“Gender Apartheid” And “Toxic Masculinity” In NAPARC? (1)

Perhaps a month ago during a podcast hosted by a few women in the PCA and one woman from the OPC complaints were lodged by the hosts against what they describe as “gender apartheid” in the conservative Presbyterian and Reformed (P&R) churches. Those denominations are mainly represented in the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). Now those podcasts have been featured in a story in The Atlantic. In the article some of the same charges rehearsed that were raised in the podcast. In this essay I wish to think about and reply to the charge of “toxic patriarchy” and “gender apartheid” in the NAPARC denominations.

What is sexism and does it exist in NAPARC denominations? I doubt that there is an agreed definition today but the Oxford American Dictionary defines it thus: “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.” This seems like a reasonable place to begin. I am old enough to remember earlier generations of feminism (e.g., the struggle for females to get work beyond secretarial positions) and my sense of what sexism is shaped by that experience. Today, however, despite the frequent complaints about inequity in pay, the reality is more complicated. Even those who want to argue for the existence of a “pay gap” admit that. When we factor in job choices, pregnancy, career paths influenced by family choices, and family obligations, the growing education gap (the rising numbers of females in universities and the declining numbers of males), the story is not as clear. In short, when we compare apples with apples, this is not 1917. When I was a boy, the idea of female firefighters and female police officers, let alone female CEOs or a female president were considered laughable. Today, the only ones laughing at such ideas are in an isolation room somewhere. This is not to say that females do not face discrimination but the playing field has been changed radically. In response to this changing reality, the goal posts have been moved and the rhetoric has been ratcheted up, particularly among millennial females, for whom MS Magazine and the King-Riggs tennis match is not even a memory.

Is there sexism in NAPARC congregations? Certainly. There is also racism, adultery, covetousness, idolatry, theft, murder (at least in the heart), and almost every other sin and failure that one might list. Every NAPARC congregation consists of sinners. Consider, however, the rhetoric used by the podcasters: “gender apartheid” and “toxic masculinity.” These are very strong words. The dictionary (ibid) defines the noun apartheid thus: “(in South Africa) a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race.” It now includes “segregation on grounds other than race: sexual apartheid.” Again, one suspects that the young people bandying about the noun apartheid have little sense of how horrible it actually was. After all, in their memory, Nelson Mandella (1918–2013) was not in jail but the president of South Africa and honored across the globe for his leadership of the civil rights movement in South Africa. 

Another problem with the rhetoric of “gender apartheid” is the use of the word gender. Human beings do not have a gender. Human beings are born to one sex or the other, male or female. Gender is a grammatical category which has been deliberately applied to human sexuality in order obscure the obvious facts of nature (that sex is a biological category) and to create the impression that talk of genuine sexual differences is nothing more than oppression. This, of course, is ridiculous in its face. As a grammatical category, gender is relatively arbitrary. Ships are in the feminine gender in some languages and we use feminine pronouns for them but they have no sex. To apply gender to humans is bizarre. As Camille Paglia has recently reminded us, except for a tiny percentage o cases, humans are actually female or male. That is an unavoidable fact. That some will be offended by this reminder tells us how disconnected from objective reality our culture has become.

On the face of it, the claim that there is “gender apartheid” in NAPARC is not only implausible but even offensive. First, those who make the claim did so on their own, public podcast. Under apartheid black South Africans were not freely, without government interference, doing the equivalent of podcasts. Our podcasters were in no danger of authorities breaking down the door of their studio. Indeed, our podcasters have the ability to control with whom they will talk—they block on social media even the mildest critics and potential dialogue partners. Further, our female podcasters were theologically educated or had other advanced academic degrees. Again, for prosperous females in North America, who have earned masters and doctoral degrees, to complain of apartheid is just silly. It is offensive because it demeans the very real oppression that black South Africans suffered under apartheid. It is the equivalent of comparing standing in line at Starbucks to standing in a chow line in prison. It is not a thoughtful way to argue.

