The rise of gender confusion points to a cultural vacuum – a significant absence of the celebration of the complementarity of the sexes. Meeting this challenge requires clear, valued, public affirmation of the positive good of the complementarity of the sexes, and is best done through celebration.
Caught, Not Taught
The ordinary way in which boys and girls grow into a comfortable sense of themselves as masculine and feminine is immersion in a culture that unselfconsciously celebrates the distinctive gifts and beauty of men and women. This occurs mainly through celebration, though supported by suitable educational elements.
The key to such a culture of celebration is the attraction that men and women feel towards each other. It is not just a matter of difference, but something beautiful about that difference that draws them to each other. This is not only about individuals but about men and women in general.
Out of this general attraction there arise cultural forms expressive of that attraction, forms that accentuate the points of difference so as to make them stand out more clearly. This helps young people navigate their own path to adulthood so as to feel secure in their bodily identity.
The current crisis surrounding gender identity is indicative of a culture floundering in the absence of a confident and relaxed state of relations between the sexes. Some of this has arisen from the rapidity of technological, social and economic change, but it comes in its exaggerated form from a concerted ideological effort to undermine the whole idea of human nature. Since human nature includes the constitution of humanity as male and female, this becomes one of the main battlegrounds in this culture war.
Nature Abhors a Vacuum
However, it is a mistake to think that what is going on is primarily an ideological conflict. The current confusion can only arise on a mass scale when the ordinary culture of celebration of complementarity declines. Although there are battles to be fought in the political and cultural spheres, the main strategy needs to be actually rebuilding a culture of celebration. As the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum. If there's a vacuum something will come in and fill it. But what? Those who have a positive and realistic understanding of the human person and the nature of masculinity and femininity should be the ones filling that vacuum. If they don't, others will.
The obvious leaders in this process ought to be Christians, who have a beautiful vision of what it is to be man and woman. And yet one finds some significant ambivalence regarding this question. In church circles for some decades now the place of women in society has tended to be viewed mainly through the lens of social justice, emphasising those areas where women have been treated unjustly. In practice this has made it harder to simultaneously maintain or foster a strong emphasis on celebrating the goodness and beauty already inherent in relations between men and women.
It is disappointing that this has been the case, because there is no inherent conflict between celebrating the complementarity of the sexes and seeking just relations between the sexes. In fact the two should go together. It should have been the occasion for greater solidarity between men and women.
Some 'Legacy' Issues
There is a second factor that has inhibited Christian leadership in fostering a culture of celebration of the sexes. There is a legacy in the churches of ambivalence about the attraction between men and women. There has been a tendency, stronger or weaker in different times and places, to emphasise the dangers this attraction poses rather than the benefits it can confer. If one proposes that Christians should actually become the leaders in fostering the celebration of this attraction it raises the stakes.
Christians have allowed themselves to become cast as the wet blankets in this whole scenario, so that instead of leading the way, they are perceived mainly as critics. They are not key players in the game but only officials trying to enforce the rules.
“Those who will, do. Those who won’t, judge.”
Imagine that you form a group with other concerned Christian parents and decide to establish a program of dances, theatre, dinners, parties and social get-togethers for teens and young adults. You need to make decisions about what form these will take, enlisting the young people themselves in the design and leadership of these events. The challenges involved will be both disciplinary and creative. Yes, you will need to establish boundaries on what kinds of dress, dance, and activities are acceptable. That part will perhaps come more naturally. But there is also a creative task.
In such situations there is likely to be an underlying assumption that other, ‘secular’ initiatives are the measure, that they will provide a more ‘professional’ and appealing experience, and that a ‘Christian’ event will be somewhat second rate, but that’s OK because our events will have higher moral standards, and that’s the main concern.
Sometimes that might be all that’s possible, and that’s fine. You do what you can do. However, that is not what is being proposed here.
The current proposal is predicated on the fact that the currently available culture of social events for young people is generally quite poor.
The experiences available in such settings are usually quite socially-humanly-culturally impoverished. The commercial and high profile offerings are quite poor. This is not by comparison with ‘high culture’, but by comparison with what actually nourishes the human spirit and builds good relationships.
A Culture-Building Project
What is being proposed here is fundamentally a culture-building project, not a moral project. The moral considerations come in as part of the attempt to build a better culture. Christians need to be at the heart of building the culture itself. And this needs to be from the ground up, not merely ‘importing’ cultural practices and values from somewhere else. You certainly want to find anything good you can from others, and stay connected as much as possible with the wider culture, but not at the expense of seeing yourselves as merely ‘cultural consumers’.