question for the ‘yes on prop 8’ supporters: who can caster semenya marry?

South African gold-medallist Caster Semenya

South African gold-medallist Caster Semenya

i have a question for all of the california ‘yes on proposition 8’ supporters and others who support bans on gay marriage:

who can caster semenya marry?

it was revealed that south african olympic runner caster semenya is an intersexual individual (traditionally called hermaphrodites).

South African gold-medallist Semenya, 18, has both male and female organs, it was claimed…Semenya is claimed to have NO womb or ovaries — and has internal testes, the male sexual organs which produce testosterone.

first, i want to say that i can’t possibly comprehend what it must be like growing up as an intersexual individual in a society that sees issues of gender in such a markedly binary manner. gender issues are confusing enough if you are merely male or female, but to grow up in a sex-obsessed world arguing about issues of same-sex marriage as a hermaphrodite? this seems incredibly difficult.

i want to lend my support and sympathy to caster semenya, not for her physical makeup – she should be proud of who she is. but, i want to encourage her to stay strong in her life as an olympian and a woman (the gender she has chosen).

however, i cannot help but ask a few questions to those that oppose same sex marriage and to those that oppose women’s full inclusion, participation, and leadership in the church.

who can caster semenya marry? can she marry a man? would you let her marry a woman?

can she preach in a church? can she lead singing? can she serve as an elder? a pastor?

while these questions are answered quite simply by those of us that support gender equity and same-sex marriage, the answers are a little more difficult for those wishing to impose traditional (and quite physiologically ignorant) opinions on the matter. the bible speaks of male and female, but does not consider asexual, hermaphroditic, or other intersexual individuals. quite frankly, hermaphrodites do not fit the ‘biblical’ paradigm that many wish to enforce.

hermaphrodite_symbolhow can we continue to impose male/female gender regulations from a book that fails to address intersexual individuals upon a modern society. studies show that about 1% of all children born express some degree of sexual ambiguity, and 1 in every 2,000 newborns is born in a pronounced intersexual state. sure, these individuals are in the extreme minority, but if christians truly believe that every individual person is loved – and most say uniquely created (some might say intelligently designed) – by god, how can we impose gender restrictions upon individuals that possess both genders? it is no longer acceptable for fundamentalists simply to argue that the only acceptable christian lifestyle for intersexual individuals is lifelong abstinence. it is no sin, and they (nor their parents) did nothing wrong.

it is time for christians (and jews, and muslims, and peoples of all faiths) to recognize that some social institutions mentioned in the bible are no longer valid in modern society. the bible allows for slavery, but modern society has condemned this practice. the bible not only allows for, but at times commands genocide, but modern society has condemned this practice. likewise, the bible promotes the continued subjugation of women and homosexuals based upon antiquated and scientifically ignorant understandings of what it means to be a human with gender. it is time we once and for all did away with calls by christians to continue to ban same-sex marriage and women’s participation in church worship and leadership. it is time to accept that not all people in christ are ‘male and female’ (gal. 3:28) and realize that like its endorsement of slavery, the subjugation of women, homosexuals, and intersexual individuals is no longer acceptable.

10 Responses

  1. hmmm… i think the simplest solution would be for her/ him to marry him/ her self. that way when they get divorced there wont be the inevitable fussing and division of property

  2. Hey Bob,

    I’m curious how the Bible “endorses” slavery. It mentions slavery. Slavery existed then. It exists now. The Bible documents it because it happened. The Jewish slavery at the hands of the Egyptians was hardly lauded. In fact, the Exodus from slavery to freedom recounted in the Bible was embraced by (and has been a central meatphor of) the modern American civil rights movement.

    Also, the Bible does NOT promote the continued subjugation of women. In fact, New Testament doctrine stood out as MORE free for women, compared to the times (and stands out the same way now, compared to Islamic oppression of women). And that advance has been a stepping stone to further advances for women. But you can’t retrospectively impose today’s values on it. That’s akin to criticizing the Emancipation Proclamation for not doing away with Jim Crow laws. Both were huge steps forward for their time.

    I have many more thoughts on your post, but limited time. So I’ll end here, hopefully get your thoughts, and be back for more.

    Thanks for continuing with the thought-provoking posts!


  3. how does the bible endorse slavery???

    colossians 3:22 states, “slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly.” (NRSV)
    1 peter 2:18 states, “slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” (NRSV)
    ephesians 6:5 states, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.” (NRSV)

    and while the paul argues in Galatians 3:28 that there is no longer jew or greek, slave or free, male and female “in christ,” as far as roman state practice of slavery was concerned, the bible makes no call for the abolition of slavery, and jesus makes no grand “i have a dream” speech. in fact, paul argues quite the opposite. when a slave named onesimus ran away from his master philemon, the apostle paul instructs the runaway slave to return to his slave master, writing only to philemon to ask that he not punish the defecting slave because he had become a christian. far from a call for the abolition of slavery, the bible clearly accepts the practice, and defends it with stern admonitions to slaves to accept their fates and obey their masters.

    that’s how the bible endorses slavery. and it was southern fundamentalist christians who wee running around during the civil war (and unfortunately during the civil rights movement of the 1960s) slaiming that we should retain slavery because the bible clearly states, ‘slaves, obey your masters.’ who are we to abolish slavery?

    the point is that we’ve learned to set this aside as our culture and civil rights modernize. the same will be true for gay marriage.


    as for the continued subjugation of women, the bible is very clear. while jesus did what he could to elevate the role of women (especially as recorded in luke’s gospel), the pastoral epistles and later church leaders put women right back ‘in their place:’

    1 corinthians 14:34 states, “women should be silent in the churches. for they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.”
    1 timothy 2:12 states, “i permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”
    colossians 3:18 states, “wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the lord.”
    ephesians 5:22-23 states, “wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the lord. for the husband is the head of the wife just as christ is the head of the church.”

    and while the women’s rights movement eventually gave the right to vote, we still struggle with this in the church. yet, we are overcoming this age-old notion that women are lesser than men.

    for more, see here:

  4. Bob,

    First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I engaged you here, rather than on Facebook, because I am sincerely curious about your thoughts and respect your opinions and have no interest in getting into some sort of multi-sided debate with people. I am more interested in reading and learning from your point of view and refining my own point of view through expression.

