What’s the Difference?


I’ve been thinking about gender differences lately, and how it seems that the complementarian view of scripture is obsessed with making sure we Christians understand that men and women are different.  It seems as if we might be in danger of completely misunderstanding the gospel if we don’t understand and agree with this secondary teaching(the so-called biblical differences between men and women).  I’d like to share some excerpts from a book I’m reading that touch on this subject.  The book is called Ruby Slippers, by Jonalyn Grace Fincher

In talking about the book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, by John Gray, Fincher goes on to say, “The Mars-versus-Venus mythology is accepted as the norm.  We can hear it at coffee houses, at playgrounds, and in marriage fellowship groups.  I regularly find assumptions about total, radical gender difference lurking in the glossy bulletin pages of American church life….To back up these assumptions about gender, churches often quote Ephesians 5:22-25.  The teaching goes like this: God commands men and women to do the things that are most difficult for us.  Besides a sort of sadistic version of God’s love, this communicates that women are naturally loving, which is why women aren’t commanded to love, but to respect.  Men, however, aren’t as naturally loving, which is why God must command them to love their wives.  Endless convoluted ideas about manhood and womanhood grow from this strange interpretation of love and respect.  Are women better at men at loving?  And if women are loving their husbands already, ergo the absence of ‘love your husbands,’ why does Paul underscore their need to respect their husbands?  Can we really love someone without respecting them?  Are men so emotionally stagnant that they need to be commanded to love?  Is this passage even talking about gender theory at all?”(page 76-77)

It’s my opinion that Ephesians 5:22-25 has been misinterpreted to be about gender roles, but it is really a passage about love.  Paul is helping the married people in Ephesus learn how to love one another as Christ loves the church.  There are no rules and no roles.  We’re not living under a new set of laws since Christ came…he came to free us, not bind us into laws about play-acting roles.

Fincher goes on, “Devotional books for women often present exaggerated gender differences and shopworn anecdotes as proof of God’s ideas of femininity and masculinity.  They do it without citation, without collaboration, and without justification.  And I am rather weary of it.  The church is perhaps more eager to find sex differences than to honor the human similarities.”(page 77)

In chapter three of her book, Fincher sites work on gender done by Dr. Janet Shibley Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, who has put together a summary of thousands of psychological gender studies.  Basically, to summarize it quickly and bluntly, the studies show that though men and women differ in a few ways, they are more similar than they are different.  Dr. Hyde doesn’t claim men and women are identical, but that we don’t differ that much at all, even in assumed, stereotypical ways.  (page 72)

I am not advocating a genderless society, nor do I deny there are differences between men and women.  However, I think a case can be made that number one; the Bible doesn’t teach us what the differences are between men and women(besides the obvious fact that women can give birth and men cannot), number two; the Bible DOES NOT tell us to  pursue masculinity or femininity, nor does it define what they even are, and number three; being obsessed with highlighting the differences between men and women divides the church.  The very teaching that men and women are different in specific ways and that they have different roles is a divisive teaching.  It plays on stereotypes and quenches the Holy Spirit’s work in individual’s lives and in the church’s life.

Fincher says, “Gender stereotypes hurt both sexes, relegating women into the private, softer sphere, barring the Marys from learning at Jesus’ feet, in the name of protecting them from the ‘real world’ of theology, commerce, and politics.   Stereotyping the sexes forces men into emotional constipation and excuses them from relational community.  Community, the very thing god knew Man needed in making Woman.”(page 78)

Gender stereotypes have been divisive since the beginning.  Knowing that women are just “different” kept them oppressed for thousands of years.  Emphasizing the difference between men and women, rather than celebrating the similarities has kept women and men divided, throughout secular and church history.


About creativehomeschooler

I'm a homeschooling mom of two creative children. I created this blog to highlight the things I'm thankful for during my days. It can be a challenge to homeschool, but I try to look at the grace my children and I experience. And these kids come up with some neat projects, so I hope to encourage and inspire others who may be reading.

