I recently had an interesting conversation with a person who has worked with teenagers for over forty years. He said, “Until the last few years, I never encountered a child struggling with what gender they were. Now, it seems commonplace that youth workers have at least one child in crisis over their gender.”
A psychologist I know, who often works with teenagers, expressed a similar sentiment. She identified a trend where kids who don’t fit a traditional gender stereotype of “maleness” or “femaleness” begin to question where they fit in. Am I a man or a woman? Should I make a transition? Should I adjust my interests and personality to better fit the mold?
As if the teenage years weren’t hard enough, gender warriors have created a problem that is, by and large, only making life harder for kids.
It causes me to question how I would have reacted as a teenager. I embodied the male stereotype in some ways. I liked activities such as sports, the stock market, and paintball. I was competitive and loud. At the same time, I never wanted to deer hunt (a common practice among men in my area). I had never shot a gun and felt nervous around them. I avoided violent movies and liked romantic comedies much more. I cried during sad movies. I was emotional and liked to talk. I tended to have lots of close female friends.
Were I a child of the 2010’s, would I have wondered whether I was more female than male? Was I 55% female and 45% male? Did this mean I was a girl? “Transitioning” would not have been a viable consideration but the modern gender noise definitely would’ve accentuated the insecurity and self-doubt I already felt because of the ways (of which I was very aware) that I did not fit the stereotypical masculine mold.
The Bible Is More “Tolerant” than The Culture on Gender
While advocates for gender fluidity are doing much to harm children, I cannot say that the church has done much to offer comfort or direction for kids with regard to gender.
A comprehensive study of scripture reveals that the Bible prescribes very, very few standards for gender expression. The Bible does mandate certain boundaries and roles for gender with regard to spiritual leadership. Men are called to spiritual leadership and women are called to support them in this call. Both are called to self-sacrificing love regardless of role and position.
The Bible also addresses men and women respectively on certain sin struggles in individual contexts. For example, in 1 Timothy 2, Paul tells men to refrain from quarreling and fighting and women to dress modestly.
As far as how gender is expressed, the Bible is more tolerant and free than secular culture. Does the Bible say that men have to like hunting, war movies, sports, meat, DIY projects, etc.? No. Does the Bible say that men can’t stay at home with kids, can’t go into fashion design, or enjoy wearing capri pants? No.
Does it say that women have to wear dresses, love babies, and wear make up? No. Does it say that women can’t pursue business careers, can’t deer hunt, and can’t referee football games? No. The Bible is mute.
So many of the standards that many Christians consider ideals for being a “real Christian man” or “real Christian woman” are grounded in cultural norms, not scriptural prescriptions. Let’s keep in mind that traditionally, Christian men in Scotland have worn what look like skirts (kilts), while Christian men in the Middle East wear what look like dresses to Westerners (a thawb and / or bisht). Faithful Christian men in different cultures can dress in a manner that completely deviates from the norms of another culture without any violation in scriptural mandates. This reality calls for Christians to exercise careful discernment in determining what’s cultural versus what’s scriptural when it comes to expressions of gender.
In truth, the Bible has far more to say about what is glorying to God as a human being than it has to say about what is honoring to him as either a male or female.
The woman described in Proverbs 31 (and whether this scriptural text constitutes a prescription for Christian womanhood remains debatable) does not necessarily fit the stereotypical mold. While she supports and cares for her family well, she also operates like an entrepreneur. She sells merchandise and buys property (Prov. 31: 16, 18). She is financially savvy (Prov. 31:16). She is an advocate for the poor (Prov. 31: 20). Altogether, though, the woman of Proverbs 31 is identified far more in terms of her character than any gender stereotype.
God is more concerned about the honesty, patience, purity, self-control, gentleness, and generosity of men than whether or not they like the Bourne Trilogy. He is more interested in the kindness, integrity, faithfulness, humility, and benevolence of women than whether or not they like to play with dolls.
What’s the Point
The practical point I would offer in this broader conversation is that biblical Christianity has something valuable to offer teenagers during a time of gender madness and insanity. A Christian culture driven by Scripture and the gospel — not society’s norms blended with some Christian theology — is far more gracious and accepting on gender than many may realize.
The Bible does clearly state that God made maleness and femaleness for a reason. Gender itself is not a social construction of mankind but an intentional invention of God for his glory. Scripture, however, does not prescribe a particularly detailed or rigid stereotype on gender expression.
In the face of substantial confusion and insecurity over gender that modern activists have generated, we can say to kids that there is no need to consider reassigning or re-identifying their gender. If you are a boy who wants to be a florist and loves to watch “Say Yes to the Dress,” then you are still as much of a man as the next male. If you are a girl who longs to work on pick up trucks and hates wearing dresses and make up, then you are no less of a woman than the next female. God has made you this way for a reason and you are not violating some perceived standard. You are accepted. You do not need to change in these areas.
In order to offer this word, though, Christian leaders must submit their perceptions of gender standards to the lens of scripture and renounce gender stereotypes that have been adopted instead from the culture. Too often, I have listened to or read messages from pastors that call men or women to be something that has no grounding or relevance in scripture….at all.
In the end, we can say to kids, you are a boy or a girl because God made you that way. It is not a matter of your subjective discretion. Your God-given gender does not restrict your interests, hobbies, and vocation in hardly any way (with very, very limited exceptions). You do not have to conform to a culturally prescribed stereotype for your gender. You are free and do not have to reassign your gender to gain this freedom. Through Christ, God accepts you as you are.