The Common Good

The Fruit of the Spirit For Everyone, Not Just Women

Kindness, gentleness, love, peace, joy. Would you be more likely to describe these character traits as "masculine" or "feminine"? If you answered "feminine," you would not be alone -- but you would be wrong. These are human traits -- neither exclusively feminine nor masculine. Yet, our society and the church seem overly comfortable associating these attributes as feminine.

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When is the last time you encountered a Christian book for men that exalted gentleness and joy as defining marks of masculinity? On the other hand, most Christian resources for women emphasize patience and peace as necessary marks of a believing wife and mother. When patience, kindness, gentleness, love, peace, joy -- the "fruits of the Spirit" (Gal. 3:22-26) -- are classified as "feminine," the church and society transform these Christian virtues into marks which polarize men and women. As a result, the "fruits of the Spirit" are stripped of their full meaning; the life-transforming work of the Holy Spirit is held captive because of gender "stereotypes."

Does Paul, the author of Galatians, make any mention of gender distinction when he describes "the fruit of the Spirit"? No!

The church's tendency to define and highlight gender distinctions between men and women, both in its structure and teachings, often leave us with confusing, harmful, and unbiblical understandings of masculinity, femininity, and Christian virtues. An example of this tendency is found among Christians who lament the "feminization of the church." I heard one pastor claim that Jesus is increasingly portrayed with feminine qualities "as a lamb-hugging, emotional lip-wrist, Richard Simmons hippie." In order to make Christianity more appealing to males, this pastor depicts Jesus as a masculine, powerful, "real guy" fighter. Yet, love and peace are not defining marks of this "masculine" Jesus. This pastor also affirms "traditional" gender roles within the church and family. He writes, "When it comes to leading the church, women are unfit because they are more gullible and easier to deceive than men." Sadly, his sentiments are common within many churches.

Christians are correct in desiring to make the church a welcoming place for men. We can, and should, accept and celebrate those with traditionally masculine interests (i.e. those who like sports, hunting, etc.), while also recognizing that traditionally masculine interests might include women.

Many characterize "masculinity" by interests in sports, NASCAR, and ultimate fighting. However, "masculinity" has also often been characterized by power, control, and dominance. This second definition of masculinity often underlies many Christian affirmations of male hierarchy in the church and marriage.

Power, control, and dominance are contradictory to the gospel message and therefore are inaccurate definitions of masculinity. As Jesus taught, "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-44, TNIV). The "feminine" traits of the fruit of the Spirit should characterize all Christians, regardless of gender.

The ethics of God's kingdom transform structures of power and control. The church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, should be a place where both genders are given full and free space to serve -- free of gender stereotypes that lead to gender hierarchy.

When we conflate masculine interests with masculine power we miss a crucial component of our new life in Christ. Furthermore, we lose sight of what it means to be the church. The church should be a welcoming place for people of all interests. The prerequisite for leadership and service in the church is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, humility, mutuality, and loving submission.

portrait-lisa-baumertLisa Baumert, theological intern at Christians for Biblical Equality, is a graduate of Wheaton College and is currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary.

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