It’s no secret that Jesus was often criticized for the scandalous company he kept. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor,” he would say “...but the sick” (Mark 2:17). At the heart of his naysayers’ agitation was the still-popular notion that the world can be neatly divided into two types of people: “generally decent folks” and “reprobates.” Jesus was, of course, being chided for apparently not knowing the difference. But he doesn't at this point rail against his critics' self-righteous presumption (though he certainly does elsewhere). He instead clearly identifies who he came to save. So it's up to us, then, to answer the simple spiritual triage question: Do we see ourselves among the “not too bad” crowd, as the Pharisees did? Perhaps, in our estimation, we're needing a band-aid on our skinned knee, a lollipop, and not much else. Jesus doesn't have time for this sort. He didn't come for skinned knees. Or do we rightly identify with the filthy band of reprobates, deplorables, perverts, hemorrhaging, and hopelessly broken people that Jesus did come to rescue and restore? It’s no use simply paying lip service to the answer we know we should give—the answer we learned in Sunday School. He sees right through our false humility and empty piety. The truth is, we're all tremendously broken. Humanity's universal rebellion, along with the death and decay that follows, comes early on in the redemptive story that God is telling. The cancerous and debilitating effects of the fall permeate every aspect of our being. It's especially helpful to keep this in mind when we're discussing the highly emotionally charged topics of gender and sexuality. Though our brokenness will inevitably manifest in a myriad of different ways, we're all undoubtedly sexually perverse and gender confused individuals who are desperately in need of a Savior
Human beings, both male and female, were created in God's image. The first couple was charged with overseeing creation as his representatives and producing enough multi-generational offspring to eventually fill the whole earth (Not a bad gig). God gifts this man and woman with sex as a sign of their life-long partnership (as two individuals literally and figuratively become “one flesh”), the necessary means by which they could carry out their divine mandate (along with a generous sampling of God's creative power), and an unparalleled source of shared pleasure. They are described as two halves of a whole, with neither being able to fulfill their unique roles apart from the cooperative assistance of the other. We find that the Gospel is also woven into this union: The husband and wife are meant to beautifully illustrate the unbreakable bond between Christ and his Church. This first couple is completely and selflessly vulnerable with each other and unashamed. Of course, as already mentioned, things famously take a turn for the worse when these prototypical image-bearers foolishly reject the Tree of Life in favor of a lie that promises them what they already had from the start. Instead of becoming more like their Creator, they spiral down into chaos. All of creation, including every aspect of the human body and psyche, is in some way corrupted by this tragic event. As a result, most of our initial preferences and proclivities are now in direct rebellion to God's original design (So Lady Gaga is correct in saying we're “born this way,” but we certainly weren't created “this way”).
Forgive the brief detour, but I think we'll need to address a common theological misconception regarding the body and the physical world that further muddies these already culturally clouded waters. Unfortunately, many Christians have unknowingly embraced a very Gnostic understanding of things (i.e. the physical world is irredeemable and meant to be supplanted by a superior spiritual world) that incorrectly sees the physical body as merely incidental to the immortal soul, or simply a vehicle for “who I really am” underneath. This idea that our bodies are something like an afterthought, a disposable accessory for our non-corporeal soul, is completely at odds with the historic, Christian Faith. “God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also,” is what Scripture says (1 Corinthians 6:14). Likewise, Job adds, “after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another” (from Job 19:26-27). A future resurrection (which is, by definition, a physical event) and the eventual restoration of creation is at the heart of the original story (a controversial proposition, to be sure, even in the 1st Century). God loves the physical world and the physical creatures he made to inhabit it. You might remember how he once deemed it all “very good.” The story of the Bible, then, is about how far he'll go to rescue his rebel world, to put it all back to the way he originally intended (so the story can finally proceed in the right direction). Our physical bodies are certainly corrupted by the fall and, as such, are in need of redemption and restoration, but they're also—by God's design—an integral part of who we are as humans. He's intentionally crafted our bodies (along with our specific biological distinctions) with particular care and divine purpose.
