Hidden in the current revisionist approach to gender, sexuality and marriage is a view of human nature that is deeply problematic for society and for the Church.
The issue of blessing same-sex unions is on the agenda of the Anglican Church of Australia. This step has been approaching us in the Anglican Church of Australia for years, and we know that it will not be the final point on the forward march of normalizing active homosexuality in our church. Australian society generally has moved on and younger generations wonder why the church is still arguing about this matter. We look like bigots if we are against blessing these relationships.
Arguments about the meaning and application of Biblical texts have dominated in these discussions about sexuality, and have not decided the matter, particularly for those Anglicans who believe that the biblical views on these issues have been relativised by modern understandings of gender and sexuality. A new ground for endorsing homosexual partnerships has now come to the fore with the application of ‘gender fluidity’. Traditional and biblical concepts of maleness and femaleness are regarded as outmoded by new views of the nature of gender and sexuality. Archbishop Phillip Aspinall of Brisbane Diocese expressed this position recently: “today . . . there appears to be significant evidence that a small proportion of people are not unambiguously and exclusively either male or female. And there appears to be evidence that a small proportion of people is innately same-sex attracted. In other words, advancing knowledge and discovery seem to indicate that creation, as we observe it today, is more diverse and nuanced than the biblical authors allowed: ‘Everyone is ether male or female’ and ‘everyone is heterosexual’ doesn’t do justice to the world as we know it today.”
I question whether the biblical texts about male and female been shown up as out of date and simplistic. Alongside the texts that assert that God made them male and female (Gen. 1:27), there was also awareness of those few individuals not born able to marry, without adequate sexual organs. Jesus is quoted in Matt. 19:12 as stating that there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, which is likely to be a reference to the small number of people who were unable physically to enter into the one flesh union of marriage. It would be reasonable to assume that the biblical writers were aware, like modern people, of that small number of people who are born with ‘Disorders of Sexual Development’. These anomalies from the natural order do not nullify that order. They are the exceptions that prove the rule. In the same section of Matthew 19 where Jesus refers to those by birth unable to enter into the marital union, he also cites the fundamental principle that God made them male and female (Mt. 19:4-6). Both the general truth and the rare exceptions are acknowledged.
The other ground for normalizing same-sex unions is based on the innate same-sex attraction of some men and women. Biblical writers, it is alleged, did not acknowledge this ‘nature’ of homosexuals, but instead simplistically regarded all people as heterosexual.
I am not convinced that writers like St Paul were unaware of this reality of same-sex attracted people when he maintained that they acting unnaturally in engaging in sexual acts (Rom. 1:26-27). It is at this point that the proponents of same-sex blessings make an undeclared move from defining male and female according to their physical embodiment for reproduction, and shifting into definitions of maleness and femaleness according to inner psychological states.
When Genesis states that God made them male and female, the next verse gives the contextual meaning: Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth (Gen. 1:28). It is completely correct of the Scriptures to assert that all human beings are heterosexual, since this is how we are by nature – by our embodied nature. When St Paul views same-sex sexual activity as unnatural, he is simply stating the obvious. It is a use of the body that is contrary to the design of the body – the ‘nuptial’ meaning of the body to use Pope John Paul’s description. The male body sexually for reproduction is shaped for the female body and the female likewise to the male. The two together are designed for creating community through reproduction and family. John Kleinig describes the sexual polarity embodiment of humans in similar terms: “. . .the bodies of all men and women are essentially spousal”. It is in this sexual complementarity that we understand our own selves, as the foundation narrative in Genesis 2 shows: “The man sees the woman as both same and other: as she stands before him, he also sees himself for the first time.”
It is a curious fact about recent discussions of sexuality and gender, that this whole discussion ignores the most obvious aspect of the issue, that we are embodied selves ordered to reproduction as male and female. Secular society seems to have completely lost this tethering of male and female in embodied sexual nature oriented for reproduction. Having lost sight of the obvious sexual complementarity, many cannot understand the withholding of agreement to same-sex activity as anything other than nasty bigotry. It is sad that many in the Church appear to have lost sight of this creaturely reality as well. Owen Barfield’s observation comes to mind: “The obvious is the hardest thing of all to point out to anyone who has genuinely lost sight of it.”
