Gender Roles

Bending Gender Norms: Why the Narrative Is Not So Unified

If you are like me, your news feeds on social media have been overwhelmed by the Jenner transition from Bruce to Caitlyn. Everyone has an opinion, and no one seems to agree on how to address it. The range of responses runs the gamut from ESPN deciding to give Jenner their Arthur Ashe Courage Award to some describing Jenner’s transformation as evidence of mental illness (and then pretty much every possible response in between). My goal here is not to address the Jenner story directly but to expose the underlying narrative of the cultural conversation. That underlying narrative is the not-so-unified agenda within the LGBT movement.

Many Americans see the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) movement as a unified whole marching toward an end-goal of equality, acceptance, and significance within society.1 The four letters used to describe the coalition flow off the tongues and through the keyboards of activists and dissenters alike. However, not everything  is as unified as some may portray. Is the narrative of the LGBT movement really a unified whole, or are there underlying differences between factions in the group? Is there a unified political goal to be achieved that hides a schism below the surface? Such questions are beginning to be asked, and Christians contending for truth need to be aware of fissures within the LGBT movement.

What rests beneath the surface is a conflict of narratives between the LG’s (Lesbians and Gays) and the BT’s (Bisexuals and Transgenders). Jillian Todd Weiss acknowledges this division when she observes,

While many gays and lesbians feel that ‘bisexual’ and ‘transgender’ are simply names for part of their community, others actively reject the idea that bisexuals and trans- genders are part of their community, seeing them as entirely separate and distinct. Heterosexism against bisexuals and transgenders exists not only in the straight community, but in the gay and lesbian community as well. Some feel, as we shall see, that bisexuality and transgenderism are detrimental to the social and political acceptance of gays and lesbians.2

The divisions between LG’s and BT’s are clearest on the issues of gender and marriage. This essay will sketch out the typical, public LGBT narrative on gender and marriage and then demonstrate some of the divisions that undermine the public agenda of the LGBT movement. In doing so, we will see that this coalition of convenience may rupture unless one of the two groups is willing to shift its narrative to appease the other.

THE GENDER NARRATIVE

The supposedly unified LGBT agenda attempts to remove any distinction among genders, particularly for roles in relationships, ability in the workforce, and cultural stereotypes. There is a commitment to pure egalitarianism whereby no specific gender has a unique role or function. This is crucial especially for homosexuality because the nature of their relationships require no gender differences. When two women or two men enter into an intimate relationship, any gender roles they express must be socially constructed rather than biologically determined. Thus, one of the points of the LGBT narrative is that gender has no real impact on roles. Supporters of the LGBT movement who also claim to write from a Christian perspective have picked up on this and even point out the inconsistency of Christian egalitarians for dismissing specific gender roles in heterosexual couples as unbiblical while still holding to anatomical differences for a proper understanding of sexual intercourse.3

An added aspect to the LGBT narrative regarding gender is the idea that any gender roles evident in society are the result of outdated cultural stereotypes. These stereotypes have been carried along from days of yore by older generations, but the LGBT movement  calls on the younger generation to jettison such distinctions between male and female for the sake of gender equality. They demand equality without distinction. They want culture to be “gender blind.” While these calls for gender equality have some merit—because it is important to acknowledge there have existed and still exist women who are oppressed—the current push for gender equality goes much further than a desire for equal rights or equal pay. The LGBT agenda demands that there be no distinction made on the basis of gender for anything—public  facilities, athletic competition, and even marriage. The LGBT position on gender appears to be the epitome of egalitarianism. But is it consistent?

CHANGING GENDER REINFORCES  STEREOTYPES

The often-forgotten quadrant of the LGBT movement is the ‘T’—transgendered  individuals who sometimes face the scorn and opposition of the more mainstream lesbians and gays. Even though some may find it odd that there is division in the ranks of this powerful movement, there is good reason for division. Transgenderism undermines the public gender narrative that has been successfully promoted in the culture.

