Gender

Bending Gender Norms: Why the Narrative Is Not So Unified

If you are like me, your news feeds on social media have been overwhelmed by the Jenner transition from Bruce to Caitlyn. Everyone has an opinion, and no one seems to agree on how to address it. The range of responses runs the gamut from ESPN deciding to give Jenner their Arthur Ashe Courage Award to some describing Jenner’s transformation as evidence of mental illness (and then pretty much every possible response in between). My goal here is not to address the Jenner story directly but to expose the underlying narrative of the cultural conversation. That underlying narrative is the not-so-unified agenda within the LGBT movement.

Many Americans see the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) movement as a unified whole marching toward an end-goal of equality, acceptance, and significance within society.1 The four letters used to describe the coalition flow off the tongues and through the keyboards of activists and dissenters alike. However, not everything  is as unified as some may portray. Is the narrative of the LGBT movement really a unified whole, or are there underlying differences between factions in the group? Is there a unified political goal to be achieved that hides a schism below the surface? Such questions are beginning to be asked, and Christians contending for truth need to be aware of fissures within the LGBT movement.

What rests beneath the surface is a conflict of narratives between the LG’s (Lesbians and Gays) and the BT’s (Bisexuals and Transgenders). Jillian Todd Weiss acknowledges this division when she observes,

While many gays and lesbians feel that ‘bisexual’ and ‘transgender’ are simply names for part of their community, others actively reject the idea that bisexuals and trans- genders are part of their community, seeing them as entirely separate and distinct. Heterosexism against bisexuals and transgenders exists not only in the straight community, but in the gay and lesbian community as well. Some feel, as we shall see, that bisexuality and transgenderism are detrimental to the social and political acceptance of gays and lesbians.2

The divisions between LG’s and BT’s are clearest on the issues of gender and marriage. This essay will sketch out the typical, public LGBT narrative on gender and marriage and then demonstrate some of the divisions that undermine the public agenda of the LGBT movement. In doing so, we will see that this coalition of convenience may rupture unless one of the two groups is willing to shift its narrative to appease the other.

THE GENDER NARRATIVE

The supposedly unified LGBT agenda attempts to remove any distinction among genders, particularly for roles in relationships, ability in the workforce, and cultural stereotypes. There is a commitment to pure egalitarianism whereby no specific gender has a unique role or function. This is crucial especially for homosexuality because the nature of their relationships require no gender differences. When two women or two men enter into an intimate relationship, any gender roles they express must be socially constructed rather than biologically determined. Thus, one of the points of the LGBT narrative is that gender has no real impact on roles. Supporters of the LGBT movement who also claim to write from a Christian perspective have picked up on this and even point out the inconsistency of Christian egalitarians for dismissing specific gender roles in heterosexual couples as unbiblical while still holding to anatomical differences for a proper understanding of sexual intercourse.3

An added aspect to the LGBT narrative regarding gender is the idea that any gender roles evident in society are the result of outdated cultural stereotypes. These stereotypes have been carried along from days of yore by older generations, but the LGBT movement  calls on the younger generation to jettison such distinctions between male and female for the sake of gender equality. They demand equality without distinction. They want culture to be “gender blind.” While these calls for gender equality have some merit—because it is important to acknowledge there have existed and still exist women who are oppressed—the current push for gender equality goes much further than a desire for equal rights or equal pay. The LGBT agenda demands that there be no distinction made on the basis of gender for anything—public  facilities, athletic competition, and even marriage. The LGBT position on gender appears to be the epitome of egalitarianism. But is it consistent?

CHANGING GENDER REINFORCES  STEREOTYPES

The often-forgotten quadrant of the LGBT movement is the ‘T’—transgendered  individuals who sometimes face the scorn and opposition of the more mainstream lesbians and gays. Even though some may find it odd that there is division in the ranks of this powerful movement, there is good reason for division. Transgenderism undermines the public gender narrative that has been successfully promoted in the culture.

