Manhood, Womanhood, and God

Part 1

Staley Lecture Series, Bryan College | Dayton, Tennessee

Thank you very much. I bring you greetings from the alumni of this college that I didn’t know were at my church. When I asked them to pray for me yesterday as I left, they met me at the door and said, “Whoa, we went to Bryan. Tell them hi.” So hi. I’d like to pray as I begin and take you with me into this topic.

The Image of God

The longer I think about this whole issue of manhood, womanhood, and God, the more I am led to not focus on merely the question of roles — like, “Should there be a head of the home and should it be a man,” or, “Should there be primary unique leadership in the church and should it be a man?” — but beneath those practical role questions to get to the question of who I am and who you are by virtue of our male or female personhood. In other words, it seems to me very important not just to ask the question of roles, but the question of personhood and nature and what we are by virtue of being created in God’s image, male or female.

It seems to me that this has not been the case. This way of asking the question hasn’t been the case for the length of time I’ve been thinking about this issue, for 15 years or so. And there are some reasons for that. Let me give you one. Paul Jewett, who was a professor of mine at Fuller and is now deceased and I believe with the Lord, despite the fact that I disagreed with him on this issue, wrote the groundbreaking work about this issue in 1975 called Man as Male and Female — at least it was groundbreaking among the discussions in evangelical circles. That book, I think, was the beginning of the real debate, and in that book, he said, “Sexuality permeates one’s individual being to its very depth. It conditions every facet of one’s life as a person.”

Now that’s an amazing statement. Your sexuality, whether you are male or female, is not a peripheral issue; he says it permeates to the depth of who you are and conditions and affects everything you do. Not many people are saying that anymore today, but he said it, and then he said something astonishing and shocking. He said, “We do not know what it means to be a man in distinction to woman. It may be we will never know what that distinction ultimately means.” Now, that premise of agnosticism about what this all-pervasive reality of sexuality is was, in my judgment, an absolutely stunning admission. To say on the one hand it permeates and conditions everything you do, and is therefore not a negligible reality — your maleness or femaleness — and then to turn around and say on the other hand, “But I’m sorry I can’t give you any help in telling you the essence and nature of what that is.”

That set the tone for 20 years of debate, and the debate basically has, by and large, ignored nature, personhood, and the thought that deeply rooted maleness and femaleness conditions everything. It has put that aside because it’s a very threatening reality to a lot of people and has simply asked the question about roles and social conditioning that set us up to do one thing or the other.

Agnosticism and Ignorance

Now, what I just said to you at the beginning is that I find myself, the more I think about this, moving back towards what Jewett said, not moving away from it. But I don’t find the discussion moving with me, so I’m coming to you as somebody who may not be entirely representative of the kind of books you’re going to be reading in the coming years on this. There’s a shift today in the discussion that signals to me we’re not going back towards nature and personhood; we’re moving more and more toward what culture and social dynamics make of us and the roles that we thus fill. Let me give you a few clues so that you can be alert as you see it happening.

Here’s a quote from Jerry Muller, who is a historian at the Catholic University of America. He just wrote this a month ago about the shift in the discussion from sex to gender. Maybe someone would say, “That sounds like an innocent shift. What’s the big deal? What difference does it make if you talk about sex or if you talk about gender, aren’t they interchangeable?” Well, in the discussions, especially in the universities in the 500 or so women’s studies programs that there are around the country, it is making a whale of a difference in which one of those terms you use. Here’s the quote:

The influence of lesbianism is perhaps the prime reason for the increasing focus on gender defined as a social and cultural construction of sexual identity. The key assumption behind such work is that, while men and women are biologically differentiated, the characteristic qualities of maleness and femaleness are largely artifacts of culture and arbitrarily imposed cultural constructions at best, the emphasis on the relative importance of gender as opposed to sex then is intended to challenge the assumption that differences between men and women are either natural or immutable.

In other words, the shift in the discussion today from talking about sex to talking about gender is an illustration of a decreasing interest in who we are by nature and increasing conviction that what you are as male or female is a totally socially conditioned reality. It is not undergirded by anything in God or in nature, and therefore the final answer is lesbianism or homosexuality when it comes to equality.

Leveling Sex-Based Distinctions

Now, this may seem to you so far-fetched from evangelicalism where you are. I don’t know if you wonder why I would even begin with that, but I ask this question: is it a coincidence that the two most recent significant works by evangelicals are entitled Gender and Grace in 1990, and more recently this year in 1993, After Eden: Facing the Challenge of Gender Reconciliation?

