Whenever I see the word “Biblical” in front of a title or a statement I pause as anyone should who cares about what the Bible really does or does not say.
Recently this word caught my eye: a local Evangelical church, a church of great size, advertised a Biblical Masculinity and Femininity Conference. I thought this rather odd since the Bible does not tell men how to behave as men or women how to behave as women. I thought that stereotyping had gone out with analogical thinking (if a, then b follows).
Regarding male and female behavior I’ve come to the conclusion that masculinity and femininity are social contrivances or social regulators which help us navigate our relationships. Again, the Bible does not tell men how to behave like a man or a woman how to behave like a woman. The Bible does tell us in very simple general statements how we as men and women are to relate to the opposite sex and to each other. The Bible also provides us with examples of what men find attractive in a woman (e.g., the Shulammite woman of The Song of Solomon & the industrious woman in Proverbs 31) and what women find attractive in men (the Ruth/Boaz story). Masculine or feminine qualities, if there are such things, are worked out between each man and woman in the give and take of relationship. They certainly are not the rubber stamping of contrived gender roles promoted by such Conferences.
Without a whole lot of fanfare the Bible commands men to love their wives and women to respect their husbands. Beyond this the Bible only gives us some storied examples of men and women in action. Masculinity and femininity if Biblically revealed at all is the plain and simple romantic dance of the male and female psyches within the narrative of relationship. As mentioned above we can see this dance in the lives of the Bible’s men and women. Another example: the love story of Jacob and Rachel.
So, the impetus of this post is to hopefully negate the misinformation doled out by those who feel the need to conform everyone to certain gender defined roles and who also seek to make others abide by the same gender templates, templates created extra-Biblically and more decidedly culturally derived. Hopefully, I can set the record straight. You decide.
Raised in a Baptist/Evangelical church I understand that the word “Biblical” connotes a God-given standard that you are expected to honor, to follow and to conform to. Over the years, though, I have had to disentangle my understanding of what the Bible really says from the “Biblical” fishing nets tossed out by commercial fishers-of-men who believe they have captured what the Bible says and then can sell it back to you in the market place of ideas as truth.
Let’s look at one of their “marketable Biblical items”. A common passage of Scripture used to define Biblical Womanhood is Proverbs 31.
In this passage the writer Lemuel or Anonymous describes the attributes he likes in a woman. Proverbs 31 is the writer’s description of what he thinks is noble character for a woman. Now, if women want to aspire to these same traits they may find similar recognition. The word “Biblical”, though, as in “Proverbs 31 is an example of Biblical Womanhood” often implies a kind of warrant of a personal guarantee of outcome (if a, then b follows). If you do these same things then you are Biblically feminine. But is that true?
The industrious “woman” in Proverbs 31 works to fulfill the needs of her family as do men. But, as you know, men and women do different things to maintain the household and will often overlap in the household duties required. Does the example of this woman’s qualities and behavior mean Biblical femininity? If you as a woman do not do all the things listed in Proverbs 31 are you less feminine? Or, if a man did the same things is he being feminine? Or worse, are you being less Biblical if you are not matching up to these same traits? I hope you can see where this type of “Biblical womanhood” typecasting leads.
In the Song of Solomon, a lyric poem in dialogue form, King Solomon describes marked physical attributes of the woman he loves. Is what he describing Biblical femininity? Or, is what he describing what he likes about the woman he loves, the Shulammite?
Now most Christian scholars, most trusted Christian scholars, would tell you that the biblical canon is closed – there is no further written revelation from God. Yet, we are told that there is Biblical Masculinity and Biblical Femininity – a continuum of a more codified and concise version of the Bible which informs us as to how a twenty-first century man or woman behaves. To me, though, this extra-biblical and apocryphal “decoded” addition of Scripture’s text sounds a lot more like a Pharisee’s laundry list of dos and don’ts than the Bible’s simple and direct statements: “Husband love your wives. Wives see to it that you respect your husbands.”
