He Made Them Male and Female

Sex, Gender, and the Image of God

Although the modern West has lost its boundaries and celebrates a plethora of so-called gender options, how should Christians understand and critique today’s concepts of gender in light of Scripture? We begin with understanding, and not conflating, four categories: sex, gender, norms, and callings.

 

Is “gender” a social construct? Should male or female be a matter of personal choice? Are there more than two “genders”?

Ten years ago, these questions were unheard of apart from English and Women’s Studies departments at secular universities. But as peculiar and even sacrilegious as it may sound, many people today would say yes to all three. Maybe your kindergartener has a playmate being raised “gender neutral.” Or your coffee shop is starting to use name tags with “preferred pronouns.” Or a bit closer to home, you might have a family member who is “transitioning.”

Although the modern West has lost its boundaries and celebrates a plethora of so-called gender options, how should Christians understand and critique today’s concepts of gender in light of Scripture? We begin with understanding, and not conflating, four categories: sex, gender, norms, and callings.

Sex: Male and Female

The term sex has a couple of definitions. It can refer to the act of sexual intercourse or the categories of male and female. For this discussion, we’re focusing on the second definition.

Sex as male or female is an objective, binary classification. In this sense, sex refers to divisions based on reproductive functions. Many today, however, claim that sex is not objective but arbitrary. For example, some assert that sex is “assigned” at birth. This is simply untrue. The sex of a newborn is observed physically by the baby’s sex organs and confirmed genetically through a DNA test.

But what about people who are “intersex”? Does this exceptionally rare condition (by all counts, one in thousands, not hundreds) prove sex is nonbinary and on a spectrum? No. Intersexuality is a biological phenomenon where an individual may have genital ambiguity or genetic variance. In human biology, however, anomalies do not nullify categories.

Gender: Self-Perceptions

The modern notion of “gender,” on the other hand, is a quite recent invention and is more difficult to examine. Unlike sex, gender is a category that exists objectively only in the realm of linguistics. It doesn’t point to anything tangible. Instead, “gender” now is being used to refer to a psychological reality independent from biological sex. It’s the subjective self-perception of being male or female.

At present, this psychological concept of “gender” is essentially being enforced linguistically, with demands to use preferred pronouns and newly chosen names to match self-perception rather than objective truth. But this is how minds are changed — by first changing language.

Given that sex is objective and gender is subjective, you would think we would value conforming one’s subjective ideas to objective truth. Instead, the opposite is true: our culture now values altering the objective, physical reality of our bodies to accommodate the subjective impression of ourselves.

Most people’s self-perception is congruent with their biological sex. For a small percentage of others, it’s not. The mental distress from this dissonance is called gender dysphoria — a psychological consequence of the fall. Some choose to identify as transgender male-to-female or female-to-male, in essence elevating psychology over biology.

However, this new form of dualism separates mind from body and elevates self-understanding as the determiner of personhood — hence the neologism gender identity. The truth of the matter is that sense of self at best describes how we feel, not who we are.

Norms: Cultural Expectations

But some assert that male and female are actually determined by culture. This categorical fallacy is a conflation of male and female with the separate classification of masculinity and femininity. Masculinity and femininity are behavioral characteristics associated with being male or female. Admittedly, these social norms can sometimes be shaped by our culture and expectations.

For example, in some parts of the United States, being masculine frequently means being rough, tough, unemotional, and inartistic. For some, the quintessential all-American man might be a rugged, loud, and bombastic football player or construction worker. Yet in many other places, these two examples would not be considered masculine, but barbaric!

Read More