Saturday, January 28, 2012

On "Biblical" Manhood and Womanhood

A lot of ink has been spilled in recent years both figuratively (on-line blogs and articles) and literally (books) on the topic of biblical manhood and womanhood. Some people seem to have this idea that there is a clearly defined concept in the Bible as to what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. These people would argue that in order to live godly lives, we need to live in accordance with these prescriptive roles.

I accept that the Bible tells us a lot about what it means to be godly. I reject the notion though that it defines what that looks like for a man as opposed to a woman. This is not to deny differences between men and women. Rather, I assert that these differences are far less significant than the things that we have in common and the attributes that we are called to develop as people of God, men and women.

Rachel Held Evans writes an excellent blog (as do many others, but Rachel is currently my primary window into the other writers out there) in which she often explores questions such as these. In a recent comment on one of her posts, she makes this statement:

My only thought on femininity is that the Bible presents us with such a beautiful range of people - women who were warriors, women who were disciples, women who were mothers, women who were widows, women (like Tamar) who worked the patriarchal systems of their day to survive, women who spoke up, women who defied orders from men, women who were apostles, women who fit right into the social constructs of the time, women who didn't. In other words, I don't believe that the Bible presents us with a single prescriptive mold for how to be women of faith (or how to be men of faith). I believe God wants to use all that makes you uniquely YOU in growing the Kingdom. There is no such thing as *prescriptive* "biblical womanhood."

I wholeheartedly agree with her. I would also state that the Bible doesn't give a single prescriptive image of what it means to be a man of God. I think that much of what some people want to define as biblical manhood or womanhood is really a very cultural perspective. They may fear that accepting men and women for who they are, rather than expecting them to fulfill certain pre-defined roles, threatens in some manner the divine order. I hardly think this is the case. Rather, we violate the image of God within us when we force a person to fulfill a certain role simply because she or he has certain chromosomes. God gifts each of us according to his (or her!) desire and I don't think he looks first to see whether the person receiving the gift is a man or woman.

One concept that seems particularly popular among advocates of a prescriptive “biblical womanhood” is the idea that a biblical woman is first and foremost a mother. But this does not hold true in the biblical stories, nor does it properly value women for who they are as individuals. A person's value should not depend on whether she (or he) has children or not, or whether she or he is married or not. Yet so many of our churches make this a litmus test and in the process devalue a large number of people, particularly those who are single and those who do not have children, whether by choice or for other reasons. There is far more to being a woman or man of God than being a mother or father.

I would like to see us move away from the concept of manhood and womanhood altogether, as if these were some static attributes that we can (and should) put on according to our chromosomes. Instead, we should encourage each of us as individuals, male and female, to develop in the godly attributes of love, compassion, grace and mercy. The true godly qualities do not distinguish between male and female and neither should we.

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