Susannah Cornwall describes transgender people as those “who feel that their gender identity, or sense of being a gendered self, doesn’t ‘fit’ their biological sex according  to the usual pattern.”4 As a result of this conflict of identity, transgender individuals take various measures to conform to their sense of gender. This can include anything from dressing in styles typical of the opposite gender, taking hormones to change hair growth and voice, or even include the radical measure of gender reassignment surgery to change their genitals to match their sense of gender. In June 2014 Time released a magazine issue with the cover story headline: “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier.” In the article, Katy Steinmetz follows the lives of several people who have made the transition from the gender with which they were born to the opposite gender. In each case, however, the transgendered individual took steps to conform to the cultural norms of male or female. In no example did the author attempt to demonstrate how transgendered individuals sought to lose all gender identification.5

The problem with such behavior for the LGBT movement  is that changing appearance or physical features conforms to stereotypical gender norms that the LGBT movement publicly dismisses as unimportant. Thus, it should come as no surprise that there is a competing narrative within the LGBT community regarding gender. The public narrative calls on society to erase gender distinctions and make gender a cultural artifact. At the same time, transgendered  individuals seek to conform to cultural stereotypes of dress, appearance, voice pitch, and sometimes even sexual complementarity.  Such conformity undermines the public narrative on gender. However, as Weiss notes,

The difference between ‘homosexual’ and ‘GLBT’ is elusive to many Americans. . . . Many are unaware of any significant distinction between ‘GLBT’ and ‘homosexual.’ Yet within the GLBT population itself, these distinctions mark intense personal and political struggles. The divisions between gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender are far deeper and more significant to each other than to those outside.6

For those of us pursuing a biblical understanding of gender, we can actually take note of the division within the LGBT movement to emphasize our perspective. While we do not condone the lifestyle of transgendered individuals, we recognize that they have a glimpse of the truth that gays and lesbians have sought to eradicate. The underlying goal of transgendered  individuals  is to pursue the unique gender distinctions of either male or female. The problem is that they deny their own biological gender to do so. Thus, they see the beauty of gender distinctions, but they deny the gender they were born to be. Gender distinction  is part of what God has revealed to us in nature about how he created mankind (Gen 1:27; cf. Rom 1:18–32); however, the specific way that transgendered individuals pursue such distinctions  is still corrupted by the fall. Even in sin, we sometimes get a glimpse of the truth.

A CALL TO BIBLICAL SEXUALITY

The LGBT movement is not as unified as the public face of the community would have us to believe. There are major divisions and inequalities in the movement that typically rest below the surface of what most people in our culture see. However, the divisions are real, and they threaten the strength of the movement if they ever come to the surface.

Even though the focus of this essay has been to expose the fissures in the LGBT movement, I want to end with a call back to biblical sexuality. Genesis 1–2 gives us a clear picture of God’s design for sexuality from the beginning. In Genesis 1:27 we read, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, he created them.” From the outset, God created two genders—male and female. Every example of godly sexual expression we see from that point forward in Scripture comes through the union of a man and woman in marriage. Genesis 2:24 tells us, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” When Jesus discusses marriage and sexuality in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, he appeals to these two foundational verses in Genesis. When Paul talks about marriage in Ephesians 5, he also appeals to the complementary nature of man and woman and points back to Genesis 2:24 as the key text.

Monogamous,  heterosexual marriage is commended, and even celebrated,  as the biblical expression of sexuality. All departures from this standard are considered acquiescence to the sinful, fallen nature of mankind. Thus, we do not point out the conflict in the LGBT movement as an end in itself, but we do so for the purpose of calling everyone caught up in sexual sin back to God’s plan for sexuality. We should be reminded of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11 after he pointed out a number of sins—including some of a sexual nature—in the church at Corinth: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

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1. As it stands today in the ever-evolving world of queer studies, LGBT is an outdated acronym. As Allen Metcalf observes in a recent article in The Chronicle for Higher Education, the alphabet soup of queer studies now includes queer and questioning, unidentified, intersex, asexual, and genderqueer, resulting in a new acronym: LGBTQQ2IA (Allen Metcalf, “LGBTQQ2IA,” Lingua Franca, August 19, 2014, accessed October 24, 2014, http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafran- ca/2014/08/19/lgbtqq2ia/). For the purpose of this article we will simply focus on the first four classifications.