Susannah Cornwall describes transgender people as those “who feel that their gender identity, or sense of being a gendered self, doesn’t ‘fit’ their biological sex according  to the usual pattern.”4 As a result of this conflict of identity, transgender individuals take various measures to conform to their sense of gender. This can include anything from dressing in styles typical of the opposite gender, taking hormones to change hair growth and voice, or even include the radical measure of gender reassignment surgery to change their genitals to match their sense of gender. In June 2014 Time released a magazine issue with the cover story headline: “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier.” In the article, Katy Steinmetz follows the lives of several people who have made the transition from the gender with which they were born to the opposite gender. In each case, however, the transgendered individual took steps to conform to the cultural norms of male or female. In no example did the author attempt to demonstrate how transgendered individuals sought to lose all gender identification.5

The problem with such behavior for the LGBT movement  is that changing appearance or physical features conforms to stereotypical gender norms that the LGBT movement publicly dismisses as unimportant. Thus, it should come as no surprise that there is a competing narrative within the LGBT community regarding gender. The public narrative calls on society to erase gender distinctions and make gender a cultural artifact. At the same time, transgendered  individuals seek to conform to cultural stereotypes of dress, appearance, voice pitch, and sometimes even sexual complementarity.  Such conformity undermines the public narrative on gender. However, as Weiss notes,

The difference between ‘homosexual’ and ‘GLBT’ is elusive to many Americans. . . . Many are unaware of any significant distinction between ‘GLBT’ and ‘homosexual.’ Yet within the GLBT population itself, these distinctions mark intense personal and political struggles. The divisions between gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender are far deeper and more significant to each other than to those outside.6

For those of us pursuing a biblical understanding of gender, we can actually take note of the division within the LGBT movement to emphasize our perspective. While we do not condone the lifestyle of transgendered individuals, we recognize that they have a glimpse of the truth that gays and lesbians have sought to eradicate. The underlying goal of transgendered  individuals  is to pursue the unique gender distinctions of either male or female. The problem is that they deny their own biological gender to do so. Thus, they see the beauty of gender distinctions, but they deny the gender they were born to be. Gender distinction  is part of what God has revealed to us in nature about how he created mankind (Gen 1:27; cf. Rom 1:18–32); however, the specific way that transgendered individuals pursue such distinctions  is still corrupted by the fall. Even in sin, we sometimes get a glimpse of the truth.

A CALL TO BIBLICAL SEXUALITY

The LGBT movement is not as unified as the public face of the community would have us to believe. There are major divisions and inequalities in the movement that typically rest below the surface of what most people in our culture see. However, the divisions are real, and they threaten the strength of the movement if they ever come to the surface.

Even though the focus of this essay has been to expose the fissures in the LGBT movement, I want to end with a call back to biblical sexuality. Genesis 1–2 gives us a clear picture of God’s design for sexuality from the beginning. In Genesis 1:27 we read, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, he created them.” From the outset, God created two genders—male and female. Every example of godly sexual expression we see from that point forward in Scripture comes through the union of a man and woman in marriage. Genesis 2:24 tells us, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” When Jesus discusses marriage and sexuality in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, he appeals to these two foundational verses in Genesis. When Paul talks about marriage in Ephesians 5, he also appeals to the complementary nature of man and woman and points back to Genesis 2:24 as the key text.

Monogamous,  heterosexual marriage is commended, and even celebrated,  as the biblical expression of sexuality. All departures from this standard are considered acquiescence to the sinful, fallen nature of mankind. Thus, we do not point out the conflict in the LGBT movement as an end in itself, but we do so for the purpose of calling everyone caught up in sexual sin back to God’s plan for sexuality. We should be reminded of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11 after he pointed out a number of sins—including some of a sexual nature—in the church at Corinth: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

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1. As it stands today in the ever-evolving world of queer studies, LGBT is an outdated acronym. As Allen Metcalf observes in a recent article in The Chronicle for Higher Education, the alphabet soup of queer studies now includes queer and questioning, unidentified, intersex, asexual, and genderqueer, resulting in a new acronym: LGBTQQ2IA (Allen Metcalf, “LGBTQQ2IA,” Lingua Franca, August 19, 2014, accessed October 24, 2014, http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafran- ca/2014/08/19/lgbtqq2ia/). For the purpose of this article we will simply focus on the first four classifications.

