In the wake of my last post, a critique of an article by Mr. Carlos D Flores, I have been asked to address some of the questions Christians ask about transgender people from a Christian and theological perspective. I am happy to oblige but I need to begin by identifying some of the problems inherent in the question:
- There is a real orthopathic and theological problem involved in commenting on the “status” of any group of persons. As a rule, we are certainly not called on to comment on the overall salvation (in or out?) status of anyone.* Furthermore, the project runs the very real risk of treating trans persons as a riddle to be solved rather than as persons to be loved. I will do my best to avoid both, always acknowledging that it is to his own master that a person stands or falls and that both truth and love preclude treating persons as objects or problems to be solved.
- Despite what many Christians of the internet seem to believe, there is no established or traditional position with regard to transgender persons. This stands in contrast to the contemporary Christian flame war over lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.
- There is, at best, only one Bible passage which address transgender questions directly and that one really only addresses crossdressing, a single question with only a tenuous relationship to transgender persons, as we will see.
- The overall “question” about transgender people is so vague that it can be frustrating and difficult determine what people are often saying.
- Even the crucial terms in the debate - “gender” and “sex” - are incredibly difficult to define as both ultimately arise out of gestalt impressions based on lists (cultural and biological respectively) which vary from one person to another.
- Many of the Christians who have chosen to put their views on the internet have apparently failed to do adequate research which has resulted in confusing generalities and some really unfortunate misinformation. For example: If a Christian blogger posts that they “don’t believe in transsexuals” what are they actually claiming? Do they oppose sexual reassignment surgery? Hormone replacement therapy? The affirmation of transgender people in their self-perceived gender identities? The idea of a “gender spectrum”? That people who identify along third or non-gendered lines are making nonsense claims? Do they not believe that people experience gender dysphoria? Are they claiming that it is sinful to disagree with society over one’s gender or that it is only sinful to act on that disagreement? The list of questions goes on.
In an attempt to clarify some of these ambiguities, let me start with some working definitions and then present a hypothetical situation to use as a starting point:
Sex: I will be using this term to refer to a person’s biological makeup as it is relevant to determining their overall designation by society. In western society it is generally determined at birth first by a person’s primary sex characteristics, then (if those are inconclusive) on the basis of their chromosomes (XX, XY, XXY etc..)** or later by their hormone levels and attendant sensitivity to those hormone levels.
Gender: I will be using gender to refer to a person’s social identity as it relates to their designation (by themselves or by others) as a man, a woman or some variety of third gender.
So, imagine that you are the pastor of a church which has no explicit position regarding transgender persons, and that one of your parishioners, a 19 year old college student named Bob, comes to you and claims to be a transwoman. Over the course of the conversation you find out that Bob has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria by a licensed psychologist and plans to begin hormone replacement therapy within the next few weeks (Bob has been working with this psychologist for over a year now), and intends to begin living as a woman immediately. Bob hopes to eventually have sexual reassignment surgery, would like for you to begin calling her Wanda - she has just begun the process of having her name legally changed - and is asking you to treat her like another woman in your congregation.
So is there a necessary (Biblically mandated) response to Wanda’s request? I intend to address that question over the next four posts, looking first at the broad theological and philosophical questions, then examining the Biblical passages relevant to the question, followed by a look at the longer term implications of my conclusions, and finally addressing potential objections and concerns.
Please feel free to leave questions and thoughts in the comments box and I will do my best to either answer them there or in one of the upcoming posts.
As always, please be respectful and gentle in your tone and language.
*Romans 14:4 and Luke 13 spring to mind here
**Check out http://www.isna.org for a solid rundown of intersex conditions