Sexuality

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.

Facilities Policies: Changing Your Church’s Constitution and By-Laws

wedding ringsThis is the fourth 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 4 and was written by Dr. Owens, originally appearing here. For the first three parts are “There’s No Time Like the Present,” “We Believe…,” and “Wedding Policies.”

Many years ago, I (Waylan) attended my first wedding in a Roman Catholic church. Though not my first visit to a Catholic church, the wedding has lasted in my memory and still forms one of the bases of my experiential understanding of Catholicism.

When I pass by church buildings, I look for a sign. Then I think to myself, “That is a Baptist church” (or a Methodist church or a Catholic church, according to the message on the sign). Now I know that no denomination believes that its buildings are the church. Yet when I see a building or walk inside, I still think to myself, “So this is ‘Such and Such’ Church.”

And I attribute to that church whatever I see happening in and around the buildings. If I know that the Boy Scouts meet in the church buildings, I assume the church endorses the Boy Scouts. If I see the buildings used for the feeding of the homeless, I assume the church is benevolent, even though none of the members might participate in the ministry. If I see a wedding involving a couple of two men or two women, I do not think, “Oh, someone must have borrowed the building.” I think, “This church must approve of homosexual marriage.”

I am not unusual in this regard. This is a normal way of thinking for people, and for most non-members, the buildings of a church are the most consistent witness of the church. Because of this, it is vital for churches both to have policies for the use of its facilities and to be intentional in keeping them.

The Alliance Defending Freedom observes, “Put simply, a church has a right to only allow uses of its facilities that are consistent with its religious beliefs and to deny all other uses.” Notice that the key is that the facilities are used in ways that are consistent with religious beliefs only. ADF continues, “The best way to protect your church is to adopt a facility usage policy that outlines the religious nature of the church buildings and restricts usage of the facility to uses that are consistent with the church’s biblical beliefs.”[1]

To protect their witness and to simplify things, some churches have held to a policy that only church members may use church facilities. However, what happens when a church member, perhaps one on the church’s membership list but who has not attended church in years, decides to use the church facilities for events outside the church’s beliefs or in ways inconsistent with the church’s witness? What if an active member accesses the hall on behalf of someone else, a friend or a relative, who then uses it in such ways? Does every church member agree with every position of the church, or could a member who disagrees on some point knowingly use the facilities in ways of which the church body would not approve?

These questions and others beckon local churches to state clear facilities policies in writing. From our vantage point, we believe facilities policies should focus on, at least, four points:

  1. Church facilities have been dedicated to God and are to be used in concert with, and not outside of, the teachings and truths of His Word and His Great Commission as understood by the church.
  2. Church facilities give witness to the community of the church’s priorities, biblical beliefs, and moral standards, so no activities or use of the facilities should occur that are in any way contrary to the church’s biblical beliefs and standards.
  3. Church facilities are owned by the church and are not public accommodations and, therefore, give no implied right to anyone, including church members, to use except by express permission of the church.
  4. The authority to grant use of the facilities is vested in one group or committee. This group could consist of three to five of the most mature and trustworthy members who agree with and have a history of adhering to the church’s beliefs and moral standards. A church might allow one person to make these decisions, but this is a great responsibility that requires wisdom and accountability to the church. A church might set the congregation as the decision-maker, but this could be quite cumbersome, and it could keep the congregation’s focus off other urgent matters like the Great Commission.

A thorough facilities policy is a practical benefit, but given recent court rulings, a policy might become more of a legal necessity, it seems. We are not attorneys and are not giving legal advice, but one does not require legal training to see one important change in the legal landscape.

At least two Christian businesses, a bakery and a florist, have come under fire, including a court ruling against the bakery, for refusing use their creative talents to help put on gay weddings. (See here and here.) These things are happening first in states with anti-discrimination laws based upon sex or gender, and though such laws often have exclusions for churches, these efforts by homosexual advocacy groups are likely not to remain confined. Churches could fall under this sort of attack, especially if the church gives permission for use of its facilities in ways that are deemed to be arbitrary. And though the church might win, lawsuits can be costly in many ways. Many churches receive requests for the use of their facilities, and we believe the best way to protect the church’s witness is to enforce consistently a clear policy that is in line with its belief statements.

[1] ADF provides helpful information and a sample facilities use policy: http://www.speakupmovement.org/church/content/userfiles/Resources/ThreePoliciesAllChurchesShouldHave.pdf

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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.

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.

