I don’t like being political. When my sister and dad get into their debates that somehow always circle back to the subject of “yay-or-nay Trump”, I prefer to remain silent.
“Don’t you have an opinion?” my sis once asked me, frustrated when I hadn’t backed her up during an episode concerning women’s rights.
I do. I just think that wisdom is knowing when to speak, and when to be silent. It is also a nuanced view embodying both grace and truth, because people draw conclusions about the church – and thus, Jesus – from the words we speak, especially in a realm so public as the political.
But, this week, the intersection of faith and politics, especially pertaining to the gender issue, kept on appearing in my field of vision.
First of all, my church has been going through a sermon series entitled “Sextember”, where our pastor has covered topics from gender dysphoria to porn. Then, this past Wednesday, I had my first real conversation with the transgender earring-maker who hangs out at our art cafe. She showed me the belt she was decorating with metal studs; I learnt her name was Sabrina.
Next was the podcast episode “The Transgender Debate” by the Village Church I listened to on Thursday, having just subscribed to it for insights on how the church should relate to culture.
Last night, I had my first deep conversation with my roommate. It started with talking about her best friend from high school.
“He’s gay,” she stated, then paused, “Yeah, what do you think about gays?”
And in the next five minutes, I had to formulate my stance as she took her first peek into my spiritual life through the lens of the gender issue.
I don’t think I’m the only millennial who has had to deliver a snack-sized bite of Christianity via the packaging of how homosexuality intersects with it.
But when the topic comes up, we are overwhelmed, afraid to step on toes. So, we mumble a few words of how Jesus said to love everyone, and quickly shuffle out of the arena before we get attacked.
The truth, however, is that the world is drawing conclusions about Jesus from either the loud judgmental voices or the equally-loud silence.
It isn’t just the pastors who need to work out what they think and deliver it with grace and truth, but also us, because we are the church.
And sharing the gospel today isn’t as much about laying out a five-point proof for the existence of God as it is about answering the culturally-relevant questions that are on people’s minds.
So, I’m going to try. I don’t have all the answers, but I have worked through some of how I think the gospel can be revealed through gender, and I hope it’s a starting point for you to work through some of your own answers:
1. On both sides, we need to stop with the generalisations.
When I was doing research on autism before leaving for China, one phrase I kept on coming across was:
When you’ve met one autistic child, you’ve met one autistic child.
Meaning you can’t draw conclusions about autistic children from the behaviour of one.
I believe why debates on homosexuality, or abortion, or racism or really any political issue, become so vitriolic is because in our minds, we draw lines and put people into boxes.
When I first came to Canada, I was slotted into (or perhaps slotted myself into) the “nerdy Asian immigrant” box, which means you sit at this table at the cafeteria and you play cards.
I hated it, because there was so much more to my identity than being Asian. But, it was how people saw me and the reference from which they drew conclusions on what I was like.
When we lump people together (we say the word ‘gay’, and all these other connotations enter our mind), we ignore the unique individuality with which God created each of us.
It goes both ways – we don’t like it when people automatically think we’re ‘hateful and anti-gay’ because we wear the label ‘Christian’.
iO Tillett Wright gave an intriguing TED talk entitled “50 shades of Gay”, describing through photos the diversity of the gay community. They are not all the same. They don’t want to fit into your box, so they fight back.
But don’t we all fight against being boxed into a certain identity with its stereotypes. We are human, with all its complexity. With nuances indivisible with the colors black and white.
So, that was how I began answering the question from my roommate:
Well, I think the problem is when we start to group people and divide sides. Each person has a different story and it’s really more about getting to know individual people, their narrative, than making a snap-judgment about a group of people.
2. Understand the rationale behind the pushback against the biblical institution of traditional marriage
First, know that on all demographic measures, the support for same-sex marriage is undoubtedly rising according to a Pew survey in June 2017. This has made the faith community anxious, unsure of what we believe anymore.
The begging question, though, is what is driving this drastic attitude change?
I present three possible reasons, and with them, three possible responses that address each one of them, while also pointing to the gospel.
a) this generation believes that how we feel determines what is true
Be whatever you want. Do whatever you want to do. Don’t let anyone stop you.
That is the recurring message for millenials who are taught to believe that the world is our oyster.
As opposed to generations before, who followed social obligations like women staying at home to raise children, we are now liberated to follow our heart and destroy anything that gets in the way of that.
