Gender. Sex. Sexuality. Sexual identity. Gender identity.
I taught this class last week. Really. I did. Every time I do, it prompts deep debates. How are men and women different biologically? Is my biological identity the same as my gender identity? Is gender a social construct? Why does the topic of sex freak us out? Why does the assignment of gender roles irritate some and comfort others? Is the historical privilege and power that is frequently assigned to men a biblical mandate? And what about when we are attracted to people of the same sex? Or both sexes? Is this all based in culture? Creation? God?
A thousand questions. A thousand wounds. A thousand joys. A lot of opinion and emotion, but critical thought is hard to come by.
Then I sat down to read this week’s assigned readings: “God , Sex, and Gender: An Introduction” by Adrian Thatcher , and “Love is an Orientation” by Andrew Marin . Thatcher presents a text book for Christian universities and seminaries addressing the hard topics of sex, gender, marriage, same sex attraction, and presents theological, traditional, and cultural approaches to each issue. As a whole it was appropriate, perhaps radical for some Christians, but well suited for a class like my social work students in a Christian University.
However, it was Marin’s work that drew me in. Marin takes an emotionally and theologically charged issue – same sex attraction – and gives it a face. He makes it human, as opposed to a series of abstract constructs and theological principles. Marin tells his own story, growing up in a conservative, Christian background, distinctly homophobic in his actions and attitudes, and how he came to immerse himself, as a heterosexual Christian, in the LGBTQ community. As a young man, three “best” friends, came out to him as lesbian or gay in three consecutive months. Through these experiences, he found God calling him to immerse himself and serve the LGBTQ community. My brief summary is of course an oversimplification.
Marin presents a theology, but it is not whether same sex attraction is a sin, but rather, how do we help people develop healthy, whole relationships with God? Instead of focusing on the minors (what is your sin?), he focuses on the thing that matters.
Of course there are those that would argue that this is simply avoiding the issue. But I stand with Marin on this.
I was once just like Marin. The thought of same sex relationships grossed me out. All I thought of was the sexual act, not love or wholeness or joy. I remember attending a women’s event many years ago, when I was the director of a rape crisis center. I was uncomfortable, as I walked around with my date, a nice “manly” man, amongst the predominantly lesbian women present. I didn’t understand. I had no compassion.
And then God brought a young woman into my life who wanted to know God. She was a mess, clear and simple. She had struggled with addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts. And she was gay. But she wanted to be discipled. Brave and self righteous Christian as I was, I stepped in. I could love her to Jesus.
The problem was, she already knew Jesus. She didn’t need me to save her. But everyone else who knew Jesus had kicked her out. At 16, her good, faithful, Christian mother, would bust into her room and beat the crap out of her because she was gay. She would swear and condemn her and tell her what a terrible person she was. And then she sent her to a psychiatric inpatient facility. And then she kicked her out of the house. This young woman deeply desired an active relationship with Jesus, and she knew His sweet voice. But she was utterly convinced that God didn’t like her because every Christian, starting with her mother, had promised her this was true. She was going to hell. Churches told her that the only way she could have a right relationship with God was to change. But she didn’t know how to do that.
Twenty-five years later, that young woman is one of my closest friends. She and her wife live upstairs in my duplex. I didn’t save her. She and her wife both know the Lord, but they have so many stories about Christians it’s hard for them to feel safe around large groups of us. They feel as uncomfortable around groups of Christians as I once did in that large group of lesbians. Still, there are many differences. No longer depressed, suicidal, or addicted, my friend is in a healthy, committed eight year relationship. And she and her wife both have a secure knowledge of their relationship with God. They, and another gay couple, are part of my family. We celebrate holidays together, travel together, and care for one another.
Marin writes about helping people to wholeness; about pointing them to healthy, secure relationships with God. He notes that there can be multiple outcomes from that. Sometimes, people move from secular to spiritual. Sometimes they become Christians. Sometimes they move from sexually active to celibate. Sometimes they move from gay to straight.  Marin reminded me of my own experience in therapy. My therapist happened to be a Christian woman who was active in the LGBTQ community. We talked about many things in my many years of therapy, including sexuality. As a social worker, Christian, educator, and friend, I was curious about a lot of things. MaryBeth told me that her approach was not about changing orientation. It was about health and wholeness. She helped people set goals toward healthy relationships and boundaries. She found the same thing that Marin writes. Some people, as they became healthier, moved away from same sex relationships. Some moved into stable and healthy same sex relationships. Some found their way back to God. And some became celibate.
I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. But I like some of Marin’s suggestions. Such as avoiding closed questions that ask for a one word response (e.g., is homosexuality a sin?) and instead engaging in dialogue. Act in love and humility. Be vulnerable and honest. Be inquisitive. Apply biblical principles of following Christ.
A also know that sometimes we have to step into the fire and act on behalf of those who are downtrodden, beaten and oppressed. I frequently am reminded of Steve Chalke’s essay, “A Matter of Integrity”. I shared his essay with my class last week, in part as a counter to all of the negative stereotypes about how Christians deal with sexuality. Chalke used his position of influence to build a bridge and open doors to welcome and include and love LGBTQ people in the church. It cost him his ordination. But he did what I believe we are all called to do: to act on behalf of the oppressed and to love them as our Lord would do. My call is not to judge. Not to condemn. But to follow Jesus and to love others as He did.
 Adrian Thatcher, God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction, Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
 Andrew Marin, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.
 Marin, Loc 2659.