Scot McKnight generously published a comment that I left on a blog post a few days ago as a post of its own. I appended a few theological comments to it to provide a clearer impression of how I believe that we should approach the general (not universal) differences that it highlighted. Here are some of them:
In teaching the biblical doctrine that male and female are one in Christ (e.g. Galatians 3:28), the emphasis is often overwhelmingly placed upon each person, irrespective of their background or identity, standing on the same level ground before God. And this is wonderfully true. Yet our tendency to frame this doctrine in individualistic terms can misguide us here. The oneness of which Paul speaks does not rest upon the fungibility of individuals, on the notion that the differences between detached individuals or the sexes more generally are matters of indifference and that we are largely interchangeable. Rather, it rests on the truth that, however deep and real the differences that may exist between Christians are, they are differences within and for the good of a single body in which all share. This is a body within which all members have a full and equal stake and in which all members belong to and work for the sake of each other. In this way, even pronounced differences cease to produce hierarchies of belonging or status or to establish barriers between people.
And this, I believe, teaches us how to think as Christians of the very real differences that will continue to exist between the sexes. Not as differences to be dismissed as irrelevant to fundamentally interchangeable individuals, but as differences that render us channels for a movement of divine grace in Christ that traverses all of the barriers that lie between us. Not as differences to place us over others, but as differences with which we can serve them. Less as differences from others than as differences for them. The one Gift of the Spirit is re-presented through many variegated gifts of the Spirit, in which God delights to give us a distinct part to play in his own giving to the others around us.
I believe that power is fundamentally a good thing and that we are mistaken simply to regard it in terms of force, coercion, and violence. Even despite all of their dysfunctions, power and authority can be incredibly liberating forces within our world. Power is gained as we develop in our dominion in the world. We gain power by building infrastructures, by founding institutions, by inventing new technologies, by discovering new scientific truths, by establishing trade routes, by developing social structures, by forging larger networks of cooperation and integrated activity, by unifying people around new ideas, by providing securer social order, by investing our labour and resources wisely and reaping rich returns, etc., etc. Even though many of us haven’t directly done these things ourselves, we are all beneficiaries of the power that others have developed. And this power need not be opposed to service. Companies like Google, for instance, are so powerful in large part because they have proved incredibly successful in creating things that empower others. Sergey Brin and Larry Page are immensely wealthy and powerful, but this power hasn’t come at our expense. Every time I search for something on Google, use Gmail, or check a route on Google Maps, I am thankful for their power, because it has proved immensely empowering to me. The more wealthy and powerful a company that provides effective service becomes, the more potential that it enjoys to empower us further (it also enjoys much more potential to dominate, mistreat, or enslave us).
We far too seldom consider the degree to which we have been empowered by the effective power of others. We don’t usually give much of a thought to the people who invented the technologies within our cars and designed the vehicles, who planned and built our roads, who manufactured the parts, who developed the necessary trade routes for the metals, the sailors, hauliers, and pilots who transport the materials, the people who mined them and invented the most efficient processes of their extraction, the politicians, police, and militaries that established the conditions of peace within which trade and infrastructure could be secure and innovation could flourish, etc., etc. This is what a lot of power looks like and we should all be thankful that it exists, rather than just focusing upon its fallen manifestations.
One of the observations that lie behind my remarks is that such power in our world is not distributed evenly. Some people have immensely more power than others. This isn’t necessarily because they are oppressing others or taking power from them. Power isn’t such a zero sum game. Rather, many people enjoy high levels of power because they are highly effective in creating power in the ways I described above.
In thinking about these questions, I have begun to wonder whether one of the most fundamental lines in the gender debates lies between those who adopt a logic of oneness and those who adopt a logic of twoness. I have recently been enjoying Roland De Vries’ book, Becoming Two in Love, especially his appreciative use of the French feminist thinker Luce Irigaray, in which some of these issues are helpfully explored.
Those who adopt a logic of oneness operate in terms of a single measure of humanity. This measure may be the nominally unisex or androgynous individual. Or it might be the man against which the woman is made to appear deficient and limited, primarily defined by a subtraction from or diminution of what he is, or placed under him in a hierarchy in which men are made to appear higher up the Great Chain of Being. Alternatively, it might be the woman, against whom men always seem to be dysfunctional in their habits and behaviours.
The logic of twoness, however, refuses this single measure of humanity. Humanity is irreducibly and inescapably two in character—male and female. This difference is a good and a beautiful thing, in which neither sex is to be held above or to be used as the measure for the other. Within such a model acknowledgement of the strengths of one sex isn’t an implied statement about the general weakness or deficiency of the other. Rather, it is an encouragement to ensure that persons of both sexes can thrive as what they are, distinguished from each other in their relation, without being forced into a single mould, or judged for their performance relative to the other.