Then there is the charge of “toxic masculinity.” This category is so new that definitions are not easy to find. One author (partly on the basis of the notorious summarizes the Urban Dictionary, an online open-source not for the faint of heart) and characterizes it (quoting the “Good Men Project”) as “narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression.” Is there truth in this characterization? Certainly. There is more to being a man than living up to a film character (e.g., John Wayne or Clint Eastwood). At the same time we live in a time of shifting perceptions when the feminine might even be said to be in ascendancy. I am from Nebraska. I am deeply influenced by strong masculine figures from my childhood. My Dad was big fellow, if not particularly rugged. Still he played football and wrestled. If I got a cut we put dirt on it. He was not (as we used to say) “a sissy.” One of my grandfathers was a farmer and rancher. He was a the epitome of the quiet, stoic westerner. The other worked with his hands, hunted, and could repair anything you wanted. Still, a couple of years overseas taught me that masculinity takes other forms. None of the Englishmen or Europeans I met reminded me much of my grandfathers, some of them were pretty rugged and but others had traits that I once might have regarded as effeminate, yet they were not actually effeminate.

Still, one might reasonably worry that language like “toxic masculinity” is a rhetorical/political tax on boys and men for being, well, boys and men. Contrary to what you might have learned in university, some of the differences between boys and girls are simply hardwired. They are the result of nature, not nurture. We are different and we are meant to be different. We might forgive millennials for being confused. After all, they have been raised in an era when the US military is seriously pursuing not only admitting females to Special Forces (none has so far passed the physical tests) but admitting trans-sexuals or cross dressers to the US military. I refuse to use the silly category “transgender” for the reasons given above. We are not now talking about equal opportunity but the total obliteration of the basic biological distinctions between males and females.

The question remains: Is there systematic oppression of females in NAPARC churches? Again, definitions are essential. In our late-modern subjectivist culture, recognition of sexual differences and of a creational pattern is regarded as “systematic oppression” but Christians may not simply adopt cultural categories and use them to leverage Scripture and nature. Christians recognize that there is such a category as nature, that there are such things as “givens.” There are laws of nature and there is a God who made nature. Properly defined, we should conclude that no, there is not a systematic oppression of females. Are there quarters within the NAPARC world in which females are told, in effect, to “sit down and shut up”? Yes. This is part of the problem. In reaction to the various iterations of feminism, some congregations do not allow females to vote in congregational meetings on the grounds that voting is an exercise of authority and therefore a violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. This strikes me as an unlikely inference and application of this passage.

Christians must begin with the sufficiency of Scripture and its essential perspicuity. Jerry Falwell (1933–2007) may have been glib but he was not wrong when he said to Ted Koppell something to the effect that God had not created Adam and Steve but Adam and Eve. God’s Word says:

Then Elohim said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So Elohim created man in his own image, in the image of Elohim he created him; male and female he created them (Gen 1:26–27).

Whatever the prevailing post-Christian (neo-pagan) culture may tell us, Christians may not doubt God’s Word. That is skepticism. God’s Word gives us a place to start whereby we can criticize both the John Wayne persona and the “gender bending” culture trends of the 2000s. Males and females are both created in God’s image. They are both given dominion over creation. They are intimately related and meant to relate intimately. They are meant to “be fruitful and multiply” (v.28). These are creational basics. It was to this fundamental pattern that our Lord Jesus appealed when it said, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh (Mark 10:6–8; ESV).

There is a creational pattern. There are sexual differences. There are norms to which we must all adhere. In part two I will argue that grace, as transformative as it is of human relationships, does not obliterate those fundamental creational patterns but renews them.

Christians must not be taken captive by popular slogans and thought patterns. We must think critically (i.e., evaluating claims and ideas in the light of Scripture and plain reason) about everything the culture wants to sell us, whether it is vague claims about “toxic masculinity” or “gender apartheid.” In part two we will consider what God’s Word says about how to relate nature (creation) and grace (redemption) and the roles of the sexes in the visible church.

29 comments

  1. I have long been a believer of head-of -household vote. Man was given the role of spiritual head, but if my wife votes opposite me, she usurps my authority. However, should I die, or some thing else occurs where I can no longer fill that role, then my wife would become head of household. It is my opinion that this ensures the scriptural roles are maintained, while allowing each household to be represented in the government of the Church.

    • I can’t agree about the voting. I have never told my wife how to vote, though I do give her my input when she’s curious about a particular matter. We didn’t agree on the last presidential election. I’m her head, but I don’t dictate.

