Posted by: rogermitchell | February 7, 2011

resurrection life and gender relations

My last post on living in the light of the resurrection drew some great comments on the issue of gender relations. As Cheryl put it  “So much, much of the structure of our society is based on the questions of reproduction and the relationships between men and women. And Jesus radically challenges all of that. Not only will we live after death but we will live without marriage. That completely shifts the gender relationships and perhaps allows for true equality for women. Remove reproduction and its politics from the picture and gender relations completely change. I assume, since Jesus posits this is a God thing, for the better, much as many will feel that they would be missing something vital to their lives.” This shift in gender relationships implied by the politics of resurrection, is, I believe, extremely significant. It reinforces the conviction that Sue and I have long shared, that it is important to distinguish between gender and sex.

What I am getting at here is that both males and females have a mix of gender chromosomes, and just a small percentage difference is the deciding factor as to whether you end up with a male body or a female body. That is to say that both men and women are on a gender spectrum between masculine and feminine, although their bodily sexual identity is male or female. This suggests that God’s image is the fulness of both genders. Several things follow from this. One is that human fulfilment is unlikely to be circumscribed by sexual ecstasy and the joys of raising children. It’s more likely that both point beyond to a greater fulfilment in reciprocal shared life embodied in the trinity life of God that we are created to share with humankind in the context of the rest of the creation.  My point here is that affirming and sharing different aspects of gender in each other is even more important in deciding and fulfilling human behaviour than sexual experience is. Which is a view of life that this third contention emphasises, and which of course runs counter to the beastly system which puts everything in simplistic categories for control and commodification.

In fact even the most oppressive forms of empire are usually very pro marriage and the family because they can easily become categories of control and subsets of domination. Marriage and family are good available choices which I for one have been very blessed to have reached out to make and been received by my wonderful wife in so doing. My sons, their wives and my grandchildren are a constant delight to me. But given that heaven signifies the fulness of life for the present day and not just the future, they are clearly not the most important things in life.  So it follows that we all, married, single divorced, widowed and so on need to discover and pursue the more important things together, and make sure that these lesser blessings and responsibilities are submitted to them and not the other way around.

In the process it is important that we recognise and affirm the degrees and types of gender combinations in each other, and the way we pour them out in answer to the cry for justice for the poor and for the blessing and healing of the creation. Jesus clearly did this when he described himself as a mother hen and encouraged his disciples to put his loving way of life before job and family. This is emphatically not about putting church first which is often just another category of oppression, but putting the kin[g]dom of God first and submitting all else to it. The comments on the last post are right, all this flows from Jesus’ reply to the Sadducces, about the reality of resurrection and in missing it we show how little we know of the scriptures or the power of God.



  1. Okay Roger: I have several reactions to this.

    First: Bravo. yes. I say that as a lifelong single woman

    Second: Yes, empires love family life, it is the foundation of an imperial society and always provides cannon fodder in terms of young men who will fight the imperial wars. It also supports the image of the maternal figure (morther mary) who loves and cares for all the fallen soldiers and young males who have fought in her name and for the love of her.

    Third: I sat in church with a friend yesterday. The engagement of a fairly young couple was announced to applause. I noted that they were young in age. She noted that culturally there was a strong push for marriage in the evangelical, vaguely charismatic church as a way to avoid premarital sex. I noted that this fetishization of marriage was the norm among Protestants and in many ways resembles Islam. No woman can, by definition, live as a single (never married) woman in Islam. And there is a similar unwritten rule in Protestant culture. However, since we believe in one woman/one man marriages there then becomes an unholy and agonizing search for a Christian man to marry these worried and unhappy Christian women. Lack of marriage in evangelical circles means you failed somehow as a woman (and in your faith?). The Protestant church in its rejection of the monastic tradition of the Catholic church provided no viable means for a woman to remain single despite Paul’s assertion that the unmarried state is the better one (I guess it resembles the Kingdom more closely).

    Fourth: That said, it ain’t easy being single as a Protestant Christian woman. We don’t do community well in the western world, not nearly so well as we think we do. In fact we do it very poorly. So that leaves single Christian women in the black hole of loneliness. And a cat can only go so far to mitigate that. And if a woman finds herself dissatisfied with the church at this point and perhaps on the outside of it rather than actively and happily engaged on the inside of it – well the loneliness is increased. I have also found in my pursuit of obedience to God’s calling that my church friends will only go with me so far. At some point I cross a threshold and they cease to want to engage with me. So if not married is the future we need to find a way to live the fulness of the Kingdom here and now, especially for the sake of those folks who are already, especially if thoughtfully and deliberately so, choosing singleness as a Kingdom life.