Freedom is championed as the ultimate good. Women’s Rights. Gay Rights. Black Rights. Animal Rights. And the list goes on – of movements that desire to bring freedom, a biblical principle to begin with (see 2 Cor 3:17)
Underlying this way of thinking, however, is the assumption that our desires are what is true: if I feel I am male, then that is what is true. I am male.
b) this generation is repulsed by “wrongness” and the idea of sin
The taboo sentence is ‘homosexuality is a sin’. People who are purposely trying to trip you up will get you to admit to it; the rest of the conversation you’ll be living that unforgivable sentence down.
So, why is it so taboo?
Well, first of all, the word ‘sin’ carries with it the image of a burning hell, one that is seared into the mind of the listener for the rest of the conversation.
We are idealists who believe in the inherent goodness of everyone, and the prospect that someone is “wrong” or “imperfect” because of their gender choice is absurd.
This is why culture today is so against the idea of religion; the gospel is precedented on the notion that humans are imperfect.
Yet, we can once again question this assumption:
Do you believe that the world is imperfect? If so, then what, or who, decides what is perfect and imperfect, right and wrong? Is there a way the world should be?
c) this generation is struggling to bridge the discontinuity of the physical from the emotional from the spiritual
This is the first time in history that sex has been separated from gender; sex being the biology and gender being perceived mental concept or awareness.
Gender dysphoria is the most extreme example of the conflict between what one physically is, and what one mentally conceives of him/herself. But, of course, there are shades in-between.
And on a small-scale, everyone has experienced what it’s like to stand in front of a mirror and wish you were two pant sizes smaller. It’s the gap between what you currently physically are, and the self you conceive of mentally.
When these two concepts don’t line up – in extreme forms – it’s called anorexia.
In a controversial statement, Paul McHugh, a renowned psychiatrist at John Hopkins argued that we incorrectly assume we can fix this conflict by simply altering the physical via transgender surgeries. But just like how liposuction doesn’t fix an anorexic, a surgery won’t fix the deeper problem either.
One day, we will not experience this discontinuity, because all things will be renewed and whole. But yes, in the meantime, we are not whole.
Yet, I believe this aching for the renewed world, for the physical to be reconciled with the emotional and spiritual, is a yearning for the gospel. Although we are all flocking to yoga and meditation to find that place of union between the three realms.
3. OK, so what’s the response?
Man, sorry it took so long. I guess I do have a lot of thoughts.
Well, in direct response to the three points above, I have the following response:
a) Don’t be afraid to say plainly where your source of truth comes from.
People say that what you feel determines truth – but why?
As a Christian, I believe truth is revealed through creation, the Word and the person of Jesus.
Part of that truth is that how things were created is how it was meant to be, as God intended. And because God is the source of goodness, how He created it is good too.
And to a certain extent, culture does believe in the inherent goodness of nature (hence, the whole biomimetics course I’m currently taking, where we look at nature to inspire engineering solutions haha…)
He created man and woman in a marriage relationship.
And that it’s the way it’s supposed to be, according to God who is our source of what is true.
b) Acknowledge, but celebrate, the imperfections in everybody, because it points to redemption.
People don’t like the idea of sin, but point out that the world isn’t as it should be. We all have disorder desires. We aren’t always what we want to be.
But that’s what makes us human. There is a deeper, gnawing need for redemption. Cue: enter Jesus 🙂
c) Hear the narrative, and embody the gospel by walking with people in the hurt to find true identity, community and belonging
Jesus bridged the discontinuity between the physical and immaterial by putting on flesh to walk among us, hear people’s stories, and touch skin.
I love that about Him.
And I think if anything, this is a call for us to embody Jesus to those who are searching for identity and a place where their physical, emotional and spiritual selves can be one.
When I was in China, I had a couple of hard, but raw, conversations with a friend who was struggling with reconciling faith and homosexual desires.
Love is continuing to show up to those conversations, and praying for the wisdom to speak grace and truth into the incongruity of a world groaning for the Savior to come.
I’m sorry if that was long and heavy. I don’t usually post about political subjects, although I do think there is an important intersection of the church and politics. I’m still working through a lot of questions.
But I’m glad we can be sure about the gospel, and I think at the end of the day, if we can communicate that effectively, it’s infinitely more valuable than convincing someone of your viewpoint on gender issues.
The enemy tries to instill fear, when in fact, the debate is a chance for church to build bridges for the gospel. Like the conversation I had last night.
So, I’m grateful, and I pray that He will show you and me how to do it well.