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Progressive Christianity and the Gender Ideology

March 8, 2015

As with science and scientism (see previous post), a similar situation is also playing out regarding the gender ideology. I am fully in the progressive camp when it comes to refusing old Biblical injunctions on the role and treatment of women. I also believe that the fundamentalist stance about gays is deplorable and that quoting Leviticus, or the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, does not make a good case. If the Old Testament and Mosaic laws were applied today, with their prescribed consequences, most fundamentalists would merit the death penalty for breaking them regularly.

So the fundamentalists’ argument is deeply flawed and too similar to the one used in the past for the burning of undesirables. On the other hand, refusing an outdated gender theology, does not automatically validate a newer one, as some progressive Christians seem to think. Going from one to the other and falling for a polarized view in which things are either black or white, with no shades of gay, pun intended, is too simplistic.

The gender ideology that is now promoted in most western countries is a complex mixture of ideas. Some have contributed to the tearing down of armful prejudices, bringing greater equality and social advancements, but some merely reflects the narrow aspirations of special interest groups. So there are ideas that are valid and others that are more speculative, not yet supported by evidence.

For example, a fairly fundamental idea, is that sex is biologically determined, while gender is culturally induced. According to this, being born with a penis or a vagina does not necessarily make you a boy or a girl, culture does. From this comes the drive to change our cultural perceptions of gender in order to supposedly eliminate inequality, prejudices and “unnatural” conformity. This progressive idea has gradually gained recognition but remains somewhat out of step with what science has really been able to demonstrate.

Biology, for example, clearly points to a pre-definite human hardware, male and female, and to such an extent that anything out of the ordinary is extremely rare and usually pathological. Our biological hardware is also set to function in a very pre-definite way, which in turn exerts a shaping influence on our culture, families, society, etc.. Yes, there are variables, and the hardware (biology) can handle different software (cultures), but there is only one default setting that works best and ensures continuity to the machine, humanity.

The new gender ideology argues against biological evidence by finding fault in the data, and by introducing counter-researches that produce conflicting data. What it cites, however, is usually exceptions and anomalies, such as babies in which the sexual organs are not clearly defined, animal behaviour that isn’t strictly heterosexual, etc.. They suppose that these counter-findings validate their views but, in reality, they are usually pathological anomalies, glitches in the system and things that run contrary to the default settings. For sure our culture (system) can and does need upgrading from time to time, such as eliminating hate and prejudice, but the biological hardware cannot be changed and neither its default settings.

Parts of this gender ideology is untested software (ideas) that craves validation in order to become the running system, or a considerable part of it. Not finding enough hard(ware) evidence to back it up, its supporters produce anomalous circumstances and build their case on these. Even when they succeed at demonstrating the shaping influence of culture upon gender identity, they fail to consider that biology (hardware) and culture (software) are intrinsically connected and do interact with one another. While gender ideologists have tended to emphasize one against the other, the two are actually inseparable and, if anything, biology has a greater effect on culture than the other way around.

Some Progressive Christian leaders, people whom I deeply respect, have risen to popularity amongst gender ideologists by embracing some of their controversial theories. I understand their good intentions and it is indeed admirable that they would fight against religious prejudice and for the rights of oppressed minorities, such as gays. When taking on these worthy causes, however, they have often bought into the whole ideological package, including aspects that would merit caution.

I know that it’s hard to resist when the media and powerful lobbies promote such ideas as the new criterion for progress, the hallmark of a civilized and advanced society. Nobody, especially progressive Christians, wish to be left behind in such a path. It’s odd, however, how some of them promote the ideology so enthusiastically and wholesale, without any hint of critical thinking, while feminists, LGBT and homosexual communities dare to dissent on it and are often more honest about it.

Take, for example, the question of gay marriages, promoted now as a badge of great social development. Some Christian Progressive leaders write and speak incessantly about it, as if it was their highest ambition. Perhaps they rose to prominence from such a platform, by enrolling the support of the gay community, or they felt ashamed of the discriminatory way in which fundamentalist treated the issue. Maybe they so intensely wished to distance themselves from the fundies that they simply took the opposite view? Whatever the case, it seems that their ability to think critically was somewhat lost.

Ironically, many homosexuals oppose the movement for gay marriage, and for reasons that ought to be considered. Many feel that their rights are better achieved by other means, rather than imitating heterosexuals, and that the classic marriage model is a form of cultural conditioning that doesn’t fit their cause.

As Progressive Christians, we need to look deeper at these trends and check the supporting evidence, to see if it’s really what it’s made out to be. We must strive for objectivity and learn to recognize the difference between an undeniable human right and a mere theory of gender. A wholesale endorsement of the ideology, applying it in bulk across the board, through legal and educational reforms, could prove disastrous in the long run. So it’s imperative that we consider the multiplicity of its components and see if there is bogus scientific evidence involved. We must not forget what did happen, not long ago, when unconfirmed science (eugenics) set the pattern for social engineering.

On the difference between facts and theory, the right to be free from discrimination, based on sexual preferences, is a well established fact, and so is the right to equal treatment and opportunities amongst the sexes. On the other hand, the elimination of gender differences, to be replaced by a sort of universal gender neutrality, to be applied especially in child rearing, is a philosophical proposition that lacks sufficient validation to be a fact. Sweden is now experimenting with it but it will take time before we can tally the results. The same goes for the right of gay people to adopt and raise children. Some places have recently legalized this and the results are already raising some concerns but, here too, it will take time before some credible research will yield reliable assessments.

Observing social experiments is a method by which social scientist acquire useful data and test theories. Comparatively speaking, the gender ideology has just entered the sphere of practical experimentation, especially with marriage and child rearing. It will take decades before a conclusion can be drawn on what really works and what doesn’t. Until then it might be best not to bet too much on it.

From a Christian point of view, it’s true that religion has generally inhibited progress in the field of gender equality, insisting on the subordination of women, criminalizing gays and so forth. Acknowledging this, however, does not automatically validate all that the gender ideology stands for. There are far too many factors to the equation and each must be viewed in its own merit. Just as with Darwinian evolution, where science didn’t give it a blank endorsement, neither it is with gender neutrality. As it turns out, it is natural science that raises the most formidable challenge to both. Let it be clear that science does in no way support old fundamentalist ideas, but neither does it support the pseudo-science of militant atheists and LGBT lobbies.

It is my wish then, that there would be more voices, within the Christian Progressive Movement, who would raise awareness about questionable elements in the ideology. So far, I have only heard those who endorse it wholesale, because it’s progressive, or maybe to contrast fundamentalist intolerance. I haven’t heard anyone yet, who critically examined its contents, howbeit in a progressive, non-fundamentalist way. I wish I could do it, but I am neither qualified nor in any position to do so. Other than what I wrote here, all I can offer are some pertinent links:

On the theory of gender neutrality:

Gays against gay marriage:

Gay parenting:


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