I feel pretty safe saying that we Christians love our binaries. Good and evil, saved or unsaved, heaven and hell – it’s like we aren’t comfortable unless we can label a situation with a coin of two sides. It’s part of our desire for a tidy spirituality, I think. It’s even better if we can find a verse or passage in the Bible that supports or condemns a particular ‘side.’
I’m not sure why we think that the Bible full of messy stories, turbulent lives, and depraved humans whom God calls ‘friend,’ will offer us neat and tidy answers to anything but the basics of faith. Even those basics (such as, what does atonement really mean?) are under constant debate among the thousands of denominations, sects, non-denominations, and movements in Christianity. Yet each group insists on the certainty that they are correct and the others are not. One would think that to have faith means you are absolutely certain not only what you believe, but exactly what the Bible says about, well, everything. Scholars such as Erdozain, however, remind us that some people have always been certain and others who are skeptics or doubters, and that has kept the church both relevant and orthodox.
When we search the Scriptures for answers and help to know what to believe, we are ultimately told to love God with everything we have, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matthew 22:36-40). I don’t believe for a minute that loving people lets us off the hook for the other things we are taught in Scripture, but I do believe that, if we are fully committed to loving God with our whole selves, and loving others as our whole selves, the confusing words of Scripture become clearer, or maybe just less critical. When we are looking for ways to bring people TO God rather than exclude people FROM God, some of the passages that we use to clobber and zing might not offer the obvious answers we expected. Sometimes, as we learned a couple of weeks ago from Marin’s Love is an Orientation, love means sitting in the middle ground, holding tension between “the Bible clearly says…” and “I don’t agree with that interpretation…”
When we (students from our doctoral program) were in South Africa, Rev. Michelle Boonzaaier uttered a statement that cleanly sucked the air from the room – “God is a queer God.” I’m going to admit, that her words brought tears to my eyes and I found myself nodding – not because she was saying God is LGBTQ or that I think God should be categorized as such, but because I heard her say that God is above, beyond, and outside of gender all while being every gender. God is queer because God’s gender is completely inexplicable. God’s intimacy is ineffable. As Thatcher explains, “Crucially, and against the wisdom of the ancients, we need not think God is ultra-masculine and so we do not think that men compromise the image of God when they do things that women do.” Not only is God not ultra-masculine, God is not only masculine, or feminine, or somewhere on that gender spectrum. God’s gender does not exist in the binary.
Thatcher talks a great deal about gender and sex (which makes sense, considering his book is titled, God, Sex, and Gender) but I feel like there is a deeper thread that runs through his book. He is telling us to loosen up a bit, ask questions, say scary or taboo things out loud, and for everyone’s sake TALK about these things rather than sweeping them aside. If I were to teach a Spiritual Formation course, this book would be part of the curriculum because it is too easy to focus on the soul part of spiritual and forget that our bodies are deeply enmeshed in the spiritual as well. Our bodies are part of our identity. Who we love, how we identify, and how we practice physical intimacy are obviously important to God, yet we create another binary – spiritual or physical – and focus on the part that doesn’t make us quite so squeamish.
There are many arguments and assumptions Thatcher makes that I think are, to say the least, a stretch, but even reading those thoughts forced me to process them and decide why I would discard what he has to say. In a couple of places, I thought to myself, “Well, why not?” In others I thought, “I need to review a few interpretations and commentaries to process that further.” In a few, I caught myself saying out loud, “Yeah, no.” That’s why I think books like this are crucial, especially as text books. We cannot build our fortresses and keep our distance from thoughts that challenge our own, or ideas that stretch our faith. This is not a “love God, love people” mentality. Opening ourselves to new ideas, to people who are different, and to things with which we are uncomfortable is most certainly dangerous, but not nearly as dangerous as closing ourselves off from them.
 Dominic Erdozain, The Soul of Doubt, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 266.
 Adrian Thatcher, God, Sex, and Gender, (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 173.
Andrew Marin, Love is An Orientation, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).