A Christian View of Gender Formation

A recent Albert Mohler editorial gives a straightforward summary of the conservative Christian view of gender formation. He aims to “tell the truth about what God has revealed concerning human sexuality, gender, and marriage,” which any LDS commentator would follow with a quote from the Proclamation. Instead, Mohler derives his equally conservative view from God’s intention as expressed in Creation. He cites Genesis 1:27 (“male and female created he them”) showing that God’s “intention was clearly to create and establish two distinct but complementary genders or sexes.” Heterosexuality is part of the created scheme, he continues, so homosexuality is a transgression against God’s will (expressed in Creation).

By contrast, the LDS view is that “[g]ender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” So our earthly gender is “natural” in the sense that it existed before our spirits were incarnated sometime between conception and birth. God’s will is expressed in the matter only insofar as He matches spirits to bodies. The “matching spirits to bodies” process is problematic whether God makes the assignment or not, as was noted here recently. The Christian view avoids the problem by avoiding Preexistence; spirits are created somewhere between conception and birth.

Of course, the Christian view raises a different problem: if God does the creating, He seems to bear some responsibility for the plight of those who are physically or mentally disabled (also discussed here recently). And a liberal Christian might argue that if He created genders, He also created the psychological makeup that sometimes develops into homosexual attraction so it isn’t necessarily against God’s will. So the Christian view, rooted in creation, encounters difficult questions as quickly as the LDS view rooted in the gendered preexistence of spirits. But isn’t it interesting to see conservative Christians, starting from an entirely different theological view of spirits and Creation, nevertheless end up with the same doctrinal view of homosexuality?

Comments

  1. “isn’t it interesting to see conservative Christians, starting from an entirely different theological view of spirits and Creation, nevertheless end up with the same doctrinal view of homosexuality”?

    It’s not that surprising, I don’t think, that two anti-homosexual groups end up with similar doctrinal views of homosexuality. What is interesting, however, is that ultimately all Christians are at a loss to provide a cogent theodicy regarding the creation of persons with homosexual tendencies (assuming arguendo that such tendencies aren’t entirely in people’s minds).

  2. “Isn’t it interesting to see conservative Christians, starting from an entirely different theological view of spirits and Creation, nevertheless end up with the same doctrinal view of homosexuality?”

    Would we expect to end up anywhere else when we start out there?

  3. Kristine says:

    Aaack! “Gender confusion” is not my term–it’s the GAs. My point is that “gender confusion,” while it might be appropriate terminology for hermaphrodites or transsexuals, is not a good way to think about homosexuality. I think it’s entirely possible for someone to be biologically male, have healthy masculine gender identification, and be gay (or biologically female, feminine-identified, and lesbian). Homosexuality is not a deficit in gender identity.

  4. Dave said: But isn’t it interesting to see conservative Christians, starting from an entirely different theological view of spirits and Creation, nevertheless end up with the same doctrinal view of homosexuality?

    There seems to be opposing views out there amongst conservative Christians. Does a different opinion from conservative doctrine mean they are really liberal after all?

  5. I don’t like the term “gender confusion” either, and it raises my hackles every time I hear it.

    I’ve noticed that church leaders (e.g. Packer or Faust) sometimes say that homosexuality _can’t_ be an inborn permanent trait, because “if it were so, it would frustrate the whole plan of mortal happiness” (quoting Faust). Their conclusion seems not to be based on any direct revelation about homosexuality, but on deductive logic, based on assumptions about the plan of salvation.

    This is why I think the existence of hermaphrodites and various other forms of physical gender ambiguity is so significant; these things also might appear to contradict the plan of salvation, but surely they exist. This shows the unreliability of the deductive logic approach.

  6. I suspect Kristine, that you’re using the term “gender” is a more narrow sense when reading Packer than he intends. Most people use gender and sex synonymously and don’t mean anything by picking one term above the other. Indeed they often use gender simply because it sounds more sophisticated.

  7. Kristine says:

    I’m confident that Elder Packer is plenty sophisticated in his usage. However, I believe that he thinks the terms include each other–if one’s biological sex is male, then one ought to assume a set of behaviors–a gender role–that is called masculine. Since he believes that there is no mistake in assigning biological sex to spirits, it’s natural for him to conclude that a person whose biology is male who does not then assume the entire set of behaviors (including attraction to women as intimate partners) is either “confused” or sinful or both.

  8. Interesting comments on an interesting topic. There does seem to be plenty of “gender confusion” (nice term, Kristine) to go around, doesn’t there? The Christian view of “spirit creation at birth” can be the basis for criticizing or supporting homosexuality, as can a secular view of “no spirit, just birth.”

    The LDS view of preexistent spirits would seem to likewise be amenable to both cricizing or supporting homosexuality, but the official statements (you may have noticed) are uniformly critical. For one, the preexistent spirits view supports homosexuality if there can be spirit gender/body sex mismatches.

    This clearly happens, as on rare occasions body sex is indeterminate at birth rather than fully male or female. So those who espouse the simple “God matches gendered spirits with sexed bodies and doesn’t make mistakes” view need to realize that view does not agree with the facts unless there are indeterminately gendered spirits that are assigned to those bodies. And indeterminately gendered spirits are just what the official LDS view denies! So at the very least things are much more complicated than the standard LDS story allows.

  9. Kristine, I heard it first from you, but if you want to pass along credit for the term “gender confusion” to someone else, you may do so.

    As I appropriated it, the term has a broader reading–those who are confused about what gender is, which seems to describe those who use gender as a gloss for biological sex. That seems a better use of the term than simply a polite way to describe the supposed mental state of a gay or lesbian who rejects the conservative theory equating gender identity with biological sex. As you noted, those people are not confused; in fact, whether one agrees with their view of sexuality or not, their personal accounts make it fairly clear they generally have confusing lives up until the time they confront their “true” gender identity, after which point they become considerably less confused.

  10. Kristine says:

    That makes sense, Dave–I didn’t see at first how you were subverting the term.

  11. Kristine says:

    The problem I see with both of these views is that they are stuck with homosexuality as some kind of “gender confusion”–gay men are seen as insufficiently male. A good friend was sitting next to me during General Conference one time when Elder Packer used the phrase “gender confusion” to describe homosexuality. He said, “but I’m not *confused,* I’m just gay.” I think the notion that gays just haven’t quite gotten the proper gender roles is rooted in very old stereotypes of the butchy lesbian and the femme gay man, and it just doesn’t hold water. We need a more complex model.

    Also, tangentially, we can’t have it both ways–especially when we talk about gay men, we both want to say they’re not male enough AND that they’re uebermale–promiscuous, unable to control their outsized libidos, etc. (See Adam’s post at T&S yesterday for this view)

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