It was a surprising title to read.
A member of the General Synod of the Church of England asked: “What is the definition of a woman in the Church of England? In response, Dr. Robert Innes, the Bishop in Europe, replied that “there is no official definition”.
He went on to add that although the meaning of the word woman was previously “taken for granted… [that] additional care” was now needed. Obviously, this answer was made in the context of trans rights and what defines a “woman.”
Yet, it is simply amazing that the answer is that there is no official definition. Maya Forstater, executive director of campaign group Sex Matters, called the Bishop’s response ‘shocking’, saying ‘the concepts of male and female do not need to have a formal official definition. [because] they are older than human life itself. She added that the Church of England should have stuck to its long-established understanding, “which makes sense whether your starting point is biology or the Bible.”
She’s right, starting with biology.
Biological science says that much of the nature of our sexual identities as male and female has to do with reproduction. Yes, there are rare cases where a person is born “intersex”, which is when a person is born with one or more atypical characteristics in their sex anatomy or sex chromosomes. The medical term for intersex conditions is “differences or disturbances in sex development” or DSD. Intersex people statistically represent a small percentage of the population. But even in the small percentage that falls into this category, 99.98% are still biologically male or female and the other 0.02% are anatomically both. In other words – and this is what is important – intersex does not mean neither male nor female.
Males and females also have different levels of hormones that contribute to their given sex. For example, women have higher levels of estrogen and men have higher levels of testosterone. This is what leads to the development of various secondary sex characteristics, such as the development of larger breasts and hips in women and more muscle mass and facial hair in men.
Our sex is also formed at the genetic level. Specifically, the presence of a Y chromosome is what distinguishes men from women. Whether we are sexually dimorphic – biologically male or biologically female – is simply an established, objective, scientific fact. Male and female are biological sex categories. We are, biologically, a race of men and a race of women. Biologically, there is no “in-between” and there is no third option. Our interpretations of sex and how we perceive our gendered bodies may be socially constructed or personally informed, but sex itself is not socially constructed.
So much for biology. And the Bible?
The first thing the Bible has to say about human sexuality is that it is human sexuality. It’s true. It is embedded in our very creation and, therefore, in our identity (see Genesis 1:26-27). In the great Creation story that begins the entire biblical drama, we find three amazing statements about who we are as human beings: We were created, in the image of God, as male and female. When God created human beings, He deliberately made us a race of men and a race of women. Which means that sexuality isn’t just about what you do or how you feel, it’s about who you are and who you were created and meant to be. It’s not just about what a person does, but who they are is.
Being male and female is inextricably linked to being created in the image of God. To be created in the image of God means we have the ability to respond and relate to the living God. We have a soul. And our body is essential to this image-bearing status. It’s only one thing. We were created in the image of God and incarnated as men and women with a soul. Thus, the most basic statement about human nature – that we bear the image of God – highlights our incarnate nature. We bear the image of God as male and female.
And being created male and female describes biological sex, not gender roles or gender identities. Right after saying that we were created male and female, we read a very biological statement: “God blessed them and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply'” (Genesis 1:28, NIV).
This is why each time a man presents himself as a woman, or a woman presents herself as a man, it is unequivocally denounced. For example, in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy it says: “A woman should not wear men’s clothes and a man should not wear women’s clothes. Anyone who does this is detestable in the sight of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 22:5, NLT). The reason it is condemned is that it violates the created order and the image of God embodied through our biological sex.
This is also the tension between the Bible and homoerotic behavior: ” Do not be mistaken. Those who indulge in sexual sin… [who] commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality… none of them will inherit the Kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9-10, NLT). Note that male prostitution is separate from homosexual behavior. The Greek word Paul used for male prostitute refers primarily to men who act like or identify as women. The reason for this denunciation was that it went against the creative intention of God making us men and women. At every turn, the pursuit of a trans lifestyle is doomed because it amounts to turning “against the natural way” (see Romans 1:26).
Here, then, is the essence of the biblical teaching: 1) We are created male and female under God’s plan and intent; 2) Being male and female is rooted in biology – it is not something plastic, on a spectrum, to be determined by us, or based on gender identity or gender role; 3) We are a race of men and women, and this is rooted in the way we were created; and 4) Violating this – dishonouring this – is a great and grave offense to our creation and our Creator.
This is the basis on which we must engage in current cultural conversations and debates. And make no mistake, there is a big gap between biblical teaching and current cultural arrangements. Arrangements that Colin Wright, an evolutionary biologist at Penn State, and Emma Hilton, a developmental biologist at the University of Manchester, call in a the wall street journal opinion piece, “The dangerous denial of sex”. Their position can be summed up in one sentence: “Increasingly, we are seeing a dangerous and anti-scientific trend toward the outright denial of biological sex. They write that in current cultural thought,
“If men and women are merely arbitrary groupings, then it follows that everyone, regardless of genetics or anatomy, should be free to choose to identify as either male or female, or to reject sex entirely in favor of a new tailor-made “gender identity”.
And their response to this as scientists?
“In humans, as in most animals or plants, the biological sex of an organism corresponds to one of two distinct types of reproductive anatomy… In humans, reproductive anatomy is without male or female ambiguity at birth more than 99.98% of the time….. No third sex cell type exists in humans, and therefore there is no sexual “spectrum” or sexes additional beyond masculine and feminine. is binary.”
All this to say that in sound psychology, gender and sex are not just something between our ears, but between our legs. Sexuality is not like a favorite color; it is hardwired into our being and was meant to be.
So, in response to the Church of England, we most certainly have an official definition.
James Emery White
Gabriella Swerling, “Church of England: There is no official definition of a woman”, The TelegraphJuly 10, 2022, read online.
Sprinkle Preston, Incarnate: Transgender Identities, the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say.
Colin M. Wright and Emma N. Hilton, “The Dangerous Denial of Sex”, The Wall Street JournalFebruary 13, 2020, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His last book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. . Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president.
His latest book, After “I believe”, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. .
Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.