Christians around the world are struggling to grasp the spiritual implications of gender. To what extent does being male or female impact our spiritual life? How does gender shape our identity as a person or as a Christian? Put another way, would I be a completely different person if I had been born a different gender? If so, what would change? Would that change be of a fundamental, essential nature? Would it change something eternal about my being?
To answer these questions, we could attempt the following thought experiment. Want to try? Okay, if you are male ask yourself would you be a completely different person if you had been born female? And, if you are female, ask yourself the same question… would you be essentially the same person if you had been born male? Would you hold the same ideals? Would you pursue the same ultimate goals? Would you be essentially you, that is, would all that truly matters about you from an eternal perspective remain the same? Some of you may wisely distrust this exercise, recognizing its many challenges, particularly the differing expectations others have of girls versus boys. But putting all of this aside as best you can, would a change in your gender mean a fundamental, essential or eternal change of you? If you answer yes—you would remain the same—chances are you are not a gender essentialist (that is, you do not hold to the view that gender shapes what is essential about human existence).
You could ask the same question regarding your ethnicity. What would change if you were born not Chinese but French, not Canadian but Liberian? How would such a change impact what is fundamental or essential about you? This question and the one above is pressing the point, what about you makes you essentially you? Is it your ethnicity, or nationality, social class, or your gender? It is impossible to ignore, underestimate, or even measure the impact of our culture, ethnicity, or gender on our personhood. But what about the impact of your spiritual transformation as a Christian? How does becoming spiritually alive, or new in Christ change what is essential about you?
Consider the ways you have changed through your Christian conversion and journey with Christ. Has becoming a Christian altered what was fundamental about you? If you have changed more by becoming a Christian than you would have by being born a different gender, or ethnicity, then your spiritual rebirth is an essential transformation. Of course, this is what we see throughout history.
Christians have nearly always insisted that the most significant event in life is our spiritual rebirth in Christ. Those who come to faith in Christ undergo the greatest transformation in all of life: they cross the most significant line of all—from spiritual death to spiritual life in Christ. Because Christ rose from the dead, overcoming sin and death, in as much as we are joined to Christ’s victory, our eternal separation from God, self and other is restored. Though an invisible event, newness of life in Christ becomes our truest existence, our deepest joy, our inestimable strength, and our fundamental identity.
Note how the apostle Paul also shuns all confidence he might have had in his identity or achievements as a Jewish male from the tribe of Benjamin, referring to these as rubbish (Phil. 3:3-11). What was essential, fundamental and eternal about Paul was his rebirth in Christ. And throughout history, the followers of Christ have also embraced an identity that has set them apart from a world that located identity markers in materiality—gender, ethnicity, and beyond. Of course in identifying first with Christ rather than one’s family, gender, tribe, or community, Christians have suffered enormous persecution and separation from their families and communities, and have even lost their very lives.
While I am arguing that what is essential is also invisible, I am also celebrating the fact that the Cross does not eliminate gender and ethnic distinctions. Rather, the Cross unifies us despite these distinctions. What is more, the distinctions that once separated us now add to the strength and vitality within the body of Christ. Life in Christ’s new community is as the apostle Paul pointed out, a death of our old life, prejudices, and self-centeredness and a rebirth—a taking on of God’s perspective and power now active in us, enabling us to walk in newness of life in our relationship with God and others.
For this reason, I’m in love with a CBE logo (pictured above), designed by our talented student Mary Quint, which perfectly depicts our unity in Christ, as male and female.
Now it’s my turn to hear your thoughts. How has your new life in Christ affected your identity?