Biology, Gender, and Stereotypes: Rebecca McLaughlin Part 2
About the Guest
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Rebecca McLaughlinRebecca McLaughlin holds a Ph.D. in Renaissance Literature from Cambridge University and a theology degree from Oak Hill College in London. She is the author of Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion (2019), which was named book of the year by Christianity Today, and of 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity (2021), The Secular Creed: Engaging 5 Contemporary Claims (2021), and Is Christmas Unbelievable? Four Questions Everyone Sho...more
Why is there such confusion around biology, gender, and gender stereotypes today? Do our current conversations even help? Apologist and author Rebecca McLaughlin joins Shelby for Part 2 of their two-part conversation to help us sort through these relevant
Biology, Gender, and Stereotypes: Rebecca McLaughlin Part 2
Rebecca: I firmly believe that human beings are made in God's image, male or female. But at the same time as I can believe all those things, I can also sit down with somebody and say, I would love to hear your story and how your experience of gender dysphoria looks like and feels like, because it's not experience that I've had myself.
I want to understand how they're feeling and why. And to acknowledge that some people do feel profound discomfort with their biological sex is not the same as sort of affirming transgender identity or suggesting that it would be right for them to transition. Yes. But it's an act of love and understanding what they've experienced and how they feel.
Shelby: Somewhat anxious, always authentic. This is Real Life Loading. I'm your host, Shelby Abbott, and even though this is a podcast, I want to come alongside you as a friend and help you walk closely with God in the humor and hardship of life.
Today is part two of my time with author, speaker, and apologist, Rebecca McLaughlin. If you didn't get a chance to listen to part one for sure, go back and do so. But today, Rebecca and I are going to get into the thick of some really important. First, we're going to talk about what the Bible has to say about love, sex, and marriage. But then we're going to go somewhere that's so important for this cultural moment. We're going to talk about how to be a loving friend to someone who is same sex attracted or transgender.
That's a lot to get into. So, let's go there with Rebecca McLaughlin.
Rebecca, in one of the books you've written called 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity. You titled one of the chapters, Why Can't We Just Agree That Love is Love? It's a very important question that many people are asking today, and in that you tell the story of talking with a friend and you say this, “After years of sleeping with different guys, she realized that the lifestyle was making her truly unhappy. She felt like she had to suit up in emotional armor and pretend she didn't care. I told her about the research showing that having sex with lots of different people generally makes people less happy. She felt frustrated and asked Why wasn't I told this in high school?”
What would you say to the young person who is listening right now when it comes to love, relationships and sex? Why is commitment free sex something you call a poisoned chalice?
Rebecca: Yes, I think one of the huge mistakes that is being made in our culture broadly, but honestly is often made in church as well, is the idea that real love is sexual or romantic love. If you want to know and be known, if you want to love and be loved, then the place for that exclusively actually is in a romantic or sexual relationship.
From a biblical perspective, marriage is an incredibly good thing and Christian marriage was, was very countercultural and surprising in the first century world. Yes, women were typically expected to be faithful to their husbands, but husbands, Greek and Roman husbands were not expected to be faithful to their wives at all. It was perfectly fine for them to sleep with other women, with prostitutes, with other men, with slaves, male or female. It would've been laughable the idea that not only should they be faithful to one woman for life, but that they should pour themselves out and in sacrificial love for her, which is what the Bible causes to in Ephesians four and five in particular - would've been very odd. But it turns out that this structure where sex belongs in monogamous, lifelong marriage is profoundly good for women in particular.
It's good for men as well, but there's a lot of evidence at this point that having multiple sexual relationships for women in particular is correlated with lower levels of mental health, high levels of depression and suicidal ideation and drug abuse and alcoholism. There's a misunderstanding which says sexual romantic love is the only place to find real love.
Shelby: Mm-hmm .
Rebecca: And that the more experience we have of different sexual romantic partners, the more sort of freedom we have to explore our sexuality, the happier that it will be. It turns out precisely the opposite is true. I think there's a particular question that people have today. “Why would God reserve this special thing called marriage, which is in biblical terms, the only place where sex belongs, why would that be reserved for a man and a woman? Why not two women or two men?” You know? Surely, we can see that the love between two women and or between two men can be just as faithful and enduring and deep as the love between a man and a woman.
