This note is from my response to a question Tony Jones, among my favorite authors/bloggers/theologians from within Emergence Christianity, asked on his blog in August 2009. Tony has dedicated a significant portion of his blogging recently to the issue of LGBT and intersex issues and the Church. His question was mainly addressed to persons within the anti-"other" fundamentalist/literalist Christian camp, and, as he expected, he got much of the same old thoughtless, loveless jargon. So, I couldn't resist putting in my own answer. Here's the link to Tony's Blog: http://blog.beliefnet.com/tonyjones/2009/08/more-on-the-complexity-...
According to you (or the Bible), who are [intersex] people allowed to have sex with? Anyone care to venture an answer? (Let me just guess that a lot of sexually active heterosexual Christians will say they should stay celibate...)
Tony, I believe that the reality of the existence of intersex persons is precisely the hinge upon which swings the entire discussion/debate about LGBT persons and their freedom to "be." One is hard-pressed to find any scientific or Biblical support or evidence for what truly makes any particular human being identify as "male" or "female." Intersex persons have potentially both, but perhaps more of one, gender's genitalia, but, at the same time have the chromosomal make-up of the opposite gender, or at least more so. So, which is it that determines the actual gender? The genitalia? Or the chromosomal balance? And, if one is so bold as to attempt to answer this question as being either/or, by what authority? By what credentials are you qualified to say? And, what proof of your decision do you offer?
Further, it is a well-accepted point of agreement across all segments of society and medicine and science and sociology, etc., that the human brain is the single strongest determiner of the vast majority of our human experience. Our brains are where we generally experience life. All sensations - the way we feel, and see, and taste, and hear, and smell the world - are processed, are understood, are experienced in the brain. Even the non-substantial - framing story, point of view, system of belief/religion, love, attraction, romance, happiness, sadness, etc. - experiences of our lives are processed in the brain. Don't most of us say, or, haven't most of us said, when discussing sexuality, that our greatest, most important, strongest, most influential sexual "organ" is the brain? And, not the genitalia?
Much of the most recent good science concerning gender identity is concentrating on new discoveries of what goes on while a baby is forming in the uterus of its mother. Scientists are now finding that the same chromosomal oddities that cause intersex conditions also affect the development of the brain while in the uterus. And, there may even be other factors that also have an affect on brain development while in the uterus. Studies are ongoing as to whether it can be shown, and early results are promising, that the brain development of a fetus may indeed play a significant role in gender identity. As science opens more understanding of this complex issue, I, for one, fully expect to see results that show romantic orientation and identity also may be strongly affected during fetal development.
This all, of course, has to do with the age-old debate among religious persons as to whether this "otherness," whether intersex, transgender, bisexual, gay or lesbian, is a "choice," or "nature?" or "nurture?" I personally believe the answer lies in "both/and" rather than "either/or." However, while "nurture" obviously plays a significant role in all human experience, there is increasingly strong evidence that sexual/gender "otherness" also has substantial causation in "nature."
I would submit that religious fundamentalists must substantially demonstrate God's intent in creating intersex people, which we know for a fact exist and had no "choice" as to whether they would be intersex, and that God's plan for such persons is that they must "choose" a particular gender, based upon which genitalia are most prominent? I guess? and that they must also only be romantically/sexually involved with a person of the opposite gender from their own "chosen" or "assumed" gender, or they must live a life of celibacy. Since religious fundamentalists only have scripture to rely upon as a source for such substantiation, and since literal interpretation is what fundamentalism requires, I look forward with great anticipation to the day when such substantial demonstration can be accomplished.
Of course, that wait will be eternal because such substantiation cannot be accomplished. Fundamentalists base their response to this issue upon the insistence that "otherness," in this respect, is "choice." However, they are unable to claim "choice" when it comes to intersex persons. So, does God condemn intersex persons who by virtue of the nature of their ambiguous gender seem able to "choose" for themselves whether they are male or female and then, given that "choice," seem able to "choose" which gender they will love? Nowhere does scripture speak to this issue.
I then further submit that our response to LGBT persons must be the same as our response to intersex persons. The truth is that we honestly know so little about the power of the brain, and how the brain develops during fetal development. The incidence of intersex, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons is far too common to assume that so many persons are simply being silly and selfish.
The answer to your question, Tony, in my mind is that love, in all of its aspects and splendor, must be responsibly experienced and lived out fully and freely by all persons, regardless of which "otherness" is realized, and that God blesses our responsible, respectful, mutually-fulfilling and authentic relationships.
Rev. Gregory M. McCaw