The End of Sexual Identity

May 9, 2011 | Leave a comment

The End of Sexual Identity, by Jenell Williams Paris, is a simple, but I think, important little book. Paris is a professor of anthropology at Messiah College, and brings her expertise to the discussion of how much our modern cultural understandings of sexuality frame our reading of Scripture.

These few sentences from the first chapter show the direction of the book:

Like many anthropologists have already done, I describe heterosexuality and homosexuality as social constructions. Though these categories claim to be natural, neutral descriptions of human beings, they are actually concepts created by people within the last two hundred years.

I am not a cultural anthropologist, so I don’t know to what degree Paris’ arguments might be debatable from that perspective. But as a Biblical interpretor, I appreciate how her writings help to step back from a volatile topic to see it from a different, and helpful, perspective.

She does share some of her own conclusions, but I think the book best serves as a discussion starter. It would be a helpful read for any community trying to work through the complexities of contemporary sexuality and the Bible.

Here are a few of my highlights to get you started:

  • Sexual holiness is often described as an unchanging ethic, universally applicable to Christians of all times and places, but it’s not. (pg 13)
  • The point is that we’re kidding ourselves if we think Christians have sex figured out. Reticence to engage the issues in a sustained and civil manner has led — and is still leading — to secrecy, repression, taboo and scandal. (pg 22)
  • The question “Is homosexuality a sin?” presupposes that homosexuality is a thing about which valid moral judgments can be made, and it also implies that judging is the first and/or most important thing Christians need to do when they encounter homosexuality or homosexuals. (pg 34)
  • Because sexuality has moved center stage in defining human identity, heterocentrist theology constructs a hierarchy of persons. Even humble heterosexual Christians who make every effort to be kind and gracious toward homosexuals are not really reaching out; they’re reaching down from a place of moral elevation. (pg 40)
  • The concept “homosexual” really functions as a category of negation, containing all who are not heterosexual. The label tells us virtually nothing about an individual other than the single fact that she or he is not heterosexual. (pg 70)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”