Pope Francis has been talking a lot lately about what he is calling “gender theory.” He has called it an “anthropological regression” that “does not recognize the order of creation.”
But what is gender theory and why does it matter?
In short, it is a rejection of the reality that we are each created male and female — our bodies being an expression of that reality — and a claim that our identity can be made or remade in any way we choose. Gender theory has enormous public policy consequences and will be at the heart of the religious liberty debate for the foreseeable future.
Embracing a fiction
Originally, gender theory was connected to feminism and sought to eradicate traditional gender roles for men and women based on the view that how we perceive gender is merely a social construction.
More recent theories posit that gender is what the person believes him or herself to be. According to this view, people should be able to identify as male, female or one of the many new gender identities regularly emerging, because who they are is determined by their subjective sense of their self, not by the objective reality of being created male or female.
With this view of the human person, the body becomes the enemy of personal freedom when it does not reflect what one feels is his or her inner identity (“my truth”).
There are many different strains of “gender theory,” but all of them seek to liberate the person from the reality of the body and how we are created.
Enemies of freedom
Gender theory is quickly becoming social dogma. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the media stampede to recognize a “he” as a “she.”
The cultural and linguistic revolution also has companion legislation that seeks to eliminate any opposition to gender theory and the freedom to choose one’s identity.
Though discrimination based on sex and gender (including gender identity) is already prohibited under Minnesota law, some activists and legislators are proposing to amend the Minnesota Constitution to mandate gender equality (HF 165/SF 62).
Rather than simply ensuring that men and women are treated equally, as some proponents claim the amendment will do, it will essentially operate as a blank check in a multitude of contexts to eradicate what gender theorists perceive as discrimination.
Some potential legal outcomes of the amendment include state-funded sex-change operations; state-funded assisted reproductive technology, including surrogacy arrangements; curriculum mandates in schools; and a multitude of employment mandates.
Perhaps most troubling, such an amendment could also erode the religious liberty protections Minnesotans enjoy in both state statute and in our state constitution. Those who refuse to go along or comply with a mandate listed above would be punished, monetarily and legally, as enemies of “freedom.”
Our response: male and female he created them
Shortly after this article goes to press, Pope Francis will release an encyclical about the environment. One expected theme is that all of creation is a gift over which we are stewards, and which has natural and moral limitations we must respect.
Respecting creation includes respecting human nature reflected in our bodies, which may seem to some like an arbitrary limitation. But as Catholics we know that true liberation comes when we live according to God’s wise and loving plan for us.
That means embracing the reality of being created male and female, and offering authentic love, concern and care for those who are struggling with this reality.
“The complementarity of man and woman, the crown of the divine creation, is being questioned by gender ideology in the name of a freer and more just society,” the pope said June 8 at the Vatican’s Santa Marta hall.
He went on to say: “The difference between man and woman is not meant to stand in opposition, or to subordinate, but is for the sake of communion and generation, always ‘in the image and likeness of God.’”
We need witnesses to the reality of being created male and female because it is a life-giving truth. Living the truth in word and deed could have personal consequences if social developments such as the constitutional amendment are embraced in the political sphere.
But as disciples, our mission is to live by and share with others God’s loving plan for us all.
Zittlow is associate director for communications for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.