2. Jillian Todd Weiss, “GL vs. BT: The Archaeology of Biphobia and Transphobia Within the U.S. Gay and Lesbian Community,” in Bisexuality and Transgenderism: InsterSEXions of the Others, ed. Jonathan Alexander and Karen Yescavage; (New York: Rutledge, 2012), 29.

3. Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian (New York: Convergent, 2014), 27–28.

4. Susannah Cornwall, Theology and Sexuality (London: SCM Press, 2013), 47.

5. Katy Steinmetz, “America’s Transition,” Time, 9 June 2014, 38–46.

6. Weiss, “GL vs. BT,” 29.

*This post is part of a larger essay that was published in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. They subsequently posted the essay in its entirety on their blog as a response to the recent news about Bruce Jenner. You can read the entire essay here.

Wedding Policies: Changing Your Church Constitution and By-Laws

wedding ringsThis is the third installment of a multi-part series addressing why churches need to consider updating their organizational documents. The series is written in conjunction with Waylan Owens. This post is Part 3 and was written by Dr. Owens, originally appearing here. For the first two parts are “There’s No Time Like the Present” and “We Believe…

Churches long have understood that not everything that is legal is acceptable in Scriptures or in the church. (e.g., see Exodus 20:7-12; Ephesians 4:25-31) Though adultery is legal in America today, few churches openly tolerate it among its membership.

American legislation long since left the Ten Commandments behind. Of the ten, one is selectively enforced—bearing false witness—and only two are normally illegal—stealing and murder.

The time has passed in which the church could assume that everyone in a community would understand, much less accept, its standards. The time is now for churches to spell out their beliefs and how those beliefs apply to the life and standards of the church clearly in by-laws and policies. And establishing current policies on weddings and wedding-related events is an important place to start.

Five Areas

In its wedding policies, we believe each church should speak to, at least, the following five areas:

  1. Biblical and Theological Understanding of Marriage
  2. Biblically Valid Marriage/Wedding
  3. Member/Minister Participation in Weddings
  4. Use of Church Facilities for Weddings and Wedding Receptions
  5. Church Discipline

In this series, the second post laid foundations for areas 1 and 2. This post will address areas 2 and 3, and subsequent posts will provide help with areas 4 and 5.

Two Keys

Upon two keys hinge the entire wedding policies of the church. The first key is to what degree pastors, employees, and members of a church may participate in weddings, particularly in weddings the church considers to be outside the realm of biblically valid marriage. The second key is to what degree church facilities may be used to host or in connection with weddings. In this post, we will focus upon the first key.

Churches generally have given pastors great latitude in deciding which weddings to perform and under what circumstances. While that has worked well in the past, we believe that this is becoming a dangerous practice for churches for at least two reasons. First, the church should protect the pastor who should not be left out on an island of shifting cultural and legal sands. Having clear statements and standards tightly affixed to God’s Word allows the church to take pressure off and to stand beside the pastor. Second, as churches come under review of the courts, inconsistency in the treatment of requests might make it more difficult for churches to defend denials.

Worship Services

Weddings, for Christians, are worship services. Even for the non-Christian, a wedding in the church has all the earmarks of a worship service: prayer, Scripture, music, sermon/homily, and commitment, everything but an offering.

Prerequisites

Therefore, we believe wedding policies, at a minimum, should answer the following questions related to prerequisites for a pastor, employee, or church member to participate in a wedding ceremony or related event:

  1. What biblical qualifications must the couple meet?
  2. What biblical standards of decorum and behavior must be accepted by those responsible for the wedding and whether those standards apply to any wedding-related reception or party, wherever those events are held?
  3. To what set of biblical beliefs regarding marriage must those requesting a ceremony adhere?

