The AMI QT blogs for January (weekdays), provided by Pastor Ryun Chang, are extended to cover important sociopolitical matters that have serious ramifications for the Christian faith. Pastor Ryun (PhD), who serves as the Teaching Pastor of AMI, is the author of Manual de Misionología, Theologizing in the Racial Middle, and a contributor to The Reshaping of Mission in Latin America.
Disclaimer: AMI, as a consortium of several churches, allows the expression of multiple standpoints on non-essential biblical matters. My views expressed here do not necessarily represent the respective views of AMI pastors. I am also mindful that not every reader will agree with my stances on sensitive and contentious issues addressed in this month’s blogs. Where that may be the case, I invite you to utilize the comment section below, so that we may have an open dialogue; I highly encourage all readers to share their thoughts and experiences. Thank you.
Extended Devotional Thoughts for Today
“The Real Issue Looming over Sexual Identity and Gender
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
Meet French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86), a pioneer of modern feminism, who once declared, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” Her outlook would serve as a forerunner to modern conceptions of gender, including Harvard’s own policy on identity: “We understand that gender identity can be expressed in a variety of ways.” Its unmistakable message: Since “sexual identity is determined not by biology but by cultural condition” (Colson), one can choose their own sex/gender. This, however, isn’t the real issue in modern feminism except for relatively few who struggle with sexual identity due to their genetic predisposition (discussed tomorrow). When the smoke of politics clears, several questions regarding the nature of gender and sex still remain to be answered.
The first question is whether sexual identity is fixed or fluid. The reason that question is even raised is because sexual identity and gender are deemed as synonymous terms. While they are certainly related, they shouldn’t represent the same thing. Whereas sexual identity is a biological distinction between male and female (thus, fixed), gender goes better with social roles attributed to the two sexes, which Beauvoir certainly thinks are fluid. And once these terms are fused as synonyms, fluidity associated with gender roles is transferred to sexual identity, which, then, is looked upon as fluid as well. But while gender roles may be fluid, no cultural condition can change the biological reality that, first, the 23rd chromosome pair for male and female, except in rare occasions, is always XY and XX, respectively; second, females have ovaries while males have testes; third, females have more estrogen than males, and males have more testosterone than females. That’s just for starters—there are other physiological differences between the two sexes accepted by nearly everyone. So when Scripture declares that God created “male and female” (Gn. 1:27), it means, among other things, the two sexes are biologically distinct.
The second question is whether physiological differences between the two sexes generate distinctive character traits (i.e., psychology). The answer is yes. A 2012 Psychology Today article, citing a study based on over 10,000 samples, states, “Women scored much higher than in men in Sensitivity, Warmth, and Apprehension, while men scored higher than women in Emotional Stability, Dominance, Rule-Consciousness, and Vigilance.” And this is why Beauvoir states, “Women should not be judged to be equal only insofar as they are like men . . . Women and men are different.”
This then brings us to the final question—and the issue at heart: Can gender roles at home and in the workplace change with the passing of time despite biological and psychological differences between the sexes? Put differently, do these differences between males and females mandate what roles each sex should play in society? For instance, are women better suited physically and psychologically than men to raise children (thereby becoming stay-at-home mothers), or can men do that just as well? Can women serve in combat roles and perform, on average, at the same level as men? Can men work as nurses in the military just as effective as women? (Note that men were allowed back to serve as military nurses only in 1955.) In the church, can women preach over men despite Scriptures that say or seemed to say otherwise (1 Tim. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 14:34-35)?
What would Beauvoir say? First and foremost, she does not mean that there is no biological or psychological distinction between male and female. To believe otherwise is to ignore the warning in Proverbs 22:28: “Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.” The landmark represents, according to a commentator, “the inviolability of the sacred order established by God.” When a society ignores God’s basic order by asserting that sexual identity is fluid (thus, calling a boy a “she” and vice versa), it distorts the mindset of the vulnerable and will cause a long-term harm that outweighs any short-term happiness for some.
