Biblical Gender Roles, Feminism, and Jerkhood

November 20, 2018 § 2 Comments

Our Creator gets to tell us exactly who we are. On the first page of the Bible, Genesis 1:27 declares two truths about who we are.

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.”

“The image of God” tells us how we are all the same. All human beings are of equal value. “Male and female” tells us how we are different. Half of us are gendered male and the other half female. We need both truths in order to think rightly, and act rightly, about gender today.

siblings-3315770_960_720BEING EQUAL YET DIFFERENT

Gender and sex used to mean basically the same thing, and some languages still only have one word for both. Ontologically, as most dictionaries will affirm, there is no critical difference between gender and sex (“the state of being male and female”) except as posited by those whose obsession with autonomy mandates a critical difference. The immutable and binary truth on this topic hasn’t been seriously challenged until recent history in an effort to separate gender (social and cultural roles and self-identity with respect to the state of being male and female) and sex (objective physical traits with respect to the state of being male and female). One of the contemporary challengers, representing a sexual libertarian worldview, is the New York Times, calling gender a “creative playing field.”(1) A biblical worldview says that gender/sex was God’s creative playing field, and His work in the department is complete. If we understand this, we honor God, stay true to ourselves, and do a lot less harm to our neighbor.

Suppose a teacher asks her 4th grade class, “Aside from anatomy, what’s the difference between boys and girls?” (I saw this in a YouTube video meant to challenge gender stereotypes, but for the life of me I can’t find it now). The students, too young to have had a comprehensive biology course, give the teacher the answer she’s looking for by shrugging: “I guess nothing, really.” The conclusion: Anatomy doesn’t really matter. Maybe there’s really no significant difference between males and females after all.

sea-3572203_960_720But there’s glaring problem with the original question. Anatomy is too big of a thing to set aside. If we asked, “Aside from oceans, where do whales live?” we would come to find that without oceans there would be no whales, except for a handful at SeaWorld and the dead ones on beaches. Likewise, without anatomy, we don’t actually have a human being. Anatomy encompasses all that we are physically, and even those who consider human beings more than physical entities have to admit that we are not human without our bodies. In our anatomy, we see obvious differences beyond the basic reproductive differences we learn about in sex ed.

The human anatomy includes about 37 trillion cells, each encoded with information that denotes male or female. Female DNA have one pair of identical X chromosomes, whereas males have an X and a Y chromosome. You could say our anatomy declares what sex we are 37 trillion times.

Even our brains are binary. According to Stanford Medicine, we find “distinct anatomical differences in neural structures and accompanying physiological differences in function” in the brains of men and women(2).

Maybe the most obvious physical difference is overall size and strength. I will concede that there are women out there who can arm-wrestle me to ruin or completely lose me running the mile. But the exceptions prove the rule that the strongest man in the Olympics is stronger than the strongest female, and the fastest man at the Drake Relays will best the fastest woman.

So clearly, anatomy does matter in determining what is a boy and what is a girl. But what are the reasons for these physical differences between the sexes?

According to the Bible, male and female humans are designed to fulfill certain God-given roles. These roles are numerous, but I’ve chosen a handful that Jill Nelson explores in her “Your Word Is Truth” curriculum published by Truth:78(3). Men are uniquely designed to be servant-leaders, providers, and protectors. Women are uniquely designed to be helpers, submissive (yikes!) and nurturers.

BEING A MAN

In reading Genesis 2, we find that man was created first (vs. 5-7), that Adam’s first job was a gardener, and that God gave him a warning to not eat the forbidden fruit in order to protect him (vs. 15-17). In verses 19-21, we see that the first woman was not made the exact same way as man (Adam was formed from the dust of the earth, and woman was formed from man), and that the man named the woman (vs. 23).

adam-2023246_960_720So far, so what? There is a particular ordering in God’s creation here, but we only begin to see the significance of it after sin comes into the picture in Genesis 3. Eve was deceived by Satan and ate the forbidden fruit first, but then Adam followed. In verse 9, “the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?'” God didn’t forget about Eve, but God went straight to Adam because the man did not fulfill his God-given roles to lead, protect, and provide for his wife.

