Gender fluidity and God

I wrote this initially as a breakout of Genesis 1:27. It began as notes from which I was going to post a small video, and it wound up growing legs of its own. Shortly after that, it ran off into the sunset flailing wildly about in my Google Docs until it became the post you are reading now.

Without some context, this may seem very Star Wars, where it starts at Chapter IV, a New Hope. So if you're reading this, I'll link the original video and comments right here. In the previous discussion on video, I dove into the opening section of the passage, breaking down the first mention of God creating. I have to wonder how many commenters watched the video I posted or simply didn't read beyond the words "gender fluidity." If you're reading this, I implore you to watch the whole thing.

I ask this because I caught a lot of heat for that post for merely posing a question. The idea was to get thoughtful feedback on the first section as I understood it from the translation resources I have available to me. What I got instead stopped just short of pitchforks, cries of heresy, and the piling up of wood below a stake. Some of that toned down, but not all of it.

My being only a high school graduate doesn't help matters. People tend to believe they know more than you do when they have more schooling than you do, regardless of the subject matter. I found it helpful to remember that a prominent Methodist-based university was founded by a man who had no formal higher education. That certainly helped ... along with a healthy dose of humility because, well, I'm only a high school graduate. What on earth do I know about anything, am I right?

I began by stating that I was sectioning out the verse and taking it a bit at a time. That was called out because I didn't explain the entire verse all at once. That devolved further because I did not eventually arrive at a conclusion that validated the commenter's suppositions. I did my best to explain that, as a pastor, you sometimes break thoughts and concepts out in chunks. From there, you assemble the whole and draw a conclusion. To me, it's an analytical methodology that has born much fruit. Reading books like the Expositor's Greek Testament or any other significant Bible commentary will show you this is commonplace, acceptable practice.

The next complaint was going back to the original Hebrew text. I provided examples as to why the deep linguistic dive was necessary compared to just reading the English translation (which one?). To be honest, I still don't know if it made sense to the person posting, but they can't say I didn't try.

To be fair, my interpretations may very well be wrong and I am absolutely humble enough to admit that I am not N.T. Wright (high school education only, remember?). If you've read to this point and are willing to dismiss my commentary on those grounds, I'm completely fine with that. Bear in mind, however, that's why I do my due diligence asking other, more experienced and educated pastors their thoughts and conclusions. In light of all this, I believe this interpretation holds water. Your mileage may vary.

The reason I feel it necessary to detail all of this is that it points out the massively polarizing effect gender fluidity has on discussions. To be sure, this post may not receive any kinder responses from some. But I'm posting it nonetheless because if I don't, something deep in my gut will not go away.

Without further adieu, here's part 2. (Admit it, you sang that).


Plows, Furrows, and Hebrew

As translated in the NRSV, we read, "In the image of God, He created them." The Hebrew for this is "Besalem Elohim bara otow." Here's where we encounter our first issue because both the NIV and NRSV use the pronoun "them," but the KJV uses the pronoun "him." So you're wondering, which is it?

Actually, you're probably wondering why you should care about this at all. Stick with me, though. The difference between "them" and "him" is crucial. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance links "otow" to the word "eth" which appears 846 times in the Bible. That's a lot, right? When we look at one example that is right around the corner from Genesis 1:27, we find 2:15 where the word is rendered as "him." Them? Him? Who cares?

You should that's who.

Genesis was written by a man at the comparative dawn of Hebrew history. This was an extremely patriarchal time in their culture. As such, it's essential to look at the difference in pronouns.

Both the NIV and NRSV, to varying degrees, use gender-normative pronouns. That's not a bad thing, by the way. Still, when you look into a resource like Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, you find that the pronoun should refer to the subject of the original verb. The original verb is "created," and the subject of that original verb was "ha'adam" or Adam - the man. The reason that difference is significant is that in Benner's Ancient Hebrew Lexicon, you find the pronoun should read as a "plow point."

