The reality of God’s child, Caster Semenya, presents us with many questions. Why should God allow an unpopular, uncommon human being to be born in a world that discriminates against those who are ‘different’?
It seems so unfair. It may even seem unjust. Oppressive even! Why, God?
Why, when she will be condemned, scorned, even despised by some of the most religious followers of God?
Peta-Ann Baker was excellent in her piece ‘What if Semenya were Jamaican?’ (The Sunday Gleaner, September 6). This should be required reading or required hearing for all who would seek to understand more about the subject of human sexuality.
Since she is a celebrity, God’s Semenya brings into focus the issue of being ‘sexually different’. In Semenya’s experience, the state of being a synchronous hermaphrodite (presence of both male and female gonads) is not even the case. In the absence of a gender-specific identity, could Semenya be ever described as heterosexual or homosexual? What implications might all this have for our transgendered sisters and brothers?
There is one school of thought which interprets the Yahwist creation account as a divine leaning towards creating a hermaphrodite. It is not being suggested here that that was God’s intention. Just noting that the androgynous – the human – Adam was simply created. Later, God seems to have decided to include another sex in the person of Eve.
Then there is the whole matter of Jesus’ affirmation of eunuchs. Who were eunuchs in the ancient world? This should make interesting exploration. Jesus, in Matthew 19:11-12, gives a word which is not often recalled in our cultural context.
When his disciples suggest that it may be better not to marry (in light of the discourse on divorce), Jesus responds by acknowledging three groups of persons. He, however, prefaces his thesis by acknowledging that “Not everyone can accept this word …”
The three groups of persons are:
Eunuchs by birth
Eunuchs made by people (castrated)
Eunuchs by choice (renouncing marriage)
Imagine Jesus saying this to a group of Jamaican macho men! From the perspective of psychological biblical criticism, it is understandable why we would have a preference for quoting, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother ….” But how often do we hear reference to Matthew 19:11-12?
Maybe this topical issue is a reminder of how God is not gender specific in terms of divine identity. Our response to God’s Semenya may determine whether we lock ourselves into gender stereotypical dogma.
The gendering of God has for centuries assured negative patriarchal values, condemned women to being the lesser or weaker sex, and ensured the preservation of various unethical constructs.
God’s Semenya reminds us that life is not always about black or white, right or wrong, high or low! The answers to life’s questions are just not always as simple as pulling a Bible verse. Reality is not polarised for ease of comprehension.
Does it offend to hear that God is not gendered? Why would God need sexuality? Yes, it is true that pagan gods were male, female, or both, since this affirmed their reproductive ‘capacity’.
The Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Ultimate does not need the limitation of gender identity. This is only required where continuation of the species depend on sexual activity.
Should there be a debate?
Is Semenya a human being? Should there be a debate with regard to Semenya’s entitlement to human rights consideration? What if ‘other Semenyas’ wanted to be married to each other? What if Semenya was your child?
How do Christians – those with all the answers – respond to these questions? Is this an unfortunate situation? If ‘yes’, is God unfair? If ‘no’, would you marry someone like God’s Semenya?
It is my hope that we will find compassion for Semenya. Let us use this reality to move beyond dinner table and bar counter jokes, to a more reasoned dialogue with ourselves. Let us engage that strange and often challenging place between faith and other life experiences.
Fr Sean Major-Campbell is former rector of the Anglican Church in the Cayman Islands. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org