Why do we have religions? Because there are some questions that can’t be answered by examining the world around us and trying to understand the meaning of everything. Four important questions every individual person asks and religions attempt to answer are
- Where did I come from?
- Who am I?
- What should I do?
- Where am I going?
People who grow up within a religious tradition hear clear answers to the third and fourth questions. They are taught rules and regulations for living (What should I do?), and they are urged to follow this pattern of living by promises or threats about the afterlife (Where am I going? Heaven or Hell?). The first question (Where did I come from?) seems to be answered by each particular religion’s teaching about the origin of the human race. In Christianity (as well as Judaism and Islam) the origin question is dealt with in the Creation account in Genesis. But as we learn more in life, we find that the universe is much older than a literal reading of Genesis would suggest., and it’s also much, much more expansive than earlier generations could have imagined. Furthermore, hidden in the question about origins is the more profound question, Why? What is the purpose and meaning of this life we are part of?
Who am I? This second question has traditionally been answered within a person’s family, reinforced by religion and culture. Part of the Who am I? answer is identifying yourself as male or female and understanding what that implies about your role in life and what choices are open to you. A couple of generations ago, this was a simple issue for most of us. Of course, we were aware that there were some people who didn’t find this an easy decision and identified themselves by their attraction to people of the same sex as theirs, but they were marginalized and didn’t seem to affect our lives much.
But things have changed. It probably began when birth control became much more accessible in the mid-twentieth century, with the result that the primary purpose of marriage was expanded beyond having and raising children. This empowered women to become freer to affirm their equality in the workplace and in leadership. Meanwhile, those who didn’t feel attracted to the opposite sex began to “come out” and affirm their own sense of destiny. Society slowly adapted to these new Who am I? realities by acknowledging and addressing many of the ways people who expressed their gender non-traditionally had suffered from discrimination. A high point in this journey was the 2015 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that same-sex relationships can be recognized as true marriages.
This makes many of us old timers pretty uncomfortable, but our young people have grown up in this rapidly changing world. They and their friends feel that people who don’t answer the Who am I? question with a clear Male or Female should be accepted for who they believe themselves to be. Yes, our young people.
Some people in the ABC family have been discussing this for years. Recently, however, a series of posts on the church’s Facebook group site, initiated by young adults who grew up in the ABC family, have emerged into a major conversation involving numerous ABCers. This has been going on for weeks, but not everyone reads Facebook, so we thought it was important to bring us all up to speed. That’s why we’re writing this article.
We began this article by talking about religions and how they respond to four basic questions. Well, most religions in the world aren’t dealing with the gender identity and sexual attraction issues very well; they all seem to be struggling to match their traditional answer to the Who am I? question within the realities of modern life.
ABC represents a religious tradition that takes the Bible seriously as God’s revelation of himself and his purposes. That’s why the Deacon Board asked us to study how the Bible’s statements about sexuality and gender shed light on today’s discussions. We’re currently working on this, and we’re discovering some intriguing insights about how this ancient book can come alive in a new way in our day. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, we’d like to hear from more of you about your personal thoughts and experiences. We expect that God will be glorified and all of us will be enlightened through this continuing conversation. We also anticipate that each of us, personally, will discover some new answers to the Who am I? question.
— Pastors Connie Larson DeVaughn and George Van Alstine