Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
D. Lyle Dabney
M. Therese Lysaught
Wanda Zemler-Cizewski, Hessel Bouma III
Christian theologians regularly assume a binary model of human sex differentiation based on the creation narratives found in Genesis. Recent work in theological anthropology has grounded theological concepts such as the social view of the image of God, human personhood, and human relationality on the creation of humans as male and female in heterosexual marital relation. While these anthropologies have merit--particularly in correcting older versions of the imago Dei which privileged the male-- they are inadequate for addressing the phenomena of intersex.
Intersex is a broad term used for persons whose bodies display some physical characteristics of both sexes--historically labeled "hermaphrodites" and more recently as persons with Disorders of Sex Development (DSD). Physicians estimate that at least one in every 4,500 children is born with an intersex condition.
Despite the good intentions of parents and doctors, many intersex persons are challenging the medical treatment they have received which aims at establishing their bodies as clearly male or female. They recount harrowing stories of surgeries gone bad, sex assignments rejected, records withheld, and medical treatment experienced as sexual abuse. Many are working to end "shame, secrecy, and unwanted genital surgeries" or advocating that intersex be recognized as a third sex or as a harbinger of a sexless society.
While some postmodern theologians are incorporating intersex alongside persons who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, more conservative Christians, such as Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, have yet to attend to the challenges intersex persons bring to their theologies and communities. In their attempts to justify heterosexual ethics some have turned a blind eye to the presence of intersexed persons or argued that intersex can and should be fixed through medical intervention. These same theologians often overemphasize the significance of sex difference for theological anthropology.
I argue that traditional sexual ethics do not preclude recognizing the full humanity of intersex persons as made in the image of God. I write in order to create theological and practical space for intersex persons and a more balanced vision of the imago Dei as it relates to sex, gender, and sexuality.