Unless you have been living under a rock for the past twenty years or so, you will know that some elements of Western culture have been chipping away at the classic, historical Scriptural distinction between male and female. Some well-meaning, well-intentioned folks, even in the church, have been encouraging this movement along, in some unfortunately unhelpful ways.
Granted, for the past hundred years, many evangelical egalitarians have sought to restore a sense of balance, by advocating for more women in church leadership, at the local church level, by citing Paul’s “magna carta” passage Galatians 3:28. In general, most Christians support this understanding, at some level:
- “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”
The original context for Paul’s writing in Galatians is to address who can and can not be baptized, in the church. For Paul, gender is no prohibition to baptism, as opposed to something like circumcision, which was just for Jewish males. But many Christians today have appealed to Galatians 3:28, as having a broader application, advancing causes, such has encouraging women to serve as elders in the local church. Such proponents of this interpretation contend that Paul is eliminating the distinction between male and female, when it come to exercising spiritual authority, in the local church.
This is a disputable matter, in much of evangelicalism today (though for some, on either side of the debate, the issue is “indisputable,” favoring their particular reading of the Bible). Many are quite correct to say that there need not be a slippery slope here, away from more difficult matters concerning gender. I would agree.
Yet it is amazing to see how many corners of the church manage to find creative ways of sliding here, anyway. At one level, it is understandable. There is still sexism in the church. Correcting past wrongs is something all Christians need to pursue, and Galatians 3:28 has an appropriate application here. Affirming the gifts of both women and men, for ministry, is essential. But it is also very easy to go too far with Galatians 3:28, and get caught up in extremism.
For example, quite a few in the church now appeal to Galatians 3:28 as sanctioning same-sex marriage, and a growing number are now affirming transgenderism, in such a way, as to go beyond the traditional understanding of gender dysphoria, as a psychological condition. Such a broad range of advocates all agree, in putting forward the thesis, that gender is no big deal to God, though the applications differ. Along with the surrounding culture, such advocates now treat gender as merely being a social construct, even to the point of denying the traditional basics of human biology, which is an attack on modern science.
Just recently, I heard the newest argument, being advanced in at least one mainline Protestant, or what some would call “progressive Christian” circle, that Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3:28 is actually CONTRADICTING the teaching in Genesis, regarding humans being created in the image of God: male and female, God created humanity. Underlying this belief is the assumption that because male and female are inherently equal, male and female are therefore inherently interchangeable.
Here is the crucial passage, that Paul is supposedly contradicting:
- “So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 ESV)
Has gender really become irrelevant today?
Regardless of how this question is answered, what it clearly has become, is a free speech matter, in the surrounding culture. Consider the “cancel culture” attempt to silence Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling. Rowling voiced her concerns that some elements of the transgender movement are harming women, and she paid dearly for making such statements. Yet Rowling is not alone.
Journalists and academics are now finding that their careers are under threat, if they do not bow to the “new orthodoxy” advanced by “critical theory.” Note that it is not specifically conservative evangelicals, who find themselves under threat. These are also liberal, secular minded people, including atheists and agnostics, who nevertheless share the historical Christian claim, and scientific observation, that there is a distinction between male and female. Christians therefore, should be careful not to lump all “liberals” into the same basket. Some of these leftward leaning, secular thinkers recently signed an open letter in Harper’s Magazine, urging that all respect the freedom of speech, including statements that claim that gender actually matters, and that gender is not merely a social construct.
Let me be clear: We should not overreact, as some have unfortunately done (The recent debacle that has almost destroyed one of my favorite podcasts, the Mortification of Spin, is a good example of extremism, on the conservative evangelical side).
Instead, we should encourage women to use their gifts for leadership and ministry in the church. We should affirm justice in society (including those areas pertaining to race). We should encourage those who experience same-sex attraction to have a solid network of supportive friendships, as they seek to honor God regarding their sexuality. We should also have compassion on and extend grace towards those who are experiencing gender dysphoria.
But let us also be united in affirming the teaching of Scripture: We were created in the image of God, male and female. This means that while male and female are indeed equal, they are not interchangeable. This is a mystery that reflects the very character of God. It is vital for the church to uphold a means of honoring that distinction, within the structure of corporate worship, and the Christian life.
Affirming the unity of our baptism into Christ’s church does not go against the rest of Scripture. So, let us stop misusing Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 in a misguided effort at supposedly “contradicting” Genesis.
Canadian psychologist and Harvard professor Steven Pinker is now among the latest to have experienced threats from the “cancel culture” mob. While I do not share professor Pinker’s atheism, nor his missteps regarding history, as a Christian I fully support his efforts to protect free speech. As Christians, we should honor those values that encourage open debate and wide ranging discussion, without fear of retribution: