In my lifetime, I have witnessed many remarkable happenings and no doubt that can be said of most older persons in most times and places in history. I have seen the advent of the post Christian age and multi-cultural society, many of the outcomes arising from the digital revolution and for want of a better term to encapsulate what I want to say: fundamental changes in the relationships among sexes.
Growing up as I did in the 1950’s and 1960’s a number of things were the ‘norm’, and very much so:
- The vast majority of couples who lived together were married.
- As far as I was aware, all those couples were heterosexual.
- Homosexuality was frowned upon and most considered gay sex to be wrong since it was deemed to be unnatural.
- If one were gay, it was usually hidden from the public, as it was illegal and discrimination was rife.
- Divorce and remarriage after divorce was relatively rare; there was a strong expectation for married couples to stay together.
- Men were usually considered to be the head of the house and main provider. Often a woman’s place was seen as in the home.
- Men were preferred to women in many avenues of employment and generally earned more.
- Woman vicars and suchlike were virtually unheard of.
- Transgender issues were rarely raised. As far as the public were concerned: men were distinctly men; women distinctly women.
- A person was either born male or born female and that was the way he or she stayed for the rest of his or her life.
While I recognise then there were exceptions to all of the above, that was not the impression I got while growing up. It is quite evident in many circles none of these ‘norms’ apply today, and in any case there are many exceptions. Also, the changes occurring in society are matters that cannot be ignored even though most will go with the flow and not raise much by way of objections, often out of fear. But it does create a challenge for churches, especially for those that wish to follow biblical and traditional patterns, and can’t be ignored.
I have views on all these subjects and have expressed them. The shift on issues of the day is interesting: starting with women’s rights and then onto gay rights and now transgender rights. While some will argue the matter of women’s and gay rights has not yet been fully won, I have noticed by the volume of media reports that have come my way of late that transgender rights is where much of the emphasis is now, with new stories breaking every day. Two stories today are: “London Underground workers have been told to stop greeting people by saying ‘ladies and gentlemen’” and “A Christian charity has expressed its disappointment in the Labour leader’s call for the government to enable transsexuals “self-identify their gender“”. It begs the question how we ought to respond to what is happening.
Some will say, including some religious folk, we must let it be or even we must move with times. Rather than appear negative, we should focus on more important matters including being more loving. There is something to commend such a view but we cannot ignore what is happening around us if we are to be God’s mouthpiece as to how God wants people to live and, moreover, our illiberal society to often penalizes those who don’t go with the flow.
My own brand of Christianity, besides wanting to winsomely engage with culture and practically see the outworking of “love thy neighbor”, puts particular store on scripture. Without wanting to cherry pick, two verses seem particularly pertinent: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” Genesis 1:27 and “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” Genesis 2:24. There are several points I could derive from these texts but what stands out to me is: our gender is defined at birth with two distinct sexes and that marriage between a man and a woman is the right place for sexual intimacy.
I have no doubt the culture wars are far from over and that I am likely to make these points many times still and will likely be castigated by some for doing so. While I recognize society’s approach to woman and LGBTQA folk is rightly more sympathetic to what it once was, I am unconvinced that some of the changes are beneficial and often penalize people of faith. While it is true, we who are Christians, need to be sensitive to how people feel, especially the LBGTQA community, we need to be robust in our beliefs too. In a pluralistic society special store needs to be placed on ensuring societal justice and equal opportunities for all irrespective of their gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity and marital status and yet should not be the overriding consideration.
It brings me onto another matter that could be seen to be irrelevant to the points made above and that is the position of the eunuch, mentioned a number of times in the Bible. One online definition of eunuch is: “a man who has been castrated, especially (in the past) one employed to guard the women’s living areas at an oriental court”. I believe that is the biblical definition too although some theologians have sought to apply the term to gay and transgender people, and as for me I remain open on the matter.
In the past as I have tried to come to terms with some of the issues touched on earlier, three “eunuch” texts have moved me to tears and in my discussions with folk on such matters I will freely share these:
- “Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;” Isaiah 56:3-4
- “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” Matthew 19:12
- “And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship … And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? … And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? … And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” Acts 8: 27, 34, 36, 38
Addendum 27/07/17: As I often point out, there is a constant flow of stories touching the matters described above, especially the latest hot potato: transgender equality. US President Trump has recently announced a banning order on transgender folk serving in the military as among other things it is disruptive. I note one retired transgender SEAL arguing otherwise (see here). I have yet to make up my mind although I do believe society’s obsession with equality that sometimes turns out not to be is not always a healthy one. While there have been huge changes, not all changes are for the worse, yet it seems society can no longer make that distinction. As I wrote on my Facebook page when re-advertising this blog post: “In my lifetime there has been an enormous shift in society’s attitudes toward matters like gender equality, marriage and divorce, sexual orientation, sexual identity, equal opportunities. Churches have often not responded / led well on these matters. As one who feels called to take a lead and who believes he is a thinking, fair minded, compassionate, savvy, engaged Christian, beholden to following the teachings of the Bible, including loving my neighbour, which knows no restriction when it comes to sex and marriage etc., I need to come to a view and is why I post, in the hope it may help some“.