What Beauvoir means is that the existing cultural condition is discouraging women from assuming sociopolitical roles traditionally held by men. It’s a valid question that demands answers without having to mangle English grammar. So can cultural condition affect gender roles regardless of biological and psychological differences between the sexes? If a girl is given a gun, would that condition her to be more aggressive or assertive, thereby becoming, in a manner of speaking, a leader instead of a follower? If a boy is given a doll, would that condition him to be more passive and pliant, thereby becoming a follower instead of a leader?
Essentially, we come back to the nature vs. nurture debate. In general, a sensible answer is a combination of both. My specific answers, which are expounded in later blogs, are as follows: first, women should be encouraged to pursue whatever vocational choices deemed fit for themselves, and society should remove any barriers to that end. If this seems to suggest that gender roles in the work place are fluid and can be culturally conditioned, you are right. Second, while many social roles and responsibilities are mutually inclusive between the two sexes, they do not always perform at the same level relating to certain tasks attributable to differences in physicality and to a lesser extent, psychology. Third, regarding the women’s role in the church, the reality is that women must navigate with grace between two schools of thoughts: complementarianism that upholds mutually exclusive yet complimentary roles between the two sexes, and egalitarianism that sees their roles as being equal (e.g., preaching and teaching).
Meanwhile, we should “be sympathetic” (1 Pet. 3:3 NIV) with those who genuinely struggle with looking one way while feeling quite another. But rather than calling a boy a “she” and vice versa, I would greet the affected person with, “Hello, the one who is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Ps. 139:14). How are you?” And I’ll figure out a way to turn that into a third person pronoun.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life and allowing us to receive so many undeserving privileges by virtue of living in the West. Before I think of myself as a woman (or man), I am a child of God—remind me, therefore, to not only live my new life in You, but to share it with those men and women who are still living without the hope in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 2
Tomorrow’s Blog: “What Do You Say When Your Child Says, ‘I Feel Like a Boy/Girl’?”
Lunch Break Study
Read Judges 21:25:
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
1 Kings 12:25-31:
“Then Jeroboam [the first king of Northern Kingdom—Samaria being its capital] built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. And he went out from there and built Penuel. 26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. 27 If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” 28 So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” 29 And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30 Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. 31 He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites.”
1 Kings 17:6:
“In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
Questions to Consider
- Many people in our world are doing what is right in their own eyes; those who advocate that sexual identity is determined by cultural condition certainly are doing that. Now look at what Jeroboam did—in what ways he also did what was right in his own eyes?
- What is the ulterior motive that drove this king to completely ignore God’s sacred order?
- What became of the Northern Kingdom? That is to say, what is the final outcome of a society that defies God’s inviolable order, whether spiritual or sociocultural?
- King Jeroboam did two things to radically alter the sacred order established by God with respect to temple worship (essential to fostering the covenant relationship between God and Israel). First, he replaced the center of worship from Jerusalem to Bethel and Dan; second, whereas God had decreed that only Levites could become priests, Jeroboam chose anyone he deemed right in his own eyes.
- His reason for breaking with God’s sacred order is obvious: he was afraid that when his citizens go to Jerusalem (the capital of Southern Kingdom) to observe their temple duties, they might desire to side with his rival kingdom, thereby losing his own kingdom. It was to safeguard his own personal and political interest.
- The Northern Kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C. after about 150 years of existence. All empires of the past have fallen—and the quicker they defy God’s sacred order, the quicker and swifter their demise will be. Psalm 9:17 says, “The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.”
We began the day talking about biological and psychological differences between males and females. I think it behooves us to wrap up this day with this question: Men, how do you view women? Is your default mode to objectify them? They are not things but humans who bear God’s wonderful image.
Women, how do you view men? Is your default outlook to see them as chauvinistic, insensitive, even predatorial humans? The MeToo movement has sadly exposed that many men are still behaving very badly. The next time you witness such actions or someone defending them, tell them, “Stop, in the name of Jesus; I will not allow you to demean a child of God like this.” If you have been a victim, then I would pray that you find healing in Christ and strength to forgive the perpetrator at some point. At the same, please do not be given to think that all men are looking to take advantage of women—many of us follow Christ who admonishes husbands to “love their wives as their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28a).
If you are married, pray with your spouse right now. For the rest, pray for members of the opposite sex whether at home, work or church.