Rebecca: But if we look at the scriptures, we'll find that what they say about Christian sexual ethics is not a story of hate, but it's a story of love. It's a love story that begins in the Old Testament as prophet after prophet compares God to his loving, faithful husband and Israel to his off an unfaithful wife. It's a story that progresses, sort of opens a new chapter when Jesus steps under stage of human history and declares that he is the bride groom. What's he doing there? Well, he's stepping into the shoes of the creator God revealed in the Old Testament.
Shelby: Romantic language. Yes.
Rebecca: We see passages like Ephesians five, where Paul describes Christian marriage as like a little scale model of Jesus' love for his church. And we see in the book of Revelation this great shout going up. The wedding of the lamb has come and Jesus's marriage to his church bringing heaven and earth back together. This is actually why marriage is male, female, and why husbands and wives are called to different roles, like Christ and the church. It's a love across difference. Like Christ and the church, it's a love built on sacrifice. Like Christ and the church, it's a life creating flesh, uniting, never ending, exclusive love in marriage.
Christian marriage is meant to point us to Christ, but it's also meant to disappoint us because even the best human marriage could only ever be a tiny echo of Jesus's love for us. And too often we have talked and acted, especially in church like marriage is the thing. Marriage is the ultimate human experience. Actually, at its very best marriage is only a signpost to the ultimate human experience, which is union with Christ. What we've done in the process of trying to sort of elevate marriage is we've denigrated singleness, which Paul who believed in Christian marriage so much that he said it was a scale model of Jesus love for his church. He said singleness was even better.
Shelby: Better to be single. Yes.
Rebecca: Now, is that because Paul doesn't care about love or because he thinks humans don't need love? No, it's actually because Paul believes what Jesus said on the night that he was portrayed. He said to his disciples, “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he laid down his life for his friends.” We see it's not that as Christians, we don't believe in same sex love. Actually, we do. We believe that friendship love is such a great love that no other love is greater than it, not marriage love, not parent, child love. No other love is greater. Not saying it's greater than those other loves, but that they are on a par Scripturally. And we see in Jesus' relationships and in Paul's relationships, glimpses of this profound love between believers.
I used to sort of skip over the greeting sections in Paul's epistles, and now I'm fascinated by it. I'm writing this book on friendship, and if you look in the last chapter of Romans, there are four different guys who Paul refers to as my beloved or the beloved.
If you read his letter to Philemon, he describes his friend Onesimus as his very heart. It's incredibly intimate, passionate, love language.
Shelby: Very much so. Yes.
Rebecca: But it's not an exclusive and romantic love. It's the kind of friendship love that Jesus is describing when he says that to his disciples. So, we need to be careful not to collapse down intimacy into sexual, romantic love like the world around us is doing.
We need to live as if we believe the things that Jesus says and, and one of the things that means is rethinking our ideas about family. Now it's great to believe in Christian marriage. I think it's inescapable from the Scriptures that we should believe in Christian marriage.
Shelby: Of course. Yes.
Rebecca: But we shouldn't believe in Christian marriage to the exclusion of Christian singleness. We shouldn't buy into the idea that the nuclear family is the primary family unit. Actually the local church, in New Testament terms, is the primary family unit for believers. We need to start living like that might be true. If we do, when we do, we'll find that the, the very specific boundaries that the Bible places around sex start to make much more sense. Because it's not that anyone who is not married is excluded. The deep human to human love that we can experience and enjoy and need. Actually, it's that we get glimpses of God's love for us in different kinds of relationships.
So, the modern mantra that love is love, I would say no. God is love and he gives us glimpses of his love through different kinds of, of human relationship, whether it's husband, wife, whether it's parent to child, whether it's friend to friend.
Shelby: Rebecca, in the previous episode, we spent some time talking about Harry Potter, and in one of your books you used the story of Neville Long Bottom in the first Harry Potter to illustrate that loving someone means telling them when you think they're making the wrong or right decision. Why is it so important when everything in our culture right now communicates the opposite of that? Namely, if you love me, you'll always agree with me.
