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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”, bathroom sign 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 mark@restoredimage.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.

  • Heather Escontrias

    I agree that dialogue is really important. I want to understand people and their stories. Usually, I just listen empathically. I struggle, at times, with what to say if someone were to try to pin me down on where I stand on these issues. I don’t want to come off as a hater because I truly believe that I am not one. So, I’m glad you will continue on this thread in your next post. I feel like many Christians are struggling with how to respond to these issues in a loving way while pointing people to Christ.

  • Cj Wood

    Here’s an article that I think would be beneficial to this conversation… https://baptistnews.com/2016/05/13/seven-things-im-learning-about-transgender-persons/

    Here are some points that stood out to me:

    1. Even though LGBT gets lumped together in one tagline, the T is quite
    different than the LG and B. “Lesbian,” “gay” and “bisexual” describe
    sexual orientation. “Transgender” describes gender identity. These are
    not the same thing. Sexual orientation is about whom we feel an
    attraction to and want to mate with; gender identity is about whether we
    identify as male or female.

    2. What you see is not always what you get. For the vast majority of
    humanity, the presence of male or female genitalia corresponds to
    whether a person is male or female. What you see is what you are. But
    for a small part of humanity (something less than 1 percent), the
    visible parts and the inner identity do not line up. For example, it is
    possible to be born with male genitalia but female chromosomes or vice
    versa. And now brain research has demonstrated that it also is possible
    to be born with female genitalia, female chromosomes but a male brain.
    Most of us hit the jackpot upon birth with all three factors lining up
    like cherries on a slot machine: Our anatomy, chromosomes and brain
    cells all correspond as either male or female. But some people are born
    with variations in one or two of these indicators.

    3. Stuff happens at birth that most of us never know. It’s not an
    everyday occurrence but it’s also not infrequent that babies are born
    with ambiguous or incomplete sexual anatomy. In the past, surgeons often
    made the decision about whether this child would be a boy or a girl,
    based on what was the easiest surgical fix. Today, much more thought is
    given to these life-changing decisions.

    4. Transgender persons are not “transvestites.” Far too many of us
    make this mix-up, in part because the words sound similar and we have no
    real knowledge of either. Cross-dressers, identified in slang as
    “transvestites,” are people (typically men) who are happy with their
    gender but derive pleasure from occasionally dressing like the opposite
    gender. Cross-dressing is about something other than gender identity.

    As someone who works in a NICU, I have seen this happen more than once. The parents wait for chromosome tests and then have to figure out how to raise a child whose gender isn’t clear like the vast majority of us.

    • Mark Ongley

      Thanks for shedding some light on the subject!

  • Tim Maybray

    Thanks, Mark. Great blog. Loved the quote about the difference between relational beings and sexual beings. I am using that. That is just right on the money. I did smile a bit a the “drifting swiftly.” I asked my staff within shouting distance if it was actually possible to drift, swiftly.
    I am very sure I err on the side of simplistic. How did this restroom matter devolve and evolve the way it has? If a transexual goes into a restroom other than their biological sex, who actually knows this? Still, I keep asking myself, “How did we get here?”
    But you were right on about not entering the bathroom conversation. It cannot be fruitful.

    • Mark Ongley

      Hm. Good point about drifting. Should have inserted a raging river as metaphor!

  • brian keller

    “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.)” I laughed out loud at this statement…
    And I agree with others, the differentiation between relational beings and sexual beings is quite helpful.

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