Underlying much of the standard theology of sexuality and marriage, is the assumption that there exists a simply binary division of humanity into two clear sexes, male and female, created to marry and procreate.That view has been challenged in recent years by the recognition of intersex people, contradicting the assumption of just two sexes, and by gender theory, which notes that gender and sex are not interchangeable terms.
In his paper to the “Embodied Ministry” conference of the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality, Professor Adrian Thatcher presented a less familiar challenge to this assumption of a sexual binary divide. Taking an historical view, he argued that this binary assumption is a relatively modern innovation, which in turn is currently being developed further into a much more nuanced understanding.
Taking the long view, Thatcher presented as an introduction a fourfold division of the evolution of our view – three historical views, and one newly emerging:
- In the first period, for the greater part of Christian history and earlier, the standard assumption was in fact (perhaps surprisingly) that there existed only a single sex, the male, with females understood to be simply an inferior version of the same.
- Much later, this developed into a recognition of the existence of two sexes – but two which were decidedly unequal.
- This in turn developed into the more familiar view of two equal sexes.
- The newly emerging understanding, however, ceases to think primarily in terms of simple divisions, emphasising instead a single common humanity, encompassing many differences, with Christ as its head.