The Pope on gender and the end of western civilization

Every year in December, the Pope delivers an address to the Roman Curia. The annual speech has been dubbed “The State of the Union” for the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope gave this year’s address earlier today, and it is already making waves—for all the right reasons.

News reports and punditry have focused most of their attention on the speech’s implications for gay marriage—namely that the Pope opposes same-sex unions of any kind. Nevertheless, the focus on the legal question of gay marriage is a rather shallow analysis of the speech. Make no mistake. The Pope’s words are nothing less than a broadside against any notion of same-sex marriage. But what he said actually goes much deeper than that.

He argues that there is a “crisis” threatening the very foundations of the family in the western world. The crisis is not merely about a particular social construct, but about what it means to be “authentically human.” The family is in crisis because mankind in the western world has forgotten what it means to be created in the image of God as male and female. The Pope takes on not merely homosexual marriage, but the entire foundation of modern gender theory—the idea that gender is something that you choose, not something that you are. I think it’s worth quoting him at length on this point:

The very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question… According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply.

Amen. Few people—and I fear far too few Christians—realize that what the Pope is talking about here is at the leading edge of the conflict between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. The secular West has given up on God as the Maker in Whose image man is created. Our culture has given up on the idea that men and women are different and that they are so by God’s design. In the West, male and female are not creation categories. They are simply identities that we learn from culture or that we choose to inhabit.

It would be easy to blame this devolution on feminism and queer theory, but that would be too superficial. For both modern feminism and queer theory derive from the spirit of antichrist which denies that we are as God has made us. It is not the Spirit of God, but another spirit altogether that says that male and female are completely interchangeable, not only at the level of social roles but also at the level of sexual practice. The feminists and the queer theorists hold these basic assumptions in common, and that is why their alliance in the larger culture has been so unbreakable.

Secular responses that you are going to hear and read in the coming days will focus almost entirely on the question of gay marriage and the perception that the Pope is against “gay rights.” This secular narrative defines this discussion exclusively in terms of the march of human progress and equality. It is able to do that because it has already accepted—perhaps uncritically—the notion that gender is something you learn, not something that you are. If those assumptions about gender turn out to be false—and scripture tells us that they are indeed false—then the narrative of equality that is built upon it crumbles. Those advancing the “equality” narrative may not realize this, but they have built their entire house on shifting sand. That house will be washed away in due time.

As a Protestant and a Baptist, I have many serious differences with the Pope. But when it comes to the ethics of gender and sexuality and the rot that is eating away at Western culture, I find that we have much in common. The Pope rings true on this because he is agreeing with Genesis 1:27: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” God did in fact make us male and female. To deny this is to deny what it means to be human. On this, the Pope is profoundly right.

21 Responses to The Pope on gender and the end of western civilization

  1. Akash Charles December 21, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    yup, the Pope is spot on, using egalitarian logic-opposing gay marriage is basically an oxymoron

  2. Nathan Cesal December 21, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    I think the pope and you, Denny, are mischaracterizing modern queer theory. Sexual orientation and gender are innate, but they may not be what you consider standard. If a person has a male pair of chromosomes (XY), but has a female gender identity, how can you say that person is going against God creating male and female?

    • Denny Burk December 21, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

      Nathan, I think the Pope is speaking biblically when he says that people have “have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being.” In other words, your idea of “gender identity” is precisely the error that we are talking about. A person’s feeling of maleness or femaleness is not something that should disagree with their biological sex. When it does, the feelings are wrong, even if they are perceived to be innate.

      • Nathan Cesal December 22, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

        You interpret the world and the Bible through a cisgendered lens. You have no idea what it means to have a gender identity (not merely feelings, mind you) that is opposite to your outer physical make up. You are prejudiced against LGBTQI and I think you don’t make fair assessments regarding this issue.

        A person’s outerward appearance can be intersexed. God has knit all people together, both the typical and atypical. If He makes one person that is male AND female physically, what is to exclude Him from making a person male AND female in another way? You?

        • Denny Burk December 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

          I don’t think you understand what intersex is. Even in cases with ambiguous genitalia, you are still dealing with persons who have X and Y chromosomes. Yes, in some of these cases, there is a chromosomal abnormalty. But even in those cases, those who have only one or more X chromosomes should be treated as female, and those that have a Y chromosome should be regarded as male.

