Preaching to the choir: gender confusion

Read the first post in this series: Redefining marriage

This is another call to repentance, another call that is not for those outside the Church. I’m not even sure it’s for everyone inside the Church. In fact, it may not even make sense to anyone but me. That’s because, more than anything else, I am “preaching” to an audience of one. Any finger-pointing is directed first and foremost back at myself.

This post, and any others in the series, are a reflection of some of my ongoing thoughts and concerns about marriage in general. At this point, I freely admit to being more short on answers than I’d like.

We have confused stereotypes and prejudices about gender with how God created men and women — and have dared slapped the label “God-ordained gender roles” on the resultant mess and nonsense.

We have searched out Scriptures to find “evidence” for our own pre-conceived notions about gender roles. We have twisted Scripture into convoluted evidence, and attacked anyone as “less than Christian” who called our carelessness and lack of logic into question.

We have attached gender to the evidences of the Holy Spirit’s work in a person’s life, even though Scripture does no such thing. The truth is that there are no male or female “fruit”, no male or female “gifts”.

We have confused cultural norms and practices with God’s will for men and women.

We have confused our own opinions and experiences, our own hopes and desires, with what God requires of us. (“I like men to be like this…I’m sure God feels the same.” “All the women in my family don’t do this, so no Christian woman should.” “I’m uncomfortable with this, so it must be wrong.”)

We have seen gender where there is no gender. Like the three year old boy I knew who insisted on drinking only from a “boy cup” and using only a “boy spoon”, we too often claim certain things are masculine or feminine, when they are neither. Courage is not a “masculine virtue”, nor is gentleness a “feminine virtue”. The Bible does not speak of gender-specific virtues or character traits.

Furthermore, God does not give either sex a free pass on certain sins because some people of our gender may find them especially easy to commit, or overwhelmingly tempting. Nor do we get to opt out of obeying God in those instances when to do so might cause our same-sex peers to look askance at us and call our gender identity into question. Too bad. Following Christ is not without cost.

Side note: if you are a woman, please don’t whine about “persecution” just because you are being accused of “acting like a man” when you don’t shrink back with fear or don’t insist with feigned helplessness that a man do something that you are capable of doing for yourself. If you are a man, please don’t whine you are being “persecuted” just because one of your buddies makes a joke about you being “whipped” when you try to love your wife as much as you love yourself.

We allow our culture to define masculinity and femininity for us. Oh, sure, we deny this, but the truth is that we merely tweak and attempt to “Christianize” the current cultural definitions. Thus, the red-blooded American Christian husband should be having all the mind-blowing sex he wants whenever he wants it — but only with his wife. Of course, she should be the Christian version of a “real woman”: voluptuous and sexy, wildly uninhibited during sex, but soft-spoken and gentle in every other setting. The truly godly wife should be her husband’s very own private porn star — incredibly skilled at performing every sex act he can imagine without him even having to ask — yet so innocent and pure that she not only never kissed another man, but never had a remotely sexual thought prior to marriage. But there is more. Men like sports; women like Pinterest. Men are from Mars; women are from Venus. Men are initiators; women are responders. Men need respect; women need love. We just recycle our cultural messages and repackage them with the “Christian” label.

We bludgeon one another with ungodly measuring sticks of what we claim is true masculinity and femininity. Those that do not measure up to our arbitrary standards are left feeling bewildered, emotionally battered, and inadequate — often with deep aching wounds at the very core of our being. I have experienced what a terrible thing it is to be convinced, by fellow Christians, that I fail to measure up as a woman, as a human being. Men who have been similarly bludgeoned insist that their wounds are even more devastating.

We tell each other lies about gender. We place burdens on ourselves and others that God never intended. We accuse. We condemn.

We allow gender to separate us when our very own Scripture teaches us that there is neither male nor female in Christ. Instead of focusing on Him, we prefer to focus on sex and gender. We prefer to divide rather than unite.

Instead of embracing the beauty of God’s creation, instead of seeing His image in every man and woman, we pit one sex against the other, shove each other into boxes, tear each other down, exalt ourselves, demean each other, insult each other, exploit each other, abuse each other.

We need to repent. We need to read the Bible without our lenses of prejudice. We need healing. We need to seek the Father’s heart about men and women, male and female. We need to reflect Him, instead of cultural stereotypes, even Christianized ones. There is a lot that needs repenting.

May God have mercy.

Preaching to the choir: Redefining marriage 

This is a call to repentance, but it is not for those outside the Church. I’m not even sure it’s for everyone inside the Church. In fact, it may not even make sense to anyone but me. That’s because, more than anything else, I am “preaching” to myself. Any finger-pointing is directed first and foremost back at myself.

The Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage did not take me at all by surprise. My only surprise is that so many in the Church seem to be reeling in shock, as if the decision was unexpected and caught them by surprise. This post is not just what may be the first one in a semi-planned series about my reaction to this ruling, but it reflects some ongoing thoughts and concerns about marriage in general. At this point, I freely admit to being more short on answers than I’d like.

Redefining marriage

Before any of us ever utter the words “redefining marriage” ever again, perhaps we should admit that most of have been guilty of doing that very same thing for a long time. Yes, we — the ‘choir’ — have been guilty of redefining marriage.

