Male and female he created themOne of the basic tenets of hierarchical complementarianism—an ideology that, among other things, restricts women from some functions in the Church—is that men and women are different, and that the sexes complement each other. I agree that the sexes complement each other. Hopefully we all complement each other with our various strengths, gifts, and talents, but I don’t think that men and women are as different as some hierarchical complementarians assert. Men and women are not exactly the same but we share many things in common. In fact, I don’t know of any non-biological trait that is exclusively male or female.

Personality and Spirituality

Our personalities are not solely, or even largely, determined by our sex: there is not a male personality or a female personality.[1] Over the years I’ve needed to do a few personality tests for work and ministry reasons, but there was never a question in these tests asking whether I was male or female.

A person’s sex does not give any indication of his or her personality or ability.

And remember the surveys and questionnaires about spiritual gifts that many churches did in the 90s? I don’t recall that there was ever a question in these surveys asking whether I was male or female. Which is just as well as the Holy Spirit gives his gifts without any apparent regard of a person’s sex.[2]

A person’s sex does not determine his or her spiritual or ministerial aptitude.

Masculinity and Femininity

It is usually straightforward to classify a person according to their sex: male or female. Classifying certain traits according to gender, either masculine or feminine, is much more difficult. Masculinity and femininity cannot be precisely defined because different cultures have different parameters of perceived manly and womanly behaviour. For example, my attitudes, actions, and aspirations are more similar to those of the men in my family and the men in my socio-economic group than those of women living in the mountains of Papua and New Guinea.

Masculinity and femininity cannot be qualified or quantified by a neat set of parameters, rules, and roles because every man and woman is unique. Ideas such as “men are from Mars and women are from Venus” or “all men are leaders and all women are followers”[3] are gross generalisations and over-simplifications which ignore the complexities and diversity of individuals. We each have our own personality, our own talents and tastes, our own strengths. This is especially apparent for people who live in western society where individualism is nurtured and prized.

Rather than a prescriptive definition of masculinity and femininity, or of manhood and womanhood, the reality is that, especially in western society, there is a broad continuum of manly and womanly behaviour. Moreover, on this continuum, there is a large overlapping area of behaviour that is not especially gendered.

Bone of my Bones and Flesh of my Flesh  

In contrast to Christians who emphasise the differences between the sexes, when Adam saw Eve for the first time he noticed their similarities and exclaimed:

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called woman, for out of man this one was taken.” Genesis 2:23.

Adam marvelled at the profound similarities he shared with Eve. He also recognised that the source of this first woman was his own body.[4]

Adam wasn’t the same after the creation of Eve. Something of his was missing. God had taken something out of Adam and it had become an integral part in the making of the first woman. When Adam and Eve joined together they became reunited as one flesh. Protecting and cherishing this one flesh union should be a priority of all husbands and wives.

Jesus quoted from Genesis 2:24 and added a bit:  

“For this reason a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:5-6 and  Mark 10:7-9

Adam focused on the similarities between man and woman, and Jesus emphasised the profound unity between husband and wife. It seems to me, however, that some complementarian Christians are not only emphasising the differences between men and women, they are polarising the sexes. Some well known ministers seem obsessed with gender differences and are promoting an unnecessary distinction and division between brothers and sisters in Christ [5], and between husbands and wives [6]. 

Diversity but not Division

As Christians we all belong to the same family; and we all belong to the same body of Christ. We should be encouraging and appreciating a diversity of functions in the body without promoting or enforcing a division of rigidly prescribed roles or ranks (1 Cor. 12:4-31).

We are part of the New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17 NIV). As part of this New Creation each one of us belongs to the royal priesthood, so we should be eschewing distinctions that indicate a priestly, privileged class of men. Instead, we should be living with New Creation values and creating a new culture where the physical and outward distinctions of sex, ethnicity, and socio-economic status, while still visible and real, do not cause discrimination and inequality within the church community (Gal. 3:27-28).[7] Instead of emphasizing gender in such a way that it promotes division and exclusivity among believers, we should be promoting unity and inclusivity. And, like Adam, we should be recognising and marvelling at our similarities.


Endnotes

[1] Hormones can affect our personalities. Men and women have both androgens (male sex hormones), such as testosterone, and estrogens (female sex hormones) in varying amounts.

[2] All the New Testament passages which speak about spiritual gifts, including the gifts of leading and teaching, are gender inclusive, or gender neutral, in the Greek. Verses which mention Spiritual giftings: Acts 2:17-18; Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11 & 27-28; 1 Cor. 14:26-33; Eph. 4:11-12; Heb. 2:4; 1 Pet. 4:9-11.

[3] John Piper defines masculinity and femininity purely in terms of leadership and submission. He believes that leadership is an intrinsically masculine quality and that God has ordained all men to be leaders. He also believes that the women’s role is to be fundamentally submissive and responsive to the leadership of all men. Piper’s definition is inadequate and potentially dangerous. See chapter one of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper and Wayne Grudem (eds) (Westchester, Il: Crossway Books, 2006)

[4] Eve had been, quite literally, “taken out” of Adam. Adam was the source of the first woman, but all other men have come from a woman, their mother (1 Cor 11:11-12). We share a lot in common with our male and female biological and spiritual family members. [My article The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here.]

[5] John Piper has recently been recorded as saying that a Christian woman can teach a man as long as she is not standing in front of a man showing her womanhood. (Source) The implication is that women are somehow offensive or threatening to men and their manhood. John Piper seems obsessed with emphasising gender differences. On the other hand, the Bible mentions kings, generals and other men who received instruction from women without concern. These men are listed here.

[6] Our first loyalty, and the priority of our confidences, should be to our spouse, not to our buddies or girlfriends. Some ministers, such as James MacDonald, are teaching men not to share their burdens with their wives. (Source) I am the main support of my husband, not other men. Isn’t that what being a helper (ezer) is really all about? It concerns me that there seems to be no place for women in MacDonald’s life unless he’s protecting, covering and supporting them. He doesn’t speak of women as partners. (There is no biblical basis whatsoever for the notion of “covering”.)  [My article Protecting the Weaker Sex here.]

[7] Qualifications for ministry in the Old Testament priesthood were physical; qualifications for ministry in the New Covenant church are spiritual and moral.  [My article Old Testament Priests and New Testament Ministers here.]

Image Credit: Gender Symbol © ewg3D (iStockphoto)


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