Gender Identity

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Last August (2016), I wrote something on this subject as the monthly Coloured Supplement – it was entitled "The Madness Of Crowds – Transexualism". You do really need to read it. For I don't want to repeat what I said then as that article addresses quite fully and, I hope, carefully the modern debate on "Gender Identity" and on changing your identity. However, there is more to say and directly from the Bible.

This debate in the UK has exploded over the last year or two in the wake of the public legitimizing of homosexual marriage and the making of women bishops in the Church of England. That Act of Parliament on homosexual marriage seems to have endorsed any and every form of sexual deviancy so long as it is not with minors. And women bishops have given weight to the idea that gender differences (how you act out being a man or woman) are a very secondary matter and simply social constructs that can be changed at will. The folly and madness of what is going on was referred to in The Times recently, by Clare Foges. She reported that, for example,

"…last year the children's commissioner sent a form to school children asking them to pick one of 25 genders that they identified with. [This, however, was withdrawn once the press started to take an interest. And she went on …] Girlguiding has said that boys as young as five who identify as girls can join the Rainbows or Brownies."

And then she referred to the cabinet minister, Justine Greening's (I quote) …

"…idiotic proposal that we should be able to switch our gender about as easily as switching our energy provider … She proposes to do away with the professional diagnosis usually required for gender change, and instead allow us to simply declare that we are a man or a woman. The idea has been criticized, rightly, for the impact it could have on women when men are able to declare themselves female and thus enter female-only hospital wards, prisons, refuges, changing rooms and so on. But we must urgently give more thought to the effect of such radical change on children, too, - the messages it sends and the confusion it sows … It is right to ask what the impact is on those whose identities are in the busiest phase of formation."

As I have said, that last August's Coloured Supplement addresses a number of those issues. So this morning I want to address some basics of fundamental biblical teaching on sex and gender. I have, therefore, two simple headings: first, Genesis 1-3, and, secondly, Jesus and Paul.

But way of introduction let me begin by saying this. The Bible makes it quite clear that the basic question is not "Are you male or female?" It is, "How are we as males and females to live together?" The first question – as to your basic sex - should never have to be asked. For biologically you are either a male or a female. And that is determined by what pair of sex chromosomes you have. As many will know, typically males have XY chromosomes and females have XX chromosomes. And in humans these chromosomes give rise to the evolving different sex characteristics, such as bodily shape, hair patterns and genitalia (or sex organs). But whatever modern science can do, it cannot turn XY chromosomes into XX or vice-versa. Modern medical science can help where there are instances of genuine biological malfunction and you have an ambiguous intersex condition.

But in the case of transexuals (or so-called 'transexuals'), what modern science is often now being asked to do is this. It is being asked to deform and degrade biologically the healthy bodies of people who have psychological problems, or who are experimenting, or who are simply confused by our contemporary sex-mad culture and too frequently perverse education. Surely, such medical and/or educational interventions are utterly abusive. And, probably, one day such actors involved will be brought to justice – as historical child abusers are now being brought to justice. Well, so much by way of introduction. That, then, brings us to our first heading:

Genesis 1-3

And we start with chapter 1 and verse 27, where you read:

"God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them."

And note two things from this verse. First, man (mankind, the human) has infinite value. For man is made in the image of God. Secondly, this is saying human sex and sexuality is part of the created order – the way things simply are. That is so important. For God did not create man as a sexless spirit, but as male and female. So to be human is to share humanity with the opposite sex. And, therefore, as created, sex and sexual differences are good. So how we need to live them out as God intended.

Next we need to note Genesis 1.28. For this implies that the human pair, differing from each other, are equally valuable and equally needed. Verse 28 says:

"God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth [and so on with this creation mandate].'"

The pair are there being addressed as a pair. So both have to fulfil this commission. That requires different roles and different gifts and this is where the whole discussion of 'gender' comes in and so Genesis chapters 2 and 3. But when we come to Genesis 2 and 3 we must again note two things.

