In each part of the world, there are positive and negative aspects to the mainstream culture. Every culture is surely more pleasing to God in some ways than most other cultures, and also more displeasing to Him in some ways than most other cultures.
This is certainly true of Western culture. In some ways this culture is better than most, and in some ways it is worse than most.
As far as attitudes to gender are concerned, there is some of each of these things in Western culture. There are strengths and weaknesses in the attitudes of mainstream Westerners to gender.
GENDER EQUALITY IN WESTERN CULTURE
Firstly, I think that modern Western culture is among the best in the world in its attitude to gender equality.
Mainstream Westerners rightly believe that men and women are equal in value and dignity. And they are also very critical of men who take advantage of women in any way. It is considered unacceptable and taboo to do this.
That is not to say that Western society is perfect in its attitude to gender equality. Far from it. But it is nevertheless a lot better than many parts of the world.
In more than a few countries women are typically viewed by men as somewhat inferior human beings, and men often consider it acceptable to take advantage of women. They use their authority over women as a means of gaining things for themselves.
Mainstream Western culture has no sympathy for this sort of thinking. And so it is surely more pleasing to God on the issue of gender equality than many parts of the world.
LIVING OUT GENDER EQUALITY IN WESTERN CULTURE
Although Western culture is strong on gender equality, it goes seriously wrong in the way it attempts to live out this equality.
Huge numbers of modern Westerners seem to have the idea that gender equality means gender sameness. They seem to be forever trying to make men and women the same in everything.
If, for example, there are more men than women in some job or other, many people will automatically assume that something is wrong. They don’t stop to ask if there might be a good reason why fewer women do that job. Instead, they will immediately try to do or say something that will lead to the same number of men and women doing the job.
It is not a huge exaggeration to say that many in the feminist movement today are not just trying to get rid of gender inequality, but they are trying to get rid of gender itself.
It makes no sense to think that gender equality means gender sameness
Despite the ideas of many in Western countries today, it makes no sense at all to think that gender equality means gender sameness. Men and women have been created different by God, and each gender has various strengths and weaknesses. To try to force a uniformity on human beings by eradicating gender differences is to oppose the will of the Lord.
Instead, these differences should be celebrated. Where women tend to be better at something than men, we should not try to engineer society so that the same number of men do that thing. And where men tend to be better at something than women, again, we should not try to force the culture to fit with some politically correct idea.
Men and women are absolutely equal in God’s sight. But to think that this means that they are not different makes no sense at all. It is the result of confused thinking.
In some ways, the attitudes of mainstream Westerners on this issue are really quite disturbing.
Take looking after babies as an example. Most women become mothers, and we should all want babies to be treated as well as possible.
As God has designed things, babies are supposed to drink milk from their mothers’ breasts. Scientific studies have shown that for a baby breast milk is the most healthy, and that feeding from the mother helps to create a bond between mother and baby.
Even without any science, however, it should be obvious that these things are true. Babies feeding from their mothers’ breasts is clearly part of God’s created order.
It is true that exceptional situations arise when there is a good reason for a woman not to breastfeed. Some women are physically unable to do this, and sometimes a woman has to get a job away from her baby so that she can earn money to live on.
Nevertheless, for a woman not to breastfeed her baby should be a last resort. Any parent should want their baby to get off to the best start in life, and part of this should be for the baby to breastfeed from the mother if at all possible.
In Western culture, however, this important aspect of a baby’s life is often neglected so that politically correct ideas about gender sameness can be pursued. There are many women who abandon their babies for large parts of the day so that they can further their careers. And instead of sharply criticising women who do this, and the men who support it, Western society tends to actually encourage women in this practice. To put it bluntly, aiming for gender sameness in Western countries is often at the price of treating babies badly.
But it gets even worse. The Western media is full of commentators who arrogantly judge other parts of the world for not having enough women in high level jobs. However, some of the reason why women in these parts of the world don’t do these jobs is because they have chosen to do something more important. They prioritise breastfeeding their babies instead of selfishly pursuing a career at the expense of their children. The arrogance and hypocrisy of many in modern Western culture is of a very high order indeed.
HUSBANDS HAVING AUTHORITY OVER WIVES
Another way in which the gender-sameness attitudes of mainstream Western culture contradict the Christian faith is in the relationship of husbands and wives.
According to the Bible, husbands have a degree of authority over their wives.
In Ephesians 5:22-25, for example, the apostle Paul writes:
“22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is its Saviour. 24 Now, as the church submits to Christ, so wives must submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it . . .”
Mainstream Western culture rejects the idea that husbands have authority over their wives. But in doing so they are rejecting what God has designed.
Misunderstanding the authority of husbands over wives
I think one reason why many Westerners are so opposed to husbands having authority over their wives is because they misunderstand the nature of this authority. They look at examples of authority in the world at large, and they wrongly assume that Christians believe that the authority of husbands is supposed to be similar to these examples.