          • Matt Cox December 22, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

            What about those who have complete androgen insensitivity. XY genetically, however a genetic inability to respond to testosterone and other male sex hormones leads them to develop as females in terms of external appearances (lacking a womb and with internal under developed testes).

            These women have an XY chromosome and so under your rules should be classed as men. But they are physically quite clearly women.

            Things with gender aren’t as simple as you want to make them.

          • Don Johnson December 23, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

            I wish things were that simple, that if one has a Y gene, then one is male and if not then one is female.

            But with AIS people this would mean very attractive females (at least in the externals) would be told they are really males and then according to comp doctrine should demonstrate their “Biblical manhood” which includes only being able to marry a woman or remain celibate. Do you really not see this as problematical? Is this really what you would tell your own child if they had this condition?

  3. dr. james willingham December 22, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    We rejoice that the Pope should address our present ideological dilemma. Would that he might address the part his church has played in the development of that problem. They had already backed the underpinnings of the whole approach of postmodernism, that is, the evolutionary viewpoint which really demands that God be remo0ved from the equation. After all, the documents are so quaint with their mythology of origins, if the so-called evolutionary view is correct. But the seeds of truth in Scripture are set in an intellectual matrix which practically denies human comprehension in its fallen state, and the problem is one of perspicuity, of clarity, of thinking that we comprehend what we see because it is so clear. The truth is otherwise. The depth is so great that what we see is no where near the comprehension necessary to a real understanding. Just consider how a great amount of wealth has bought the establishment and is pushing it toward the brink of disaster of such monumental proportions that the inmates of this mental institution who run it can not comprehend. The reduction of the world’s population to less than a half-billion people will produce a society of extreme depression that civilization will not be sustainable. Fortunately, there is another alternative in the offing, a Third Great Awakening which, hopefully, might begin in this generation and reach every soul on earth and continue for a thousand generations and reach millions of planets, should mankind be able to reach those bodies and settle them. The therapeutic paradoxes of the TULIP constitute the greatest, most moving, engaging, enticing, enchanting, entrancing, encouraging invitations every devised by the heart of God. The hour draws nigh. The darkest hour is just before the dawn. Joy cometh in the morning.

  4. Don Johnson December 22, 2012 at 12:30 am #

    There are intersex people, one example is one with what is called androgen insensitivity syndrome. This type has XY genes (which might indicate a male body type) but testosterone does not work as it normally does, so their body type is female, in fact it is often ultra feminine female. My take is that such people deserve our compassion and not judgment, as they have already been thrown a curve ball by life, no need to pile more on.

    I want to know how Denny would classify such people? I think intersex people should be able to self-classify themselves.

  5. Denny Burk December 22, 2012 at 3:10 am #

    Don, I presented a paper on intersex at the most recent meeting of the evangelical theological society. Here’s the title: “Is There Really Such Thing as Male and Female? The Challenge of Intersex to a Complementarian Understanding of Gender.” It’s going to be a part of a book that I am writing on sexual ethics, so I’m not going to post it here. But if you want to read it, I’ll be happy to send it to you.

    • Don Johnson December 22, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

      Thanks, I sent you an email on this site with my email address that does not corrupt file types sometimes.

    • Margaret Mowczko December 26, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

      Denny, I would be very interested in reading you paper too. Could you email me a copy also?

      • Denny Burk December 26, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

        Sure. Send me an email via the contact page.

  6. Chris Alan December 22, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    Would you send me a copy as well?

    The Free Dictionary (online) defines a male this way: “Of, relating to, or designating the sex that has organs to produce spermatozoa for fertilizing ova.” But, as I understand it, those with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome can have testes and XY chromosomes, but a female phenotype. This is the sort of challenge I most frequently see to “male and female created he them”. Pomosexualists say that Christians are gender binarists and fail to recognize that there are at least 5 genders or a continuum or whatever. We can stick to our guns and say that CAIS individuals are male because of their chromosomes or gonads, but should we let them into the men’s room? Should they be permitted to marry women? Just wondering.

