In my previous post and poll I talked about the fact that gender has been argued to be either a product of biological factors, sociocultural factors or some mix of the two. I also presented a pair of married Christian authors who suggested God was also involved and use both factors to author human sexuality.
The majority people voted that gender and sexuality was a net sum or some even balance between the nature and nurture. Close to that were people who though biological factors were primarily responsible for gender. Only one person voted that gender was primarily constructed by social influences. (The poll is still open so these numbers might change.)
Personally, I believe that sociocultural factors do have a significant part to play in gender formation in human beings. What our culture, our society, our friends, our parents, and our religious communities teach us overtly and covertly about masculinity and femininity inform our self-understanding and the expectations regarding our behavior and thinking.
A very simple example of this is that if I grew up in a culture that celebrates men who are unemotional (labeling them “a man’s man” or a “real mensch”), and chastises men who are emotional (calling them “sissies”, “women” etc.) this encourages me to believe that part of masculinity is being unemotional. If I believe I am a male, then this means that I should be unemotional and encourages me to live in line with that.
In light of this I believe the church needs to come up with an answer for this question: What is Christian masculinity and Christian femininity?
As part of the sociocultural influence on people, the church has a part to play in its members’ gender formation. What we communicate about what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman influences those in our pews and in our pulpits. What’s more is we have a special place in people’s lives as the church, especially to very young children, speak for God himself.
For example the pastor of my home church, Pastor Rick Countryman, is very physically strong and he goes to the gym a lot. He has occasionally referenced this in his sermons and it is obvious that he is physically fit. More often than he has talked about working out at the gym he has talked openly about his struggle with depression and asks for prayer for encouragement when he hits a hard time. He, because he is a male and a leader, is communicating (intentionally or unintentionally) characteristics of Christian masculinity to the congregants. I am grateful that this is a rather balanced portrait overall.
Another example is what the church does when it splits the sexes, such as events planned only for men and events planned only for women. Men’s retreats (Or as some church now put it “Men’s advances…because men don’t retreat, they advance”) are often centered around sports (such as golf), hiking, fishing or other outdoor activities. Women’s retreats in contrast are usually much more relational in nature (often involving some speaker and or small group discussion), reflective, and usually have nothing to do with any kind of organized or rigorous physical activity. This again communicates to everyone what a man or a woman should be or at the very least should be interested in.
Before I would like to start on discussion what the Church should and should not communicate regarding this issue, I would like to know what people currently have experienced from the church. What has the church communicated to you about what a man or a woman should be like? What are some of the messages you’ve heard from Christians on this issue? What scripture passages or books were referenced?