The Social Panorama of Our Day (with Portuguese Interpretation)

FIEL Conference for Pastors and Leaders | São Paulo, Brazil

The topic that was given to me is the role of man and woman. But Genesis 1 says that we were created in God’s image — male and female. And I said last night, to be created in God’s image means to reflect God’s glory.

Marriage and God’s Glory

So there’s a close connection between being created man and woman and reflecting the glory of God. You can see the connection between last night and this morning in another way. The Bible says that marriage portrays the relationship between Christ and the church.

So, if marriage isn’t working right, the glory of Christ will be obscured. We also know that the church was called out for the glory of Christ. And so if man and woman don’t relate properly in the church, again, the glory of God will be obscured. So my first introductory point is that this issue relates to the glory of God.

Sensitive Terrain

My second introductory point is that this issue is a very explosive issue. People have very strong feelings. It touches on marriage, it touches on your life calling, and vocation. Probably most importantly, it touches who we are as human beings. And I have spoken on this all over the United States, and very often the feelings run very high.

I am not insensitive to the problems, and I am not infallible. I don’t have the last word on this topic. There are many gray areas — areas of uncertainty — and I want my messages on this topic to be good news, not bad news. I want them to be healing and not destructive. I want them to be freeing and not put you in bondage. So that’s my second introductory point.

Special Nuances

Number three, I try to speak with great care. There are special nuances to this issue, which means it’s very difficult to speak through a translator on this topic, but we’re going to do the best we can. If something doesn’t make sense, please ask the question during the question and answer time.

Careful Cultural Analysis

The fourth introductory point, let me try to outline where we’re going. Today is not a biblical exposition — it’s a cultural analysis. Tomorrow, we will turn to the Scriptures and focus on marriage: What’s the meaning of the headship of the man and the submission of the woman? What’s the meaning of mutuality?

The next day, we will talk about roles in the church — what are the appropriate roles for men and women in the eldership and in deacons and so on. And then on the final day, Friday morning, I want to give you a call to courage.

Need for Divine Guidance

My final introductory point, number five, is simply to say we need God’s help. Ebenezer and I need God’s help, and you and I need God’s help. And so we must pray together now.

Father, we need your help. I pray that we would be clear in our thinking. I pray that we would be faithful to the Bible. I pray that the Holy Spirit would protect us from error. I pray that there would be joy in our midst. I pray that you would strengthen your church and make us shine like lights in a dark culture. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Deeper Questions About Nature

I have been thinking about these things for about fifteen years, and I have made some changes in the way I ask questions. I used to simply ask questions about roles: What should women and men do in the church? How should women and men relate in marriage? Should women serve in the military, and so on?

I have come to make some changes in the way I ask my questions. I now ask the deeper question. I ask about who we are as man and woman. What’s the nature of masculinity? What’s the nature of femininity? If we don’t ask these basic questions, we become superficial.

The Feminist Challenge

Another reason it’s important to ask these more basic questions is that it helps us relate the issues of the church to the issues of culture. We must not ignore the wider issues of male and female in our culture. Many feminists try to ignore the question of who we are as man and woman because if it turns out that we are basically different in our personhood, that will have an impact on our roles.

Let me illustrate from a well-known book in America how this works out. Paul Jewett is a writer. He has died now. He wrote a very groundbreaking work on feminism. He was one of my teachers in seminary, but I believe his book was very misguided. The name of the book was Man as Male and Female, and he makes an amazing confession in this book. He says, for example, “Sexuality permeates one’s individual being to its very depth; [sexuality] affects every facet of one’s life as a person” (358).

In spite of that, he says, “All human activity reflects a qualitative distinction which is sexual in nature.” Now, in spite of that, he says this:

In my opinion, such an observation offers no clue to the ultimate meaning of that distinction [between man and woman]. It may be that we shall never know what that distinction ultimately means. (187)

Now, let me try to put this in my own words. On the one hand, he is saying sexuality permeates all of life. On the other hand, he is saying we don’t know what sexuality means. We don’t know the ultimate difference between male and female. Now, that is an amazing admission. One of the effects of ignoring the basic question of who we are is that in our culture, feminists are starting to talk about gender rather than sex.