Sexual Identity as Internal Psychology
What happens if we disconnect the definition of maleness and femaleness from the heterosexual embodiment of our created state? What happens if we decide that maleness and femaleness can be decided by inner states of mind and feelings? The door is opened to a revolution in gender identity perceptions that is now surging in full strength in our contemporary culture. Western societies have increasingly decided to preference the inner feeling states of the person over their physical sexual embodiment as the key definer of gender.
The phenomenon of gender dysphoria has become a key issue in this current revisioning of gender identity. A small percentage of people have a genuine dissonance between their mind and their sexual body, just as a small percentage of people have disorders of their sexual development (inter-sex). We can sympathize with how difficult this must be for the person with a deep inner conflict between their sexual body and their mind’s perception.
There is an ideology of transgenderism pushing our society to disconnect gendered identity from physical sexual embodiment. This transgender ideology has gone way past genuine cases of gender dysphoria and has become a social phenomenon, recasting human identity. The numbers of young people now reporting confusion about their gender identity is much larger than the usual rates of gender dysphoria. A new idea of human sexuality is spreading contagiously and with active promotion.
If our bodies do not tell us who we really are, but our mind does, then it is very possible that a person can somehow be born into the wrong body. In a short cultural timeframe we now find that defining a ‘woman’ and a ‘man’ has become problematic for many. Once the definition of being a male and being a female was untethered from biological sexual complementarity and sexual physiological embodiment, the foundations for a transgendered identity were set in place.
Endorsing Same-sex Unions and the Body/Mind Split
This new understanding of gender and self-hood did not come from nowhere, although it seems to have burst forth fully grown. This new self-concept has been long in gestation within the West. Carl Trueman has chronicled the history of how this view of personhood has emerged.
“Expressive individualism” is the new self. The true self now is regarded as the inner thinking and feeling self. With expressive individualism as the reigning concept of the self in the West, it is not surprising that the same-sex movement succeeded. The obvious corollary involved in endorsing same-sex unions has been missed by most observers. It entailed a split in sexual embodiment and the mind or feeling self. When it was accepted as good, normal, and acceptable for a person to act sexually contrary to the design of their body, even being considered as marriage, the new self was institutionalized in law. Marriage was no longer earthed in sexual complementarity ordered for reproduction. It was now about romance and relationship. The embodied self was sidelined by the feeling, thinking self.
Before the Commonwealth Parliament voted on the bill to change the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples, I made a personal submission in which I warned the legislators that it would open the door to a wider confusion about gender and sexuality. This has now come to pass.
Thus, we face a social imaginary in which the real self is fundamentally separate from the material body. For example, recently the Senior Medical Officer of the Commonwealth would not define in public what is a woman and took the question on notice, later submitting a long, qualified answer that include the transgender concept of sexuality. In one area of life after another, from sport to relationships, there is a new blurring of the embodied sexual binary.
Sexual identity is now a personal choice, and the options are multiplying. We now speak of ‘pregnant people’ and ‘woman can have penises’, ‘men can have babies’. Young teenagers in school are asking themselves: ‘am I really a boy inside? Was I born in the wrong body?’ What if I am really a girl, though I have the body of a boy? I understand from local school chaplains that there is a real phenomenon of gender uncertainty among many school children.
This transgender phenomenon is increasing as more young people identify as a gender different to their sexual body. Responsible adults, including the church, are no help. They have capitulated to the new ideology or are promoting it themselves. Now this new view of the self is set to be blessed in our Church.
An Old heresy in a New Guise
This new ideology of gender fluidity carries a much bigger theological and spiritual problem than the application of the Bible, or understanding marriage, sexuality, or gender. Hidden in the current revisionist approach to sexuality and marriage is a view of human nature that is deeply problematic for society and for the Church.
