It’s difficult to come up with a more controversial topic than gender.
The controversy is not limited to the public square. It is the same in the church.
But I’ll never forget the insight of a wise friend of mine. He observed that, if the Australian church were to undergo widespread revival, these matters “would no longer be controversies to be avoided, but glories to be discovered.”
Surely that is the spirit with which we should approach the issue.
We live in a society where male-female relations are not in good shape. Families are falling apart as a matter of course, fathering and mothering are out of fashion (especially fathering), men are violent and lustful, women are seductive and manipulating.
Both sexes are too often out for their own interests, at the expense of the other.
As a society, we know that we have a violence problem. We know that we have a sexual problem. We know that we have family problems.
Yet the cause seems to elude us, as does the solution.
Is it toxic masculinity? Gender stereotypes? Cultural norms? The long shadow of history? Feminism? Heteronormativity? Christianity?
Amid myriad government programs, education curriculum reviews, charitable efforts, culture ambassadors, and yet a persistent, often silent suffering, it is glorious to think that God has given us the answer to this age-old and vexing problem.
We should treasure the answer – not fight about it or avoid it.
The answer has been largely lost in contemporary culture. That much was evidenced by a report from the most recent Weekend Australian concerning the phenomenon that psychosocial differences between men and women increase with gender equality.
It is called the “Patriarchy Paradox.”
The prevailing theory was that as we treat the sexes more and more the same, the differences between them will diminish. Women will break through glass ceilings, they will be equally represented with men across careers, and other differences will disappear too.
But exactly the opposite has happened.
The most gender-equal societies like the Netherlands, France, and Norway manifest by far the greatest psychosocial differences between the sexes across nearly every conceivable spectrum.
It turns out that, the more equally we treat the sexes, the more likely they are to do and think what they want… And that manifests their differences most starkly.
Various experts are quoted saying it is “bizarre” and that “nobody predicted it.” The article notes it flies in the face of feminist (gender differences are socially constructed) and Marxist (gender differences are power imbalance and oppression) theories.
But it’s not a shock at all for Christians. We could have easily predicted it.
Scripture could not be clearer about gender difference. It is enshrined from start to finish.
We first discover that God made “male and female” – different – “in His image” – but equal.
We then discover that He made them at different times, from different materials, in response to different needs, for different stated purposes.
Then, their roles in the fall are different.
When God pronounces the curse, He does not simply bundle up humanity into the same category – He carefully spells out the detail of two curses – one for the man, and one for the woman.
Those curses have enduring relevance today.
All these factors are expressly drawn upon in the New Testament’s teachings on gender. Paul grounds everything he says in the detail of creation, showing its timeless and enduring relevance, anchoring it in the purposes of God.
Jesus even grounds his teaching on marriage (the ultimate solution to the battle of the sexes) in God’s creation purposes.
Men and women are different. They were made different. They are supposed to be different.
God doesn’t create difference for no reason. He hones and perfects it so that it is perfectly designed to fit its purpose. It is therefore difficult to accept that the differences are not intended to manifest in the way we live.
Ducks have flippers for a reason. They swim. Humans have intellect for a reason. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Even the finest detail of creation has a purpose.
Gender difference is not merely inherent. It also forms part of our calling. It affects our pattern of life.
Let us take very seriously the call of God on our lives, to live in the bodies He has given us as boy, man, husband, father or girl, woman wife, mother.
And remember: this is the wonderful answer to a mass of enduring confusion which blights our world. It is glorious truth to embrace, not controversy to avoid.