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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Informative but not Compelling

Written by: on March 17, 2017

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.

REFLECTION

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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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?”[3] 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?”[4] 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.”[5] 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.”[6] 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.”[7]  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?[8]”  Yes; I believe so.

[1] Thatcher, Adrian (2011-03-29). God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction (Kindle Locations 1764-1766). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid, 1759-1760.

[3] Ibid, 1457-1461.

[4] Ibid, 1464-1465.

[5] Ibid, 5108-5109.

[6] Ibid, 2853-2854.

[7] Ibid, 5156-5157.

[8] Ibid, 5241-5243

 

About the Author

Pablo Morales

Pablo Morales serves as the Lead Pastor of Ethnos Bible Church in Texas. He is currently pursuing the Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership and Global Perspectives at Portland Seminary in order to understand what it takes to develop a healthy multiethnic church.

11 responses to “Informative but not Compelling”

  1. Hi Pablo. How much do you think your reading and reflection were influenced by you self-identifying as a conservative and labeling Thatcher a liberal? In your opinion is one better than the other?

    • Pablo Morales says:

      Aaron,
      I did not know what to expect as I read the book. I was curious about what I would find. As I progressed through the pages I began to understand how different Thatcher’s theological framework is from mine. Thus, it was after reflecting on the reading that I realized how we come to the topic with two complete different theological assumptions. It reminded me of a comment I heard from a microbiologist about evolution. He said that both a Creationist and a Darwinian Evolutionist come to the same evidence, but it is their assumptions that make them interpret the evidence differently. That’s how I felt about this book. Thus, labeling our views as conservative and liberal was simply a way of capturing the different perspectives. I did not come to the book predisposed. (By the way, I edited my blog after reading your response, because I did not want to mislead the reader thinking that I was predisposed).

      At the end, God will tell which view is better than the other. As I stand today from what I see, we have two complete different approaches. What I call good, Thatcher calls bad; what he calls legitimate I call sinful. As we compare our views, I realize that there’s no much space for compromise.
      Pablo

  2. Aaron Cole says:

    Pablo,

    Very well said, great blog! I liked how you addressed each issue inwhich you differed by addressing the obvious omissions that Thatcher was requiring of you as a conservative Christian reader. You stated that Thatcher lacked a “exegetical honesty” in his writings and assumptions. This is seemingly more pervasive, why do you think that people from a Judeo-Christian perspective are writing with a lack of “exegetical honesty”?

    Aaron

  3. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Pablo:

    Thank you! Your insight was more than just a response. My challenge with Thatcher is his “leg” on contemporary theology seems to have a great impact on his lessening of historical values on sexuality.

    You said:
    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.

    This was my takeaway. I want to be open to reality of what is happening with sexuality. But where do you infringe on God’s plan that has been tempted throughout history and stood the test of time?

    Phil

  4. Pablo,
    Outstanding. I read this text with an open mind as well, but was pretty frustrated at the lack of scholarship.
    You stated:
    “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.”
    This is absurd. Anyone who has studied ancient cultures understands their obsession with sex. I mentioned this in my blog.
    Do you think Thatcher at times was trying to re-write history? As a book labeled as an introduction, do you think he was truly being fair with the Biblical text?
    Jason

    • Pablo Morales says:

      Jason,
      No. I do not think that Thatcher was fair with his exegesis. I’ve heard some of these views before, but I did not expect to find them in a book that promised a higher standard of scholarship.

      I know that you have studied this topic perhaps more than I have. Is there any particular author or book that you would recommend? Also, have you heard about the ministry Living Hope? If you have not, I think that it is a helpful resource for pastors seeking to minister to lives struggling with sexual and gender identity. It was founded by a man who left the homosexual lifestyle after he began to follow Christ. The website is http://livehope.org.
      Pablo

  5. Pablo,

    I agree with you assessment. The reference point was not scripture and it was not even Biblical foundation for man and women. This was hard for me to write about this time. Time magazine for this week has come out with a complete article ever further expanding what he proposed. It is known as a liberal magazine. They both read about the same. Great take aways on this.

    Kevin

    • Pablo Morales says:

      Kevin, I’ll have to check the Times article that you referenced. I was hoping to get more insights from the book, but it was definitely on the other extreme of the spectrum. I was shocked to see how permissive Thatcher seemed to be with premartial sex. He thinks that to encourage chastity in young people is to put a burden on them that is too hard to bear. He even says at one point, “I take for granted that all readers, with the exception of one or two saints, and one or two liars, will have had sex before they marry (if they do, and if they are straight).” (Kindle Locations 6348-6349). Consequently he encourages couples to move in together before marriage. I can’t imagine a youth ministry with this kind of philosophy. It is completely opposite from what we teach and encourage our children to embrace.

      There is a very helpful ministry that focuses on ministering to people struggling with sexual and gender identity. You may benefit from knowing about it in light of your youth ministry. It is called Living Hope (http://livehope.org).
      Pablo

  6. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Pablo,

    You said, “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.”

    I think you have really captured the heart of the complexity of the issues and of the challenge to the church. I won’t ask you a question: just suggest you prepare to write your next book covering what you have said in these brief couple of sentences.

    Thank you for your four clear and scholarly objections to Thatcher’s arguments.

  7. mm Garfield Harvey says:

    Pablo,
    You stated that “The Scriptures teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness.” It was clear that Thatcher would rather rebuke us for our biblical stance instead of training people in righteousness. The problem I find with some theorist is the belief where they continue to search for loopholes when the bible holds them accountable. We all have a sense of what’s moral or immoral and most people know how to distinguish sin. However, we choose whether to accept morality or righteousness as guidelines for our lives. As you stated, this is a complex process with navigating these behaviors, especially when some are not implied in scriptures rather than stated.

    Garfield

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