Thursday, January 24, 2008
Ontology and Gender
While grading some Pastoral Studies papers I came across an interesting quote that, according to Feminist studies, "males are prone to regard themselves as generic humans rather than gendered persons conditioned by historical and cultural processes". I thought this most interesting especially since I had a thought provoking converstation with my good friend, Mimi Hadad of CBE, about gender and identity. Her point was that underlying the whole debate over the role of women in the church and home within evangelicalism are some tacit assumptions about ontology. For me there is no question as to whether or not culture conditions and shapes our perception of gender identity and gender roles (in multiple ways whether feminist or patriarchal), it simply does. That is why I find myself frustrated by some conservative Christians that I have met who make odd claims that women should not wear jeans or trousers and the like because it is too masculine and is thus unbiblical (too masculine for whom is always my response). But at the same time I cannot go along with the idea that gender is merely a social construct. There are too many physiological, neurological, and psychological differences between men and women to reduce gender to environmental factors. I've learnt this from nearly 10 years of marriage and having two daughters! Nonetheless, I think that our conception of ontology is crucially important for how we understand gender identity, gender roles, and how to treat other human beings. If we add to this a Christian worldview of Creation and New Creation, things become all the more complex as to how to relate to gender and ontology together. This I believe is why every seminary needs to have a course that explores "Sexuality, Gender, and Theology" since this is the burning issue of our age in terms of pastoral practice, expectations in Christian marriage, and theological debates in mainline churches.