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The now very evident principle of the sexual revolution, that morality means wishes should be put above reality, will not stop at homosexuality but will keep moving, destroying personal lives and personal freedom. The new frontier is transgenderism, in which people define their own sex, or “gender,” and, if desired, back their choice up with changed anatomy, made possible by modern technology. This, and the added new demand for polygamy, was discussed by Denny Burk, Professor of Biblical Studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, at the recent conference on the Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage sponsored by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Burk began by noting that for the last number of decades we have been living in a culture that is in “enormous transition” regarding sexual identity. The “spirit of the age has defined ‘gender’ as a spectrum with no normative connection to a person’s biological sex,” Burk said. “A person is whatever they feel themselves to be.” Gender is determined not by biological realities, indelibly stamped on our DNA, but by psychological realities. Once the principle that wishes overrule physical reality is used to establish that the two natural sexes should not be determinative for life, wishes override reality in life generally, although in our world, the wishes would have to be understood as “progressive.” “Revision of sexual and gender norms has implications beyond the original revision,” Burk said. He noted a claim by a prominent activist that the homosexual liberation movement succeeded because at a critical moment homosexual leaders made a moral claim, that “gay is good.” This theme entails that opposition to homosexuality is “backwards and irrational.” The transgender revolution that will follow it will be based on the same moral claim, which is a claim of liberation against suffering. To oppose it will be to be seen as immoral. Christians will then have the challenge of living faithfully to Christ when this “massive cultural shift” has occurred. Burk pointed out that, ominously, “gender identity disorder” was removed from the American Psychological Association’s manual of disorders in 2013, just as homosexuality was removed in 1973. Leaders of the LBGT movement are now pushing transgenderism as the next phase of the sexual revolution.
The challenge posed by an essentially gnostic understanding of human nature, with true human nature separate from the human body, is illustrated by a psychological condition now called “body integrity identity disorder,” Burk said. This involves the belief that one should be missing one or more parts of one’s body, and has resulting in people attempting amputation of their limbs. Psychological identity is in conflict is biological reality. Should such people be allowed amputation? “Does the body need adjusting, or does our thinking need adjusting?” Burk asked. The problem is that the “culture is saying you don’t adjust your thinking, you adjust your body.” Burk questioned, however, whether the general public is ready to follow the leading edge of the culture to the effect that “psychological identity trumps biological identity.”
“The Bible is sufficient for our thinking on these things, and for how we address these things, and for how we minister to people, and how we love people,” Burk said. He suggested two principles in approaching transgender claims: 1) truth telling, and 2) “gender discipling.” The Bible says that biological sex is normative. “This can be deeply painful.” In the contemporary world, people’s resistance to deviations from sexuality based on nature is often overcome by citing statistics on people with transgender feelings. But this confuses “what is with what ought to be … The norm that we must insist on … is the Scriptures.”
By contrast, under the sexual revolution, it is “the way gender and sexuality are defined throughout society that will evolve.” While the sexual avante guarde is insisting that there are more “genders” than just the two natural sexes (historically “gender” was a grammatical term, designating things such as nations or ships, as having a sexual nature which in fact they do not have), the idea of sexuality remains tied to what has historically been regarded as sexual activity (the interaction of sex organs). But if people are allowed to define “sex” as they please, anything might be regarded as “sexual,” (provided that it is understood as breaking conventions). Thus, it is not just the sexual identity of individuals, but the “very definition of gender and sexuality that is still up for grabs.” Consequently, in insisting on the legitimacy and protection of self-defined sexuality, “the revisionists are offering us norms today that they cannot promise will be norms tomorrow.”
This reigning doctrine of self-defined gender will threaten parental authority and family life. “Parents are already being chastised for not letting their children act out” in “gender bending ways.” Researchers now claim that felt gender identity is fixed and reorientation abusive. The moral claim of the sexual revolution is thus seen again. But, Burk asked, if it is wrong to try to alter psychological identity because it is fixed, then “why is it not wrong to alter something as fixed as the body of a minor child.” The moral claim that “transgender is good is so intense that it is possible to surgically alter a child’s body to match his sense of self, but it’s bigoted to try to change his sense of self to match his body.” This despite the fact that “70 percent-80 percent of children with transgender feelings grow out of it.” Burk contended that “people have become so awash” in the ideology of the sexual revolution that they do not remember the doctrine of natural sexuality taught in the Bible. But a commitment to natural sexuality must be primary in the discipling of believers and the education and discipline of children. “This necessarily puts us in a counter-cultural posture.” This need not mean commitment to traditional sexual behaviors that are peculiar to a given culture. But Burk held that, Biblically, male sexuality should conform to leadership, protectiveness, and provision for family. Female sexuality would then be in a complementary role to this, characterized by nurture.
Burk briefly noted that in addition to the transgender challenge, the doctrine of sexual self-determination has opened up another once forbidden area of sexuality, namely, polygamy. “Polygamy is an entailment of the program of the sexual revolution,” he said. Once the old norm of heterosexual monogamy is removed, the norm of monogamy is no longer stable, while the norm of permanence was dispensed with by no fault, or unilateral, divorce.
While the way Christians approach sexuality will be determined by God’s revelation in the Bible, Burk asked whether non-Christians are prepared to endorse the sexual revolution in its full radicalism. Does psychological identity trump natural sex as the sexual revolution requires? “How do we speak truth in love when so many do not regard the truth as loving?” But we do not have to choose between truth and love, Burk said, because “love always rejoices with the truth” according to the Bible. “The transgender challenge is symptomatic of what happens when a culture has lost its way … It also shows us how much the church needs to be a counter culture.”
While the sexual revolution will impose on faithful Christians many hardships, from social opprobrium to legal penalties, Burk also sees it an opportunity. On the down side, it is “giving us a new definition of marriage,” but positively, a new definition of what it means to be a witness to the “glory of the gender difference that God has made … we bear witness not to constrain or to condemn, but to show the world that the happiest and most joyful way to live is in line with our Creator’s design … God’s glory and our happiness are not at odds when it comes to gender identity.”