Gender 2: Explaining My Rhetoric

My friend Paul -- a programmer that I worked with for 5 years -- read my post on gender and wrote me this:

" . . . Can you give examples of what you mean, when you say.

"All our relationships have been sacrificed on the altar of a 20th-century polarization of "masculine" and "feminine" that has been made into the central value of American Evangelicalism. We think we are supporting a biblical view of marriage and sexuality, but instead we have slaughtered the heart of the Gospel in order to protect our "family values", and we are paying the price."


Which of our values are held at the expense of really "losing our lives" to follow what matters to Jesus, here and now? But we are so entrenched in our commitment to our "conservative Christian" culture that we perceive any attack on it as evil."

Okay -- I guess my post was pure rhetoric, wasn't it? But that is because I was summing up something that not only does have a whole library attached to the subject, but should have even more study done. So where do I start?

Let me start by explaining that this is all new to me, and I don't have it "all figured out." I am exploring, and there are big holes still in my exploration. But enough is clear that I got past my reluctance to discuss it, and am looking for interaction and discussion now.


Beyond that, I guess I'll start with the values we should live by. Jesus calls us to make following Him the central fact of our lives, and to make all other cultural values secondary. That call is just as much for us today as it was for those who followed Him pre-resurrection and ascension. The central two pieces to His call to follow were "abiding" and "agape". There are many great books written on exactly those two topics, but I'll sum up what I think they look like as we walk them out:

1) I practice spiritual disciplines like prayer and study and meditation and solitude and simplicity and service and worship and obedience to what He tells me to do or not to do and daily repentance of the ways I fail at all that . . . and I "keep showing up" in an active way for my relationship with Jesus, who then actually builds an intimate relationship with me and actually begins to change me from someone who has her own drives and agendas to someone who is committed to God's drives and agendas and is beginning to glimpse what those drives and agendas might be. So I participate one-on-one with the Triune God, and am impassioned and empowered by the intimate relationship for which I was created.

2) My relationships are surrendered to Jesus as ordained by Him for His purposes -- to change me the ways "iron sharpens iron", to support and challenge me and those with whom I relate, and to reveal in new ways the image of the Triune God. I am taught by those who can teach me, I walk with those with whom I am called to walk, and I teach those whom I can teach. My life is made rich by new intimacy and the growth and power that that intimacy pours into me.

3) The community of the Church around the world -- particularly for me as seen in my own local fellowship -- is empowered by the Holy Spirit and directed by the Holy Spirit to minister the Triune God's grace and purposes to the world around us, and to those within the community. All of our lives, and the lives of everyone else in our generation and the generations to come, are made rich by not only the personal and relational intimacy each person experiences, but by the amazing works and presence of the BODY of Christ: the giftedness of each individual used and stewarded toward efficient and effective accomplishment of all God's purposes for the world, the community, and the families and individuals.

4) The Holy Spirit and the AGAPE love and power He brings is the unifying factor through these strands -- individual communion with God, relationships based on agape love, and a community united in a practice of both as the Holy Spirit reveals His agenda and leads us all in being His tools to accomplish it.

That is His kingdom. That is the pre-resurrection-of-me side of salvation. I will never know His salvation and His kingdom in full until I have my resurrected or transformed body -- but I can know His transforming power here and now.

In that vision of His Kingdom alive and growing among us, we are given a vision of right relationships. Sexuality is to be guarded, because it is powerful and has a God-ordained purpose. People are to be treated with love and respect. There is to be justice in the ethics and structure we create and to which we give our loyalty. There is to be an openness about the ways we don't measure up to the ideals we hold up, and a repentance that shows itself by seeking to believe what is TRUE and by seeking to live what I say I believe.

Okay -- so that is "the values we should be living by" summed up. Next, the values we really do live by, as I see it after my 43 years in the Evangelical subculture, are these:

1) Men should be good protectors of their families, and good providers of the "American Dream" lifestyle. They should be faithful to their wives, and do their best to contribute to their wives' happiness. Their "best friends" should be their wives, and if they build other friendships they should be with other men. They should be good dads. They should build well-rounded lives where they succeed at a profession, cultivate their spirituality, cultivate outside intellectual interests, stay healthy and strong physically, and contribute time and money to the church. They should lead their families and serve in leadership roles in the church. A man is driven to create and to accomplish things, and it honors God to fulfill that drive.

2) Women should support their husbands in everything listed above, and should care for their children and home. If they have time beyond that, they may invest themselves in academic or occupational pursuits or in church work, but their primary focus should be on effectively supporting their husbands and children in the things God wants to do through them. A woman's primary role is to nurture her children and husband and meet all their needs, and then to nurture friends and the world around her. A woman should not be ambitious or competitive or outspoken, particularly if that gets in the way of the success or respect of any one's husband, let alone in the way of the success or respect of her own husband. A woman is driven to build and maintain relationships, and won't be fulfilled in any other way.

3) Women and men should have fairly separate worlds, intersecting at the family level primarily. Boys and girls may play together, but as they grow they will find that they are interested in different kinds of things and so they will play separately until they are drawn back together by their respective sex drives in adolescence and early adulthood. At that time they will go through the somewhat messy process of choosing a life-time partner, and once married can retreat back to the world they are happier in, and have their contact with the opposite-gender world consist mainly of opposite-sex family members like parents, siblings, and children. This is fine, because each individual's needs for intimacy and interaction with the world are most effectively met by that person's spouse and family, and by that person's same-gender friends.

