“Boys will be boys.”
“You throw like a girl.”
What does it sound like for us to switch the pronouns? “Girls will be girls” or “You throw like a boy?” The meanings behind it change...probably evoking some positive or negative connotations.
Today is the Sunday we are discussing “shalom with genders,” as we continue going through Lisa Sharon Harper’s book, The Very Good Gospel.
For a lot of us here today, this is somewhat of a “no brainer” topic to cover.
We believe in the equality of men and women.
We believe in the equal worth of all people, no matter sexual orientation or gender.
We are an official Open and Affirming congregation; we support LGBTQ marriages
We are supporting Hampton Roads PRIDE, which has an Interfaith Service this Tuesday and we will have a table at the event on Saturday.
So, why cover it? Why talk about something we’ve “aced?”
Because for some here today, this is an extremely personal topic to cover - maybe because you haven’t lived into what society deems a boy or girl, man or woman, should like or wear or act.
Because for some here today, you were taught that the Bible tells us women are to be submissive to men, yet your life experience tells you otherwise.
Because for some here today, inside these walls may be one of the only places you hear that you are loved - regardless of the clothes you wear or the pronoun you prefer to use. You don’t hear it at work, at home, at school, and so you need to hear it here.
Because we ALL always need a refresher - like hitting the “refresh” button on a website - we need to hear up-to-date information and be reminded of the commitment we have made to inclusivity.
So, today we look at this topic of “peace” and “genders” as both “shalom BETWEEN genders” and “shalom WITH genders.”
In our pattern of looking at what was intended in Creation, we see from our Scripture today that both male and female were created - both equally created in God’s image.
BOTH equally created with God’s capacity for compassion, God’s capacity for wisdom, God’s capacity for love.
So, what happened?
As a society, we are not living in complete peace between genders. So much so, that there is a “National Violence Against Women Survey.” There’s an entire national survey committed to reporting on violence targeting women. If we had peace among genders, we wouldn’t have specific violence against males or females.
In the Creation story, the shalom that God intended was for humans to live in partnership, BOTH male and female being made in the image and likeness of God.
However, patriarchy (a male-dominated society) was the way of the land for most peoples. (There are a few tribal societies in Asia, China, Africa, and Native American people that are matriarchal.) Harper points out that “patriarchal interpretations of Scripture fail to start at the beginning…[these interpretations] start...in Genesis 3.” Genesis 3 is after the man and woman, Adam and Eve, experience a brokenness apart from God’s intention, as a result of them both eating from the tree of knowledge.
If you ever hear someone assert that God created males to be better than females (or vice versa, though, it doesn’t seem as common for someone to argue God created females to be better than males), know that God created BOTH male and female in God’s image, BOTH were created to care for this earth equally.
Harper mainly uses this chapter to discuss “shalom BETWEEN genders” and address the atrocities that have happened between men and women, such a rape, abuse, and pay inequality.
At the UCC’s Southern Conference Annual Gathering this week, we heard a presentation on the development of the #MeToo movement and the statistics on sexual violence today. For instance, it is estimated that someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds and that 21% of transgender & non-gender conforming college students have been sexually assaulted. (https://www.rainn.org/statistics) It is a serious threat and problem.
Remember that in our first week with this series, we heard that “shalom” means to bring about a wholeness...a fulfillment of what God intended. It describes an absence of conflict and is used in prophesies regarding salvation for the vulnerable people of the world and condemnation for the unjust activities.
HOW do we reach a wholeness with genders?
For starters, recognizing that male and female were created equal, one not less important than the other - one not less worthy than the other - is a foundation for avoiding abuses of many sorts.
We know that there needs to not only be shalom BETWEEN genders but also “shalom WITH genders”...reaching a peace with the fact that, as Emma Watson was quoted, “it is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing sets of ideas.”
We need to accept and recognize that there is a spectrum of gender identity...
Sure, there are people in our world, our family, our church who absolutely fit what society has deemed to be the stereotypical mold for a “manly man” or a “womanly woman” (that’s not really a thing?). That is A-OK!
And there are people over the centuries who have bucked up against those stereotypes in every way imaginable...and land somewhere in the middle of those two ends of the spectrum. That is also A-OK!
In Scriptures, we are told stories that include “eunuchs” - these were males of that time who, for a variety of reasons (some good and some bad), did not marry or have children. Thus, they did not fit the then-stereotype for “manly man.” They fell within the spectrum.
Gender non-conforming people, especially those within the LGBT community, can face particular hardship in being welcomed and loved by others. LGBT youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. (CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)
We need to be aware of this because we need to know the challenges that our brothers and sisters in humanity face.
I am beyond grateful for people who have lived before us and today, and have courageously refused to accept “their role” in society - from women not having rights to vote or not having equal pay (oh! which is still a problem) to men believing they must “prove their masculinity” through physical force or that being sensitive is a sign of weakness. Those who fight against those imposed stereotypes help to bring light to the beautiful spectrum in between.
We need to accept and recognize that there have been tweaks in the business of Christian living from the time of the Hebrew Scriptures to Jesus’ time to today...
In the story Acts 10-11, Peter has a vision of a blanket with “unclean” creatures on it. These animals that were once named unclean in the Hebrew Scriptures; however, God tells Peter that “what God has made clean, you must not call profane.” These creatures were once deemed unclean by God, but now were made clean and acceptable.
That story tells me that this business of Christian living has been tweaked over the years. From the era of the Hebrew Scriptures to the era of Jesus’ first disciples, some things were tweaked. God’s presence and God’s love remained strong, but some finer details changed.
So, if someone brings Romans 1:26-27 to you, which says
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion,
then look to some modern day theologians such as Matthew Vines. In a New York Times article on “Debating Bible Verses,” his response was
“...while Paul labels same-sex behavior “unnatural,” he uses the same word to criticize long hair in men in 1 Corinthians 11:14, which most Christians read as a synonym for “unconventional.” Christians should continue to affirm with Paul that we shouldn’t engage in sexual behavior out of self-seeking lustfulness. But that’s very different than same-sex marriages that are based on self-giving love, and we shouldn’t conflate the two in how we interpret this text today.”
So, do we condemn and judge men with hair longer than their jawline? Why do we interpret the word as “unconventional” in one instance, but “unnatural” in another?
It is not likely that any of us will “convert” a non-LGBT supporting person to be supportive using a biblical argument in one conversation, however it is important to have this knowledge and share it. Let it give us peace if you are struggling with how to balance what you were taught and what you have experienced. Pray that over time the people we share this with will adhere to that same acceptance and be supportive.
Remember Galatians 3….our gender, our skin, our nationality doesn’t matter to God. God rejoices in what male and female bodies bring to creation, AND does not require gender in order to be loved and included.
SCRIPTURE Genesis 1:26-27
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
…for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.