The Nashville Statement, a recently released document which defines human sexuality and identity in a way which is consistent with, and informed by, the Bible, has caused a flurry of activity in past weeks. Detractors, both inside and outside the church, have been quick to slam the statement as articulating an archaic position, one which will deliberately cause harm to those identifying as holding to an alternative sexual identity.
Thirty years ago, it would have been unheard of for a document, which outlines the goodness of heteronormativity and sexual dimorphism, to have received such hostility. Such a position would have affirmed by the then societal consensus as being both usual and good. However, the sheer amount of opposition to the Nashville Statement attests to a fundamental shift which has occurred in mainstream society regarding gender and sexuality. Gender, once considered to be both static and intrinsically dependent upon biological sex, is now popularly understood to be fluid; an arbitrary social construct which is to be defined by one’s feelings and desires.
This has now become the dominant, or popular, narrative by our surrounding culture – with magazine covers, television, and other mediums expressing the ‘goodness’ of not being bound by the traditional understanding of gender. This new way at looking at gender, heralded by the transgender revolution, is something that Christians need to fast comprehend and come to grips with, so that they may know how best to minister to friends, family, colleagues, and others and point them to the hope that we have in Christ, and demonstrate that the entire counsel of God is good for human flourishing.
Over four parts, I intend to help the reader have a better understanding of this new way of looking at gender, by outlining the sociological underpinnings of the movement; the science behind transgenderism, namely Gender Dysphoria; how the Bible depicts gender; and finally, how we, as faithful Christians, can respond to this movement and walk with those who are so deeply affected by it. In this first part, I want to lay out how precisely we got to this point. Where binary understanding of male and female, as expressed through womanhood and manhood, is no longer considered valid. Where programs designed to deconstruct “heteronormativity in schools” are being rolled out. Where holding to a traditional belief of sex and gender is considered to be both bigoted and phobic, and seen as something to attack. So where and when did this gender revolution all start?
I Am That I Want: The Sociological Underpinnings
Whilst it is worth noting that throughout history there has always been individuals who have crossed the gender divide, such as Joan D’Arc, the famous warrior maiden of Orleans who donned male garments to fight the English. These occasions, when placed under a holistic sociological microscope, are demonstrably exceptions in the unfolding narrative of history. Such groups and individuals having been understood to be ‘fringe’ elements, largely outside of mainstream acceptance.
Instead much of the roots of the movement which we’ve encountered over recent decades can be traced to a shift which started in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Specifically, with the rise of the concept of the individual, with the belief that the importance of the individual was paramount, and whose rights, it was believed, should hold precedence over those of the state or social order. This meant that the definition of one’s self was to no longer be tied, or dependent, upon external parties, but was to be instead defined by the desires of the individual in question.
This had several implications. The first was that individuals no longer felt beholden to undertake familial responsibilities, particularly if it was deemed antithetical to their goals. Consequently, families were fractured in a way previously unknown in past centuries. Instead, this inward driven focus ensured that all prominence was paid to individualistic desires at the cost of outward expectations. Yet, this did more than simply redefine societal relations, as in how an individual related to another individual, to family, or to society at large. It also redefined how an individual related to God. The complementary and dialectical relationship between knowledge of God and knowledge of man was jettisoned. No longer did individuals feel restricted to being defined by their creator, but rather sought to define themselves on their own terms.1)By refusing to define themselves by their creator, man has fundamentally lost an understanding of who they truly are. A fact Calvin acknowledges very early on in the Institutes. K. Scott Oliphint is on point when he states “True self-knowledge depends on God-knowledge.” (K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics, Crossway 2013, p. 43)
This increased, narcissistic, focus on the individual, led to other logical by-products, namely, individualistic hedonism: My happiness should come first; and individualistic determinism – we are as how we want to live, and anything which attempts to stop us is, subsequently, ‘oppressive’. Everything, it was deemed, should be permissible unless it, in some way, ‘harms’ someone else.
