activities.

Nor is this ugly canard, founded in conspiracy theories, merely an anecdotal part of his beliefs. Indeed, on more than one occasion, Angeli has loudly proclaimed shopping mall signage to be a secret pedophile code, set up by the FBI.

Many of these issues also touch on Donald Trump and his expressions of masculinity. These range from his all-too-predictable playing football in high school, to his need for a trophy wife, to his never-complain-never-explain routine, to his narcissistic refusal to admit defeat.

Nor are Trump’s weird and stereotypical notions of masculinity confined to these relatively mild manifestations. Whether it is references to his big hands, to references to his big penis, to his penchant for degrading comments aimed at women, to grabbing women inappropriately, Trump is a throwback to the ugly notions of what it meant to be male in the 1950’s. And the similarity to Angeli is striking, even if on a much larger scale: Trump in many circles is regarded as the hyper-indulged billionaire’s brat, who is good at spending money, but even better at losing it.

Of course, the zip tie (pun intended) that binds this all together is the belief by Angeli and other Q-Anon supporters that Trump personally called on them to come to DC, invited them to the US Capitol, and thus owes them a pardon. In short, Trump occupies a messianic role, with many believing that the president is somehow poised, in a hyper masculine stroke of raw power, to deliver the country from the cabal of satanist pedophiles who now control things.

And yet even as the Donald Trumps and Jake Angelis of the world swagger around, they don’t seem to be all that successful in their romantic suits. Specifically, there appears to be no mention of anyone dating Angeli (I mean, would you join him on his mother’s rooftop for an evening of dancing?), while rumors have abounded for the last several years that Melania plans to divorce her husband at the first possible chance.

So much for the Trump/Q-Anon theories of true studliness.

Toxic masculinity and the church

Nor is the church immune from this sort of warped notion of masculinity.

On the one hand, we have the example of Jesus, whose care and compassion for others led to throngs outside his home. That love for others — including the outcasts, like Mary Magdalene — ultimately led Jesus to offer up life itself.

On the other hand, there are far too many in the clergy in the church who model Trump’s version of masculinity, or a slightly more palatable version. These range from the swaggering narcissists we see all too often in pulpits, noisy, aggressively friendly, into sports, and all about image; to the reach-out-and-grab ‘em clergy. And yes, there remain plenty of the latter, and the response to them all too often is the boys-will-be-boys routine.

That’s true even here in DIoVA, where former bishop Shannon Johnston reportedly has engaged in coverup of at least one egregious case of sexual harassment. And while clergy may in fact get nuked for having an affair (even while getting a generous golden parachute), stuff that doesn’t rise to that level, including sexual harassment, is dealt with quietly, almost on the sly.

Indeed, one such priest, known to Anglican Watch, canonically resident here in Virginia, continues to serve parishes in the southern states, despite conduct toward women that can only be described as egregious.

The upshot

The upshot is that, while many in the Episcopal Church express horror and revulsion, both at the attack on the Capitol and Trump’s malignant brand of masculinity, the reality is that there’s plenty of toxic masculinity to go around in the church itself.

And much like an African-American family member, who used to say that she much preferred the South to the North, on the basis that the former was upfront about its racism, toxic masculinity, hate and disrespect in the Episcopal Church gets a primer coat of churchy-nice, followed by layers of stained glass, vestments, flowers, candles and, in some cases, incense.

In short, the church all too often is a narcissistic construct, in which outward appearances paper over a culture that still belittles women, that still maintains stereotypical gender roles, that still treats women and others who may lack power as objects to be used. Meanwhile, male clergy become objects of adulation, in which unbridled clericalism hold sway, even as it all too often are the women behind the scene (think altar guild) who make church possible.

So, before the church collectively pulls away in horror at recent events, while proclaiming, “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.,” it needs to understand that it had a role in these events as well.

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