A few mates have been asking me how my MA dissertation has been going so far. This is a fair question given some of them have kindly given their well-earned dosh to support this final year of my training at theological college. To give a brief taster of some of the issues, I thought I’d point you to an interview Christianity magazine have published in their latest edition, with singer-songwriter-turned-media-commentator Vicky Beeching.
Vicky made national headlines in August when she came out as gay in an interview with The Independent, although she’d been vocally supportive of same-sex marriage for a while before that. Despite not reaching the same conclusions as Vicky on what the Bible reveals about sexual practice (I land with these guys here), I was struck by how her initial interview indicated she’d had some pretty ugly experiences of Christianity, including some expressions of orthodox Christian teaching that had seemingly been distorted and presented insensitively.
Since August Vicky has gone on to speak on a number of other national media programmes, which has underlined for me how hard it is to have genuine debate over matters of Christian teaching on a secular platform. It’s just not a neutral zone, and so it’s hardly the best place to do it. However, because Premier is a Christian outlet, their interview with Beeching (carried out by Justin Brierley) allows for a closer look at the presuppositions and framework behind her thinking, as well as some of the trajectories that run from her arguments. Have a look at this selection from the interview:
JB: A lot of theologians would say that the biblical pattern from Genesis through to Revelation is of marriage between a man and a woman. What is your response to that view?
VB: We need to take a similar approach to the one that many of us in the evangelical charismatic Church have taken towards women. If you look superficially at what Paul said about women in the New Testament, women should be silent, remain at home, ask their husbands and abstain from teaching.
We owe the verses about women as well as the relevant verses in Leviticus [18:22 and 20:13] and Romans [1:26-27], and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19] a deeper look… In Matthew 22:30 it says there is no marriage in heaven.
Gender may also play a different, lesser role in our heavenly bodies. So we need to look at things eschatologically. I always come back to Galatians 3:28: “There is no Jew or gentile, slave or free, male or female for all are one in Christ Jesus”. The resurrection of Christ has impacted those old, dividing lines, so we need to look at what that means for sexuality from an AD rather than just a BC paradigm.
It’s that last paragraph that is particularly striking. Vicky suggests we need to look at things “eschatologically,” that is to say in light of our futures. We know Jesus said there would be no marriage in heaven, as she cites. But does that really mean there will be a “lesser” role for gender in the new heavens and earth? She then puts forward Galatians 3:28, seemingly as a basis for this.
Obviously this is just one small paragraph of a fairly varied spoken interview, so I don’t want to unfairly treat it like it’s a finely put-together thesis. But it’s hard to imagine how gender could have such a ‘lesser’ role whilst still maintaining some role. Either there is gender or there isn’t. We know God created humanity as male and female, and that this was good. And we also know that Jesus, after his resurrection, was a man. Is it too much to presume he was also male? Although we’re told resurrection bodies are transformed, there is also a clear continuity with who we are.
A large part of my dissertation is set to focus on how we are to view our bodies now, in light of their resurrection significance. This is something the apostle Paul particularly addresses in 1 Corinthians. So it’s interesting to me that this question has now come into the spotlight in terms of its relevance for the subject of gender. As we’re seeing, this in turn has consequences for debates about marriage and sexuality, as Beeching’s answer reveals.
And so I’m looking forward to giving time to thinking through how the Bible informs us in an area of real relevance. Our bodies matter. We don’t just ‘have’ bodies. We are our bodies, and part of why and how they matter today is the fact that one day God will raise us up from death in them.
Who said theology was merely academic?
You may also want to read this post I wrote: 3 Examples of Christianity’s Radical Community-Centred Approach to Marriage, Sexuality & Dating.