What is feminine? What is masculine? Something that has recently become clear to me is that biblical gender distinctions are not nearly as clear cut as some evangelicals claim or like to promote. In reaction to the excesses of secular culture, some evangelicals have hyper-reacted and gone overboard to make distinctions between the sexes. While their intentions may be good, their exaggeration or overemphasis has not been helpful, and has rather been polarizing. I think they have contributed to some of the problems they were trying to solve, and alienated people.
I do believe there are God ordained differences between the sexes. Males and females reflect the image of God differently. Men are men, and women are women. Yet, every male and female is not going to reflect their Creator in the exact same way! There is a spectrum, and different men and women will fall in different places along the spectrum.
Consider Jeremiah, a male prophet that was emotional and cried a lot – things we would consider more feminine traits. Or consider Deborah (the prophet, warrior, judge, and leader) who had traits we’d consider more masculine.
As I read through 1 Thessalonians for a class this summer, it jumped out at me how the apostle Paul described himself using both male and female traits. In 2:7 he says he was gentle among them like a nursing mother cherishes her child. And then in 2:11 he says he was also like a father among them. [Does Paul have gender role confusion? I don’t think so!]
Consider the fruit of Spirit in Galatians 5. These are traits that ALL believers should be growing in. Yet, have you ever noticed that many of these characteristics are things our culture considers feminine?
Gentleness for example! That is definitely thought of as a female trait. I even know of a women’s ministry that emphasizes gentleness as its focus, and as a critical characteristic for Christian women. Now, it is an important trait for women – but for men too! The men’s ministry should also be emphasizing gentleness. Right? It is a trait for ALL believers. I liked how Vicki Brobeck stated it:
On the basis of these verses [Galatians 5:22-23], we would argue not only that males and females should be more alike, but that males need to develop the qualities which have traditionally been defined as feminine.
She further articulates that the Bible has more to say about Christian temperament in general than it does about distinctions between female and male temperament, and says “Authentic person-hood, centered in biblical perspective – whether male or female, married or single – is a mandate to be like our Savior.” – I agree.
So what is my point? Stop polarizing the sexes. Books like “Wild at Heart” and “Captivating” by John and Stasi Eldredge are not helpful. The church with a “gentle women’s ministry” and “warrior men’s ministry” is not helpful either. I’m also not advocating the opposite – that we need warrior women’s ministry and gentle men’s ministry. Instead…
Let’s encourage both men and women to look to Jesus and consider ALL the fruit of the Spirit. Every believer, regardless of their sex, needs to consider how they need to be more like Jesus and which fruit of the spirit needs development in their life. We could actually hamper or stunt spiritual growth by focusing on certain attributes above others.
Update: A related post from Marg Mowczko:
A Gentle and Quiet Spirit is not just a Feminine Virtue