Category Archives: gender

The Way Forward, Part Four: Sanity about Being Human

We are in an anthropological crisis. What does it mean to be human? Do male and female identity have any meaning? What does “the science” say about human identity? Is the biological family still the key unit of society or do children belong to “the collective?” For people of faith, how do truth and toleration unite for a peaceful world?

In coming essays, I will speak to the issues of sexual identity and practice in more detail. For this work, I want to offer three guiding principles for a sane way forward regarding human identity and how we see “the other.” I am writing as a Christian, and as a public thinker desiring for all others the liberties that I claim for myself. Having firm theological convictions is not intolerance.

The first step toward sanity is love and respect for every individual we meet. Love means that we desire their best. Respect in this context is seeing identity and potential, not necessarily instant trust. The reason we love and respect each person is that they are created in God’s image. Every person possesses inherent value, regardless of class or culture, gender or race, ability or social situation. The Bible’s opening chapter contains the most dignifying words about being human (selections from Genesis 1:26-28):

“Let us make humankind 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…

God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God, he created him,
male and female he created them.”

And God blessed them. And God said to them
“Be fruitful and multiply…”

Notice the order of the poetry. We are created in God’s image. We are given work to do: overseeing (not exploiting) creation. And thirdly, we do this as male and female, equally bearing God’s image/likeness. Identity, purpose, gender…the order matters! From the earliest moments of recorded history to the present, people of all cultures and faiths and have found ways to misinterpret, rebel, and subvert this beautiful passage. We allow blood and soil to lead to subjugation of other groups. Sinful structures define male and female in ways that oppress the latter and pervert the former. The church has mostly failed in her history of welcoming men and women as equal partners and inviting all classes and cultures into a beautiful community of love and justice. There is hope…and it is found in the second principle.

The second step in the path forward is understanding that the person and work of Jesus Christ creates a new humanity liberated from the unjust ideologies and systems created by power-hungry sinful people. The Christ Event includes:

  • The divine affirmation of the goodness of being human – in body and spirit – for in Jesus Christ, God is forever one of us! (John 1:1-18)
  • The joy of Jesus as he willingly offers himself as the ransom of liberation and reconciling sacrifice, atoning for the sins of the whole world. (Mark 10:45; Romans 3:21-31; I John 2:1-2) Everyone we meet is worth Jesus’ sacrifice.
  • Jesus’ resurrection announces victory over death and hopelessness, and offers a preview of our future. (Romans 8:28-30; Colossians 1:15-22). Everyone we meet can receive the gift of salvation and be part of a new community anticipating the future.
  • The Holy Spirit is God in and with the church, empowering her for worship and witness, comforting and convicting of sin, and giving gifts to all, regardless of past transgressions or particular identities. (Acts 2-4, 11-15; I Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 1:13-14)

The third guiding insight for sanity about being human is the biblical hope of a new community of joy and justice, embracing all cultures and empowering worship and work on a renewed earth. The poetry of Revelation offers these visions for all who believe (Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 21:3):

You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals,
Because you were slain,
And with your blood you purchased for God
Persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priest to serve our God,
And they will reign on the earth.
And there before me was a great multitude that no one could count,
From every nation, tribe, people, and language,
Standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Look! God’s dwelling place in now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”

This destiny is not automatic, for this future rests on people freely saying yes to the good news of Jesus Christ. This said, we have a beautiful trifecta of truth guiding our relationships. Everyone we meet is made in God’s image. Everyone we meet is worth the sacrifice of Jesus. Everyone we meet can enjoy a destiny that is anticipated today in community.

Let’s ground our thinking and actions in God’s design, deliverance, and destiny instead of our preferences and prejudices and we can foster foretastes of a beautiful future.

Toward Principled Compromise: Reimagining the Common Good, Part Two

Continuing our conversation on the common good and better pathways for solving seemingly intractable problems, here are some more arenas crying out for creativity.

