A Small Shift with Big Consequences

I was wrong in my approach to the gender role issue and I’ll tell you why.

Since I posted last week about my perspective of gender imbalance in the church, I’ve received some gentle and kind correction from a few different people. They actually strengthened my conviction to continue asking, “where is the female image-bearer of God reflected in the leadership of the church?”  But they also helped me to see my confrontation of “imbalanced gender roles” was the wrong place to start.

easter 2018

Let’s draw a line here between two separate conversations:

1.       Balanced gender roles in the Church is a conversation I have decided to exit.

2.       The pursuit of excellence in Biblical, redeemed reflections of both genders in the Church is a conversation I am compelled to carry on.

The first person to correct the flaw in my thinking was my friend John, who opened my eyes to the concept that gender “role” is an unhelpful place to start the conversation. I cannot think of a role or position I desire to hold, which is being denied to me or withheld from me based on my gender (though possibly, based on merit). Consequently, I must say my use of the words “unequal gender roles” seem to be simultaneously hypothetical and controversial. As many of you know, I’m not necessarily averse to being controversial if I feel I’ve got a good purpose in it. But hypothetical controversy is another thing, entirely. The term “gender roles” has become so fraught and twisted up with emotion and implication that it has come to engender several negative responses and really, very few positive ones.

Picking a fight I know to be controversial, without offering concrete answers, is an immature and unhelpful approach. (And all of my family and friends said AMEN! It’s possible I’ve lived much of my life in this place of senseless fight-picking.)  Throughout my study of the Bible regarding gender, I am seeking to shift my thinking and my vocabulary so that my words regarding gender are beneficial. No more senseless fights.

The second correction to my approach to the gender conversation was this podcast by Jen Wilkin. Actually, you should probably quit reading my words and just go listen to hers, as she lays out a theological perspective of gender that so clearly articulates the root flaw of gender doctrine in the contemporary western Church. Jen, if you ever read this, know that it is not my intention to plagiarize your entire talk (if you were a man, could we call it a sermon?)…I just think you nailed it and I need to talk/write my way through my own mental shift.

Today’s western pop culture tells us gender is a social construct that is false; men and women are really the same and “anything you can do, I can do better.” This perspective compels girls and women to strive and strain towards an equality in profession, compensation and social standing that is reasonable and good…but it loses sight of the forest for the trees, in its continual assertion that gender differences really don’t exist. The fact of the matter is that boys and girls are different and anyone who has ever spent a couple hours in a group of two-year-olds can tell you that you don’t have to teach kids gender. Boy babies and girl babies are born different and they develop even more strongly into their differences.

If we look at the Biblical account in Genesis of creation, we see that gender existed before the creation of humanity.  When God says, “it is not good for man to be alone.  I will make him a helper suitable,” in Genesis 2:18, He is not saying there are no females around.  In fact, if we look at the flow of the narrative in Genesis 2, all the animals (presumably, of both genders) paraded before Adam but none of them were found to be suitable helpers for him.  God created female from man’s side, to be together and to rule together in fellowship over creation, in a relationship God declared as GOOD in Genesis 1.  It isn’t until Adam and Eve rebelled and were cursed in Genesis 3 that we see a sense of competition and subjugation entered their relationship.

This question of healthy gender is more vital to basic doctrine than I ever imagined. It is not a peripheral issue that is separate and apart from the Gospel message, but rather, is central to the idea that all people, of both genders, of every nationality, and of every socioeconomic group are loved by a compassionate God who has provided Jesus for our salvation. Healthy and faithful image-bearers of both genders are essential in establishing a Church that reflects God’s heart for all of humanity. We must be united in our common identity as God’s image-bearers, never divided by anything that might separate us or weaken our effectiveness.

Clearly, biblical accounts of men and women, along with our own experience, tell us males and females are different in ways that are good and right and holy.  But the pervasive sense of competition and subjugation are direct products of the spiritual death and sinful fall of humanity which have no place in the Church. Because we believe in the Lord Jesus, who lived a sinless life, who died and then supernaturally raised back to life to offer us eternal life, we have been redeemed back to LIFE and to the blessings afforded humanity before the fall.

My pastor often says we received all of eternal life in the Holy Spirit when Jesus saved us…but we fail to appropriate that life when we continue to live in the old ways of our fallen humanity. We see this happening today in the Church, as we resort to the curse of competition and/or subjugation of women. The subjugation of women is not for me to address in this article, beyond my assertion that it is wrong and must be dismantled.

As women, we need not compete or badger men into elevating us to a place we feel we deserve.  Rather, we must likewise work hard to develop our characters, abilities, educations, leadership qualities, gifts and callings so that we may serve and lead well in our places, whether lowly or elevated. We women must seek to impact the world in every sphere and strata available to our influence so that, as feminine image-bearers of God, we can bring needed female qualities to spaces where it is not good for man to be alone.

Some women are subjugated in entirely unacceptable and deplorable ways. Subjugation must end. But for the rest of us women in places of freedom, we must quit whining and griping and waiting for someone else to fix our station. It isn’t really their job.  It is ours.

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