  • We have redefined marriage by comparing it to authority structures that are the very antithesis of the loving, intimate, one-flesh, procreative union God defines marriage as being. How often have you read books or heard sermons claiming the husband is the captain and the wife is the first mate, or the husband is the CEO and the wife is the plant manager? Yet, if people who occupy these positions in real life treated each other like husband and wife, it would be considered a scandal and most would agree that everyone involved should lose their positions immediately! Worse than that, theses definitions and descriptions are found nowhere in Scripture.
  • We have redefined marriage as being mostly about personal happiness and fulfillment. We love to go on about about “finding true love”. We want to marry someone who will “meet our needs”, “speak our love language”, and “make us happy”.
  • We have redefined marriage as a right, and as the default setting for adult heterosexuals. We view singleness as a problem that needs to be puzzled out and solved (“I can’t figure out why she isn’t married yet”; “Why are men in our church so unwilling to get married?”) and we view single adults as not quite as adult as the rest of us — and therefore best shuttled off to singles ministries, where they will hopefully all marry each other, so that they can come back and be part of the normal folk.
  • We have redefined marriage as the happy ending in a romantic movie. Then, when it doesn’t live up to our unrealistic, Hollywood-fueled expectations, we cynically redefine it as the source of our unhappiness and lack of fulfillment.
  • We have redefined marriage by claiming that “wives submit” is the aspect most needing to be taught and emphasized, and that “husbands love” really means that husbands shouldn’t be physically abusive when they exercise their authority over their wives.
  • We have redefined marriage as a pragmatic, human-centered, and rather immature arrangement requiring one person (the husband) to have the “final say” or the “tie-breaker vote”. We assume disagreement is inevitable, and reaching mutual agreement is impractical or doomed to failure. Even worse, we act as if it is impossible for two people, both led by the same God, to reach the same decision.
  • We have redefined marriage as exempt from many of the Scriptural commands and teachings regarding how Believers are to treat one another. Many of us are more loving and kind-hearted to strangers next to us in the pew than to our spouses. We are willing to bear one others’ burdens, pray for others, weep with them, rejoice with them, treat them with preference and respect, mutually submit to them, encourage them, build them up, etc. — as long as the “others” are not married to us. We pretend that Christ’s high priestly prayer, and most of the epistles, doesn’t really apply to marriage, and that husbands and wives don’t need to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • We have redefined marriage as a lack of unity, and insist that being “of one mind and one accord” is impossible for a man and a woman. After all, supposedly men and women are from different planets (Mars vs. Venus), resemble totally dissimilar foods that no sane person would serve together at the same meal (waffles vs. spaghetti) and have entirely different needs (respect vs. love).
  • We have redefined marriage as being centered on pleasurable sex. I have encountered countless Christian books, articles, speakers, and counselors full of advice for how I could — and should —become more like the “smokin’ hot wife” of my husbands’ fantasies/needs, but can’t recall one Christian source of information about healthy, natural ways to increase fertility. I’ve also encountered numerous articles championing “purity” before marriage followed by lifelong monogamy because these practices supposedly guarantee a more pleasurable sex life.
  • We have redefined marriage as being far more about roles rather than about relationship.
  • We have redefined marriage by claiming that it turns any man into a “priest, prophet, and king”. (Of course, no one I’ve ever encountered claims that marriage turns a woman into a “priestess, prophetess, and queen”.)
  • We have redefined marriage in terms of culture, whether our current culture, some bygone culture, or some nostalgic, romanticized culture that exists only in books, old TV sitcoms, and our over-wrought imaginations.
  • We have redefined marriage by turning the covenant relationship God Himself created into an institution defined by the whims of human law. We have handed our marriages over to our governments to regulate, encourage, discourage, define, institute, and dissolve. Then we accuse those same governments of usurping the very authority we not only freely gave them, but insisted that they exercise over us.
  • We have redefined marriage by claiming that its most important aspect is that it is “traditional”, and between one man and one woman.
  • We have redefined marriage by not being far more concerned about whether our marriages reflect the extreme, sacrificial love Christ has for His Bride…whether our marriages reflect the radical unity and one-ness God requires of us…whether we are becoming more like Him…whether we are obeying Him with and in our marriages…whether our marriages really and truly honor Him. Marrying someone of the opposite sex is easy. Mimicking stereotypical gender roles isn’t all that difficult. (Doing it successfully — at least for me — is a different matter.) But having a marriage that glorifies God requires supernatural assistance.

I don’t know about you, but I have failed. As the Bible says of all of us, I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This is a serious matter. It is, in fact, deadly serious — no matter how much I try to deny and pretend away the gravity of sin. 

Repentance is what I need. The grace of God — and His daily assistance — is my only hope.

If any of the choir made it all the way to the end of this post…are you willing to join me in asking God to show us even more areas in which we need to repent? Are you willing to pray the following prayer with me, no matter how painful the result?

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
 [Psalm 139:23,24]

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.   [Psalm 51:10]

I don’t know about you, but I definitely know that I need to be searched, known, cleansed, and renewed.

May God have mercy.