    I’ll begin with a broad Biblical distinction that can apply to all of these issues. In the Bible, and especially in the NT, there is a great distinction between the state of this fallen world and the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Kingdom of Heaven where things operate according to God’s perfect will, racial, gender, and class distinctions disappear, while in this life those distinctions are ever-present, and will continue to be as long as this world exists (for instance, a recent study showed that there are more slaves today than at any time in human history). And so the Bible’s description of life under God’s perfect will (or “in Christ”) in Galatians is distinct from the practical teaching and advice for those trying to navigate this fallen world.

    The fact is that slavery has always existed and will continue to exist until the end of our time on earth, and so some advice for slaves is in order. And since we know that there will be neither slave nor free in the Kingdom of Heaven, the admonition for slaves to obey their masters (the jist of the multiple verses you cite) is not an endorsement of the practice, but rather some advice for those forced to live under it. The alternatives would be things like “slaves, kill your masters” or “slaves, run away from your masters.” And I think that, as general practical advice, you and I would agree that killing your master tends to endanger the soul while fleeing tends to endanger the body.

    And keep in mind that these verses are addressed to the slaves themselves, the weak and oppressed whom Jesus held dear. There are no verses saying “Slave-owners, subdue your slaves” or “Masters, whip your subjects into obedience.” Therefore, slave-owners who use/used these verses as defenses of their behavior are twisting the meaning of those verses. These verses are not addressed to them. And yet, history has proven that it is the free, the slave-owners and free men, not the slaves themselves, who have the power to abolish slavery here on earth. It was Pharaoh who eventually had to choose (after some not-so-subtle prodding) to “let his people go.” He was not toppled by a Jewish slave rebellion. It was the British governing aristocracy that freed the slaves of the British Empire. It was the free abolitionists and non-slave-owning North that freed the slaves of the American South. There were no successful insurrections – such insurrections invariably led to the execution of the slaves themselves.

    But even if you agree with my point that the Bible’s advice is directed towards the slaves themselves and is not an endorsement of the practice of slavery, you may still ask, “Isn’t the omission of any condemnation of slave-owners proof of some tacit approval of the practice?” And again, I would say no. The disappointment at this omission is similar to the Jews’ disappointment at Jesus’ lack of criticism (or even overthrow) of despotic Roman rule. Both concern Jesus’ seeming antipathy towards political rebellion. The Gospels clearly depict Jesus as being profoundly concerned with the state of the human soul while He remains exceedingly disinterested in the affairs of state and the laws of this earth. This is because while the governments and laws of this world are constantly changing, the road to eternal life does not – the Gospel can be learned and found by people under any government and by people subjected to any earthly condition, including slavery. Freedom of the soul does not require freedom of the body. For instance, whose soul is more likely to seek and follow God, slave or slave-owner?

    Anyway, all this is not to say that we, the free, should not do all in our power to abolish slavery and tyranny. They are perversions of government and are rightly our earthly concern, whereas it is the perversion and corruption of our eternal souls that was and is Jesus’ primary concern. To say that the Bible endorses slavery is untrue and misses the point. The point is that the freedom of the soul to choose God transcends earthly conditions. Ultimate power does not lie in the hands of earthly oppressors.

    Thanks again for writing, Bob (and for reading my responses). Hopefully we can continue this discussion. I’m anxious to address the women’s issues you raise and also eventually get to your central point concerning sexuality as well!


  5. adam,

    with all due respect the heart of your assertions is completely extra-biblical and so, strange… the source of your assertions is in this “slavery has always existed and will continue to exist until the end of our time on earth” and so we should somehow adjust our behaviors to a sinful structure in societies? no. the rational view is to disagree with paul and say that loving our neighbor means that all human beings have been created equal and christians ought to do whatever we can to promote the freedom of conscience in order for the human being to flourish. there is nothing in the bible that says to abolish slavery. to suggest that is an extra-biblical assertion. likewise, to bob’s point, the idea that a convanented relationship between two people of the same gender is not in the bible. to suggest that paul had this in mind along with gagnon is to betray the clear context and rhetoric of Rom. 1 among others.

    what is troubling is the inconsistency of hermeneutics that people use in order to justify extra-biblical ideologies. that is at its root something idolatrous.

  6. […] question for the ‘yes on prop 8′ supporters: who can caster semenya marry? (Sept. 10, 2009) […]

  7. […] I shall continue doing my part (here and here and here and here and here and here and here) to combat the discriminatory hatred that continues to be spewed forth by those […]

  8. […] question for the ‘yes on prop 8′ supporters: who can caster semenya marry? […]

  9. […] blogged on this issue before. The case of Caster Semenya is but one higher profile example of an intersexual individual being questioned in the public […]

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