    When I was in Ghent last September I toured one of the Beguine compounds. The last Beguine had left only a few years before. It was an almost 1000 year tradition of communal living (a real co-housing community with shared and private households) for women who for one reason or another were not in marriages. It had a respected role in the larger community. It was, in essence, a nunnery that was not fully cloistered as women left to work outside the community. I’m not saying that is the answer but some sort of shared communal life is likely necessary for all of us singles and married folks. If the Kingdom is paramount in our lives than marriages are not sacrosanct and not to be idolized in the church. They are a choice of lifestyle, a lesser one in Paul’s language. I enjoy kids too and I love sharing other people’s kids so I ‘m glad people get married and reproduce. But the Kingdom is beyond that and more than that and in making a fetish of Christian marriage we have missed it and real community.


    P.S. and besides, I have to say that all too many of those wonderful Christian marriages appear rather unhappy to me. The women spend way too much time trying to be the best marriage partner possible (uber-homemakers, child-raisers, and if necessary workers-outside-of-the-home) in order to make it work. Yuk. It holds no appeal to me though I would love closer companionship on my journey. I don’t like being lonely but I would hate the kind of marriage I see all too frequently in the church. Bleh.

    • What a refreshing discussion this is, and full of positive directions to persue, Thank you for the lead thoughts they were lifegiving.

    • Thanks Cheryl, for me this is leaning on a VERY tender spot. I am married now, but being single was no joke, the experience nearly destroyed me as a Christian and could of even taken my life. I failed, failed, failed in so many ways. But I really felt that the Church had no answer.
      Now I’m happily married, I still feel that the contemporary church has no answer and it still chokes me.

      I have promised myself NEVER to forget what I went through so that I may learn and help others. I then came to the conclusion that most (not all) of the Churches greatest teachers married just after puberty and so never really tackled this issue and so don’t understand it.

      For me it was an experience of daily psychological torture from different angles, when I woke up, until when I went to bed.

      So I agree, the church doesn’t understand singles the way it ought to.


  2. I always think of neat ways to put things after . . .

    To sum up what I said – the evangelical/charismatic idolization of marriage means that most people, especially the women, end up defining the Kingdom according to the parameters of marriage, domestic life, and child-raising (and the supportive community of church life). Work outside the home is viewed as a necessary economic evil and not generally as a preference. This leads to Kingdom-deficient lives for many Christians. c.

  3. Thanks for this Cheryl. The phrase kingdom-deficient is a helpful one. Redefining an ecclesia fit for the kingdom, kin[g]dom, kenarchy, whatever, is what the Holy Spirit is about right now, and you are a great co-worker in the cause.

  4. The division between men and women in the church has always troubled me a great deal.I see it as a great scar on the history of the body of christ one which even today has a terrible effect on the life of the church.
    I have raged against this division for a long time now, and even amongst those forward looking and thinking leaders I know, it is a struggle to get some change.The division in the new church is much more subtle but there working away under the surface,and all it takes is a small scratch for it to surface.
    Our community is robbed when we allow women to be sidelined into baby making and tea making.The life of christ shows us all clearly the true eternal value of all of mankind and the world and the curch is much poorer when all we have is a male dominated system.In a male domiated world the true and full nature of God is hidden.I hear Cherly very cleary when she talks of her journey and have many amazing friends who have been on a very similar journey.

  5. Thank you for these comments – both those made by a married man and a single lady (I would be interested to hear comments from single men and married ladies too!). I was blessed with a father who didn’t treat me differently from my brothers in any marked fashion in my childhood. I was therefore able to grow up with the idea that I was valued as a person with whatever gifts and talents and characteristics I had (which include being able to read maps!) largely regardless of the body I inhabit during my time on the earth. I know that I am a puzzle to some and a threat to others, including my former husband who grew up in a very male-dominated environment. This, as Cheryl says, can be a lonely place to be and British suburban church is not the best example of community. Neither are we doing our young people any favours when we give them no distinct alternative to all they absorb from their peers and a wider sex-mad and gender-confused society on the subject.
    Commenting now from experience both of marriage and singleness, full-time family-raising and full-time bread-winning, the whole idea of mutual submission surely has to be a key in relationships both within marriage and beyond it – submission of our preconceptions and expectations as much as our wills. This links back to the martyr idea too – the laying down of our lives does not always involve immediate physical death, but so much of our identity and potential can be tied up with all these issues – no wonder Justin’s head hurt!
    It is a relief to hear thought-through observations from others that have looked beyond “the norm”. Roger, please continue in your “attempts to discomfort and dislocate sensible folk from their embedded positions”.

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