Why I’m Fed Up with Conservative Evangelicalism

Procrustes will see you now.

Procrustes will see you now.

You might have seen this this article in Christianity Today about making room for intersex people in the church. The writer, Matthew Anderson, reviewed a book on the subject by author Megan DeFranza to see if it would be a good resource for today’s conservative evangelical churches. Anderson’s conclusion? Nope, not really. DeFranza didn’t do enough to affirm the church’s position on gender binaries, traditional marriage, and sexual ethics. It was too much of a slippery slope.

Here’s the part that, for me, induced convulsive facepalming:

Using “sexual development disorders” to describe intersex conditions is only “marginalizing” if we think “sex identity” can be separated from our bodily reproductive capabilities, as the sexual revolution promised it could be. If, instead, we treat them as unfortunate, yet often correctable developments that have a pervasive effect on a person’s life and opportunities—as we do with other disorders—then they simply present one more opportunity for Christians to bestow welcome, compassion, and support, even while affirming the binary of male and female for theological reasons [bold emphasis mine].

I don’t know Anderson’s background, but I have a strong suspicion that he knows zilch about intersex conditions. Intersex conditions can include any of the following:

  1. Missing or ambiguous genitalia (not easily identified as either vagina or penis)
  2. Missing or ambiguous internal reproductive organs (not easily identified as either ovaries or testes)
  3. Variations in the number of sex chromosomes (XXX, XXY, or neither XX nor XY)
  4. Sex chromosomes that don’t match external genitalia (male with XX or female with XY)
  5. Insensitivity to sex hormones

These conditions can affect a person’s gender expression and, in rare cases, sexual orientation. Surgery can correct ambiguous genitalia, but there are risks. Children may grow up to identify with the opposite sex that was chosen for them, and surgery often results in a loss of sexual sensation. Hormone therapy can help gender expression, but it’s not a cure-all. And many intersex conditions cause infertility.

Yet Anderson says the church should treat intersex conditions as “correctable developments” in order to show intersex people proper love and support. To say they aren’t correctable is to play into “the sexual revolution’s obscuring of the inherent reproductive design of our bodies.” Never mind that chromosomal differences aren’t correctable by any means, or that surgical corrections will be largely cosmetic only.

Anderson’s article brilliantly illuminates the issue that has always plagued, and continues to plague, conservative evangelicalism: the inability to welcome or show grace to those who, by the nature of their uniqueness, challenge long-time, deeply held dogma. Gosh darn it, the Bible says God made them male and female and that’s the only answer I will accept! Otherwise, we’ll throw open the doors to polygamy and polyamory and reject the maleness of Christ as essential to redemption. Yes, Anderson says this, almost exactly.

The problem is a theology that is built around the “binary of male and female.” Basically, Anderson claims that our ability to understand the gospel hinges on adhering to strict gender binaries. Jesus is male, God is male, the head of the church and home is male, the relationship between Christ and his church is illuminated by the monogamous marital union of males to females. Men become pastors and breadwinners; women submit, keep nursery and raise the kids. The whole evangelical enterprise is organized around these beliefs.

Throwing an intersex person into the mix just raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions. Is it ok for someone with ambiguous genitalia to pastor a church or teach a study group? If a straight person marries a hermaphrodite, is gay sex occurring? How much submitting is an intersex person required to do in their marriage? And if intersex people can get biblically married, what does that say about our understanding of Christ’s relationship to the Church?!

Nope. It’s just better not to ask such questions. Too messy. The whole gender essentialism house of cards might implode. In Anderson’s view, intersex people can either squeeze into a gender binary–however impossible that is–or they can remain outside the church.

It reminds me of a story I heard once…

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. ~ Mark 3:1-6

That was the problem with the Pharisees. They couldn’t show love or grace to anyone without first ensuring that such an act didn’t violate the purity of their theology. In their minds, healing could be viewed as work, and their law said to refrain from all work on the Sabbath. Never mind that this man was maimed. Never mind that his healing would have brought great glory to God. The Torah said not to work, and, by golly, they weren’t going to risk any of their brownie points with the Almighty by wandering into a theological gray area.