I believe it was C.S. Lewis who once made the point that it's the things with the greatest initial potential for good which, when corrupted, do the greatest harm. He explains how a cow, for example, has very little capacity to do much good or bad; but a human, on the other hand, can do both to greater extent; and an angelic being, gifted with extreme power and insight, certainly even more so. Likewise, the immense God-given potential of sex; as a source of life, pleasure, oneness and intimacy, and a beautiful metaphor of the fellowship we can have with our Maker; can inversely, when corrupted by human rebellion, become a boundless source of exploitation, oppression, violence, isolation (ironically), obsession, and numerous other profoundly destructive and dehumanizing attitudes and behaviors.
It's not enough to assume that God's plan for sexuality is automatically satisfied in a life-long monogamous sexual relationship between a man and a woman (although anything less than this would, of course, be falling short of his definition of divinely-sanctioned physical intimacy). And most of our understanding of gender comes from arbitrary cultural constructs (In other words, we can't assume that because our boys love baseball and BB guns and our girls exclusively play with Barbie dolls that we've got it right). He clearly has more in mind. Therefore, humility and biblical accuracy require us to have a more precise understanding of God's intent (and, inversely, a broader definition of sexual perversion and gender confusion) than we currently seem to have. Don't get me wrong, It's appropriate to passionately advocate for the Creator's original good design. But, in doing so, I think we inevitably tend to aggressively harp on the forms of perversion that are most foreign to our own experience (and therefore more offensive to our individual and collective biases) while at the same time overlooking the many harmful deviations with which we more closely identify (contributing to a hypocritical inconsistency in our “moral outrage” and the development of a pharisaical “us” and “them” perspective). Same-sex sexuality, for example, is a clear deviation from God's plan, but, then, so is the more garden variety human tendency toward voyeurism (and a multi-billion dollar porn industry has resulted from the decisively greater prevalence of the latter perversion). Only we usually don't boycott, picket, or even recognize voyeurism as a perversion of God's plan for human sexuality (particularly in the more subtle examples of voyeuristic themed marketing and entertainment that regularly invite us to objectify people, especially women, in exchange for our attention as they pitch us some “new-and-improved” toothpaste, sitcom, or charbroiled burger). At the darker end of the same swamp, millions of people—mostly girls and women—are enslaved (psychologically and physically), trafficked, and raped in an ongoing effort to meet the insatiable demand of ravenous voyeurs, who have convinced themselves that this perverse arrangement they have with the human commodity on the other side of their screen is both harmless and equitable.
We could certainly spend a lot of time debating the various degrees of perversion (i.e. how far off from God's original design is each behavior, orientation, and so forth, in relationship to the others), but this doesn't seem very productive. I imagine our “unbiased” analysis would largely be compromised by our own particular taste for sin anyway. While I think we'd be right to conclude that a pedophile or a sadistic rapist's sexual brokenness is manifesting in a more dangerous way than, say, a necrophiliac (to use some extreme examples); How can we say that a typical lesbian, for instance, is definitively more perverse than a heterosexual “playboy,” like Hugh Hefner (or the millions of men who envy him)? The one who views sex as a conquest and people as trophies is blasphemously (and probably unwittingly) invoking the divinely crafted, physical language of life-long covenant—again and again and again—flippantly with each subsequent partner (1 Corinthians 6:15-16). Just because a particular form of sexual perversion is more prevalent than another does not mean that it is somehow more “natural” (in terms of God's original intent for humans). Does a transgendered or transvestite image-bearer have more or less confusion about God's plan for gender than a traditionally masculine man with misogynistic tendencies (especially in light of our unconventional Founder who scandalously discipled women and elevated them to previously unheard of places of honor and influence within his upside down kingdom)? Have we done a better job of raising our all-American boy, who conforms to traditional male expectations (including a learned apathy that was produced by systemic societal shaming of God-given, yet somehow “unmanly,” attributes like gentleness, compassion, and emotional vulnerability), than the neighbor did raising his son who now wants to wear dresses and be called by a conventionally female name? And is a monogamous, married, heterosexual couple whose twisted perspective of sex is rooted in pride, power, punishment, or currency more closely aligned with the Creator's intent than, say, a polyamorous trio? Rather than arguing about who is the most deviant, it seems we should concede that we're all to some extent filthy and instead focus our energy on the more pressing question of how to get clean.
