Does Christianity affect gender roles at all?
Created in God’s Image
In the beginning, after the creation account of the heavens and the earth, as well as all lifeforms, God created something that would be radically different from the rest of the creatures He created. For example, cattle were made after their own kind, and so were the rest of the animal life (Gen 1:24-25), but there was something special about mankind. When God completed His creation, His last creative act (for now), was where God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen 1:26). So mankind was like God in the sense of having dominion over every living thing. This doesn’t mean we should be domineering or tyrannical, which has been the case, but to have dominion means to have rule or authority over, so “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). Each one of us were made after our own kind and are either male or female, and only by God creating male and female in His own image could He tell them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). The creation, including all the creatures, were deemed “very good” to God (Gen 1:31).
Not Inheriting the Kingdom
Christians cannot focus on one type of sin and condemn non-believers over it, whatever it is, including gender roles. In the first place, if we cast stones, it would first have to be at ourselves, since none are without sin. We know we have no perfection in this life and we are certainly not sinless, although we should be sinning, less, but for us to cast stones about one particular sin above another is to place ourselves in the judgment seat of God; and by the way, it is a one-seater. Yes, some sins are more serious than others, but we are not called to judge unbelievers in this world. God’s Spirit is the One Who Jesus said would come into the world, and He would convict them of their sins, not us (John 16:8-15). We can state what the Bible says is sin, and that sin is the transgression of the law of God (1st John 3:4), but we cannot arbitrarily condemn others. Just because there is a list of sins of those who won’t inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:4-6) doesn’t mean we go out looking for such people. We should be looking for all people so that they might be saved, but for us, we must start and stay in front of the mirror and in the house of God as far as judging is concerned. Only when serious sin, like sexual immorality comes up, should a brother or sister get involved (Matt 18:15-18), but that’s within the church, not out in the world. Besides, who knows whether or not that person might come to saving faith later in their life? If there is any judgment, it starts with the house of God (1st Pet 4:17), not with people in the world. We know what the Bible teaches and we know that others who reject Christ are only suppressing the knowledge of God in their hearts (Rom 1:18) and they are like we once were, without excuse (Rom 1:20), and that they presently have the wrath of God abiding on them (John 3:36b; Rom 2) unless the repent and believe (Mark 1:15), however, God desires all to be saved (1st Tim 2:4), and that should be our desire too. Jesus said He came into the world to save the world, not to condemn the world (John 3:17). If someone asks you whether something is sin or not, you can defer to what the Bible says and agree with it (as I do), so it’s not a matter of personal opinion but what God’s Word declares. That settles it for me, but I don’t settle it for others.
Jesus’ treatment of women in the New Testament is radically different from the way the Jews, the Greeks, and the Romans (indeed, nearly all societies) treated women. Women couldn’t be a witness in a court or sit on any council or be seen in public apart from the will of her husband. In short, they treated their wives as so many cattle. A wife could be easily gained and easily disposed of, but this was not so from the beginning. A man and a woman were to leave and to cleave to one another, till death parted them. It’s still like that, but only with a small minority of couples who are staying together until death parts them. In many of the world’s religions, women are suppressed and not even allowed to speak or appear in public without the husband’s permission. For those that do, the ramifications can be deadly, but Christianity has elevated the status of women because there is no distinction or respect between the free and slaves, Jew and Greek, women and men, because “you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). This doesn’t mean we are suddenly free and slaves, Jew and Greek, and male and female. That’s not what the Apostle Paul is saying. We are not all of these things; all of these things are one in Christ. The status of a godly woman is the same as a godly man before God. They are one in Christ. In the kingdom, there will be no male or female hierarchy at all…just one, under Christ. The Christian woman’s “respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control…with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire” (1st Tim 2:9) does not define her; God does. The true beauty of a man and a woman’s character is not on the outside, because is the most precious and most beautiful thing is that of their inward character. That beauty will survive long after the outward beauty has faded.
Christian Effects on Gender Roles
For certain, Christianity has acted as a damper in inhibiting sexual promiscuity in society. It used to be a scandal years ago to have a teacher who lived with an unmarried man, especially in a small town. If the local school board found out about it, they’d be fired. There was also far less pornographic material available, and now, there’s an avalanche on the Internet and other media. Many Christian Society organizations have taken up the fight to keep X-rated stores (so-called “adult stores”) out of their neighborhoods and strip bars away from school zones. Our “free sex” or so-called “make love, not war” philosophy of the 1960’s was anything but free. It escalated sexual immorality in society and teen pregnancy exploded, abortions increased, sexually transmitted diseases spiked, and pornographic addictions surged because of an avalanche of pornographic material that was now available. The Internet created a veritable tsunami of smut that can find its way into any home, through any electronic device. And it is being protected in the name of “free speech.” Today it seems that Christianity has no affect at all on the gender roles in society because these roles have been established for so long now that it’s as if it’s reached a point of no return. The socially-constructed gender roles of women and men in their relationships with one another is radically different from that of a century ago, and something that has not changed very little over the last 2,000 years.
Whatever affect Christianity has had with gender roles in society may be long gone in the near future, but for those who God brings to repentance, it will be of supreme importance. They know that God has a role for each of them, male and female, with marriage, and within the Christian community, the Body of Christ. Jesus, as the Head of the church, governs the many individual members, but members are not superior or inferior to one another. They are co-equal and co-heirs with Christ. That’s why being a Jew or Greek, employer or employee, or male or female doesn’t matter to God. We’re all one in Christ anyway.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.