THE GENDER CONVERSATION
By Andrew E. Courtis
The discussion concerning gender continues to be a current and controversial topic in our society. Whether it is in the context of school curriculum, social media, film, or self-identity, it is getting people’s attention. The classic images that would be seen on a bathroom door have been used to distinguish between a male and female are being challenged. This challenge is gaining widespread attention.
What is gender? In its traditional form, gender has been understood as the condition or state of being male or female. Many are challenging this understanding. Are there only two genders? Can a person change gender? Can a person be fluid in their gender? Can a person be more than one gender at a time? Can a person have no gender? These are some questions that people are asking and grappling with. There has been a move in society’s thinking that one’s gender and sex are not always the same. You can be born biologically as a male or female, but your sex (say many) does not have to determine your gender.
In this post I would like to address two points: the confusion concerning gender and the importance of celebrating gender. The first point will consider the increasing expansion of gender. This will end with some points concerning the Christian’s response to these changes. The second point will consider what Scripture teaches regarding gender and why such an understanding ought to be celebrated. Though the topic of gender is causing confusion and controversy, the Christian rightly has something to celebrate when it comes to gender. What God has designed and defined is truly something special.
Some sources have identified 58 different gender categories.[i] Cleary this is a huge increase from the traditional two. When it comes to opening up an email account, or social media account, the individual is given options regarding their gender identity. You can choose male, female or other/custom. On some accounts there are a series of additional and specific options like “Agender”, “Gender Fluid”, and “Bigender” among many more. This reveals an ever-increasing expansion of understanding and belief with regards to the meaning of gender.
This expansion continues in the use of pronouns. Traditionally a male is a “he” and a female is a “she”. But with the redefining and expansion of gender, new options are granted to those seeking a gender-neutral pronoun. One example is that instead of he/she you can say “zie”. Instead of him/her you can say “zim”. Instead of his/her you can say “zir”. Instead of him/her you can say “zis”. And instead of himself/herself you can say “zieself”.[ii] No doubt this will lead to high levels of confusion in conversations. As people continue to go down a pathway that ignores God and His design, people will embrace distorted ideologies. The confusion and distortion occurring in the area of gender is not limited to labels. As people continue to explore the terrain of gender, issues relating to physical appearance and even sexual activity are brought into consideration. This can lead to various treatments. These include psychological treatment, hormone treatment and even surgical (chest reconstruction and sex reassignment). This is all a part of a process called transitioning.
How should Christians respond to such confusion regarding gender? In the midst of such moral confusion, it is essential that God’s people respond in a way that brings glory to God and good to those around them. Here are three points of consideration.
Firstly, the Christian needs to have biblical clarity. As Christians our authority is to be drawn from the Word of God. People will continue to provide revised definitions of matters concerning gender. Rather than fall prey to the changing worldview of society, we must be building our understanding upon the unchanging and sufficient Word of God. As we carefully read and study the Scriptures, this must shape our understanding of what God has designed and defined.
Secondly, the Christian needs to have Biblical conviction. Many make the mistake of “telling it like it is” as Biblical conviction. But sadly more times than not this is being obnoxious and obstructive. Yes, we must state and support what Scripture says, but this is never an excuse for a poor choice of words or a harsh tone. Biblical conviction means to embrace, submit to and live by Biblical truth. If Scripture says it – we believe it! We must make sure our speech is “always gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:5).
Thirdly, the Christian needs to have Biblical compassion. This means that we need to be reminded that the reason why people are thinking in a way contrary to Scripture is because of sin. They are in need of God’s saving grace. People are genuinely struggling with gender identity and they are seeking satisfaction. Many factors can contribute to such a struggle, and as Christians we are not to respond with mockery, but rather by pointing them to the mercy and grace found in the gospel. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ is the solution for all of our sin. The only way any sinner can be forgiven of their sin, have peace with God and enjoy eternal life in Heaven is by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Society continues to go down a pathway that is redefining and expanding the traditional understanding of gender. When it comes to this topic, the Christian ought to recognise that they too have so much to celebrate when it comes to the topic of gender. Unlike the celebration of those who reject what God designed, the Christian is to celebrate what God has created and declared good. Gender is not random. Gender is not an invention of conservative Christians. Gender is not something humans determine. Gender is something that came about by the design of the Creator of the universe. In Genesis 1:27 we have the first verse in the Bible that makes a distinction with regards to gender. We read, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”. This was a monumental and defining moment. God brought into existence humanity by the creation of the first man and then the first woman. Gender is important because God created male and female (Gen. 1:27). Yet throughout the centuries Satan has attacked God’s design of manhood and womanhood. Furthermore, because of sin, there have and will be struggles in terms of the roles in marriage (cf. Gen. 3:16). Some men have either become domineering or passive, whereas some women have become usurping and bought into the lie of a false sense of liberation in which they deny true femininity. The truth is, only the Word of God provides a right understanding of gender. Such an understanding will provide true liberation as men and women function as God designed.
