Like other Christians, I have had to think through the bewildering flood of ideas about gender and sexuality that our culture has been generating in the past few years. It's been confusing and difficult. Some of the things I've said about human sexuality in the past no longer seem adequate to me. Many of the things I've heard other people say seem unbiblical and troubling. But I think I'm ready to express some of my opinions with a modicum of clarity.
Most human beings are gifted by God with either a female body or a male body. Some human beings are inter-sexed, and their situations are difficult, and I'll come back to them. But I don't think their situations should cloud our understanding of what the Bible says about males and females. If a male or a female wants to enter into a sexual union with another human being, God's will for that person is clear. Genesis says, "God created human beings in his own image; male and female he created them," and "for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh." When Jesus was asked about God's will for human sexuality, he went to these passages from the creation story. So people to whom God has given a male body are free to enter into a committed sexual union with people with female bodies, and vice versa. That was Jesus' understanding of God's intention for marriage, and I don't think human beings and human cultures have the freedom to change that.
That's clear and it's simple. But the concept of gender complicates things. I hear the word gender being used in two different ways right now. Gender can refer to a culture's patterns for communicating and expressing maleness or femaleness, or it can refer to our personal conception of our identity as we express it sexually. I don't really like the way our culture is thinking about that second use of the word. Many of our American contemporaries seem to believe that we are born with a gender that is independent of our bodies' sex. So our way of thinking or feeling might be female and our body male, or vice versa. Generally, when people say that they believe this, they are thinking about what we have come to call sexual preference, the sort of person someone has come to want to have sex with. People in our culture have come to believe that we are born with an innate sexual preference and as we mature our preference manifests itself in an inevitable way. I, personally, doubt that that is true, since none of us are born wanting to have sex anyway, and the way our personalities develop is a complicated process. But whether it is true or not is irrelevant in my opinion. As a Christian, I believe that none of us is born with an innate desire to do the will of God, anyway, and all of us need to repent of our sinful desires and follow God's will, whatever we desire and however we have come to desire it.
The other idea of gender is also troubling to me, though. Our ideas about gender come to us from our cultures, and our cultures, as human creations, reflect both human creativity, part of the image of God in us, and human fallenness, our collective evil. Further, our cultural ideas about gender are often intolerant, cruel, and oppressive. And Christians frequently try to baptize these cultural ideas and read them back into the Bible. Too often we try to determine what men are supposed to be like and what women are supposed to be like and then we brand as sin anything that doesn't fit these Christianized gender roles. People are varied and complicated; they don't all fit into those generalized categories. When we try to squeeze our brothers and sisters into these set concepts of maleness and femaleness, we play right into our culture's ideas of gender. But I don't think same-sex attraction or any other sort of personality variation should call into question people's maleness or femaleness given to them by God at birth. I think each of us needs to discover who God has made us to be and to express that without worrying about whether others will think that our personalities fit their cultural conception of what qualities are male or female. If you are a woman, whatever you are is what a woman is. If you are a man, whatever you are is what a man is. The only thing we need to renounce is sin.
So, as I said before, if someone has a male body, he is free to enter into committed sexual union with a person with a female body, and vice versa. People are also free to stay single, and the Bible says that God honors that decision. What we aren't free to do is to define ourselves as somehow something different from what God has made us physically. Nor do I think that we are free to decide that we would prefer to have a different sex than the sex God has assigned to us. People who are born with some sort of ambiguous genetic or physical sexual characteristics are, of course, a different story. Though this is complicated, my most basic opinion right now is that those people probably know better than anyone else what they are and that they should be free to avail themselves of whatever medical procedures will help them to express who they are sexually.
Americans have always cherished freedom, and we have wanted to further the freedom of other people. But a Christian also must believe that human freedom is limited by the will of God and that following God's will furthers true human freedom and happiness. Our culture has taken on itself the right to redefine something that Jesus saw as a creation ordinance, something that human cultures have almost universally maintained. Our job as Christians is to think carefully about what people around us are saying in light of our understanding of the word of God. Then we need to do our best to do the will of God, to honor each other's personalities, and to love others. No doubt a lot more thinking has to be done about this issue. Perhaps some of my ideas still need to be adjusted, and I'm willing to listen to other arguments. But this is what I am willing to say with some confidence right now.
If you are interested in processing these ideas further, Covenant is hosting a panel discussion titled "Sexual Identity and the Christian: Continuing the Conversation." The event will take place on Thursday, Feb. 19 featuring: Hans Madueme, Camille Hallstrom, Kevin Eames, Shan Alexander, Evan Marbury, Kevin McAlvey and Hunter Rasmussen in Sanderson 215 from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.