Couple

Marriage by or in the church should demand appropriate humility by the couple and deference to the holiness of matrimony as an institution established and defined by God. In setting qualifications for couples, the church should point directly to its statement on marriage, gender, and sexuality in its constitution and by-laws. Here the church would confirm that marriage is between one man and one woman for life. As can be stated in the by-laws and affirmed here, a biblically valid marriage is one between one man and one woman who: 1) have never been married or are widowed and are not engaging in sexual sin; or 2) who have a biblically valid divorce(s) according to the church’s understanding of the Scriptures as stated in its by-laws. A couple engaging in fornication or living together would be required to repent and to show evidence of repentance prior to the wedding.

Decorum

People attending events in the church facilities will receive a witness from the event. In fact, people who attend a church wedding can consider a reception/”after party” held elsewhere to be representative of the church. The church should protect its witness by establishing parameters of decorum both for the wedding and for any wedding-related events (rehearsals, rehearsal dinner, reception, even “bachelor parties”). These parameters include the sorts of decorations that can be used (Are cupid decorations consistent with the church’s witness?), the behavior of the wedding party (What if the wedding party comes down the aisle doing backflips? Have you seen the video? Or drunk?), the use of alcohol or marijuana or other drugs, dancing, music (Usually music must be approved by a pastor or designated member of the church.), etc. Churches might differ on some matters, but all churches should think on and state what a wedding is and is not.

Statement of Beliefs

The church should develop an abbreviated statement on marriage and weddings that comes directly from and refers to its larger statement. This statement should include key affirmations about marriage and the wedding, including, but not limited to, that marriage is between one man and one woman for life, that a wedding is a worship service, and that a church wedding gives a witness of the church to the community. The statement also should include statements on gender, sexuality, and other beliefs of the church on matters the church deems important to its witness (e.g., the use of alcohol, lewd behavior, coarse jesting and language, etc.). All involved in putting on the wedding should sign that they will adhere to the statement and will do nothing to change the church’s testimony in the community in this regard. (Note that “adhering” to a statement does not require “agreement” with the statement, necessarily.)

The church also should develop a facilities use policy, and we will address that in the next post.

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Disclaimer: This series of posts is not intended to provide legal advice regarding church law, membership issues, or lawsuits. While the posts have implications for potential legal matters, we suggest you consult an attorney for answers to any legal questions related to the subject matter of these posts.

Confused about Gender Confusion

Last week the Associated Press released the following Tweets announcing a major change to Facebook profiles:

The accompanying story describes that Facebook has introduced 50 terms for people to use in order to customize their gender. Now all you have to do is edit your personal information, select gender, and type away until you find a term that fits. Fifty different choices can certainly make you confused about gender confusion.

Now let me contrast that with something that happened to me today. I went by an early voting location in order to cast my vote in the Texas primary. Having recently moved within the county, I asked the poll worker for the form I would need to update my voter registration address. He handed me a simple yellow card with about half a dozen pieces of information to fill out. One of them was gender. There were two choices: male or female.

If Facebook is setting the trajectory for the future of gender identification, the elections commission has a long way to go. In fact, every government agency will have to update their forms and documents.

But this is a bigger issue than simply voter registration. As we have seen, the push to redefine gender apart from biology has come to the forefront in schools in California as they now must allow students to use whatever restroom or locker room they want based on gender self-identification. Imagine the little girl who finds herself in a restroom with a boy who claims to be a girl today but changes his mind tomorrow. What about the recent announcement that a 17-year-old senior boy will be playing girls’ softball this spring. Self-identifying as a female despite the biological evidence otherwise will allow this much larger male to play a sport with and against physically smaller girls.

There is no wonder that our culture is confused about gender confusion. There is no objective standard in gender self-identification. Facebook may not make the laws, but don’t surprised if in years to come you go to fill out a government form like I did today and you find many more choices in the gender section than I did today.

Thankfully, the Bible is clear on gender. There is no need for confusion regarding God’s Word. In Genesis 1:27, we read, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God’s intent from the beginning is two genders inextricably linked to biology. No questions. No confusion.