  2. Cultural determinism and its spawn, identity politics—the parent of Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory, white privilege, sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.— are ideological constructs birthed by revolutionary politics on behalf of social justice, also known as utopian socialism:

    “The left’s creed – identity politics – is an anti-American, racially charged determination to reject individual accountability and individual freedom, and to establish in their place group privileges, and racial/gender hierarchies. These hierarchies are based on the malicious premise that whites, heterosexuals and males are oppressors and – in the words of the Democratic platform – America is a society governed by “systemic racism,” which needs to be fundamentally transformed.” (The War Against Trump, David Horowitz, Frontpage Magazine, March 8, 2017)

    Cultural determinism is the parent of identity politics and group solidarity. In its turn, cultural determinism was birthed by the Darwinian idea that man is an ape of evolution, therefore his identity is determined for example, by skin color or sexual and/or erotic appetites. This proposition rejects the concepts of the human soul/spirit, personhood, individuality, free will, and morally informed conscience (paired with personal accountability and responsibility) because it emphatically denies the existence of the Creator God of the Bible. (Cultural Marxism, L. Kimball, American Thinker, Feb., 2007)

  3. Example of transgender politics within the Church of England:

    “Transgender worshippers could be given church services to celebrate their new identity, after the Church of England synod signaled their support for the move.

    The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu was among senior figures who implored members of the Church’s governing body to vote for a motion asking bishops to consider new liturgy specially designed to welcome a transgender person under their new name.

    The Revd Chris Newlands, vicar of Lancaster, who proposed it, said the motion was “a wonderful opportunity to create a liturgy which speaks powerfully to the particularities of trans people, and make a significant contribution to their well-being and support”. (Transgender Worshippers Could Get Church Services to Celebrate Their New Identity After Synod Vote, Olivia Rudgard, telegraph.co.uk, July 9, 2017)

  4. Thanks for posting this article and I commend you for being willing to address the topic. I think it is interesting that the ladies on Truth’s Table have largely ignored the thoughtful, irenic criticisms that were given to them. I am one of the individuals quoted in the article and to date, I have yet to hear any response from them, I’ve also written about the topic in the Gospel Reformation Network (http://gospelreformation.net/call-courageous-discernment/) and my wife has written about the topic as well (https://wifewithpurpose.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/please-forgive-my-indifference/). At this point, I’m convinced that they do not want a dialogue, especially when it comes from those who would contradict their narrative

    • Hi Dr Williams,

      I very much enjoyed your discussion of these issues with Dr Payne.
      I’m sorry that they haven’t responded in the same spirit.

  5. Great article. I would suggest using woman or women instead of female or females. I’m sitting next to Tammi my Pembroke Corgi and she is an award winning example of a female in the breed. Woman refers to humans who are defined by more than their genitalia.

  6. Thank you. I appreciate the level headed, logical approach tempered by truly wanting to follow I Corinthians 13. I pray that the rest of the church will have the same biblical attitude as these issues are duscussed.

  7. Is there sexism in NAPARC congregations? Certainly. There is also racism, adultery, covetousness, idolatry, theft, murder (at least in the heart)…

    Sadly, I don’t think the qualifier is necessary, as it seems extremely likely that some number of OPC members have chosen to abort pregnancies.

    • Wow. What makes you think that? Could the mentality exhibited in the minority report of the OPC on abortion be a contribution to that? Or is it left-over laxity on abortion from a prior Reformed generation?

  8. I don’t understand why ministers and Christian writers think we are going to persuade our way out of this. The Left, including liberal Christians who deny God’s word, do not want dialog. These articles are usually preaching to the choir, though even then they can’t be repeated to the Left second-hand. There is no dialog with lunatics. In fact, all of the research shows that people form their conclusions first then work on the justifications for them afterward. Trying to debunk someone’s faulty conclusion actually hardens them into it. Rags like the Atlantic are interested in selling ad copy to a target audience that does not include us and never will. SJWs have a certain set of tactics that, once understood, can help you defeat them. Reasoning with them isn’t the way.

    • Walt,

      That sounds to me like an excuse: “these are bad people, who have bad methods. Therefore I am excused from talking to them.”

