I speak around North America at women’s events. And I love it.

I give a sex talk called “Girl Talk: Straight Talk About Sex, Marriage, and Intimacy” that goes over really well.

Keith and I actually have a talk that covers much of the same material that we give to couples, but I really enjoy giving the women’s one better. Somehow, when it comes to sex, I just think a woman speaking to women is more fun.

So I am not against the idea of women’s events and men’s events in churches. Sometimes there’s definitely a reason the genders should be divided!

At the same time, I’ve been noticing a trend in a lot of churches where gender differences are taken far more seriously than any other kind of difference–and so the genders seem to be separated far too often. What do I mean by this? Churches separate by gender when we:

  • Divide social and serving activities by gender
  • Teach different things to different genders
  • Talk about gender differences as if they are absolutes
  • Talk about gender propensities to certain weaknesses as if they are fixed in stone–and thus give people an excuse to not work on themselves
  • Think of people primarily in gender categories, rather than as people first

And so I thought today I’d share my thought process on this so we could talk about it. I’ve been talking this week about how churches can create a strong marriage ministry, and part of that is helping the genders to see each other as allies and as people, rather than as stereotypical polar opposites. So here goes!

Church Divide by Gender - Does the Church Divide by Gender Too Much?

Gender Differences are Real

First, I do believe that gender differences are real. There are biological, hardwired differences in the way that we are made. Women, for instance, have more acute hearing (and can distinguish their child’s voice in a crowd much more easily than men can). Men tend to have better spatial abilities; women tend to have better verbal abilities. Thus, I am a pro at parking so that our 4-car driveway can only take one car; Keith still remembers his high school algebra.

I also think that, in general, men are more visually stimulated than women. I know that when we’re sexually aroused, for instance, different parts of the brain light up. For women, it’s the relational side; for men, it’s the visual side.

Women produce more oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Men tend to be thrive more on competition. These aren’t just generalizations. They are rooted in population scientific data.

God made the genders different to show different parts of Himself

Both are made in His image. Neither is more or less important. Thus, we have an incomplete view of God if we eliminate or diminish one gender’s contributions. When we dismiss women’s contributions in church settings, for instance, we often lose out on a large part of what God is trying to do in the church. And when we dismiss men’s experiences with parenting, because women “are better at it”, we lose out on what God is trying to do in the family.

However, we can take both those truths and use them to bad ends. Here’s how:

We treat the genders badly when we say that differences are absolutes

Yes, men tend to have the higher sex drive. Yes, women tend to be more relational and more nurturing. Yes, men tend to be more visually stimulated.

Even yes, men tend to want respect while women tend to want love.

But when we reduce these tendencies to absolutes, we do people an incredible disservice. Some husbands will be more nurturing than their wives, and will be more suited to stay at home with the kids. Some women will be more visually stimulated than their husbands, and will struggle with temptation. Some men will have lower sex drives than their wives, and leave their wives feeling as if there’s something wrong with them.

Yes, God made the genders differently, but within the genders there is so much diversity itself. God is a very big god, and creation is very big. To expect everyone to be pigeonholed into certain categories just because of their gender can make those who are outliers feel as if there’s something wrong with them.

When we say that different preferences automatically mean different giftings

More women prefer cooking than men do. Women tend to enjoy looking after babies more than men do. More men enjoy swinging a hammer than women do.

That should not mean, however, that only women can bring casseroles to potlucks, that only men can serve on the maintenance committee at church, or that only women can serve in the nursery.

When we decide that men should do the “brainy” and active jobs at church, while women should be relegated to the kitchen and the children, we diminish God’s giftings. It’s quite clear in Scripture that the Holy Spirit gives gifts as the Holy Spirit chooses, and those gifts are not limited by gender. Priscilla had the gift of teaching; Stephen and six other men were chosen to help with food distribution. if the next generation is going to change this world for God, then we shouldn’t give them the idea that certain gifts or interests are out of their reach because of their gender.

When we say that weaknesses can’t be overcome–they’re genetic.

And here’s one I’m super passionate about: too often we use gender differences as an excuse to not deal with sin. Yes, men are more visually stimulated, but that doesn’t mean that women must be responsible for keeping men from sinning by dressing appropriately, or that a man’s fall into pornography is because his wife won’t have sex enough. And yet too often that is what I hear. We need to stop with the “boys will be boys” message.

Similarly, too often we teach women to be these gentle creatures who are taught to always submit, and in so doing we raise a generation of girls who don’t know how to stand up for justice and who don’t know how to enforce biblical boundaries.

When we tell girls that they are meant only to be meek and gentle, and when we tell boys that they will always battle with lust, we don’t give them the tools they need to grow into a whole person in Christ. We hold them back.

How should we treat gender in marriage and the church?

Let’s remember the bigger picture of gender differences

God made us differently so that, through relationship, we would grow to be holier and more giving. As we marry, we will have to adjust to someone different from us. And iron sharpens iron. Those differences will cause us to grow.

And those differences allow us to do bigger things. Because we are stretched beyond our comfort level, and because we are exposed to different ways of seeing the world, we can do more things well! We parent better when we have two different approaches and perspectives. We function better in church when there are different perspectives that better match all the different needs in the congregation.

Ecclesiastes two are better - Does the Church Divide by Gender Too Much?

Let’s cherish the differences

Too often I see an air of superiority popping up when it comes to gender. Women can feel superior to men, because we’re the ones who understand relationship, and our perspective in marriage must be the right one. Men can feel superior because they feel they are made to be the leaders, and so often they discount women’s views of how things should go.

Let’s stop the superiority, and start cherishing the differences. Isn’t it wonderful that we’re not all the same? Isn’t life more exciting because we’re all so different?

Let’s stop sexualizing each other

One last thought–part of the problem of dividing by gender so much is that we start seeing people as classes of people, rather than as individuals. As I shared in my Boys Will Be Boys post, I have felt more respected and appreciated at all of the secular workplaces and universities I have been in than I have in the majority (not all) of the churches I have attended. When we divide so much by gender, we end up inadvertently sexualizing each other far too much, so that it’s difficult to value each other and have friendships with all. I think this is one reason that so many men are so prone to temptation. They’ve been led to believe that it’s inevitable that they will see women as objects, rather than held to a higher standard where they are expected to respect and honour women–as they are in most secular workplaces today.

When it’s churches that sexualize people and hold people back, that’s really a shame. We are all created in the image of God. We are all precious. And we are all people, first and foremost.

Let me know: how can churches stop sexualizing relationships between the genders? How can we feel more accepting of each other? Let’s talk in the comments!

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