WCR Logo


September 12, 2016

In their eagerness to combat ideologies that would obliterate all differences between men and women, Church spokespersons need to avoid facile references to "God's plan" as if everyone knows what that is. Indeed, when discussing issues of gender, such unexplained references are likely to reinforce the ideology of patriarchy.

Scripture contains solid ground for asserting that patriarchy is not God's plan, as in Galatians 3.28: "There is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." St. John Paul II taught that male domination is not God's plan, but the result of human sin.

In interpreting perhaps the most patriarchal statement in the Bible - "Wives, be subject to your husbands are you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the Church" (Ephesians 5.22-23) - the sainted pope saw this as, not a call to patriarchy, but to "mutual submission out of reverence for Christ" (5.21).

Submission of any sort is a non-starter for many in our individualistic age. However, no intimate relationship, such as marriage, can survive without submission. The equal dignity of woman and man makes it imperative that submission be mutual rather than one-sided.

However, in attacking gender theory, many fail to make necessary distinctions. It is going too far to say that gender is entirely a construction of society, but gender is surely more fluid than the stereotypes of Victorian and many other societies would imply. That women in Western society are openly accepted in the workforce, with many in leadership roles, and that the dress, hairstyles and familial roles of men and women are no longer rigidly differentiated should, in general, be cause for rejoicing.

One's biological sex is not socially constructed. Even there, however, greater ambiguity exists in chromosomes, hormones and sexual organs than previously recognized. We, as Church, should be sensitive and non-discriminatory toward all, while also faithful to Genesis' statement that "God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them" (1.27).

The extent to which biological differences force role differentiation between men and women is far less than in earlier times. However, to say biology does not call for some differences in social roles would be to reduce the nature of the human person to the social dimension while ignoring the biological.

God does have a plan, but the plan is less defined than once thought. Human freedom plays an essential role in living out that "plan". Church teaching can be enriched by gender theory while at the same time contributing its own insight into the most essential aspect of what it means to be human - that humanity is created in the image and likeness of God.