What I Believe (Or Try To)

When I set out on my blogging journey, I knew I was challenging ideas and preconceptions that would make some uncomfortable.  I knew many people close to me might struggle to understand how I got here, and why I chose to undertake this journey.  However, I never anticipated the level misunderstanding that would take place around my motives, and even my identity as a believer.  I am truly heart-broken by what people think I am trying to communicate.

I want to be perfectly clear, I am also truly grateful to those who would care enough to question me.  I recognize that love and grace have been their motivation, that all of these persons have set out to fulfill their duty as my Christian family.  So, I have attempted to hear their heart, to seek the misunderstanding, and to clarify what I believe.

First I want to offer an apology.  If my words have been too complex, if I have in some way communicated in such a fashion that you felt I was launching attacks on your belief or Scripture as a whole – I am truly and deeply sorry.  My approach may be different, but I assure you I have the utmost respect for the Bible, the inspired revelation of God which points to his ultimate, self-revelation the crucified and risen Jesus the Christ.

I have not set out to champion some cause, or desired to force everyone to share my thoughts, and I have certainly had no intention of setting myself up as a “myth buster”.  I intended only to express my own brokenness, recognize that to any degree I critique evangelicalism I critique myself, and engage the believing community by laying out my beliefs for them to examine for themselves.  I have not set myself up as THE authority on these matters, I have only attempted to point to the one authority, Jesus.

Thus, in order to promote better understanding (fingers crossed!) I feel it will be useful to present the convictions from which my beliefs stem.  I genuinely hope this clarifies a few things.

I think it will be most helpful to pursue a common vernacular.  The greatest misunderstanding I have encountered has surrounded my use of the term gender binary.  Many have assumed I am challenging the very notion of embodied, engendered existence.  That I think people can just choose their gender willy-nilly.  While this is an ironic misunderstanding, I feel perhaps I have been unclear and am to blame here.  First, it is important to note that Sex (anatomy) is a separate issue than gender (masculine and feminine).

Second, it is helpful to forms a working definition of gender binary.  I recognize it is not a full treatment, but it hits the highlights well enough to (hopefully) build a common word usage.  Thus, it is helpful to explore a brief history of the term “gender binary”. This is a term that was coined in the late 19th/early 20th century, around the same time we coined the words Hetero- and Homosexual.  These ideas came into existence through the modernist concern for “demythologizing”.  This was the tendency rooted in the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution to break things down to their irreducible parts.

This is an idea dependent on the philosophical influences of Rene Descartes on Western civilization.  The goal, in reducing things to the irreducible, was to establish a foundation – a single propositional truth – on which we could establish a foundation for all other truth claims (this was dubbed foundationalism).  For Descartes it was the proclamation, “I think, therefore I am.”  The decision that he could not trust the subjectivity of his external experience, but he could claim self-identity because he possessed rational capabilities.

This progressed to the search for biologically determinative impulses for the way we act.  It was the thinking process behind declaring Africans to be a “lesser” species by claiming (falsely) their biology determined their inferiority.  This resulted in the idea that there were absolute, normative states determined scientifically and that to go against them was wrong.

This led to the work of Sigmund Freud, who decided that all human beings are sexual beings.  In fact, the motivations of sexual desire and procreation are inherent to every human interaction.  As a result of buying into this in many ways, Western Culture began to sexualize the human body and assert that all friendships between men and women are ultimately geared towards and motivated by sex in some way.  Is it any wonder, as these ideas are prevalent in the teachings of complementarianism (in “biblicized ways” such as Mark Driscoll’s approach to marriage and sex) that the evangelical church has a staggeringly high rate of divorce, sexual abuse, and pornography addiction?

These ideas were quickly combined with the radical thinking of Western (especially American) political thought, specifically the notion that the good of a nation rested in the ability of its constituents to see their individual “rights” and freedoms, determined by biological identity allowing women and minorities to have lesser rights, actualized.  This was the influence of thinkers like Locke, Hegel, and eventually Maslow.

The idea arose that we must find ways to defy our “base, animalistic impulses” and become self-determined individuals.  That is, to recognize our own biological determinacy, but to defy it by seeking to reject all systems and ideas that deny us individual freedom and power.  Of course, in doing so, we had to set up a systems of inviolable norms to prevent anarchy.  Thus, we deemed “heterosexual” to be normative and biologically driven while we deemed homosexual to be unacceptable choice towards self-determination.

In response to this thinking, Christians adopted the idea of the self-determining individual and the sexualized human body and this transformed into the Purity movement (influenced by, but not a part of Puritanism).  We emphasized that our bodies were fallen, reclaiming the beliefs of medieval asceticism and monasticism which teach that the spiritual self is more important than the physical self.  This led to a stark dichotomy between body and soul, and the acceptance of many of our patristic forebears’ dependency of Greek (not Jewish) metaphysics to explain Scripture.  Thus, the goal of self-determination became the actualization of the soul before God when we were carried off to heaven, a place wholly removed from and alien to earthly, physical existence.  (see Rev 20-22 and you will quickly realized this is a misguided notion).

I’m the “secular” arena, these influences would eventually lead to the sexual revolution, where people chose to rebel against the puritanical strictures of the church and sought to fully embrace the ideas of the sexualized human body and the self-determining individual. 

Another result of these influences has been the argument (which I believe to be correct) that LGBTQ identites are actually biological wiring.  However, because of the institutionalized heteronormativity of our society this became entangled with the notion that LGBTQ persons had to choose a “true inner self” which “violated” outward physical notions of a gender binary.  

That is to say, we have somehow divorced the image of God from the physical reality of a person.  The image of God, contrary to some theological arguments, does not exist in maintaining clear gender roles or privileging heteronormativr relationships.  LGBTQ+ persons who perceive a conflict between themselves and the traditional trappings of gender binary do so not because they defy God’s design but because they violate man-made taboos rooted in the desire for control, dominance, and denigration of any perceived “other.”

