Recently a draft marriage policy was issued by a South African Government department for public comment which if accepted will be followed by a single Marriage Act. One of the options being seriously considered is a ‘gender-neutral’ marriage regime which would accommodate both polygyny and polyandry. In this option all marriages (as defined by the new law), whether monogamous or polygamous, could be concluded regardless of the sex or sexual orientation of the person. State legislation is increasingly coming under pressure to recognize ‘gender’ and ‘sexual orientation’ as primary markers of identity, and thus a basis for achieving ‘equality’ in legal discourse[i].
This can be observed in another proposed amendment bill PEPUDA – “The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act” or the “Equality Act”, which is a draconian piece of legislation that aims to regulate all institutions and non-governmental organisations in the country. Michael Swain summarises one aspect of the Bill’s scope.
“The Bill states that “equality” must demonstrate equal distribution on all grounds (e.g. race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc) – so possibly all approximately 17 different types of representation will need to find placement and expression in those who you employ, accept as members, appoint to leadership, or whose marriages a religious officer may be compelled to solemnise.”[ii]
But how and why have the terms “gender” and “sexual orientation” become primary markers of identity? Carl Trueman in his book “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self” charts the recent intellectual history of the west and shows how there has been a total transformation in how society understands ‘the self’. Since the enlightenment, an understanding of the human person we could call “the modern self” has developed in which the inner psychological state of a person, especially their sexual desires, becomes paramount in the defining of their identity.[iii] In contemporary western culture there is now an understanding of the self that is centred on the psychological state. Some have called this “expressive individualism”. In this understanding desires, feelings and experiences are central to identity, to “who I really am”. Thus, the inner state – the psychological, mental, affective, and spiritual dimension is what matters – it constitutes identity. Furthermore, because bodily reality may conflict with the internal psychological state of a person (especially with respect to their sexuality) a hard distinction must be made between the physical body and the inner psychological, mental, and spiritual dimension. In this dualism of body/psyche the bodily biological dimension of reality is relegated as inferior or even irrelevant because the true centre of the self is the psyche and thus central to a person’s behaviour and their relationships. Thus, a person may be a biological male – objectively identified but may self-identify as a particular ‘gender’ – gay, bisexual, lesbian, transexual etc, depending on their subjective inner sense of self.
The result of this is a dualism where the body exists as an instrument to serve the self which is identified solely with the psyche or inner life of the person. Thus, any outside institutions, systems of law, religious dogmas, or rules which conflict with a person’s instrumental use of that person’s body to express the self are rejected.
Trueman draws our attention to the fact that this new understanding of identity has an impact on the wider society – it cannot be restricted to some private or personal realm. It has a profound transforming effect on the relationship between the individual citizen and the institutions of society in which that citizen lives – there is a reversal in the role and function of institutions. R. J. Snell summarises his observations.
“In traditional societies, institutions like schools, churches, and the family form individuals in the language, ideas, and manners of the institution; one becomes a full participant though a commitment to the institution, and one finds meaning and identity through such participation. Now, however, in the world of psychological man, “the order is reversed,” and institutions “become in effect the servants of the individual and her sense of inner well-being.” Consequently, institutions no longer form or school individuals so much as affirm their authenticity, as determined by the individual, and allow them to “perform” their identities in a social context. Recalcitrant institutions—those, say, that continue to insist on objective identities—will increasingly be viewed as retrograde and destructive.”[iv]
This reversal of order can be clearly seen in western nations such as the United States, Netherlands, Germany, and Great Britain. Cultural and political elites have with the aid of powerful media conglomerates, managed to mainstream an entire ideology based around gender to such an extent that most major institutions in those countries have adopted its presuppositions, and bent to its demands. Many mainline churches[v] such as the Church of England, the Episcopal Church (USA) have already or are in the process of embracing (and some have already enshrined in canon law) a new moral dogma of sexual relationships which is antithetical to biblical teaching and classical Christian doctrine.