4 responses »

  1. Hey Stephanie,

    Something got messed up when I tried to post this before…

    I agree that gender stereotypes are unhelpful. But you say that teaching that men and women are different is divisive. I think scripture would teach that the differences between men and women are meant to unite men and women. A man is not complete without a woman, a woman is not complete without a man. Neither sex can fully reflect the glory of God on it’s own. We desperately need each other. That’s why marriage is so glorious. A man and woman come together as one flesh and complete each other to glorify Christ.

    It also seems that there are some very specific ways that men are called to pursue masculinity. A man is called to provide for his family. A Christian man is called to treat Christian women as sisters and mothers, as opposed to objects of lust. That is Christian masculinity. Paul called Timothy to treat the people in his church in a particular fashion, a godly, masculine fashion.

    A husband is called to love his wife by laying his life down for her. (Eph 5). That is Christian masculinity.

    Does that make sense? Thanks for dialoging with me on this. See you at CG tonight!


  2. Stephen,
    Yeah, I’m having some problems with this blog today. Computer stuff I don’t understand, I guess.

    Anyway, what I mean is that teaching gender roles is divisive, not only that men and women are different. Obviously, men and women are different. However, I think it is destructive to relationships and to people in their personal lives to make lists of what women or men can do, or how they should act, when it’s only based on gender. This is discrimination and it divides men and women against each other.
    I don’t see in the Bible where it says that a man is supposed to provide for his family. I know there is a place in Timothy that talks about a person providing for their family, but I don’t think it specifically means a man who goes out to his job every day while the wife stays home.
    And yes, a Christian man is supposed to treat Christian women as sisters and mothers. I guess I don’t see that as a “role”, I see it as purity in relationships, and it applies to women as well. And yes, a husband is called to love his wife by laying down his life for her. I believe that wives are called to do basically the same thing. How else do you explain what submission is? Submitting to my husband isn’t obeying him, it’s aligning myself with him, cooperating with him in love. Looking to his interests before my own. Do you thing that a wife shouldn’t lay down her life for her husband? If the circumstances were right, shouldn’t I give up my life for my husband if he needed me to?
    I really don’t have a problem with the fact that women and men are different. But we are more similar than we realize, and we don’t acknowledge it. What I have a problem with is using the idea that men and women are different to teach “roles”. Roles are fake, they push people into a little box that says, you can do this or that because you’re a woman, but you shouldn’t do these things or act this way. The definitions that people have come up with for masculinity and femininity aren’t from the Bible, and they are stereotypes. They make people think that because they know someone’s gender, then they know a lot about them already, without actually getting to know them at all. They cause people to judge others when they see a woman or man doing something that doesn’t fit into what is an appropriate “role” for their gender.
    This is getting long, so I’ll stop there. Thanks for the comment, see you tonight:)

  3. Stephen, if a man is not complete without a woman, then was Jesus complete? Did Jesus, being male, fully reflect the glory of God? I’m sure you would say He did!

    What about Paul? Was he complete, when he said he was happy being single? What about those Jesus said would be”eunuchs” for the sake of the kingdom?

    If a woman is not complete without a man, then what was Paul saying to women in 1 Cor 7 when he said an unmarried woman was able to devote herself completely to God?

    Here’s what I think the Bible teaches about male and female. Genesis 1 says God made the animals, and He made them male and female. Then it says God made humankind in His image, and He made them male and female. What is it that humankind shares with God? His image. What is it that humankind shares with the animals? Being made male and female.

    God also said that the animals and the humans, and the whole creation, together were “very good.” It is good to be made male and female. But I don’t see the Bible teaching that every man is incomplete without a woman, and every woman is incomplete without a man– not in the new creation Kingdom of Heaven. Yes, male and female humans both reflect the image of God in different ways. Each individual also reflects the image of God in his or her own way. The important thing is that it is in our humanity we reflect the image of God. Even if we never get married.

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