Romans 5:12 says that “sin entered the world through one man…” Eve did not escape sin’s consequences, but Adam’s role as the head of his wife meant that he bore a greater responsibility for rebelling against God. We can see how this works in other human relationships where authority is ordered. Young children get into trouble by their parents for stealing something at a store or borrowing the family car, but the law ultimately puts the responsibility for the crime on their parents. Soldiers who violate orders get reprimanded by their sergeant, but the sergeant will also answer to his superiors for the actions of his unit.

What does it mean for a man to be a leader?––Or better yet, a servant-leader? Scripture provides two specific arenas where men are to take the lead, but also be willing to serve. These two contexts are the church and their marriages.

In the church,an overseer” (or pastor or elder), “manages God’s household.” Titus 1:7-8 requires men who lead in the church “be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” The lead pastor at our church, who also serves as one of the elders, meets these qualifications. He leads, he pastors, and is also at times spotted taking the trash out after potlucks. Such tasks are not menial to a servant-leader.

In marriage, according to Ephesians 5, the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” The command for men: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (vs. 23-25) The “head of the wife” should also serve his wife and family as Jesus did, willingly making sacrifices of himself.

Neither of these passages describe men who are oppressive, mean bruisers who lord over women. Neither do they describe wimps who live and serve passively. Can women be leaders? Of course, and many are. Can women make independent decisions in a marriage? Yes, please. Men, however, are uniquely gifted by God to fulfill the role of servant-leader.

What does it mean for a man to be a provider? “Deadbeat dads” are fathers who are expected to provide for their family but choose not to. Deadbeat moms also exist, but because there is a greater expectation on men to provide for their families, men are in the spotlight when they don’t.

Many studies exist about depression and anxiety in unemployed men(4), but we really don’t hear about this problem among unemployed women. That’s not to say that women who lose their jobs are thrilled about it, but there is a higher expectation of men, and by men, for men to be able to provide for their families. The inability to fulfill that God-given role can tear a man apart (whether they realize it’s a God-given role or not, because bearing God’s likeness means we can’t help being like Him).

Can women provide for their families by themselves? Yes! Many do as single moms, either because they want to or because they are forced to, and they do it well. But men are uniquely gifted by God to be providers.

What does it mean for a man to be a protector? When there’s a crash downstairs in the middle of the night, who is expected to be the first one to determine if it’s a cat burglar or just the cat knocking around Christmas ornaments? We expect the husband to grab the baseball bat or 9 mil and investigate. When sister is being picked on, should brother stand idly by? The expectation is that he will rise to sister’s defense. Unless the husband is disabled or absent, or the brother is much younger, it’s hard to imagine those roles reversed.

ThousandOaksLet’s be clear, women can be protectors too. Poke the mama bear and you’ll see. Women serve in military and police forces, put out fires, and save lives in medical emergencies. But men protecting women as a primary role screams at us in certain situations. Take the recent shooting in Thousand Oaks, CA at Borderline Bar & Grill. Where 12 people were killed by one bad man, this tragedy revealed many good men instinctively being protectors. Men piled on top of women to shield them from bullets, men broke windows to provide a way of escape, and men used their own shirts for tourniquets to save the wounded. One man pulled his son outside and then lamented that he couldn’t go back into the building to help others. As Glen Stanton wrote in The Federalist, “This is the very opposite of misogyny, and dramatically so.”(5) Nobody had time to question the political-correctness of guys using their strength to protect nearby women, and no woman complained about “toxic masculinity” after the fact. These were men intuitively doing what God designed them to do.

Does any of this mean that men are more important than women? Not at all. Men are generally larger and physically stronger, which helps in fulfilling the above roles. But Genesis 1:27 tells us men and women are spiritual equals because we are all image-bearers and deemed worthy of God’s love and redemption. God, in His infinite wisdom, gave equally-valued males and females different roles. Godly men should embrace their unique roles and lead confidently, provide faithfully, and protect intuitively, with love and respect for women, and without the need to dominate them.

BEING A WOMAN

Eight times throughout the creation account in Genesis 1, God makes a point to call what He had made “good” or “very good.” Then in Genesis 2:18 we learn it was “not good for the man to be alone.” And God said, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” Enter Eve, the suitable “helper.”