Now, what could be more "him" than the rather phallic symbol of a plow point? This is much more important when you look at the third section of creation in this verse, which is "zakar uneqebah bara otam"... Male and female He created them." This pronoun, "otam" refers to the plural subject of "zakar uneqebah." "Zakar" means, "the one in the family that remembers and passes down family history through story and family name." In a patriarchal society, that's the man who passes along the family name. "Uneqebah" will be broken out in a moment, but combined, this is why "otam" is translated as "they."

Long way around the barn, but we're almost there. 

"Otam" and "otow" are two different pronouns from the same root. "Otow" is the plow. So you need a patch of land for a plow to have some purpose for being, right? Enter the word "uneqebah," which is translated as "female." That word in Hebrew means either "pierce" or "hole." Now you know what the plow was for, right? Because if I have to spell this out further for you, I'm afraid we might go past the boundaries of good taste in polite company.

So here we have a plow, and a corresponding target to pierce. All about genders, right?

But what about those who actually have both sexes? As I asked in the ensuing mess from the original post, who made them? Wouldn't they be here if God made them? "Plow and hole, and self-plowing hole he made them" is how this should read, especially if we're talking about physical genders alone. This omission is the first clue that we're not talking about genders.

Still, many believe this is speaking strictly of genders, so let's travel down that rabbit hole. In the past, hermaphrodites have been called an abomination based on this passage. In modern times, most of the world accepts that they're not. We know that there are species in nature that have both sexual reproductive organs. In fact, some species can shift their gender as needed to match the procreative need. Natural-planned gender fluidity is part of God's toolbox.

The conclusion is that hermaphrodites are not an abomination. They were made just as fearfully and wonderfully as single-gender humans by a loving creator.

More than skin deep

Now that we're done in that rabbit hole, we get to the meat and potatoes. The real problem here is that I have to go to this length at all to explain it. Clarifying that this isn't about penises and vaginas should be something we should openly want to consider. We were made for interlocking like a plow and a hole; that much is true. But to think that the Imago Dei in which we were created for interlocking is strictly about genitalia is to really miss the mark. And two other critical parts of what we are.

First off, God doesn't have a penis, nor does He have a vagina. We use masculine pronouns because of our patriarchal origins. Still, we should use gender-fluid pronouns instead if we want to be accurate. It tends to freak some people out when you do that, though, so I'll just keep using masculine pronouns.

If you don't believe God lacks flesh and blood reproductive genitalia, just go up to His throne and ask Him to show you what it says on His driver's license. I doubt that will work out for you; personally, I think that a being not bound by flesh has zero need for genitalia. The only reason we have it is that it's necessary for our little training exercise we call life on earth.

Think about it. He's a being who can create something from absolute nothingness, which is what the word used for "create" means in Hebrew. That word is never used with anyone else but God. Seeing as God can do that, why does He need anyone or anything else?

Second, we get gender-focused on the "plow" and the "pierce" without taking into account the variety of actual genders. That construct is only mentioned once here, and we fail to focus on the words "He created," which is said not once, not twice, but three different times. That is what we in the business call "comparative importance."

Kidding. I don't know if people in some business call it that or not. But it is vital to compare the mentions of creating. 

By my count, we should talk about the majestic miracle of God's creation three times more than we do the human sexuality we inaccurately zero in on. Yet, we keep having to have this discussion like we're the kid in the movie, "Kindergarten Cop." You know, the one who has to continually remind Arnold that boys have penises and girls have vaginas.

We DO realize sexual organs are temporary, right? Hard as it is to fathom, one day, there will be no use for them in our lives. Eventually, we will get new bodies that can withstand being in the presence of God Almighty? The continual physical-only focus makes me believe we really don't understand that.

So let's focus on God for a bit, OK? We Christians like to talk about people being the image-bearer of God, so what does that mean? I broke out for you earlier that definition, but let's look at God in action. Many refer to God as "The Father." I mentioned that already, but it bears repeating that we have a history of looking at God as a masculine man. But He's not only that.