Gender vs. Sex

Now, this is difficult. So, think hard with us for a moment. Sex, they say, has to do with who we are by nature. Gender has to do with what we have come to be by virtue of social influences. Let me give you a quotation from a very radical feminist in America.

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 [unchangeable].

So feminists are using the word gender instead of sex to obscure the fact that, by nature, we are different. Because if it turns out that by nature we are different, it will be natural that roles be different, and the radical feminists do not want roles to be assigned according to manhood and womanhood.

What’s remarkable is that the same influence is coming into the church. Let me mention the titles of two recent Christian feminist books. In 1990, a very influential book was entitled Gender and Grace. Notice it is not Sex and Grace, it’s Gender and Grace. Another very influential book published last year is called After Eden: Facing the Challenge of Gender Reconciliation.

So even among Christians, there is a desire to obscure natural differences, so the focus is shifting to gender away from sex. We must be aware that changes in vocabulary signal changes in meaning.

Now, I come to you with a very different conviction than has been expressed in these writers. How men and women relate in marriage and how men and women relate in the church and how we relate in society is rooted in who we are by nature. Therefore, we need to ask the basic question: What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? The differences are significant and they matter a lot.

Opposition to Gender-Leveling

One of the ways to describe the way feminists are talking is that they want us to be sex blind. They want us to be gender-leveling.

Now, I believe that we should highlight the differences, not level them out. God created us, male and female for our joy. There is a relationship that is beautiful and when it collapses, things go wrong everywhere. The feminist minimizing of our differences causes confusion in sexual identity. Many relationships begin to malfunction. One of the results is more homosexuality, I believe. More sexual violence, more sexual abuse, more depression and discouragement.

Christian Feminist Perspectives

James Dobson is a well-known family counselor in America. I think he’s very right when he says, “

The feminist resistance to making manhood and womanhood significant in behavior and role determination is partner to some of the most painful social issues of our day.

In other words, great confusion is being caused by leveling out distinctions, and this confusion is hurting people. Nevertheless, even Christian feminists press or continue to emphasize gender-leveling.

Let me give you two illustrations. A well-known Christian feminist is named Gretchen Gaebelein Hull. She wrote,

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. (Equal to Serve, 128)

In other words, she’s pleading with us not to ask whether a person is male or female. When we ask what roles they should fulfill, we should be sex blind. Whether a person is a man or a woman is irrelevant as to whether that person is a pastor or an elder.

Here’s a second illustration. Probably the most influential Christian feminist is Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. She says,

The main thrust of the Bible, the Bible’s main thrust is toward the leveling, not the maintenance, of birth-based status differences. (Gender and Grace, 236)

In other words, the main point of the Bible is to help us not make distinctions between man and woman. Now, I know many of these Christian feminists personally. I am not calling their genuine Christian faith into question, and when I say what I’m about to say, they get upset with me. I believe that without intending it, they are contributing to many of the social and cultural problems of our day. They do not intend to do this, but they are helping to dismantle human life as God meant it to be.

Cultural Illustrations

Now, let me illustrate from American culture what I mean by the dismantling of life as God meant it to be. What happens in a culture when there is this constant emphasis on gender-leveling? Four or five illustrations.

Several years ago in Boston, Massachusetts, there was a newspaper reporter named Lisa Olson. She was a sports reporter. She was prohibited from entering the locker room of the Boston Patriots, a football team, and she sued them because of discrimination against her as a woman reporter. And on the basis of anti-discrimination laws, she was allowed to enter. And of course, there was this explosion of anger.

