Perhaps the most shocking thing about the growing acceptance of gay marriage amongst otherwise creedal Christians is the fact that the whole notion of same-sex unions would have been unthinkable a generation ago. There were certainly many Christians who felt sympathy and compassion for those trapped in the gay lifestyle and who felt called to defend their civil rights, but they would have understood instinctively that “gay marriage” is an oxymoron: like speaking of a female father or a male mother. Indeed, the notion that two cohabiting men might be considered a married couple would have been unthinkable in every culture of the past, including pagan cultures where homosexual behavior was allowed, if not exactly promoted, between military comrades and between aristocratic men and their younger male wards.
Yet today, more and more Christians—all of whom are well aware that not only the book of Genesis (1:27, 2:24) but Jesus himself (Mark 10:6-9) defines marriage as the one-flesh union of one man and one woman—are treating gay marriage as a thing both natural and inevitable. How did this happen? How did the unthinkable so quickly gain the status of “common sense”?
Two causes come immediately to mind. On the one hand, proponents of gay marriage have successfully presented it as a civil rights crusade, playing on the American commitment to equality and fairness. On the other, the church’s acceptance of no-fault divorce and of radical increases in the numbers of single-parent households and children born out of wedlock has left it powerless to protest against the further deconstruction of the traditional family.
However, I would propose a third cause for why so many Bible-believing Christians are embracing, or at least not openly opposing, the eventual legalization of marriage between people of the same sex. They are doing so because the ground has been carefully laid and watered by a subtle but pervasive change in our cultural perceptions of men and women. Rather than identify, nurture, and celebrate masculinity and femininity as distinct but complementary God-given realities, our culture has been coaxed—by forces within the public school system, the media, the academy, and (alas) the seminary—to view boys and girls, men and women, husbands and wives as ultimately interchangeable.
The message, though not always stated so baldly, has been simply this: God may have provided us with our respective genitalia, but it is by the creative power of socialization that we are masculine or feminine. And because it was society, not God, who made us male and female, that same society can redefine at will the contours of our sexuality.
Visit a third-grade, or seventh-grade, or high school, or college classroom and observe, really observe, the dialogue and interactions of the students. You will find widespread and growing gender confusion as to what constitutes masculine and feminine behavior, maternal and paternal roles, and even male and female dress. That confusion should not come as a surprise. Rather than help young people accept and grow in their masculinity and femininity, our society has encouraged experimentation and fluidity. All is up for grabs as we teach impressionable and vulnerable boys and girls: you can remake yourself in your own image without regard for the original plan of your Creator. Meanwhile, anyone who dares suggest that there might be essential differences between the sexes opens himself to charges of bigotry and intolerance.
And this message is being broadcast not just by Darwinists who ascribe all things to evolutionary forces, but by those who claim to believe that God created us male and female.
Still, this message alone has not prepared the ground for Christian acceptance of gay marriage. It is only, I would argue, because the message has found a newly-minted language through which to express and incarnate itself that it has gained such a firm foothold within the church. I refer to an artificially-constructed, as opposed to naturally evolved, language that its proponents call “gender-inclusive” or “gender-accurate,” but which is really “gender-neutral.”
The rules of this forty-year-old language are simple and well known: 1) never use he or him as the gender-inclusive pronoun (either use his/her or recast the sentence to allow for plural “they” or second-person “you”); 2) never use the word man or mankind to signify the human race (use instead human, person, humanity, or humankind); 3) replace “sexist” words like fireman, policeman, chairman, layman, actress, and brothers with gender-neutral ones like firefighter, police officer, chair, layperson, actor, and brothers and sisters.
The first English Bible translation to mandate the use of gender-neutral language was the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)—a mandate that called for the altering of well over a thousand verses. It was later followed by the New Living Translation (NLT), the Contemporary English Version (CEV), and the Common English Bible (CEB). Today’s New International Version (TNIV) revised the NIV in strict conformity with the rules of gender-neutral usage. Though it was withdrawn after much protest from evangelicals, its demise was immediately followed by a new version of the NIV (NIV 2011) that, while allowing very limited usage of words like “man” and “mankind,” is as essentially gender neutral as the defunct TNIV. Not content merely to neuter the scriptures, many denominations have also neutered their hymnals, prayer books, and even their creeds.
The only major new translations that have not conformed themselves to the gender-neutral mandate are the English Standard Version (ESV) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), though it should be noted that the 1995 revision of the NASB also chose to stay true to the language of the original Greek and Hebrew.
Though numerous defenses have been mounted to justify changing the meaning of scripture to accommodate the rules of gender-neutral usage, only two should carry any real weight for those who accept the Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God. The first has to do with the state of modern English. If, as gender-neutral proponents argue, modern people are truly unable to recognize when “he” or “man” are being used to refer collectively to the human race, then their case for eliminating inclusive he/him and man/mankind from every single verse of the Bible would be a strong one.
But the fact remains that, though three decades have come and gone since the National Council of Churches mandated gender-neutral usage for the NRSV, all English speakers still understand immediately that when the Bible says, “if anyone would follow me, he must take up his cross” or that Jesus is the only name “given unto men by which we must be saved,” that “he” and “men” include both men and women.
