Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 39. Gender Issues
Gen 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Gen 2:24,25 a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Painting the background: There are a number of other issues that arise in modern life in the West (but not necessarily so across the rest of the world) but let’s go to the heart of one of the biggest issues that is rising up and challenging our thinking, that of gender issues. (Stay with me for these following studies, they are very important in the life of the Church in today’s world and really do need redeeming). Above we have God’s mandate for a perfect world, how it was in the beginning, what I referred to in a previous study as what is ‘normal’ for God, what was normal before the Fall, and what will be normal when He recreates a new heaven and a new earth. But yesterday we considered the reality of this ‘fallen world’, a world where often things are no longer ‘normal’ in the sense I used above, a world where sometimes this imperfection, this brokenness reveals itself in genetic changes.
Definitions: Let’s do some defining. I am going to briefly quote from ‘Understanding Gender Dysphoria’ by Mark A. Yarhouse, who clearly knows considerably more about this subject than most of us and may thus help us clarifying our thinking.
- Primary Sex characteristics: Features of the body that are directly part of the reproductive system.
- Gender: The psychological, social and cultural aspects of being male or female.
- Gender identity: How you experience yourself (or think of yourself) as male or female, including how masculine or feminine a person feels.
- Gender role: Adoptions of cultural expectations for maleness and femaleness.
Wikipedia notes, “Sexual orientation describes an individual’s enduring physical, romantic, emotional, or spiritual attraction to another person, while gender identity is one’s personal sense of being a man or a woman.”
The Transgender Conundrum: We may not like this subject and feel it is simply an aberration of the fallen world ‘out there’ (beyond the church), but if that means we exclude certain people from the possibility of ‘salvation’, and from church, we have surely moved far from the heart of God. Now without doubt, this has been forced onto our consciousness – and I don’t know whether it is an enemy strategy or whether it is simply a sign of how ‘fallen’ the world is getting – and so we need to understand something of this and not produce knee-jerk, hostile reactions, that alienate us from people Jesus may want to save. These may be people in our own families. How tragic if, because of our ignorance and fear, we act so hostilely towards those closest to us that they flee from us. To quote Yarhouse, “To discuss being transgender is to discuss one’s experience of gender identity, one’s sense of oneself as male or female, and how that psychological and emotional experience is not aligning with one’s birth sex.”
Excuse me on my island: Now I suspect that most of my readers will be ‘straight Christians’ and if your instinctive reaction is now to go elsewhere, may I appeal to you to stick with me, learn, understand and empathize, and see the redemptive possibilities. My experience, and that of my family has been ‘straight’ but I increasingly come across those who either fit one of the transgender definitions or have family members who do. Why the increase? I don’t know, but I do want to remind you what I said several studies back about ‘islands’. My island may be different from yours or, to put it the other way around, yours may be different from mine, but I am not here to attack your island, but understand it, and if you are not happy with your island find out why. If you don’t want to read something as solid as Yarhouse’s book, see if you can get the January 2017 special-issue back copy of National Geographic magazine titled ‘Gender Revolution’ which acts as an excellent primer to this subject. I do not intend here to lay out all the many definitions found within this subject but simply to ask some pertinent questions to help us in it.
An unclear world: A distinction was made above between attraction to another and ‘gender identity’. That suggests therefore, that a person may be sexually male but feel female but not necessarily attracted to either males or females. It also suggests that someone may identify themselves as male but nevertheless be attracted to other males. We are, in reality, talking about an area of life that is more like a kaleidoscope with lots of different colours and shapes, and which often change. Now within all this, and this occurs more within the ‘attraction’ area, we might be wise to observe two things. First, a person’s ‘spiritual orientation’ and, second, a person’s sexual control, if I may put it like that. What I am about to suggest is that as far as your acceptance of individuals is concerned, these two things may be more important to you if you will think about it, than whether they are not ‘straight’ in your eyes.
Spiritual Orientation: Those of us who come from an ‘evangelical’ background are usually more concerned to know where a person stands with God and Jesus, have they made a profession of faith or not, say. It may surprise us that a person struggling with gender issues can have as strong a heart after God as you might profess to have, and that their struggles with their gender issues form as much a content of their prayers as maybe yours about your temper, say. They may read their Bible as avidly as you, and ‘attend church’ and worship as vigorously as you. You may struggle with your temper, unkind thoughts, feelings of guilt or inadequacy, or many other such common grace-struggles. They may not be struggling with such things.
The point I am making? We may all of us, empathize with the apostle Paul in his struggles in Romans 7, wanting to be one thing but being something else, but if we are struggling with something that has genetic origins (and we’ll look at this in another study more fully) we cannot call that ‘sin’. Wow! A difficult theological and philosophical problem, but what I wonder is the truth about that? Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly. (We will definitely look at Rom 1 soon).
Sexual Control: Now the western world has abandoned the word ‘control’ when it comes to sexual behaviour and for decades now American TV (and more latterly other Western nations’ TV) have been pumping out TV that says sex is OK with whoever you want to do it with, and whenever you want. Almost surprisingly, TV ‘soaps’ are incredibly good at showing that infidelity and unfaithfulness in terms of relationships are recipes for hurt, anguish and upset where feelings of rejection and betrayal are abundant. And this hasn’t gone anywhere near the transgender or sexual orientation areas, this has just been the rampant abandonment of tradition Judeo-Christian values in relationships, so that cohabitation is frequently more common than formal marriage. Unfortunately statistics prove that when you are cohabiting, whatever your intentions, you are far more likely to split up than if you are married.
But uninhibited, unrestricted, sexual expression is what the media have been showing us for decades so, may I suggest, any comments we may make from our ‘island’ should be equally concerned whether it is in respect of heterosexual sex or say homosexual sex. The Biblical Christian standpoint says, one partner of the opposite sex, for life, after marriage. The water in the West has now become very muddied, but if you are wishing to advise or wishing to criticize in respect of this area of non-heterosexual behaviour, surely the same criteria needs to be applied and maybe some difficult questions asked: Do you have to ‘have sex’? Do you have to have many sexual partners? Does that leave you feeling fulfilled or are you chasing newer and more exciting experiences and, like drug taking, the buzz of the next experience seems to be less than the previous one? Please, these are not seeking to be condemnatory questions but simply honest questions from my island to yours. Can you be honest about them?
Integrity and compassion: Before we stop today, we should note that it is so easy to lack integrity and compassion in discussions, debates, arguments, call them what you will, about this subject. Integrity says sin in sin so if we want to challenge one area, why that area and not the bigger pool? Let’s question all sexual behaviour outside the Biblical norms. Whatever we may think about the outlooks that different people have, on their individual islands, as followers of Jesus, can we be caring and compassionate, understanding and empathetic? In this area where, scientifically all is not black and white, can we restrain ourselves and not repeat the errors of the church in history that often condemned without knowledge and was shown to be foolish?
Integrity suggests we need to determine the truth and to find that we may need to ask difficult questions, and while so doing, can we always hold on to love, care, concern and compassion. God, we have been studying for weeks, desires to redeem. Remember, a while back we noted how we can be agents that hinder that process. In ten years’ time, the philosophical and spiritual outlook may be very different from today and hopefully much clearer and much stronger, but to reach such a time will clearly need a move of God as well as open hearts in us today. May we be agents that help redemption and not hinder it.