It may be the height of irony for a single woman with no professional ministry credentials to pretend that she has anything significant to say regarding such weighty issues as identity, sexuality, and theology. Despite my admitted lack of qualifications and my typical abhorrence of conflict — or maybe, because of all this — I have some questions to raise.
It seems to me that the very issue of humanity’s creation in the image of God as male and female, and the fundamental nature of Christ’s relationship to His Bride, have come under attack with the current cultural upheaval over gender identity and sexuality. This is not merely about us having compassion for individuals, finding oneself, or breaking free from the restraints of antiquated religious mores. Each of these raises a separate conversation, but I believe the fault line runs much deeper.
Namely, if marriage is no longer held sacred as a covenant bond between one man and one woman, then the spiritual reality it was created to reflect can also be called into question. Consider Ephesians 5:32, where Paul wraps up his treatise on marriage with the words, “But I am talking about Christ and the church.” Marriage was instituted by God to reflect the sacrificial, redemptive nature of Jesus’ love for His Bride. Undermining covenant marriage — cheapening it, dismissing it as irrelevant — has a direct effect on the nature of God’s relationship with His people. As the Church allows the enemy to erode the sanctity of marriage in the eyes of the culture, we likewise invite the dismantling of God’s covenant with humanity.
In a similar way, the creation of humankind as male and female, made in the image of God, is at the very core of our identity, both as individuals and for humanity as a whole. Is it any wonder, then, that we are now seeing an attempt to dissolve the essential concept of gender? Though we won’t hear it phrased this way, the raging debate calls into question both what makes us human, and what bearing God’s image has on that identity. If gender is fluid, unstable, a mere human construct, yet another link to divine creation, and thereby accountability, is neatly severed.
I am continually stunned by the church’s weak response toward these mounting attacks against our core principles. A dismissive attitude that downplays their influence is sometimes the best of the lot. Can we be so blind to the damage we are inflicting by our silence? One after another, I am watching those who proclaim Jesus Christ link arms with the gods of cultural relevance, loudly proclaiming, “Tolerance!” “Progress!” and “Freedom from restraint!” as they plunge headlong over the cliff.
Of course, I am rigid, intolerant, unfeeling, and irrelevant, myself. Or at least, those might be the kindest things my detractors could say, if they deign to respond at all. But if we manage to wade through the smokescreen of heightened emotion and heated argument, what might wait at the heart of it all?
The bedrock truth that God is good, perhaps? And that He so LOVED, (an action and identity defined wholly by Himself), that He created. Not merely to possess trophies or accumulate servants to satisfy selfish whims, or even to receive worship. The Lord’s selfless motive in creating humanity was to bless, to give of Himself, to engage in relationship. God so desired creatures with whom He could relate, that He could do nothing less than create them in His very image: male and female, reflecting distinct yet interrelated aspects of His own self. And then, seeing at once that His crowning creation would not be complete solely in relationship to God, He gave them also unto each other. According to God’s perfect plan, these two might become one, just as they in turn could become one with Him, mirroring the way He Himself, though Three, is One.
Please forgive me if I seem to oversimplify matters the church and the world have been debating since time immemorial; that is not my intention. But I do believe the truth of the Gospel is a great deal more simple than we have allowed it to become.
So then, does it matter what the church teaches on theological doctrines such as humanity, the Trinity, and marriage? Or more directly, how individual believers interpret and live out such beliefs? Isn’t it, after all, all about loving Jesus and loving people? I maintain that Christ-centered understandings of identity and sexuality are essential tenets of faith, with direct bearing on what it means to love God and one another. How we understand such definitive matters will continue to have profound impact on the direction of the church, and the surrounding culture, in our day.
With all that I’ve said so far, it might be hard to argue that I have any glimmer of hope for the trajectory of the church at large, but consider this. The more we are confronted with issues of identity and sexuality in our department stores, our neighborhoods, our schools, and our social media accounts, the harder they are to ignore. Both inside and outside the church, people are being shaken out of their complacency. They’re asking profound questions such as, “What does it mean to be human?” and “What does it mean to love?” I believe people are beginning to seek real answers. Not religious platitudes or academic drivel, but raw, solid truth they can grab onto as the world disintegrates around them.
Maybe now more than ever, the true Church has the opportunity to speak words of Life into the chaos around us. Our love, our integrity, our gentleness, our boldness cannot help but set us apart. But the winds of opposition are as strong as they’ve ever been; only those firmly grounded in the Cornerstone will come through the storm.
Will we stand?