gender

Gender and Christian Love

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What comes to your mind when you hear the word gender? I’m not a prophet, but I’m confident that an absurdly large number of topics come to mind, ranging from traditional 1950s-era “gender roles” (with the housewife in the kitchen and the male breadwinner) to gender dysphoria and contemporary gender fluidity. Similarly, what feelings come to your heart when you hear the word gender? While I’m still no prophet, I have a good hunch that I’m two for two now. I imagine an equally bewildering range of emotions come about. But no matter what you think about gender, fear and anxiety likely top the list. Everyone in today’s world is on an inward quest for personal psychological happiness and this often centers on our gender—causing deep levels of internal turmoil.[1]

If you are a Christian (or not!), these widely diverging views on gender likely cause concern. They cause anxiety. They cause fear. There is a sense in which traditional cultural norms have been destroyed in the wake of the sexual revolution and those who desire to rebut the shifting cultural ground seek shelter. Typical Christian parents do not want their children in bathrooms or locker rooms with people of the opposite biological sex, no matter how they identify themselves. Nor do they want their children indoctrinated by Drag Queen hour at school. So, a reactionary fear rears its head.

But Christians ought not fear. As the Apostle John commands us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18a). John’s claim here is universal in scope. There is no place for perpetual fear in the Christian life. The Apostle Paul similarly teaches us, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5b).

This leads me to what should come to our mind when we think about gender and what feelings should come to our hearts when we think about gender. I think both our thoughts and our affections should center in the same virtue: Love. Thus, gender is most fundamentally about love. This is what should permeate our thoughts on gender. When we think about gender we shouldn’t be worried, concerned, anxious, nervous, perplexed, or aggressive. When we think about gender we should be careful, patient, hopeful, joyful, gentle, kind, and self-controlled.

But it is not just our own intellectual and volitional responses to gender that are about love but gender itself.

God created us as male and female with unique capacities to love.

This may sound strange, but Fellipe do Vale has recently argued that “gender is the appropriation of social goods according to the sexed body, where the means of appropriation is primarily through what one loves.”[2] That’s a big way of saying that gender itself is about our love through our created bodies. We are what we love.[3]

So, gender is about our loves as embodied beings. Males and females love in embodied ways. That’s a good thing because God created us that way. God created us as male and female with unique capacities to love. For example, God created men to have the capacity to be biological fathers and to love their children as men. As a father, I seek to love my children in virtue of my sexed body. Everything in my life connects back to my love for my children as a father. My biological sex both constrains and expands my opportunities for love of my children. My role as father is intrinsically gendered.[4] Of course, there are numerous other ways in which one loves as a male or female, but the point is that our gender is primarily about our love through our sexed bodies. The way in which I interact socially as a male or female—those goods I end up loving, whether my children or a secondary good like my clothes—are what my gender is about.

Now, God’s creative design doesn’t mean we need to constantly pigeonhole males and females into certain categories. There is no need to say that only men can watch football or only women can bake muffins because of biological sex. But it does mean that God has divinely gifted us with ways of loving that differ. And we ought to thank God for his gift of gender. While gender may be confusing for us at times, that’s part of God’s call to himself. It is the voice of Lady Wisdom in the streets beckoning us to live wisely in a broken world. It isn’t an instruction manual for every detail of our lives. But that’s good because it forces us to rely on the Holy Spirit.

Knowing that gender is most fundamentally about love should call us to two things in the name of love. First, we should be filled with love in how we express our own genders to the glory of God. He has created us all with special talents and capacities to love him and others and we should use our genders to do the same. We shouldn’t see gender as an obstacle to loving God and others but a means to loving him and others. Second, we should be full of love for those who struggle with things like gender dysphoria. They are not fundamentally problems to be solved but people to be loved. Rather than treating them like second class citizens with leprosy we ought to pursue them in love and seek their flourishing. We should avoid fitting everyone into a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, we ought to practice intentional and traditional Christian discipleship. We ought to call them to a life of repentance and trust in our Savior. We ought to invite them into our homes and practice hospitality. We ought to provide pastoral care and oversight. We ought to worship alongside them. We ought to befriend them and journey alongside them. For we are all beggars pointing each other to the bread of life.

[1] Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 45.
[2] Fellipe do Vale, “Gender as Love: A Theological Account” (PhD Dissertation, Southern Methodist University, 2021), v.
[3] James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016).
[4] do Vale, “Gender as Love: A Theological Account,” 257.

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Jordan Steffaniak

Jordan L. Steffaniak (ThM, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is married with two sons. He is co-founder of the London Lyceum, a weekly podcast and online center for analytic, baptist, and confessional theology. He has published in academic journals such as Journal of Reformed Theology, TheoLogica, The Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies, and Jonathan Edwards Studies. He works full-time in the finance industry, constantly pursuing his curiosity for all things.

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