I greatly appreciated the comments to my last post. A number of people chimed in and reported their experiences of gender messages in the church. Combined with over conversations and personal experiences I’ve had it seems that the church in America has a wide spread of messages on this point.
Some felt that men were encouraged to have emotions. Some felt men were called to be leaders and if a woman was assertive, it was a bad thing. Some felt that wives were called to submit to their husbands (and husbands their wives) and this was a good thing. Some felt that men were taught to be fearful of their sexuality. Some had been taught sexuality was a good gift to be saved for marriage. Some felt men’s ministries were (mis)guided by what was stereotypically “manly” (sports, violence, UFC, etc.).
When we don’t say anything we essentially concede gender and gender roles to the wider culture’s confusion on the subject. But when we speak up, it seems like we too are adding to the confusion. I think the Church in America is sending out mixed signals on what it means to be a Christian man or a Christian woman. Some churches in the past and some churches today encourage men to mold to the American male ideal (handsome, aggressive, assertive, physically strong, have no weaknesses, entrepreneurial, breadwinner, etc.) and women to mold to the American female ideal (beautiful, quite, submissive, home-maker, gentle, etc.). Other churches today mirror the current cultures androgynous attitudes towards people, suggesting men and women can take on any traits and any roles that suit them.
It seems to me that on either end our message on gender are simply a reflection of our culture’s current understanding of gender or a reaction against it (a throw back to the “good old days” as it were).
Is there a distinctly and thoroughly Christian understanding of gender (and maybe even gender roles) that the church can consistently and reliably stand on?
From the comments there are two things I would like to highlight at this point.
First: “I resent one version of American masculinity being sanctified.” – James H.
Growing up I felt I did not fit the American ideals for masculinity in a number of ways. This was rather discouraging and a source of worry as I grew up. In church, this ideal was present in a number of ways. I remember clearly a Men’s breakfast that was centered around Bible and Sports trivia. I got some of the Bible trivia right, but had no clue about sports. Guess who felt like less of a man? This guy. Thanks church.
Furthermore, the American ideal for masculinity is by no means synonymous with how we are called to live as Christians; the church providing spiritual support for it is a gross error. For example, the rugged individualism celebrated in our culture is not in line with the corporate nature of Christianity. The pressure to have no weaknesses is not only unrealistic but leads to hiding and shame, and how would it help a sinner come to grace or sanctification? When we perpetuate American of masculinity we do ourselves and our young men a gross disservice.
“In some ways there is not a lot of difference between what is expected of the genders.” – Stephanie F.
“I’m more interested in my church teaching me what is means to be a disciple of Christ, regardless of what sex organ happens to lie below my belt.” – James H.
One of my initial reactions to this conversation was rather quite simple. The revelation of God is aimed at Christians, not at Christian men and Christian women, nor does it explicitly assign gender roles or gender traits. There are a few verses that certainly speak specifically to either gender and a few that speak exclusively to either gender but for the most part Genesis to Revelation is written to humanity, not males or females.
To bring this to bear on our conversation we are all called to pursue the fruits of the Spirit (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control), we are all called to be truthful, we are all called to Sabbath, we are all called to be obedient to Christ, even unto death, etc. etc. In a very real sense men and women are called to the same traits.
Is this basically the end of the debate? Should the church focus on disciplining Christians and leave gender differentiation, gender roles, and gender traits to be determined by the individual, the family, the schools, the culture, etc? Should all Christian men and women look the same underneath their clothes and skin? What do you think about this?