Author: Rachel Kidd
You’ve probably heard the term before, whether in church or circulating in the news. Maybe it was political, maybe it wasn’t. It may seem complicated and overly politicized, but the concept is pretty simple.
Gender roles are the social roles you base on your assigned sex, from the way you dress, speak, and conduct yourself with others. It is a social expectation of your identity based on your gender. And this can vary greatly depending on your age, culture, or geographic location.
For example, when a mother swaddles her baby in a pink blanket today, most in the U.S. would assume the baby is a girl. But, before the 1940’s, a baby wrapped in pink would signify a baby boy to the average American. The color associated with baby boys and girls switched following WWII and a deliberate change by baby blanket manufacturers.1
Much like color, gender roles are simply culturally based assumptions related to gender and can change over time due to cultural shifts. This is true in any culture, not just the U.S.
What are the Christian beliefs on gender roles?
Depending on the denomination you belong to, the church has a few different stances on the gender roles they prescribe to men and women.
Complementarianism is the theological perspective that men and women have God-ordained, fundamentally different, but complementary roles to play in society, from the home to church. This belief stems from the idea that Adam was created first and Eve was created as his “help meet” and traditional gender roles as prescribed in the time the bible was written. Often in complementarian churches, men take the traditional roles and pastors and elders while women serve in women’s or children’s ministries. In the home, husbands are often the head of the household in a patriarchal model, with wives submitting to their husband.
Importantly, complementarian theology does not place inherent worthiness on gender. Men and women both are believed to be children of God, with masculinity and femininity made to work in harmony.
Egalitarianism is another theological perspective that men and women are partners and made equal in the image of God, therefore their roles and gifts are equal rather than complementary. They believe that men and women are equal both in worth in the eyes of the Creator and in their abilities. In this theology, gender does not dictate the roles men or women play in the church or home. Women can typically hold leadership roles in the church, including pastoral and eldership. Often husbands and wives share responsibility of the household, characterized by mutual submission. They often point to the role of women in Jesus’ ministry and how they were elevated beyond their cultural status. At the time, women could not serve as witnesses in court, yet Jesus used two women to share the news of His resurrection to the other disciples.
Both theological perspectives on gender roles find support in scripture, depending on the interpretation and church denomination. Some typically complementation denominations include
Orthodox traditions, Southern Baptists, and the Catholic Church. Some egalitarian traditions include the Quakers, Methodists, Lutherans, and the Presbeterian (USA) Church.
Verses on Gender Roles
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
God tells us that men and women are made in his image, that we reflect the glory of the Lord in our humanity.
He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created. Genesis 5:2 NIV
The bible calls male and female, Adam and Eve, blessed as members of mankind. While different, this verse notes that they share both the blessing of God their creator and the humanity He bestowed upon them.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
Often used as an explanation for egalitarianism, this verse reminds us that our identities, while not insignificant, should not hold more weight than our identity in Jesus. We are reminded that our maleness or femaleness pales in comparison to who we are in Christ.
Wives, in the same way, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 1 Peter 3:1-2 NIV
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. 1 Peter 3:7 NIV
These verses in Peter describe the roles husbands and wives should play within Christian marriage, and often are used in complementarian theology. Both roles are clearly defined based on gender, with the wife acting in the submissive role and the husband as the respectful, but firm head of the home.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Another verse often used in complementarian theology, the relationship between husband and wife is compared to that of the church and Christ. In this way, the role of both the church and the woman are defined by submission, whereas the man and Christ’s roles are defined by duty-bound and benevolent leadership.
Regardless of your view on gender roles, whether complementarian or egalitarian, the shared belief lies in our identity as children of God; your gender does not indicate your worth as a believer, no matter your theological perspective. And that is the beauty of the gospel, that we are what Jesus says we are.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV