A Gender Stereotyping Discussion
A recent post by Michael Salinas broke the record for views on the Torrey Gazette. The post hit a nerve. By my meager analysis, his post particularly hit a nerve in the south. Michael and I both reside in the belt buckle of the Bible belt — Texas. Texas is not as southern as some imagine it to be. Yet, we are filled with the infamous Independent Fundamental Baptists that your grandmother told you would find and convert you if you ever skipped the Divine Service.
As the world waxes and wanes on the latest trends, one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me — the south has a gender stereotyping problem. I want to come out early and state that I hold to traditional gender positions. I am a complementarian. I believe only men should be Pastors and Elders within the church. The gender problem is not with the capacity of men. It is what men are. Or better stated, the problem is defining men by what they do.
Youthful Friction & Fancy
I like booze and Broadway tunes. I could not be brought to care about guns, fishing, or hunting, but I love sports. My hands are soft and not calloused. This last one is due to the household dishes epidemic that comes with three kids and all their snacks. We barely have a full tool set. And more than one tool comes in the pink color variety. I have a beard that looks ungroomed — it is. I have hair that is long — and combed. I am more inclined to watch Downtown Abbey than some action shows (unless it's Marvel related because I'm still a little boy who likes comics).
My point is that by some standards I would not match the bill of "a man." By some others, I certainly would. No one cares about my qualifications — I'm married to a woman and have multiple kids. But other brothers and sisters in Christ are not as lucky.
One of the common themes I encounter from progressive (different in my mind from progressivist or progressivism) accounts of gender and sexual orientation is the uncomfortable experiences of youth among their peers. There is a concrete lack of sameness that creates a friction among today's youth. This friction leads to sadness, depression, suicides, and drug abuse. There are certainly other things that induce these conditions. But in the realm of my discussion, few who feel uncomfortable around their same-gender peers do not transition to more traumatic experiences. This increasingly presents itself in gender/sexual orientation related questioning (I recommend Mark Yarhouse's Understanding Gender Dysphoria). In many cases, these questions resolve themselves during the trials of puberty. But in other cases, these questions become the matches that ignite experimentation in same-sex interest and gender changing.
Stereotyping the South
So what is the problem? I am no expert, but in the south manhood is often defined by some combination of what you eat, drink, hunt, shoot, and drive. This is the worldview in which I was raised even if it was not intentional. As I pursued piercing of every sort, this caused no lingering ill effects. But it was unquestionably awkward with the generation above me. For those who experienced SSA or varying degrees of gender dysphoria, this has led to fiercer confusion, friction, and stumbling.
Let me highlight an exaggerated example. The group of individuals most loudly protesting Caitlynn Jenner's sex, despite her reassignment surgery, is often the loudest proclaimer of what actions are becoming a "real man." We get it. The Caitlynn Jenner meme is supposed to be funny (you should know that it isn't). But when the "if your man doesn't do this you're dating a chick" meme follows it, I really start to question intelligence. Ironic is it not? Now perhaps not everyone has experienced this. But particularly in the conservative, Christian south it is a mindset that manifests itself in a number of small ways. Manhood is essentially defined by what you do.
These non-Biblical, thus secular gender markers present a difficulty to young Christians who just do not fit in. The tomboy girl. The "soft" boy. Gender stereotyping only works to exacerbate a time of relative chaos. So what should the church do? I suggest abandoning all stereotypes that aren't Biblical. Let's call it a sola scriptura experiment. Novel yes?
Why would we do this? Because whether or not there is disagreement on the stereotyping, I hope we can acknowledge that the Scriptures call us to the highest standard of protecting our brothers and sisters in Christ. Ingrained in the Christian community should be a desire to protect one another and keep them from harm. This harm should include psychological, emotional and physical. Some might scoff and think this will only result in "soft" children. My answer to that would be that if we define "soft" as well-adjusted, loved, and Christ-like then sure.
As a way of reminder, it was the Pharisees who hung heavy burdens on people (Matt 23:4). Jesus warned that causing a "little one" to sin was a grave offense (Matt 18:6). Paul says we are not to quarrel over opinion (Rom 14:1). We are never to put a stumbling block in front of a brother (Rom 14:13). He also teaches that we should not provoke our children to anger (Eph 6:4). Non-biblical gender stereotypes goes against all of these passages.
As comfortable as we might be in those stereotypes we are equally sinning against anguishing brothers and sisters in Christ.
I am not supporting some type of genderless parental nurture. I am not encouraging some cultural movement to androgynous individualism. I am suggesting that we stop telling kids what they need to do and enjoy on the basis of presumed gender interest.
I want to stress what the Scriptures say about male and female — not merely what we extrapolate. I think we will find that the Scriptures say incredibly little about what the Christian man and Christian woman must look like. This will only bother those who desire the Scriptures to be some "how to" book. Perhaps it is time for us to take seriously our hermeneutics. Perhaps it is time for us to truly love our Christian neighbors who struggle by watching what we say and do. The Scriptures tell us to do this. What a novel thought.