A Jesus Worth Following: A Conversation About Gender and the Bible

The other day, my wife and I were talking.

We do that sometimes - it's our "secret" to a healthy marriage.

She's currently discussing gender in one of her classes. The stories she tells from the class are about as stereotypical as you can imagine: the girls don't think guys understand them, and all the guys want is for the girls to make them a sandwich. Pretty typical stuff.

They've studied a lot about how they themselves fit into certain stereotypes as well. One day, Kalyn even brought home a questionnaire that she had filled out about herself. The survey looks at your traits and characteristics, and based on how you respond, it rates you as exhibiting either primarily masculine, feminine, or neutral traits.

Oddly enough, my wife didn't score high enough on any of the traits to merit being lumped into one of the three categories. Not sure what that means, but I still like her!

Naturally, I wanted to take the test for myself.

Big mistake.

I took a deep breath, did a couple of neck rolls, cracked my knuckles, and answered away. Kalyn fired off question after question, and after what seemed like forever, she tallied my score.

Lo and behold, I came out on the feminine side. Heavily, in fact.

There was no doubt that many of the traits that I exhibit (and that I'm even proud of) are considered "feminine." Kindness, caring, listening, empathy - these are all traits that I think any of us would like to have, but that are typically categorized under the umbrella of "feminine" traits.

The first thing my mind jumped to was a blog post that Richard Beck wrote a couple of years ago entitled "Thoughts on Mark Driscoll... While I'm Knitting." Here's a tidbit to whet your taste:
I illustrate the gender psychology/education association to my students by asking them the following question: "How many of your male, PhD college professors do you think are hardcore NASCAR fans?" Answer: Very, very few. Personally, I've never seen a NASCAR hat on the head of any male university colleague. I then ask a follow-up question: "How many blue-collar males working in the city are hardcore NASCAR fans?" Answer (note that we are in small town West Texas): A lot.

See the difference?

So Driscoll has a point. Most church leaders are highly educated. This means that most church leaders are culturally divorced from the average NASCAR fan. The very group Driscoll is targeting.

But here is the very important point about all this. A lot of the reaction to Driscoll isn't even about gender. We are actually talking about the little discussed fissure running through many churches: Education.
If you read the article in its entirety, Beck's ideas make sense. Simply put, men who are less educated exhibit more traits that are considered masculine, while those higher up on the education food-chain exhibit feminine traits. I would fall under this latter category on both points.

The second thing my mind wandered to is another class we're currently taking. For the introduction of the class, we were asked to take personality inventories. Since we attend a Christian college, the inventory looked at personality, as well as how we connect to figures in the Bible.

After I took my test, I saw, to little surprise, that the test had associated me with Thomas, the student of Jesus who is famous for "doubting" that he had resurrected. This connection was made to show that I require evidence before making major decisions and that I often don't take people solely on their word. Seemed reasonable to me.

Meanwhile, there are several females in our class, and some of them were associated with the likes of Ruth or Naomi, some of the more prominent women in the Bible.

This led me to another story from Kalyn's class that she recently told me. I'm not sure of the exact conversation that was had, but she told me that she piped up at one point and said, "Women are only allowed to study Esther or Ruth in the Bible." Apparently her professor got a kick out of this (as did I).

All of this got me thinking: is that really true, though? And even if it is, should it be? Should women only study women, while men only study men? What does that say about gender within Christianity? What does that say for men like me, who grade out to be more feminine than masculine? Or women who seem to exhibit more masculine traits than feminine? 

Should we really only be studying those in the Bible who fit the socially constructed notions of our gender?

So far, I'm answering with a resounding "No," simply because I've always enjoyed studying the women of the Bible, and this seems to make sense in light of Beck's thoughts, as well as what the aforementioned gender characteristic survey said about me. Plus, what does that say about women? Can they not study the life of Jesus to become more like him?

Maybe we are wrong in seeking to become "real" men or "real" women. Maybe this conversation shouldn't be about gender at all, but about becoming real people who exhibit both feminine and masculine traits, both of which God exhibits as well.

Sure, God chose to reveal himself as a man (because, according to nature, he had to choose one, the other, or become a eunuch), but does that mean he is a "man's man" or that he has a "man card" which keeps him from exhibiting feminine traits such as empathy, understanding, or care for others?

If that is really the case, that's a Jesus I wouldn't be interested in following. If he is anything like the "real" men that I know, he'd be a jerk, and a class-act jerk at that.

Instead, I choose to follow the Jesus who cares like a woman, is strong like a man, and who values both (and the eunuchs!) equally. I choose to follow a Jesus who is not a true man or a true woman, but is a true person, as fully human as is possible to become. A Jesus who doesn't discriminate, but who encourages the pursuit of true personhood instead of some stereotypical molds that none of us really fit.

That, my friends, is a Jesus worth following.

... ... ...

Questions: What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you find yourself exhibiting more masculine or feminine traits? What does this say about you as a person? Should we only focus on those of the same gender when studying the Bible?

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photo credit - kikashi - sxc.hu


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