To be clear, it is my conviction that LGBTQ+ persons are made intentionally in God’s image.  They are not self-determining against hardset, immutable biological norms.  They are the beautifully made children of God.  

I thus reject the idea of gender binary all together.  I also reject the notion of gender/sexual identity as a self-determined duality (hetero/homosexual).  I believe that we cannot buy into either of these systems because they are based on antagonism and power struggles.  Thewe binaries deny the beauty and complexity of God’s creation through erasure and willful ignorance.

  As such, any system of identity or sexuality built on these understandings is inherently sinful.  It takes its identity by defining itself against so-called societal norms and other human beings.  It establishes its identity as “against” an “other” which it defines as opposite and wrong.

I do not accept gender binary as inherent to Scripture because I refuse to accept the idea that masculine and feminine, men and women are defined as opposite of each other, that this is the normative  experience God intended in creation.  In fact, reading Genesis 3, I would argue that the breakdown in gender relations, the very notion of opposition, dichotomy, or hierarchy is the direct result of sin.  The relationship between male and female has been damaged.  Our definition of male and female, masculine and feminine, is woefully broken and we need to look back to God, to identity in Christ.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5d/Leon_Bonnat_-_The_Crucifixion.jpg

To clarify a specific point in this, I do not condone the oft feared (and completely fictitious) “Homosexual lifestyle” any more than I condone “Heterosexual lifestyle”.  Instead, I argue that the image of God is found in stewardship, community, and love.  God is Trinity, he has existed from eternity as a divine community of persons intertwined by mutual love.  In creating us in his image, to mirror his person and mutually pursue his purposes, God placed within us a deep longing for community.  We were appointed stewards, commissioned to establish a community of persons rooted in the love demonstrated by the Trinity toward a mutual, organic relationship.  The Trinity is often described as being of one substance, this is how humans are to relate to one another by embracing the image of God within themselves to draw closer to God and humanity in “one flesh” community.

As I see it, through my careful reading of Scripture, the claim of the centrality of sex and its drive to the human purpose is a counter-claim to identity in God, through community.  It mistakes the intimacy of “one flesh” for sexual fulfilment.  In as much as both LGBTQ and heterosexual/cisgender persons engage sex as a way of healing hurt and establishing intimacy, both are comprised of broke individuals enslaved to sin and in need of healing; they seek an identity which competes with the imago dei, the call of God to take full identity in him.  One does not lose their sexual/gender identity in Christ, they find its fulfillment in the sanctifying shadow of the cross. 

 That is to say, Christians need not revoke their LGBT identies.  These need not be identities which compete with the cross, but are gifts of God to be full-featured and fulfilled in the cross of Christ.

Thus, in terms of sex within marriage, I will say this.  Marriage reflects the notion of “one flesh” intimacy in a very profound way.  In fact, it is the marriage commitment which ought to model best the community of the Trinity and its relationship to the Church body.  It ought to point others to community in Christ in every aspect and relationship of life.  This applies to all marriages between mutually loving and fully consenting adults.  This, this sacrament ought not to be limited to opposite-sex marriages.

This is not, however, a call for all to enter into marriage.  Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7 and Jesus in Matthew 19 are clear enough on that.  The standard for marriage, according to Matthew 19, is a “one flesh” relationship rooted in a covenant with each other before God.  This is a bond no man can break, because when practiced properly we experience God and his grace through it.  Marriage becomes sacrament.  But so does the close relationship between friends gathering in the name of Christ and embracing his love for one another.
The difference is, marital “one flesh” intimacy builds toward something else.  It expresses itself uniquely in sex.  In sex, the intimacy of “one flesh” becomes manifest by the literal joining of flesh, a mutuality which takes its fulfilment not only in reaching coitus, but in a deeper bond by which you are fulfilled through your relationship in covenant community with God.

Sex, then can lead to procreation, in which the love of God is learned even more deeply through the act of creating life and learning to love in a profoundly unconditional manner.  However, it must not be overlooked that this same level of love can be learned in adoption.  In embracing that God has adopted us as his children (Eph 1), we can take the fulfilment of that love in our lives and pour it out into others who need it so desperately.

All of this, though, points back to the desire to be fulfilled in Christ-like love which leads to one flesh intimacy, mirroring God as Trinitarian community.  This is at the very heart of my beliefs – identity established on, in and through God, who expressed his love most profoundly in Christ.

Thus, I believe, any human relationship must find its identity in modeling Christ’s cruciform love and embracing God’s community in their midst.  In as much as a same-sex relationship, even a same-sex marriage is capable of pursuing this, I will recognize the working of God in them and call it good.  In as much as we all fall short of this calling, as I often in my own marriage fail to demonstrate love properly to my own wife and children, I will not pursue the speck in someone else’s eye while possessing a plank in my own.

So here I am, I am broken, I am flawed.  I believe these things and so desperately seek to pursue God in embodying them.  Yet, so often I fall short of the call to “be holy as I am holy” (Lev 20:26, 1 Pet 1:16 ) and ” be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).

I am on a journey from believing to embracing.  I am exposing myself through my writing, knowing that it means I must seek to practice what I preach. Inevitably I will sometimes get it wrong.  I am inviting you to join me beneath the cross, to expose yourself before Christ, to engage as best we can in community that reveals who God is and his love for the world.  This is what I believe, or try to.

Posted by Nate Sparks

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One thought on “What I Believe (Or Try To)

Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I look forward to your feedback, I welcome any criticism. However, as my goal here is mutualy respectful, beneficial conversation, I only ask that we keep civility in mind with our words. Grace and Peace.

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