Jeff Walton of the Institute on Religion and Democracy spent last weekend doing some kind of penance up in Massachusetts, where in the IRD version of 10,000 Hail Marys he sat through a workshop offered by Episcopal Divinity School and the YES Institute of Miami. Entitled “The Gender Continuum,” it sounds like a Star Trek episode gone horribly awry.

The YES Institute (which on its web site boasts of ties to a number of Catholic and at least one PCUSA church in south Florida, as well as a partnership with the Episcopal Church nationally) is all about using pseudo-science to eliminate gender distinctions:

“The binary illusion throws us into complicity with many detrimental consequences,” [the institute's Joseph] Zolobczuk asserted. The institute’s education staffer explained that the traditional understanding assigned persons a male or female body, assumed that their gender was accordingly masculine or feminine, and expected them to be sexually attracted towards the opposite gender. All three of these criteria collapsed into the “illusion” of sex, according to Zolobczuk.

In contrast, the YES Institute proposed thinking of gender as a continuum – a continuous whole, no part of which can be distinguished from other parts except by arbitrary division.

“Every single human characteristic that we know about exists in a continuum,” Zolobczuk asserted, citing weight, height, hair color and IQ score. “The only two we have as binary are sex and gender.”

Walton notes that this is not quite true. In fact, there are lots of biological elements that are either/or, of which he mentions two: Rh factor in blood is either positive or negative, genes are “on” or “off.” I would add, women are either pregnant or they aren’t, something you can’t say about the average drag queen. But YES wants the whole notion of gender, and all that attaches to it, to be seen as a cultural construct:

“Cultural meaning is attached to everything and we live into a binary illusion,” Zolobczuk said, explaining how masculine cultural dress has changed since George Washington’s time, when wigs, tights, powdered faces and lace cuffs were associated with men.

Not sure what his point is here. Fashions change, certainly, and for all I know ten years from now the height of male fashion will be poodle skirts and saddle oxfords. But the point is that in Washington’s time, lace cuffs and tights were seen as male clothing, not female clothing being worn by a man, much less a man trying to be a woman (for instance, by insisting on using women’s restrooms).

“The binary is so insidious that it not only prevents us from seeing things – that once people have a perception of what gender is, it chases us,” Zolobczuk said.

But what about the seemingly obvious characteristics that make people male or female – starting with the appearance of genitalia?

“What if you lost them in an accident, would you still be male?” counters YES Institute co-founder Martha Fugate, attempting to disassociate the presence of genitalia from gender.

Ask women who have had mastectomies whether they are still women. Genitalia are obviously central to determining gender, but they are not the only factor. Still doesn’t deal with the binary nature of gender.

There’s more, but you get the point. The folks from YES make some valid points, but ultimately go way overboard in trying to use science or pseudo-science to make their political points. But the real fun was the theological stuff:

Patrick Cheng, an ordained minister in the majority-homosexual Metropolitan Community Churches and an openly homosexual faculty member at EDS, attempted to claim biblical characters such as the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 as examples of transgenderism.

“That’s the first queer person of color in the Bible,” Cheng said of the Ethiopian eunuch. Cheng also named Joan of Arc, Saint Perpetua, and early church theologian Origen as people who defied traditional gender expectations: Joan for her use of male clothing, Perpetua for her visions of gladiatorial combat, and Origen for reportedly castrating himself.

How many times have we heard from gay activists in the church that we can’t impose the categories of modern sexual thinking on the Bible or other ages past? I guess you can when it fits your agenda.

“There’s a lot of work being done on the transgendered Christ,” Cheng revealed, producing several different books that either focused upon or addressed the notion of Christ as transgendered.

“There’s a lot in our standard church history and Bible that deals with trans issues,” Cheng proposed.

Christ, Cheng said, defied gender norms of the time by washing feet and associating with women.

“Jesus has the experience of being excluded from the family,” Cheng noted, listing another perceived commonality with transsexuals, along with a sense of homelessness.

Of course, Jesus undoubtedly had a lot of other things in common with transsexuals: He ate food, for instance, and slept, and died. I’m sure you can come up with more.

“[Author] Virginia Mollenkott says that if Jesus was truly born of a virgin – a truly parthenogenetic birth with no male to contribute a Y chromosome, Jesus would have had XX chromosomes,” Cheng explained. “Mollenkott said that if he is said to have a male body but with XX chromosomes, that’s sort of a trans Jesus.”

So God could raise a man from the dead, but couldn’t create Him in such a way as to give Him male chromosomes? Maybe He should have consulted a Harvard biologist to see if there was a way to work that out.

Cheng also noted how author Justin Tanis wrote that resurrection can be an important metaphor for transsexuals – Jesus was still the same person, but in a different body.

Actually, it was the same body, but transformed into what Paul calls a “spiritual body.” It wasn’t as though the resurrection resulted in Him having different parts, after all.

“Justin even talks about communion as taking hormones, sort of sacramental theology as hormones,” Cheng said. “I think it shows the exciting and interesting work that is out there.”

Now he’s just being ridiculous, offensive, and possibly blasphemous. But gatherings like this are supposed to be all about the provocavtive, don’t you know.

“I think Christian theology is queer at its heart,” Cheng said. “Jesus is challenging the binary between the human and the divine, Jesus is challenging the binary between life and death, between the center and the margins, between body and spirit, heaven and Earth, alpha and the omega,” Cheng said. “Jesus is that transitional figure. That’s what queer theology is about – you’ve got these poles, but reality is actually more spectrum.”

You know, like the rainbow!

All I can say is that Jeff must have done something really bad to have to spend two days of his life listening to such stuff.