I have decided to take one of the papers that I wrote for my doctoral program and break it down into several parts for the blog. I have tried to make it a bit more readable – but it will likely still feel a bit academic. I hope, however, that it will cause people to think and start some robust conversations: Read Part 1
A Challenge to the Creation Order Starting Point:
In the summer of 2010 a number of provocative articles were published under the banner of the BioLogos Foundation. For some, these articles opened a whole new avenue for thought, imagination, and dependence on the Spirit of God to reveal truth on long-held doctrines of the faith. For others, the articles presented another threat and attack to the fundamentals of a theological understanding of creation, fall and redemption. On a more particular level, I believe these articles raise very significant implications for a theology of sexuality that is primarily constructed on a creation order foundation.
Over the years scientific research has challenged assumptions and interpretations of Scriptural texts. Arguments about a flat earth, the sun rising and setting, or the age of earth are historical examples that brought much pain and strife but ultimately convinced many that the Bible was not intended to be a science textbook. The quest for the historical Adam is a contemporary question that has fascinated and troubled Christians and observers. In the article, “After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science,” Dan Harlow pulls together current findings from the fields of both biology and Biblical studies. In it, Harlow argues that, “It is therefore difficult to read Genesis 1–3 as a factual account of human origins. In current Christian thinking about Adam and Eve, several scenarios are on offer. The most compelling one regards Adam and Eve as strictly literary figures—characters in a divinely inspired story about the imagined past that intends to teach theological, not historical, truths about God, creation, and humanity.”
Harlow supports this astounding statement by explaining that the most recent findings of molecular biology indicate that the genetic diversity of the human population could not be traced back to a single pair. He says, “The best mathematical models suggest, rather, that the ancestors of all modern Homo sapiens were a population of about 10,000 interbreeding individuals who were members of a much larger population living in Africa around 150,000 years ago.”
This scenario opens the door to many different possibilities when it comes to an understanding of human sexuality. Of the 10,000 individuals, might any of them have been sexually attracted to those who were biologically similar to them? A basic understanding of the survival of the fittest would suggest that these individuals would not become the dominant experience of human sexuality. But does that exclude the possibility that sexual fluidity was part of the earliest human experience?
A common framing of same-sex attraction is to view it as an experience arising after the Fall. The Fall might be described as, “God originally created a first pair of human beings, positioned them in idyllic spiritual and moral conditions, so that when deliberately subjected to temptation, they were genuinely free to obey God or not. They freely chose not to obey God, and as a consequence, they “fell” from these utopian beginnings, so that they and all their descendants, by heredity, became mortal, and enslaved from birth to a natural desire to embrace their disobedience (sin).” Seeing same-sex attraction as a result of the Fall presumes that it is not God’s original creative intention for human beings. There is a definitive line between the experience of Adam and Eve in the garden prior to succumbing to deception and partaking of the fruit of the tree and the rest of human history. Post-Fall, it might be understood that all of creation is marred and affected by sin. This includes the reality that human sexuality is often understood to be broken and in need of the redemption of Christ. Sexual desire outside of the heterosexual norm has been viewed as disordered, deviant, or even perverse and directly due to the influence of sin. In some circles in Christianity, the understanding of the redemption of such broken sexuality is the transformation of existing sexual desire for the same-sex towards singular attraction to a spouse of the opposite sex.
If however, Adam and Eve are literary and not historical figures, then the description of the deception, disobedience, and advent of sin into a perfect creation may need to be reconsidered. For those who hold to a traditional view of the Fall, this calls for some radical reimagining. George Murphy, a theologian of science, helps us in this regard, “Our picture of creation is then not one of static perfection but of divine activity in the dynamic universe, which the physical and biological sciences disclose to us. God intended time and history, and the final state of things will not be just a return to the initial state. In that consummation of history, there is indeed the tree of life (Rev. 22:2) but in the midst of a city, into which people have brought “the glory and the honor of the nations,” everything good accomplished in human history.”
Is it possible, that one of the good things accomplished throughout the course of human history will be to come to a deeper understanding of the essential nature of humanness beyond sex and gender? Will one of these good things be the unraveling of injustice perpetrated through patriarchy, misogyny, misandry, and oppression of those who do not fit traditional binaries for gender or sexuality? Is it possible that the human race is moving closer to an experience of intimate bonding that transcends a singular focus on procreation? Particularly now that the earth has not only been populated, but is facing over-population, is it possible that our experience of self-giving love in covenant relationships can transcend the limitations of a male-female binary? If we are moving towards the eschatological community where genital sex acts and male-female coupling will give way to deeper dimensions of sexuality, could some of the deconstruction of gender and sexual binaries be part of moving towards a justice-shalom motif where our humanity is enlivened by self-giving love in community?
When the creation text focuses on the creation of male and female can this be considered descriptive rather than prescriptive as an essential part of being human? For those who tie the maleness and femaleness of humanity directly to an ontological reflection of the image of God, there is no room or imagination for a human experience of sexuality where complementary gender is not a core part. However, if God is not gendered, then why would the gender of the communion of persons be critically linked to imaging God rightly?
Clearly, the coming together of male and female is tied to procreation. This is a beautiful aspect of God’s creation that gives birth to family environments where children have the optimal home in which to understand who they are and be nurtured and taught to journey through life in a manner that promotes and experiences shalom. The Genesis narratives describe this in poetic form that elevates the value of fidelity wherein the family is protected. But does this description necessarily preclude those who do not fit the majority experience of gender or sexuality from intimacy, from experiencing the communion of persons? Does it preclude such persons from extending nurture and teaching to children who have become displaced from their family or parent(s) of origin? Does a description of the majority experience mean that there is no accommodation of grace for those whose experience differs?
