Affirming persons requires granting them respect, and that includes respect for their autonomy, their relationality, and their well-being.
In his book, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community, Andrew Marin sought to build bridges between the LGBTQ community and fundamentalist Christians. Marin asked open-ended questions in order to start the dialog between the two groups. Each group has stereotyped the other; each needs to look at changing their presuppositions in order to renew their thinking. The goal is to love others the way that Jesus does.
In God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction, Adrian Thatcher takes the conversation to a whole new level, providing guidelines to think theologically about sex, sexuality, sexual relationships, and gender roles. He hoped that his detailed, and often extremely graphic, material would make it possible for readers “to be intrigued and exhilarated by the strange yet lively material that makes up theologies of sexuality and gender.”
If one is serious about having a conversation on the subject of gender, here is plenty of grist for her mill.
The material was certainly lively, but well-organized. Five main parts of the book were divided into self-contained chapters. Each chapter followed the same pattern allowing readers to experience solid footing in the framework. Well- thought out introductions and summaries reinforced the arguments and illustrations in each chapter. Something I really appreciated was the placement of the documentation at the end of each chapter. Besides enhancing the unity of each chapter the reader is struck with the amount of research that Thatcher did.
Thatcher presented so many topics that seminary students could easily take a whole semester on the issues. Though a degree in philosophy is not necessary for the discussion, it would certainly be helpful when discussing the definition of gender. Is gender a noun, an adjective, or a verb? Ontologically speaking is gender an essential characteristic or was it constructed by society?
But, I can also envision small groups meeting and discussing each topic over coffee. Since the topics don’t build on each other, you can just pick one and go with it.
I’d like to go with the topic of gender as a key concept in the study of sexuality for the moment. Specifically, Thatcher’s discussion of “power” is of interest to anyone who is dealing with structures that ensure the power of one group over another. A justice ethic must address the use and misuse of power.
There are many ways to define or describe “power” but Thatcher gives three types of power as it shows up in relationships between men and women and between institutions and individuals.
- Causal Power – This brings about effects where those who are affected may not get to choose.
I think that sometimes this can include domineering power, but there are other examples. Many rules that we follow are ones that society has agreed to – paying taxes, doing the speed limit, and refraining from robbing banks. If one violates any of these she will find out who is in authority and has power. The intent of this power is legitimate order.
- Power Over – This is domination or subjugation. Domination often requires violence or the threat of violence to maintain itself.
A form of this power is Patriarchy. Patriarchy “is a term used in descriptions of the multiple structures, beliefs and practices which ensure that men exercise power over women.” (26)
The intent of this power is for one group to subjugate another because they think they have some sort of right to it. People have had the propensity to divide themselves up into groups ever since the Fall. Men think they are superior to women. The rich think they are superior to the poor. Whites think they are superior to blacks. Fundamentalists think they are superior to gays and lesbians. What is at the heart of this? I don’t know all the answers, but I can think of a way to begin to love each other as Jesus would have us love and respect each other as He did.
Why not think of each of us as a whole human being?
God created humans first. In some mysterious way “Adam” was male and female and reflected God’s image. God pulled “Adam” into two parts, male and female, and then said that they could become one flesh again. Should this blow our minds or should we not be surprised since we believe that Jesus is fully God and fully man in some mysterious way? God is One, but somehow is Three. Why not celebrate the beauty of our oneness and many-ness as it is reflected in creation?
And doesn’t this show that men and women are equal!
- Power With – Power is shared. Mutuality is prized. Each party is treated as an equal human being and they make decisions with negotiation and consensus.
I believe that this last type of power where there is willingness to reach agreements by the free choice of each party is based on the model of Christ who chose to give of Himself for our benefit. He is at one and the same time our Supreme Lord and the One Who washed Peter’s feet. In mutually shared power each person is an equal individual giving of themselves voluntarily.
In her book, Are Women Human?, Dorothy Sayers said, “What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person”. We are human beings first, children of God first and gender second.
In conclusion, Thatcher has a helpful list of the norms of justice that follow from the opening quote in this review: do no unjust harm; free consent of partners; mutuality; equality; commitment; fruitfulness; and social justice. (87) Jesus brought abundant life for all. In doing justice we help to promote respect for others. It is time for the church to seriously rethink her position on gender with an attitude of love.
Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love
 Adrian Thatcher. God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction. United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 87.
 Ibid. xi.
 Ibid. 19,20.
 Ibid. 26
 Sayers, Dorothy L., Are Women Human? (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1971) pgs. 28, 29.