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In Between Male and Female?

by Sam Ashton


In November, the C of E’s Living in Love and Faith project (LLF) will release its much-anticipated resources pack on issues of sexuality. No doubt there will be some discussion regarding the meaning and significance of humanity being created as “male and female” (Gen 1:27). In surveying the recent literature, one explanation that keeps popping up with increasingly regularity is the “hybrid argument.”


In brief, given that Genesis 1 paints creation in broad brushstrokes, the categories of creation explicitly mentioned (e.g., night/day; land/sea) should be read as poles on a continuum, extremes inclusive of various mixed forms (e.g., dusk/dawn, rivers, amphibians, etc). Just as the shore exists in between land and sea, and the penguin is a creature in between the “kinds” of bird and fish (Gen 1:21), so too should “male and female” be understood as poles on a spectrum, within which we implicitly find examples of naturally occurring variation – God designed some to be male, some to be female, and some to be intersexed (a hybrid of male and female). This means that intersexed embodiment is not a result of the fall, nor does it stray from God’s good creational intent.1 Rather, everything that occupies a liminal space is an example of God’s good diversity in creation. Importantly for LLF, if sexual polymorphism is God’s plan from creation, this will affect how Christians having traditionally conceived of marriage and gender identity. Indeed, as Justin Tanis warns, “To deny the value and beauty of these differences may disrespect and devalue the imagination and intention of the Creator.”2 


Positively, the hybrid argument’s encouragement for readers of Genesis 1 to exult in God’s imaginative creativity should be endorsed. Nevertheless, its explanation of “male and female” is inadequate for several reasons. Supplementing the helpful critique offered by Martin Davie in his recent work Glorify God in your Body (2018), one significant problem with the hybrid argument is that it fails to locate divine creativity under the more literarily prominent banner of God’s ordering wisdom. Throughout Gen 1, God is at work ordering his entire cosmos, creating clear distinctions out of previously chaotic non-distinction. One way we see the primacy of divine order is at the rhetorical-structural level of the text, with days 1–3 corresponding to days 4–6 respectively, the general to the particular, from forming to filling, all the result of divine fiat. Indeed, each day itself is carefully ordered, being marked by the repetitive structure of announcement and execution. The rhetorical implication is that without clear separation and differentiation, chaos remains.


Undoubtedly, the creativity and imagination of God are replete. But Genesis 1 indicates that God is a God of ordered creativity, not indiscriminate and random creativity. Against Tanis’ claim above, indiscriminate creativity looks like chaos, devaluing and disrespecting the inscribed order in creation. Indeed, given Tanis’ suggestion that all things participate in the good diversity of creation, it remains unclear how Tanis accounts for disease, disorder, and dysfunction. In short, the hybrid argument, with its preference for spectrum thinking, not only fails to account for the literary and rhetorical emphasis of God bringing order out of chaos, but the spectrum thinking it relies upon seems to blur the distinctions Genesis 1 looks to establish. Indeed, the blurring of ordered distinction appears to promote a return to chaos—a de-creative act. As we anticipate the release of the LLF resources, one account of “male and female” that remains inadequate is that of the hybrid argument.

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Revd. Sam Ashton is an ordained minister in the Church of England and he is currently doing a PhD at Wheaton College. His research explores the theological and moral significance of sexual dimorphism.

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