And Jesus said, “Guys, you’ve totally missed the point. You’ve made an idol out of that which God created for His pleasure and your enjoyment.”

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. ~ Mark 2:27

It’s what I’m saying. It’s what many of my fellow progressive Christians are saying. Any gospel that doesn’t have room for intersex people isn’t the gospel. Conservative evangelicalism has made idols out of the things God created for His pleasure and our enjoyment: sex, marriage, family, and gender. The Imago Dei isn’t found in our genitalia or gender expression. It is found in our whole selves: mind, soul, body and spirit. But instead of allowing those who don’t fit the binary to challenge our theological assumptions and open us to the full depth and beauty of God’s grace, conservative evangelicals would rather cling to their tired claims that unconditionally welcoming such people threatens the purity of their faith.

The only problem is, a faith that doesn’t have love for others at its center is no faith at all.

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20 responses to “Why I’m Fed Up with Conservative Evangelicalism

  1. Very good post. To be honest, I didn’t know much at all about intersex people. I just assumed that they all had both sets of male and female genitalia and they just go and have the surgery, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. Thanks for the explanation. 😉

  2. It sounds like the person who wrote this article doesn’t know the difference between intersex and trans people–not that one deserves more acceptance than the other; it’s sad that both have trouble finding acceptance, but it’s definitely trans people who come under the most direct conservative scrutiny with phrases like “correctable developments” used to refer to them. It’s tragic that not only are trans people being misunderstood, but intersex people–who I think, if anything, it’s slightly easier for conservatives to accept–are ignored. I also think ignoring intersex people makes it easier to ignore trans issues, since as you said, their existence conflicts with a binary view of gender. Great post.

  3. This guy Matthew Anderson who sees our lives as ‘correctible mistakes’ means not only that we are ‘errors’ but that our holy, flawless, all knowing, sovereign, infallible, immutible, omnipotent, ever loving and ever merciful God made these ‘mistakes’.

    That should be seen as blasphemy, but these people are walking apostacy so to them its just a matter of casuality to judge the all mighty one and only true God of the universe so casually as to think themselves at least on par with, if not superior to God.

    As a living, HEALTHY, HOLY and BLESSED child of that same said God, I can stand here and say that this man is full of crap and needs to repent.

  4. Unfortunately, your summary misunderstands or misrepresents Anderson’s point. For one thing, you omit the qualifier “often” in Anderson’s phrase “often correctable developments.” More importantly, Anderson does not say that denying intersex conditions are correctable plays into “the sexual revolution’s obscuring of the inherent reproductive design of our bodies.” He says the term “sexual development disorders” is “marginalizing” only “if we think ‘sex identity’ can be separated from our bodily reproductive capabilities, as the sexual revolution promised it could be.” His point, which you’ve missed, is that DeFranza’s objection to the term “sexual identity disorder” fails adequately to understand and frame these realities as medical disorders, which all of the intersex conditions you list in #1-5, in fact, are. The point is not whether these conditions are correctable or not; the point is whether they are disorders or not.

    Medical research says that they are (often genetic) disorders. DeFranza says calling these realities “disorders” is “marginalizing.” Anderson agrees with the medical consensus and suggests that persons with such disorders should be given compassion and support, “even while affirming the binary of male and female for theological reasons.” This would be like saying cancer patients or persons who struggle with depression should be given compassion and support, while also insisting that cancer and depression are not part of God’s purpose for human flourishing.

    Your review goes off the rails from that point on, especially as you accuse Anderson (and all evangelicals) with advancing a patriarchal vision of life that he simply does not present in this review. (Maybe he has in other writings, and perhaps that has influenced your screed here.) Anderson does not say that intersex persons need to squeeze into a “gender binary” in order to be part of the church. He calls for these persons to be welcomed into the church. Did you even read his review?

    You might want to go back and read the review before posting your disagreement with a piece you have not clearly understood.

    • I read his review three times before writing this post, then again after your comment. I stand by my views.

      Anderson accuses DeFranza of rejecting medical science by refusing to label intersex conditions as disorders, but then he rejects medical science in the next breath by suggesting that these conditions are often correctable. They’re not. They’re very rarely correctable beyond anything cosmetic.