Elizabeth Newman says, “Genesis 2:24. This is a positive statement or commandment, enjoining a man’s lifelong commitment to a woman. The hermeneutical question is, Can we readily convert that positive statement into a prohibition of lifelong committed sexual relationship between members of the same sex (a phenomenon that as far as we know was not publicly recognized as a social possibility in ancient Israel)? Producing a valid prohibition from a positive biblical statement is a dicey matter.”
If evolutionary science paints an accurate historical picture of human origin, what implications does that have for the potential that sexual minority experiences were long a part of this evolutionary journey? Additionally, if there isn’t a distinct historical moment where the Fall happened, can we be so sure that biological sex differentiation is as clearly defined as a literal reading of Genesis 1-2 might imply?
If the reality is that there were many persons who were the ancestors of the human race, might any of them have been born with an intersex condition? Intersex describes persons who are ambiguous in their biological sex. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott describes it this way, “Scientific evidence that there are more than two human sexes or genders is found chiefly in biology, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. The biological evidence comes in the form of millions of intersexuals, people who fit neither male nor female categories. The anatomical components of sex include six interrelated factors – chromosomes, hormones, gonads, internal reproductive organs, the brain, and external genitalia – but for intersexual people, these components do not mix together in conventionally male or female patterns.” Current prevalence rates for intersex conditions run as high as one in two hundred persons. What kind of theology of sexuality can deeply consider the reality of these individuals? Are they not also created in the image of God and therefore created to long for opportunities for self-giving bonding and love?
Harlow, in positing that Adam and Eve are literary not literal, does not only rely on molecular biology. He also turns to the genre of the text. He says, “The vast majority of interpreters take the narratives in these chapters as story, not history, because their portrait of protohistory from creation to flood to Babel looks very stylized—with sequences, events, and characters that look more symbolic than “real” events and characters in “normal” history.” He also engages a detailed comparison of the Genesis text with other creation myths from ancient peoples. For Harlow, the fact that the text is story does not diminish the spiritual and theological significance of what God reveals. But it may cause challenge to particular doctrines that have been built upon presumptions of the text. For many, the primary doctrines that are challenged by the concept of Adam and Eve being literary rather than literal are the Fall and a penal substitutionary understanding of the Atonement. I suggest, however, that another doctrine that may need to be reimagined is the fundamental place of the complementary nature of male and female in the understanding of human personhood and of sexuality.
Many Christians will recoil at such suggestions, however, in light of their view of concordance. “Concordism, generically, stands on belief in the inerrancy of the Bible: belief that every assertion of fact in the Bible is necessarily true, because every assertion originates with God, via divine inspiration. And on this understanding of divine revelation as mediated by inspiration and inerrancy, it follows that for any true assertion in science (or for any true assertion at all), no logical conflict can exist between it and any assertion of Scripture.”
Concordism has particularly made engagement with the creation narratives of Genesis 1-3 a source of pressure and tension. Schneider goes on to say, “Especially when reinforced by a doctrine of biblical inerrancy, distinctly Protestant hermeneutical principles of sola scriptura and biblical perspicuitas combine (under the nearly unconscious influence of Augustinian authority in the West) to make it seem obvious that our classical (western) reading and theology of Genesis 1–3 is as securely biblical as it can be, and the tendency to put the issue beyond dispute is very strong.”
When you consider the statements made in both Pope John Paul’s “Theology of the Body” and Grenz’s “Sexual Ethics”, it seems clear that any re-imagining of an anthropology that is not so thoroughly centered on the complementary nature of male and female will be strongly resisted. The mounting evidence from the physical sciences, of which not only church tradition but the authors of Scripture themselves were unaware of, suggests that the way forward will require robust levels of courage, humility and deep dependence on the Holy Spirit to discern new wineskins in understanding the invitation for human beings to embrace and live into the reality of their embodiment and sexuality.
David Carr’s notion of the “untamable” nature of Scripture may be of encouragement. He says, “If scripture is to survive as a lifegiving resource in the new millennium, it will be because our reading is flexible enough to address creatively circumstances that the Bible’s original authors never could have imagined. It may be the very “untamability” of tensive texts like Genesis and the broader Christian canon that will enable them to be conduits of God’s revelation for the future.”
Next post: A Trinitarian and Incarnational Foundation for Sexuality
Dan Harlow “After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62, no. 3 (2010): p.179
Ibid. p. 179
John R. Schneider, “Recent Genetic Science and Christian Theology on Human Origins: An “Aesthetic Supralapsarianism” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62, no. 3 (2010): p.199
George L. Murphy, “Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin,” Perspectives on Science
and Christian Faith 58, no. 2 (2006): p.110
Elizabeth Newman. “Scripture and homosexuality: biblical authority and the church today” Perspectives in Religious Studies 23 no 4 Winter 1996, p 447
Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. “Crossing Gender Borders” in Body and Soul ed. Marvin Ellison, Sylvia Thorson-Smith (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press 2003) p.187
 Dan Harlow “After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62, no. 3 (2010): p. 180
 John R. Schneider, “Recent Genetic Science and Christian Theology on Human Origins: An “Aesthetic Supralapsarianism” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62, no. 3 (2010): p.197
David McLain Carr. “Untamable text of an untamable God: Genesis and rethinking the character of scripture” Interpretation 54 no 4 O 2000, p 352