Calvin Goligher

Talk About an Awkward Term

We can see that God calls homosexual practices an abomination for two reasons. First, all sexual immorality violates the holiness of a human body. Second, homosexual practices violate that holiness even more specifically by overturning an especially significant part of human bodies, namely our sexual differences. If there is anything that we can all learn from this discussion, it’s that we should not approach the subject of sex with a casual or glib attitude.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Lev. 18:22)
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them (Lev. 20:13).

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are some of the most offensive texts in Scripture. Even for Christians who love the Bible, these verses are very awkward. But perhaps we can learn something important from the term abomination. Maybe our avoidance of awkwardness is one of the problems when it comes to the way we talk about sex. We would rather discuss issues that are more familiar and manageable. We argue about the law, health, each side’s rhetoric, and every possible category touching on human sexuality that does not touch that one, awkward term from Leviticus.
Abomination does not fit into our manageable categories because it concerns holiness, which itself concerns questions of ultimate importance. What are we willing to live for? To die for? What is a good human life? How can I live such a life? To truly answer these questions, we need to understand holiness. And that means things might get awkward.
Holiness can lurk in strange places. Just ask Moses. Managing sheep in the wilderness, he stumbled across a humble bush — and a flame that burned without fuel. The uncreated Creator spoke with a humble creature. This was not an easy encounter for Moses: shoes off, life changed, power granted, mission undertaken. Moses found God’s holiness uncomfortable. At the same time, it was life-giving.
Sex is another strange place to find holiness. Yet we do find it there, along with this word “abomination,” which simply means a violation of something holy or sacred. Idolatry is an abomination because it destroys true and holy worship (e.g. Deut. 7:25).
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Intersex and the Kingdom of God

Gender ideology denies the goodness of the male-female binary and praises all deviations from that binary. This way of thinking implies that intersex conditions are not a terrible affliction to be borne, but actually a blessing to be desired. 

The term “intersex” describes a small percentage of people who are affected by a congenital disorder of sexual development. These congenital disorders give rise to ambiguous sexual traits, causing real difficulty in determining whether an intersex person is male or female, and therefore in deciding what name to give them, what appearance they should adopt, and whether surgery to reconstruct their genitalia is warranted—and, if so, which genitalia to “give” them. There are some cases where, as an intersex child has grown up, he or she has regretted or disagreed with the decisions made in infancy by parents and doctors. These cases are cause for caution and thoughtfulness about how to proceed when a child is born in this condition.[1]
Intersex and Gender Ideology
The intersex phenomenon plays an important role in today’s discussions about sex. Viewed through the lens of gender ideology, people with an intersex condition are understood as a “sexual minority” whose non-conformity puts them at a disadvantage relative to others in society. Their distress is often categorized alongside the various kinds of gender dysphoria that are frequently reported by trans people. In this way, intersex conditions are used to discredit the male-female binary as a foundation for sexual behavior.
This way of thinking about intersex conditions is false in at least two important ways. First, intersex conditions are not evidence that the gender binary is merely a social construct, for the simple reason that they are disorders. People with intersex conditions do not have fully functioning reproductive systems. The terrible trouble that comes with these disorders powerfully confirms the biological normalcy of the male-female binary.
Second, intersex conditions are not evidence that gender dysphoria should be prioritized over biological structures as a criteria for how to treat people. People with intersex conditions certainly do experience grave distress about their sex. Their conditions require parents and doctors to make difficult decisions about how to treat them, and what name and identity to give them. These decisions may be incorrect, and therefore the source of profound distress years later. Such distress is not the same, though, as gender dysphoria reported by unambiguous biological males or females who wish to change their gender. In fact, the two are almost opposites: an intersex condition is a physical problem that causes psychological distress; gender dysphoria is a psychological distress being used to justify destructive hormonal and surgical interventions.
This does not mean that our biology is meaningless, though; it is just that sometimes our biology’s meaning is tragically obscured.
Eunuchs From Birth
It is important to see the deeper problem with gender ideology that leads to such serious confusions. Gender ideology denies the goodness of the male-female binary and praises all deviations from that binary. This way of thinking implies that intersex conditions are not a terrible affliction to be borne, but actually a blessing to be desired. They are so much to be desired, in fact, that people with healthy and normal sex characteristics may wish to undergo hormonal and surgical interventions that will cause some of the same problems experienced by people with intersex conditions.
Jesus provides a kinder and more truthful way to think about intersex conditions in his teaching on eunuchs in Matthew 19:10-12:
The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
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Be Glad for Binaries

To reject the sex binary is ultimately to reject the Creator-creature distinction. Despising our binary sexuality, we exalt ourselves to the position of creator. We seek to author and determine our own lives, acknowledging only the limits of our own preferences. Yet in reality we are not on any sort of spectrum with God. He is God and we are not, and he sets the boundaries of our life, and marks out paths of righteousness for us to walk in.