      The paragraph we’re discussing is the closest Anderson comes in his 4-page article to saying that intersex people should be welcomed in the church. Notice that? He quite literally says that treating intersex conditions as correctable offers an opportunity for the church’s welcome and support. He never gives an actual “call” to welcome them or emphatically states that they should be welcomed. In fact, he’s reviewing a book that is addressing how to welcome them and responding with what appears to be a whole lot of tedious hand-wringing and theological hair-splitting before completely dismissing the author out of hand.

      Here are some of the quotes that led me to my conclusions:

      “But it is not clear whether DeFranza’s shift in emphasis requires the changes in the substance of what she proposes.”

      “But whether such accounts necessarily “marginalize” intersex individuals depends on what non-marginalization—inclusion—requires. And here, DeFranza’s own proposals threaten to undermine traditional accounts of sex and marriage, rather than correcting their imbalances.”

      “DeFranza is right to elevate our “ecclesial identity” above our sexual identity. But that is hardly incompatible with preserving a gender and sex binary both inside and outside the church.”

      “But the way forward sometimes requires walking backward, behind not only the assumptions of theologians we read but also the assumptions of the world in which we live.”

      Here’s that quote you claim doesn’t exist (on page 2):

      “DeFranza’s unwillingness to frame them as disorders betrays her own captivity to the sexual revolution’s obscuring of the inherent reproductive design of our bodies.”

      The point is entirely whether these disorders are correctable or not. Because “preserving a gender and sex binary both inside and outside the church” hinges on it. You can’t preserve a binary for “theological reasons” and expect intersex people to feel welcomed and included. So maybe intersex wasn’t God’s original plan for overall human flourishing, but if it’s not correctable, what’s an intersex person to believe about the God who created him/her? Are they to be told that they lack faith or are living outside of God’s will or are doomed to a lesser existence because they physically cannot conform to a binary? Because I’ve been in the evangelical church for a long time and have seen this scenario play out more times than any human should have to stomach.

      And I can’t think of a single theological reason why the church would need to preserve a binary other than to reinforce patriarchal teachings.

      In short, I fail to see what I have misunderstood.

      • I personally belong to a group of people who believe that neither the greator nor humans are truly sexually binary from the start and that those who are born as intersexed are in essence a resurgence of the originasl form of Adam before Eve was created not from a rib but from that which is now labeled the ‘female’ reprodctive organs.

        Even in the bible, Jesus declared in Matthew 19 and starting in verse 11 But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb…He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

        Then Jesus went on to say in Matthew 22:29 But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

        Furthermore, in Galatians 3:26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

  5. April Kelsey, If you want to reject “Conservative Evangelicalism”, whatever that means to you, feel free. But don’t create Strawman and then use your “Sword of Truth” to demolish it.

    I find three problems with your column:

    1. You claim this article in Christianity Today as representative of all Christian belief structure and then use its shortcoming as an excuse to reject all of Christian Conservative Evangelicalism (again, what is that, political or religious ideology?)

    2. You use this writer’s ideas on one book to claim that this means “Fundamentalist” Christians really can’t and don’t love people who are genetically different from the norm.

    3. The apparent unspoken statement by you is that homosexuality (gay, lesbian and bi-sexual activities), gender identity issues, etc. are really normal experiences that should be embraced by “Open-minded” and thoughtful Christians, and that not to do so is narrow-minded and judgmental.

    Frankly I don’t read, nor do I care about what Christianity Today has to say about these topics. Rather I understand (with my four year degree from a mainstream evangelical college, and in spite of it!) the literal reading of the Scriptures to recognize what God’s words are regarding these subjects.

    New Testament passages such as Romans 1:18-31, talking about why the wrath of God will be revealed against the “godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth with their wickedness”; a passage where Paul chastises those who act effeminate, and the absolute primacy of the marital union being one man and one woman from the Creation of the World, are most definitely representative of God’s words on the subject. (I Timothy 3:16).

    So if you want to approve gay marriage, the rights of people to change their sexual identities, etc., fine! Just don’t do it claiming the authority of the Bible or God himself as the basis. Become a Buddhist instead.