Rebecca: Yes. It's again, one of these bizarre ways of thinking that is characteristic of non-Christians for sure. But in alarming ways is often characteristic of Christians as well. That we think, I can't be in relationship with somebody, I can't be friends with somebody without affirming everything that they do.
People will sometimes say to me, you know, a gay couple just moved into the house next door. What should I do? I don't want to act like I'm affirming their relationship. Well, do you feel like you are affirming, Sarah a heterosexual couple who weren't married.
Would you feel like you were affirming everything they do by inviting them to dinner at your house, like probably not.
Shelby: Why is it a special category all of a sudden?
Rebecca: Yes. I think we need to recognize that respecting someone and loving someone doesn't mean that we agree with everything that they think and do.
In fact, as Christians, it cannot mean that.
Again, if Jesus says that we are to love even our enemies, we need to be loving those who are most ideologically opposed to us. And, that doesn't just mean like shouting about how wrong they are. It means taking the time to get to know people, to listen to their stories, to take an interest in them, to try to understand not only what they believe, but why they believe it actually.
Not because we are agreeing with them or affirming their beliefs, we may profoundly disagree with them, but because we are loving them. And on the basis of that love, it will be that we would say to them, actually, I completely understand how your past has led you to believe what you believe.
I can kind of imagine like another version of myself who'd lived your life up to this point, I might well believe the same things. I might, well for example, be thoroughly disillusioned with Christianity because of the history of racial injustice you've witnessed and that I've witnessed in the white church in America.
But actually, if we look at the Scriptures, I think that Jesus is the antidote to that. I think that the reason that we know that this was so wrong is actually because of what Jesus said. There are ways that we can affirm someone's experience without actually affirming their conclusions.
I think this is also really important when it comes to questions of transgender identity, which are incredibly pressing at the moment. I firmly believe that human beings are made in God's image, male or female. There are a small number of people who are born with a disorder of sexual development. I have a couple of friends in this category. Their bodies, just as any other part of our body, can have a disorder. Like I may have eyes that don't see well, or I may have problems with my ears or whatever, we can have disorders of our sexual organs.
There are people who are born not straightforwardly, just male or female, and that's important. I think that's something that Christians often don't even know, let alone acknowledge. That's actually a separate thing from the question of transgender identity, where somebody is saying, my body is male or female, but I feel like my soul, for want of a better word is the opposite, or non-binary doesn't really conform to my body. I think there are both theological and actually also sort of psychological and social arguments against that there. There are things where my non-Christian friends could actually thoroughly agree with me, that this is a profoundly unhelpful paradigm that we are embracing as a culture today. The idea that there's a sort of maleness or femaleness that's independent of our bodies.
Shelby: Right? Yes.
Rebecca: It really only depends at the end of the day on like gender stereotypes that you might have thought we had shared some time ago. But at the same time, as I can believe, all those things, I can also sit down with somebody and say, “I would love to hear your story and how your experience of gender dysphoria looks like and feels like because it's not an experience that I've had myself.”
I want to understand, as best I can, how they're feeling and why. And to acknowledge that some people do feel profound discomfort with their biological sex - is not the same as affirming transgender identity. Or suggesting that it will be right for them to socially or surgically kind of transition.
Shelby: Right? Yes.
Rebecca: Yes. But it's an act of love and understanding what they’ve experienced and how they feel.
Shelby: Telling them that you don't understand, and then explain it to me - that's an act of love.
Rebecca: Yes, I mean, analogously and often these conversations are conflated and I don't want to do that. But analogously, as long as I can remember I've been a Christian. As long as I can remember, I've been attracted to people of my same sex. If I were not a Christian, I think I'd be very likely married to a woman today rather than to a man.
