Stephen Clark’s book Man and Woman in Christ
has been an excellent read. Near the end of the book he summarizes his conclusions from his study. One point is that Christians should use cultural expressions to express the role differences between men and women. Most societies throughout history, including Western society, have had ways of distinguishing between men and women and their roles. This was done in many ways, but primarily through different modes of dress and manners. Manners here would include what was done and said between men and women. An example my wife just read was how in the Civil War South women did not discuss their pregnancies in front of men. When they became visibly pregnant they stopped going out into society as well. Whatever we think of the practice, it was a way of women distinguishing themselves from men.
In our society there has been a breakdown of differences between men and women. (That sentence is like saying the Titanic was a ship that sunk.) There are coed bathrooms to go along with co-ed dorm rooms. Women can be firefighters, policemen, boxers, wrestlers, soldiers, pastors, football players, and presidents. Add to this the sexual confusion seen in sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuals, transgender, divorce, and abortion and we see a society that has lost any vision of the distinct, glorious, God-ordained differences between men and women. Therefore it is not a surprise that we have tossed aside cultural expressions of those differences. I want to briefly explore how we have done this in dress and manners.
Clothing for men and women has become more uniform. Can you imagine a store with male and female employees requiring their female employees to wear skirts? That thought experiment is enough to show how far we have come. Many movies depict women in pants and military style tank tops just like men wear. Men wear skinny jeans,which are basically yoga pants with buttons. There are still masculine and feminine clothes. But our culture does not demand or expect that. For example, a girl could wear a nice dress to school, but she should just as easily wear masculine clothes. Her hair could be long or short. Feminine dress has become an individual expression instead of a cultural expectation and norm. Many women dress feminine, not because they are women, but because it is an expression of their personal desires. There is no norm, just me dressing in whatever way makes me happy.
But the loss of manners, which distinguish men from women, is more pronounced that the uniformity of dress. Men used to open doors for women, give their seats up for women, wait for women, speak with careful respect to women, avoid certain topics when speaking with women, not lay their hands on women, etc. Men were careful about what they said in front of the ladies. Now we talk to them just like they are one of the guys. Men and woman playing each other in sports would have been unthinkable. Now it is normal. Men and women sharing bathrooms. We have flattened out the differences between men and women. Do we have any normal, social manners where we distinguish men from women?
There is no Biblical command that says, “Open doors for ladies.” However, it is a cultural expression of a Biblical truth: Women and men are different and are to be treated differently. We don’t have to necessarily hang on to opening doors for women. The problem is that we have jettisoned our fathers’ cultural expressions of role differences without replacing them with new ones. Therefore we are left with little non-verbal language by which we say, “Men and women are different.”
Here is why many complementarians are so feeble in their attempt to hold back the cultural tide of egalitarianism. They believe that men and women are different. But they refuse to allow that truth to impact life in concrete ways. Women can’t be pastors and men should lead in the home….sorta, kinda, almost. But in most places they throw up their hands and say, “Who knows where the line is between men and women’s dress?” “Is it really wrong for a woman to teach men in church when it isn’t the Sunday morning sermon?” When complementarians think women can be cops, bust drug dealers, and get in firefights they have lost the battle.
There are many people, including some Christians, who do not think there is much of a difference between men and women. They are happy that these walls have been broken down. These people are in rebellion against the created order.
But for those of us who still think men and women were created by God for distinct, glorious roles, then cultural expressions of these differences are necessary. Here I offer two suggestions. Dress in a way that says, “I am a man.” Or “I am a woman.” I am not saying women can’t wear pants or jeans. Nor am I saying that men must wear camo. But make sure your dress fits your sex. There is a lot of freedom here. I am not encouraging a return to all women or men wearing the same thing. I am encouraging men and women to wear clothes that distinguish them from the other sex. We are generally better at this than we are at the second point.
Second, we should bring back distinct ways of treating the opposite sex. The men are primarily responsible for this. We should open doors for the ladies, wait to sit until they are seated, not speak of certain things in front of them, smoke our cigars outside, run late night errands instead of sending our wives into the darkness, rise when they enter the room, protect our ladies physically and spiritually, pull out their chairs, put on their coats, etc. In short, we should find (or recover?) ways of saying, “Men are different from women.” Ladies should let men do this. Many ladies hate having a man give up his seat for them. Why? We don’t have to do all of these and we can create other cultural expressions. But for Christians who think men and women are different we need to have a cultural language that defies the egalitarian ethic of the world we live in. It is not enough to preach from the pulpit or write in books that men and women are different. We must reflect this truth in homes, churches, and communities in actions that say men and women are different.
Originally posted in August 2014, but there are some revisions to this re-post.