What does it mean for a woman to be a helper? Eve helped Adam garden, but the scope of her help to him was no doubt life-size. In this intentionally complimentary relationship between the first man and woman, Eve helped Adam become complete. Men need women.

But the term “helper” in our day-to-day seems like an inferior or subservient position in relation to the one being helped. This is not a biblical position, however. The Hebrew term for “helper” (`ezer) is used in scripture some twenty times referring to God Himself (i.e. Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help (`ezer) come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”) God is not inferior or subservient to us, so we shouldn’t think that woman is considered, biblically, to be inferior or subservient to man(6).

What does it mean for a woman to be submissive to man? This is a contentious issue today to say the least. “To be subject to their husbands” (Titus 2:5) is not a role that every woman is completely at ease with. Why is this so?

I will suggest that the reason we don’t like the idea of submission is not due to a problem with the idea of submission, but, we have a problem with the idea of submitting to men who are jerks. Would there be any reason a woman would not willingly yield to another’s authority or leadership if those charged to lead did so justly, honorably, courageously, respectfully, and in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7)—the way men are called to lead? Husbands can be less than perfect in this regard and wives are still called to submit, but it’s harder to do. Men should demonstrate to women everywhere that they can be trusted. Men, stop being jerks.

photo-1475609471617-0ef53b59cff5What does it mean for a women to be a nurturer? To nurture means to nourish, care for, encourage, comfort, teach and train. Seventy-six percent of teachers are female(7), perhaps because the best teachers are ones particularly gifted to nurture students into knowledge rather than simply presenting information. In a family, nobody nurtures like mom. In and out of the home, men can also nourish, care for, encourage, comfort, teach and train, but women are uniquely designed for this. The role of nurturer lines up and compliments man’s role as protector in the family. Children do best with a mother and father, in part because children do best when they are both nurtured and protected.

BEING JERKS (AND WHY WE HAVE FEMINISM)

Even as a conservative Christian, I’ve often thought that there are some redeeming qualities to feminism, at least in its origins. I think the reason some women became feminists was because there was a legitimate problem in society. We have feminism largely because we have misogyny and sexism. Historically, and today, too many men have abused, sexually harassed, unfairly discriminated and oppressed women. Instead of being faithful to their God-given roles as servant-leaders, providers, and protectors, men in positions of power over women have abused that authority. Men who are physically stronger than women have over-powered them and treated them as objects of conquest, and this is despicable. As previously noted, we have been jerks.

For all its good intentions to address the problem, however, postmodern feminism in general is an over-correction. It’s me, whenever I’m playing a video game where I’m racing a car; I hit one wall, then oversteer to the other side of the track and hit the other wall. I can’t keep the car on the road. Feminism sees men nefariously taking advantage of differences between men and women and then jerks the wheel to the other extreme, pretending there are no significant differences between men and women. That’s not right either.

BEING BETTER

Gender has been in crisis for some time. Getting back on the road means getting back to the blueprint of God’s word. I see the bulk of responsibility resting on men to take the lead in fixing things. If men lived out their roles as servant-leaders, providers and protectors, we would not have misogyny and sexism, and we would not need feminism, which would make it a lot easier for women to commit to their roles as submissive helpers and nurturers.

God is our designer and definer, and His plan is always the best. As human beings who bear God’s image, we are all equal in value and as recipients of His salvation through Christ Jesus, joint heirs in the gracious gift of life(8). As for our wonderful and God-honoring distinctions, women being feminine (instead of feminists) and men being masculine (instead of jerks) means living according to our God-given roles together. Clearly, we need each other, and we need God’s word to know who we are.

1) Hoffman, Jan (2009, Nov. 6). Can a Boy Wear a Skirt to School? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/fashion/08cross.html
2) Goldman, Bruce (Spring 2017). Two Minds: The Cognitive Differences Between Men and Women. Retrieved from https://stanmed.stanford.edu/2017spring/how-mens-and-womens-brains-are-different.html
3) Nelson, Jill (2010). Your Word is Truth: A Study for Youth Seeing All of Life Through the Truth of Scripture. Retrieved from http://www.childrendesiringgod.org/curriculum/curricula.php?id=23&curriculaId=8
4) Eales, MJ (1988, Nov.). Depression and Anxiety in Unemployed Men. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3270836
5) Stanton, Glenn T. (2018, No. 12). In Thousand Oaks, Scores Of Heroic Men Rescued Others From One Evil Man. Retrieved from https://thefederalist.com/2018/11/12/thousand-oaks-scores-heroic-men-rescued-others-one-evil-man
6) Eldredge, Stasi (2017, Dec. 19). God is Our Ezer. Retrieved from https://www.ransomedheart.com/daily-reading/god-our-ezer
7) National Center for Education Statistics (2018) NCES Fast Facts: Teacher Trends. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=28
8) 1 Peter 3:7 NIV

