True story: After church a few years ago I eavesdropped in on a conversation a few Hub pre-teens were having about homosexuality. The youngest in the circle, my 9-year old son exclaimed, “Of course there is gay marriage in the Bible! It says in Genesis that God created Adam and Yves.” I laughed so hard and so loudly that I blew my cover and all the children got embarrassed and stopped talking and walked away. My best friend, who also helped plant the Hub, is named Yves. Not really one to read up to that point, whenever my son heard the creation story he heard Adam and Yves. Also, because he had never met a woman named Eve his whole frame of reference, and consequently his emerging theology, was based solely on experience. The thing is though, he thought he was basing his theology on scripture and tradition as well.
This is exactly what the amazing, troubling, though-provoking, I-wish-I-would-have-set-aside-more-time-this-week-to-study-it, textbook God, Sex, and Gender, written by Adrian Thatcher is about. Thatcher wrote this book with three goals.
First, he wanted to introduce his readers to the “exhilaration” of considering sex, sexuality, sexual relationships, and genders from a theological perspective. He is hugely successful here. I have had a great time texting friends the various subtitles found in this book. I wish I would have read the sections on marriage three years ago before so many people in my church got divorced. I really like his arguments for marriage and especially when he uses secular psychology to prove that most humans, most of the time live longer and develop better adjusted children when there is a married man and a woman as parents raising them. If I would have had this ammunition three years ago I would have counseled some about-to-be-broken marriages to stay together and stick it out, at least for no other reason than for their children.
Second, Thatcher is writing a textbook to introduce students (us) to a theology about sexuality and gender that is “broad, contemporary, undogmatic, questioning, inclusive, and relevant to readers’ interests, needs, and experience.” In this sense, this book is a reminder to us that we do not have it all figured out. A metaphor here would be like when I talk about sex with sexually active teens. They think they got it down; they know everything and are the experts. The problem is they don’t. What I like about this book is that it forces me to check myself to see if I am like the pharisees in the New Testament and my inexperienced sex-perts. When reading a book like this, I want to have the stance that there are so many things I do not yet have figured out. The frustration with this book for me this week is that I did not have enough time to really process the major arguments.
Thatcher also goes into depth about the different facets of theology and interpretation taking into account the Bible, tradition, and experience. For me, and I know many in this cohort might disagree, I think he does the exact work Grenz talked about to help avoid “folk theology.” I think he does the work, “the heavy lifting” so to speak. One time through is not enough for me. I think his section 9.5 Finding What We Want to Find? Evaluating Official Teaching is particularly relevant today. Same-sex love is such a “hot” topic (pun intended, see first chapter) and a divisive topic that it is wise to point out that many people find the conclusion they are looking for regardless of the evidence. This is the reason why we are in this program. We are becoming doctors of the church, as we have been told, and we must, like Thatcher, do the heavy lifting.
Third, Thatcher is creating a basis, or as I see it, a “first step” for us, and our teachers, to learn from and argue with. In a sense, this textbook can become a conversation partner. When I was a young child I would help my Lutheran Pastor Grandfather (Missouri Synod of course) get ready for the liturgy. I remember one time, while playing with that rope-thing that he needed to tie around his waste, asking him why he had to wear a dress in front of the church. Thatcher helps with this conversation (The clergy are cross-dressers! P143) and with my grandfather’s response to me that he did it to remind the people that he was a priest of God and set apart.
This book is so clear and organized that it is easy to pick and choose which parts of the conversation one would like to enter. For example, contraception is just not an issue for me so I willing jumped over that section. However, I like the fact that I can go to it for reference the next time someone tries to talk me into the rhythm method. Similarly, I just don’t understand why some denominations do not allow women to pastor a church. His sections on the background of this are helpful and will make another good reference source.
As we transition this Spring semester to focus more on our Academic Essay, I’ve been working through Emma Percy’s, Mothering as a Metaphor for Ministry. I am attempting to morph the theology of Tentmaking to the next step for bivocational pastors. Thatcher is a great partner with Percy. It is interesting to me that we rarely hear sermons on the mothering metaphors that Paul uses for the Corinthians and the Thessalonians. Thatcher’s text is a great first step toward explaining why that is the case.