I need friends and I thank God I have close friends who may not have ever been attracted to other women themselves at all. May like me strongly believe that sex and romance only belong kind of in male female relationships of marriage, but who will show an interest in me to understand my experience. To where they might ask me questions of curiosity about, “How do you feel in this situation? What has been hard for you? Where do you feel you're most typically going to be tempted to have sexual or romantic feelings towards another woman?” Those are questions that we can ask in a spirit of wanting to love and understand our friends. Just as you might have a male friend who said, “Hey, you know, you've talked about times when you attempted toward lust towards someone who's not your wife. I'd love to sort of understand more of like, what tends to trigger that?” -- The ways that they could understand you better in order to help you better as a brother in Christ. It's not the same as affirming.
Shelby: Yes. It's building one another up, sharpening one another. It's counseling really. It really is counseling. When someone asks you a bunch of questions like that, don't you feel like, well, I feel not only cared for, but I feel like healthier. I feel like my heart and my mind and my soul are in a better place just because they ask questions and listen to the answers.
Rebecca: Yes, and I don't need friends. And in fact, I specifically don't want Christian friends, who want to affirm my same sex attraction. In the sense of I think it would be a great idea if you divorced your husband of 15 years who you love very much and pursued a relationship with another woman, because that would be your more authentic self. That's not what I need or desire from Christian friends. Quite the opposite.
Shelby: And now it's time for three dots, three thoughts on Real Life Loading. We'll get back to my time with Rebecca in just a second, but this is where I share three simple ideas that could potentially change your life or at least slightly improve it.
Thought one: The next time you empty and then progressively begin to load your dishwasher, if you have one. I recommend that you do something a bit different than what you might have done in the past. Put all your used knives, forks, and spoons into separate containers, but with the like utensil. This way when you go to empty the dishwasher after you run it, you'll be able to just pull out all the knives at one time and throw them into the drawer together. And then pull out all the forks and throw them in.
It'll save you time and the annoyance of poking around and separating them when they're clean thought.
Thought two: It's wintertime and depending on where you live, winter can often mean snow. And for a young person like you, snow means sledding. And that of course means, well, you need a sled. “But I'm young and broke and I don't have enough money for a sled,” you say. Well, don't worry. Here are a few sled alternatives for you. If snow arrives at your nearest big hill. One, an inflatable tube you used in the pool last summer. Two, a giant piece of cardboard. Three, maybe a laundry basket. Four, and my personal favorite, a stolen and then promptly returned lunch tray from a high school or university cafeteria. Again, please return what you borrow. Stealing is wrong. See Exodus 2015 in the Old Testament
Thought three: When you think about a gym, you know that it's for the physically fit and for people who are out of shape and trying to get physically fit. There's all kinds of people in the gym who are at various levels of being in shape, and we don't think it's weird at all for them to be mingling around and working out together in the same environment.
Why is it then that we can sometimes think that the church or maybe a student ministry is an environment for only the spiritually fit or the spiritually mature? Why do we have this lingering idea that church isn't for someone who's new to Christianity or someone who doesn't yet believe, or for someone who's struggling in their walk with God?
Why do we think that once we enter a church setting, everyone has to be totally spiritually ripped? Well, maybe in this way church should be more like a gym, in the sense that both the spiritually fit and the spiritually out of shape and everyone in between can occupy the same space and all, quote unquote, work out together for the glory of Jesus. Remember, it's all about Christ, not us. So let's take our eyes off one another as we constantly have a tendency to compare ourselves to each other and turn our gaze toward Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. This has been three dots, three thoughts on Real Life Loading.
Now back to my time with Rebecca McLaughlin. We're going to talk about how to have good accountability and great friendships, more about gender and transgender topics and why living the way Jesus calls us to live is truly the best way. Let's hop back in.
Well, Rebecca, just a minute ago we were talking about friendships and accountability, and I've noticed this in particular with men, that it's difficult for men to make friendships with other men. It's just more difficult. I think, for a guy to do that based upon, stereotypes and gender norms and all that kind of stuff. And I found, especially as you graduate from college and get more involved in, quote unquote, life with a career and family. You get married, you have kids. Men don't often have very good friends, who are willing to be annoying enough to get up in their face and say, this is, you know, you're not living the way that you should be living. And I, I feel like we need that. I've invited that into my life because it's difficult to have that.
Rebecca: The thing is though, what you need, you need somebody who loves you and will tell you the truth. You don't just need people who are going to wait into your life and point out when you're doing stuff wrong.
