Editor’s Note: The following book review appears in the Spring 2020 issue of Eikon.
Sharon James. Gender Ideology: What do Christians Need to Know? Ross–shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2019.
Sharon James observes, “We live in an age of unprecedented confusion about sexual identity” (14). Literature on gender studies and human sexuality is a slog for the uninitiated, yet those thinkers and their volumes are shifting the dialogue for an entire generation. James, who has a doctorate from the University of Wales and serves as a Social Policy Analyst for the Christian Institute, has written Gender Ideology: What do Christians Need to Know? “to explain in simple terms what is going on” so that Christians “will be better equipped to protect the next generation from believing lies that lead to lasting physical and emotional harm” (16).
After introducing her volume, James moves into a brief description of the global revolution regarding human sexuality (chapter 1). Various global and national organizations are pushing for comprehensive educational measures (in numerous Western countries) that reject the connection between biological sex and gender, as well as heteronormativity (18–19), as mere social constructs. According to James, “Most adults instinctively know that the ‘binary’ division of humanity into male and female genders is an objective reality” (22); yet, laws and educational standards, which codify the rejection of that binary, are being imposed on entire societies.
Given the rejection of the “man/woman” binary, the fundamental question looms in the title of chapter 2, “Can we Really Change Sex?” Here, James addresses some basic definitions in the discussion and tackles some of the most important claims made by gender theorists. The most basic terms are sex and gender. Sex—referring “to the biological category of male or female” (italics original)—and gender— “from the Latin term for ‘kind’ or ‘set’” (24)—have traditionally been organically connected but are currently being rent asunder by modern gender theorists. Contra gender theory, the author clearly affirms, “It is impossible to ‘change sex’; you can only change appearance. Our birth sex cannot be changed” (34).
In chapter 3, James briefly lays out the fundamental tenets and significant issues of gender theory. One is the gender spectrum, which James incisively deconstructs as being contrary to reality. She demonstrates not only the fallacious premises but also the deceitful vocabulary employed in this discussion. She concludes with three points: gender theory is “a denial of basic biology” (50), “destroys the definition of men, women; mothers and fathers” (50), and “leads to a denial of history” (51). Next in chapter 4, James traces the genesis of gender theory, namely, to thinkers like Sigmund Freud and John Money, as well as the contemporary coalescence of “Identity Politics, Radical Feminism, and Queer Theory” (65–67). The result of this “partnership” has been the identification of sexual minorities as “the most victimised of the victim classes,” wherein they are granted special rights and privileges, despite a lack of scientific research (66-67).
In chapter 5, James lays the foundation of the Christian view of sex and gender by appealing to both natural and special revelation. Gender binary is affirmed by creation itself, which “teaches us both the fundamental distinction and the necessary complementarity between men and women” (69; italics original). Procreation requires the union of man and woman. The Bible grounds the witness of nature in God’s creative and redemptive work. Contrary to Gnosticism, the Bible teaches that embodiment is good and that the union of man and woman in marriage is a reflection of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Gender ideology, on the other hand, “downplays the significance of our physical bodies and says that our subjective feelings are more important” (76). This rejection of nature is tantamount to a rejection of reason, and the church must stand firm in opposition to such activism; yet, Christians must learn to show respect and compassion to individuals who are personally suffering.
In contemporary society, childhood-onset dysphoria and rapid-onset dysphoria are becoming more prevalent as confusion continues to grow among our children (chapter 6). James identifies various factors increasing this confusion and shows how gender activists are using such confusion to unseat heteronormativity and normalize the alternative lifestyles of various sexual minority groups. These activists are using children as political pawns, and Christians must equip themselves to address this issue, which is how the author concludes her book (chapter 7). James demonstrates shrewdness and courageous truth-telling on the one hand as well as gospel-centered kindness on the other. Christians must stand up and respond to these challenges from a robust Christian worldview built upon the Word of God infused with the grace and mercy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The wellbeing of a generation is at stake.
We all remember the public transition of Bruce to Caitlyn Jenner, and we have since seen the significant shift in public dialogue regarding human sexuality. The sorts of questions that we now face are quite disorienting, not to mention the attendant fear of being labelled a bigot. Conviction conquers fear, and knowledge grows into conviction. James’s work serves to inform and orient its readers in this cultural moment through the explanation of terms and concepts employed by gender theory, the presentation of gender theory’s impact on contemporary legal and educational standards, and the biblical response to these issues. Gender Ideology is a clear and accessible introduction to gender theory, which is a notoriously jargon-laden field.
Though the author’s focus is primarily tied to care for children, the book is useful for anyone who participates in contemporary culture. The author is able to distill difficult concepts and present them in an interesting and readable way. The brevity of Gender Ideology makes it accessible to high schoolers as well as parents—anyone who is concerned for the wellbeing of the next generation. It serves as an excellent introduction to the field for those looking for one book on the topic, but it also serves as a springboard into further engagement.
In a day and age when truth-telling is often opposed to grace and kindness, the Christian response to issues like gender theory often lacks balance. Christians seem to embrace either bitter vitriol in fervency for the truth or thoughtless passivity in showing charity to those who need the gospel. James is refreshing in her proportionality. She perceptively identifies destructive ideologies and forcefully challenges their premises. Engagement with activists requires keen argumentation as we champion the truth. Yet, James encourages compassion, kindness, and love as we seek to minister to those who have been caught up in the confusion resulting from our disorienting culture. Gender Ideology will fuel a passion for the truth that is mingled with sorrow for the sin-decimated state of humanity. Such a balance ought to be a hallmark of the Christian witness in the world.
Gender Ideology by Sharon James is a timely book and is worthy of consideration. Readers will find that James is able to weave the testimonies of those affected by gender theory, technical explanation, critical engagement, and positive application together into an educated, coherent, and passionate plea for the protection of children.
Alex Tibbott is a PhD student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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