By accepting these new primary markers of identity such as ‘sexual orientation’ or the ‘gender/lgbtqi’ alphabet soup the church has in effect accepted a false or errant dualistic anthropology. Churches who have done so, have often made the claim that they are ‘progressive’ and are at the forefront of theological thinking. Unfortunately, they are propagating a very ancient heresy, albeit in a new guise.
There was an errant anthropology or ideology of the self which was a major threat in early Christianity. It was propagated by several sects collectively known as Gnostic Churches which varied in their beliefs but had a common set of core beliefs. One of these core beliefs was that one could only find the truth by an internal search – the inner self was the authoritative source. As Roman Catholic Archbishop and theologian Bruno Forte expressed it, “…everything is the intellectual self-production of the individual.”[vi] Intuitions, feelings, and experiences were authoritative, meaning could not be found and measured from external established codes. Thus, all externals such as biblical texts and church doctrine had no authority to define truth or indeed their own self-understanding and identity.
This was a dualistic understanding of the human person in which the spiritual/psyche was divided from the material body. The body was seen as inferior, and in some cases as an evil impediment that one needed to escape. In other words, if there were any contradictions or conflicts between a person’s inner convictions and desires and the external material world, then it was the external material world that was at fault. The problem lay in the material creation. It does not require a long stretch of the imagination to see the parallels with transgenderism. This ideology justifies the mutilation of the body by the alteration and/or removal of genitalia in the case of biological males who feel that their real identity is female and biological females who feel that their inner identity is male.
If we define our own purpose as centered on our feelings and affections, we eliminate the significance of our bodies, which are biologically male or female. The body is just material with no moral significance and can therefore be used as a mere instrument to serve our desires which have the ultimate authority. The body exists to serve no higher purpose than to put into action my feelings and desires, to express who I believe I am.
One Gnostic group known as the Carpocratians were advocates of this dualism and were known for their sexual immorality and libertinism[vii]. The 2nd century theologian Clement of Alexandria warned[viii] his contemporaries that this group had wandered into a “boundless abyss of carnal and bodily sins” and were “slaves of servile desires”; they were spreading “unspeakable teachings” he said. This probably referred to Carpocrates’ use of an adulterated version of Mark’s gospel that inferred that Jesus was homosexual. The Cainites[ix], another gnostic sect revered the people of Sodom as heroes – “queer” readings of scripture are nothing new!
In a true Christian anthropology, there is no duality. The human body is of great significance. We are binary creatures in every respect – male and female. Genesis 1:27 affirms that this is at the core of our identity and is a gift from our creator, and our calling to image him as male and female our purpose. Our identities are marked biologically with chromosomes in our DNA present in every cell of our bodies. We are a unity of body, soul/psyche and spirit as 1 Thessalonians 5:23 affirms.
This has a moral significance, as Darius Lee and other commentators have observed,
“The objective biological and physiological differences of males and females are essential to human identity and relationships. Accordingly, not all forms of sexual behavior are equal. Marriage, as a comprehensive conjugal union between a man and a woman that is unitive and procreative, is intrinsically ordered toward family life and the raising of children. As the natural, basic building blocks of society, marriage and family deserve the support of the State and society.”[x]
These errant anthropologies are not just a matter of tinkering at the edges of traditional doctrinal formulations, they are antithetical to the truth, undermine the doctrine of creation, and provide an ideological basis for a war on reality. Ultimately, they encourage people to deny reality and accept human brokenness as an unchangeable given. They do not offer redemption or hope, because redemption and hope are only possible when we acknowledge the truth and accept responsibility for the conduct of our lives. Healing only begins when we confess, repent, and turn to Christ. It can be a long process with respect to sexual brokenness and often entails psychological as well as spiritual help.
