From the Pulpit, New Moves to Change Machismo Culture

By Steven Vegh
Religion News Service
Saturday, September 26, 2009

VIRGINIA BEACH -- As the new pastor at Vino Nuevo Church, the Rev. Gladys Mejias-Ashmore has been teaching a lot about family, parenting -- and the dangers of machismo.

In Latino culture, the macho man looms large as boss of wife and family. But more than a few Hispanic evangelical pastors are teaching that machismo violates Christian norms for husbands and fathers.

It's a message Mejias-Ashmore said she never heard in church in her native Honduras. "I used to think the Christian let the man do whatever he wants -- even extramarital relationships." But after being "born again" and studying Bible passages on marriage, Mejias-Ashmore said she challenged her first husband about his drinking and adultery.

"He drank so much and would come home violent. He once hit me and knocked me out," she said. As a Christian, she forgave him. As a woman, she finally sought safety in divorce.

"It doesn't have to be that way," she said of machismo. "Jesus came to restore dignity to woman." Cocky, masculine, tough, sexist and self-important are traits often conjured up by "macho," as in, "Es muy macho" -- "He's a real man." Although domineering men can be found in every culture, macho behavior generally looms larger within Hispanic culture, said Jose Gonzalez, a Spanish-language blogger for the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Gonzalez, who grew up in Uruguay, runs Semilla Inc., which provides leadership training in Latin America from a biblical perspective. He has taught at Regent University, an evangelical school founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson in Virginia Beach.

"Too many Hispanics measure our manhood by how we dominate our women, socially, emotionally or sexually. This inequality destroys happiness, reducing many women to a secondary role," he wrote in a recent posting.

Machistas, or male chauvinists, expect their wives and family females to be chaste, but "the man is free to do whatever -- have affairs, have another woman," said the Rev. Juan Gonzales of the Tidewater Hispanic Evangelical Ministers Association.

The macho man often dominates the whole family, as Jesus Rodriguez of Virginia Beach recalled from his Mexican boyhood.

At gatherings at his grandfather's house, "everyone had to line up at the door and wait for him to come and, one by one, kiss his right hand and his left cheek. I never saw anything wrong with that," Rodriguez said.

Machismo's staying power is fueled partly by Latin American religious perspectives, including Marianismo, the cult of the Virgin Mary.

"The Virgin Mary is the image or symbol for resignation, for acceptance of your lot, and the victim," said Mavel Velasco, a Latin American literature scholar at Virginia Wesleyan College. But Velasco, a native of Bolivia, said Mary also can be a symbol of strength for women during crisis. Latin men, meanwhile, sometimes excuse their macho behavior by citing the apostle Paul, who wrote that among Christians, the man should be the head of the wife.

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