Beyond Gender: Imago Dei

We’ve come a long way.

Bruce Jenner the Gold medal Olympian and Wheaties All American hero,is transitioning from male to female. In an interview with Diane Sawyer and with a provocative Vanity Fair cover by Annie Leibovitz, Jenner is bringing her story to a national and international audience. In “Call me Caitlyn”, Jenner tells the story of never being comfortable with being a man and suppressing her female self.

The fact that Jenner has chosen to go public and has found a sympathetic audience, is a sign of how far we’ve come as a nation. Yes, prejudice and oppression is a reality for many who live outside traditional norms. Yet, Vanity Fair is capitalizing on the gradual and growing awareness that gender roles and sexuality are much broader than many had previously thought.

This past week I attended a presentation by the theologian Megan DeFranza. She spoke on her new book: ‘Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God’. Much of what I heard was new, provocative and compelling.

In her book Dr. DeFranza speaks of a category called ‘intersex’, people born both female and male. On a continuum some are born with a variety of female and male physiological characteristics, some with ovaries and testes. In a culture that classifies to understand, what do we do with people who transcend our categories?

Too often those who fit outside our parameters are judged, marginalized and actively oppressed. My Christian tradition has too often demanded rigid conformity toward traditional gender roles and sexual expression. In the Roman Catholic and Evangelical Protestant traditions we have narrow parameters of who and what is acceptable related to gender and sexual identity. To confound such a tendency, the question must be asked, what do we do with people who transcend such boundaries?

Dr. DeFranza points to examples since ancient times of tribal communities who have honored those who transcend categories of gender and sexuality. Some became shaman’s and healers precisely because of their unique qualities and perspective.

Dr. DeFranza as a devout believer,also offers hope for inclusion and healing within our Christian tradition. She references Genesis chapter one, ‘In the Beginning God created the heavens and earth…Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…So God created the human in his image, in the image of God he created the human, male and female he created them. And God said, it is good.’

imago dei

God transcends gender, God is plural both male and female. God is ‘intersex’ and if it is true, that we are each made in God’s image (imago Dei), then each one of us has inherent worth. This is true wherever we land on the gender/sexual continuum. If we are more male or female that is good. If we are attracted to one gender over another, that is good. If we are both male and female, that is good.

We’ve come a long way but of course, we still have a long way to go. For those of us who grew up in the majority culture as heterosexuals with traditional gender roles, this in new territory.

Yet whatever our gender and sexual identity may be, we have much to learn from one another. May we approach this journey with humility, openness, respect and good humor. And, let us never forget, that we are each created in God’s image, full of beauty and worth.

My Mentor in the Christian Life

Don Hutchinson 2For twenty years I’ve been mentored in the Christian life by Don Hutchinson.  During this time I’ve had the great privilege of being Don’s pastor.

Don is a gentle soul who has been a prophetic voice for the full inclusion of our gay sisters and brothers into the life of the church and as full citizens in society.

Don and his life partner Lee Swantek worked to bring down walls of division and prejudice within the church and wider community.  Don and Lee were the ‘go to guys’ within the congregation and wider community when anyone had a need.  They regularly volunteered to drive people to medical appointments in Salem and Portland.  Through their generosity of spirit they showed us what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

 Don and Lee were committed spouses for 42 years until Lee’s death from cancer several years ago.  The depth of their love was evident during Lee’s long illness.  When Lee died, his funeral was held at First Baptist McMinnville, Oregon and it was my honor to officiate.  Don was surrounded in love by the congregation.  Because Don and Lee taught us well, we their church were not closeted in our grief. We were able to fully honor Lee and Don as a couple, as one of our own.

Said Don:  “Our goal was to wear down people with kindness. To wear down people’s resistance and fear.  To show that we are simply normal people like everyone else with the same needs and dreams as anyone else.  God made each of us the way we are, some of us are gay and some are straight.  Each one of us is perfect.”

Since Lee’s passing, Don who is nearing 80,  continues his gentle and persistent witness.   He understands that by helping to take down walls, he is freeing us all.

To Don, I say:  “Thanks to you and Lee for teaching me how to be a better pastor and follower of Jesus.  Thank you for expanding the hearts and minds of so many of us at First Baptist and in the wider community.  The good you and Lee have done will live on in each life you have touched.”

For Don and Lee, I echo the words of scripture:  ‘Well done good and faithful servants, well done.’