First, when Genesis 2 speaks about the difference between a man and a woman, it again underlines that the man and the woman are equal in value. For verse 18, in introducing the distinction between the man and the woman, says this: "Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." Now if you look at the bottom of the page in your Bibles you will see that "fit for him" (that describes the word "helper") can be translated 'corresponding to him'. For the expression can include the notion of an equal but differently gifted partner.

Then, secondly, note this. Genesis 2 speaks of the difference in the way the man and the woman relate to God himself. For Adam, not Eve, first receives God's word of prohibition in verses 16-17, where God says to Adam alone:

"You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."

There is, therefore, a necessary spiritual leadership enforced on the man. For Adam has subsequently to take the initiative in communicating this prohibition to Eve. And that is why, as we learn later in chapter 3, although Eve was the first to disobey and eat the forbidden fruit, Adam was held responsible. For Genesis 3.9 says that after Eve's sin, God calls not both of them but only Adam: "The Lord God called to the man and said to him, 'Where are you?' [and at the bottom of the page you will see that it is underlined that the "you" there is singular – Adam alone is being addressed]."

And when you look at the sentence or judgment God gave Adam, you will see this. It was for the offence not only of eating the forbidden fruit but also because (Genesis 3.17), "you have listened to the voice of your wife." Adam had ignored God's word and listened to his wife instead. But perhaps you say, 'all that is the Old Testament, we live in New Testament times'. Well, that is where our Gospel and Epistle readings this morning are important and so we come to our second heading:

Jesus and Paul

And immediately we see, we can't ignore the Old Testament. For as we heard (from Mark 10) Jesus goes back to, and quotes from, Genesis 1 and 2 when there are theological problems relating to sex and sexuality. In Mark 10 Jesus is discussing the rightness or wrongness of divorce, and in verse 6 quotes from Genesis 1 and 2:

"…from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' [And he adds …] So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."

Since Jesus took Genesis very seriously when it speaks of God's created order, so must we. And we must do that, whatever we think about the length of the days of creation in chapter 1. So we clearly cannot ignore what Genesis 1-3 says about our subject this morning. That means we next need to listen to the Apostle Paul. For Paul, too, discusses gender issues with reference to Genesis 3, as we heard in our Epistle. And we need to listen to Paul because he makes it clear that at least in one area, gender is not a social construct that can change as fashions change. So look at 1 Timothy 2.11-15:

"Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control."

In understanding Paul at this point let me make some comments.

First, Eve's understanding of God's word of prohibition was not quite right. She believed God to be more restricting than he was. She told the serpent (Genesis 3.3) that, "God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die'." But God had not forbidden 'touching the tree' if necessary. It was only eating the fruit of the tree that was forbidden. Adding to God's word can be as dangerous as subtracting from it.

Secondly, remember that in Genesis 3.16 God said of the woman's husband, "he shall rule over you."

Thirdly, you need to realize, by way of contemporary context, that the Church at Ephesus where Timothy was ministering may well have been pretty chaotic – like the Church in Corinth (time doesn't allow me to go into details – but it was probably more like the Blues' Brothers than Kings College Chapel, Cambridge). So you have to understand when Paul speaks of being "quiet" he doesn't mean being 'wordless'. He is probably using "quiet" in the sense of a "peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way life" prayed for in verse 2.

Fourthly, Paul's "submissiveness", as he says in Colossians 3.13, is always to be "in the Lord". So a woman should not be passively submitting to an abusive husband or minister or anyone who tells her to do what the Lord forbids, or forbids what the Lord commands. For Paul's idea of "submissiveness" is Trinitarian, as the Son submits to the Father as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 11. And in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5, a wife's submissiveness is where the husband has to be sacrificially loving his wife, as Christ loves the Church and was willing to die for it. The great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas distinguished servile submission from political submission – the latter, political submission, being just common sense in most human groupings.

Fifthly, it is not Eve's guilt that is being mentioned by Paul here, for Adam's was greater. It was her openness to the devil's deception.

