Men are saviors

Written by Father Bill 10 Comments

Lt. Col. Bruce Crandall at his Medal of Honor ceremonyOn November 14, 1965, while I was in the middle of my first semester in college, Major Bruce Crandall was performing feats of valor in Viet Nam.  Forty-one years later, on  February 26, 2007, the White House held a ceremony to award the Medal of Honor to Lt. Col. Bruce Crandall.  You may read the citation of Crandall’s valor by clicking hereThe New York Times ran its report on this ceremony on page 15, which prompted an interesting commentary by The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger.  In some ways, Henninger gets it, in others he misses a point that is uncomfortable to the spirit of the age. 


WSJ’s Daniel HenningerHenninger correctly sees the occasion of Crandall’s Medal of Honor to provide “a chance to understand not merely the risks of combat but what animates those who embrace those risks.”  So far, so good.  Henninger, then points to the remarks of two officials at the ceremony, remarks which express “values.” 

General Peter SchoomakerFirst he mentions the remarks of Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, who spoke at the ceremony of what he called “the warrior ethos.” Gen. Schoomaker said this:  “The words of the warrior ethos that we have today – I will always place the mission first; I will never accept defeat; I will never quit; and I will never leave a fallen comrade – were made real that day in the la Drang Valley.”

Army Secretary Francis HarveyNext, Henninger cites the words of Secretary of the Army, Francis Harvey:  “The courage and fortitude of America’s soldiers in combat exemplified by these individuals is, without question, the highest level of human behavior. It demonstrates the basic goodness of mankind as well as the inherent kindness and patriotism of American soldiers.”

So, Henninger holds up two things for us to discuss:  (1) whether Schoomaker’s “warrior ethos” is worth the inevitable sacrifice that it entails; and (2) whether Harvey’s notion is true, that an American soldier in combat demonstrates the basic goodness of mankind.  I’ve read Henninger carefully, and I can’t tell where his thoughts lie.  His entire column seems to complain that these ideas are worthy of discussion and that they are not being discussed. 


So, why are such ideas not being discussed?  Henninger seems to think it is because our doubtful culture hides from such a discussion, because it fears being charged with triumphalism or a martial spirit in the midst of a multi-lateral world (whatever that is).  Yadda yadda yadda. 

Maybe there’s a more basic reason these things don’t get much play in the media, why the New York Times buries the heroism of Major Crandall in a news round-up section, three lines from the bottom of page 15.  Maybe modern folk are uneasy, or embarrassed, or scornful of an idea as old as mankind:  men are saviors.


Carravagio’s Doubting ThomasIn Western culture, men are saviors for a simple reason:  a man is The Savior, and as such, Jesus is the template for all manhood.  To be manly is to be like Jesus. 

And, Jesus’ identity – like it or not – is defined by his being a savior, one who suffers sacrificially in a war against evil, to redeem, reclaim, and restore his Beloved.  The history of Jesus is the template for all Western literature, which take all its plots from His.  All stories are variations on His story, and His masculinity sets the boundaries of anything authentically masculine. 

But, this notion of men being saviors did not erupt into history with Jesus’ birth.   It was the pattern of masculinity within God’s people for the rolling centuries before Jesus’ birth.  Israel always had a place for the grand and godly woman – Sarah, Deborah, Ruth, Hannah, Esther.  But, none of them were saviors (yes, I know what others claim for Deborah, a claim she expressly repudiates; a matter for blogging another time).  The ones to battle evil, sacrificially, to save a beloved – these were men, and it was to men that God’s people looked for such saviors.

Does this mean that all men actually functioned as saviors?  Of course not.  We live this side of the Fall.  But the presence of the savior in the sexual DNA of men is exactly what allows us to account for the way sin generates the peculiarly masculine spiritual pathologies.

