Agender, androgynous, cisgender, genderqueer, intersex, transgender, bi-gender, male, female. These are the gender identities included in a recent issue from National Geographic entitled The Gender Revolution. In 2015, Frontline produced a documentary entitled Growing up Trans, which explored the lives of five families with transgender children, revealing the hormonal treatments available for children who desire to embrace a change of gender before puberty. In the same year, the Supreme Court of the United States legalized gay marriage.
In light of the growing issues related to gender and sexual identity, the church must determine how to relate to this new social landscape in grace and truth. We must differentiate what is legal from what is moral, what is sinful from what is permissible, what is biblical from what is cultural. Defining these issues is a topic of much discussion among Christians.
Dr. Adrian Thatcher is a Professorial Research Fellow in Applied Theology at the University of Exeter. Before pursuing his academic career, he was a Baptist minister for eight years, merging his academic and pastoral experience in his reflections on the theology of sexuality and gender. In his book God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction, Dr. Thatcher develops a theological argument that leads him to conclude that (1) gender is fluid and not binary, (2) that in the Body of Christ gender is not a factor that should determine leadership roles, (3) that heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual desires are equally legitimate, (4) and that these different expressions of sexual desire can be practiced in pre-nuptial or post-nuptial relationships as long as it is practiced within a loving monogamous relationship (whether heterosexual or homosexual) as expressed in the marriage vows. In order to reach his conclusions, Dr. Thatcher uses a four-legged hermeneutical system that takes into consideration Biblical interpretation, tradition, reason, and human experience.
In contrast to Dr. Thatcher, I believe that God’s original design of the human race includes two genders and that sexual intercourse is an expression of oneness, therefore it is meant to be embraced only in a monogamous heterosexual marriage covenant. I welcome Dr. Thatcher’s invitation to reevaluate my theological framework. The author reminds me of the importance of thinking critically and the need for a biblical interpretation that pays close attention to the historical, grammatical, and cultural background of the text. However, in order to reach his conclusions about gender and sexuality, he asks me to embrace four theological assumptions that I am not compelled to embrace.
First, he asks me to think of the biblical text not as the revealed Word of God, but as a witness to the Incarnate Word of God. He believes that “The first principle is to treat the Bible as a witness to God’s revelation in Christ, and not as a moral handbook to be consulted on sexual matters.” He thinks that to approach the Bible as a moral blueprint is erroneous because it is the same mindset that led Christians to justify slavery and the subjugation of women—both of which we have long abandoned in our post-scientific era. He warns us, “Still worse problems arise when the text of Scripture is assumed to be the Word of God, even when it is clearly and offensively inconsistent with the divine Love revealed in Jesus Christ.” However, he fails to bring 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17 into his theological framework. The Apostle Paul tells us that a key purpose of the Scriptures is to equip the believer to practice a lifestyle characterized by righteousness and good works. The Scriptures teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness. Thus, the Bible affirms to be more than a witness to Christ; it is indeed a blueprint for righteous living, including sexual matters.
Secondly, he asks me to interpret Genesis with the assumption that Darwinian evolution is factual. He dismisses a literal interpretation of Genesis that limits gender only to male and female, because he believes that such interpretation would be arbitrary and it would exclude many people. He argues, “The narrative even assumes a vegetarian diet for humans, prior to their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Christians are in no apparent hurry to condemn the carnivorous Western diet that the earth cannot sustain… But why not, if literal meanings can be read off the first chapter of the Bible and inserted directly into contemporary discussions?” Of course, any Old Testament scholar knows that God expands the human diet in Genesis 9:3 (“Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything”), thus it would be unbiblical to condemn the carnivorous diet of the West based on a reading of Genesis. Thatcher insists, “Would we not expect an exceptionally convincing argument to be made that, in the particular case of human sexuality, God has written, authorized and used this text to declare an essential, eternal rule, when other factual claims the narrative assumes, have long been abandoned?” However, Jesus does not seem to have abandoned the prescriptive nature of Genesis. In fact, Jesus quotes Genesis 2 as an authoritative account that reveals God’s original intent for oneness. Based on these two examples of presenting incomplete biblical evidence, I believe that Thatcher reveals a lack of exegetical honesty.
Third, Thatcher asks me to believe that the Apostle Paul’s teaching about sexuality is not relevant for our times, because his understanding of sexuality was limited by his cultural perceptions which are different from ours. He argues, “Paul thought all sexual desire sinful. He thought same-sex desire excessively sinful. He thought it sinful, not because it was homosexual, but because it involved the forsaking of gender roles he considered natural.” Therefore, “If, and only if, the theology of marriage in Ephesians 5 is understood as a theology of marriage for all time, and not just for the time in which it was written, then, yes, it will be undoubtedly found to be hierarchical, sexist, and insulting to contemporary women.” However, Thatcher fails to mention several important factors. First, in 1st Corinthians 7 the Apostle Paul describes both sexual desire and the lack of sexual desire as a gift from God. I find no biblical evidence that corroborates the idea that Paul considered sexual desire sinful. Secondly, Thatcher fails to discuss the biblical concept of headship in relationship to gender as described in both testaments, and he fails to discuss the role of submission in the Godhead. Consequently he assumes that the concepts of headship and submission are synonymous with sexism, resulting in the oppression of women. In addition, he makes the mistake of cultural generalization, assuming that the understanding of gender and sexual anatomy that characterized Greek culture also shaped the cultural context of Leviticus and Paul’s views on gender. The fallacy of this correlation is twofold. First, it ignores the Jewish understanding of gender and sexuality that shaped Paul’s education, and it also ignores the Mesopotamian views on gender and sexuality that provide the backdrop for Leviticus.
Finally, in order to encourage the reader to become more gay-friendly, Thatcher asks me to be opened to the possibility that Jesus himself had a homosexual relationship with the Apostle John, because John is described in the gospel as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Thatcher argues, “A reasonable conclusion is that this difference points us to a different sphere or dimension of love: love characterized by erotic desire or sexual attraction.” Perhaps, if Thatcher paid more attention to the Greek language, he would have noticed that Jesus “agape” John, not “eros” him. Any New Testament scholar that knows Greek well and understands male relationships in warm cultures would notice this significant difference before reaching such an outrageous conclusion.
Thatcher invites me to form a theological framework that addresses the contemporary issues about sexuality and gender. I welcome that invitation. Yet, I find his approach lacking in exegetical honesty. He is eager to quote theologians that agree with his views, but he fails to engage significantly with theologians found beyond the Catholic and Anglican scholarship. He also seems to give human experience supremacy over the Scriptures, and I am not compelled to cross that line. At the end of chapter 9, the author asks a question to the reader: “Several times in this chapter reference is made to the possibility that traditional interpreters merely find what they want to, or expect to, find, in the Bible. Is that true of this author as well?” Yes; I believe so.
 Thatcher, Adrian (2011-03-29). God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction (Kindle Locations 1764-1766). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid, 1759-1760.
 Ibid, 1457-1461.
 Ibid, 1464-1465.
 Ibid, 5108-5109.
 Ibid, 2853-2854.
 Ibid, 5156-5157.
 Ibid, 5241-5243