Talking about God, Sex, and Gender
True story: After church a few years ago I eavesdropped in on a conversation a few Hub pre-teens were having about homosexuality. The youngest in the circle, my 9-year old son exclaimed, “Of course there is gay marriage in the Bible! It says in Genesis that God created Adam and Yves.” I laughed so hard and so loudly that I blew my cover and all the children got embarrassed and stopped talking and walked away. My best friend, who also helped plant the Hub, is named Yves. Not really one to read up to that point, whenever my son heard the creation story he heard Adam and Yves. Also, because he had never met a woman named Eve his whole frame of reference, and consequently his emerging theology, was based solely on experience. The thing is though, he thought he was basing his theology on scripture and tradition as well.
This is exactly what the amazing, troubling, though-provoking, I-wish-I-would-have-set-aside-more-time-this-week-to-study-it, textbook God, Sex, and Gender, written by Adrian Thatcher is about. Thatcher wrote this book with three goals.
First, he wanted to introduce his readers to the “exhilaration” of considering sex, sexuality, sexual relationships, and genders from a theological perspective. He is hugely successful here. I have had a great time texting friends the various subtitles found in this book. I wish I would have read the sections on marriage three years ago before so many people in my church got divorced. I really like his arguments for marriage and especially when he uses secular psychology to prove that most humans, most of the time live longer and develop better adjusted children when there is a married man and a woman as parents raising them. If I would have had this ammunition three years ago I would have counseled some about-to-be-broken marriages to stay together and stick it out, at least for no other reason than for their children.
Second, Thatcher is writing a textbook to introduce students (us) to a theology about sexuality and gender that is “broad, contemporary, undogmatic, questioning, inclusive, and relevant to readers’ interests, needs, and experience.” In this sense, this book is a reminder to us that we do not have it all figured out. A metaphor here would be like when I talk about sex with sexually active teens. They think they got it down; they know everything and are the experts. The problem is they don’t. What I like about this book is that it forces me to check myself to see if I am like the pharisees in the New Testament and my inexperienced sex-perts. When reading a book like this, I want to have the stance that there are so many things I do not yet have figured out. The frustration with this book for me this week is that I did not have enough time to really process the major arguments.
Thatcher also goes into depth about the different facets of theology and interpretation taking into account the Bible, tradition, and experience. For me, and I know many in this cohort might disagree, I think he does the exact work Grenz talked about to help avoid “folk theology.” I think he does the work, “the heavy lifting” so to speak. One time through is not enough for me. I think his section 9.5 Finding What We Want to Find? Evaluating Official Teaching is particularly relevant today. Same-sex love is such a “hot” topic (pun intended, see first chapter) and a divisive topic that it is wise to point out that many people find the conclusion they are looking for regardless of the evidence. This is the reason why we are in this program. We are becoming doctors of the church, as we have been told, and we must, like Thatcher, do the heavy lifting.
Third, Thatcher is creating a basis, or as I see it, a “first step” for us, and our teachers, to learn from and argue with. In a sense, this textbook can become a conversation partner. When I was a young child I would help my Lutheran Pastor Grandfather (Missouri Synod of course) get ready for the liturgy. I remember one time, while playing with that rope-thing that he needed to tie around his waste, asking him why he had to wear a dress in front of the church. Thatcher helps with this conversation (The clergy are cross-dressers! P143) and with my grandfather’s response to me that he did it to remind the people that he was a priest of God and set apart.
This book is so clear and organized that it is easy to pick and choose which parts of the conversation one would like to enter. For example, contraception is just not an issue for me so I willing jumped over that section. However, I like the fact that I can go to it for reference the next time someone tries to talk me into the rhythm method. Similarly, I just don’t understand why some denominations do not allow women to pastor a church. His sections on the background of this are helpful and will make another good reference source.