Cowardice has no meaning, indeed it does not even exist, apart from the premise that men are to be self-sacrificing saviors.  Cowardice abandons a fundamental plank of masculine identity.  Blood-lust has no meaning as a vice, indeed it does not exist as a vice, apart from the premise that men are to be warriors against evil for the sake of a beloved.  Abusing this identity, fallen men love war for its own sake, or they lust for the  heady thrill of destroying the enemies of one’s own self.  Both cowardice and blood-lust are opposite sides of the same coin: a fallen savior. 

Adam dies, in a figure, so Eve may live.And lying behind all these is God’s creation of man, the male, to be a savior. Christ’s sacrificial death for the sake of the Church was foreshadowed in the wound of Adam’s side, from which Eve emerged.  But, the most explicit statement of the savior aspect of a man’s sexuality is the proto-evangelium, the first statement of the gospel, found in Genesis 3:15–

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

In retrospect, we find this promise fulfilled in the God-man Jesus Christ.  From Eve’s perspective, however, she knew only that God is promising a savior to crush the Serpent’s head, that this savior will suffer a wound from Satan, and that this savior will be a human male.

And, why a male?  Because, as already foreshadowed in Adam’s “death” which produced Eve, man is designed from the beginning to be a savior, that is, to be so constituted in his maleness as to play the part of the savior – to suffer sacrificially in a war against evil for the sake of a beloved. 


And, for this reason, a culture imbued with feminist “values” is uneasy (at best) or hostile (at worst) toward men who are saviors.  And, so Major Crandall’s long-delayed honor gets buried at the bottom of page 15 in The New York Times.  If Henninger’s report is accurate, it failed to appear on the front page of any major daily newspaper.

Crandall before anyone knew he would be a saviorI trust that nothing said here diminishes Major Crandall’s heroism.  To say that men are saviors because they are created by God to act in various masculine ways cannot diminish their heroism when it is displayed.  “They couldn’t help themselves” is patently false, as if heroism was a mindless impulse.  Warfare does far more to expose men’s cowardice or blood-lust than their heroism. 

On the other hand, war provides an arena in which manliness may shine.  That is why Major Crandall’s heroism is so virtuous.  Though a fallen son of Adam, he displayed virtue in the sense of its original Latin root:  manliness.  And, like all genuine manliness, it inspires and encourages all other men to conduct themselves as men ought, particularly in an age when manliness is mocked, scorned, and rejected by a culture that hates the notion that it needs saviors. 


  1. Michael   |  Thursday, 22 March 2007 at 10:55 am

    > And, for this reason, a culture imbued with feminist “values” is uneasy (at best) or hostile (at worst) toward men who are saviors.

    Schizophrenic feminism seems to go two ways with this sort of warrior-thing:

    1) Attempt to show that women/girls are saviors, tough warriors and combat heroes, just as men are, no differences. Egotistical men made it all up. (Yet feminists are having trouble protecting females from their own male comrades, for some reason.)

    2) Expects warfare to be nice, orderly and civilized, and if too many people get hurt, society shrinks away from the whole idea as too mean, no matter what the consequences may be for being in denial of the enemy’s diabolical intentions. We’ve seen this with the whole handling of prisoners thing. There is also a sense of making the military into a soft, nurturing entity while still maintaining the naive expectation of winning. Clean, surgical strikes are expected. Generals W. T. “War is hell” Sherman and “make the other [guy] die for his country” George Patton would not go over well today. They’d probably be war criminals, not to mention strongly oppose the women-as-warriors idea.


  2. Fr. Bill   |  Thursday, 22 March 2007 at 12:51 pm

    True, Michael. Hence, General Deborah. My wife wrote an excellent exposé of that notion in a recent Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Once its online, I’ll provide a link to it here.

    Or, I may break out many of her points and blog on them. For now, the persistent appeal to Deborah as a model for the Warrior Woman is the most compelling evidence you could want, to prove that egalitarians don’t read their Bibles. No wonder they ignore that part of it Deborah herself wrote!

  3. Seamus   |  Monday, 26 March 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Fr. Bill,

    This is my first time on this site and I have many thoughts swimming around in my head, but I would really like to know what you think about some of the following issues, since you’ve probably given them more consideration than I have.