This contemporary western understanding of the self and its concomitant new ‘markers’ of identity has now infiltrated South African society. This is beginning to have effects on lawmaking. The proposed amalgamation of the acts pertaining to marriage and the proposed PEPUDA amendment are two recent examples. Trueman explains that draconian laws (such as our PEPUDA amendment) are inevitable, because of the abandoning of the traditional consensus regarding the purpose of human beings,
“… traditionally, the legitimate and the illegitimate could be distinguished on the basis of agreed-upon human ends, which all humans share and which transcend the individual. Once those ends have been abandoned in favor of personalized, bespoke forms of individual happiness, an odd thing happens. With no consensus on what human beings are for, someone still has to make choices about which identities are legitimate and which are not. And thus the freedom of radical individualism ironically requires the authoritarianism of governmental decrees, with appropriate penalties attached.”[xi]
Nor can we as Christians be exempt from this ‘war on reality’. When the state requires adherence and acquiescence to these new identity markers it is forcing us to deny reality and accept a redefinition of it based on someone else’s radical individualism. It goes beyond personal pronouns and gender identities – it deconstructs language itself. The French Government is among several European states including Germany which have reacted strongly to the undermining nature of gender ideology. The French Ministry of Education has banned so-called ‘gender inclusive’ language, the deputy education minister stating that it “is a danger for our country” and “the death knell for the use of French in the world”. In a warning which is increasingly echoed by top French intellectuals and politicians including President Emmanuel Macron, the Minister himself has attacked the gender and race ideologies emanating from American universities, “there is a battle to wage against an intellectual matrix”[xii] he said.
Closer to home the Anglican Church of Southern Africa seems to have uncritically adopted the ideological language of ‘gender identity’ in many of the resolutions emanating from Provincial and Diocesan Synods, especially in the discourse around same-sex unions. Any accommodation by the church to this insidious ideology will only contribute to the mayhem now becoming apparent.
[i] “The envisaged marriage statute will enable South Africans and residents of all sexual orientations, religions and cultural persuasions to conclude legal marriages that will accord with the principles of equality, non-discrimination, human dignity and unity in diversity, as encapsulated in the Constitution.” Minister Aaron Motsoaledi as quoted in the Cape Argus, May 12, 2021. Online at https://www.iol.co.za/capeargus/news/sa-religious-sector-outraged-at-proposal-to-allow-women-to-marry-more-than-one-man-a7f0267d-f5c6-451b-903d-fff6cfaf6880 (accessed 25/6/ 2021).
[ii] Michael Swain, “PEPUDA Amendment Bill – State regulation through the front door” FOR SA, 3 June 2021. Online at https://forsa.org.za/pepuda-amendment-bill-state-regulation-through-the-front-door/ (accessed 3/7/2021).
[iii] see Carl R Trueman, “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self”.
[v] Two examples – the Presbyterian Church of America and the British Methodist Church, see online at https://premierchristian.news/en/news/article/heartbreak-and-hallelujahs-as-methodists-vote-to-allow-same-sex-marriage, and http://oga.pcusa.org/section/ga/ga221/ga221-marriage/ (accessed 25/6/2021).
[vi] What a theologian Pope tells his fellow theologians, Mirko Testa Interview with Archbishop Bruno Forte, 25 January, 2010, ZENIT, Rome. Online at https://www.freeforumzone.com/lofi/BENEDICT-XVI-NEWS-PAPAL-TEXTS-PHOTOS-AND-COMMENTARY/D8527207-42.html (accessed 30/6/2021).
[vii] For a more detailed discussion on how gnostic ideas have corrupted the western church see my book “The Way of Balaam”.
[viii] Clement of Alexandria, To Theodore, English translation by Morton Smith, published in The Ancient Mysteries, ed. M Meyer, Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1987, p232ff.
[ix] Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 3.5, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 1, Book 1, Chapter XXXI – Doctrines of the Cainites.
[x] Darius Lee, Conversion Therapy Bans: Enforcing a Faulty Anthropology on Sex and Gender, Public Discourse, 5 May, 2021, online at https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2021/05/75633/ (accessed 25/6/2021).
[xi] Carl R Trueman, Joe Biden’s Transgender Fictions, FIRST THINGS, January 2021,online at https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2021/01/joe-bidens-transgender-fictions (accessed 24/6/2021).
[xii] In Le Journal de Dimanche, online at https://www.lejdd.fr/Politique/hommage-a-samuel-paty-lutte-contre-lislamisme-blanquer-precise-au-jdd-ses-mesures-pour-la-rentree-scolaire-4000971 (accessed 4/7/2021).