    In Christ,

    Chris

    • Henry Bish December 22, 2012 at 11:35 am #

      Denny,

      I’d also be interested in reading a copy of that paper if you wouldn’t mind.

      My present view is that like all physical deformations, intersex is a result of the fall, and part of the judgment of sin that mankind has incurred. Yes, God did create them ‘male and female’ and it was ‘very good’ – but who ever said that God’s created sexuality is beyond the reach of the fall? Intersex is just a mirror image in the physical world of the grossly distorted masculinity and femininity we see in so many men and women today. Think of the butch behavior of some women or the or effeminate behavior of many men.

      But even with intersex, it is only a bifurcation of sexuality – we still only have male and female, not a new gender.

  7. Don Johnson December 22, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    I agree that Intersexuality can be seen as a part of the Fall. The question is how does a believer demonstrate love to them.

    It turns out that female supermodels have a higher proportion of intersex people in that group that the general population. On the outside they appear female and most appear hyper feminine. It is only on the inside does one find that they do not have the normal set of female parts and so cannot get pregnant.

    Another question is what about true hermaphrodites, again I see this can be seen as a part of the Fall. How does a believer demonstrate love to them?

    These are honest questions I have and the best I can come up with is to go back to first principles and love them as they are and let them self-define how they classify themselves.

  8. Don Johnson December 25, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    I thought of another question on this subject. It is well known that sometimes a single zygote will split and form twins or triplets, etc. What is less well known is that sometimes 2 zygotes fuse and form one person in the womb, these people are known as chimeras and it means that the cells from one portion of their body can be different from another portion in terms of the genes in the cells. So, as a hypothetical, what if the top half of a chimera was XX and the bottom half was XY. I would expect that the brain and therefore the mind would reflect the XX genes and be female and the gonads reflect XY and be male. How should a believer act in love towards such a person?

    The best answer I can come up with is “I am not sure, I would ask such a person to help me and inform me how best I could show Christ’s love for them.”

  9. Margaret Mowczko December 26, 2012 at 4:31 am #

    Denny, I think we understand the word “feminism” very differently.

    Feminism (according to Google) is “The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” (Other Dictionary definitions are similar.) Feminism includes advocating for equal opportunities for men and women, and boys and girls, to access health services and education.

    Some extreme feminists might believe that “male and female are completely interchangeable” but I think this must be rare indeed. It is like saying that patriarchalists believe that women have practically nothing in common with men, and are inferior to men. Only extreme patriarchalists believe this.

    Complementarianism could be called a feminist ideology because it asserts that men and women are of equal worth.

    I love being a woman, and I think I am feminine. I also love the men in my life, including my husband and sons, and grandson! I value our differences and our similarities.

    Due to a faulty understanding of the word that is too common, I do not call myself a feminist, even though I really am one according to the typical dictionary definition. Instead I call myself an egalitarian evangelical, or a caste-less Christian.

  10. Margaret Mowczko December 26, 2012 at 4:38 am #

    Just another point: You wrote, “those who have only one or more X chromosomes should be treated as female, and those that have a Y chromosome should be regarded as male.”
    http://www.dennyburk.com/the-pope-on-gender-and-the-end-of-western-civilization/#comment-119956

    All men have an X chromosome. Healthy men are XY, healthy women are XX.

    Also, I personally have known two people – who appeared to be lovely young women – who were infertile, and when they had health checks it was discovered that they had XXY for their sex chromosomes. I don’t know how many other people of my acquaintance have this problem but may not be aware of it, or do not talk about it. I don’t think the condition is particularly rare.

    Perhaps Jesus was referring to inter-sex people in Matthew 19:12.

    • Denny Burk December 26, 2012 at 8:52 am #

      Yes, but with intersex persons, there are sometimes two or more X chromosomes and only one Y. Sometimes there are multiple X chromosomes with no Y. My comment was written in light of those abnormalities.

      • Margaret Mowczko December 26, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

        My friends looked and acted like normal girls (except that they didn’t menstruate), and they regarded themselves as girls, yet they had a Y chromosome. You said that if a person has a Y chromosome they should be regarded as male. My friends (who I have now lost contact with) would be horrified with that statement. And I’m sure it would compound their pain by being told that they should be regarded as male.

        It’s a tricky subject, that’s for sure.

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