Understanding the argument on sex & gender

I’d never read the “Welcoming Toolkit 2.0” before Saturday. It is a document that advises those who are trying to organize their congregation to adopt a public stance known as “reconciling” or “welcoming” or “open and affirming” with regard to people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, or queer.

It is a really impressive document that rivals anything I’ve seen when it comes to analyzing a congregation and leading a process of change. The Appendix on how organizations change would be useful for any church leader in any setting, for instance. The document is a testimony of the skill, expertise, and funding behind the movement.

One thing that I found helpful in my quest to understand the debates and arguments in our denomination was Appendix Nine (pp. 43-48), which outlines a the way members of the church are invited to understand issues of sex, identity, and attraction. It is the closest thing I’ve found to a comprehensive theological statement about how the movement would have us understand who we are. The statement is not at all theological, of course. It is based rather on the work of Indiana University’s own Alfred Kinsey, who was the son of devout Methodists according to his Wikipedia profile. But it does outline what we are invited to affirm.

The Appendix argues that the idea that humanity was created male and female is a woefully inadequate way of describing us. Rather, we are beings who exist along a continuum of experience between the poles of male and female with no normative expectation that we should treat biological sex, gender identification, gender expression, or sexual orientation as properly understood in either/or terms. (If that is confusing, go read the Appendix for further explanation. One key concept is that sex is a physical biological category and gender is a psychological and social construct that may or may not have anything to do with biological sex.)

The bottom line argument is that since some people do not fit within the binary categories of male and female, the categories should be set aside in favor of a set of four continua: sex, gender identification, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Any individual might occupy any spot on each of these four continua.

What I think the basic move entails is taking description of natural diversity for a norm. So, because there are people who are born with sexual organs that are not clearly male or female, we should reject the notion that the only two normative categories are male and female. Similarly, because some people who are biologically male are sexually aroused by and attracted to other biological males (or people who express their gender as male), the notion that sex should be between people of opposite genders should not be affirmed.

So, for instance, we are invited to embrace the notion that sexual attraction to the people of the opposite biological sex is not normative or God’s intention in creation, but one possible position along a continuum of equally holy and blessed options. (The theological language here is mine not the document’s, but this is a document for the church, so I assume it is not out of place.)

Here is how Appendix reflects on one implication of this melange of categories:

Remember in the graph of the Kinsey scale, the ends of the scale refer to same and opposite gender. How can there be a same or opposite with gender in such a mix? This is why some people who are attracted to people of a variety of genders identify not as bisexual (which still implies that there are only two genders) but as pansexual or queer. For them, these words better reflect their experience of falling in love with a person rather than a gender.

So, here are some of the take-aways I hear in this document.

The terms “male” and “female” provide an inadequate binary choice in defining who people are. We should, rather, teach that people may be male, female, or any combination of the two. Similarly, the gender people identify with (woman or man) has no tie and should have no necessary tie to biological sex. At the center between the poles of man and woman, the Appendix offers a third gender, “queer,” that is neither of the other two. Beyond this, since how people express gender is socially determined, there can be no norm, certainly not a theological one, regarding to the ways people of various genders (or no gender?) act, dress, speak, or otherwise behave. Finally, because of all this, there is no coherent or justified reason to deny that God blesses all forms of sexual attraction and sexual activity between two consenting adults. (The “two consenting adults” part is not stated in the document, but I assume it is implied.)

This may not fairly sketch out the approach to questions of sex and gender being outlined in the document. It is my attempt to do so.

What is clear from the Appendix is that this is not a theological argument. But, of course, it does have theological implications. I’ve not heard any of the public voices for an “inclusive church” lay this all out so clearly. I am glad to have found a place where it is set out for full consideration and reflection.


10 thoughts on “Understanding the argument on sex & gender

  1. Our church recently became a reconciling church. We always had been welcoming to everyone; divorced, disabled, inter-racial and gender non-specific. We perform weddings of all types, done in a spiritual and loving way. The term reconciling church is a great way to publicly declare our philosophy. It also solidifies in our parishioners eyes that that is the “way” we are so as to eliminate any debates or naysayers.

      1. The naysayers, who were involved in the discussion to bring the term “reconciling church” to our church, are similarly welcomed and loved. Because it was a discussion for several months, personal stories and ideas were shared. Somehow, putting faces to the type of people contained in the proclamation made it much better. While a church elder could start out the discussion that homosexuals are not welcome in the church, and certainly would not be married in the church, after several months of meetings and getting to know each other, his tune may change. He may still hold onto his beliefs that it is inappropriate, but, after meeting and learning about his fellow church goers, he has come to at least accept the doctrine. We lost no one because we had the discussion in a thoughtful, designed manner. Does this make sense?

        1. It does make sense. Thank you for expanding on your thoughts and experiences. That last line in your first comment raised the question. Thanks for answering it.

          The language of “inappropriate” strikes me as being something much different from “sinful.” I wonder if your naysayers really had doctrinal and theological objections in the first place or social and personal ones.

        2. They had theological objections, and they still object personally. However, they love their church and most of the people in It, so they have just agreed to disagree.

  2. In todays world anyone can create their own philosophy, their own personal belief system, their own doctrine, and call it “church”. I find it most revealing that these always refer to it as “our” church, or “my” church….”our” philosophy or “my” belief system. What also stands out for me is the fact that God and Christ are consistently left out of the foundation…. shoved somewhere behind the curtains of their stage. What a futile attempt to imitate the true Body of Christ. Salvation is offered to everyone…all inclusive. But…..the citizenship of the Kingdom of Heaven is not all inclusive. In fact….”few will enter”. What an evil it is to believe and teach differently

    1. I think we Arminians (and Wesleyans) are always at risk of making the way broad because we affirm that God desires that all be saved and that all can be saved. This leads us to sometimes downplay the fact that Jesus warns that few will enter and the way is, in fact, narrow.

      1. I think we Christians as a whole are always at risk of this. How does a heart filled with the love of God desire anything less for all? What causes me stop short of wanting to rearrange the truth to fill this desire is the paralyzing realization that to do so would be declaring that my love for the lost is greater than His…..that His Way …His Mercies….His Grace…..was not sufficient enough.

        I also do not believe that our common desires are misplaced, but rather misapplied. When applied correctly…..do we not then get filled with the greatest desire to share the Gospel….the Truth….to all? No matter what resistance may come from this world.

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