Smell That? It’s the Red Herring of ‘Marriage Equality’

March 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

RedHerring

Does something smell fishy about the Human Rights Campaign‘s “Stand For Marriage”? You may be detecting the foul malodor of the red herring. In the arena of rational discourse, a red herring is something that draws attention away from the central issue. The term comes from the practice of using fish to lay a false trail while training hunting dogs. A red herring is a diversion or distraction from the real issue.  And it’s a favored recourse for those standing on a weak argument.

imagesHRC’s recent logo memes voicing support for gay marriage carry on the familiar equal sign theme in an attempt to portray a movement toward equality and freedom. But is this really about “freedom for all“? For “equal rights for all people“? For “diversity of all kinds“? The Human Rights Campaign mission is more specific: “Working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights.” But this goal is still exclusive and narrow. Even GLBTIQ leaves out 20 other letters.

Don’t be fooled by the red herring. Highjacking the civil rights banner because it worked to solve the legitimate problem of racial segregation 50 years ago, gay marriage is not about universal freedom or marriage equality or the American way. We are already equally free to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex we choose, and merely holding to the established, globally-affirmed, humanity-dependent, definition for marriage cannot possibly be hateful or bigoted. Gay marriage isn’t about that either. It’s about exchanging marriage for some other discriminative thing, something that does the opposite of marriage, something that prohibits human flourishing, weakens the family, endangers the normal development of children, and runs counter to the Creator’s design. And it stinks.

Marriage is Already Free and Equal (and Why Design Matters)

February 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

Jon Huntsman’s recent article in the American Conservative, Marriage Equality is a Conservative Cause, is not a call to conserve marriage but a call to compromise it. Huntsman says that “we must demand equality under the law for all Americans.” But under the law, where the law limits marriage to one man and one woman, all Americans are equally free. We are free to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex we choose. Where the law allows gay marriage, all same-sex couples are equally free to “marry.”

450px-Gay_wedding_a_by_Stefano_BologniniGay rights and the legalization of same-sex marriage is sold by advocates as a fight for freedom, but that’s misleading. The goal is to gain freedom that is currently not allowed “under the law”. Isn’t this valid though, the pursuit of desired freedom that we don’t have?

Not always. When the option is thoroughly examined, I think you’ll find that total freedom is something nobody really wants. Unlimited freedom isn’t truly attainable anyway, because one person’s complete freedom will inevitably take away from another’s freedom. I can’t have everything I want without stealing something. You simply aren’t free do anything and everything.

We readily accept all kinds of boundaries in our freedom, and there are two types of boundaries that are useful to recognize: What we can do and who can do it. Both are legitimate restrictions and widely accepted in various situations.

In what we can do, certain laws limit how fast we can drive, which national borders we can cross, what we can wear in clubs and restaurants, which public restroom we can use (unless you’re a student in Massachussetts), what type of speech we can use in public discourse, and how many fish we can take home from a Canadian excursion. We are not free to harm or kill or steal or cheat in our activities with fellow citizens.

As far as who can or cannot do these things, there is freedom within limits as well. A ten-year-old is not free to drive a car. A citizen cannot enter most other countries without the fulfillment of certain conditions. Men cannot use the womens showers at the Y, or vise-versa. No matter how unfair I think it is, I cannot fish without a license, dine at a country club without a membership, skateboard in front of the QuikTrip, or play a trumpet in the local library.

There are practical reasons why certain activities are prohibited or that only certain people are free to do them. The point is there are plenty of restrictions on the what and the who every day, and we are generally fine with that. Freedom and equality aren’t universal, nor should they be.