Shelby: Yes, Yes. Of course.
Rebecca: None of us need that. What we need and, and thank God, I meet once a week with a, a dear friend who we are sort of specifically each other's accountability partners. And I know she loves me very, and she listens to me and I listen to her and we love and support each other. And we are the person to say, actually, this is why you're wrong.
Shelby: Yes. Yes.
Rebecca: And I think, again, we need to discover what the scriptures call us to. You know, Paul, who was a full-grown man, talked about loving individual other men. And he gave commands like greet one another with a holy kiss.
Shelby: Yes. Now we skip over that a lot.
Rebecca: That's about to make some sort of cultural accommodations. Sure, of course. To say that guys kissing each other is less of a thing today than it was in the first century, but having like a physical expression of love between friends, adult male friends, as well as female. I feel like women probably, it's easier for us to be properly, physically loving toward our friends. That's something that's like actually commanded in the scriptures. You know, Jesus, this is my commandment, not this is my suggestion if you have time. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Are we, are we busy doing that?
Shelby: Yes, I think. Yes. We again just skip over it, and it was like, oh, whoa. Whoops. We missed a really important commandment.
You say that “as the culture untethers gender from biological sex, the result is a moving target on what everything even means.” So, we were talking about this a little bit earlier. And then you say, “stripped of belief in a creator God modern secular thinking cannot give us a coherent account of what a human being is. Why we are more than a collection of cells, or how we are any different from animals. No wonder it can't tell us what it means to be male or female.” So that's your quote. And then you say, a bunch of other things that are very relevant, but my question is, why is turning to God's definition of male and female the only satisfying way to address this conversation in the first place? Or is it the only way?
Rebecca: Yes, it's sort of fascinating and troubling at the moment because as culture at large, we are trying this experiment of divorcing man and woman from our biological selves, from our sexed bodies. To where many would say, you know, we're you as a biological male to identify as a woman, you would be as much a woman as I am.
You know, the sort of mantra, trans women are women.
Now if we make that statement, transwomen are women, we actually don’t know what the word women means.
Rebecca: We have no stable definition for it because it is specifically not my sexed body. Like me as a biological female, that's not what a woman is. Because in actual fact, if you extract our biology from the equation, all we have left is stereotypes.
Rebecca: And again, there is a sense in which we Christians have actually been somewhat kind of complicit in setting this scenario up.
Shelby: Yes. How so?
Rebecca: Whereas the scriptures do say that we are made male and female in the image of God. And whereas the scriptures do say that in certain situations, men and women are actually called for different roles. Marriage is an example in Ephesians five wives are called to submit to their husband's. Husbands called to love their wives as Christ love the church and gave himself up that. Side note, that is no mandate for spousal abuse. Quite the opposite actually.
Shelby: Right. Yes.
Rebecca: So, we recognize God made our bodies a certain way. We recognize that God has called us to different roles and certain circumstances. But then as Christians we often want to go a step further and we want to say, well, men are like this and women are like. - Men are naturally leaders and women are naturally followers or men are naturally interested in sport and women are naturally interested in sewing. Or like, I mean, I'm sort of slightly---
Shelby: I just said earlier, men are naturally not more prone to making good relationships.
Rebecca: Yes. And so here's the thing. There are statements that we can make that are true in the same sense that the claim that men are taller than women is true. When I say men are taller than women, you know that. I don't mean every single man is taller than every single other woman. What I mean is, on average, the average man is taller than the average woman.
You wouldn't say, you know, my, a dear friend of mine Julia is six foot. Nobody would look at Julia and say, “Oh, well you can't actually be a woman because you're in fact taller than most of the men you know.”-- Like, no, she's just a ridiculous tall woman and they're are short men, and that's just fine.--
Shelby: --Right. Yes. I'm one of those.
Rebecca: --and that it doesn't make them any more or less a man or a woman. We as Christians have often bought into this sort of biology theology and right kind of thing of wanting to say, “Here are the essential kind of psychological ingredients of being a man or a woman.”