God loves binaries. In creation, he separated light from darkness (Genesis 1:4), the waters above from the waters beneath (verse 7), the sea from the dry land (verse 10). We should be glad for each of these binaries. A cycle of day and night is better than endless dusk. “Water everywhere” is only good news for fish; the rest of us want “water on earth as it is in heaven.” And hiking and sailing are both better than wading through mud all the time.
The Gender Binary
The noblest of God’s binaries, though, is found in humanity. God crowned us with the honor of bearing his image, uniting a physical body and a rational soul (Genesis 1:26, 2:7). Then he split the man into “male and female” (1:27, 2:22), forming a greater whole through the union of the first man and woman, and through every subsequent union of a man who leaves his father and mother and holds fast to his wife (2:24).
God’s binaries ennoble both the pair and each part. As an illustration, consider the binary pair of an electrical cord and a wall socket: one cord might be better than another, but cords cannot be “better” than wall sockets. In the same way, who could say whether they prefer heaven or earth? Birds must nest in trees, and earthlings must gaze at the stars. No one prefers the land or the sea absolutely, but everyone appreciates the beauty of a coastline and the safety of a harbor. In the same way, men and women cannot be “better” than each other. One man might be a better man than another. A particular woman will excel a particular man in some particular respect. But men in general cannot be “better” or “worse” than women. Each is a good and indispensable part of an even better whole.
God’s binaries are about union, not division. The sex binary does not separate humanity into two halves, each going their own direction. Rather, it enables a deeper union than would be possible otherwise. Without the sex binary, each of us as individuals could go our own way as a full representation of the human species. In fact, though, no one person can actually represent the fullness of humanity, because no one possesses all the human sex characteristics or a functioning reproductive system. Only the union of a male and a female presents us with humanity itself, and not merely one or more humans. Individually, a man and a woman are just two people; together, they are a family, a race, perhaps the beginning of a royal line.
The Most Basic Binary
The binaries within creation illuminate the relationship between God and his creation. The “Creator-creature distinction” sounds like it is all about keeping God and creation apart, but it is actually about keeping them together.
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Like the term “sexual orientation,” the word “cisgender” is freighted with false ideas about sex and human nature. Christians should use the term only for very limited purpose, such as in quotations, lest we are subtly conformed to worldly thought.

This term is used to describe people whose biology and gender identity match, according to ordinary social expectations. Biological males who present as men are “cisgender,” as are biological females who present as women.
This term is inextricable from two larger overall projects of the sexual revolution. First, this term is bound up with the claim that biological sex does not determine anything about “gender”—that is, the social role and expectations that people adopt according to their sex. Second, this term helps to classify people according to their level of privilege in society. It is often said that cisgendered, straight, white, males are privileged and powerful, while gender-queer people are marginalized and low-status.
Both of these underlying ideas are false. The link between biology and social role is far too universal to come from a mere social convention or construct. No matter how many people insist that men and women can both be “birthing persons,” it is no accident that women generally have a more domestic role in society, and men a more outwardly-focused role. Biology and social role are deeply connected. They are both parts of human nature.
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Sexual Orientation

The only biblically consistent way to speak of “sexual orientation” is to recognize that sexual desires and behaviors do occur in deep and persistent patterns. These patterns may be so deep as to feel natural. But the same is true of other sins: it is “natural” for us sinners to be proud, greedy, angry, and so on. None of these sins, however, are “natural” in the sense that that they are normal and right behaviors for humans.

