So says Galatians 3:28, a verse that is often the battleground within evangelicalism about gender roles. However while evangelicals debate what scripture permits or forbids women to do within the church, outside the sacred walls a whole different debate is heating up.
To get a feel for the terrain I suggest reading this article from the BBC that describes the legal disputes on behalf of those who see themselves as transgendered. In this case it is two men who live as women but who have not had any corrective surgery. Biologically and by any measure of human society they would be considered male. However their argument is that biology, ones anatomical sex, not only does not define ‘gender’ but is irrelevant to gender.
“It is the contents of a person’s mind and soul, they say, which determine sex – not what is inside their pants.”
Well, that would solve the church debate if that view held sway. The debate about how much of our ideas about gender are social constructs is reasonable and, also for Christians, theological. What does the Bible say about men and women, how are they the same and how are they different? What application should we make, if any, from our conclusions? These questions surround the exegetical battles. But as Matt Hosier says there has been a significant change in our language,
“The replacement of a strong, clear, word with a more slippery one can also be seen in the use of “gender” in preference to “sex.” Sex is definitive: I am a man; she is a woman. Gender is much more flexible.”
But back to the transgendered, no matter what one thinks of the people involved, it is clear that governments are already legislating in their favour. Australia in this case is leading the way and others will surely follow suit. It seems that armed only with a vague notion of ‘rights’, western governments are, within the space of about 50 years, completely redrawing the legal basis of society. It is unlikely that anything Christians do will change this other than to lose bruising battle after bruising battle.
Not often discussed is that as a result of the so-called gender wars, when women rightly claimed many of the privileges that had been previously been restricted to men, is that there were a few side-effects. A foundational idea was removed or at least fundamentally revised. There is no male and female. Then there was the related but different issue of sexuality; that the gender of ones sexual partners is also irrelevant. There is no male or female. Medical science soon allowed this philosophy to become a reality so that regardless what your anatomy at birth showed, medical science said this need only be a temporary, and not as before, a permanent reality.
The transgendered and the homosexual base their arguments in the same unprovable basis, ‘I was born this way.’ The gay man or woman (who may be very happy with their biological gender) says ‘this is the hand nature dealt me, whatever evolution says, I am attracted only to same-sex’. Biology is rendered an irrelevance, it’s not about the plumbing.
The transgendered take a similar line but push it further, the plumbing is not only irrelevant but wrong. Who they really are is something else. Ironically, they argue it is the soul that matters.
At the core of the issue is the question, who are we? There is, so far, no gay gene and no definitive difference (although the focus is now on the brain and not the genes) between the make-up of gay and straight. No physical differences, nothing to explain why it would seem that sexual attraction is ‘nature’ and not nurture. Yet there it is, something inside that says, ‘this is who I am.’ For the transgendered, the painful question of who I am leads to much pain and confusion as they construct an image of who they are at complete odds to their physical sex. But we are now living in a world that has given its residents the freedom and permission to build and rebuild their identity and sex is no longer an insurmountable obstacle.
For the Christian, the reality is both more simple and more complex. Biological gender is not an irrelevance but neither is it everything. We are not merely a body and neither are we simply a soul. There is a soul and it matters but so do our bodies and what we do with them. So when the Bible says, ‘there is no male or female’ this is not what it meant. Instead we celebrate the reality of male and female together but to stop here at this point in finding our identity and say, ‘I am man’ or ‘I am woman’ is to stop short. What the Bible says is that I am made in His image, and for us that means body and soul. In any building of our identity, it starts first with the Creator and then the creation; the Redeemer and then the redeemed.