Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Act Like Men?

Two years ago, during my internship at Focus on the Family, the male interns (who were outnumbered 2:1) decided they needed a little break from all the estrogen and decided to have a “Guy’s Night.”

The following Facebook announcement was posted: “Hey fellas, this is what’s up: We’ll meet at 8 and start the movie at 8:45. It’ll give us plenty of time to dress up in camo, sharpen our knives, and grill all this steak we bought. Don't forget to bring your man food of choice, a can of beans, a shotgun, and a toolbox. *Note: Any man who brings salad or fruit (especially fruit salad) will be ‘taken out back’ & ‘put down’ Old Yeller-style.”

The girls responded to this event by making brownies and watching “The Bachelor.” (Except not me, because my love of chocolate could not overcome my hatred of romantic “reality” TV.)

The extreme stereotypes of the Facebook comment (completely meant as a joke) are ridiculous. But the guys still watched a war movie with an absurd body count and the girls sighed over what’s-his-name with a rose.

Gender stereotypes exist, and, to a point, that’s not a bad thing. Men and women, in general, are different. Cool. I am totally fine with that, even when the things that my gender typically enjoys—shopping, talking about boys, holding adorable babies, watching chick flicks—are not on my personal list of favorite activities.

But I’m okay with those stereotypes because I know that breaking most of them does not have anything to do with who I am and what I’m worth.

There was a lot of uproar about Mark Driscoll’s “Act Like Men” conference. Some claimed that there were lots of jabs at gender stereotypes and a swaggering machismo attitude about the event, or that the entire idea and name of the event was exclusive and offensive to women. Others said that the event was not about "manly men" asserting their control at all, but that it focused on embracing God’s call, rejecting sin, leading with grace.

I, clearly, wasn’t there, so I can’t really take a side. But it does bring up something very important: the issue of gender and what it means to be a man or a woman affects us very deeply. It riles people up, gets them talking, makes them defensive.

But maybe it shouldn’t. The issue of gender roles—what the Bible says about how men and women should live—is good to talk about (and also extremely controversial). But whether you fit a certain definition of masculinity or femininity is just not all that important in Christian theology.

Over and over and over in the New Testament, we are practically slapped upside the face with the fact that our identity is in Christ. The phrase “in Christ” (or “in Him”) is used over 125 times. If you read them all, they say wonderful and deep things about what that means, but beyond the implications and application is the mere fact that we are defined by our association with Christ. And nothing else.

One of my roles is a woman, and, depending on your perspective, that may mean different things. But my identity is not in my womanhood, just like it’s not in any of my other roles: sister, publicist, daughter, friend, blogger, fan of Calvin and Hobbes, player of Settlers of Catan.

Those things describe what I do, and what I do does relate to who I am (or at least how you perceive me). But there’s only one thing that ultimately defines me, even when I forget that it does: my relationship with Jesus.

When God looks at you, he doesn’t see the labels of “engineer,” “American,” “student,” “athlete,” “dad,” “Caucasian,” or even the most basic of our labels: “man” or “woman.” He sees “redeemed by Christ.” If we put our identity in any of those other labels, our worth is determined by how well we perform those roles.

If I believe God judges me as a writer, I must accomplish great things through my writing, never make mistakes, and always represent him perfectly. If I believe God judges me as a friend, what other people think of me suddenly becomes all-important.

And if I believe God judges me as a woman, then I’ll spend all my time checking off points on a stereotype scorecard: bakes awesome food (+5), doesn’t wear much make-up (-10), owns heels (+2 per pair), still single at the ancient age of 22 (-100), fairly emotional (+20), would rather have a theological conversation than talk about celebrity crushes (-20).

(Same thing for men, but insert references to weight-lifting, sports, and bacon. And being swift as a coursing river, forceful as a great typhoon, strong as a raging fire, and mysterious as the dark side of the moon.)

Although as far as arbitrary stereotypes could do worse than this one.
But God doesn’t judge me by any of those standards. God judges me as someone redeemed by Jesus. That’s it. And when I realize that, I don’t really care what either side of the gender roles debate implies that I should or shouldn’t do or think or say or be.

Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” is not saying that there are no differences between genders. It’s saying something far more radical: that any difference in role or position, whether that is gender or racial or economical, does not matter to God because he sees us only in Christ.

Now, when it comes to practice, things may be more complicated. Maybe our definition of what a gender role is has become too narrow. Maybe we should stop portraying only one kind of man or woman in our movies, blogs, and sermon illustrations. Maybe we make jokes too often about amusing stereotypes, allowing them to become images that people are trying (and often failing) to live up to.  Those are all good things to talk about and debate.

But I find it comforting to know that God doesn’t need us to live up to someone’s definition of what it means to be a man or a woman. The command “Act like Jesus” is harder than “Act like men” or “Act like women.” But I’d argue that it takes a whole lot of pressure off too…and that it’s what God actually wants from our lives.


  1. Oh my gosh, this is the best thing I've read all day. I went to an all girls high school, and let me tell you, never bring up gender roles unless you happen to like arguing and dirty looks.