Gender & Grace

June 15, 2008

Personal assumptions challenged

I have been recently, in another class, concerned with the nature of sexuality and the way evangelicals deal (or do not deal) with it in their churches. My own experience growing up in the conservative South has been a mixed bag, to say the least. When I began reading Van Leeuwen’s book, I hoped she would give me some tools to move forward like a spelunker in the messy realm of sexuality and personhood. Because I have been doing so much reading and studying on the subject in the last few quarters, there are few assumptions I have that have not already been challenged and stretched and re-couched in new terms and with enlightened understanding.

What I did learn from this book is the inseparable interrelatedness of nature and nurture: not only is it nearly impossible to determine when nurture actually begins to affect nature, but it is also pointless to try to determine the extent to which each affects a human being or which affects that human being to a greater extent. Everyone debates one way or the other, but Van Leeuwen argues that there should be no argument at all because “[b]iology and experience are mutually influential” (67). And while “biology…can nuance…behavior” (77), “biology is both augmented and reshaped by learning” (108).

Life circumstances explained/clarified

What I was hoping for out of the concluding chapters of Van Leeuwen’s book was a delving into the issue of sexuality as it relates to personhood, who we are as sexual beings, bodily beings. While she covers some of that concern within the context of marriage (and to be fair, she is speaking as a married woman), she leaves only a chapter for homosexuality and only something like two pages for singleness. Van Leeuwen is not the only author to concentrate on sexuality within the context of marriage. Carrie Miles spends a good deal of time on marriage and parenting in The Redemption of Love, which I read for Dufault-Hunter last quarter, but she also offers no guidance on the single life. Granted, much of the talk about male headship concerns a woman’s place within marriage, but when a husband and wife share a common understanding of mutual submission, that marriage state offers a considerable amount of protection for a woman’s sexuality. Single women (and for that matter, single men) have a precarious place in the church as it is, even more so when in leadership positions. The debate over women’s role in ministry is difficult enough without having the added pressure to get married or the added stigma of being some kind of temptress. If we cannot even deal with our own sexual natures properly, how can we deal with the gender debate?

Of course, it sounds as though I did not enjoy the reading or benefit from it. I actually appreciated the opportunity to read a kind of synthesis of psychology, sociology, and theology concerning the nature and nurture of women and men. Putting ideas and concepts from different areas of study into one critical work helps to get a big picture of the many issues involved in the debate about the authority of women in the home and in the church. I especially appreciated Van Leeuwen’s effort to couch her arguments within a biblical model and under the premise of kingdom work. The missionary principle for hermeneutical approaches and the kingdom model are essential to Van Leeuwen’s argument that there is freedom and grace for human beings to move differently as the Holy Spirit inspires in different times and places but that this freedom must be bounded within the kingdom model and thus within the scriptural model for living a Christian life and glorifying God with one’s talents and gifts. Whether single, married, male, female, suffering, fighting, or free—the best we can do with our fallen understanding is to try to live as consistently after God as possible. The rest is grace.

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