There are various typical characteristics of authority that we see in the world around us:
To begin with, authority figures are usually more important than those under their authority. For example, if the CEO of a company spends a week off sick, that might cause real problems for the other workers. This person is such a key decision-maker that doing without them for a whole week is likely to make life difficult for the others. However, if someone much lower down the authority structure in that company is off sick for a week, the problems caused will very probably be much fewer.
Secondly, authority figures are usually more privileged than those under their authority. For instance, in the workplace a person in authority will almost certainly receive a higher salary than someone under their authority.
Thirdly, authority figures often use those under their authority to serve themselves. For example, bosses will frequently tell their subordinates to do the unpleasant tasks, while avoiding these tasks themselves.
In the world at large, then, we are surrounded by people who have this sort of authority. So, when Christians talk about husbands being in authority over wives, modern Westerners often simply assume that this is the kind of authority we have in mind. Many think we mean that husbands are more important and more privileged than wives, and that it is acceptable for husbands to use their wives for their own advantage. And then they get very offended.
The true nature of the authority of husbands
If the above picture did correctly represent the true nature of the authority of husbands over wives, it would be perfectly reasonable for people to be appalled by it. In reality, however, a proper understanding of husbands’ authority is vastly different from the above picture.
Crucially, the true nature of authority in marriage in no way means that the husband is more important or more privileged than the wife.
There is, in fact, a good parallel to this sort of authority in the Trinity itself. According to the Bible, God the Son is eternally under the authority of God the Father. However, both Father and Son are equal in importance and privilege. And exactly the same is true of the marriage relationship of husband and wife.
This concept of authority without extra importance or privilege is something that modern Westerners find hard to grasp. It goes so against the grain of our culture. Yet this is the true nature of the authority of husbands over their wives.
What is more, whereas worldly authority usually involves taking advantage of the person under authority, the proper authority of the husband does exactly the opposite. The Bible teaches that husbands should not only avoid using their authority in marriage for their own benefit, but that they should actually use this authority to serve their wives!
As we saw above, in Ephesians 5:25 Paul tells his readers:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it . . .”
Note carefully what Paul says here. He tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. How did Christ do this? He volunteered to be crucified! In other words, Paul is saying that husbands should be enormously self-sacrificial in the way they love and serve their wives. Using authority in this manner is totally different from the standard pattern of authority that we see in the world at large. It turns the world’s values on their head.
When we recognise the true nature of the authority of husbands over their wives, it should be clear that there is nothing abusive about this authority. Nor is there anything unequal. It is just that the husband and the wife have different roles in the marriage.
Husbands abusing their authority
Of course, it is true that many husbands around the world abuse the authority they have over their wives. They use their wives for self-advantage.
If a husband persists in doing this, however, it would surely be better for him not to have any authority in marriage. Abusing authority to manipulate anyone is a serious matter indeed.
Nevertheless, if a husband doesn’t abuse his authority, it is good that he has it. And when a husband uses his authority to serve his wife, it works out very well for her. Christians should therefore oppose the gender-sameness attitudes of mainstream Western culture towards marriage.
CHRISTIAN ATTITUDES TO GENDER SAMENESS
It is a fact, of course, that in a great many ways men and women really are the same. Physically we have more in common than not, and in spiritual, mental and emotional qualities too we seem to be mostly the same.
It is also true that cultural factors are often morally neutral, and we should show flexibility in our approach to gender in various cultures.
For example, in modern Western culture blue is a colour that has a tradition of being attached to boys, and pink has a tradition of being attached to girls. In this culture, it makes sense for Christians to fit in with this way of doing things.
However, in a culture that does things differently it would be right to have a different custom. If there were a culture somewhere in the world that connected girls with blue and boys with pink, Christians should follow suit.
There is nothing in God’s created order itself that attaches blue to boys and pink to girls. This is just a cultural thing. And in many morally neutral issues like this, we should show some flexibility.
Yet in areas where God has created a difference between male and female, Christians should not cave in to pressure to make the genders the same. Instead, we should be unembarrassed about opposing this distortion of God’s created order.
And when modern Westerners dress up issues of gender sameness under the appearance of gender equality, we must not be fooled. We need to understand clearly that these are separate things.
CHRISTIANS SHOULD OPPOSE GENDER INEQUALITY
Finally, although Christians should resist the attempts of Western culture to make men and women the same, we should be as outspoken as anyone against real gender inequality. Even in Western countries gender inequality does exist in various forms, and we should be second to none in our opposition to it.
I have already mentioned the example of husbands abusing their authority to take advantage of their wives. Sadly, this happens a lot. Christians should condemn this strongly and without hesitation.
Something else that is wrong is for women to be paid less than men for doing the same job. Nothing in Scripture supports this sort of inequality.
As far as it opposes real gender inequality, Christians should side firmly with the feminist movement.
However, feminism in its current form goes far beyond opposing gender inequality. It is a loud voice supporting various forms of immorality and is at the forefront of promoting gender sameness. In these respects, Christians should vigorously oppose this movement.