As we transition this Spring semester to focus more on our Academic Essay, I’ve been working through Emma Percy’s, Mothering as a Metaphor for Ministry. I am attempting to morph the theology of Tentmaking to the next step for bivocational pastors. Thatcher is a great partner with Percy. It is interesting to me that we rarely hear sermons on the mothering metaphors that Paul uses for the Corinthians and the Thessalonians. Thatcher’s text is a great first step toward explaining why that is the case.
8 responses to “Talking about God, Sex, and Gender”
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Thanks Aaron P.
Your blog is very refreshing and was delightful reading . As you mentioned,”I just don’t understand why some denominations do not allow women to pastor a church. His sections on the background of this are helpful and will make another good reference source.” That was an interesting section of the book, it amazing how some denominations, try using scripture for justification.
I thought the book was geared toward readers who have a liberal approach as compared to conservative traditionalist readers, as it can be seen as challenging revisionist and traditionalist positions.
The book presents a rich discussion of sex, family, and marriage, which makes it a good resource for those who want a theological perspective on these topics.
You did a great job grouping the chapters into three areas. What I like about this book are the different angles in which to prepare for having conversations on sexuality. I’m not intrigued by the theories because after learning about Biblical and Cultural Christians, I formed my theories. Well, the opinions are motivated by the idea that it doesn’t matter how we try to be relevant, we can’t ignore what the Bible requires. I felt like the author looked for loopholes regarding sexuality, rather than how to embrace them before pointing them to Biblical practices. If homosexuals are convinced they are Christians, then they are probably cultural Christians because you can never be a biblical Christian until you choose to follow ALL biblical practices. I understand we fall short at times, but we still desire to practice biblical principles, which is much different from objecting to such principles.
Thanks Garfield. I read your blog and wrote you some questions. In your comments to me you mention biblical christians follow ALL biblical practices and then you say since we fall short we desire to follow biblical principals. How do you differentiate between the two: practices and principals?
Do you really mean ALL? After my wife read a book called The Red Tent a few years ago she told me the Bible commanded that I build her a special house for her and our daughters for when they are menstruating. I told her I was choosing to not follow that biblical practice.
I believe you captured as much of the essence of Thatcher’s book as anyone else, in your available time frame and you appear to have gained a lot of insight and resources for further study. I like your keen insight in integrating Percy’s writing with Thatcher’s to better inform the bivocational pastoral experience.
You mentioned teaching teens on sexuality at your church. Do the Vineyard churches (or your Vineyard Church) schedule regular “Abstinence and Chastity” courses for young people? And if they do so, have the courses been shown to be beneficial or empowering to the youth in being able to sustain these states for the Kingdom sake?
One of the reasons I was delayed posting my blog is that I was not done reading the book. It has so much information and so many different theological assumptions that it required a careful read, so I read the whole thing. I do appreciate some of the content, but now I better understand Thatcher’s theological framework. If there is a pendulum from liberal to conservative theology, Thatcher is definitely on the liberal side (The Bible is not God’s Word, Jesus had a homosexual erotic attraction to John, etc). As you form your own convictions in this heavy topic, I advice you not to limit yourself just to Thatcher, but bring other authors from a diversity of spectrums. Doing so may help you get better discernment on the issues related to biblical exegesis underlining this theological discussion.
After years of doing marriage counseling, I have developed a marriage training course to systematically help couples in crisis as well as in pre-marital counseling. You mentioned in your blog that you did not have sufficient tools to assist you in that area of pastoral care. I would like to share some of that system with you in case you find it helpful. Maybe we can talk about it in South Africa.
I don’t have any challenges with going down the path of exploring “femininity” and God and His nature. How does Thatcher go from understanding God to embracing contemporary lifestyles, that seem to break with historical Christianity?
How do we draw any lines of morality and sexuality if the culture calls for a new look or embrace a new form of marriage or sexuality?
Aaron, yes; this is my second response to your blog (:
After my first response, I thought that you may want to learn about a ministry established by a man who lived a homosexual lifestyle but abandoned it after coming to the Lord. He has a powerful and honest testimony. He did a session at our church a few years ago, and we found it very insightful. His website is http://livehope.org.