If you’re into the discussions, those words, that change in vocabulary, signals something. And what it signals is that I am not in sync with this shift, and that others are moving more and more towards simply talking about the social construct of sexuality, not what we are by nature as though that made any difference at all where you come from as male or female in God and in his creation in your life. Well, I come to you this morning and this week with a very different conviction. I think what is at stake in whether women serve as pastors, for example, and whether men abdicate leadership in the home is the dismantling of the created order as God intended it to be, and the pattern of complementarity that he established for our good and for his glory.

I think the differences between males and females are not merely biological and not merely social constructs, but are profound realities created by God, equally valuable in God’s sight because of his creation (Genesis 1:27). But the differences are intended to come to expression, not in a gender-leveling, sex-blind, non-differentiated way of living that issues forth in lesbianism and homosexuality, ultimately, but in a complementarity of differences — that’s the word I like for my own view — that allows them to come to expression in the profoundness of their difference. Sex is not negligible, ever. Competency is never an adequate judgment for how we behave towards one another.

In fact, in spite of all the legitimate concerns of Christian feminists regarding male abuses, and we’ll talk about those, I think the feminist minimizing of nature-based role distinctions is contributing today to the confusion of sexual identity, the heightened occasion of homosexuality and lesbianism, the malfunction of relationships in marriage, and the depression that lies across much of American society.

A Push Toward Sexual Ambiguity

I think James Dobson of Focus on the Family was extraordinarily courageous and out of step with most contemporary, left-wing evangelicalism, when he said, “Feminist resistance to making manhood and womanhood significant in behavior and role determination is a partner to some of the most painful social and spiritual issues of our day.” I think that’s right. The neglect of sexuality in the determination of who we are and the constant minimizing by Christian feminists of sex-based distinctions is a partner to much destructive tendency in the world. The preponderance of energy that goes into encouraging us to be sex-blind and ender-leveling is remarkable to me in view of what’s happening in society.

I mean, let me just give you a couple of quotes from very front-ranking books among Christian feminists. For example, Gretchen Hall, in her book Equal to Serve, says:

Biblical feminists lovingly ask the Christian community to abandon artificial role-playing and to be sex-blind in assessing each individual’s qualification for ministry.

Now, of course, when she sticks in the word artificial role-playing, she wins her case immediately. This is the way words are used today, and I want to encourage you over these days to be extremely critical even of my words. Don’t let me trick you with language. This is a tricky use of language because as soon as she says artificial, nobody wants to be artificial so the case is closed, and thus she overlooks the fact there might be role-playing that’s not artificial, but real and authentic and deep and grounded in God, and yet she says, “Let’s be sex blind in determining that role playing.”

Another one is Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen at Calvin College who writes Gender and Grace. She says:

The Bible’s main thrust is toward the leveling, not the maintenance, of birth-based status differences.

Now, there again, the word status wins her case immediately, but she doesn’t just mean status, she means role differences. The Bible is a leveling book. Gretchen Hall and Mary Stuart van Leeuwen, two of the most articulate spokesman for Christian feminism, are constantly calling — with many, many others like Gilbert Bilezikian, Aida Spencer, and Margaret Hall — for you to be sex-blind and gender-leveling in your thinking about who should do what in the home and the church, not to mention society. I think that constant pressure toward sex-leveling and gender-blindness is destructive and is an unwitting partner to the advancement of forces in our culture that are dismantling human life as God meant it to be. Now, let me illustrate from culture what I mean.

The Disintegration of Culture

I don’t know much about what life is like here in Tennessee. I was born in Chattanooga 47 years ago, and grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. I live in a very liberal city, Minneapolis, Minnesota. You’ll see that before I’m done. This world here in eastern Tennessee is probably another world from where I live. I don’t know, you judge, but I’m going to give you illustrations of what’s happening where I am and maybe where you are. I think these kinds of things are why I’m willing to go say extremely unpopular things among college students and stick my neck out.

No longer in America is it obvious that a female newspaper reporter, like Lisa Olson of the Boston Herald, may not enter into the men’s locker room of the New England Patriots after a ball game just because she’s a woman? And so when she did enter into the locker room to interview naked ballplayers and argued that it’s discrimination against her as a woman because the men get to do that and not the women’s sports reporters, there was this huge hubbub, so much so that she resigned her job and moved to Australia like it was a no good, terrible, bad day. She came back, and a book has been written about her and this experience by two sociologists at the University of Minnesota. I live across the river from there.

I used to say these kinds of things 15 years ago, that the sex-leveling will lead to that, and people would scoff at me. They’d laugh and they’d say, “Oh, you’re just crazy. The issue is about pastors not about locker rooms.” Well, it’s about everything. The issue is about everything.

I got a letter since I started writing about this stuff from a chaplain. Now, this is not out of the newspaper. It’s a personal letter from a man who works there, who’s a chaplain in the medical facility at Vacaville State Prison in California, and he said that so many class action suits have been brought against the prison system that they now have given in. Women and men now serve together as guards to do genital searches on men and women as they come in with no distinction. They cruise up and down the toilet areas and the shower areas, which of course in prison are all wide open — all in the name of sex-leveling, gender-blind reality. In other words, the only way for women to be equal with men is to cancel distinctions at every level.