The church conference I am talking about was directed at the youth – junior and senior high school kids. I have no doubt that the parents are concerned about what the LGBT community is doing to affect gender “norms” in the local public schools. To be sure the LGBT community is misguided and has no concern whatsoever about what God says. I, like these parents, am concerned about the LGBT lies and the nonsense being promulgated in our schools as normative. At the same time I do not want the church to overreact to the same degree by narrowly defining gender into masculine and feminine stereotypes, supplying false “Biblical” alternatives to the LGBT community’s errors.
Gender confusion has become an issue recently because of the LGB community. It is the members of the LGB community who want to take control of masculinity and femininity in order to receivec acceptance and codification of their behavior. They seek to use homosexuality as a subsitute for what God had created as good – a male and female relationship. The LGB community depises the Christian community for wanting to maintain what God created. Homosexuality, the centerpiece of the LGB community then is the ego’s defiance of God and stands in direct contrast to what God created and said was good – a male and female relationship. Hence, gender confusion, anger and pride exists wherever the LGB community is. For most people, though, gender confusion does not exist apart from the false narratives promoted by the LGB community.
Gender dysphoria, though, does exist in some individuals and should be met with differently than the individual simple searching for culturally accepted masculinity or femininity.
For most people gender confusion is not an issue. The searching for where you fit in comes and goes naturally during youth. The rub usually comes from culture. Scripture has nothing to say about it even though people create sermons and seminars about it. During this adapting process we as parents need to know what the LGBT community is saying about gender and then discount any of their false notions about gender along with false “Biblical” ones. The individual will eventually define him or herself by their sexed body and will respond according to what those around them are telling them about their gender.
The parents who are very concerned about the LGBT community’s activism should be careful to not define masculine and feminine as having “Biblical” attributes and as exsiting apart from relationship with the opposite gender. Masculine and feminine are culturally defined romantic notions of male and female attributes within relationship. The Bible has only a few things to say specifically about man’s behavior or a woman’s behavior and it is in the context of relationships.
In the beginning God saw that it was not good for man to be alone so God created woman and human relationship. Within that relationship God let men and women work out their masculine and feminine qualities. God did not prescribe what masculinity and femininity meant before or after the fall. God only mentioned pragmatic matters: what men and women will do as a result of their fall and what relationships they should absolutely stay away from.
As a result of Adam and Eve’s fall God said that men would work hard to make a living from the earth and that women will labor hard to give birth to a child. And later, in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, God provided some practical laws or boundaries regarding men and women and their physical relationships. These Levitical issues in particular dealt with the exchange of bodily fluids (do not commit incest or homosexuality or bestiality, avoid sex during a woman’s menstrual flow, etc.). In the New Testament the Apostle Paul, in a strongly worded letter to the members of the church in Corinth, told them to “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…” What defiles (and confuses) your personhood and the context for working out “masculinity” or “femininity” are sinful relationships which quench the Spirit.
Now can one boy be more masculine than another? No. (Now, you may think that a boy who hangs around with his mother is more feminine than a boy who hangs around with his father. In reality, each boy is sharing things they enjoy in common with the respective parent. Should it be demanded of the boy to act more like his father? Culture might demand it but Scripture doesn’t. The answer is No.) I would have little doubt that shaming a child into submitting to a gender stereotype is part of the personality pathology of homosexuality.
Parent’s desirous of fitting their kids into society’s norms and into their own idealization of gender will restrict a child to a certain prescribed behavior and manner of presentation. This need to conform their child to a certain delineation of a gender role may lead to post traumatic stress disorder in the child. (See this recent article: Gender nonconformity linked to child abuse: Uncomfortable adults often compel strict role presentation)
A boy is more masculine than a girl, of course. Just as in the garden of Eden before Eve came along, masculine and feminine were meaningless terms (The conference gods will strike me down, now.) They were meaningless until Eve stood in contrast to Eve as a separate gender. Masculinity and femininity basically are the features in the opposite sex that we are attracted to. This sounds rather unspiritual, too down to earth, but is what God had intended – the simple elemental attraction of opposites.
Within a male and female relationship you are drawn to the other gender. You are attracted to gender-derived differences, to those features that are reciprocal (the roller-skate-and-key principle, if you will). I realize that this may sound more like fuzzy math, more like the probability nature of quantum physics and not at all like rock-solid classical Newtonian physics that people more readily grasp but solid marriages prove the point. An example would be my parents.
