Where do we get our concept of most things within society? What determines whether or not something becomes a societal norm? What about all of these matters from a theological perspective? What about when you raise these questions for the subject of gender?
Modern gender theory is complex as more platforms have been created for people to express their lived experiences of different gender and sexual expression than the “traditional” ways of understanding these conversations. In other words, we know more than ever about what people believe and experience. Moreover, the mindset of inclusivity has created a safer space for people to live out who they believe to be.
Dr. Abigail Favale, a professor at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, wrote The Genesis of Gender to examine these very challenging questions in an era of rapid change and understanding within our culture and the church. A Catholic convert, Favale writes from her perspective as a person of faith in the academic field and through her experience exploring her understanding of gender.
“I instinctively recoiled from the idea that women have less value in the eyes of God. But I wanted to be able to reconcile my belief in men and women’s equal dignity with the authoritative words of Scripture,” reflected Favale.  Like most people that enter into a proper liberal arts education, the foundation of your worldview, along with the development of your belief systems, combined with your education begin to clash. Favale explores her journey into feminism out of Evangelicalism and the tension that this brought to her theological views.
From a theological standpoint, the Bible has been used across time and space as the foundation of myriad perspectives. Favale taps into this when she writes about how Genesis has been used to argue more Conservative ideals of gender and sexuality. At the same time, she recognizes that Creation narratives serve a different purpose than defining gender, gender roles, and sexuality, “Creation accounts do not provide scientific truth about material origins; they reveal deeper truths: truths about identity-who God is and who we are—and purpose, the ends for which we are made….If these texts are instead read as divinely revealed poetry and allegory—as true myth—a fuller picture of God, reality, and the person emerges.”
The idea of reading Genesis in the literal sense is more novel than most people realize. But, of course, that also extends to thinking of the Bible as “infallible.” And yet, from seeing the Bible through this particular lens, it is easy to see how individuals will jump to a simplistic and immovable understanding of sexuality and gender. Indeed, this worldview would never consider that our construct of gender does not bind God’s existence. And if God’s nonbinary existence lies beyond the firm grasp of our complete understanding, could it be that we might have misinterpreted the traditional passages used to see gender and sexuality in a binary or cis perspective?
Moreover, if we believe when the Scriptures said that God looked upon all of creation and saw it as good, then what do we do with the existence of homosexuality within the animal kingdom? If animals do not have a conscious capacity like humans, then there is no possibility of sinfulness within them. Additionally, what do we do about the fact that some reptiles change gender in their lifetime? Therefore, hetero and homosexuality among animals are a natural byproduct of God’s good creation.
There is a misleading idea that separating the cultural constructs from the Bible somehow dilutes its effectiveness and authority within the life of Believers. Favale shared her struggle with this idea when she wrote, “To my surprise, the professor pivoted to make another argument entirely: Paul is indeed sexist, but we can just ignore those bits of Scripture because they were corrupted by the patriarchal culture of the time. My first reaction to this was frustration. . .”
Throughout our history, people of faith have been able to hold the revelation of scientific reality with our fallible interpretation of the Scriptures. Can you hear Galileo screaming from the great beyond, “I know?! Tell me about it.” The great Reformation taught us that the authorities of our faith go beyond our tradition, including our orthodox understanding of theological matters, and the Scriptures. Where do experience and the work of the Holy Spirit fit into our wrestlings of these matters?
While Favale effectively conveys a Catholic philosophical and theological worldview philosophical, there is a tremendous challenge that the church and people of faith need to consider beyond our pursuit of being right. Beyond an “orthodox” perspective on matters of gender and sexuality, you will find that this is an existential matter for those experiencing what many have labeled as “inhuman,” “ungodly,” “unbiblical,” or “sinful.” Creating space for people to be heard and to wrestle with these matters might be more important than winning an argument, which, more likely than not, will isolate those experiencing or believing in a nonbinary way of life.
 Abigail Rine Favale, The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2022).