Here’s a second illustration. In 1989, I got a letter from a man in California. He was a chaplain in a prison. In the prisons at that time, only men could serve as guards in the male prison. The feminists brought suit against the state of California that this was discrimination against women. And they won the suit, and women are now serving as guards in the male prison. This chaplain is a believer and he was very confused about what he should do, because now you have women doing the intimate searches of men. They walk by the open showers and open toilets. And many of these men are sex offenders, and so it has a tremendously harmful effect on these men. All of that in the name of gender-leveling.

A third illustration. In my hometown of Minneapolis, there was a law passed called a Domestic Partner’s Bill. This law gave rights to homosexual pairs that formerly only belonged to married people. So if you are a man living with another man in a homosexual relationship, your partner can get health insurance because of your job. All of that, because it would be discrimination against this man if you said he had to be a woman to marry this man. One of the most amazing statistics I have read in many years is that in America there are ten thousand children living with lesbian parents. Most of them were conceived by artificial insemination. So women are insisting that two women have the right to form a marriage and they are insisting they have a right to have children.

A fourth illustration. This one is almost silly. There was a suit brought against a department store because parents thought psychological damage had come to their little daughter because when she walked into the toy department, they were divided toys for girls and toys for boys. So because of gender-leveling, you cannot have toys for girls and toys for boys. It’s discrimination.

Now, I could go on and on with many more stories that would make you shake your head. Perhaps one more. In America today, there are five hundred departments in universities called Women’s Studies. They are devoted, by and large, to making us sex blind and gender-leveling. Among the most radical spokesmen, they are saying that the only way to escape hierarchy is to escape heterosexuality. Many radical feminists are saying, lesbianism is the only path of liberation. Heterosexuality by definition is oppressive. Well, that’s enough illustrations to show you where American culture is moving.

Church Reactions

Actually, it might be fair to say that already there is a reaction setting in, not just from the church, but from women themselves realizing the destructive effects of being sex blind. But let me give some illustrations of what is happening in the church. I wish things were different than they are.

The first illustration. I had a friend in seminary. He was a Bible-believing man in those days, but I began to read things that he was writing several years later. The first step that he took was to argue that the Bible defends the ordination of women as pastors. And I thought, “That’s not so unusual. Tens of thousands of Christians defend that in America.” But then I read a later article, and this is what he said on a much more controversial matter:

The presence of gay and lesbian Christians and ministers in our churches is a similar issue for me. I believe that the gospel should lead us at least to an affirmation of gay and lesbian partnerships if these partnerships are ruled by a biblical ethics similar to the one offered for heterosexual relations.

In other words, I have seen the progression from arguing for the ordination of women as pastors to the affirmation of homosexual partnerships. Now, there are many Christian feminists who do not like me to make that connection. We had a meeting several weeks ago with Christian feminists. We asked them, “What do we say that you don’t want us to say about you?” The main thing they said was stop implying that we affirm homosexuality.

So I want to make plain: not all Christian feminists endorse homosexuality. They are just as opposed to it as I am. But my point is, there is a logic that seems to push people in that direction. For example, it says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither male nor female.” That’s one of the main arguments for the ordination of women as pastors. But my friend took that very text and pushed it to its logical conclusion. If there is no male or female in Christ, then men can marry men and women can marry women. There is a certain kind of consistency to it. And we laugh as though it could not be — but it is.

Another example from within the church. I went to college 25 years ago with a young woman. In those days, she and her husband were, I thought, Bible-believing Christians. And yet today she is one of those who is saying lesbianism is the path to liberation. A third illustration — there’s a group called the Evangelical Women’s Organization. In 1986, the group split in half. The issue that caused the split was lesbianism. Many evangelical women said it is wrong. But there was another group, and they said lesbianism or the affirmation of lesbian relationships is a step of maturity within the organization. When they use the word maturity, it shows they see it as a natural development.

