Written by Peter Blanch
At an ever increasing volume, our media and our society are making much of the issues of gender and identity. We see it all through the news. South Australian senator Cory Bernardi is labelled a ‘bigot’ and his office is trashed by protestors, because of his concerns about the Safe Schools material1. The Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst (Tom Neuwirth) won Eurovision 2014 and the world celebrated her appearance as “The Bearded Woman”2. Bruce Jenner became ‘Caitlyn’ and publicised his gender reassignment for all to see – becoming a runner up in Time Magazine’s 2015 “Person of the Year”3. Archbishop Porteous fought discrimination charges in Tasmania after circulating a booklet called “Don’t mess with marriage” to parents of Catholic schoolchildren4. Daniel McArthur of Ashers Bakery in Belfast was charged with discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for refusing to make a cake with the slogan “support gay marriage” on it5. The list goes on, because our world is in turmoil over these issues.
Even in the last 5 years there has been a massive rise in the prominence of transgender issues and debate about discrimination. These are becoming real issues in our own backyards’. Just this week I got an email that read: “At a place where I am a regular customer there is a guy who has changed his appearance more and more each week until this week he was wearing pink nail polish, a feminine wig, mascara and a push up bra. He also advised me Bruce* (his name) no longer worked here but that Nardia* (the name he has chosen for himself) is the new employee. There are big issues here. Not just for the Bruce, but also for the women in his workplace place and the management as well in working out policies and what to do if he decides he wants to start using the women’s toilets and change room facilities.”
* These are not the names in the real life situation, both names have been deliberately changed
One of the reasons these issues are so confusing is that it can often be difficult to talk openly and clearly about these situations. Clearly there are large disagreements in our society over the right way forward for our world. Unhelpfully into these disagreements there is a lot of name calling and demonisation from people on either ends of the spectrum. They seem unable to helpfully engage with each other. When this happens, what we are left with is often misrepresentation and a blurring of the truth to serve the purposes of those involved. Disagreements in our world are not to be avoided. Disagreement is part and parcel of all human relationships. Disagreeing with someone is OK when it is respectful and allows for everyone to carefully engage with the matters in frank, respectful and honest ways. However these issues have become so emotionally charged that it seems impossible for respectful disagreement to take place. Many of us are then left confused and ill-equipped to speak about these issues or even to parent our children in what is fast becoming a gender fluid world.
The underlying issues are far broader than our media presents. At the heart of the “Safe-schools” program and the national debate that has arisen from it, are the issues of gender and identity. What do we believe about gender and identity? What are we to teach children about gender and identity? Who is to teach them? When should this education begin?
Into the confusion what we need is clarity. Not from human wisdom but clarity from God himself on the critical matter of gender and identity. The great news is that God has been very clear on these matters for a long time. God’s word speaks directly into a gender confused world to help everyone know who they are and how to live.
God wants what is best for us and so lovingly speaks into the very heart of human gender and identity with great tenderness and care with purpose and direction.
This is why we are running a three week series of Bible talks on the issues of gender and identity. The aim of these talks will not just be to inform you but to equip you to lovingly engage in these issues with your friends, your family, you neighbours and work colleagues. It will also be helpful for understanding yourself and who you are. My hope and prayer is that these talks with also be helpful for parents who are charged with the responsibility of shepherding their kids. How do you shepherd your family when gender and identity has become fluid and interchangeable? How do we ourselves navigate gender and identity amidst the confusion our world is in?
The weight of these issues in our current culture is enormous and so it is my prayer that this series will be of great help to us all. No doubt this series will raise more questions and God’s word always brings challenges to our minds and hearts – but these are for our good. God always speaks the truth, and he speaks the truth in love. And as such we can always trust our lovingly heavenly father that his words to us are always for our good.
Can I encourage you to engage in this next sermon series – through your Bible Study groups and through Sunday mornings. Come ready to listen and learn from God’s word as together we seek His wisdom and work at responding to our society and to each other in God honouring ways.