The Transgender Movement and Egalitarian Theology

First, a couple of definitions:

Complementarianism is the view that men and women are designed by God to complement one another, each offering to the other what the other lacks. In other words, there is a universal concept of masculinity and a universal concept of femininity that God has written into creation itself. Specifically, this means there is a God-ordained difference in the roles that men and women are to fulfill in various spheres of life, and it is manifested most clearly in the headship of husbands in the home and the limitation of the office of pastor to men.

Egalitarianism is the view that the equality of men and women entails that there are no roles that are reserved uniquely for one sex or the other. Taken to its logical conclusion, this view would entail that there is no such thing as universal masculinity or universal femininity. Practically, this means that wives are not required to submit in any unique way to their husbands, and the office of pastor is available to both men and women.

Complementarians have, for some time now, argued that egalitarianism is a theology that would eventually lead to the affirmation of homosexuality. My observation of the time in which we are living indicates that such a prediction has been thoroughly vindicated. Although not all egalitarians affirm homosexual practice as permissible (especially those of an older generation), egalitarian theology on the whole has nothing firm in place to resist such a conclusion. So, once that ship has sailed (and I’d say we are probably more than halfway out of the harbor by now), what comes next? Where does egalitarianism go from here?

The answer is that it goes where it has always gone: wherever the prevailing winds of culture lead it. Egalitarians are always about 5-10 years behind Hollywood, the universities, and the various media outlets that continually push our culture in a leftward direction. They are perpetually late to the party, but they will always arrive. What that means in this case is that the next step for egalitarian theology will be the full affirmation of the transgender movement.

And a moment’s reflection will reveal the logical progression from point A to point B. Consistent egalitarians, by definition, resist the notion that masculinity and femininity are universally human characteristics. They are, instead, merely customs that change from culture to culture. Although we are, biologically, either male or female, that biological reality does not determine much of anything about how we are to live our lives in relation to people who belong to the other biological sex. After all, men and women are equal in virtually every conceivable way (hence the term “egalitarianism”). By definition, consistent egalitarianism obliterates the very categories of “masculine” and “feminine,” except as mere cultural preferences.

The transgender movement likewise affirms that biological sex can be divided into two categories of male and female, but these categories provide no expectations for the pattern of life one is to adopt. In other words, biological sex has nothing to do with gender. Because gender is merely a human construct, not a given of nature, a person who feels like a woman on the inside actually is a woman, no matter what his/her anatomy suggests. The same goes for one who feels like a man. Once masculinity and femininity are eliminated as universal categories given in our created nature and inseparably bound to our anatomy, then it doesn’t matter what our bodies tell us. We are the ones who determine what we are, based on how we feel inside. And the world must adapt to our feelings, for we cannot be expected to adapt our feelings to the stubborn anatomical realities of the world.

And so, it is the egalitarian resistance to the universal characteristics of masculinity and femininity that plays right into the hands of the transgender movement. The sad end of this road is a theology that claims for the individual the right to create his or her own reality rather than submit to the givenness of his or her created nature as man or woman. In other words, the impulse of the transgender movement is the impulse to be one’s own god rather than bow to the authority of the God who created us male and female for his glory. The serpent has dangled his original Garden deception in front of us once more–“You will be like God”–and as a culture we have swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

Transgendered people, like all of us born into Adam’s race, are broken people. They need the healing and transformation that come with repentance and faith in the gospel. Sadly, it seems unlikely that Christians who have adopted an egalitarian view of gender will have any theological basis on which to call them to repentance. As a result, the good news of the gospel will be muted wherever egalitarianism flourishes. This is one reason among others why complementarians and egalitarians, who once were able to work together in the same institutions, will not be able to do so in the future. Ideas have consequences, and the trajectories of these two theologies lead to such different places that long-term unity between the groups is no longer feasible.

As a complementarian, my hope is that many Christians who were initially attracted to egalitarian theology will see where it ultimately leads, realize that they don’t want to go there, and turn back from it to the church’s historic teaching on the nature of men and women. At the very least, I hope that many who now call themselves egalitarians, even if they choose to maintain their understanding of marriage and the office of pastor against the traditional view, will work diligently to articulate a vision for complementarity between the sexes within their own theological framework in order to guard themselves from the downgrade toward gender confusion that is knocking on their door right now. As Michael Patton has argued in this helpful article, the true theological core of this issue is not really about marriage roles and the office but pastor, but about a broader theological vision that either affirms or denies that God designed the differences between men and women with the intention that we would recognize them, affirm them, and live in submission to his design for us as a result. Short of such an about-face on the part of egalitarians, I don’t see how they can avoid eventually affirming, not only the gender confusion that our culture has already embraced, but also the as-yet-unimaginable positions that it will embrace in the future. For it turns out, when you throw off the limitations of the way things are, it can become quite difficult to stop that runaway train.

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2 thoughts on “The Transgender Movement and Egalitarian Theology

  1. Yes, ideas have consequences. While I do not like Michael Patton taking it upon himself to redefine complementarianism and egalitarianism (he’s importing the trajectory into the meaning, which will seem totally unjust to egalitarians who are still at the starting point of roles in church), I agree that each has tend to lead in one direction or the other.

    Your main point is that egalitarianism leads to acceptance of homosexuality and has no reasonable defence against trans-genderism, and you hope that egalitarians might reverse some of their thinking. I totally agree.

    Have you considered a similar need for complementarians to reconsider their position? It’s my observation that complementarianism is not immune the the surrounding culture, and for many it is a wafer thin barrier between them and the culture. So you have people who believe that men should be the head of their wives, and women should not be pastors, but nothing beyond that. “Why?” they are asked. “Well, that’s what the Bible says,” they respond, “I don’t like it,” some continue, “but God’s ways are higher than ours”.

    In fact, there is a huge amount in the Bible regarding gender that complementarianism does not address, initially because complementarianism is first and foremost only about surface roles in marriage and the church, but also because these Biblical truths are historically called “patriarchy” which even such luminaries as Tim Keller have defined as oppressive.

    Now, I happen to think that the advent of feminism has provided a corrective to some patriarchal thinking. I also do think people use patriarchy oppressively. However, I don’t think the biblical teaching is oppressive, and we are foolish to ignore it.

    As a last comment, let me get on my hobby horse, (groans with effort)…headcoverings would be a useful tradition to return to here.

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  2. Yes, I think many (let’s call them) “traditionalists” need to work back to an understanding of the theological meaning behind their views about the roles of men and women. This is where complementarianism (as a modern movement that we might say originated with the Danvers statement) can play an important role in educating Christians about why they believe what they believe.

    My view of patriarchy is that it is inevitable. The question is not whether we will have it, but rather what kind of patriarchy we will have, whether good or bad. I think Keller is mistaken to call it oppressive by definition.

    Although I am not part of the head-covering movement, you are probably well aware that I don’t regard its arguments as weak or implausible. I have great respect for it, and I would think that churches where women cover their heads in worship are in little danger of embracing the rampant gender confusion of Western culture. I would much rather see a church go in that direction than embrace egalitarian theology.

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