And finally to understand Paul we need to know that senior leadership needing to be male, was for all the churches, not just some. We know this not only from Paul's grounding what he says here in Genesis and the created order. We know it from what he says in 1 Corinthians 14.33 that this principle was and is for "all the churches of the saints". And from 1 Corinthians 14.37 it seems to be based on remembered oral teaching of Jesus himself. For there Paul says that people who do not like what he says, "should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord". That is similar to how Paul appeals to Jesus' oral teaching that all remembered on marriage and divorce in 1 Corinthians 7.10: "To the married I give this charge (not I but the Lord)."

However, some will still be saying, 'how can you make sense of this teaching about Eve and motherhood?' I won't try to! – except to say, from what he writes elsewhere, Paul wasn't excluding women from all ministry and leadership and teaching in the Church, but from senior leadership with spiritual authority over men. But, let me read to you what Sharon James says, a distinguished writer and theologian, from her book, God's design for Women:

"The statement that it was Eve who was deceived is a warning, politically incorrect as it may seem, that there is something fundamental in the way men and women are made that better equips men for authoritative leadership. Generally [not always, of course, but generally] it is true that men find it easier to make objective decisions, free from personal and relational considerations; and that they can focus on single issues without being distracted. Women, generally [not always, but generally] more empathetic and tender-hearted, do sometimes find themselves more easily taken in by deceivers: with the beggars with a tall story, or false teachers. (Of course, as we will go on [in 1 Timothy] we will find that those very qualities of empathy and tender-heartedness better equip women for some ministries which men are less suited to perform.) But, Paul then says that as women focus on using their womanly strengths to minister in appropriate ways (for many this will be through motherhood) they will be kept safe from Satan's attacks rather than succumbing to them as Eve did."

And that refers to 1 Timothy 2.15: "yet she will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self control." And some will be saying, 'But what does that mean?' Well, Sharon James argues that childbearing here is a figure of speech – like 'No 10' meaning our Prime Minister, 'the Stage' meaning acting, 'the Crown' meaning the Queen and so on. And as in New Testament times virtually all women were wives and mothers, "childbearing" can stand for womanhood in general. And "saved" means being 'kept safe from Satan's attacks'. That seems quite possible. For we know there were false teachers in Ephesus. It seems some were encouraging women to avoid sex and procreation as degrading and be like a man. And we know, from the Roman poet Juvenal, there was an aggressive women's movement going on in the Roman world. So let me quote again from Sharon James and writing as a woman:

"…denying gender distinctions and rebelling against God's design leaves us vulnerable to Satan's attacks. To counter this, Paul advised Timothy that women will be protected from such attacks if we fulfil our helper design (symbolized by motherhood) and not attempt to take the role properly taken by men, as Eve did. We are to honour God with our female capacities of nurturing and caring, in what ever the vocation these are expressed. For many women this will include childbearing. For others it will not. Some may find fulfilment in a career or in a specifically Christian ministry. But every Christian woman, married or single, biological mother or not, is to be a "spiritual mother" and thus fulfil her helper design. All women are to channel their God-given female and maternal instincts for the service of others."

And, of course, so should any male leadership be servant leadership.

Well so much for biblical sanity. For such it is, in comparison with the abusive and irrational madness of the 21st century over gender identity.

So in conclusion what should be our response? First, as always it is to trust and obey – to trust that God knows best about sex and gender and follow his guidance. Secondly, when you can and when needed, in today's world speak God's truth but in love. And, thirdly, in Church affairs avoid Eve's adding to God word. For some Christian traditions, like sadly many in the world and in other religions, have shockingly repressed women and so have justified giving rise to Women's Movements of protest. So let's keep that biblical balance. And, finally, above all may we remember, as Paul says in Ephesians 6.12:

"We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

So we need God's armour and prayer (including prayer for our Government). But when we fail, as we do and will do, we must always remember there is forgiveness through Christ, as this communion service reminds us.

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