Dismantling Gender Bias

Illustration by Jon Krause

Illustration by Jon Krause

AS WE APPROACH A PRESIDENTIAL election in which each candidate’s gender is sure to be discussed, it’s worth evaluating the automatic assumptions we—yes, all of us—make when it comes to women, men, and the meaning we attribute to gender. These assumptions include everything from outright sexism to subtler forms of gender bias, such as the knee-jerk association of men with “competence” and “gravitas,” women with “incompetence” and “emotion.”

“The battle for women to be treated like human beings with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of involvement in cultural and political arenas continues, and it is sometimes a pretty grim battle,” writes Rebecca Solnit in the title chapter of Men Explain Things to Me, a 2014 collection of essays that helped coin the term “mansplain.” “This is a struggle that takes place in war-torn nations, but also in the bedroom, the dining room, the classroom, the workplace, and the streets.”

I would add, of course, that this battle also takes place in the church, our spiritual homes. After all, for women this is a struggle that’s older than feminism, perhaps as old as our faith traditions themselves. So how, exactly, can we end the battle?

The answer, it seems, lies in understanding the difference between explicit and implicit bias, the former resulting from deliberate stereotypes, the latter a growing topic in social science that doesn’t absolve us of guilt but helps us understand how biases of all kinds have been so difficult to identify, name, and change.

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On Pornography, U.S. Catholic Bishops May Find an Unlikely Ally

Image via  /

Naming it “corrosive” and a “dark” sign of contemporary American culture, the U.S. Catholic bishops approved a document this week condemning the production and use of pornography as a mortal sin.

Reaction from the bishops’ critics didn’t take long. Some said the bishops themselves have very serious problems with pornography; others pointed out the not-so-distant sex abuse crisis. The upshot was that the bishops ought to have different priorities.

One could be forgiven for confusing this disagreement with one from the 1980s. Didn’t it play out over a generation ago — with the result that our culture basically accepts porn as part of sexual liberation?

Beyond Bathrooms: Christians Need to Get a Clue on Transgender Issues

Image via Marshall Childs / RNS

Christians — particularly those of the more conservative variety — often oppose accommodations for transgender persons. But these believers are having a very important conversation in the wrong direction. When trying to understand transgender issues, Christians should start with the personal, not political. When Christians begin by committing to political goals rather than educating themselves on the complicated, sensitive nuances of this matter, they often come off looking privileged, mean, or just flat-out clueless.

But transgender issues are bigger than so-called bathroom bills and similar legislation. Society is beginning to see these issues as personal matters that affect the real lives of real people with real hurts.

A few Christians out there are, thankfully, trying to think deeply about transgender people. Mark Yarhouse is a professor at Regent University School of Psychology and Counseling and author of Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. Megan DeFranza is a visiting researcher at Boston University’s School of Theology and author of Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God. Here we discuss the complexity of transgender issues often overlooked by Christians.

Bishops Admit: We Don't Know Much About Sex, Need Married Advisers

Image via Max Rossi / REUTERS / RNS

Bishops participating in the Vatican’s synod on the family have admitted they don’t know much about sex — and that they need the help of lay people to fully understand marital intimacy.

Lay people play an important part in the discussions at their Synod on the Family, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, English-language assistant to the Vatican press office, said on Oct. 16.

“At the heart of the synod is human sexuality. And oftentimes it’s muted and we don’t know how to talk about it, because most of us in the room are male celibates,” he said, citing comments of unnamed bishops.

Why I Hate to Go to Church

seanbear /

Photo via seanbear /

I have to force myself to go to church.

Saturday mornings, when Seventh-day Adventists like me observe Sabbath, I lie in bed extra-long. Sometimes, I roll over and shut my eyes. Other times, I have to physically force myself to get up and prepare, both mentally and physically, to go.

It didn’t use to be this way. I remember waking up extra early as a preteen when I was excited to go to church. More than likely, I would be singing at both services, either in a choir or in special music. I would stay long hours after the service for evening vespers.

That all changed when I came out as bisexual. I no longer felt welcome at worship.

Five Reasons Why We Want to Believe Jesus Was Married

“Laughing Jesus” by Fred Berger. This image appeared in Playboy magazine decades ago. Photo courtesy of Paul Smith/RNS.