The fact that people are made in the image of God means there is dignity to every human life. Every human being is equal in worth and for this reason every human life matters. There is not superiority or inferiority between male and female. However, when God made the distinction between male and female He made a difference in function and roles. Looking beyond the obvious physiological differences, when rightly understood, there is something so special about the uniqueness of the two genders – male and female.
The Equality of Male and Female
When God created male and female – He created them with equal value and dignity. In addition to being equal in value and dignity, both male and female share equally in the following: (1) Equally Sinners. After Adam and Eve rebelled against their Creator, male and female share an equal plight, namely sin (Rom. 3:23). Both are equally deserving of judgment and both are equally in need of forgiveness. (2) Equally Saved. When it comes to salvation, male and female are again on equal standing. Salvation is not limited to a single gender. In God’s grace and design He saves both male and female and they have an equal status in their spiritual standing (Gal. 3:28). (3) Equally Servants. Both male and female have equal opportunity to serve the Lord in a life of obedience. The call to be holy is equally binding upon male and female. God grants both male and female spiritual giftedness (1 Pet. 4:10) and usefulness in His service.
The Difference of Male and Female
Though male and female are both of equal value and dignity, the Scriptures make it clear that there are differences between the two of them. The most obvious of these differences is that Adam was a male and Eve was a female. When Adam saw Eve for the first time he was captivated by her appearance. Unlike the animals, he noted the similarity and connection she had to him as he stated that she is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23a). However, there was a clear distinction in her person. Adam says, “she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:23b) She is similar but different – Eve was a woman. In creating Eve, the Lord made her “a helper fit for” Adam (Gen. 2:18; cf. 1 Cor. 11:9). Though equal in value and dignity, Eve’s role was to be a helper for her husband Adam. Wayne Grudem notes, “She was created as one who differed from him, but who differed from him in ways that would exactly complement who Adam was.”[iii]
It is clear that the differences between male and female go beyond physiology. There are also differences in their functions. This difference in design does not for a moment indicate superiority and inferiority for the male or female. God’s design of different roles goes beyond what could be classed as a cultural custom. The reason is because it is a description based on God’s created order (Gen. 2:18; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). To ignore this is to go against God’s design and desire. Recognising that God makes male and female different, what defines manhood and womanhood?
Going beyond stereotypes, Biblical manhood is defined by the following characteristics: man is created to lovingly lead (Gen. 2:15; Eph. 5:22-33), provide (Eph. 5:29; 1 Tim. 5:8), and protect (1 Cor. 16:13). The form of these characteristics will vary depending on the relationship or context he is in. There will be times a male is under the leadership of a woman in the appropriate context, however this must not negate his true masculinity and design. A godly man is marked by his courage and conviction to fulfill God’s Word according to his masculinity. John Piper notes, “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.”[iv] Womanhood has also undergone many stereotypes and at times has been defined by a reaction to various harsh practices throughout the years. Nonetheless, biblical womanhood is defined by the following characteristics: woman is created to help (Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:8-9), nurture (Titus 2:3-5) and be managers of the home (Prov. 14:1; Titus 2:5). A godly woman is marked by virtuous qualities (Prov. 31:10-31; 1 Pet. 3:3-5) that display her femininity. Again, Piper notes, “At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.”[v]
It is important to note the place and importance of singleness in the kingdom of God and how it can be used for influence (cf. 1 Cor. 7). Though singles will not fulfill their roles to the same extent as a married individual, they are by design to display the characteristics of their manhood or womanhood within the given context. This is still fulfilling.
Male and female – this is the way that God has designed it. By means of Satan’s strategies many movements in history have distorted and redefined gender. Nonetheless, the word of God remains clear, and as the people of God it is our duty and delight to obey our Lord. It is possible to be a male and not be masculine and it is possible to be a female and not be feminine. But where there are masculine and feminine virtues, there is something truly worth celebrating.
The gender debate continues to rage. In the midst of the conversation and controversy, the people of God are to obtain clarity from the Word of God, be filled with Biblical conviction and share the truth with compassion, while at the same time celebrating and enjoying the beauty of gender as designed and defined by God our creator. We have an obligation to bring glory to God and one way of doing that is by fulfilling His will with regards to His design in gender. Christian men, walk in the way of Biblical masculinity. Christian women, adorn yourselves with the beauty of Biblical femininity. God created gender and therefore gender is good. We should also pray for those who are struggling with gender knowing that they, along with all sinners are in need of forgiveness which is found exclusively in Jesus Christ. In Christ is daily grace and strength to help us live in submission to His majestic Lordship.
[ii] Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Centre https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/
[iii] Grudem, Wayne. Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood. Crossway Books, 2002, p. 32
[iv] John Piper and Wayne Grudem, editors, Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 29
[v] Ibid. 36.