Back to the Garden: He Created Them Male and Female
We are living in strange times. With COVID-19, political unrest, racial tensions, big tech overreach, and mass globalization, there is always something in the news to garner our attention. Here I want to turn away from some of those things for a moment and focus on an issue that was at the forefront of our minds not that long ago: how we view gender as a society.
We know where the secular world stands on this issue. Gender, we are told, is a social construct. It is not an objective reality that we are born with, but rather an identity marker we choose for ourselves. The transgender phenomenon in particular has advanced this line of thinking into the mainstream of society, so much so that new president Joe Biden recently signed an executive order that would allow transgender athletes to participate in competitive sports with the gender of their choosing. He also lifted the ban on transgender people serving in the US military.
Perhaps even more strikingly, the New England Journal of Medicine, a highly respected medical publication, recently argued that it is time to stop assigning gender to newborn babies on birth certificates, stating that “Sex designations on birth certificates offer no clinical utility, and they can be harmful for intersex and transgender people.”
Functionally, we have the mainstream culture, politics, and medicine moving together in the direction of a genderless society, all of it flying under the banner of “equality” and stopping “discrimination” and “hate speech”.
How should Christian believers respond to all of this?
A comprehensive overview of biblical sexuality is outside of the scope of this post. Nevertheless, there are some important things we should be doing as those who follow Christ.
The first thing we should do is love other people, including those who promote or embrace views of gender that we don’t agree with. It is important that we remember to love our neighbour and show them dignity and respect as image-bearers of God. The world may still slap us with the label of “hate”, but at least we should force them to do so in error, rather than rightly applying that designation because we truly do harbour hate in our hearts.
Does this mean that we should embrace or endorse a lifestyle that goes contrary to Scripture? Certainly not. One of the fundamental errors our modern culture makes it to equate love with affirmation. However, these two are not the same. It is entirely possible to love someone while not affirming something that they believe in. In fact, we do this with every single person we are in relationship with. There are things about them we don’t agree with, but love them anyways. Real love is greater than affirmation. We need not reject this principle.
Another thing we can do is express the biblical alternative to genderless confusion. Scripture is not silent on the issue of God’s design for human beings in regard to their gender. Genesis 1:27 states plainly, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Our design includes distinction. Men are not women, women are not men, and gender is not on a spectrum. We know that there are chromosomal abnormalities and birth defects that cause a small number of people to have some confusion regarding their gender, but this is what they are: abnormalities and birth defects. Such individuals require extra love and grace for their difficult circumstances. But this is far different than the modern argument that gender is purely a social construct. Biblically, it is not a social construct. Gender is innate. It is not something we choose or discover. It is a reality we acknowledge.
One of the most powerful things we can do as followers of Jesus is live out our own gender reality to show the beauty of God’s good design. When God made man and woman, he did so because it was “not good that the man should be alone”. Thus, he created a complementary partner so that the two could enjoy unity in their diversity. The distinctions between men and women are not meant to drive each other apart, but rather to bring each other together in harmony. To be sure, this is not a simple task, given that we are sinners who naturally gravitate to conflict with others. Yet the wisdom of God is displayed in his gendered humanity and our relationships to one another. As Christians, the way we live out this reality may be the most winsome thing we can do.
I’m not convinced we will turn the culture around on this issue. I’m not sure we are even called to do so. But as we live as citizens of God’s kingdom on earth, we can show the world a better way forward. Let our men be men, our women be women, and let us express the joy of living an identity that is gifted us by God, rather than one of our own creation.
I believe that to some extent the Church has abdicated its responsibility in this regard. I’m not talking about progressive churches who embrace and affirm the LGBT lifestyle. I’m talking about generally faithful believers who have gone soft on gender distinctions. Over the last 40 years or so, the Christian church has tried to push back on biblical gender roles and the distinctions between men and women in order to embrace a more egalitarian view of gender. Most of these believers, as I can tell, have tried to remain faithful to Scripture on issues like gay marriage or gender reassignment surgery. Yet they unintentionally undermine their own argument by flattening the genders as much as possible in every other scenario. On the one hand, they argue that there are no gender distinctions in Christ, but on the other they wish to hold to gender distinctions in real-world circumstances. I do not think this position is either faithful to Scripture or sustainable in the long haul. Egalitarian believers must be willing to say that men and women are not interchangeable because God created them distinct and different. This, fundamentally, would force them out of a true egalitarian position. Let it be so.
The Church must offer a unique voice in these conversations. We may be rejected, and that is fine. But we must accept the risk that the world will wrongly label us as haters for simply affirming the truth. Affirming the truth, after all, is the greatest act of love. Jesus himself, the most loving person who ever lived, came to “bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). He came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). These are not opposites. We are not graceful sometimes and truthful other times. We are show grace and truth simultaneously at all times. The only way we can do that is by being compassionate to people and committed to truth. And, just like Jesus, we will be rejected for it.
The culture is leaving less and less room for cowardly Christians. The hostility towards what we believe and whom we follow is increasing, which means we have only two options: either we remain faithful in spite of persecution, or we compromise and deny the Lord who bought us. It’s time to make a choice. We need not be those who shove our views in people’s faces, but we do need to be those who will not accept the lies our culture tells us and instead show them the love and wisdom of our Creator in action.