Category Archives: Gender differences

We were made by God

A good place to start the discussion about men and women in the church is Genesis 1. Let’s look at a few verses:

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.” (Genesis 1:26–30)

Don’t let the designation “man” confuse the question here; in these verses, the term refers to humankind. Verse 27 makes that clear: “God created man… male and female he created them.” I have heard people claim that the male alone was made in God’s image. This verse does not support that; Genesis 5 specifically says that the term “man” refers to male and female:

“When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “man.’”” (Genesis 5:1–2)

What I do see here is that God’s intention was that there be two genders. This post isn’t designed to be about LGBTQ issues; if you feel you need to bring them up, that’s fine, but I won’t engage in that discussion at this time. Our being male or female is not an accident of evolution nor a coincidence of birth. It’s an essential part of God’s design.

When I was born, God put certain traits in me. I was born with abilities for some things and weaknesses in other areas. (Which explains why some girls were chosen before I was during elementary P.E. class)

I was also born male. I’m one of three children. Two girls and a boy. I don’t think it’s accident, nor chance that they are who they are and I am who I am.

I was talented academically. I wanted to be good at sports, but instead I was good at learning. I’m a natural ham. I can be shy in one-on-one conversations (and despise using the phone!), but I’m more than comfortable being the one in the spotlight. Hand me a telephone to call a stranger, and I freeze up. Hand me a microphone in front of ten thousand people, and I’m more than ready to speak.

These things are part of me. I see those talents as being something I was born with. They help in some ways and hinder in others. My gender is equally a part of me. God made me a certain way, and he looks at that as he presents ministry opportunities to me.

For me, that’s where the conversation begins. Not ends. But begins.

Gender discussions? They’re complicated

I’ve long emphasized in discussions about gender in the church that there are more than two positions. Some would say you are egalitarian or complementarian (forgive the technical language). Others say that either you believe in allowing women to participate in worship or you don’t. I don’t think it’s that simple.

I mentioned the idea of a continuum a few years ago, something similar to the Engel’s scale used for evangelism. On his website, John Mark Hicks eloquently describes a three-pronged understanding of interpretive views. I’ll use his three categories in this discussion, so read his article to understand what I mean.

I’d encourage us to look beyond actions and consider attitudes as well. For example, there are some traditionalists who teach that women are incompetent as leaders and gullible as learners; these women need a man to properly guide them, which is why the traditional teaching is correct. Others limit themselves to a strict understanding of passages like 1 Corinthians 11:34; while making no claims of superiority nor inferiority, these people stand on “The Bible says it, so I believe it.” There’s is a gulf of understanding between those two viewpoints. Lumping those outlooks (and other variations) into one category doesn’t really address the situation.

In the same way, some egalitarians basically say that Paul was wrong, that the Bible was written in a male-dominated culture and merely reflects the values of that culture. Other egalitarians see the Bible as teaching a progression toward equal participation and equal value for all Christians, regardless of gender. Again, lumping together all who favor full participation of women fails to grasp the reality of the situation.

I once proposed using more of a quadrant system, with the axises referring to Inferiority-Equality and Silent Participation-Full Participation. Such a system would come closer, yet would still fail to take into consideration views of inspiration, etc.

When writing about Cuba the last few weeks, I emphasized one phrase “It’s complicated.” That’s also very true in discussions about gender. Personally, I find arguments that oversimplify opposing viewpoints to have very little value. Let’s leave the straw men in the barnyard; recognize that those who disagree with you may do so for reasons that you have yet to consider.

I’ll close with a sentence I used several years ago in the first article I linked to in this post:

There is one view that I reject outright: the view that damns others that don’t share their viewpoint.

Trying to duck the pendulum

I believe in male leadership in the church. And I believe the Bible allows for women to do more in our worship services than sit and observe.

Those two beliefs often put me at odds with people I love and respect. On one side, many feel that I’m an out-of-touch relic from days gone by, resisting the movement of the Spirit to abolish all gender-based distinctions. On the other side, many feel that I’m disregarding the plain teaching of Scripture, allowing culture to move me beyond what is written.

Personally, I feel that I’m ducking a pendulum swing. In the past, some in churches of Christ taught that women were inferior and incompetent of taking leading roles in the church. Rules were created as to what women could or couldn’t do in certain situations, rules based on interpretations of Scripture. As I read Scripture, I find some of those rules to be at odds with other passages and other interpretations.

It’s my belief that we’re going through a pendulum swing right now. As has happened on so many topics, I see Christians reacting to an overly restrictive interpretation by rejecting all hints of limitation. That’s not to say that everyone who has embraced a fully egalitarian outlook (dismissing all distinctions based on gender) are merely reacting to previous interpretations. It is to say that a perception of past abuse has made many extremely open to making a full break with that history.