“Sexual orientation” refers to an innate, unchangeable trait that makes it natural and normal for someone to engage in certain sexual practices. The term functions as both an explanation and a defense of homosexuality:
Explanation: People naturally seek sexual unions that fit their orientation. Those with a “heterosexual orientation” will naturally seek sexual union with a person of the opposite sex, while those with a “homosexual orientation” will seek sexual union with a person of the same sex.
Defense: Orientation is an innate and unchangeable trait, like height or skin color, and therefore outside the realm of moral evaluation.
However, the idea of sexual orientation fails in both respects. To take the second point first, let’s grant the (unproven) claim that there are certain biological correlations with homosexual behavior. It does not follow from this that homosexual behavior cannot be evaluated morally. The reason for this is that there are biological correlations to many human behaviors that are clearly subject to moral evaluation. For instance, men are much more likely to commit murder than women. This does not mean that a moral criticism of murder is sexist. Nor does it mean that “men are murderers” because of some innate and unchangeable trait. Human behavior is complicated, and biology is one factor.
Second, the notion of “sexual orientation” fails as an explanation of homosexuality. Unlike height, skin color, or sex, sexual orientation is not observable. It can only be discerned by observing a person’s behaviors and statements. It is therefore at least possible that “orientation” is a concept developed to justify certain sexual behaviors, rather than a real explanation of them. That possibility was already there in the early days of gay and lesbian ideology, but it has emerged as a distinct probability as LGBTQ+ ideology has evolved.
Let me explain what I mean. Consider the phenomenon of “bisexuality” (the “B” in the expanding acronym). Is this an orientation in its own right, or does it describe someone who moves back and forth between two orientations? Such questions are even murkier when “gender-fluid,” “non-binary,” “trans,” “queer,” and various other identities are thrown into the mix. No longer are we talking about an innate, unchangeable trait that makes certain sexual behaviors natural. Rather, we are talking about completely decoupling any evaluation of sexual behavior from innate natural traits.
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Heterosexuality and Homosexuality

God designed men for sexual union with women, and vice versa, and no other options exist…Really, we only need the words “male” and “female” to describe the patterns of sexual desire and behavior that befit the created structures of our human bodies. What the sexual revolution calls “heterosexuality” is what God calls manhood and womanhood.

“Heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” are familiar terms, with apparently simple meanings. However, they often carry unbiblical implications, so Christians should avoid using these terms, or at least use them carefully, to ensure that we speak truthfully, clearly, and consistently.
To see what I mean, consider the root word “sexuality.” This word can refer to at least three distinct, yet closely related, things:

Actual sexual practices, or patterns of such.
Qualities related to sexual practices, such as identity, desire, lifestyle, fashion, and manners.
People who engage in these practices or adopt these related qualities.

These shades of meaning are present in the more specific terms “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality.”
“Homosexuality” refers to practices, qualities, or people characterized by sexual desire for someone of the same sex. It describes a type of sexual behavior, as well as qualities related to such behaviors and people who engage in them. The advantage of using this term is that it is more objective than the euphemism “gay,” and more specific than terms like “LGBTQ+.”
Still, we must be careful to distinguish between homosexual practices, related qualities, and homosexual people. When these three are conflated, misleading or confusing statements may ensue. For example, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 describe homosexual practices as abominations, not homosexual people.
On first glance, the meaning of “heterosexuality” is obvious: it is the opposite of “homosexuality.” It refers to practices, related qualities, or people marked by a desire for the opposite sex.
“Heterosexual” and its less formal synonym “straight” can be useful to describe patterns of sexual desire and behavior approved by God. We have all been designed for sexual union with someone of the opposite sex, and not with anyone of the same sex.
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The term “homophobia” could be used to describe sinful attitudes or actions towards homosexuals. Its typical use, though, is to describe opposition to homosexual practices and beliefs, which is assumed to be irrational. Used in this way, it is an unfair rhetorical ploy to discredit any opposition to homosexuality.

Debates are rarely won on the battlefield of terminology, but they are frequently lost there. This is certainly the case in today’s debates over sexuality. Virtually all of the key terms are so freighted with ideological ordnance that entire regiments of exegetical and philosophical argument can be wiped out at a moment’s notice by a careless choice of words.
One word that we must handle with care is “homophobia.” Of course, this term is frequently leveled at anyone who dissents from the mainstream view affirming homosexual practices. Frequently, though, the term is also used by Christians to describe sinful attitudes or attitudes toward homosexuals. The problem is that when Christians use this term, we are either using it in a highly restricted sense that our secular culture does not recognize, or we are buying into some unbiblical assumptions about homosexuality.
The second half of the term, “phobia,” signifies an irrational fear. For instance, “arachnophobia” is an irrational fear of spiders. You might have arachnophobia if you avoid opening cupboards because years ago you found a dead spider in one. On the other hand, running away from a tarantula is evidence of healthy fear, not arachnophobia.
But what exactly does a homophobe fear? What does the “homo” refer to? It could refer to homosexual people. In this case, “homophobia” would be a useful term to describe someone’s fear of speaking to a homosexual, of stepping on their lawn, or of eating one table over from them at a restaurant.
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