He's a warrior, but He's also a nurturer. To our stereotyped roles, He's a Dad when He breaks shields and shatters spears. You can hear the Dad in Him when he says, "I've had enough, all of you stop your bickering and recognize who the real authority in this joint is." (Psalm 46)

But He's also Mom, gently loving Israel back to life like the dew on a lily, talking about his fragrance and beauty. (Hosea 14)

God is vastly more complicated than any of us give Him credit for, and so is Jesus.

The same guy who flipped tables over in the temple also wanted to be Mother Hen to Jerusalem and cried about the rejection he felt.


Defining Gender Fluidity

The Oxford Online Dictionary defines gender fluidity as someone "who does not identify themselves as having a fixed gender."

Guess who doesn't identify as having a fixed gender? God. One second, God is like a lion or a leopard to the people, then He's the nurturing dew. Believe it or not, by definition, God is gender-fluid.

What I just said is going to get me a lot of hate, and I realize that. I'm OK with it. God knows no singular gender identification. He shows the gender qualities of both our stereotypical male or female at any given time, whenever it suits His will. You can call what I just said heretical or apostasy all you want, but it's backed up in scripture, and it is accurate.

The problem stems from marginalizing societal perceptions that run quite deep. I remember growing up as a kid and listening to young boys calling other boys sissies. In fact, there was this one time I recall a couple kids getting into a fight and one of the boys using a pretty good snap kick that landed hard on his opponent's thigh. Someone in the crowd shouted, "Hey, only sissies kick!"

They may have believed that only sissies kick, but if you're allergic to bloody noses, a good kick is a solid choice.

Later on in life, we learned to marginalize lesbians as "butch" and made fun of their penchant for being manly and wearing their hair short and wearing flannel. Societal norms said women should be feminine and not masculine, and men should be masculine and not feminine. Let the marginalization of those on the periphery of that statement commence. It's not tough to trace this issue. This was patriarchically birthed in the belief God made us that way when Moses wrote of that problematic plow and a hole in the 27th verse of the first chapter of Genesis.

But He didn't make us that way at all. He made some boys soft and some girls tough. Some people are broken in ways that make them identify with different gender roles because they need to protect themselves. They wear flannel like armor and crop their hair close because they don't want to be targeted.

Or perhaps they just rock that look. I'm not into pigeon-holing anyone, so why don't you ask the butch ones their reasons directly?

Here's the thing. I can sew my own clothes, I'm pretty handy with a needle and thread and a sewing machine. That earned me some critical comments when I was young about being girly. These days I can also make a holster. I made the chaps and the chinks I wear riding my horses, and the cross-draw black powder pistol rig I made for myself is one of the more attention-getting pieces I own.

God made some of us with more masculinity than others, and they just so happen to have vaginas. God made some of us more feminine than others, and it just so happens they have penises. They refuse to say they are male or female, and I, for one, am OK with that. They live on a gender basis with no bias, which allows them to go from the necessity of being more hard-edged to more soft-edged whenever the need arises. And ain't that beautiful?


A Creeptastic Crusade

Some folks have their hearts set on roping the sexuality of everyone on the planet into an unhealthy categorization spiral. It looks like, "God loves you, or God hates you based on whether or not you agree with me. Especially when we talk about your sex organs, which I just so happen to enjoy doing more often than you might feel comfortable with. And by the way, even though it's your sexual organs and your relationship with God, I'll be the judge of whether or not you're using them the way they should be used, and relating to God in the way you should be relating to God."

Seriously, they won't give that crusade a rest.

For whatever reason, these folks fixate on the penises and vaginas of the marginalized and then make the lives of these people a living hell.

You can't help but wonder what is in their own background that makes them so interested in the plumbing concerns of another human being. Are they really trying to overcome their personal issues by making other people overcome those issues for them? Didn't Jesus mention something about "Twice the sons of hell" that aptly describes that?

The whole intensive focus is really creepy and kind of worrisome if you ask me.

They feel someone can indeed have life and have it more abundantly. But there's a sharp deviation where they will only allow that if those people don't dare step out of a narrow scope. The rub is that's biblically accurate up to a point. It ceases to be valid when that scope has been approved and sanctified by them, instead of leaving that scope to Jesus and God.

