Gender, Sexual Orientation, & “Masculinity”

I don’t know if I can articulate this.  I’ve been struck by some of the assumptions that Tony Jones and others that I frequently agree with make.  I disagree with these assumptions, and I’m trying to articulate my disagreement.  I’m thinking this through as I write.

I’m not trying to throw anyone under the bus, just trying to describe something.

1. For years, I’ve argued that the traditional Evangelical view of gender differences in the church (complementarianism, the view that men and women are distinctly different & that these differences mean that there are ministries that women cannot carry out) is BOTH destructive AND an inadequate treatment of the biblical text.

1.A.  It’s destructive because it leads to marginalization and abuse.  One needs only look at the SGM scandal (where the victims of abuse / mothers of the victims were ignored because they were women, and women are supposed to submit to male authority) to see this.  In one case I read about (which I don’t believe was an SGM case), a mother alleged that a male nursery worker was sexually molesting her child.  The church leaders refused to investigate or take the allegation seriously, until her husband (the child’s father) made the same complaint.  The message: “You’re a woman.  You’re accusing a man of wrongdoing.  We’re not going to listen to you, because women should be silent.”

Or look at the excesses in some of the home school movement (chronicled at, where girls are NOT educated in mathematics, science, etc. (topics in which boys ARE educated) because “No daughter of mine will ever go to college or work outside the home.”

There will be less drastic, horrific cases, of course.  But the assumptions of male leadership / female submission reliably lead to subordination, hierarchy / patriarchy, and abuse.  

1.B. It’s an inadequate treatment of the biblical text because it ignores the cultural difference between our world and the world of the biblical writers.  The literalists assume that they can simply transfer apostolic methodology from the 1st century to the 21st without allowing for the vast differences in how masculinity and femininity are constructed in the two worlds, how individualistic modern Western culture differs violently from the clan / family-centered Mediterranean culture of the biblical writers, etc.

When I hear Mark Driscoll or John Piper talk about how Christianity needs to be masculine, I wonder which masculinity they have in mind?

  • The masculinity of mid-20th century American cinema, Steve McQueen and John Wayne?  (Rock Hudson?)
  • The masculinity of 1st century Palestine?
  • The masculinity of Samson (Judges 13 – 16)?
  • The masculinity of David, who said of his affection for Jonathan that it surpassed the love of a woman (2 Samuel 1.26)?
  • The masculinity of Jacob, who loved to cook & stay among the tents and was extremely attached to his mother (Genesis 25)?

Our definitions of masculinity and femininity are culturally constructed.  When we universalize OUR culture’s definition, we commit anachronism and say stupid things about the Bible.  We also hurt people, and needlessly cause divisions in the body of Christ.

1.C. The two ideas (destructiveness, bad hermeneutics) come together in the complementarian treatment of Ephesians 5.21ff.  The complementarian ignores the first sentence of the paragraph (“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”) and so misread the sentences that follow to define submission as subordination.  But Paul’s instructions begin with MUTUAL submission, following the example of Christ.  In this context, submission is NOT subordination, it’s following Jesus’ example of self-giving, self-sacrifice, which Paul demands that both the husbands and the wives put into practice (albeit in different terms.)


2. People I respect and have learned much from argue that the church must accept same-sex relationships on the same bases that I use to argue that women and men should be equal in ministry.  They say that refusing to endorse same-sex relationships is destructive and poor hermeneutics.

I agree that the church’s treatment of same-sex attraction etc., can be & has been very destructive: see my previous post, “Five Ways the Church Fails Homosexuals.”

I do NOT buy the argument on hermeneutics, however.  Whatever we (Christians, individually and corporately) decide to do with homosexuality, we cannot begin by assuming that the Bible is neutral on the issue.  The arguments of Furnish, Boswell, Scroggs, etc., do not hold water.  They are simply, demonstrably wrong.

On a host of issues where the church has been “on the wrong side of history”, the biblical texts themselves are in tension: race, slavery, gender equality.  There is no such tension in the Bible’s treatment of sexuality.  The model for sexuality throughout scripture is heterosexual, monogamous, life-long commitment.  Any exercise of sexuality outside of those parameters–affairs, prostitution, pornography, serial monogamy, rape, same-sex relationships–is contra the Bible.

One thought on “Gender, Sexual Orientation, & “Masculinity”

  1. Pingback: Feminism and the stumbling block |

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