Implicit in this new approach to sexuality and gender is a false view of human nature. It is the re-emergence, from a different direction (expressive individualism combined with the sexual revolution), of the old Gnostic heresy of body/mind dualism. Robert Jenson noted its perennial re-emergence of this body/mind split:
“The gnostic temptation, to see persons as of one order and bodies as another, is constant in human history and by no accident afflicts especially our sexual lives. For sexuality is the point where God has made our persons and our bodies one.”
In this new version of the Gnostic heresy, the true self is the inner feeling and thinking mind, and the body is a secondary and essentially irrelevant indicator of identity. It is easy to see the evidence of this shift away from the body to the inner self. If someone is confused by their feelings, any counselling to help them think differently is censured even outlawed, while radical surgery and chemical interventions to alter the body are endorsed and promoted. This shows where the true self is thought to be located.
This is a profound philosophical shift about the nature of human identity, with deep historical roots but accelerating in cultural takeover. It is an essentially gnostic view of how the mind and body should be related.
I am not aware that our Church has abandoned the Biblical and traditional theology of the human being as a union of body and soul, an embodied self. E.L. Mascall summed up the theological understanding of human nature:
“Christian theology has consistently maintained that a human being is not a pure spirit, temporarily enclosed in a physical structure with which he has no real affinity, but is a psychophysical unity of an extremely complicated and mysterious type, and that on the physical side of his twofold nature he is organically integrated with the world of matter and in particular with that part of it which is the concern of biological science, including molecular biology and genetics”.
Jesus said about marriage: what God has joined together, let no one separate (Mt. 19:6). This saying could apply also to the nature of our humanity as embodied selves. God has joined our bodies and souls (minds) together. Our bodies, as well as our minds, tells us who we are.
Each person is a composite of body and mind. We have a twofold nature that is a “psychophysical unity” of a mysterious type. (Mascall). We are not souls inhabiting a body. We are a hypostatic union of body and soul (mind). When the sexual body of the person is sidelined for the thinking, feeling self, the unity of the person as an embodied self is split.
There is no doubt that the Biblical concept of humanity as created in God’s image is clear on the fact that “their creation as male and female is not secondary to their humanity; it is essential to their nature and vocation as human beings”, notes John Kleinig. “We Christians cannot separate the sexual mind from the sexual body, nor can we separate our gender identity from the actual sexual construction of our bodies.” Our bodies have a sexual design that defines our identity physically. The male sexual body and its functions are for the female and the female for the male. “A Christian ethic respects the teleology of nature and the body.”
The Incarnation and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ reinforce the nature of our humanity as body-mind/soul unities. Christ came in the flesh to redeem our human natures. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead in Christ also reinforces this abiding identity that God has given us as embodied selves. We will not leave our bodies behind in the new creation.
The biblical view of human beings is based on a created essentialism which is directly opposed to the current trend of extreme gender nominalism. “Grace co-operates with nature and builds upon it; the Church’s task is to sanctify the natural order, not to repudiate it.” On this issue, it is the secular culture that has become more ‘spiritual’ (ethereal, ungrounded) than the Church. The body has become separated from the person. There are inner conflicts, certainly, but the mind does not overthrow objective embodied reality. In the quest of personal identity and fulfilment we are not free to ignore or dismiss our given, embodied nature.
The cultural shift in the West towards the expressive individual self has contributed to the acceptance and endorsement of the body-mind split inherent in same-sex sexual activity. Once same-sex relationships were officially accepted, it was inevitable that the transgender moment would follow. You could say that according to the progressive viewpoint, we are all transgender now. Gender is fluid and has been untethered from our bodies.
What faces us now is more than an error about sexuality and marriage; it is a philosophical and theological error about what constitutes a human being. If each age has its favourite heresy (false ideology), then our own era is making a mistake currently about the nature of human nature. There is a new Gnosticism in the ascendant.
Our task as a Church is to confront the confusions of our culture about human nature, not to bring confusion into the Church and thus join the confusion of the world. We need to speak to our culture from a coherent and wholistic vision of human nature and flourishing.
