Like an earthquake splitting the ground in front of us, a cultural divide is ever widening over sexual issues. Last year it was “Fifty Shades of Grey”, lawsuits over wedding cake, an Olympic hero turned heroine, and a landmark Supreme Court decision regarding marriage. Whew! This year we are arguing over bathrooms and locker rooms. Whether you saw this coming or not, the way forward is not found with simplistic answers and flippant responses. Let’s see if we can make some sense of this.
First of all, a clarification of terms. What we are dealing with is the matter of sexual identity. Mark Yarhouse, a Christian psychologist from Regent University, has spent most of his career researching these issues. He states that sexual identity “refers to one’s self-designation according to one’s sense of biological sex, gender, orientation, behavior, and values; it is influenced by both Nature and Nurture and is a complex and multifaceted construct.”[i] Sexual orientation is simply one factor among the five listed which helps one decide how to identify.
If one simply listens to the soundbites, you would think it all boils down to how one feels. If you feel attracted to the same sex, then you are homosexual. If you feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body, then you are transsexual (gender dysphoric). Regardless of the label, it is reasoned, you’ve got the right to do whatever you feel as long as no one gets hurt.
Despite the cultural rhetoric, it goes much deeper than that.
If, as Yarhouse and other psychologists maintain, our sexual identity is self-designated and based upon one’s perceived biological sex, gender, orientation, behavior and values, then it is not as simple as parents asking Johnny, “OK, tell us how you feel today. Like a boy or a girl?” Sexual identity is something we decide upon with all five factors being considered, including the last one: values.
And so it only makes sense for a parent to guide the child to identify in a way congruent with their values and according to one’s biological sex. Perceived gender and orientation don’t have to be the sole considerations. Values weigh in as well.
One of the core values of the prevailing culture is sexual fulfillment. This is true for many cultures which are not moored to a biblical worldview. And let’s be clear. The Bible does not place sex at the center of the universe. We were created as relational beings and given sexuality as a means to enhance a relationship. Not the reverse. I.e., we were not created as sexual beings and given relationships to be sexually fulfilled.
Jesus and Paul both stated that those who can live without sex for the sake of the kingdom should do so. In fact, in heaven there will be no need for marriage or sexual intimacy. (Yeah, probably not sermon material for your seeker-sensitive worship service.)
Let us recognize that our culture is drifting. The real question before us is not about bathrooms and locker rooms. It is about how to be the Body of Christ in a culture that is drifting swiftly toward a fully pagan worldview where we find our identity in our feelings and sexual attractions.
The Church doesn’t need to enter the fracas over public restrooms. All we say is filtered through their assumptions: that we are bigoted and hateful.
The first step is moving beyond soundbites and theological sloganeering. We need to join those who are developing a warm, winsome and intellectually robust theology of sexuality. More will be said about that in the next blog post.
But for now, let me conclude with a word about DIALOGUE. Despite the differences of opinion on these matters, few people leave comments. If you have valuable input but are not the type to post a comment for all the world to see, I invite you to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear your perspective and dialogue a bit.
May God grant us much grace and wisdom for these polarizing times.
[i] Yarhouse, Mark and Erica S. N. Tan. Sexual Identity Synthesis: Attributions, Meaning-Making and the Search for Congruence. University Press of America: Oxford, 2004, p. 3.