2. Jillian Todd Weiss, “GL vs. BT: The Archaeology of Biphobia and Transphobia Within the U.S. Gay and Lesbian Community,” in Bisexuality and Transgenderism: InsterSEXions of the Others, ed. Jonathan Alexander and Karen Yescavage; (New York: Rutledge, 2012), 29.

3. Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian (New York: Convergent, 2014), 27–28.

4. Susannah Cornwall, Theology and Sexuality (London: SCM Press, 2013), 47.

5. Katy Steinmetz, “America’s Transition,” Time, 9 June 2014, 38–46.

6. Weiss, “GL vs. BT,” 29.

*This post is part of a larger essay that was published in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. They subsequently posted the essay in its entirety on their blog as a response to the recent news about Bruce Jenner. You can read the entire essay here.

There’s No Time Like the Present: Changing Your Church Constitution and By-Laws

wedding ringsThe state of marriage, gender, and sexuality is changing right before our very eyes. The prospects of same-sex marriage, fluid gender self-identification, and acceptance of a plethora of sexual expressions outside of heterosexual monogamous marriage were unfathomable within evangelical circles just 25 years ago. But times are changing.

Same-sex marriage is now at least partially legalized in 38 states, and 20 of those states have been added to the list since May 2014. The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage across the country this spring and issue a decision in the summer.

States and municipalities have passed legislation making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexuality or gender identity. In Houston such an ordinance led to a request by the mayor to subpoena manuscripts of sermons from pastors when they preached about sexuality.

While the application of these laws and ordinances to churches have been rebuffed by the courts so far, the day is likely coming when motivated and well-funded activists will attempt to sue churches for disallowing membership, refusing to host a wedding, or actively taking a stand on issues related to sexuality and gender identification. I am still confident that any lawsuits ultimately will be dismissed by the courts on the basis of the First Amendment; however, there are steps that we can take to ensure those lawsuits are dismissed promptly.

In addition, many evangelicals who support traditional marriage are probably satisfied with the stances of our pastors, ministerial staff, and congregations on the matter. Yet, there could come a time when a pastor, minister, or church member changes his viewpoint and desires to effect change in the church. What would that do to the historic position of the church? What would change look like? What would we do in such a situation?

These are the questions that prompted this series of posts related to church constitutions and by-laws. This is the first of several posts that will delve into why churches need to consider updates to their organizational documents in the area of sexuality and gender identity. It is an area much broader than homosexuality versus heterosexuality. In fact, our goal is not so much to exclude certain behaviors and identities from the church so much as it is to state clearly what we believe in these areas.

I understand that talking about constitutions and by-laws is not the most exciting conversation. I also recognize that many churches have not updated them in decades—if ever. Yet, this is a crucial area of church governance that can serve us well in the midst of difficult days.

The goal of updating a church’s organizational documents is not necessarily to create another step in the membership or hiring processes. Instead, the goal is to affirm what we believe from a positive standpoint while the culture attempts to steer us in a different direction.

With that being said, I believe there is no time like the present to do a thorough review of your organizational documents and make the necessary changes to protect the church from legal action and to protect the integrity of the church from biblical and theological drifting. Change isn’t always fun, but in this situation it is necessary.

Working in conjunction with Waylan Owens, Dean of the Terry School for Church and Family Ministries and longtime pastor of churches in Mississippi, Alaska, and North Carolina, we will endeavor to offer some food for thought and resources for churches that can be useful for standing for truth in a world that calls us to acquiesce. Our suggestions are not intended to be exhaustive but rather instructive as to what you can do to help your church navigate the waters of these changing times.

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This multi-part series will be posted on this blog and the blog of Waylan Owens. We have worked together on this series to bring together our unique skill sets and experience.

Links for other posts in the series: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Disclaimer: This series of posts is not intended to provide legal advice regarding church law, membership issues, or lawsuits. While the posts have implications for potential legal matters, we suggest you consult an attorney for answers to any legal questions related to the subject matter of these posts.

Machismo vs. Manhood

Football is the ultimate expression of machismo in American culture. Bigger, stronger, and faster is the goal. Gladiators armed with nothing but their bodies fly around the field attempting to dominate their opponents in both strength and strategy. Boys around the country dream of growing into the men who play the game.