    My questions are: do believe it is at all possible for a woman to act in the capacity of a savior, that is, to be a savior? If so, is it morally wrong, and if so, in what cases? What if her action of salvation or redemption were in the service of what we wouldn’t hesitate to call an objective moral right, if a man were to do it (i.e., defending the helpless, serving the ideals of a nation, etc.)?

    I can’t consider these simply hypothetical concerns. One real-life example of these apparent contradictions is Joan of Arc. What stance do you take toward her, as an example?

    Thanks for your time, and may God be with you.

  4. Fr. Bill   |  Tuesday, 27 March 2007 at 1:23 pm

    Dear Seamus,

    I’d first suggest that your string of questions begins at the wrong place. What is the purpose of asking “May a woman act in ways that a male savior acts?” The answer is, obviously, “yes.” But, what does such an obvious answer signify in the current climate?

    As you no doubt know, the answer “yes” to this and any other question of this form serves to provide an apologetic for the classical feminist premise, to wit, that anything a woman can do as well as a man, we must endorse as valid, right, and just for her to do. Conversely, the feminist argues, it is profound injustice to set boundaries on what she is permitted to do, if the facts demonstrate she is capable of doing it.

    This kind of apologetic gets deployed with respect to women in any number of classically masculine professions: particular the military and ecclesiastical office.

    The right question is not “what is it possible for a woman to do?” but rather “what is right or best for a woman to do (or, to avoid doing)?” Of course, in answering this question, one must lay out the criteria for what makes the answer “right.”

    To do this in the scope of this blog would be very unwieldy. For a good treatment of all the issues relating to Biblical theology and ethics, I recommend the majority report in the Presbyterian Church in Amecia’s study group on women in the military. You may find it here:

    I am not a Presbyterian, but in this area the PCA’s position paper does a very good job of organizing the “mere Christian” answer to this issue.

    As to Joan of Arc, I’d decline to set her up as an example to anyone in terms of sexual norms. What woman is going to be strengthened in her womanliness by Joan? What man is going to be inspired in his manliness by a woman performing the classical (and, I’d argue, Biblical) functions of a man? You see, that’s what the debate is all about these days — what is authentically Biblical manhood and womanhood?

    If one takes the Bible’s answer to that question and shines it on Joan of Arc, it casts her labors in an unflattering light, no matter how noble her goal. As always, ends do not justify means. Indeed, good ends may be deployed in ways to discredit good and wholesome means, or to promote foolish and unhealthy ways of living.

  5. Seamus   |  Wednesday, 28 March 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Thank you for your words and for the link, I think I’m seeing where you’re coming from.

    That being said, I have a few more questions that are nagging at me, and I believe that, in the honest search for God’s Truth, these should not be shunted away, but addressed patiently and rationally. Having no clear answers to them yet myself, I wanted to share them with you.

    I appreciate this quotation from the PCA’s report, because I think it acknowledges how complex this issue actually is:

    “There are circumstances in which a woman may well engage in physical combat, because she is the last line of defense, but such exceptions in no way invalidate the ‘universal binding obligation’ of man to be manly, laying down his life in defense of his bride, home, and nation.”

    I wholeheartedly agree with this, because it points out that the real issue at stake here is removing the excuses of men and establishing their roles as protectors. It remains, however, to approach this from the perspective of a woman in situations of physical combat. These are general questions that occur to me (feel free to reorder or add to them if you think it would help):

    Is it wrong for a wife to lay down her life to save her husband’s? Is it wrong for a woman to lay down her life for a man she doesn’t know? For another woman of any relation? Even if it is not wrong, is it less than ideal? But how do we navigate idealism in a less-than-perfect world? More on this later.

