Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The False Assumption of “Gender-Based Sin”

My parents often complain about one another’s “junk.” Part of their problem stems from having inadequate places to keep their separate items. When venturing through the door after a long day, they both often take the path of least resistance and drop the items in the room closest to the back door. Who can blame them when they are tired, particularly when in physical pain or fatigued because of illness? The problem arises when one’s person’s “junk” gets in the way of the other. Here we see the truth in the statement, “One man’s junk is another man’s (or woman’s) treasure.”

My mother’s items tend to be related to some kind of paperwork or craft items which she makes and sells, all things that are basically feminine and do not generate dirt. My father’s items pertain either to his technical, outdoor job, sporting goods or home repair, generally items that are dirty. The contents of their pockets vary also. Mom carries paper clips, safety pins, hair clips and breath mints, while my father’s pockets generally contain (dirty!) coins, washers, nuts and bolts. I think that if it did not cause injury, my father would carry fishing lures in his pockets as well! Though each person has many accumulated items that could be given or thrown away, considering the application of the items, each person’s “junk” is equally useful (just not to one another).

My parents’ conflicts arise, not because of intrinsic VALUE or WORTH of the ITEMS themselves. They experience conflict because of each individual party’s failure to find a suitable storage space for their items, put the items in that storage space, and a general lack of appreciation for the frustration that their items create for one another. They often complain to one another about the items and not what is done with them, likely because they each appreciate how tired their spouse feels, showing compassion through mercy. But in so doing, they fail to work towards the source of the problem and a lasting solution. Their items are different, but their “sins,” if you will, bear no substantive difference. But they complain about the value of one another’s items rather than the real problem of finding a workable, successful and usable plan for item storage that demonstrates respect for and consideration of one another. Their “sins” are the same, but they are manifested differently with gender distinction.

When Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, He did not separate out those of one gender from another. We have no accounts of how Jesus taught men and women different manners of repentance from sins, either. Paul lists the works of the flesh and contrasts them against the fruits of the Spirit, but he mentions nothing gender-specific. Just as Jesus faced three types of temptations in the wilderness, the Apostle John writes of the big three downfalls of mankind: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. All these temptations, sins and fleshly lusts that wage war against our souls are common to all men and all women. The cures for them are the same as well: confession, repentance and a forsaking of them in accordance to the Word through prayer as encouraged by both Bible study and the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Men and women are both separated from God by the very same sins and sin nature, and both genders follow the same path of reconciliation with God. Our deceitful hearts and our sin natures do not differ from one another, just as God’s ongoing processes that works our salvation do not differ between genders.

CBMW and many groups within the patriocentricity movement teach at length about gender-related sins. Much focus on Genesis 3:16 and differences over the interpretation of woman’s desire for man produce a doctrine of unique “female sins.” CBMW and patriocentrics alike encourage women to repent of the sin of “feminism” which implies that men do not struggle equally with the same basic sins. This “feminism” doctrine as defined by these groups also affects their view of marriage, re-defining marriage as what I often describe as a relationship that is naturally adversarial (though God said it was good). Both groups place emphasis on these “sins of woman” as having greater significance than sins of men because they associate them with rejection of God’s very Identity and Lordship, stemming from the view of human gender and God (who transcends gender) as intrinsically and inextricably bound to one another. This is enhanced by the paternalistic view of the genders with women being somewhat less then men. Women become very much like a special variety of child over which man must take responsibility, both in the natural and the spiritual sense (regardless of whether this was the original intent).

I find striking similarities between my parents’ conflict over “junk” and the “gender sin” preaching and teaching within groups like CBMW and patriocentricity. These gender-oriented evangelicals take one sin and elevate it over another, objectifying the very sins themselves as well as women. Notice how elevation of these more critical “gender sins” also lowers the intrinsic moral fiber that these groups wrongly attribute to women (who they already define as “derivative” images of God and lesser essence)? I believe that, in effect, this over-focus displaces responsibility and guilt from men, distracting them from their own sinfulness. Just as my parents attempt to re-define their issue as one about things and not actions, so too do these gender related groups try to reclassify sin in terms of gender. Mens sins seem to become less significant or “a little less sinful” than the sins of a woman. The sin EXPRESSIONS of each gender may differ, but the sins themselves are the same. They are still sin, with one sin proving no more or less sinful, as both men and women equally fall short of the Glory of God. As a friend of mine has stated, “The ground at the foot of the Cross is level.” And each heart ventures there alone without the respect of persons or of gender.

Men have just as much tendency to rebel against God, authority and responsibility as women, and it is wrong to focus on rebellion and self-seeking as a traits more common to women then men. If women are encouraged to repent of feminism, then men should likewise be encouraged to repent of their own self-satisfying interests (traits common to all human beings). By focusing on the feministic rebellion of women, men tend to fail to acknowledge their own rebellion and spiritual pride before God because the sins of gender make their own sins seem less potent. But rebellion is rebellion is rebellion, and it is a part of the sin nature of us all. The focus of our preaching the gender expressions of sin should be nominal compared to the preaching against and the repentance from sin itself, the sins that are common to all mankind. Jesus taught us to go out and make disciples of all (gender-nonspecific) nations and Paul taught us to preach Christ and Him crucified without any respect to gender. Confession and repentance of sin is not gender specific, and neither is the process of our redemption. If the solution to our sinfulness is not gender-specific, then neither is our sinfulness.

Paul addresses the nature of the gender-related expression of sin, but he does not define “male and female” sins. If the Word does not, then neither should we.

We fall short of the Glory of God, not because of our gender or gender traits but because of our common, human sinfulness. The key then is personal responsibility and holiness, not gender holiness. Purity of heart by preaching of liberty should be our focus, not the outward and unique expressions of our legalistic performance. Our salvation and our panacea rests not in gender or new church strategies but in our accountability before God and the disposition of our hearts before Him.