Is Gender Descriptive or Prescriptive?
Ideas have consequences. We are now reaping the consequence
of certain ideas that have been a part of our society for so long we take them
at face value. Yet when the face of culture changes, these values change, and we
are left scrambling to make sense of how to address these issues.
This topic is one I have written and spoken about many times, but I want to make one more attempt to show how we can bring healing to those who struggle with issues regarding their sexual identity. I recently listened to an interview with a Christian woman who struggles with gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is the clinical name for what most people today know as transgender.
In her talk, she repeatedly commented on the fact that she never felt like she fit the typical world understanding of what it meant to be a woman. She would rather play contact sports than shop for clothes or wear makeup. She was often referred to as a tomboy growing up. This is a problem that the Gospel can really help.
In Genesis, we are told that God created them male and female. What it doesn’t say is just as important as what it does say. It doesn’t say Adam was strong and was created to like football, and Eve spent her evenings sewing fig leaves for clothes. The reason it doesn’t say anything about how they behave is because gender is descriptive not prescriptive.
What do those two words mean? Descriptive is just describing their gender and nothing more. If it was prescriptive then it would be followed by certain traits that we are designed to adopt. Lots of descriptive Bible verses are incorrectly used in prescriptive ways. For example, Jer. 29:11 is a very popular verse. It reads, “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans not to harm you but to give you a hope and a future.”
This is a very nice verse, but it is descriptive. It’s God
promising a certain group of people a certain thing. This thing that God
promises is not applicable to all people at all times. How do I know this? It’s
easy. This verse could not apply to Jesus and his disciples. Jesus and his
disciples both had plans that included them being harmed. Yes, part of God’s
plan for his disciples and himself included their own personal harm. They were
beaten and sometimes killed.
So you can see how troublesome it would be if they tried to take that verse from Jeremiah and make it about them. Eventually, it would leave them confused when they faced hard times because it went counter to the promises they claimed for themselves. In the same way, we need to be aware that gender is descriptive not prescriptive.
When a transgender woman says she feels like a man on the
inside, what she means is that she doesn’t fit the typical worldly view of
femininity. The pressure that the world put on her to conform is not a biblical
pressure. Very rarely does Scripture suggest that a man or woman should act a
certain way, and when Scripture does, it has to do with how we interact with
each other, not with what kind of personality we should have.
Christians should be sounding the alarm against
sexual stereotypes because we now see just how much harm they cause. They have
drawn lines in the sand and when people don’t fit certain molds we reinforce
those stereotypes instead of showing them that freedom can always be found in
As the culture flails about like a fish out of water, may we have the attitude of Christ who looked beyond worldly labels to the heart of each person, and then offered them a place to find rest for their souls.