‘Gender-fluid’ – God’s purpose in creation?
By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream. (A shorter version of this article appeared on 23rd June in Church of England Newspaper).
The ancient and wonderful song of worship “Te Deum laudamus” is so called because of the first words in Latin meaning “we praise you God”. (See here for a recent commentary). It contains in the BCP translation an unusual phrase celebrating Jesus’ humanity: “thou didst not abhor the virgin’s womb”.
Why this curious phrase to convey the incarnation? At the time when the Te Deum was written, a fierce controversy raged around how to understand the real nature of Jesus. Many thinkers, influenced by Greek philosophy, believed that things of the earth are clumsy, dirty, and destined to decay. In particular while the human body can attain a near perfect form of sorts, it often does not! It comes into being through a messy process; it gets old and falls apart, whereas the mind and particularly the soul are more pure, perhaps immortal, apparently more spiritual.
Those influenced by this thinking believed that if the Lord Jesus was really God, he cannot have lived on earth with a human body. The Te Deum, like the Nicene Creed, countered this, insisting on the clear biblical teaching with its roots in Jewish thought, that human beings are not pure essence of person trapped temporarily in an unimportant casing, but we are a unit of body, mind and spirit, created by God in his image. Jesus did not appear on earth a fully-formed man-lookalike, but as a real baby boy born of a woman; later, he really died. His physical body was a vital part of his identity, and our salvation.
At conception each one of us are assigned a body that is either male or female. God made this ‘binary’ world for several reasons. First, so that humanity can ‘fill the earth’ through reproduction. Second, so that human society can be organized and enriched by the non-sexual, social interaction of male and female contributing according to different temperaments, gifts and roles. Third, so that something extraordinary should occur by the union of two individuals who are differently gendered – not just for sex and possibly a child, but a lifelong close partnership with the ‘other one’ which is the basis for security and harmony in family and community. This union of difference mirrors the union of God and the believer, and ultimately God and his creation. “God made them male and female…for this reason…” (Mark 10:6-7).
The church has often been accused of separating physical from spiritual, and viewing the body and sex as shameful. If this has been true in some cases, it is because of a failure to follow its own Scriptures – just as slavery, apartheid and the Inquisition were not caused by the Christian faith but by the Church’s abandonment of it’s key ethical principles, and following the norms of surrounding culture. Some sections of the church are now in danger of doing the same thing in embracing the ideas of the sexual revolution, thinking they are promoting love and freedom while in fact they are going back to old pagan ideas about the world that the Gospel was given to liberate us from.
Nothing illustrates these ideas more than so-called ‘gender theory’, popularized by philosophers such as Judith Butler. For her, the system of two sexes and normative heterosexuality is a prison, reinforced by society. Instead, according to Butler’s powerful idea gaining traction today, gender has nothing to do with physical characteristics, but is purely in the mind /human spirit, and once people grasp this, there can be a liberating multiplication of gender identities and sexual orientations. In fact, (the theory goes), society must reject the ‘dictatorship of nature’, the created physical sex of a person which ‘restricts’ the choice of who they want to be, so that they can be free to create themselves.
It is not difficult to see where this has led us. There have always been individuals with some kind of ‘gender dysphoria’, needing sensitive pastoral care, hopefully through the church. But today, more and more people are identifying as ‘transgender’ or ‘gender-fluid’. This is not because society has become more wise, loving and tolerant. Nor are the debates about who can use which toilets merely reflecting American politics. Rather, we have all been tutored in an ancient, now resurgent occultic idea that the physical body is unimportant and can be rejected, and our mind/spirit is what matters and indeed is…’god’, our own creator. And when John becomes Jane and all are forced to turn a blind eye to physical reality, we exchange truth and freedom for lies.
Does the Church still believe the words of the Te Deum, and affirm that just as Christ did not recoil from created physical reality but embraced it, so should we? Can we find ways to deal compassionately with individuals caught up in a web of deceit, while strongly opposing ideas taking hold in the culture which reject God and install self as one’s own creator and redeemer?
 [Various forms of ‘intersex’ conditions, or ‘disorders of sex development’, whereby physical features of the genitalia may not correspond with the chromosomal male of female identity of the individual, exist as a result of imbalances of hormones and proteins in the womb. See here for more details. These conditions are extremely rare (approx .00001% of the population); their existence does not negate the fundamental teaching of Genesis 1 and 2 and should not be confused with transgenderism or transexualism.]