Gender in the Church: Solving for Values of X and Y

It seems like a majority of people on the street will not only confess, but openly brag about being awful at math.  Very few people will say “I love math! I always looked forward to doing my calculus homework!”  But alas, I am one of those few people.  Another tick for me in the box for “weirdo.”

My analytical mind at work...which way to go? In Stockholm, Sweden.

My prestige at math has served me well in life, from ciphering championships in elementary school to battling structural engineering in college, and hopefully to conquering my architectural licensing exams, but despite all the puzzles I’ve figured out through the years, this is one problem I cannot solve:

   “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”  Genesis 2:24


Man + woman = One.  xy + xx = 1.  What defines x and what defines y?

And so as the complementarian / egalitarian debate rages on…in the church, in the blogosphere, and in my own soul, I struggle to find the answer.

Even though supposedly many people do not enjoy math, this equation proves to be a popular one. A quick search on google will produce myriads of often hostile arguments trying to define the paramaters of man and woman in the church, of who is in charge and who is not, of who should make money and who should make babies, of who is free to speak and who is called to silence.  Is this a 50/50 equation, or does man have the 51% majority?  How big is each slice of pie, and what flavor is it?  What’s worse is the mixed messages from the pulpit that cross male/female theology with secular gender roles and pop-psychology to create questionable, gurgling stew of “man” and “woman.”

What no one seems to discuss is the fact that millions of God-fearing women, who truly want to seek the Lord and honor him, are stuck in a riddle with no answer and must daily walk in the tension of simply being female.

Why do we overlook the women who love reading the bible and long to teach it to others, but don’t out of “playing by the rules?”  Why do we ignore the cries of “this is what makes me alive…am I allowed to do it?”  Are these women sinning?  Did God make a mistake?

So I’m beginning to question if this equation is even meant to be solved at all – at least, for the values of x and y.  Maybe we have failed to see that we already have the answer: we are one.

Man + woman = One.  xy + xx = 1.  One flesh, one united image of the Father.

So when scripture beautifully portrays marriage as “two becoming one flesh” why do we spend so much time picking apart the differences between man and woman and segregating them into perfect little gender role boxes? Does this not severely undermines the beauty of two becoming one flesh, and the mystery of both man and woman being created in the image of God?

Ultimately, maybe it doesn’t matter so much how to define man and woman, maybe our goal is simply unity.  Be Jesus, together.

   “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28.


And given the amount of denominational division, animosity, abuse, and confusion that stems directly from these debates, perhaps unity is the problem worth solving.


Note: This blog post was written as a part of Rachel Held Evans’ ‘Week of Mutality’ discussion on egalitarianism and gender in the church.  While I do not consider myself an egalitarian per se, I do affirm open discussions on the role of women in the church…because frankly, it’s really confusing.

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  • perfectnumber628

    Hi! I love math too and I hate how it’s socially acceptable for people to proudly announce that they hate math.

    Anyway, I really like this post. I agree that it doesn’t make sense to argue over gender roles- how about people just work together, and every person’s role will be the position where they’re most effective, instead of being determined by gender or whatever.

    • Kristin Richardson

      Hi there! Thanks for being my first commenter EVER!

      I want to clarify that I’m still negotiating in my mind the place of gender roles in the church, but I’m genuinely puzzled why we spend so much time and energy figuring them out! I do not think they are as important as we make them – especially if we are sacrificing unity and preventing people from using their spiritual gifts.

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