    • As an additional thought, don’t believe my acknowledgement of the Scriptural pronouncements as being incapable of showing God’s grace to people who are “intersexed” (whatever that means) which is extremely rare; or even people who have homosexual or gender identity issues.

      God’s incredible love and grace extends far and wide, including forgiveness of all sins once for all at the Cross. But grace isn’t a cart-blanche for actions that violate God’s word.

      • Steve. Get off April’s back. She is right. You are wrong. As for the Bible being inerrant and literal, it is quite plainly not inerrant in the sense you think it is because from that perspective it is riddled with scientific inaccuracies and internal contradictions any idiot can see. There is no such thing as a literal Bible because its words are filtered through the human brain in all cases. The Bible does not say what it literally says. In every case, it says what the reader thinks it says and many readers disagree—have for centuries—because people filter those words differently and often without understanding the ancient languages and cultures that produced those words—not to mention that fact that your so-called original inerrant manuscripts do not even exist for examination—all of which is why there are thousands of Christian denominations around the world today.

        Personally, I reject Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. Their claim to be original, orthodox Christianity is a lie based on willful ignorance of church history. The Greek Orthodox Church has existed continuously since before 300 A.D., and they have the written incremental church history over time to back it up. The word “orthodox” is in their name for a reason, and the things they believe are far different from what the stooges believe down at the IFB and Southern Baptist Convention churches. Jesus has some really big problems on his hand in the world right now, and people like you are one of them.

      • On second thought April, I have decided to pick up my toys and go home.

        When dealing with these people, I must have the freedom to do it my own way or be at another location where I can do it my own way. I do not expect you to understand that now. However, if you continue to post your usual writings here, more and more and more and more Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are going to show up here to abuse you. In its unique way, it will be just like the sexual abuse you received as a child. When that time comes with a sufficient crescendo, I think you will understand my perspective on this. While I know that we Christians are not supposed to answer evil with evil, I remain convinced that the only effective way to deal with religious abusers is to feed them a high dose of their own medicine—just like Arnold does with the physical abuser at his school in the movie “Kindergarten Cop.” Abusers speak the language of abuse, which leads me to believe it is the only language they really understand—and it is the only proper and effective way to communicate with them.

        I would like to kindly request that you “Unfollow” my blog. I would do the same with yours, but I was never a formal WordPress follower of your blog.

        People have been trying to “shut me up” ever since I was 4 years old. Across a lifetime, my heart has too easily and quickly complied with that request for way too many times, and I refuse to do it again for anyone—not even someone I love as much as you. Perhaps you will understand—if not—that is okay—and the understanding will be up to me. I leave wishing you the very best in everything.

        P.S. I cannot and will not tell you what to do. However, if I had been sexually abused in the way that you claim to have been in your youth, and if that abuser (or those abusers) were still alive, I would make sure that every human being on planet Earth knew who it was that did it—by name and current address—and let the sky fall in on them—family members or not—no matter what. Abuse only continues in this world because the abused protect their abusers and refuse to speak up. The only language abusers understand is the language of abuse, and sometimes it is necessary to abuse them with the plain truth to get the message across to them and those like them.

        • Dover,

          I’m sorry that you feel this way. It wasn’t my intention to shut you up, but to make the discussion space a little more civil. I disagree that I or anyone else should have to sink to abusive speech to make someone else understand a point.

          As far as my abusers go, I did reveal the identity of one. I don’t recall his last name or address, and it’s likely that he’s dead now. As for the other…it’s complicated. In time, I may reveal who and where he is, but I’m not ready yet. And that’s my choice. The blowback for a victim when naming abusers can be serious, and I have to be emotionally prepared to accept whatever the fallout is. I’m not about to put myself in another traumatizing situation when I haven’t fully healed from the first.

          I wish you the best.

        • “I disagree that I or anyone else should have to sink to abusive speech to make someone else understand a point.”

          Then we shall agree to disagree. Here is a big good-bye ((((HUG )))). God bless you and all that you do.

    • I find it hilarious that you come here and accuse me of misrepresenting all conservative evangelicals (“whatever that means”), then proceed to double down on Anderson’s position in Christianity Today. Do you know the meaning of the word irony?