Shelby: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Rebecca: And by the way, if you don't have those, then you're sort of theologically deficient. I don't think that's true scripturally, but some of the ways we've talked are actually eerily liked some of the ways that trans activists will talk saying, “these traits and interests are essentially male or female.” To where if I find as a woman that I have actually mostly traits and interests that are typical of men, then I'm not really a woman. We just need to be really careful how we think.
Shelby: Right. Yes. -And it's the classic overcorrection of the swinging if the pendulum. The culture does that swings it well, but we do it as well as Christians. We swing the, the pendulum, the ups away. I found that this is what God has been teaching me a lot more recently, within the last six months or so, is that when I see these issues and I'm quick to point out that somebody's wrong about something.
The Holy Spirit has been really convicting me, not only just personally, but also my times in scripture of like, “Hey, why don't we examine yourself first? Why don't we examine what's going on in your heart first and weed out those problems there, before you're quick to jump to other people's problems, other people's issues, other people's ways of doing things?”
And you'll find, I found, at least with me, the way that guy's been moving in my life is that most of my problems in life are my fault. They're as a result of me. I don't have to get offended. I don't have to get angry. I don't have to accuse other people of stuff. I'm choosing to do that based upon my own sinful tendencies and habits.
It's made me not only more appreciative of other people and respectful of other people who disagree with me. It's just made me a more joyful person. By being, examining my own sin and labeling that what it is, asking for God's forgiveness, and then being more lenient and caring with other people. But that's not often where we go. Right?
Rebecca: Yes. I think Jesus's hard teaching on the, the log and the spec is helpful here. Because He says, “You hypocrite. Who do you think you are trying to take the spec out of somebody else's eye when you've got a socking great plank of four by four in your eye? And then He says, “First take the plank out and then help your brother with a speck.” He doesn't say, “Take the plank out, leave your brother to his own devices.”
Rebecca: We actually do have a responsibility to speak the truth in love to other people. But I think you're absolutely right that first we correct ourselves, and then we reach out for the spec in their eye.
Shelby: Yes, it's really good. I'm going to read the last paragraph of the book, Secular Creed. You said, “on all these fronts, we must fight hard with the weapon God has given us self-sacrificing, unrelenting love.” Very connected to what we were just talking about. “Rather than shouting progressives who seek love and justice down. Let's call them in with a Jesus song. His song of good news for the historically oppressed. His song of love across racial and ethnic differences. His song that summons men and women married and single, young and old, weak and strong, joyful and hurting, rich and destitute into eternal love with him. Let's fight with love and sing the song with which will one day overcome.” And then you say, “Can you hear it?”
So, my question is, why is love the answer?
Rebecca: Because Jesus models and commands that, and the New Testament offers model and command that too. I love how the Apostle Peter says, “that we should always be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have, but we should do so with gentleness and respect.” [Paraphrased] Our move toward other people should always be on the basis of love, because that was the basis on which Jesus moved toward us. You know, Paul calls us to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us, and that's not to fail to recognize the sin in other people. Actually, Jesus loved us when we were sinners, and as sinners today, He loves us.
It's not to say love only means affirming everything that somebody says and does. That's not the kind of love that I need from other people, nor is it the kind of love that I want to give. But it is a love which says, “This other person matters because they matter to Jesus. And anyone who matters to Jesus matters to me.”
Shelby: Anyone who matters to Jesus should matter to me, and all people matter to Jesus. So, let's love them in the way God calls us to love people. This is varsity level Jesus stuff guys.
I loved my time with Rebecca and I hope you did too. Again, if you didn't get a chance to hear part one of our conversation, be sure to go back and listen to it wherever you get your podcasts. You won't regret spending the 30 minutes doing so. And if this episode with Rebecca McLaughlin was helpful for you.
I'd love for you to share today's podcast with a friend. It can really advance what we're doing too with Real Life Loading, if you'd rate and review us while you're there. And it's moderately easy to find us on our social channels. Just search for Real Life Loading or look for our link tree in the show notes. I want to thank everyone on the Real Life Loading team Kaytlynn, Jarrett, Josh, Chloe, and Bruce. I'm Shelby Abbott. I'll see you back next time on Real Life Loading.
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