Education: Current Reaction: Write off a portion of student debt without reforming the bloated, inefficient systems that lead to the debt. A Better Way: Let’s open trade school avenues for high school grads (with remediation in general education available) so that we can fill the millions of job openings with skilled workers and prepare a new generation of qualified women and men for the exciting changes ahead. Let’s get out of the loan business altogether and increase scholarships for qualified students, while making schools much more efficient, focused and less political. Avenues for redeeming poor K-12 experiences through community colleges are worthy of support, and we must repent of the immoral practice of accepting loan money for students ill-prepared for higher education.

Education (K-12): Honor teachers, pay them better, reduce overhead costs, and rid schools of foolish programs having nothing to do with a real education for the future world of work. Learn from successful charter schools. Give parents choices, for a competitive landscape will improve quality. Federal ethics and general guidelines matter, but administration is always better locally and we should eventually have a very small Department of Education.

Climate Change: Recognize that the American carbon footprint continues to decrease while China, Russia, India, and others are responsible for most emissions and pollution. Recognize that all the current UN and treaty solutions, even generously interpreted, only minimally reduce global temperatures. This does NOT mean a return to old policies, but a wiser approach to environmental sustainability without exaggerated apocalyptic rhetoric and economically destructive solutions, including coercive transfers of wealth.

Gender and Sexuality: Affirm adult freedom to identify as they choose, while acknowledging the sincere beliefs of billions of people who hold more traditional beliefs. Toleration is not affirmation – it is living peaceably with different views of the world. End the war on the biological nuclear family and work on the crisis of fatherlessness (something President Obama cares deeply about) and help a new generation understand that their choices of intimacy and welcoming a child include immense responsibilities. 

And two deeper issues (for future essays): We need conversations on anthropology and epistemology. With compassion and respect, we need robust dialogue on what it means to be human and biologically male and female, and the implications for the family, education, and society. Epistemology speaks to the nature of knowledge. We are in a crisis concerning objective understanding of reality. Living with deep differences of perspective is a sign of liberty and maturity. Refusing to listen to other perspectives and attempting to suppress opinions (I am not speaking about direct evils or threats) is unhealthy for our future.

There are thoughtful pathways forward, if we have humility and love, listening ears and clear heads.

Two Questions

As we consider the turmoil in our streets and online, there are two guiding questions that may help us with a civil and insightful conversation. First, what does “there” look like as we aspire for a more humane, just, and loving world? Second, what are some practical steps toward this vision?

It is much easier to agitate and destroy than it is to build just and sustainable structures that help offer a flourishing future for all. Tearing down monuments to an unjust past is emotionally understandable. Yet, thinking deeply how to teach and understand the many narrative of American history will require more thoughtfulness that current reactions.

Conservatives tend to ignore the historical and systemic shortcomings and focus on personal opportunity and responsibility in achieving the ideals of the Founders and Framers. Some (not all) progressives find it hard to affirm anything positive about the past but offer few practical and economically feasible solutions for all the crises we face.

What does “there” look like? I long for a day when every (of every color or culture, class and gender) person – from conception to coronation – lives in a world with access, equity, and opportunity and can, with the help of others, flourish personally and add to the goodness of our world. “There” includes immigration reform, so America is hospitable and welcoming immigrants ready to contribute. Neither open borders nor separating families are good solutions.

Practically, serious reforms are needed in all sectors (business, criminal justice, education, political accountability, mental health, strengthening families, and more) so that these pathways are created and sustained. We can forge and better future without extreme deficit spending and defunding law enforcement.

Will we find the courage and wisdom to get past anarchy and ignorance, nostalgic and utopian dispositions and work toward justice? The road ahead is perilous but full of promise.

Inconvenient Insights, part 2

The American and European public squares are replete with extremism, polarizing language, and moral cowardice. Yes, that is correct: moral cowardice. Political correctness and an unwillingness to confront facts are deceiving millions into buying into false historical narratives and feeling paralyzed about making any absolute statements. Here are some paradoxical realities that deserve critical thinking and deep reflection, not platitudes and soundbites.

