In my last post, I talked about one of the biggest questions facing the church in America today: whether gay and lesbian relationships should be affirmed as a faithful expression of God’s love.
I concluded that the Bible can be read more than one way, and that neither of the traditional objections to homosexual activity (it doesn’t lead to procreation, and isn’t seen as “complementary” in the same way a heterosexual marriage is) is necessarily biblical or reasonable.
Today I want to go a little further, and ask another important question: Is the traditional concept of gender as a binary (male or female, with nothing in between) still workable in today’s world?
The experiences of people who are transgender (identifying with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth) or genderqueer (identifying as neither male nor female, or some combination of both) have led many to conclude that gender is more of a spectrum (with many points between completely male and completely female) than a binary.
This presents quite a challenge to the church, which has traditionally understood gender in binary terms.
Traditionalists often reference Genesis 1:27-28, which says that “God created (people) in His own image; male and female He created them.” This verse, it is claimed, says that male and female are specific and complementary genders – with no third option, and nothing in the middle.
This is a pretty weak argument, in my opinion. It’s essentially an argument from silence. This verse says that male and female are a part of God’s creation; it doesn’t say, or even imply, that God never made anything else!
Other Bible verses affirm people who are gender-ambiguous in some way. They biblical term for such people is eunuchs.
As I noted in my last post, Jesus mentions three types of eunuchs: those who have been so from birth, those who have been castrated, and those who have chosen not to marry or raise children (Matt 19:12).
It’s commonly acknowledged by most medical professionals that some people are born with indistinct genitalia, appearing to be both sexes. Such people (whose existence is completely denied by a lot of Christians) are called intersex; and they certainly fit Jesus’ description of “eunuchs who have been so from birth.”
Similarly, there are people who have characteristics of both sexes in their genetic code or brain chemistry. These people also fit Jesus’ description, since their gender ambiguity makes it difficult for them to find a suitable marriage partner.
To all such “eunuchs,” the prophet Isaiah gives this amazing promise:
“Thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:4-5).
This is pretty revolutionary when we consider the context. The idea that eunuchs could “hold fast the covenant” of God was quite a revelation to ancient Israel, who had previously been told that “no one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord” (Deut 23:1)!
This last verse reflects an idea prevalent in many ancient cultures – that in order to preserve the life of the tribe, everyone needs to procreate. Anyone unable or unwilling to do this “duty” is cut off from the people.
By the time of Isaiah, however, the people of Israel had come to realize that their God is in fact the Creator of all people – and that the survival of humanity isn’t threatened by people unable to have children, or who defy gender norms in some similar way.
But Isaiah goes further than this. Not only is there a place for “eunuchs” among God’s people, he says, but they actually have a place of honor – “a name better than sons and daughters” (Isaiah 56:5)!
Similarly, many Native American tribes have historically honored transgender people as “two-spirits,” whose gender complexity actually makes them closer to God (who transcends all ideas of gender).
It’s high time that Christians recover some of these ancient roots, and make a space for those who don’t have a place in the binary world of “male” or “female.”
Yes, God created men and women with some natural differences; this was necessary in order to create and raise children.
But beyond this, gender is largely a social construct; and in an age of overpopulation, we may well question what purpose can be served by continuing to force people into rigid gender roles.
As for those who refuse to make accommodations for such people, I ask a simple question: who would be harmed by a more inclusive approach?
You may say that you’re only concerned about the safety of children, that you don’t want a “man in a dress” in the restroom with your daughter; but I call bullshit. Your sons have shared a restroom with men all their lives. Where’s the concern for your boys?
I’m afraid that the resistance to transgender rights has little to do with family values, protection of children, or any such high ideals. At the core it’s often simple misogyny; a plain and simple hatred for the feminine.
After all, no one bats an eye when women act like “tomboys”; but God forbid a man betray his gender and act like a “sissy!” And it’s well documented that homophobia is more common among men than women.
All of this is a rejection of the values of Jesus – who teaches us not to judge by external factors such as gender, but by the motives of the heart.
The God revealed in Jesus is a God who could care less whether we identify as male, female, or something else entirely.
All that God asks of us is that we be open to His/Her love – and that we share that love with others. Everything else is secondary.
Does it matter, then, how we express our gender identity? Does it matter what sex or gender the person we choose as a spouse happens to be? As long as we act in love, I would say no. But “acting in love” isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
(Coming Next – Jesus and Sex, Part Five: True Love Waits? Premarital Sex in View of Eternity)