Unfortunately, the football world has been rocked in recent days by a number of scandals related to being a man off the field. The domestic violence case involving Ray Rice has dominated the headlines while San Francisco 49er Ray McDonald and Carolina Panther Greg Hardy face similar accusations of domestic violence and await adjudication of their cases.

What are we to make of these acts of violence? Is this just an extension of the machismo that fans cheer on the football field? Is this what it means to be a man—physically overcome your opponent at all costs? Should we tolerate the violence off the field that we celebrate on the field?

We should not tolerate the off-field violence, nor should we consider this type of violent machismo to be manhood. Such a response has been popular in the media, but few have actually tried to give the reason why. Perhaps it is because the reason is unpopular.

Scripture gives us a number of examples for how men are to treat women, but I want to focus on two—particularly how husbands are to treat their wives since these recent cases have involved domestic violence.

In 1 Peter 3:7 we read:

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

The dominate culture of our day has taught us that there is no difference between men and women. They should be treated equally in all arenas of life. However, public opinion erupted when video became available of a chiseled professional athlete knocking out his fiancée. In light of this reaction, the gut instinct of our culture is that men and women are not really the same.

The Bible actually gives us a very clear picture of biblical manhood, and it involves a recognition that men and women are different. Peter tells us that husbands are to be understanding and recognize that women are a weaker vessel. This does not mean that she lacks value, intelligence, or skill. It is a reminder that we have different roles to play. Rather than viewing our wives as opponents, we are to protect them. Rather than trying to master them, we are to provide for them. Peter tells us to treat our wives with honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. When I think of honoring someone, I think of cherishing, protecting, and promoting. I want to place my wife’s interests above those of my own. Her safety, security, and reputation are mine to uphold.

In Ephesians 5, we read Paul’s instructions regarding how husbands are to treat their wives. In verses 25 and 28–30 we read:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. . . . So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.

Our example in manhood is Christ himself. We are to love our wives as Christ loved the church. Remember, he left heaven, took the form of man, and sacrificed his own life for his bride. There is no greater sacrifice than that.

We are also told to love our wives as our own bodies. Just as we feed and take care of our bodies, so are we to care for our wives. Once again, this is not because they are less valuable or incapable—it is simply our role. Christ is our example, and he gave up everything to nourish and cherish his bride.

While our society cringes to see the video of a man striking his fiancée, the solution to the problem is often equally despised. This is because the teachings of Scripture are counter-cultural. It is unpopular to tell a man that he should treat his wife as a weaker vessel. It is out of favor to say that a wife should submit to the loving leadership of her husband as to Christ. But I think counter-cultural is the way we should go here. While culture walks swiftly down the path of violence, the words of Scripture call us men to honor, love, and cherish women. That is true manhood. It is the way of the Word, not the way of the world.

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Sam Farmer, “NFL scrutinized over Ray Rice inquiry, other domestic violence cases,” Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2014.

Homosexuality and Gender Roles: New Article in JBMW

JBMW logo

I am excited to announce that I have a new article that was just published in the Fall 2012 issue of the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood addressing the challenges that homosexuality creates for gender roles. I would like to thank Denny Burk and the editors at JBMW for including my article in this issue.

My article deals with the intersection of homosexuality and biblical gender roles. I make the argument that homosexuality is not compatible with gender roles as they appear in Scripture. By application, then, support for homosexuality requires a redefinition of gender roles. Here is a summary of my article from the introduction:

While much of the current debate has centered on gay rights and same-sex marriage, it is imperative to understand how the issue of homosexuality impacts a biblical understanding of gender roles. By its very nature of describing a relationship between two members of the same sex, homosexuality seems to make the question of gender roles irrelevant. Thus, there are vast challenges that homosexuality creates for a biblical discussion of gender roles. If believers are going to address these challenges both within the church and in the culture, they must first understand the impact that homosexuality has on a complementarian view of the sexes. Homosexuality denies the God-ordained nature of gender roles as revealed in Scripture by rejecting the complementary nature of sex, by subverting the complementary nature of marriage, and by distorting the complementary nature of the Christ-church relationship.

You can view and download the entire issue of the journal at the website of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood at www.cbmw.org.

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Evan Lenow, “The Challenge of Homosexuality for Gender Roles,” The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 17 (Fall 2012), 28-35.