In the most recent issue of Christianity Today, Andy Crouch has an excellent editorial on the church’s future and matters LGBTQIA. Please do read the whole thing. He writes,
There is really only one conviction that can hold this coalition of disparate human experiences [i.e., the experiences captured under the label LGBTQIA] together. And it is the irrelevance of bodies—specifically, the irrelevance of biological sexual differentiation in how we use our bodies.
What unites the LGBTQIA coalition is a conviction that human beings are not created male and female in any essential or important way. What matters is not one’s body but one’s heart—the seat of human will and desire, which only its owner can know.
But I’m not sure that’s stated carefully enough. It’s not that bodies are “irrelevant” for gay people—otherwise gay men wouldn’t be attracted to men!—but it’s that having a male body is, for gay-affirming Christian theology, taken to be irrelevant when it comes to discerning whether it’s ethical for me to have sex with another man (or men). I strongly agree with Crouch’s core affirmation that our being male and female is a given of creation, but I’m just pressing for a bit more precision.
I remember Jason Byassee criticizing Christopher Roberts—whose book I can’t recommend too often or too highly—for making a similar rhetorical move. Commenting on revisionist, gay-affirming Christian theologies from Eugene Rogers, David Matzko McCarthy, and Graham Ward, Roberts called them “proposals for the insignificance of sexual difference.” To which Byassee replied with a question: “But do Rogers, McCarthy and Ward really think sexual difference insignificant? Or do they simply think that sexual difference is significant in different ways than Roberts and much of Christian tradition do?” What the revisionists want to say, Byassee concludes, is that bodily difference is unnecessary for marriage, which isn’t the same as saying sexual difference is “insignificant,” full stop.
If our Christian responses are going to engage with real positions rather than straw men, then we need to take the time to state those positions in such a way that those who hold them can reply, “Yes, you’ve stated my view exactly as I would.”
Crouch ends his piece by referring to procreation, and this is where the rubber meets the road:
There is one other consistent position that Christians can hold, though we will hold it at great social cost, at least for the foreseeable future: that bodies matter. Indeed, that both male and female bodies are of ultimate value and dignity—not a small thing given the continuing denigration of women around the world.
Indeed, that matter matters. For behind the dismissal of bodies is ultimately a gnostic distaste for embodiment in general. To uphold a biblical ethic on marriage is to affirm the sweeping scriptural witness—hardly a matter of a few isolated “thou shalt not” verses—that male and female together image God, that the creation of humanity as male and female is “very good,” and that “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18, NRSV).
Sexual differentiation (along with its crucial outcome of children, who have a biological connection to two parents but are not mirror images of either one) is not an accident of evolution or a barrier to fulfillment. It is in fact the way God is imaged, and the way fruitfulness, diversity, and abundance are sustained in the world.
If marriage is, in part, about the begetting and rearing of children, then sexual difference does matter for the definition of marriage. For those who say that marriage need not be open to procreation, bodies may still matter a great deal, but they can’t matter in that way.
(Though, even there, more careful thought is needed. Ron Belgau and I were exchanging emails yesterday about Crouch’s article, and Ron said: “It’s not enough to say that marriage is about procreation. We also need to be clear about the relationship between procreation and sex. Artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and surrogate motherhood—which are accepted by many American Christians—are already divorcing procreation from sex. Using these technologies, gay or lesbian couples can already procreate, after a fashion. Even more advanced reproductive technologies—for example, inserting DNA from a sperm cell nucleus into an enucleated egg cell, then fertilizing it with another sperm—could, in the future, allow two men to be the biological fathers of the same child. I don’t think enough Christians have paid attention to the way that artificial reproductive technologies radically redefine procreation and parenthood. This is connected with Crouch’s concern, but it is not merely an either/or question of saying whether bodies matter. We face the much more difficult problem of explaining precisely how bodies matter.”)