The proof that gender-neutral Bible translations represent an agenda rather than a response to natural changes in the language is that the mandate has to be enforced. Were Americans really incapable of understanding generic “he” and “man,” gender-neutral language would not need to be mandated: it would simply happen. We would know that the language had truly changed because schoolbook editions of classic works of literature would start including notes explaining that “man” means all people, as they now include notes to explain words in Shakespeare that have changed their meaning.
But that has not happened. Indeed, as proof that even today it is natural for people to use “man” to mean both the male of the species and the human race, consider the way the word “guys” is used by students across America. In the wink of an eye, young people will switch from using the word “guys” to refer to everyone in the group (whether male or female) to using it to distinguish the boys (the “guys”) from the girls. The girl who uses “guys” in this dual way is no more oppressed or offended by “sexist” language than her mother was when “man” was used in the same exact way as “guys.”
In fact, if truth be told, the only people who are oppressed or offended by the use of generic “he” or “man” are people who have convinced themselves that they should be or people who have been convinced by others that they should be. Advocates of gender-neutral language will insist that they are reflecting a new linguistic reality when what they are really “up to” is the concerted attempt to create the very reality which they claim (falsely) already exists.
The second justification for gender-neutral Bible translations is both more subtle and more insidious. Though proponents of the NRSV, CEV, NLT, CEB, and the new NIV do not always express it this way, behind their insistence on removing inclusive “he” and “man” lies the unstated claim that if Jesus and Luke and John and Paul were living today, they would alter their language to accommodate our postmodern, deconstructed view of gender. Aside from being presumptuous, such a claim masks a dangerous hermeneutic that would twist the Bible to fit our contemporary presuppositions rather than challenge us to measure our fads, agendas, and prejudices against the timeless truths of scripture.
Rather than question the wisdom of a social-engineering program that would divorce the masculine and feminine soul from the male and female body, proponents of gender-neutral Bible translations have enlisted the Word of God as an ally in their crusade. Not content with simply silencing the Bible’s complementarian vision of the sexes, such proponents have forced the Bible into the role of linguistic accomplice.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the proscription of the words “man” and “mankind.” Although God himself refers to the human race by the name of the first man he created, Adam (Genesis 5:2), and although traditional Christian theology has affirmed this divine usage by including all people (men and women) under the designation of (fallen) Adam, Christian advocates of gender-neutral Bible translations balk at using “man” or “mankind” as a designation for human beings.
As a result, the concrete, personal “mankind” is replaced with the generic, impersonal, amorphous “humankind,” a change that robs man of his divinely-created dignity and status, abstracting and reducing him to the level of a mere animal species. Meanwhile, the refusal to use generic “he,” far from “benefiting” woman, has exacerbated one of the chief crises of our day: the unwillingness of young men to take responsibility and to become effective leaders of their communities and ambassadors of their families (an unwillingness that has truly hurt woman by robbing them of potential husbands and fathers whom they can respect and rely upon).
By discouraging male leadership, deconstructing the complementarian nature of the sexes, reducing “humankind” to a product of socio-economic evolutionary forces over which “they” have no control, presenting as natural an enforced agenda, and fostering a hermeneutic that legitimizes altering the words of the Bible as an aid to social engineering, gender-neutral Bible translations have truly prepared the ground for the Christian acceptance of gay marriage.
Once we allow the words of scripture to be illegitimately altered in the name of tolerance, fairness, and equality, what is to stop us from redefining words like marriage and masculinity, family and femininity? When a Christian tinkers with the Word of God, he tinkers with the very nature of God (who defines himself as the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ), Christ (who is the Word of God made flesh), man (who was so named by God), and the universe (which was called into being through the speaking of words).
Words matter; they cannot be manipulated with impunity. The same feminist agenda that gave us gender-neutral language imposed linguistic censorship on the word “sex.” Rejecting the biblical concept that we are enfleshed souls whose masculinity and femininity inhere as much in our psyches as in our body parts, feminists replaced the word “sex” with “gender.” Unlike “sex,” which suggests an essential link between body and soul, “gender” designates a social construction that has no basis in reality. Sex is something the Creator hardwired into us; gender is something we, and our society, can either identify with or throw off as a hindrance.
When Hitler’s henchmen expressed doubt as to whether he could “get away with” the holocaust, he reminded them that the world had already forgotten the Turkish genocide of some one million Armenians. Yesterday, Bible-believing Christians stood by passively while the Word of God was retooled to fit an egalitarian agenda. Though a goodly number of evangelicals raised a great enough hue and cry to bring down the TNIV, many of those have lost the will to continue the fight and have grudgingly accepted the supposed inevitability of the new NIV. Today, many of those who capitulated to social pressure in the matter of Bible translation have equally capitulated to the retooling of marriage and the family. If the words of Jesus can be changed to accommodate gender sensitivity, then who are we to maintain that gay marriage is an oxymoron?
When the Word of God loses not only its sharpness but its ability to discern between truth and error, the eternal and the temporal, the essential and the constructed, it loses as well its ability to speak prophetically to a culture that has lost its way. If Bible-believing Christians are to take back marriage, they must first take back the Bible.
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