There’s No Time Like the Present: Changing Your Church Constitution and By-Laws

wedding ringsThe state of marriage, gender, and sexuality is changing right before our very eyes. The prospects of same-sex marriage, fluid gender self-identification, and acceptance of a plethora of sexual expressions outside of heterosexual monogamous marriage were unfathomable within evangelical circles just 25 years ago. But times are changing.

Same-sex marriage is now at least partially legalized in 38 states, and 20 of those states have been added to the list since May 2014. The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage across the country this spring and issue a decision in the summer.

States and municipalities have passed legislation making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexuality or gender identity. In Houston such an ordinance led to a request by the mayor to subpoena manuscripts of sermons from pastors when they preached about sexuality.

While the application of these laws and ordinances to churches have been rebuffed by the courts so far, the day is likely coming when motivated and well-funded activists will attempt to sue churches for disallowing membership, refusing to host a wedding, or actively taking a stand on issues related to sexuality and gender identification. I am still confident that any lawsuits ultimately will be dismissed by the courts on the basis of the First Amendment; however, there are steps that we can take to ensure those lawsuits are dismissed promptly.

In addition, many evangelicals who support traditional marriage are probably satisfied with the stances of our pastors, ministerial staff, and congregations on the matter. Yet, there could come a time when a pastor, minister, or church member changes his viewpoint and desires to effect change in the church. What would that do to the historic position of the church? What would change look like? What would we do in such a situation?

These are the questions that prompted this series of posts related to church constitutions and by-laws. This is the first of several posts that will delve into why churches need to consider updates to their organizational documents in the area of sexuality and gender identity. It is an area much broader than homosexuality versus heterosexuality. In fact, our goal is not so much to exclude certain behaviors and identities from the church so much as it is to state clearly what we believe in these areas.

I understand that talking about constitutions and by-laws is not the most exciting conversation. I also recognize that many churches have not updated them in decades—if ever. Yet, this is a crucial area of church governance that can serve us well in the midst of difficult days.

The goal of updating a church’s organizational documents is not necessarily to create another step in the membership or hiring processes. Instead, the goal is to affirm what we believe from a positive standpoint while the culture attempts to steer us in a different direction.

With that being said, I believe there is no time like the present to do a thorough review of your organizational documents and make the necessary changes to protect the church from legal action and to protect the integrity of the church from biblical and theological drifting. Change isn’t always fun, but in this situation it is necessary.

Working in conjunction with Waylan Owens, Dean of the Terry School for Church and Family Ministries and longtime pastor of churches in Mississippi, Alaska, and North Carolina, we will endeavor to offer some food for thought and resources for churches that can be useful for standing for truth in a world that calls us to acquiesce. Our suggestions are not intended to be exhaustive but rather instructive as to what you can do to help your church navigate the waters of these changing times.

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This multi-part series will be posted on this blog and the blog of Waylan Owens. We have worked together on this series to bring together our unique skill sets and experience.

Links for other posts in the series: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

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.

Good Reading: Is Anything Lewd (for Christians) Anymore?

Waylan Owens, dean of the Terry School for Church and Family Ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an intriguing post about the use of the term “lewd.” His post asks why this word is not used and whether it should return to our vocabulary in light of some recent events in pop culture.

Here is an excerpt:

In all the hubbub over Katy Perry’s ritual dance and Jay-Z’s and Beyonce’s sex show, and in all of the Christian commentary, I noticed a word was missing.  In fact, I have noticed that this word is seldom used at all in such cases, like Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wickedness with Justin Timberlake, even though it seems to be the most appropriate word for it all.  In fact, I do not hear the word used even by Christian pastors to describe anything that goes on in American culture.

The word, of course, is “lewd.”  According to the online Merriam-Webster, the first definition for the word is “evil, wicked,” but that definition is now obsolete.  In fact, that definition has been obsolete at least since 1975, according to my “old” Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary.  That is a shame because a strong case can be made that anything we would call “lewd” would be called evil and wicked in the Bible.

The second definition is “sexually unchaste or licentious.”  Licentious means “lacking legal or moral restraints; especially: disregarding sexual restraints.”  That would fit the Grammys, and it would fit much of what is on television and in the movies these days.  I doubt that even the actors on-stage, doing the lewd things, would disagree that what they were doing was “sexually unchaste and licentious.”  The point of their music is and the point of the show was to disregard sexual restraints.

So, if we, Christians, do not use the word “lewd” to describe aspects of our culture, is that because we do not think these aspects are lewd?  Have we adopted a better word?  I am not sure just what that word would be.  Concupiscent?  Lascivious?  Lecherous?  Wanton?  Obscene?

The entire post is worth your time, and I encourage you to read it. In fact, you should probably bookmark Waylan’s blog at http://waylanandbetsyowens.com/.