For Biblical, theological, philosophical, pastoral, and missional reasons, it is crucial that our Church not cross this Rubicon of baptising this new body/mind dualism by endorsing same-sex unions, and the other confusions that come along with it. Gender fluidity is built on a bad theology of human nature and identity.
Bad theology will lead to bad pastoral effects, beginning with sexual and gender confusion but not likely ending there. It will compel church members and clergy who disagree with the new Gnosticism to argue against its corrupting influence within our Church. It will strain church unity. It will gain some popularity with the world that endorses the expressive individualism of the inner self, but we will not be able to lead people back to wholeness of body and soul.
“The obvious is the hardest thing of all to point out to anyone who has genuinely lost sight of it” observed Owen Barfield. Let us therefore call attention to the most obvious thing of all about our human identity: our specific embodied selves as created by God. Let us invite people back to earth and reality. The path to truth about life cannot be found elsewhere. We must be able to care for people who struggle with their sense of identity by pointing them to the truth about human nature and the healing grace of God.
Ralph G. Bowles is Priest-in-charge at Nambour Anglican Parish on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland.
 Address by The Most Reverend Dr Phillip Aspinall AC Archbishop of Brisbane to the Second Session of the 80th Synod of the Diocese of Brisbane, Saturday 25th June 2022, (pp.24-25).
 This group has also been called ‘Intersex’.
 I am aware of the revisionist interpretations that Paul was censuring pederastic relationships and other ways of viewing his words, but they fail to deal with the most obvious problem of this activity – the wrong use of our bodies sexually.
 There is of course no homosexual body. We are all heterosexually embodied, with the exceptions noted above.
 The Book of Common Prayer and later Anglican Marriage Services such as the First Form AAPB (1977) correctly list the first purpose of marriage as “the procreation of children and that they might be brought up in the nurture and instruction of the Lord . . .”. An Australian Prayer Book, A Service for Marriage, First Form, (A.I.O. Press, 1978), 548.
 John W. Kleinig, Wonderfully Made: A Protestant Theology of the Body, (Lexham Press, WA, 2021), 182.
 Leon Kass, “Man and Woman: An Old Story”, First Things, November 1991.
 This is part of the shift to a new sexual morality which assumes that sexual acts do not relate to an intrinsic natural order but are the vehicles for subjective self-identity, as long as free consent is involved.
 Owen Barfield, Worlds Apart, (1963).
 There are other forms of body-mind dysphoria, but our society presently regards gender dysphoria as an identity issue, and people tend to respond differently to those whose inner conflict focusses on their weight or other issues.
 “It is no secret that there has been a staggering increase in gender dysphoria among young people (especially girls) that has experts questioning the role of social media in what appears to be, at least in part, a social fad. . . This is borne out by a study conducted by the Gender Service at Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney (accessed at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/26344041211010777).
The study’s authors conclude that ‘the children and families who came to the clinic had clear, preformed expectations: most often, children and families wanted a diagnosis of gender dysphoria to be provided or confirmed, together with referral to endocrinology services to pursue medical treatment of gender dysphoria … It was our impression that these expectations had been shaped by the dominant socio-political discourse’. Harriet Connor, Should parents object to school rainbow days, www.spectator.com.au 2022.
 See Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, (Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2020) and its shorter version, Strange New World (Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2022).
 Robert W. Jenson, Song of Songs, Interpretation (Louisville,: John Knox Press), 62.
 E.L. Mascall, Whatever Happened to the Human Mind?, (London, SPCK, 1980), 133.
 A hypostatic being is the specific nature of that being. In this case, our human hypostasis is our specific bodily, psychological and spiritual identity. While men and women share a general human nature, we are specifically (hypostatically) either male or female as embodied selves.
 John W. Kleinig, Wonderfully Made: A Protestant Theology of the Body, (Lexham Press, WA,, 198.
 Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body, (Baker Books, Michigan, 2018), 23.
 Gender essentialism asserts that there are real physical givens in our biological sexuality that tell us who we are. Gender nominalism denies these givens and asserts that the person can choose their sexual gender apart from their biology.
 E.L. Mascall, 143.