In regard to the so called “culture wars,” in which conservative Christians seem to be constantly and passionately engaged, we’re regularly picking the wrong battles (holiday coffee cups, restroom access, and baked goods) and employing the wrong tactics once the ridiculous battle lines have been drawn. And the Christian celebrity speakers, musicians, and denominations that are “reinterpreting” their biblical understanding of brokenness, despite their best intentions, are equally unhelpful (not to mention brazen beyond words, considering the stern warning Jesus gave to a 1st Century church that allowed sexual sin to continue in their midst unchallenged—Revelation 2:20-23). In short, I believe the unattended brokenness within the Family of God is causing far more damage than the brokenness without. The sexual immorality, high rates of divorce, and addiction to pornography running rampant within the American Church, even among our shepherds and teachers, is nothing short of tragic. As Peter says, “it is time for judgement to begin with God's household” (1 Peter 4:17a). And Jesus warns that “if the salt loses its saltiness... it is no longer good for anything” (Matthew 5:13). We're called to be a “city on a hill,” a beacon of light amidst the brokenness of Babylon, not a hypocritical pack of political pundits, lobbyists, and picketers. “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” asks Paul. “Are you not to judge those inside?” Rest assured, “God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13a).
Our sexuality and gender, though significant aspects of our being, were never meant to completely define us. It's misguided and idolatrous for us to seek our identity in these things. Sometimes even the church elevates sex and marriage to unhealthy degrees (when, ironically, Jesus lived his whole life here on earth as a single, celibate man—saving himself for the next life, for his true Bride). Paul, who had a high regard for God's plan for sex and marriage, also touted the benefits of serving Jesus as a single person (1 Corinthians 7:8, 32-35). The disciple of Jesus who feels an intense same-sex attraction, as an example, yet denies himself or herself in obedience to God's creative order, has genuine camaraderie with the heterosexual brother or sister who never marries and likewise regularly denies themselves in their pursuit of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:13). Regardless of the nature of our particular brokenness, though, we'll be required to regularly deny ourselves in both large and small ways. Marriage is not, as many think, “the remedy” to our numerous sexual perversions. For many, it will only compound the damage caused by their untended, preexisting wounds and misconceptions. But fortunately we're not, as the naturalist would have us believe, merely “intelligent animals” who are forever bound to our primal instincts. We're made in the image of God, and, in Christ, we no longer have to be slaves to our urges. The freedom that Jesus offers in this arena is truly good news.
As we become more aware of our own sexual brokenness and misconceptions about gender, we'll likely also grow in compassion for our fellow image-bearers, especially toward those whose brokenness may manifest differently than our own. Ultimately, the only thing that separates “perverse reprobates” from “redeemed and in-the-process-of-being-restored followers of Christ” is a willingness to repent and to trust solely in Jesus' counterintuitive method for making us whole again (which is really saying the same thing two different ways). To “repent” is to change our mind, to swallow our pride and agree with God that he's right and we're wrong. It's to abandon our rebellion and to instead, through the power of his Spirit, adopt his kingdom rule over every aspect of our lives. Jesus appropriately describes this process as “dying,” as even daily embracing the instrument of our torturous demise, so that he can paradoxically give us new life, his “abundant life”—real LIFE. And repentance is not a one time event. It's a regular rhythm of the true disciple's everyday existence. If we're going to experience the new life that Jesus offers, then we'll need to turn everything that we have, everything that we are (our hopes and dreams, our identity, ideologies, sexuality, and notions of gender—all of it!) over to him. There's no going forward until we do. Porn addicts, prostitutes, playboys, and pious Christians, alike, must all travel the same humble Road if we're to be healed of our sexual perversion and misconceptions. But if we're willing, he's more than able to deliver.
“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
“And that is what some of you were.”
“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9b-11).