Accusations of Discrimination

In my hometown of Minneapolis, the domestic partners bill passed the city council with scarcely a hitch. It recognizes homosexual and lesbian partners so that you can get sick leave benefits and insurance benefits if you live together as homosexual or lesbian partners. Minnesota, like every other state so far, still has no law permitting same-sex marriages, though they endorse the relationships and partnerships in almost every other way.

In an article in the Minneapolis Tribune, on May 31st, it was estimated that 10,000 children in America have been conceived artificially by lesbians so that they can be adopted into two-women lesbian households. In my school district in Minneapolis, where my son is a senior at Roosevelt High School, since 1986, they have offered parenting classes for homosexual couples and lesbian couples in the school system — all in the name of being sex-blind and gender-leveling.

It’s considered discrimination to say that a woman does not have the right to partner with a woman. It’s discrimination to say a man does not have a right to be the partner of a man. And you can see the consistency of it. What I have tried to say for 15 years and have been scoffed at again and again by evangelical feminists is that there’s a link between the constant Christian pressure towards sex blindness in role differences and this sort of thing. There’s a link. They’re not separate worlds, and to this day, Christian feminists get infuriated at me when I make the link and they say, “That’s not what we’re talking about.” I say, “I know that’s not what you’re talking about. That’s just what’s happening, and it matters how we talk about being sex-blind and gender-leveling.”

A suit was brought against Save-On drug company in California by a family because they said their daughter experienced great psychological harm in Save-On drug company because the toys were divided by gender interest — toys for boys and toys for girls. They sued the company.

Permeating Ideologies

Increasingly, secular leaders in the some 500 women’s studies programs around the universities in America are arguing that heterosexuality itself is the root cause of women’s problems. This is the end of the line in the argument. We are reaching the end of the line in the catastrophic dismantling of what God created. Here’s the quote from 1972. If this thing was being said in 1972 by Charlotte Bunch, who was one of the most radical lesbian feminist leaders, you can imagine what’s being said out there in the universities in 500 radically feminist, lesbian programs in the universities of America today. Here’s what she said:

Heterosexuality separates women from each other. It makes women define themselves through men. It forces women to compete against each other for men and the privilege which comes through men and their social standing. Lesbianism is the key to liberation. And only women who cut their ties to male privilege can be trusted to remain serious in the struggle against male dominance. Only lesbianism is the answer to discrimination.

That’s the mood. That was a quote from an article last month in First Things. Now you might say, “Okay, all right, yeah, there’s weirdness in the world. That’s weird. That’s not us though. That doesn’t happen in the church. You’re not connecting with evangelicalism.”

I graduated from seminary in 1971 and from Wheaton College in 1968, and the reason I know that is not true is that I have watched my friends move in this direction. I’m not talking newspapers and books anymore. Here are a couple of examples. I had a friend in seminary, I won’t give you his name, although it wouldn’t betray anything because he’s public on this issue. We were good friends. He came out of the Assemblies of God, he was biblically conservative, and then I read that he was strongly arguing for the ordination of women as pastors.

And I said, “Well, everybody’s doing that. That’s no big deal,” I thought, and then next I read this sentence from him on a much more controversial matter than that issue of the ordination of women to the pastorate. He said, “The presence of gay and lesbian Christians and ministers in our churches is for me a similar issue.” And there he’s honest. He says it’s a similar issue, and it is a similar issue. He continued, “I believe that the gospel should lead us at least to an affirmation of gay and lesbian partnerships ruled by a biblical ethic analogous to that offered for heterosexual relationships.” So there’s my friend who’s now arguing, having moved from where I was with him in 1971 to where he is today.

Drifting with the Times

Here’s another one. I graduated from Wheaton with a young woman who went on to get her Ph.D. in philosophy. I knew her husband better than I knew her. I read suddenly a few years ago, a stunning sentence from her. Here it is:

It would appear that in the Apostle Paul, issues of sexuality are theologically related to hierarchy, and therefore, the issues of biblical feminism and lesbianism are irrefutably intertwined. Could it be that the continued affirmation of the primacy of heterosexual marriage is possibly also the affirmation of the necessity for the sexist to remain in a hierarchically structured relationship? Is the threat to the sanctity of marriage really a threat to hierarchy? Is that what makes same-sex relations so threatening and so frightening?

Do you see where she is now? She has argued that the reason people like me go around pressing heterosexuality is that we really want men to be dominant, and that’s the only way we can preserve the dominance of men, and therefore we will strongly argue against homosexuality and against lesbianism because we want to be dominant as men, and we know that as lesbianism and homosexuality gain the upper hand women will be equal, and so we say, “Beat it down.” And so, in order for women and men to be really equal, you must now attack heterosexuality. So there it’s coming right out of evangelical developments.

