Edifying Words on Gender and on Civility

Edifying words from theologian Alastair Roberts:

Much of the discourse on gender issues in all quarters has pitted men and women against each other, treating men and women chiefly as competitors or opponents, rather than as loving collaborators. Our differences, I am convinced, should not be seen primarily as differences from each other, but as differences for each other. Both men and women need the space and means to thrive—something that requires recognizing our differing strengths and giving us both the space to play to them—and both sexes can benefit from the thriving and strengthening of the other sex.

I really like that. My wife did, too.

Shifting gears… I liked this from Alastair, too, and I kind of needed it today. He was talking about how people treat Jordan Peterson (and I have seen it), but I’m trying to apply it to how I treat my own enemies. They’re out there.

Strawmanning and carelessly rejecting the work of someone who has made a profound difference in many people’s lives, while it may play well with your own party, is only going to lead to knee-jerk reactions against you by those who aren’t. It is easy to play the partisanship game, but if we are truly to make our society a better place, we need to start trying to win people, not merely win ideological battles against grossly caricatured opponents.

Peterson’s advice to set our own house in order first before we try to change the world is valuable and it applies to all of us in this area. We all need to learn how to think and engage calmly and non-reactively. We all need to seek out sane and reasonable people who disagree with us and to forge charitable, generous, receptive, and attentive conversations with them. If you don’t believe that such people exist, you aren’t looking very hard: there are plenty of them out there. We need to stop playing zero sum games. We all need to learn how to care much more about our neighbours who disagree with us and to consider how we could pursue a good that we could hold in common with them. While we may not care for certain of their viewpoints, it is imperative that we care for them.

This is so hard to do, especially given that some enemies really are malicious—listen to the way David talks about them in his prayer in Psalm 17:

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who do me violence,
my deadly enemies who surround me.

They close their hearts to pity;
with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
They have now surrounded our steps;
they set their eyes to cast us to the ground. (Psalm 17:8–11 ESV)

And then there’s what Paul says, in several places, about his theological enemies. Here’s just one, where he warns Timothy against “certain persons” who desire

to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1:7 ESV)

I’ve met these people online. I’m not going to succeed at being civil by pretending that such people don’t exist. But I’m not going to succeed by placing everyone in the “wicked-arrogant-violent” category either. By God’s grace I wish to listen well enough (Prov 18:13) to discern who belongs in which category—and whether I myself ever stumble into arrogance. I think, too, that if love “believes all things” as Paul says (1 Cor 13), I’m going to err on the side of assuming good will in people.

God help us all in this social media world.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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