In a recent conversation with a friend, we discussed a First Things piece by the Editor, Mr. Reno. He was not opposed to homosexual activity, marriage, or adoption and argued that the position espoused by First Things was inconsistent. My friend suggested that to be consistent in opposing non-procreative sexual activity (that using contraceptives or inherently sterile same-sex activity), First Things could only be consistent if it opposed marriage where one or both parties was sterile. If this understanding of marriage did not oppose sterile heterosexual couples from marrying or adopting children, how could they oppose marriage and adoption for sterile homosexual couples?
Here, the logical failings of the non-traditional argument are relatively obvious – my colleague used the physical defect of infertility to argue for the abandonment of the marital norm of procreative union in order to validate unions that are non-procreative not from defect, but in their very nature. The traditional marriage argument is able to understand this essential distinction between defect and nature. Understanding that infertility is both an evil (a non-moral evil like sickness) and a defect allows traditionalists to uphold the dignity of infertile marriage unions without denying the truth of the Church’s biblical and historical teaching about marriage and sex. The same sex couple’s lack of procreative potential denies the meaning of marriage while the infertile couple’s frustrated potential affirms it. The faithful infertile couple can be an icon of the love between Christ and his Church; the non-traditional argument would destroy that icon by attacking the inherent meaning of marriage.
Rachel Held Evans made a point similar to my friend’s in a November 2014 blogpost entitled “The False Gospel of Gender Binaries.” . She gives the story of her friend, Adrian, who said “I’m intersex, Evangelicals don’t have a category for me, so there’s no real place for me in their church.” Evans then castigates the Church for attempting to fit intersex, transgender, gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons into “rigid gender binaries.” Her argument relies heavily on the feelings and testimonies of the intersex and LGBT persons she has encountered, and she argues that gender, sex, and sexuality ought to be understood as a continuum rather than as polarities because “People do not typically choose their sexual orientations or gender identities the way one might choose to wear a watch or to take cream in their coffee.”
Evans argues that the Gospel must affirm these differences. She asks, “But what sort of gospel is only good news for the majority? What sort of gospel leaves people behind just because they are different?” She dismisses my criticism of building theology around exceptions with the logical leap (or freefall?) of asking, “But if Jesus started with outliers, why shouldn’t we?” She gives the example of the Ethiopian eunuch (who under the Old Testament law could not be a priest) as one such outlier who was accepted by the Apostles. She concludes her post saying, “If the gospel’s not good news for Adrian [her intersex friend], then it’s not good news.”
Evans argument, however, simply does not work the way she wants it to work. What Jesus did when he “started with outliers” was affirm their precious worth and human dignity. He recognized the damage sin had done to them and commanded them to “go and sin no more,” while reminding others that they too were not without sin. Jesus’ affirmation was not to deny the sin of those who were publically shamed, but to call everyone to repentance. Similarly, the blessed Apostle Philip recognized both the inherent human dignity of the Ethiopian eunuch and his faith and baptized him. This did not entail that the eunuch’s castration was somehow good. Rather, our Lord and his holy apostles taught that whatever the damage sin and evil had done to a person, that person could find grace, redemption, and healing in Christ’s death and resurrection. Those who stand with our Lord in teaching that God has created man male and female, and that this sex and gender complementarity has meaning for life, marriage, and sexual activity are able to affirm the inherent dignity of each and every human person without having to affirm the ravages of sin and death unleashed by our first parents’ sin.
Interestingly, the website of the Intersex Society of North America Evans provides for our education, also discusses Intersex as a condition, rather than an identity. Thus they discuss children and adults “with intersex” rather than “Intersex children and adults.” This society does not think children with intersex (i.e. those with abnormal or ambiguous sexual anatomy or mosaic genetics) should be raised without a gender or as a third gender. Instead, they argue that people with intersex should be treated, given education and counseling, and be provided with peer support. “Newborns with intersex should be given a gender assignment as boy or girl, depending on which of those genders the child is more likely to feel as she or he grows up…. Surgeries… should not be performed until a child is mature enough to make an informed decision for herself or himself.” This response notes the genuine questions and difficulties surrounding the intersex condition, but recognizes the reality of gender binaries, that physical conditions do not negate metaphysical categories; Rachel Held Evans, apparently, does not.
Those who uphold Biblical and traditional understandings of sex, gender, and marriage also understand that the brokenness of sin has touched every child of Adam and Eve. None of us are able to cast the first stone because we are all touched by sin. We also recognize that the sicknesses, disorders, and problematic conditions that plague so many of us are the result of that same evil. We are able to affirm that temporal healing can be found with doctors, therapists, counselors, and medicine, rather than insist that these things are good and valid expressions of human identity. We understand, finally, that complete healing can only come through union with Christ and obedience to his command to “go and sin no more.” Our Lord affirmed that physical exceptions and moral defects do not change the norm of health; we must do the same.