Does the cross affect gender roles?

(Photo: S Braswell)

Feminists everywhere have rallied against actress Kirsten Dunst's recent comments about gender roles, which have sparked controversy across the internet.

In an interview for the May edition of Bazaar magazine, Dunst revealed that she subscribes to a traditional view of relationships: "I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued," she said.

"We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother, cooking – it's a valuable thing my mum created.

"And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armour. I'm sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That's why relationships work."

Her comments have resulted in a huge backlash, with critics lambasting Dunst for suggesting that the roles of men and women are so rigid.

She has been deemed "insufferable" by one blogger, while Jezebel writer Erin Gloria Ryan notes that Dunst "is not paid to write gender theory so it shouldn't surprise anyone that she's kind of dumb about it".

Personally, I find her words patronising at best and terribly thought-through at worst, but unfortunately she is not a lone voice. I recently sat with a group of Christian girlfriends, whom I love and respect, and was shocked when one of them proclaimed that she could never marry a man who didn't have a job that would afford a comfortable life for the whole family. Several in the group murmured in agreement; it would never do to have to work. That's the man's job.

These are modern, intelligent, twenty-something young women, who currently hold down full time jobs and proclaim equality, justice and freedom for all regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, as befits our 21st century post-modern culture. So how do so many Millennials reconcile gender equality with such a conservative view of relationships?

"It's like how there are pink jobs and blue jobs," my friend justified. "Like girls can do the washing up while boys take the bins out."

At this point I had to offer everyone another cup of tea – it was going to be a long night.

I won't go into the deep theological issues with this - there are far wiser and more knowledgeable people on both sides of the debate who are able to articulate the arguments much better than I - but Dunst's comments just don't sit well with my view of God-honouring relationships.

We were created in God's image (note 'we'; not man, and then woman as an afterthought. It is only once Eve has been made and the perfect community of the Trinity is reflected in the husband and wife relationship that God proclaims it "good"), and yes, there are obvious, inherent differences between men and women; I got an A* in GCSE Biology.

But to assume that this equates to a 'man makes money while woman cooks meat' theology seems terribly archaic and a consequence of just the kind of patriarchal worldview that has caused countless men and women pain throughout Church history.

Tradition can be a wonderful thing, but to continue tradition without question doesn't do us any favours; ask anyone who's tried my grandma's annual Christmas pâté.

In 2012, American Pastor John Piper argued that Christianity is by nature a 'masculine' religion, as he believes is revealed in Scripture.

"God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male," he said during a men's conference.

"God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head.

"Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And being God, a God of love, He has done that for our maximum flourishing both male and female."

Feminist theologian Vicky Beeching responded to these comments in a blog, in which she noted that: "There was no gender hierarchy before the Fall, only afterwards. And I see that as part of what is transformed by the work of the cross, leading Paul to say in Galatians 3:28 that post-resurrection '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'."

She then adds that Jesus' death and resurrection restored "freedom and true order to creation. How could the cross not affect gender roles?"

I am inclined to agree with Beeching; I think gender is important and I love being a woman, but I can't reconcile the limitation of our roles within relationships, or indeed society, to those deemed 'socially acceptable' for our gender with the life that Christ demonstrated, and died for.

He calls us into the fullness that life offers, which last time I checked isn't always found in the kitchen, or in the boardroom of a city bank, or even – surprisingly - in the arms of a 'knight in shining armour'.

Living life to the full means adventure, which will look different to each of us. It might mean being a homemaker, or a banker, teacher, lawyer, vicar, writer, youth-worker, volunteer or countless other occupations across the myriad sectors and spheres of society. One is not more important that another, or more valuable. None are assigned to a particular group of people.

Our value is found not in what we do day to day, but in our worth as individuals, cherished by a God who wants to capture our hearts, redeemed by a Saviour who thought us worth dying for.

Therefore surely the question is not a matter of what we 'should' be doing, but rather how can we be honouring God in the place that we find ourselves?

And with that, I'm off to take the bins out.