My parents have been married for over 60 years. To my knowledge there has never been any talk between my mother and father about who was masculine and who was feminine. They simply followed Christ and let gender find its way within in the context of their relationship to each other and to Christ. They attended no seminars about “Biblical Masculinity or Biblical Femininity.”
Now regarding binary gender, the analogy may apply: men are from Mars and women are from Venus. As two distinct sexes we relate to each other differently, the differences being derived from basic biology (physical sexed body and hormonal) and cultural adaptations. Beyond this, there are no such things as the True Masculine or the True Feminine.
In fact, when we elevate certain aspects or attributes of men or women that we perceive to be quality masculine or feminine specimens to the position of the “True Masculine” or the True Feminine” we make idols of man-made aspirations (and, perhaps, of Freudian psychology). The church, as shown by the conference ad, wants to package masculinity and femininity and resell certain accepted features of it as “Biblical”. They will even supersize the issue with book sales, heated sermons and biopic posts giving us what they see as the jot and tittle of masculine and feminine as viewed through their myopic lense of socially acceptable Biblical “truth.”
Concerning this topic, the book Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf was of special interest to me, especially the chapter titled Gender Identity. The primary focus of the chapter as I read it was to rightly describe the basis of gender identity and to show how the ideas about masculinity and femininity, described in “essence” forms, are often used to exclusion rather than embrace of the other.
In this chapter Miroslav Volf says regarding his argument about gender identity: “I have claimed that (1) the content of gender identity is rooted in the sexed body and negotiated in the social exchange between men and women within a given cultural context, and that (2) the portrayals of God in no way provide models of what it means to be male or female. I suggested, instead, that the relations between the Trinitarian persons serve as a model for how the content of “masculinity” and “femininity” ought to be negotiated in the social process.” (emphasis mine)
He further states neutrally:
“The content of gender identity is left unspecified; anything seems to go.”
“Biblical “woman” and “manhood” – if there are such things at all, given the diversity of male and female characters and roles that we encounter in the Bible – are not divinely sanctioned models but culturally situated examples.” (emphasis mine)
“If neither models of God nor the explicit statements of the Bible about femininity and masculinity are normative for the content of gender identities, what is? Does anything really go? My proposal is that we locate the normativity in the formal features of identity and the character of relations of divine person. Instead of setting up ideals of femininity and masculinity, we should root each in the sexed body and let the social construction of gender play itself out guided by the vision of the identity of and relations between divine persons. What is normative is not some ‘essence” of femininity and masculinity, but the procedures, modeled on the life of the triune God, through which women and men in specific cultural settings should negotiate.” (emphasis mine)
Further thoughts from the chapter:
- Father figure imagery has become sacrosanct in Christian circles.
- Psychology attempts to use the father figure imagery to decipher…
- Freud: we create god as a need for a father figure or oedipal complex
- Man’s projection of a father figure into the heavens due to an oedipal complex
If you as a man or you as a woman want to be all that you can be (to borrow an advertising phrase from the Army) then be in relationship with Christ. Period. Don’t fashion your life around the drivel described as “Biblical” masculinity and femininity. Put on Christ and walk in the Spirit instead. (I realize that many people want self-help books, tweets and conferences to tell them what to think. Forget these things. Put on Christ and get walking.)
Now, you can always parse or stretch Scripture to make it mean what you want to say regarding masculine and feminine attributes. Instead, it would be better to not focus on these things, on whether you or someone else is more or less masculine or feminine. The Evil One will always stir up comparisons. Just look at the media and you can, hopefully, see that the Evil One’s world view is one of comparing yourself to celebs, to physical attributes, to images of macho men and sexy babes, to myriads of false idols. Walk in the Spirit and you will not fill up the flesh with a pretense of the masculine or feminine.
And by far the best antidote to the cloying gender confusion issue that the LGB community brings with it is the solid mutually beneficial relationship of a man and a woman. The spectrums of masculine and feminine can be fully explored within a committed relationship. In such a relationship there should be no threat to your perceived masculinity or femininity. These things just co-exist. And as such, the two will become one with no thought or time given to someone’s canonized version of “Biblical Masculinity or Femininity.”