The Evangelical Women’s Caucus in 1986 split over this issue. I am so glad that it did. Because the women that I know best, with whom I argue on this, don’t at all affirm homosexuality, even though I think the views they take lead in that direction. And those who stayed in that caucus, like Virginia MollenKot and Nancy Hardesty, said that the affirmation of the lesbian contingent of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus was “a step of maturity within the organization,” which simply means that it is a growth process out of the affirmation of the opening of all roles to women in home and church and society into lesbianism.

That’s a natural growth because lesbianism is a way of saying, “Men do not have the unique right to marry women. Women have the right to marry women. You can’t deny women the right to marry women just because we’re women. That’s discrimination.” It was a maturing process for Nancy Hardesty and Virginia Mollenkot.

The Undermining of God’s Order in America

Well, I could go on, but let me skip over one or two other examples from evangelicals who went this direction and simply say that my judgment this morning is that evangelical feminism, about which we wrote this big blue book that Gary held up, will, I believe, inevitably move the church more and more in the way of those evangelicals who forsook gender-based role distinctions right into marriage, and argue that the only way to maintain equality is to opt for lesbianism and homosexuality.

There’s an undermining going on in America today. I just filled out on the plane on the way down a survey from my denomination, and one of the questions was something like, “Should the church engage its efforts to reduce prejudicial discrimination based on . . .?” And then it listed off of a slew of things among which were race, class, ethnic origin, and gender.

And I got so angry that I wrote in the margin, “There is an infinite difference in God’s mind regarding the distinction between a white man and a black man and a woman and a man. Those aren’t the same categories of distinction.” And my own denomination is confusing people by lumping them together. Manhood and womanhood aren’t the same issue as white and black. They are not. They are profoundly rooted in different personhoods created by God, equally valued, but massively different from the very beginning.

Asking the Right Questions

One of the questions that I constantly ask and do not get much response on from evangelical feminists is this — and I think it’s one of the most basic questions we can ask — what do you say to your 11-year-old son when he asks, “Daddy, what does it mean to grow up and be a man and not a woman?” And when your 11-year-old daughter asks, “Mommy, what does it mean to grow up to be a woman and not a man?” It’s the phrase “and not a man” that they won’t address. James Dobson posed that question in Focus on the Families, and he said, boldly and accurately, “You cannot reduce that question to, ‘What does it mean to be a caring person?’ Because manhood and womanhood are crucial created elements in who we are and they are massively relevant.”

Now, the reason I posed the question of a little boy and a little girl asking mommy and daddy, “What does it mean to grow up and be a man or a woman different from the opposite sex?” is that today psychological studies are showing so clearly that the role of the father, especially in affirming the femininity of his daughter and the masculinity of his son, is undergirded by parents. But if parents are hearing in church, on TV, radio, and in newspapers, “Be sex-blind, be gender-leveling,” every time they talk to their kids, they’re going to be having these confused ideas of, “Well, what am I supposed to say? How can I tell him to be a man that’s different from a woman when I’m supposed to tell him that he’s really not supposed to take his masculinity into account when he relates to her and when he decides what to do with his life? And she’s not just supposed to think that being a woman makes any difference in what she does.” And there’s just mass confusion.

Most of you grew up in homes, perhaps at this level, at this date in the debate, where you didn’t get a clear view. Most of the young couples that I marry, when I ask them in premarital counseling, “Do you have a clear answer now for what it means to be male and not female other than your physical anatomy?” They don’t, and it’s tragic. If Paul Jewett was right, that sexuality conditions all that we are, and Bryan College students can’t answer clearly “what does it mean to be a male and not a female other than the superficial shape of my body and the tone of my voice and whether hair grows on my face?” — utterly superficial things — then you don’t know what it means to be a male.

And if you don’t know what it means to be a male or a female, how are you going to relate as male and female to other males and to females in healthy and wholesome ways and make a marriage that is honoring to God? I hope you can just feel the significance of this issue so that if somebody says, “Oh, whether a woman is a pastor or whether a man heads his home is just a teeny little role issue. That’s no big deal.” It is a massively big deal in America today.

I think we are playing into the hands of the dismantling of creation as God meant it to be. Now, I’m done this morning. Whether what I’ve been saying and the view that you can hear coming through is biblical or true, I have not yet defended. I’ve just told you what I think. I’m going to try tonight, tomorrow morning, and then tomorrow night to defend it biblically. I invite you to be critical, and I will take time to answer your questions as much as I can. And so, if it fills you with questions, and if you wonder how this all works itself out, I hope to see you again.