      What if we change the premise to:

      “these are people, made in God’s image, with whom I disagree. Therefore I owe it to them to take them and their ideas seriously.”?

      We talking to other Christians. What if people had taken your approach to me? Where would I be?

      Do you want others to write you off?

      Call me naive but I still believe in facts and logic.

      I’m not a Nietzschean. Everything can’t (or shouldn’t) be reduced to the will to power.

    • Walt, it’s a judgement call. Do you answer a fool according to his folly or ignore them. Either way, the goal is to stop their mouth.

      Yeah, I was a little surprised to see the post myself in that as we are often told on the HBlog “consider the source” in that neither Higgins or Tismar’s previous track record has impressed me. Tismar may be over his head, but Higgin’s is seriously under water. (Think the Mariana Trench.)
      Her comments regarding patriarchy and Scripture on ordination are rude, crude and vulgar, if not obscene. She doesn’t have a clue and I am surprised she has been given any kind of ahem, microphone to promote the propaganda her case, such as it is. Granted we all were – or still are novices – but that is why the same don’t get a podium if we bothered to read the pastoral epistles, rather than just diss them in passing.

      But personalities aside, all this is not only silly, it is stupid and sinful. When Christians are found screeching what were and are secular liberal progressive smears against religion and reality, one has good reason to question their credibility and competence to the question.

      (FTM while S. Africa had its problems, Mandela is anything but a hero. True, it’s another can of worms entirely, but SA is well on its way to becoming another Rhodesia Zimbawe. Oh happiness and joy. White racism bad, black racism good.)

      Still as our secular coercive cognitive elite melts down due to Peak Stupidity, superficial and shallow evangelicalism can’t help, but be affected. Consequently somebody has to do the dirty work of pointing it out and it was the HB’s turn this time. Who knows? Next time it might be yours.

      cheers

  9. My understanding of God’s moral law is that not all duties can be performed at all times (WLC 99). The way in which you observe the 9th commandment depends on circumstances. I could argue with people who believe in all these different genders but I could also do something else with my time that might be more profitable. I don’t think we are obligated to take these peoples’ ideas seriously whether or not they themselves are made in God’s image. These are not well-reasoned ideas: they’re a set of tactics and reactions (pointing and shrieking, isolating opposition, etc). These people are not having a discussion but fighting a form of low-intensity warfare through propaganda and gradual capture of institutions.

    Like all unbelievers, they need to hear the law and gospel. We can call on them to repent and believe. We can pray for their repentance and positive response to the gospel. I deny that treating their ideas like they have merit is a good use of our time. Even the idea of ‘nature’ is something they deny since they think they create their own reality.

    In response to some of your other questions: most people write me off and it doesn’t bother me at all. The Left does not believe in facts or logic. They want to win, not persuade. I think Christians, if they want to wade into these sorts of frays, should do more than just be punching bags or noble losers.

    • I’ve given up arguing and attempting dialogue with people who only want a monologue and it’s opened much time for me to study God’s word, ultimately putting my time to better use. If these same types of people ignore the well-reasoned words of Dr. Clark and the like, so much more will I be ignored but at the same time others on the fence might find the good arguments by Dr. Clark convincing and helpful, enabling them to move in the right direction.

    • Like all unbelievers, they need to hear the law and gospel. We can call on them to repent and believe. We can pray for their repentance and positive response to the gospel. I deny that treating their ideas like they have merit is a good use of our time. Even the idea of ‘nature’ is something they deny since they think they create their own reality.

      The “they” in question are members (presumably in good standing) of OPC and PCA churches, not ‘unbelievers’. On the other hand, just like all Believers, they (and we) do need to hear law and gospel, and be called on to repent and believe, etc.

  10. I think Walt is right. Using the terms “apartheid” and “toxic” should indicate to everyone that these are not people looking for a reasonable conversation.
    It reminds me of Machen’s folly. Sure, Christianity and Liberalism was technically right, liberals are lying and should just leave the church. Machen lost that argument and was forced out himself, complete with a show trial. Did he really expect appealing to a liar’s conscience will be even modestly effective?

    How then should we react? Perhaps we ought to act like men and talk less and issue more discipline, while we still can.