    A subset of this, perhaps, is “should women be REQUIRED to lay down their lives in any case?” I think I would say no. (Perhaps the difference is that men actually are required.) But this doesn’t answer the question of how morally right or wrong it is for a woman to act with violence in such a situation. What if women are, in a dangerous situation, the only ones who can act? What if a man and a woman are (in a closed-system scenario with no outside help) beset by an attacker. The man has a broken arm, and the woman knows jujutsu. Who should protect whom? Is anyone allowed to act at all? What would be moral? Some might stipulate that “women shouldn’t know jujutsu, because martial arts are a man’s realm.” But can we deny a woman the right to self-defense? Shouldn’t she be prepared? Should the woman respond in a nonviolent way that solves the problem (calling the police, e.g.)? What if the woman is alone? What if the man is a child, or an adolescent? And so forth.

    A short answer to this could be, “Yes, it would be morally acceptable, but she’d be acting like a man.” But that wouldn’t really answer the question for me. Very well, masculinity and femininity may be words for much larger and more fluid qualities than an individual person’s biological sex, but how does that say which choice is moral? What’s really wrong with acting like a man?”

    Another reason that I believe this is very equivocal ground is that I’m not really sure that even MEN are, in every case, supposed to defend themselves with violence in the case of an attack to their person. You say that (“as always” no less) “the ends do not justify the means.” But is this not the very nature of violence–an end that justifies means? We are called by Christ to be unconditionally loving, towards all human beings, and particularly those who intend harm toward us–that we should not resist their attacks, but yield to them in a spirit of love to prove the strength of our faith in God:

    “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; [Ex. 20.13, Deut. 5.17] and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire . . . . Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: [Ex. 21.24, Lev. 24.20, Deut. 19.21] but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, [Lev. 19.18] and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

    I suppose I am digressing from the immediate topic (it’s so easy to get carried away by the beauty of things when quoting the words of Christ), but my point of confusion is this: violence is, I freely admit, a necessity in our fallen world, at least in many cases. However, it is in violation of Christ’s explicit challenge to not kill, or even hate, our enemies.

    I suppose my point is: violence, by its very nature, is an end that justifies a mean in a less-than-perfect world. It’s adding another layer of complexity to consider this in terms of gender as well:

    A woman acting in violence: Morally wrong, sometimes necessary.
    A man acting in violence: Morally wrong, sometimes necessary.
    A woman acting in passivity: Morally right, sometimes dangerously ineffective.
    A man acting in passivity: Morally right, sometimes dangerously ineffective.

    If we want to draw another line of distinction through this based on gender, we would have to say that “Women are less justified in committing acts of violence than men are.” But, in the real world, can we draw such a line? If so, where?

    I fear I’ve worded all this rather poorly, but hope that you can address the general concerns. I know I’m touching on some very large philosophical debates as well that perhaps supercede the gender-and-faith topic, and I understand if you don’t have the time to answer such matters fully. Any thoughts you have, though, would be appreciated.

    Love in Christ,

  6. Fr. Bill   |  Thursday, 29 March 2007 at 4:43 pm

    Hi, Seamus,

    Again, I get overwhelmed by the approach you make to these issues. I hope you won’t think I’m blowing you off, if I decline to pick up these issues at the points you are choosing to do so. I’m not at all sure it’s a helpful way to proceed.

    For example, you ask – about mid-way through your queries – this question: “What if women are, in a dangerous situation, the only ones who can act? What if a man and a woman are (in a closed-system scenario with no outside help) beset by an attacker.” Leaving aside for a quick moment the essence of your question, I’d say that it has little, maybe no, bearing on issues of public policy or general ethics. It isn’t valid logically, rhetorically, or ethically to move from “women may resist a violent attacker” to “women should be deployed in military combat.” You can pretty well insinuate any ethical criterion into any discussion by selecting a highly specific instance and then attempting to generalize from it.

    Now, to address the question of a woman beset by a violent attacker: well, of course – there’s nothing morally wrong with a woman responding with defensive violence toward any attacker, male or female, with or without an accompanying spouse. I can’t imagine any ethicist – except the most radical partisan of nonviolence – ever saying she would be wrong to resist with appropriate violence. So, letting that answer stand, for the moment, we ask “so what?” It is a very long – and, I think, hopeless – distance from a woman beset by a rapist in a night-time parking lot and the public policy of women in the military.