Critique of Gender-Leveling

Now, let me step back from all of this and make a few comments. I believe that the feminist emphasis on being sex blind — this emphasis on gender-leveling — is undermining the very foundations of life as God created it to be. It’s undermining the meaning of what it means to be a man. It’s undermining the meaning of femininity.

One of the questions that I never hear feminists ask is this: How do you answer a little girl, say a 9-year-old girl, how do you answer her when she says, “Mommy, what does it mean to grow up and be a woman and not a man?” Or when a little boy, I have an 11-year-old son, what do I answer him when he says, “Daddy, what does it mean to grow up and be a man and not a woman?” It won’t do — it won’t satisfy me to answer that with general answers.

So if the mother says to her daughter, “To grow up and be a woman means to be intelligent. It means to think for yourself. It means to be kind and loving and tender. It means to discover your gift.” That answer is true, but it doesn’t answer the question that the little girl had. That question works for a boy as well as a girl.

The question she was asking was, “What makes me different, Mommy? What does it mean to be a woman? Isn’t there something special about being a woman?” And if the mother simply says, “Well, you are shaped differently or you have different physiology,” I think most little girls would say, “Is that all?” And that is not all. God created man male and female because those differences are deep and precious.

Impact in the Home

Some relevance — this undermining of what it means to be a man and a woman comes right into the home. In the home, we need to find ways to encourage our boys to become men and our girls to become women. And what we are discovering is that the role of the father in this is tremendously important.

If a father is sex blind and gender-leveling, he won’t have any idea how to help his boy become a man. He won’t know how to help his daughter become a woman. He will be confused because he’s already leveled out the differences. But we are learning today that fathers can help their sons not become homosexual by lovingly affirming their masculinity. If he doesn’t believe there is such a thing as unique masculinity, how can he affirm it? And we have found that the affirmation of a daughter’s femininity is essential for her maturity.

There’s a close connection between the lectures that Mr. Tripp is giving and the ones that I’m giving. So many people today believe that competency is the only issue at stake in assigning roles. So you don’t ask, “Is this person a woman or a man?” You ask, “Are they competent?” The issue is, “Can she preach?” It doesn’t matter that she’s a woman, the issue is competency. That’s a result of this stress on being sex blind and gender-leveling.

But there are matters or issues that are far more profound than competency. A homosexual would say of his male partner, he is very competent to satisfy me. The only way you will be able to oppose homosexuality is if you go beneath competency issues.

Biblical Complementarity

You have to go back to creation and you have to ask: Why did God create us male and female? And he did so, so that we could complement each other. I call my position biblical complementarity. I don’t like being called a traditionalist. There are many traditional relationships between men and women that have been wrong. Historically, women have been wronged in many ways. Many people have twisted the biblical teaching to belittle women and keep them in their place. All around the world, women serve in many disadvantaged positions. I don’t want to be called a traditionalist. I also don’t like being called a hierarchicalist. It doesn’t work in English either.

In other words, I don’t want to put all of my emphasis on hierarchy. I hope in the days to come, you will hear the proper place of mutuality. There’s a beautiful complementarity in a marriage and in the church and in society between male and female when it’s working right. Women have strengths that men don’t have. Men have strengths that women don’t have. God did not make a mistake when he created us male and female. If we blind ourselves to these differences, we hurt ourselves.

So I go back to where I began. I said at the beginning that I don’t want to just ask superficial questions. I am not just asking should women be pastors. I’m not just asking should men be the heads of their houses. I’m asking about who we are. Who am I as a man? Who is my wife as a woman? What difference does these differences make?

Let me outline where we’re going in the last minute or so here. Tomorrow we turn to the Bible, and God will say what he wants to say. And the first focus will be on Ephesians 5 and marriage. The day after that, we will focus on 1 Timothy 2:11–12, and the roles in the church. And on Friday morning, I hope to challenge you to be courageous, because if you take a strong stand on this in your culture or my culture, you will be persecuted.