Another day, another stunning blockbuster report that … Jesus was married! And to Mary Magdalene!

The latest version of this meme comes from Simcha Jacobovici, an author and filmmaker who is famous for promoting stunning theories about Jesus that on further review often turn out to be dubious.

Jacobovici’s new claim that he has decoded an old text that reveals Jesus and the Magdalene were married and had two kids (and she was a “co-deity” with her husband) came out this month and has also been widely dismissed.

But as happened earlier this year with the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” — a suspect papyrus that receives a further debunking in the latest edition of the Atlantic — people find Jesus’ sex life endlessly fascinating, and plausible.

Why is that? Here are five reasons.

Gallup: Gay Sex, Divorce, Extramarital Sex Reach New Highs of 'Moral Acceptability'

Moral Acceptability graphic. Photo courtesy Gallup.

Americans are showing more tolerance for a range of behaviors, with sex between unmarried adults, medical research on stem cells from human embryos, and doctor-assisted suicide all showing record highs and increases in “moral acceptability” from last year .

The Gallup poll’s annual “moral acceptability” scale has been conducted since 2001 and charts shifting cultural attitudes on a number of hot-button social issues. In the 2014 list released Friday, Gallup researchers said 12 of the 19 categories reflected “levels of moral acceptance that are as high or higher than in the past.”

“Americans largely agree about the morality of several issues,” Gallup researchers said. “Most say birth control is acceptable but that extramarital affairs are wrong. However, other issues show clear, substantial divides. These differences are largely explained by party identification, but previous research has shown that age also plays a factor.”

Three issues — sex between an unmarried man and woman, medical research on embryonic stem cells, and doctor-assisted suicide — showed a slight increase in acceptability from 2013. Most of the other issues were mostly unchanged.

'Kosher Lust': Rabbi Shmuley Boteach Says It's More Important Than Love

“Kosher Lust” book cover photo courtesy of Rubenstein PR

Celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, spiritual counselor to Michael Jackson, onetime Republican candidate for Congress, and author of the best-selling “Kosher Sex” and “Kosher Jesus,” has a new book for Jews and non-Jews alike: “Kosher Lust.”

Its provocative subtitle: “Love Is Not the Answer.”

The answer, Boteach says, is lust, the God-given fuel for a healthy marriage. Love, he argues, cannot sustain marriage, but lust — what he calls the unfairly maligned member of the Seven Deadly Sins — can.

The Passion of Relisha Rudd

Courtesy Homeless Children's Playtime Project

Relisha collage. Courtesy Homeless Children's Playtime Project

The first ominous sign that the Relisha Rudd case was slipping from the local Washington, D.C. imagination was when the police alert signs posted on the roads into the city had their messages changed, or were removed entirely.

For weeks after the news that the little eight-year-old girl was missing broke on March 19, the digital display boards had broadcast the Amber alert in their amber lettering, its grim message truncated in a style all too appropriate for the digital age: “BLK Female, 8 YRS, 4’0”, 70-80 LBS,” along with a contact number to report sightings. Radio stations had urged citizens repeatedly to be on the lookout.

Because I tend to leave WTOP news radio on a little too often when the children are around, my ten-year-old son grew preoccupied with the case, and because he cannot admit to himself that tragedy is ever actually happening, came to me and said, earnest with his watery blue eyes, “Mom, you know they found that girl.”

Hoping, hoping.

Sex and the Never-Ending Christian Adolescence

Young couple in love, Kseniia Perminova /

Young couple in love, Kseniia Perminova /

I don’t know about young girls, but I know from experience that young boys obsess about sex.

They crave it, fantasize about it, do everything in their meager power to obtain it, worry about their adequacy, get confused by their longings, and for the duration of adolescence — and often beyond — see people in terms of “getting laid.”

I suppose this obsession is natural, and that it serves some fundamental purpose, such as perpetuating the species or giving us something to think about besides our gangly bodies, weird thoughts, and being young and insecure.

I don’t know any adult who would willingly repeat adolescence. Yet here we are — we Christians seeking hope, grace, mercy, and purpose, we believers in a God of justice — treating our faith as an endless adolescence centered around sex.