Who are they, other than a group lead mostly by men who believe they are the only ones that can define gender roles? Men who feel they have cornered the market on controlling the thoughts of God almighty - who has no gender and accepts no higher authority, by the way.

On top of that, they still think they're allowed to assign God a gender, too. And man, oh, man. They get pretty tore up when you call God a She. For the record, calling God a She or a Mother is not new. It's been part of mainstream orthodox Christianity for quite some time. However, it made the patriarchy a bit nervous, so it fell out of favor.

The real tragedy here is that there is something about penises and vaginas of other people that make these folk forget about the heart of the marginalized. That's what's at stake here and what we should be paying attention to. Not because I think so, but because that is where God's focus is.

Look, we were made in the complete image of God. Nowhere in the Bible does God specify His physical nature because He doesn't have one. Instead, he embraces whatever the situation calls for. And perhaps we should follow suit.


The Embrace

We should embrace the softer side of our characters, and we should not shame effeminate men and masculine women. Maybe if we'd have adopted that outlook that a long time ago, the whole situation wouldn't have devolved into such a hellish mess of harming and suicide. Perhaps unity would have been achieved. You know, like Psalm 133 tells us that God loves so much among His people.  
If your be-all and end-all definition of gender is based on that passage in Genesis 1:27, then I see it like this. People who are gender fluid might be the only ones who are actually living in the image of a non-gender identifying, gender-fluid God.


What if it's a test?

The fact that this whole thing has boiled over brings me to one more point. If you've read this far, and God bless you for sticking around, here it is. What if God put all this into play to see if we would seek to reconcile in love like He gave us in the example of Jesus Christ? Or if we'd alienate one another like a bunch of self-righteous ... well ... tools?

Here's the thing. We're putting so much emphasis on physical gender when Paul actually challenged us to place more emphasis on our spiritual nature. Galatians 3:27-28 tells us, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

How can we read that and then throw it out the window so quickly unless there is some preconceived notion we refuse to get past.

I'll admit we're free to refuse to see God's sacred nature in everyone because of what the outside looks like. But in doing so, we deny the basic tenet founded in the first part of Genesis 2:27, namely that everyone is made in the image of God. Blinding ourselves to that because of patriarchal gender-prejudice doesn't make it false any more than sticking one's head in the sands of presupposition will make it true.

We must wrestle with how God has treated people concerning willful gender denial in the past. This is spoken of by no one less than Jesus himself, who acknowledges that some people have no gender. He talked about this in a direct relationship with his teaching on marriage. "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can." Matthew 19:2

I guess some folks just can't accept what Jesus said, as much as they say they can.


The Heart of the Matter

What all of this comes down to is pretty simple. It doesn't matter what gender stereotype we dress like, who we identify as. Nor does it matter whether we reassign genders of our own volition or have been reassigned by someone else entirely outside of our informed consent. This is all circumcision of the flesh, as Paul put it, and not circumcision of the heart as described in Romans 2:29. Paul didn't manifest this focus out of thin air, he brought it out of Leviticus 26:41, Deuteronomy 10:16 (circumcise the foreskin of your heart), Jeremiah 4:4 (remove the foreskin of your hearts). If you want to place yourself under one law, you put yourself under every law, according to Paul. What's worse, you are telling Jesus Christ that his sacrifice is absolutely useless. By all means, if that is your stance, stick by it. But be prepared to own the unpleasant rejoinder that comes with it from God.

As for my personal belief? I want to do my best to look at humans as God looks at them, by their heart (1 Samuel 16:7). I stick with the grace offered me on the cross as a man oppressed by his own sin in need of a savior, because that reconciles me with God. That gets me to the relationship He wanted with me all along.

In light of that, I will not re-enslave others, nor will I suffer them to be re-enslaved, nor will I be quiet about that re-enslavement. Ever. I'm going with Jesus to the marginalized, whether you're with me or not, whether you like it or not.