Another day, another effort to legislate sex and sexuality from conservative evangelical legislators. Limiting reproductive health treatment options, banning gender-affirming care, forbidding evidence-based sex education and proscribing drag shows — you name it, they are trying it. Why are they so obsessed with genitalia, gender expression and other people’s bodies?
Much of their fixation is rooted in the doctrine of original sin, which argues that human nature was corrupted by the first sin of Adam and Eve, causing all humans to be inherently sinful. It is a theological construct, erected from various passages in scripture. Genesis 3 is its seminal story, known as “The Fall,” the moment when humans were no longer welcome in the Garden of Eden. Nowhere in this story is the word “sin” mentioned, much less the phrase, “original sin,” but early church theologians never let facts get in the way when developing doctrine.
How did the doctrine of original sin get us here? The Rev. Danielle Shroyer explains: “One of the central problems with the doctrine of original sin is that it dramatically shifted our view of human sexuality … When the man and the woman eat the fruit in the garden, they realize they are naked and clothe themselves. This one detail in the story has been used by many to malign human sexuality … The overarching consensus [of early church theologians] was that sex was necessary, but not necessarily good … [and] these views became very specific as the doctrine of original sin developed.”
Tertullian, who lived in Carthage about 200 CE, came up with the theory of traducianism, which the Rev. Shroyer calls the doctrine of original sperm ― the claim that sin is passed on from one generation to another through sex. Augustine took it from there, teaching that sin is a hereditary moral disability. We are born this way, he said, and we can’t do anything about it.
Fast forward to today, and we can see why folks raised on this doctrine believe that anything that has to do with sex or sexuality needs to be repressed, regulated and legislated. This is why almost all anti-trans, anti-queer and anti-bodily autonomy legislation comes from conservative, evangelical Christians.
There is, however, a more faithful way to read this story, which is to remember what is in the text — our original blessing, a phrase first used by theologian Matthew Fox. Fox believed that the teaching of original sin, which Jesus had never heard of, has served the purposes of power and control well, but that we should be living out our original blessing, a path grounded in celebrating beauty, compassion and justice. The original blessing is found in Genesis 1, when God declares us to be not just good, but very good.
When we read Genesis 3 through the lens of original blessing (that we are good, very good), we have a very different understanding of what transpires next.
God curses the serpent (not the humans), and as we consider the story in its ancient Near Eastern context, it is a statement of who serves whom. Next, God curses the ground (again, not the humans), and although it will take more effort, the land will still bring forth life. As for the humans, there are consequences but not curses. God does not take back the blessing. God does not say, “Y'all ruined everything, you black-hearted, utterly corrupt sinners.”
Instead, God lovingly cared for Adam and Eve, gifting them better coverings than those they had made. God made sure things didn’t get worse.
We know what the doctrine of original sin has inspired. What if we let original blessing take a turn?
Perhaps instead of banning drag shows, we would be banning assault weapons, an actual threat to children. Instead of limiting reproductive treatment options, we would trust pregnant patients as the capable moral agents God created. Instead of prohibiting gender-affirming care, we would be funding it to support humans made in the image of a God who is described in scripture as gender-transcendent.
Oh how different our world would be if we were less obsessed with finding ways to have power and control over others, and more interested in finding the good — the very good — in one another.
It’s certainly there. After all, we were born this way.
The Rev. Lori Allen Walke is senior minister at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Original sin doctrine should not inspire state law banning drag shows