Gender-bending Hymnals: Old-Fashioned Dualism and LGBT

6a00d83453689869e201630307698b970dI was reading J.D. Greear’s most recent post, What’s the Deal with the “T” in LGBT, and I couldn’t help but think about a comment that one of my close friends made a couple of weeks ago.  As we were listening to a performance of the song, “I’ll Fly Away”, he leaned over to me and in a sing-songy whisper said, “This song supports Platonic dualism…”  On another occasion a few months ago, my wife pointed out the line in “Sweet Hour of Prayer” that sings, “This robe of flesh I’ll drop and rise, to seize the everlasting prize.”  I have to agree with my wife; it sounds a lot like a creepy spiritualized striptease of sorts.

I firmly believe that gender is an essential part of what it means to be made in the image of God (see my article here).  Recently I have spent a lot of time wondering whether our “old-fashioned” hymnody has contributed to the gender confusion of today’s generation.  At least, it has made Christians today ill-equipped to enter the conversation.  When I say “old-fashioned” hymns, I mean the ones typically associated with “old-fashioned” camp meetings.  The songs are relatively new to the Church; “old-fashioned” is merely a genre descriptor.

Consider some of these familiar songs.  From the bluegrass standard, “I’ll Fly Away”, we hear this line: “Like a bird from prison bars has flown, I’ll fly away.”  From the 1911 hymn “Anticipation” we hear, “When the last earth-tie is sundered, and my soul set free…”  Or what about the 1953 revival standard “Your First Day in Heaven”: “I had a dream, I must confess, I hated to awake.  He dreamt he was an angel at the great pearly gates.”  And one more, “Until Then” from 1958, states: “The soul of man is like a waiting falcon; When it’s released, it’s destined for the skies.”

What do these songs have in common?  Well, they’ve shaped Christian understanding of the body and soul throughout the 20th century, and they all promote platonic dualism.  Put simply, they see no value in the redemption of the body.  The Christian’s ultimate desire is to be set free from his body to enjoy heavenly bliss as a purely spiritual being forever.  In our Christian ghettos, we huddle around the idea that we become angels with wings,  and we warm our hands to the idea that we will fly away to some ethereal place in the clouds.  In all of this, we have lost the key to the entire gospel: RESURRECTION!

Have we forgotten that Jesus rose bodily?  I mean, that’s Peter’s point in Acts 10:41, when he states that eyewitnesses ate and drank with the risen Christ.  Paul’s highest aspiration was not to have his soul freed from his body like a bird from a cage, but “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:11).  Salvation is not just for the soul of man, but for his entire person–soul and body.  Salvation is the redemption of God’s image, gender included.

By buying into this Christianized dualism, we have abandoned the redemption of the body–and with it the redemption of gender.  The soul becomes the focus, as we try our best not to allow the wicked body to get the better of us.  I wonder whether this is one of the reasons so many Christians are completely unhealthy and out of shape.  If the body is meant to be discarded as an evil encumbrance at the end of this life, what’s the harm in abusing it in this life?  We start teaching this dualism to our kids at a young age as well.  Our youth groups spend so much time talking about the wickedness of sex, that I wonder whether some have not decided to become eunuchs for Christ after concluding that gender was a curse of the Fall.

All of this being said, many Christians are completely powerless to discuss gender with the culture because we ourselves abandoned redemption of the body somewhere in the 1950s.  With it we left behind the resurrection from the dead, and somewhere under that pile is Paul’s greatest hope in Christ.

The best way to understand the LGBT question is to revisit the resurrection, and to think hard about the fact that Jesus’ blood purchased the whole man, the whole woman, and he won’t accept anything less.  Salvation’s final culmination occurs at the resurrection of the body.  If bodily resurrection was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.

(photo credit)

Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC

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