Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Who Ultimately Tells Me Who I Am?

Written by: on January 26, 2023

Abigail Favale’s book, The Genesis of Gender, is personal, philosophical, historical, and theological. Positioned as a book on theology and sociology, Favale begins by recounting her journey from a traditional childhood, to different forms of feminism, to her current position, not easily categorized into the extreme ends of the gender debate spectrum. Even the subtitle, “A Christian Theory,” suggests one view on the issue rather than a claim to absolute truth.

From experience, Favale points to the positive emphasis of feminism as recognizing “that something is amiss, that the relationship between men and women has been too often characterized by domination.”[1] She affirms the intention to restore dignity, equal value, and mutuality between the genders. However, she takes issues with the strategy to accomplish that noble goal. “However, blind to the dimension of grace, the solutions offered by (feminism’s) theories are themselves caught in the fallen forces of conflict, in the continual grasping for power over others.”[2] The proper goal requires the right strategy rather than working against it. In this sense, Favale sounds like John McWhorter in Woke Racism. While McWhorter recognizes the evils of racism, he believes a woke approach dehumanizes all people rather than lead society forward. Likewise, Favale argues that feminism does not restore the egalitarian relationship created by God but substitutes one form of domination for another.

After relating her journey, Favale next lays out a clear and compelling Christian vision of gender based on the creation account that she calls a “true myth.”[3] This Catholic convert leans into the teaching of Pope John Paul II to present a Christian view that does not easily fit into traditional descriptions of men and women. She argues for the creation of male and female but resists easy assumptions of the meaning of man and woman. Her view is undoubtedly not complementarian and more nuanced than simple definitions of egalitarianism. Instead, she writes about reciprocity that brings meaning to statements of equal worth and value between the genders.

Favale argues for two genders primarily defined by biology. Arguing against trans anthropology, she states, “the body I am is always already revealing my personhood.”[4] She views trans identities as a longing for wholeness, revealing a need to unite body and soul.[5] Further, she argues that differentiating between gender and the body reduces men and women to stereotypes that result in categories without meaning. “If girlness and boyness no longer reside in the body, there is no other ground for these concepts except stereotypes.”[6] She cites a Johns Hopkins definition of “bigender” as “exhibiting cultural characteristics of male and female roles.”[7] If culture determines gender, can there be many distinctions in this cultural moment?

Favale identifies Postmodernism as an essential factor and influence in the gender issue, leading away from the biblical concept. She states, “Postmodernism. . .is a worldview that sees reality in terms of narratives that are created by human beings, rather than order of objective truths that can be discovered by human beings.”[8] This point reminded me of Carl Trueman’s analysis of the shift in sexuality from an objective standard to one self-determined by the individual. “Postmodernism’s hamartia (fatal flaw) is assuming that there are only narratives, only lenses of interpretation, that no narrative can be truer than another, because there is no underlying ground of meaning.”[9] What does anything mean if no external standard exists? Holding to self-determined truth alone reduces attempts to define what is true, right, or good.

The Genesis of Gender left me with diverse takeaways:

  • Bibliology: all Christians hold to some view of the Bible and its place in faith and life. Favale reveals a high view of Scripture that I share. However, I recognize that hermeneutics vary, and Christians who discuss this issue would be well served to understand each other’s bibliology as a part of the discussion. Christians can often “speak past” each other because they come from such a different place biblically.
  • Anthropology: one’s view of humanity plays a vital role in the issue of gender. Flowing from the previous point, what is humanity? Are we basically good, bad, or something different altogether? I align with Augustine’s view of the brokenness of humanity, necessitating the ongoing intervention of God’s power to transform human hearts. I believe all humanity finds true identity in Christ, not ultimately in self.
  • Sociology: the issue of identity pervades societies and cultures. If we self-determine identity, will there be consistency across the spectrum? For example, in 2015, Rachel Dolezal was fired as the head of the Spokane NAACP chapter because she portrayed herself as black despite being biologically white. After the firing, she insisted, “I identify as black.”[10] Is there a different line for ethnicity than gender? Or, since that happened seven years ago, would the result be different today?
  • Missiology: specifically, how does the Christian faith engage the world? Humanly speaking, no one will be reached without love. As someone whose theology sits conservatively right-center, I believe our love needs to be quite liberal. The gender issue as a category seems to result in hard lines on either side of the issue. I believe we are better served by sitting with folks and listening to their stories. Favale shares several personal encounters and demonstrates genuine care for the individual. The trans people I have met have taught me to resist simple answers to their complex journeys. I grieve over a conservative social media collective voice that issues caustic one-liners of condemnation. May followers of Jesus be known for their love more than their stance on social issues.

[1] Abigail Favale, The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2022), 52.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 37.

[4] Ibid., 199.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 158.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 22.

[9] Ibid., 222.

[10] Greg Botelho, CNN June 17, 2015, accessed January 26, 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2015/06/16/us/washington-rachel-dolezal-naacp/index.html.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

14 responses to “Who Ultimately Tells Me Who I Am?”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:


    You wrote, “Favale reveals a high view of Scripture that I share.” What do you mean by that?

    Can those who interpret the Scriptures differently also have a high view of the Scriptures?

    Any time a church calls itself “Bible-believing,” it tends to mean that they think others who do not interpret the Scriptures the same way do not truly believe in the Bible.