    By the way, at Tim Bayly’s blog, it appears this issue is breaking out for further discussion. That blog gets a lot more attention in the Christian blogosphere than this one (Duh!), so I commend that particular discussion to you. The Bayly brothers are also moving their blogsite, so the location of their new blog is here. And the URL of this new discussion on women in the military is here. I notice one commenter there has asked for the definition of “feminism” in the context of that discussion. I’m awaiting to see how this discussion proceeds.

    You go further to ask if, perhaps, nonviolence itself is the highest moral value. If you answer yes, then of course – no violence should ever be resisted by anyone for any reason. Yes, it’s related to “women in combat,” but only insofar as to rule the latter out of the question insofar as combat itself would be ruled out. But, once you embrace the idea that violence may be deployed against evil, particularly as a matter of general ethics and/or public policy, then and only then is it legitimate to ask the further question about whether that public policy or moral duty lays differently on men than it does on women.

    UPDATE: The question posed by a commenter at Bayly’s Blog, asking “What is feminism?” has prompted Pr. Bayly to move the question into its own blog with an answer by him, and an invitation for other commenters to elaborate on the preliminary answer Bayly provides. You may find this entire discussion here.

  7. Seamus   |  Friday, 30 March 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Fr. Bill,

    I thank you for your very logical points, and you are right in pointing out that I am taking a broader approach to the issue than simply “should women be in the military,” though I hope you see that rather than attempting to “generalize” (prove a point about a specific incident by illegitimate extrapolation), I was really just trying to find the most absolute ideal that should underly and inform our choices about the issues. I believe in a law with spirit behind its letter, and prefer to dig for a few ultimate reasons for conduct than to simply enumerate a vast set of specific guidelines.

    That being said, I can understand your answer to the specific question “should women be in the military.” However, my questions, if they tended toward any specificity, was “can women be saviors,” and I see that the operative term in our further discussion is “savior.”

    I’d first like to point out that you’re using the term “savior” fairly freely. I hesitate to call anyone a “savior” besides Christ. Certainly people can save the physical bodies of others, but no one can save our souls but Him. Moreover, it is worth noting that saving physical bodies was never his prime concern.

    This, frankly, makes me hesitant of calling members of the military “saviors,” though I highly respect them for their work and consider them the consummate protectors of our ideals. Very well, in the physical sense alone, I do concede that they are “saviors” of a sort. But not the same sort that Christ was a Savior, one who saved us from sin and eternal suffering. I guess it’s enough to say, by way of compromising on our terms, there are two kinds of saviors, physical-temporal saviors and (only one) spiritual-eternal Savior.

    (A propos, Jesus’ Saviorhood at times seems to me much closer to a feminine model of physical “saviorhood” than to what you consider the masculine model to be, in that His continual emphasis was on submission, humble and quiet daily servitude, the nurturing of others in the Spirit and body, and appealing to the pity and humanity of others rather than confronting them with physical threats. Consider, for example the story of Jesus and the men who wanted to stone the adulterous…does Jesus act like a soldier there?
    None of this is to take away from the times when Jesus acted in what you would call a more masculine fashion, but I think it’s worth considering both sides of His character. And on a related note, would you go so far as to say that Christ is not the model for the female Christian as He is for the male?)

    Back to the more immediate point, protecting someone else physically, by offering to sacrifice yourself in some way, seems to me a good definition of being a physical-temporal “savior.” But I don’t see why the military or other contexts of violence are the only expression of this kind of “saviorhood.” Can you not also “save” someone by healing their bodies, by speaking on their behalf, or by some other way in which you substitute their physical well-being for your own (even if that means dying)? There have been women who have done all these things and more, in the Bible and elsewhere. Here’s one dramatic and rather touchy example: what do you call a woman who knowingly consents to die in a dangerous childbirth rather than have an abortion? The husband can’t step in and take the “savior” role, it is up to the woman to fulfill it. And there are many analagous examples.