Islamic jihadists do not believe in fostering a pluralistic society, with liberty of conscience/religion, free speech and diverse worldviews learning civility and common good unity. While the vast majority of Muslims live peaceably with neighbors of all faiths or none, the agitators are proposing either a gradual or abrupt takeover of the West (and the rest) in the name of their faith. Extremists defend the subjugation and even extermination of all opponents of Islam and in chilling Orwellian fashion, declare that true “freedom” is only found in submission to their version of Islam.

What makes the above particularly nefarious is the cozy relationship between the pagan-secular Left and radical Islam. The political Left will persecute artists and bakers for refusing to endorse same sex weddings but turn a blind eye to the jihadist’s oppression of women, anti-Semitism, and blatant denunciations of gender and sexual liberty! This is moral cowardice where hatred of Jewish and Christian morality triumphs over history and reason.

Abortion kills babies. While a tragic necessity in rare cases of the mother’s survival or baby’s unviability, “pro-choice” advocates are now celebrating the termination of life at all stages, from early gestation to infanticide. And anyone who disagrees is depriving women of reproductive rights. The missing part of this “pro-choice” extremism is the choices men and women make that lead to conception and the irresponsibility of fathers in particular to care for the fruit of their intimacy. While incest and rape may be presented as exceptions, the vast majority (97%+) of abortions are elective due to economic or emotional issues. This is moral cowardice.

The refusal of many conservative Christians to face the realities of emotional and sexual abuse, racism, and sexism within their histories and current structures is also moral cowardice. In a convoluted desire not to bring shame to the church or the gospel, leaders that cover serious transgressions or make excuses for a lack of justice actually do greater harm to Christian witness. Regardless of ecclesial traditions, no person should feel disempowered or marginalized by any church. Becoming intentional about lamenting our tragic history of racism and sexism can lead to new friendships and true reconciliation. Victims of abuse must be heard and helped, and perpetrators brought to justice.

Moral cowardice can be overcome with humility and love, intentional repentance and resolution, and fostering new friendships across the barriers we create, and Jesus died to destroy and transform.

Rightly Ordered Loves, Part 2: Justice is Social and Racial Peace is Possible

“Social justice” is a loaded term. For liberals and progressives, it is a summative refrain containing their concerns for economic, gender, and racial equity, including much more governmental intervention righting historic wrongs. For conservatives, it has become a byword, representing ideologies and policies antithetical to human freedom and flourishing.

Justice is social! At its root, justice is well-ordered relationships – in business, personal interactions, political policy, and international relations. Justice implies fairness, but it is more than a legal referee. Justice includes access, equity, and opportunity in a civil society containing freedom of conscience and equal rights.

It is time to change our language and simply use the term, “Justice.” As we do, we will find that justice is inseparable from well-ordered loves. The desire for fairness is innate: no one has to teach a child to say, “no fair!” When we see oppression and violence, indignation rises within and we want to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. When we see discrimination, we heartily oppose such practices and want everyone to have opportunity to thrive.

Agape love and true justice are inseparable. Both involve deep reflection on the values and virtues underneath true freedom. Justice without love devolves to legalities without nuance and consideration of the whole person or situation. A sense of affection or compassion without justice becomes diluted mercy that endangers civil order and denigrates personal responsibility.

When we choose agape love and aim for holistic justice, reparations for slavery and Jim Crow move from the temporary redistribution of wealth to transformation of relationships and systems that ensure a better future for all while confronting the past. Banking, food, and job deserts are unacceptable. It is unconscionable that given equal brilliance and empirical data, that a small fraction of venture capital finds its way to African American entrepreneurs.

Justice and love will lead toward racial reconciliation that does not replace one form of hatred with another. Justice and agape love open the doors to fearless self-examination and evaluation of all economic and social systems. Individual iniquity is revealed, and repentance is possible. Institutional injustice is unveiled and repealed. There is hope when we choose a difference vision.