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Andy, thanks for you questions. I do believe that people who hold a different hermeneutic can have a high view of the Bible. I understand your concern about dismissing people who interpret the Bible another way and labeling them negatively. But I would also argue that a similar dynamic gets leveled at people who hold “traditional” theological views. Being labeled “close-minded,” “right-wing,” etc. is as dismissive as what you describe in your final statement. It sounds to me like saying, “How can any thinking person still believe that?” What I meant by Favale revealing a high view of Scripture is due to her engagement with the Bible that informs her conclusions. She argues for what she believes theologically, attributing a higher authority to the Bible rather than what a person self-defines.

  2. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Roy, WOW!
    I love your analysis of take aways. I appreciate how you pointed out the inconsistencies or instability caused by a fluid definition of identity. It also appears to be one that can be manipulated to suit a person’s desire for some sort of power or position. I think of some males recently identifying as female to compete in women’s sports or to gain access to female restrooms, for perceived or actual nefarious purposes. How does one discern the difference? As a senior leader how do you walk in grace and acceptance while exemplifying righteousness?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Denise, you ask good yet hard questions. I believe Dr. Favale gives a proper tension between loving people and guiding toward a biblical vision. Sadly, I believe the church generally speaking has a hierarchy of sins and it seems the new “issue” that comes falls into the category of being unacceptable while other sins – like gossip and disunity – get excused or accepted. It starts with truly listening to someone and a relationship. Humanly speaking, influence comes through relationship. The longer I serve in ministry, I find direction the words of Micah 6:8 to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” May it be so.

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    What a thoughtful and reflective post, Roy. The takeaways you outline could be posts of their own. You state in your final takeaway, “I believe we are better served by sitting with folks and listening to their stories” – I couldn’t agree more. From your experience and perspective as a pastor, do you have any theories as to why we as the church are not the best with this?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Kayli, good question. I agree that the church is not very good at sitting with people. There are likely many reasons but one that stands out to me is a need to be “right.” We tend of devalue relationship and elevate lines of righteousness. As I noted to Denise, humanly speaking, influence comes in the context of relationship. Emerging generations value relationship to a great degree. I believe we have a chance for influence that will require the church to shift its focus to genuinely caring about the people that God brings their way.

  4. mm Troy Rappold says:

    RG: Great parallel with Favale and her book and Woke Racism by McWhorter; I hadn’t thought about that connection but it’s true. Her position isn’t so easily categorized, like you mentioned, but is intelligent and nuanced. Such a good book.

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    I love watching you work through challenging topics! You’re quite graceful. I love your summary thoughts at the end. Not divisive, but curious, and engaging.

  6. Elmarie Parker says:

    Roy, thank you so very much for this thoughtful engagement with Favale’s writing. Like Eric, I also enjoy reading your process of thinking through issues and your four outlined areas at the end for further reflection–so helpfully outlined and framed. Thank you for that! Given your relatively conservative ministry context, what are you finding most helpful to aid your congregation to embody the missiology you describe in your last point (a posture of careful listening and generous love)? What advice to you offer when a cis-gendered congregation member experiences a clash between their worldview/theology/life experience and the worldview/theology/life experience of someone, for example, coming from the trans community? Perhaps there aren’t major differences…but if there are, what counsel have you found helpful to offer?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Elmarie, thanks for you great questions. One of the emphases of our church is carrying out acts of compassion. We believe that living out our faith shows the love of God in practical ways. Right now, we are collecting boxes that people fill with all sorts of supplies. They are going to be delivered to brothels in neighboring Nevada. We are trying to find a way to serve the gay community in our area. We have not found the trans community organized, so our interaction happens person by person. At this moment, we have several trans folks as a regular part of the church. We try to teach our folks that we have 100% people in need of God’s transforming power each week. I believe that kind of culture starts at the top and needs to be done in ways that go beyond platitudes.

  7. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Hi Roy,

    Ty for your reflections. I’m curious, how do mormons approach the changes in postmodernism and their theology of faith in this gender and identity issues?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Jonathan, thanks for your questions. The LDS church is quite comfortable with Postmoderism due to their belief in progressive revelation. They also look to a modern-day prophet who, in the past, has changed major doctrines. For example, plural marriage and people of color occupying leadership roles all changed to contradict previous doctrine. The social issues are causing an unheaval in the LDS church, however. Younger generations do not struggle with many of the issues playing out in this day, including gender. The church has significantly softened its stance on gay marriage. They do not affirm it but they now welcome gay couples into local ward buildings. Young LDS folks are leaving the church is large numbers and the church leadership is nervous about that growing trend.

  8. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Roy, I appreciate your list of diverse takeaways. How do you construct healthy application of the questions you raise that can be diametrically opposed for some people?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Nicole, that’s a deep question. I believe any faith that anyone holds is diametrically opposed to the belief of others, so that’s a question for us all. Personally, the beliefs I hold need to exist in a tension. There are beliefs I hold today that are different than those I held when I began ministry. When we engage people who believe differently, we need to listen and share our reason for our belief. I fear too often we attack another belief more than we share the rationale for our own belief. What I see in your posts is the positive version of what I’m talking about – you sharing what you believe, not dismissing those who believe differently. That approach allows for discussion and the tension I mean above. When I think of tension, I also remember when my kids were teens. They believed and did things I did not agree with but I would have given my life for them both. We can genuinely love those that we do not agree with but, alas, I fear we live in a time so often marked by extremism that only chooses affirmation or condemnation.

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