What I see on both sides is a tendency to pick and choose biblical texts. While accusing the other side of using proof texts, each side produces their own select verses to make their case. While claiming that those that disagree are ignoring biblical examples, each carefully presents the stories that support their interpretation while downplaying those that would suggest something different.

I’m not claiming to be exempt from those faults. I am calling for charity from all involved. I’ve decided to take another look at this issue, despite an admitted weariness of the subject. For now, I’m going to post links to articles I’ve written in the past. That should give you enough fodder for any attacks you’d like to make on my person. If you can’t resist such attacks, fire away. I’ll be hurt, but I also know that in the end I only have to answer to One. If you can hold off, however, we all just might learn something.

Here are links to some of what I’ve written in the past:
Thinking about the thinking about women in the church
Women, men, and what the church is supposed to be focused on
My understanding of gender roles in the church
The Bible, Culture and Gender Roles
Gender roles and the cultures of the Bible
Does Paul go against the rest of the Bible on the topic of gender roles?
Does Galatians 3:28 provide the final word on gender roles in the church?
Do we dare appreciate wives and mothers in the church?
What does the creation story tell us about gender differences?
Miscellaneous thoughts on gender roles in the church
Women speak to the value of motherhood
Submission and gender
Phoebe, Junia, and the women of Romans 16
Microphones do not a leader make
Form versus function, revisited
Form, function, and passages about gender differences
Men, women, and the resurrection
Ephesians 5 for husbands and wives
What 1 Peter says about husbands and wives
How we live out submission and leadership in our marriage
Veils and heads, men and women
Women in the church: Silence is golden?
Holy hands and simple clothes
Silence or quietness? What does submission call for?
Spiritual giftedness and gender
Baptism, gender, and Galatians 3
The discussion of gender in the church is more than a two-position conversation
Jews, slaves, women, and baptism
Gender by design
The woman desiring her husband in Genesis 3… it might not mean what I thought
Men, Women, and The Curse
Culture: The Uninvited Guest
Proof texts, women judges, and pushing our own agendas
Let’s give Huldah her due… and just that
When we’re just an accident, almost anything goes
Gender discussions in the church

OK. So spend some time reading all that, then we’ll get on with this discussion. :-)

Gender discussions in the church

One thing that seems to be catching many church leaders off guard is the fact that the gender discussions going on in the church are gender discussions, not just male-female discussions. While most churches aren’t having direct discussions about including LGBT individuals in their membership, many of the arguments being presented in conversations about the participation of women in the assembly are also being applied to those who define gender more broadly.

This isn’t a slippery slope argument (but it could lead to one). It’s a recognition that one generation speaks of gender in one way, and the next considers it in a completely different way (If we add additional generations into the mix, we begin to understand the turmoil in many of our congregations).

Some of the arguments that will find a broader application:

  • Argumentation that values experience over written revelation (or assigns equal value to each)
  • Reasoning that limits the value of the biblical record based on the culture or gender of the writers
  • Interpretation that “values Jesus over Paul” (in quotes because the meaning of the words doesn’t match the meaning of the argument)

I could go on, but I hope you’ll think about these and see what I mean. That doesn’t even mean those forms of reasoning are wrong. What it means is that the scope of application is broader than most people are thinking about.

So keep in mind, as we discuss gender in the church… we’re discussion gender, not just men and women.

When we’re just an accident, almost anything goes

The idea that our physical nature is merely an accident of nature affects many different doctrines in our churches. As I’ve noted, one of the teachings at the forefront today is the question of gender roles. Many who espouse some type of egalitarianism downplay the importance of who we are at birth; all that matters is what we become at our new birth.

The gender discussion is a hot topic today, but I don’t think it will be for the next generation. Few churches will hold to a traditional stance about men and women. The raging question in the future will be non-heterosexual orientations. How will the church deal with the LGBT community? (add whatever letters you feel necessary to make that description more complete)

Many of the arguments being used today in favor of egalitarianism will be used to argue for full inclusion of everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. That’s not a slippery slope argument; it’s a recognition of the full implications of the arguments being made.

The concept of “accident of birth” will play an important role in these discussions. It’s easier to dismiss traditional teaching on homosexuality if gender is merely part of the cosmic coincidence of our birth. “I was born a man but should have been a woman” makes sense if our physical makeup comes from chromosome roulette.

I’m not the prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I can see where this is headed. For many, it’s where we should be headed, a natural progression of the church’s understanding of her identity. I disagree. On many issues, the church has led culture to a better place; in these areas, culture is leading the church. Where to? Time will tell.