Throughout our lives, we are influenced by and learn from both men and women. Our mom and dad, aunts and uncles, male and female school teachers, and other male and female societal role models.
Males and females also learn together in most environments – school, university, employment. If there is an in-service (educational workshop) at your place of employment, is one class for women and another for men? No, that would not be the norm. Is there an employee manual for how to be a male employee and another manual for how to be a female employee? No. If you are in college to become an accountant, are there classes for females on how to be a female accountant and classes for men on how to be a male accountant? This sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it?
What am I getting at? Something very odd can happen in the Christian sub-culture and church setting.
Everything can be either for women or for men – in one way or another. There are women’s Bible studies and men’s Bible studies. In addition, men often study men in the Bible, and women often study women in the Bible. There are books or studies about being a “biblical woman” or “biblical man.” Countless Christian books about marriage also emphasize the differences between men and women.
Apparently Christianity looks very different depending on if you are a man or woman?? Uh, no. Whether male or female, we are to be growing in the likeness of Jesus and developing the same fruit of the Spirit in our lives. There are not two lists of fruit of the Spirit – one for men and one for women! We follow the same Jesus.
Can’t men learn from women in the Bible and women learn from men in the Bible?? If not, women are in trouble because Jesus was a man! Can’t men learn from studying the book of Esther, Ruth, or Proverbs 31? Proverbs is about wisdom, and Proverbs 31 can be seen as a summary of a life of wisdom with principles that can apply to either sex. Can’t women learn from studying the life of King David or the apostle Paul?
Why do Christian marriage books or conferences often focus on the differences between men and women? Polarizing – even insulting – stereotypical jokes and assumptions can be made about men and women. That is not to say that men and women are identical, but one can get the idea that we are two different species! Uh, men and women are both human beings made in the image of God. We have much in common. An over-emphasis on difference can be alienating to those men and women who don’t fit the so-called stereotype, and make certain problems worse.
I often work with international students, and you do not create understanding by focusing primarily on difference. Of course, you should not ignore cultural or religious differences either. It is important to be aware of them. But realizing how much you actually have in common, despite those differences, can break down barriers and create genuine understanding among people.
The apostle Paul taught about different people coming together in Christ. In New Testament times that was Jews and gentiles, men and women, slave and free. All were united, and barriers or walls were removed by their shared belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost, the same Spirit fell on men and women alike, empowering them with the same gifts.
Yet today, some Christians seem to want a barrier between men and women. A strict demarcation can also be made about the gifts that men and women are permitted to utilize in the church, or not.
I’ve blogged on these issues before, and you may want to explore my “Gender Equality/Roles of Women and Men” category to the right. I am not insinuating that there should never be men’s and women’s Bible studies. Certainly it can be helpful for men to gather with men, and women to gather with women.
Rather, my concern is that I often observe a gender divide that takes place more than is necessary, and is even pervasive. The Body of Christ can end up feeling like two bodies! It is like women and men are in parallel universes.
This can damage and hinder the Body of Christ. The New Testament teaches that no part of the Body is unimportant. We all need each other. When women only learn from women and men only learn from men – our vision can become truncated and we can walk with a limp. And we may NOT even realize it! Remember that men and women together reflect the image of God. Not just men, and not just women. We both reflect and reveal God in unique ways.
When men and women are always sequestered off into separate spheres, we limit the influence of God’s image. Men and woman can have the same giftings. The church needs these gifts, and the unique way that men and woman will manifest them.
We can also, inadvertently, lose focus. Are we focused on being like Jesus, or are we focused on being a so-called biblical woman or man?
Jesus taught people how to follow him, regardless of whether they were women or men. Jesus did not teach a special way to be a “biblical woman” and “biblical man.” We are to be biblical people – Christians – followers of Him.
Each of us are unique individuals. Not all women are exactly alike. Not all men are exactly alike. If we are focused on Jesus, we will all be headed in the right direction!
This recent post may interest you: Boxed in by so-called gender roles? Be set free! Podcast.
A related, new post from Tim Fall: The Arrogance of Masculinity and Femininity
Also interesting to see this article in The Atlantic. It speaks of the “gender apartheid” in Christianity…there is “this wall, a very visible wall, erected in the church between men and women.” A Conservative Christian Battle Over Gender