    • Joel, I could be wrong, but I don’t think it is going to happen in the PCA.
      Think for one of “good faith” subscription (and arguably the Kinnaird case in the OPC).

      Yet as Hoeksema and others pointed out at the genesis of the PCA and afterwards, the “conservatives” left over fundamentalist issues per se, not confessional ones. Chapt. 3 of the WCF was long gone. The inerrancy of Scripture, the deity and miracles of Christ i.e. liberalism, was the line in the sand.

      Also the discipline up until now has been toothless. The PCA statement on the FV was just fine, the practical application of it, worthless. Leithart has since skated or is he still a minister in good standing in the PCA?

      Now the cause du jour of sexism has been broached by members of another sacrosanct victim class, that of race in the PCA.
      Can we say double jeopardy? Sure we can.

      True, there is nothing new under the sun, least of all declension, but there is a time to cut and run. Your mileage may vary, but I have not been a member of the PCA for quite some time.

  11. Walt, it’s a judgement call. Do you answer a fool according to his folly or ignore them. Either way, the goal is to stop their mouth.

    Yeah, I was a little surprised to see the post myself in that as we are often told on the HBlog “consider the source” in that neither Higgins or Tismar’s previous track record has impressed me. Tismar may be over his head, but Higgin’s is seriously under water. (Think the Mariana Trench.)
    Her comments regarding patriarchy and Scripture on ordination are rude, crude and vulgar, if not obscene. She doesn’t have a clue and I am surprised she has been given any kind of ahem, microphone to promote the propaganda her case, such as it is. Granted we all were – or still are novices – but that is why the same don’t get a podium if we bothered to read the pastoral epistles, rather than just diss them in passing.

    But personalities aside, all this is not only silly, it is stupid and sinful. When Christians are found screeching what were and are secular liberal progressive smears against religion and reality, one has good reason to question their credibility and competence to the question.

    (FTM while S. Africa had its problems, Mandela is anything but a hero. True, it’s another can of worms entirely, but SA is well on its way to becoming another Rhodesia Zimbawe. Oh happiness and joy. White racism bad, black racism good.)

    Still as our secular coercive cognitive elite melts down due to Peak Stupidity, superficial and shallow evangelicalism can’t help, but be affected. Consequently somebody has to do the dirty work of pointing it out and it was the HB’s turn this time. Who knows? Next time it might be yours.

    cheers

  12. Bob, Joel,

    I agree with everything you’ve written. Thanks for the comments. You can find YouTube videos of Mandela singing the “Kill the Boer” song in the ’90s. Another feature of the Left is that it relentlessly re-writes history casting heroes as villains and vice-versa.

    I really can’t see a way forward on the Frankfurt-school Marxism infecting the PCA and evangelicalism. The imminent military historian Martin Van Creveld has written that men of societies in terminal decline stop leading their women. Rome went through this same process. The process accelerates as men exit professions and institutions where male strength, cooperation and camaraderie are necessary to get the job done. Perhaps some first steps are for men to rediscover what it is to be men, stop apologizing for doing what is natural to us, and standing up to these harridans. It has been said that feminism is just a massive test of Western men and we’re failing it.

    Regardless of what happens in larger society, Frankfurt school Marxism is not Christianity. Those passing it off as Christian doctrine need an earful from their brothers and, if unrepentant, their elders.

  13. Thank you for your good work in this area. One small issue, Mandella was a unrepentant murder, he should never be praised. Too many people have forgotten this. I’m not judging his soul only reminding people to know the whole story.

    • Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for this. I’m highly sensitive to the problem of abuse. I’ve addressed it at least three times in recent years:

      1) When Pastors Abuse
      2) On Disciplining Abusers and Protecting the Sheep
      3) When Elders and Ministers Cross The Line

      I will read the article.

      Please understand that I have no doubt that there are abusers and even unhealthy cultures in some places (e.g., patriarchalism). I doubt, however, that the “toxic masculinity” is a helpful category for analyzing or addressing the problem. For one thing, which I didn’t address in the article, we should be skeptical about the wholesale importation of therapeutic language into the church. This will eventually weaken our ability to deal with sin, if it has not done so already.

  14. Thank you for the article. I would be glad to know what is “patriarchalism” which I saw in your reply to Barbara.

Comments are closed.