These effectively built the building blocks on which this malleability of gender can be traced. However, it is the philosophical movement of post-structuralism which underpin the actual deconstruction of gender binaries (as in just the existence of ‘male’ and ‘female’). Gender theorists of this school, Judith Butler chief amongst them, argued that sex (i.e. again, ‘male’ and ‘female’) was an effect of gender differentiation, rather than the cause of it. Gender, Butler argued, was a social construct which was developed to divide sex into particular roles. Thus, gender, with all its connotations as it had been socially defined, was something which needed to be dismantled.2)Whilst the differentiation between gender and sex is sometimes defined as gender describing the identity and sex the biological characteristics, the truth is that sex and gender mean different things to different theorists and neither are easy or straightforward to characterise. However, Butler used them interchangeably and noted any distinction as unintelligible. This idea was embraced by subsequent gender theorists, who further argued that sex was something which stigmatised and oppressed those who did not fall within the binary definitions. Therefore, sex should be malleable to one’s desires, rather than fit within the constraints of society’s heteronormative narrative.
It is this particular deconstruction of gender, or at least deconstruction of the binary gender, which is becoming increasingly more apparent in our social fabric. Sex is something which is ‘assigned’, perhaps incorrectly, at birth, and gender is based on how we identify ourselves. Everything has boiled down to individual determinism – we are as how we want to live, and anything which attempts to stop us is, subsequently, ‘oppressive’. Biological factors are seen as just more boundaries to ascend beyond. Age? Sex? Despite the very real truths these indicators point to, they are only seen as useful if they are consistent with how an individual chooses to express themselves. Otherwise, such truths are decried as inconvenient, and are discarded.
The narrative posits that an individual’s ability to express their desire must be something which is catered for, even if it requires the breakdown, or rather, the redefinition of the current ‘normalcy’. With acceptance of an individual’s choice not being enough, but they must be positively affirmed as well. This is effectively, the angle which is taken by the Safe School Coalition as well as other advocates. The traditional understanding of heteronormativity, as in a society of heterosexual male and females, is an outdated social construct. Biological, or ‘assigned’, sex should not have any real bearing on how individuals should choose to identify themselves. Society should, we are told, embrace a fluidity of gender – as individuals are as they desire to identify themselves – and to oppose this concept would have those who do so labelled as bigots or transphobic. Indeed, it is popularly exhorted, Western society must transcend such an outdated view of gender.
A Road too Far
Thus, we can see that there is a prominent agenda being aggressively pushed within society to deconstruct what we would deem gender normalcy. Yet, simply knowing this fails to sufficiently help us to understand precisely what transgenderism is. But, rather, it enables to us to understand the context in how exactly the shift took place. Transgenderism itself is but a fairly large umbrella term which encompasses such a large range of different identifications. It’s a term which could be used to describe those who are transsexual (e.g. identify as the opposite gender than the sex they had at birth), are intersex (e.g. their anatomy does not fall within the classification ‘norms’ of either sex), are genderless (e.g. they don’t identify with either the male or female binary), or they have a gender expression which differs from that typically associated with their sex at birth (e.g. cross-dressing). Whilst, there could, undoubtedly, be other categories which could, and do, fall underneath this umbrella, these are, from my experience, generally the main ‘sub-definitions’ that people fall within when they identify as being transgender.
In the next part, I will unpack what precisely transgenderism is, and notably cover Gender Dysphoria – a medical diagnosis where an individual is diagnosed as experiencing a conflict between their ‘assumption’, the subjective conviction of their gender, and the objective biology of their body. It is this particular medical diagnosis which has given much credibility to the redefinition of gender, but is all what it seems?
Written for and published in Evangelical Action.
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|1.||↑||By refusing to define themselves by their creator, man has fundamentally lost an understanding of who they truly are. A fact Calvin acknowledges very early on in the Institutes. K. Scott Oliphint is on point when he states “True self-knowledge depends on God-knowledge.” (K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics, Crossway 2013, p. 43)|
|2.||↑||Whilst the differentiation between gender and sex is sometimes defined as gender describing the identity and sex the biological characteristics, the truth is that sex and gender mean different things to different theorists and neither are easy or straightforward to characterise. However, Butler used them interchangeably and noted any distinction as unintelligible.|