Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Christian Gospel and Gender Fluidity

Given the push by some in the community to define gender as purely a social construct, it is helpful to consider the issue of gender identity from the perspective of the gospel. According to the Bible, back in the beginning, the human race only had two genders: male and female. Adam was a male human, and Eve a female human. The first chapter of the Bible makes this clear:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen 1:26–27).

As originally created by God, the human race had only two genders: male and female. This is something that we can assume was clear to Adam and Eve in the garden. We know that God created Adam first, but when God created Eve by fashioning a woman from Adam’s rib, Adam was aware of the difference. In fact, on seeing Eve, he exclaimed: “This at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of a man” (Gen 2:23). It is interesting that in Hebrew, man is pronounced ish, and woman is isha, where isha is simply the feminine form of ish. So in Hebrew thinking, a woman is simply a female human. A similar kind of logic also lies behind the English word woman. The most likely derivation of the word woman is from the compound wife-man, where the word wife originally meant simply a female human. So in both Hebrew and English a woman is a female human.

Adam and Eve would have been aware of the gender differences between themselves. After the creation of Eve, the biblical record in Gen 3 consistently distinguishes the man from the woman. The Bible is clear on the difference between the two, and we can assume that Adam and Eve also knew the difference, and were happy with the sex that God had assigned to each one respectively.

But if as originally created by God only two genders existed (male and female), and those genders corresponded to the physical sex of the person in question, why do we have certain people today who claim that gender is fluid, asserting that gender does not necessarily correspond to the physical sex of one’s body?

This brings us to the impact of sin on human society, which affects gender in two ways.

Firstly, sin has consequences for the genetic and hormonal health of humans. Some of these consequences can have the effect of confusing gender in a small number of situations. Adam and Eve in the garden did not suffer from any genetic problems; but outside the garden of Eden, genetic problems in the form of genetic mutations arose in the process of the transmission of genes from one generation to the next.

Scientifically speaking, physical sex is determined by the kind of sex chromosomes that a person has. A pair of X chromosomes means that you are female, whereas an X chromosome together with a Y chromosome means that you are male. However, in a small number of cases, the typical XX or XY chromosome situation may be affected by some kind of genetic mutation, leading to various intersex conditions, where there is some ambiguity in a person’s physical sexual identity. Most times when this happens, a person is either XX or XY, but the hormones that are responsible for male or female sexual development do not kick in as expected. In addition, in rare situations, a person might be born with a genetic condition that is neither XX or XY. It is possible to be XXX or XYY. These particular conditions do not normally create any problems. However, it is also possible for a person to be XXY, XXXY, XXXXY, XO, XX male, and XY female. These conditions are more problematic.

Living in a fallen world, it is a fact that a small minority of people might suffer from an intersex condition, where our chromosomes or hormones might not function as they should. In such situations, it should be left up to the parents in consultation with the medical professionals to work out what gender (if any) a particular child should identify with. At the same time, it needs to be acknowledged that these are exceptional situations. In the vast majority of circumstances, humans are either XX female, or XY male. It is important for Christians to be aware that some people, through no fault of their own, might have been born with an intersex condition. Such situations should be treated with understanding, compassion, and concern.

However, it is necessary to distinguish between intersex conditions that have some objective basis in biology versus intersex conditions that are purely the result of a distorted way of thinking about gender. which brings us to the second way in which sin affects human gender.

The Bible teaches that sin also results in distorted and unnatural thinking about sexuality, which includes mental confusion about gender. For example, In Rom 1 the Apostle Paul identifies some of the consequences of sin on human thinking. Sin results in futile thinking and foolish, darkened hearts, and this impacts upon human sexuality through unnatural thinking regarding sex (Rom 1:21). One of the effects of sin is that human thinking is often characterized by stupidity. And the concept of gender fluidity is an excellent example of such irrationality.

If you are genetically XX and have all of the standard female body parts, then it flies in the face of biology and the gender that God has graciously gifted you to pretend that you are not female. Likewise, if you are genetically XY and have all of the standard male body parts, you should not pretend to be anything other than a man. Boys should be boys, and girls should be girls. It is not for us to pretend to be what we are not according to God’s design.

The idea of accepting the gender that God has given you found expression in the law of Moses. Deuteronomy 22:5 legislated that “a woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” Our Creator clearly does not accept that men should pretend to be women, or vice versa. Having created two genders (male and female), clearly God does not want that distinction to be blurred.

Overall, we can say that the fall of the human race has introduced an element of gender confusion into what was originally a system of two clearly distinct genders. But it is significant at this point to realize that redemption in Jesus affects the issue of human gender in three major ways.

The first difference that Jesus makes is that as he saves us, he sanctifies us so that we can start thinking correctly about gender. Instead of having darkened minds, we can start to have clarity on the issue, and understand that there are fundamentally only two genders for the human race, the male gender and the female gender; and that these correspond (in normal circumstances) to the physical gender of our body as it has been assigned to us by God. The concept of gender fluidity is not just irrational; it also constitutes a rejection of God, and it is not consistent with how we should be thinking about gender as people who have been saved by Christ. If you pretend that you are a female even though God has created you as a male, then that is a form of idolatry. It is wrong for us to refuse to accept the gender that God has given us, which is the gender that in the vast majority of situations is obvious from the design of our body, and is written on our birth certificate.

Secondly, redemption in Jesus has implications for those who unfortunately suffer with a genuine intersex condition. Jesus has come to set us free from all of our genetic imperfections. He has come to heal all of our diseases. For those Christians who find themselves with a genuine intersex problem, Jesus promises therapeutic benefits. He promises to heal you of your condition. On the day of resurrection, your imperfect genes or chromosomes will be replaced by a perfect set of genetic material, and you will be the person that God has intended you to be, either male or female. In this way, Jesus gives hope to everyone who is genuinely suffering from an intersex condition, who turns to him in faith.

Thirdly, redemption in Jesus also helps to put the issue of gender identity into eternal perspective. Even though the Bible suggests that male and female will still exist in the kingdom of heaven after the day of resurrection, in the end, the Bible also tells us that salvation in Jesus means that the difference between male or female (which is so important and fundamental to each individual’s self-understanding in this life) will lose its significance in the world to come. Jesus teaches in Matt 22:30 that marriage is only for this life. In the resurrection, humans “neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven,” which in their right station do not engage in sexual activity. In other words, redemption in Jesus ultimately renders the distinction between the sexes useless. Redemption does not do away with gender or remove distinctions between gender, but it will ultimately consign those differences to human history. In the new heavens and the new earth, it will not matter whether you are male or female. More than anything else, we all will be human. There will be a unity between the two different genders based on our common humanity which has been saved and sanctified through Jesus.

Overall, we need to realize that the modern trendy talk of gender fluidity and gender queer is basically nonsense from God’s perspective. It is really just a perfect example of how human pride and autonomy can lead us into irrationality. The Bible rejects all such talk of gender fluidity. What it promotes instead is a fundamental gender staticity. In the beginning it was Adam and Eve, male and female. The original situation was gender static, not gender fluid. The original static situation has been confused to some extent as a result of the fall, but redemption in Jesus means the restoration of gender clarity in the context of an overarching unity of male and female, who in Christ share in a common humanity. In the vast majority of cases, our wobbly bits (to quote a phrase) determine our gender, and that is simply the way that God has made us. Instead of indulging in biological fancy, the vast majority of us who are either XX or XY should wholeheartedly accept the gender that God has graciously given us at conception: female if XX, and male if XY.