This is part one of a series of contemplations on The Becoming Christ. These are meant as rough drafts and any corrections, criticisms, and otherwise sound advice is more than appreciated. Especailly since I wrote this rather quickly. ;)
“It might be interesting to speculate upon the probable length of a ‘depatriarchalized Bible’. Perhaps there would be enough salvageable material to comprise an interesting pamphlet.” Mary Daly
B------ had called me to tell me that she had been in Galveston, Texas, and that on her way back to Norman, Oklahoma, she’d planned to make a stop in my town to have lunch. I was Sixteen or Seventeen at the time. I had met B----- through a mutual friend, and we just kind of connected. We lived in 90 miles away from each other, so we only got to see one another when one of us were traveling.
I had been sharing my faith with her. She had bought a study Bible, and we’d been corresponding on it for a few weeks. But on this day when I met B----- for lunch, she was noticeably upset. She opened the student Bible that she had to an old testament passage that read, “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them,”(Leviticus 20:13), then with tears in her eyes, she read the corresponding commentary the student Bible provided on this passage. That commentary stated that homosexuality was a sin, and if your friend is a homosexual, they are probably not a Christian.
B-----, of course, was gay, and I had never really considered that an issue until she read that commentary to me. I still remember that my only response was that she should ignore the Old Testament and just read what Jesus said. A very weak and unconvincing suggestion on my part, and I don’t think B----- has read the Bible since.
I think of this moment almost every time I contemplate the tension between Jesus, the Bible, the Church, and my modern context. You see, what I did then as a seventeen-year-old is the same move many Christians use today. I shrugged off a clear Biblical passage, the authority of the commentary, and appealed to a Jesus that is a catch-all lovey buddy.
It was my first real exegetical challenge. And I, like most Christians, simply ignored it. And I was happy to do so. B----- and I remained friends, and it was a long time before I was once again confronted with the difficulties of the Bible on my modern context.
In my early twenties, Gigiantor was the next challenge. Gigiantor, an admirable man who identifies as I do as a progressive okie redneck, once told me that if he were a woman, he would never be a Christian. The Bible, he said, is very anti-women. In the Bible, women are property, slaves, substandard to men, and victimized throughout. He was the first person to point out that the crime of rape in the Old Testament is one of property. That is to say, that in the Old Testament, if you raped a women, you had to pay her father money.
He was the first to point out that God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son, but God did nothing to save Jephthah’s daughter from being sacrificed (Judges 11:30-39).
Again, I tried to settle the matter by thinking of Christ as some sort of New Love. And that Christianity from His incarnation forward had been much nicer to women. To which Gigiantor asked, if Jesus cared about women, why did his Church mistreat women for 2000? Why weren’t women allowed to interpreter the Bible until the 19th century? Now, I know some of you who are reading this might object to this caricature the Church’s last 2000 years, but it was Christians who in AD 415:
...kidnapped Hypatia on her way home and took her to the "Church called Caesareum. They then completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles." ...while she was still alive, Hypatia's flesh was torn off using oyster shells (tiles; the Greek word is ostrakois, which literally means "oystershells" but the word was also used for brick tiles on the roofs of houses and for pottery sherds). Afterward, the men proceeded to mutilate her and, finally, burn her limbs.
My current knowledge of what patriarchy means and what has transpired throughout Christian history makes me very sympathetic to feminists objections to the Bible as a sacred text.
This last Christmas, I was chatting with a young female missionary (19 or 20 I think). She was in Samoa with YWAM, and she had been installing a water-well, I think. I asked her what Samoa gender roles were like. I had never read anything about Samoa, and I wondered if Samoa had more than the two traditional gender roles that most Americans assume. The young lady told me that Samoan culture had male, female, and something they call Fa'afafine.
A Fa'afafine is a man who takes on the gender role of a female. So, I asked her, do Samoans object to this, and what do Samoans thinks causes a male to take on the gender role of a female? The young lady told me that if a family has too many males and not enough females, they will make a male become a Fa'afafine so that there is someone who can help out with the house work. She wasn’t sure if Samoans regarded it as a sin or not and the conversation ended rather quickly afterward.
Since that conversation, I have looked into Fa'afafine. Samoa celebrates this third gender (they don’t make anyone become a Fa’afafine according to what I’ve read). In fact, up until recently, Fa'afafine have not had the same body insecurities as many American transgender people feel. Only recently, have Fa'afafine started to consider sex-reassignment surgeries and this appears to be an unfortunate side effect of American culture’s recent influence there.
Regardless, I stopped thinking of gender as useful demarcation a long time ago. Many different cultures throughout history have recognized more than two genders, and I find myself considering gender a spectrum. I also find that what stands out to me the most as differentiation one person from another is not whether they have a penis or vagina, but personality traits and interests that, as far as I can tell, can be fostered by a person regardless of anatomy. On these points though, I know many will disagree with me.
It’s just that, as Christians, we talk of the new man replacing our old man as a inner reality that isn’t always evident. It’s an internal reality that we testify about to others, and then we live it out as a prophetic reality in the here and now. Why wouldn’t we, then, believe the transgender person who wants to testify about their inner gender and then live it out as a prophetic reality in the here and now. This seems odd to me.
So what am I to do? I do not believe to be queer is to be in sin, but the Bible certainly states that, at the very least, queer acts are a sin. I see the Bible as unapologetically and harmfully patriarchal (including Jesus). And I believe that transgender people deserve as equal a status as any other gender role even though the Bible clearly states specific gender roles for male creatures and female creatures.
In the next part, I will outline the specific tension I am faced with as I try and reconcile the Bible and the Christ of the past with this my present age.