Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Gender: Creation or Construction?

By Maria Boccia, PhD
Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology
Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling Charlotte campus

I am taking a break from grading my students’ “theology of sexuality” final research papers from the sexuality courses I taught this spring and summer at Gordon Conwell. Foundational to their theology is the Genesis account of our creation. It is very obvious from even the most superficial reading of Genesis 1 and 2 that our maleness and femaleness are a part of God’s act of our creation. Human beings are male and female, designed and created so by God. We as Christians tend to see this as so foundational as to be beyond question. Any small or great deviation from this fundamental dichotomy is presumed by us to be something gone wrong. We live, however, in a radically changing culture in which postmodern, deconstructionist interpreters are gaining ground in presenting gender as a social construction.
The argument for the social construction of gender asserts that gender and sexuality do not exist as unique, dichotomous, biological entities. Rather, culture, or rather the dominant voices in society, use language and power to create these ideas of gender and sexuality. These ideas, they then argue, are used to suppress and persecute those who do not conform to these socially constructed definitions. Many of the writers arguing for the social constructionist view are homosexual or in some other way a part of the LGBTQ community. One of my students pointed out that “Michel Foucault . . . was the first to question the ideas of gender and sexual identity. He himself was a practicing homosexual but refused to identify himself as homosexual or as a specific gender. He questioned the commonly held ideas of a static gender and bimorphous sexuality. He preferred the idea that people can self-associate with a specific gender if they so please, as long as they realized that gender is a culturally conditioned idea and generally arbitrary.” Foucault, you may recall, is also the philosopher responsible for the beginnings of postmodernism philosophy as well.
Another student read and reviewed a recent publication by Inter-Varsity Press by Jenell Paris, The End of Sexual Identity (2011). Her review of this book, slightly edited, says:
Evangelicals need more thoughtful and informed writing on the area of gender and sexuality, but Paris’ work is not one that proves helpful to believers. A trained anthropologist, Paris’ main crux of her work is a dismissal of the traditional personal identifiers of sex like heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. She says instead to reject any sexual orientation label and live as an un-sexually oriented person. She purports that sexual orientation language is falsely stigmatizing and isolating to those who are given sexual orientation labels. . . Paris’ disregard for sexual identifying language is on the cusp of full-fledged identification with queer theory’s central position, namely that gender is culturally constructed and arbitrary. The beginning of Paris’ book is basically affirming the idea that sexuality is culturally conditioned to the point where gender is only cultural and thus arbitrary. . . . What Paris desire to do – make sexual orientation not the ultimate thing – is a reasonable endeavor, but the means by which she attempts to do it – by disregarding sexual identity language markers – is caustic to her eventual goal. . . . she is on the precipice of queer theory, and she needs to move back into a more bibliocentric and theological understanding of language.
It was not very long ago that I would have said that the distinction regarding sex and gender is clear between a Christian and non-Christian worldview: God created us male and female, Period. Yet, here is a book published by Inter-Varsity Press almost fully affirming Queer Theory regarding sex and gender: Sex and gender are arbitrary. We need to abandon the words.
My colleagues on the faculty and I were recently discussing the importance of theology and doing theology. We believe that not only do professional, vocational pastors and ministers need to be grounded in theology, but every member of the church, everyone seated in a pew or chair, needs to “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). Leaders, especially, are admonished to be “ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction, for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:2).
When we think “Gospel,” we tend to think of the good news that God became flesh and dwelt among us, and died on the cross, rising again from the dead, to redeem us from our sins and give us eternal life. But the gospel is bigger than that. It is encompassing. It defines a world view that touches every aspect of our lives. We need to be salt and light in every corner of the world, to bring God’s truth into every dark place. This issue may appear philosophical and esoteric, however, it will trickle down in very practical ways. Indeed, it has already trickled down to shape our culture’s view to the point of endorsing practices such as gay “marriage,” which is wholly contrary to the teaching of Scripture on sex and marriage. In Ezekiel, God tells the prophet that the watchman is called upon to warn the people of coming judgment. If the watchman fails to do this, he too is held accountable and subject to the same judgment. We are called to warn. We need to speak truth to our generation. For their sakes and ours.

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