LGBTQ+ Writing: Full Humanity

From a theological standpoint it’s amazing that any Christian would limit the definition of gender to the body—that is, to our genital appearance at birth. Paul defined humanity as the convergence of spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23). [1] Two-thirds of his definition comprises what’s invisible. For Christians to make one-third of our humanity 100% definitive is obscurantist and deceptive.

But that’s what is happening in fundamentalist Christianity today, and it is rippling into politics, evidenced by sports’ bills in legislatures. Kentucky, for example, just passed a bill that “limits girls sports in middle and high school to children born as girls.” [2] The last four words are an exclusively physical definition of gender. And they are words given credence by fundamentalist Christians who reject the more-detailed understanding of humanity.

In the first century, if Paul could understand humanity as 66% invisible, it is odd and unfortunate that some 21st-century Christians do not. [3] Our understanding of humanity is exponentially fuller than it was in Paul’s day, including knowledge about the invisibility of our humanity (e.g. genetics and hormones) as having a role in defining who we are. That Paul affirmed this 2000 years ago, but fundamentalists do not do so today, is incredulous, and all the more so by the group of Christians who shout “we are the biblical ones” every chance they get.

The Bible (via Paul as well) tells us to teach “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Combining this admonition with his trifold view of humanity, Paul would tell us that sound doctrine with respect to our humanity must take invisible factors into account, not just visible ones. Good theology incorporates new learnings from multiple sources and matures in its “soundness” (i.e. its healthy, life-giving capacities, as the Greek word implies), offering light, life, and love to others. This means developing a sexual theology that accounts for gestational (genetic), presentational (physical), and post-birth (hormonal) development. [4] Bad theology (unsound doctrine) is frozen in a past that is no longer valid (and wrongly said to be definitive), and was not, in fact, affirmed by the first Christians. [5] Such contemporary unsound doctrine produces erroneous beliefs that can be means for harming others. Transgender sports-ban bills are only one example.

[1] This is a pivotal passage in the Wesleyan theology of sanctification, applied variously to life. With respect to sexuality, it shows us that the invisible and the visible combine to define what it means to be human.

[2] The Lexington-Herald Leader, 2/17/22. Florida passed a similar bill last June. And eighteen other states have enacted them as well, You can track legislative actions with respect to LGBTQ+ people at the Freedom for all Americans website. This group offers free emailed updates of political activity and other things that relate to the wellbeing of all people.

[3] The refusal to deal with the invisible aspects of of our humanity is being further deformed by another false allegation by fundamentalists–that a progressive inclusion of invisible (non-body) dimensions in sexual theology makes it Gnostic. This is a topic outside the focus of this post, but one that makes fundamentalist obscurantism even worse.

[4] This is a simplified summary of our human development, intended to show the invisible/visible dynamics in play over time to make us who we are. On my Oboedire website and in my book, ‘Holy Love’ I offer resources for exploring this in detail.

[5] As I have shown elsewhere in more detail, Jesus himself affirmed transgender people (eunuchs) in Matthew 19:12, further confirming God’s affirmation of them in Isaiah 56:3-5.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 43 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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