4) The Christian family -- husband, wife, and children -- should live a temperate version of the American dream, fulfilling basic educational, financial, social, and spiritual goals. Once these basic goals have been met, excess time and energy should be used to foster the needs of others being met.

5) The Church exists primarily to nurture the Christian family, and only secondarily to accomplish anything beyond that. This is because, to us evangelicals, the family is the real primary unit of worship and service, and the local congregation and the larger church-in-the-world is the secondary collection of the units that really matter in God's eyes.

That is my summary of our values. I do not think they are bad, but rather fairly good. They just are a distortion of authentic Christianity. They also make some assumptions that I think we need to consider:

There is the assumption that our idea of "masculine" and "feminine" is an accurate reflection of the way God created men and women.

There is the assumption that men and women can't be "brother" and "sister" in any real way unless they are actually related, because there is the assumption that the only purpose in friendship between a man and a woman is to nurture illicit sexual or romantic interest. Interestingly, even between real brothers and sisters or parents and children there seems to be a guardedness in cross-gender relationships because it is seen as a greater sin to have inappropriate intimacy than to have a distant relationship emotionally. It is definitely seen as a greater sin to risk inappropriate intimacy -- whether emotional or sexual -- than to sacrifice an understanding of God, TRUTH, and our callings, or than to sacrifice the Church's full ability to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit.


So, what are my examples of the way we sacrifice a greater value for a lessor value, or of the way we pay the price for that?

1) In raising boys and girls with such an extreme view of "male" and "female", we cut them off not only from others, but also from half of their own selves, and from the God who created them. I think many of our marriage problems and many of our psychological and spiritual problems are rooted right here. My favorite books about this are written by Terrence Real. See I Don't Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression and How Can I Get Through To You: Closing the Intimacy Gap Between Men and Women.

2) In valuing "family" and a man and woman's commitment to each other and to their children so highly, we devalue each individual's commitment to God and the family's ability to have God create it and shape it according to the circumstances around it and the individuals within it. Our value of family, marriage, and sexual purity is healthy and appropriate, but it needs to affirm the primacy of the values of the kingdom. We justify our neglect of those who are single, poor, dying, divorced, addicted, or in other circumstances of need by appealing to our primary value of marriage and family. (In my own church this is so extreme that we do not have singles ministry and that those who are not part of a "normal family" not only suffer social consequences from members who are not schooled in the values of the kingdom but are actively excluded and disrespected by many of those who are actual leaders. One of our pastors once justified this to me by telling me that the ones who were really neglected were the young healthy families and that it was right that we should pour all our resources there to prevent more divorce and suffering. He also has pointed out during sermons that those who are unwed mothers or divorced really did bring it on themselves.)

3) On our altar to marriage and family we sacrifice not only those who are widowed or divorced or unwed or wed to unbelievers, we also sacrifice the very marriages and families we are trying to nurture and preserve. That is because healthy marriages and healthy families cannot sustain something they were not created to sustain: a full, satisfying life. It is only when we put Jesus back at the top of the value structure and marriage and family at an appropriate place beneath Him that marriage and family play the role they are intended to play in creating and sustaining healthy individuals and healthy community. If I expect a life serving my husband and kids to satisfy me, I will be disappointed and either continue in depression or quit in some way. If I expect a relationship with Jesus and obedience to Him to satisfy me, I will find satisfaction in all the things He calls me to do -- whether in serving my family or in teaching or praying or leading or in whatever else He chooses to use me in. A full, happy life will not be mine unless I lose it in following Jesus.

4) The mission of the church is most effectively accomplished by individuals and communities that are so full of the Holy Spirit that there truly is no slave or free, no male or female, no rich or poor, no young or old, and no racial lines. This allows the Holy Spirit to effectively steward the resources among us -- in giftedness, time, passion, money, etc -- to most fully accomplish His purposes. When we try to do this ourselves, and unconsciously are led by cultural preconceptions about gender or anything else, we sacrifice God's best for our second best. For instance, how many small churches settle for ineffective preachers or teachers because they rule out gifted women and utilize less gifted men? In the same way, how many men find themselves trapped in roles that they are not really very good at, because they never even consider the roles they might better fill, or because they feel that the roles they would best fill are not manly enough or are not affirming enough to their egos?


The bottom line is this, though: Everything that God has accomplished throughout history He has accomplished through broken, sinful people -- with the exceptions of creation and His Own Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection. We are a Christian culture that is unjust and marred by our views of gender -- but we are a Church full of His Grace nevertheless. The Kingdom is among us now.

Let us examine everything we do and change together as we see that that is our call, and let us hold firm to those values that bear the test of examination and life. Our call to justice and freedom and good stewardship is, above all, a call to TRUTH, AGAPE, and obedience.


At Saturday, March 31, 2007 at 6:46:00 PM PDT, Blogger Stushie said...

An excellent, well-thought out and structured article. I like the way you think and I really appreciate the upper case of words like He, His and Him when referring to the Trinity. Far too often I see people writing about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit with lower case when it comes to "he, him, and his."

God bless you on your journey of faith.


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