Likewise, in the case of marriage, there is equal freedom, but with limits on what and who. The case for gay marriage is not linked to a lack of freedom, but rather a desire to destroy the boundaries that naturally exist in marriage.

I say these boundaries “naturally exist” because marriage was designed to function a certain way within certain limits, just like everything else. But designed by whom? If marriage was designed by people then people have a right to redefine it. If it was designed by God (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6), then we don’t have the right to redefine it.

Of course, not everyone will agree with an appeal to the Bible for the design of marriage by a divine Creator. So, let’s assume this is not the case and pretend the boundaries to marriage—specifically its confinement to a man and a woman overwhelmingly demonstrated by every civilization throughout human history—don’t truly belong, but were set in place by past cultures and are subject to revision. Let’s see where that logic leads.

If marriage was not relegated by God to include a man and a woman, then men are morally free to marry men and women to marry women—so far, so good for the cause of gay marriage rights. But it also follows that individuals ought to be able to marry their parents, siblings, children, or close relatives. If God didn’t design marriage or doesn’t care what we do with it, we ought to think it acceptable to take anyone for a mate. But do we allow this? Isn’t incest simply immoral?

Perhaps it could be argued that the risk of abnormalities in offspring is enough cause to classify incest as immoral. However, since there are health risks involved in homosexual relations, and even sometimes in heterosexual relations, this can’t be sufficient cause to deem incest morally wrong. Based on the same logic, if marrying family is morally permissible, then polygamy and even bestiality should be too.

At this point, proponents of same-sex marriage might declare a slippery slope fallacy and interject that marriage ought to be limited to two human, consenting adults who love each other, which would prevent an ever-widening definition of marriage. Such a requirement would leave out children, animals, non-sentient life forms and inanimate objects. But on what basis can we limit marriage to two consenting adults who love each other? Why grant that freedom but insist on restrictions that alienate people with pedophilic, incestuous, or other perverted inclinations, thereby denying their happiness? What is the basis for requiring mutual love in marriage? Certainly many people marry for reasons other than love and we don’t prohibit that.

For the non-religious, we still know by moral intuition that many types of relationships are just wrong. As thousands of years of practice reveal, regardless of religious cultural beliefs, humanity has held to and flourished by heterosexual marriage. Setting that aside yields more freedom for more people, but then there is then no true basis for restricting anything at all. We can try to condemn some types of relationships that seem harmful on the common ethical grounds that we should do the least harm to our neighbor. But that moral principal doesn’t mean anything without the moral law-giving God of the Bible, so there’s no rational moral basis even for denying “taboo” relationships that risk disorders in offspring (incest), are cruel to animals (bestiality), are abusive, or aren’t based on mutual love (objectum sexuality). It boils down to being able to ground the fundamental moral values that we all assume, which we can’t ground outside of the truth of God’s word (Rom. 2:14-15). A fuller discussion of morality is beyond the scope of this post (but not this one).

For the Christian, if on the Bible’s numerous passages on marriage we have somehow in the last decade or so stumbled upon their true meaning, that it doesn’t mean to limit the institution to one man and one woman and forbid homosexuality despite longstanding historical Christian teaching to the contrary, then we can’t look to the Bible for any kind of guidance for marriage. Since there are 6 or 7 passages forbidding homosexuality that we must discount in order to validate it, for consistency we must also ignore the relatively fewer number of passages that forbid incest and bestiality (only 3 or 4) and other revolting practices.

There are many ways people manage to live inconsistently with what they claim to believe. One is to reject the Biblical account of the origin of mankind, relationships and sexual morality, and then live as if it’s all true. We do this when we deny there are any God-given rules about how to live and then cherry-pick certain rules that we expect everyone to follow, as if they were handed down from on high.

Observation and logic show us that we never accept freedom and equality without limits and boundaries. Nature shows us that heterosexual unions lead to human flourishing whereas other types of sex run counter to it. God’s revelation shows us that there is moral law that tells every one of us what we can’t otherwise rationalize—that some things are independently right or wrong. Marriage, for one, is right as it was intended, an equally free union with few other limitations but this one: It’s designed for one man and one woman.

[Related post: Examining the Biblical View of Homosexuality]

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