      When you say you “understand the literal meaning of the scriptures,” I assume that means you’ve studied the original Greek and the historical context in which it was written? Because the word “effeminate” doesn’t have quite the same meaning in ancient Greek as it does in modern English.

      P.S. I never addressed homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism or same-sex marriage. You seem confused about what “intersex” actually is.

      Thanks for playing.

      • I strongly back April.

        Intersexed conditions are PHYESICAL and they are INBORN, they are neither mental, emotional or spiritual [although I find that intersexed people have a fir higher level of spiritual awareness than binary polars do on average], nor do they involve sexuality, as most intersexed persons are asexual and from my conversations find romance a complicated, confusing, terrifying and extremely painful matter that is often seen as best to be avoided.

        I, as a writer of intersexed based romances [wholesome ones with good, upstanding members of society, not porn!], however, find that this world of closed minded self righteous adulterers and adulteresses [ James 4:4 ] the hypocrisy is so shameless and rampant because mainstream christianity seems to be all about sinning to the max and then ‘just praising jesus’ [real name Yeshuah] or doing ‘hail mary’s all day and somehow these eastern mysticism rituals will somehow absolve them of all their shameless lacivious law breaking because it was not ‘homosexual’ and therefore somehow some kind of minor detial to be ignored and ‘winked at’.

        Somehow, one tenth of the human population have been grossly vilified without cause because of something we had literally and utterly no power over, and whom could only have gotten this way by the LOVING GRACE of Yahweh our god who decided its time for a few BETTER people to live among all these shameless hypochristians who love to show partiality and judgmentalism.

        We the few are indeed few perhaps, but we are at an average of one tenth of one percent the global population now, meaning that there are at least seven million of us alive today and records show we have always been around.

        Neither of those statistics can be remotely said of transgendered people.

        We aren’t a ‘defect’ and we’re not sinners, at least no more than any binarily polar heterosexual human being is.

        We have as much, if not more access to God’s grace due to our humility and meekness.

        The prideful, arrogent, self congratulatory mainstream hypchristian is much like the pharasee in the parable Yeshuah told in Luke 18: 9 – 14.

    • Steve, Paul’s “point’ or conclusion starts in chapter 2 verse 1. “THEREFORE YOU…”

      Ironically, his spewing forth was against people making points like you!

  6. April. Do not worry about the other comments. I shed some tears of joy while reading your post—because it was so spot on. Jesus was a master at unraveling man-created bullshit. I have that gift too, possibly because I too am a carpenter’s son. Carpenters are detail men and women—and they like the things they make to be beautiful, smooth, plumb, and functional—all things that make sense. Indeed, I think “make sense” is the key. I too have had it with Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. I walked into it briefly two times in the 1970s and 1980s—and soon walked out both times because I concluded—rightly—that they are nutjob enterprises where ignorance and quackery reign supreme—and after studying their short history in the United States—I knew they were nutjob enterprises.

    They are also dying enterprises. They think they are dying because there is so much evil in the world (evil being anyone or anything that disagrees with them) and that they are enduring the persecution and falling away that would characterize the end times. In reality, people are walking away because they do not see Jesus Christ and his love anywhere in their people or their churches. I do think Jesus lives here at your blog, which is why I keep coming back.

    Yeah, I know I need to clean up my act on some things because my disdain for fundies is beginning to look like hatred—and I may have already crossed the line—but these people just plain drive me nuts—and most of all—I object to all the extra pain and destructiveness they are injecting into the world and into the lives of people in the name of Jesus. It just makes me want to tear my hair out sometimes. Do you ever feel that way?

  7. sweetheart.

    I could hug you.

    Intersex.

    Can you imagine being born this way?

    We don’t get it. How could we?

    Jesus came for all us useless creatures.

    The religious folk (today’s “fundamentalists/evangelicals”) do not understand the God who came to save wretched dirty sinners.

    Their god is busily preparing holy people to be acceptable at a later time.

    The Intersex person does not fit into the Christian’s box.

    I stopped “going to church” and being part of the Churchianity club 2 years ago.

    Walking with Jesus in the power of His HS is far more exciting, liberating and REAL.

    God help us to get it right.

    BC we get it so wrong most of the time.