    Whether or not it’s a matter for good public policy, then, for women to be in the military, I don’t see how we can deny them the position of “savior” in the cases in which they’ve earned it by doing what physical-temporal saviors do. I suppose I’m simply trying to say that I see no reason the term “savior” should be linked exclusively to the military or situations of violence–in fact, I really think it’s slightly inappropriate for such situations, but I can understand why you’re using it. But in any case, I see no reason why it shouldn’t be applied more broadly, and as such, no reason why women are not able or supposed to be “saviors,” as you seem to suggest. I suppose I’m saying that I don’t believe men are more like saviors than women are; it’s more likely they simply have different but equally important ways of expressing “saviorhood.”

    I hope you follow my argument, and thank you again for your words, I feel I am really coming to understand these issues better.


  8. Arcelia   |  Sunday, 21 October 2007 at 10:26 pm

    This article offends me. To suggest that a man’s DNA contains heroism is preposterous. We don’t have numerous women heroes in history because women haven’t always been given the OPPORTUNITY to be heroic. Someone earlier mentioned Joan of Arc as an example of a female hero, and you responded stating that she was simply acting in a manly fashion, which made her heroic. This insults the entire female race- that women, even though we share in humanity, aren’t capable of being as GODLIKE as men! Mother Teresa was heroic. Elizabeth I was heroic. And yes, Joan of Arc was heroic. They were women acting out of love for humanity and a desire to see change in their world. I admire Joan of Arc more than most so-called male saviors. She was more of a savior than half the human men who share that title, besides Jesus Christ. Do men such as yourself enjoy destroying the self-esteem of women? For years, men have caused women depression and anguish by attempting to separate them in every single way from men. We are equal, and humanity will never fully evolve into beauty until every single person on this planet realizes this.

  9. Kamilla   |  Monday, 22 October 2007 at 12:16 am


    It rather destroys your argument to say a man can “destroy” the self-esteem of women by posting a few words on a blog. If it is self-esteem, only you can build it or destroy it. In fact, your entire post is a bit incoherent – are women sharing in humanity with men or are they a different race, the “female race”? Are women just as brave and capable of leadership as men or must they be given male permission (or, as you put it, “women haven’t always been given the OPPORTUNITY to be heroic”) to show their stuff? Are women equal to men or are they so fragile men can wantonly cause them anguish and depression?

    One thing I can see, however, is how your confusion could easily lead you to take offense.


  10. Fr. Bill   |  Tuesday, 23 October 2007 at 8:23 am


    You make my point, I think, by placing Mother Teresa and Joan of Arc in the same sentence. I freely admit — as you recognize — that Joan was heroic. But, unlike Mother Teresa (a truly heroic woman), Joan was heroic as men are heroic, while Mother Teresa’s heroism was quintessentially feminine. The point is not heroism, you see, but … what shall I call it? … the gender aspects of heroism.

    I guess what I would need to acknowledge here is that the term “hero” admits of different senses, depending on the sex of the hero. In this blog, of course, the term I expounded was not “hero” so much as it was “savior.” And, of course, saviors are heros. Their heroism arises from several factors that are peculiarly right for men, and not for women. Among these are notions of violence, combat, war, personal expendibility, and death.

    Can women involve themselves in violence, combat, war, and death? Are women expendable in the way men are? In all these and other areas, woman may be all these things, insofar as they can (and sometimes have) exhibited these qualities.

    But, our discussion here is not what women may or may not do. Rather, we ask what is womanly to do, and what is masculinizing for them to do. For a good example of a woman who knew the boundaries of righteous womanhood, consider Deborah sometime. She never led anyone in battle. Rather, she insisted that Barak (the man) do that sort of work. Even Jael, who gave Sisera the fatal blow, did so within a feminine environment (her tent, rather than the battlefield), and she used the implements of a woman (food, comfort, a tent peg) rather than those of a warrior.

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