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On Transgender Issues

Last week Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans announced the latest entry in her popular “Ask a….” series. It will be: “Ask a Transgender Christian.” Rachel writes: “I’m pleased to introduce you to Lisa Salazar, a Christian who is transgender.

I certainly hope her readers ask questions and read Lisa’s responses.

People might wonder what the Christian stance on this issue should be. I have a hard time seeing how the Church can take
any stance on this issue except listening, learning, and caring about the well being of people.

Controversy over same-gender sex continues to divide the church. And, it will. Controversy persists because: (a.) Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce has long been seen as pointing Christians toward a heterosexual, monogamous standard for sexual behavior, and (b.) there are several strongly worded condemnations of same-gender sex in the Bible — both in the Old and New Testaments. And, even though, in many ways,
perceptions are changing, I don’t see any breakthroughs on this issue anywhere on the horizon. While many people have tried to undermine the force of the Biblical condemnations against same-gender sex, I don’t see any Christian consensus emerging about a new standard for sexual behavior.

Whatever. Anyway, the transgender phenomenon raises quite a different issue. And, I have a hard time seeing how there is anything moral here. This is not about a behavior so much as a state of being.

For a church to ”
take a stand” (as we say) on this issue, it would have to state what is or is not true of people psychologically! The Church is in no position to do this. Churches need to find the courage to journey with people. We may not always understand, but we must always be committed to the best interests of others — whether we fully understand their experience of life or not.

A discussion of how I arrived at this point of view follows.

My own views on Gender Ambiguity (such as they are) have been informed by the following:

a.) In college I was a chemistry major. This not only gave me a strong and enduring "hard science" bias against psychology, it also first introduced me to the complexities of human gender. In advanced Organic Chemistry we began to touch on some of the facts of animal & human biochemistry. Our professor showed us, in a series of chemical formulas, the relationships between the human sex hormones. After filling the board with diagrams, formulas and reactions, he, then, turned to the class and said (his words not mine): "And, given what you see on the board, it's a wonder more of us aren't screwed up than are!"

We laughed. (But, I think the laughter was a little uneasy.)

That lecture left a lasting impression on me. When you actually hear the facts of human gender on the chemical/hormonal level, it's a little ... um, eye opening... to say the least.

b.) In the 1980's I heard E. Mansell Pattison lecture on sexuality and homosexuality. Pattison expounded a developmental theory of same-gender attraction (along the lines that Nicolosi or Socarides or others associated with NARTH would maintain). So, his views were quite conservative (
Side B) on gay issues.

But, in one of his lectures he dealt with the development of gender in human beings. He pointed out that it is a complex process and there are a number of things that can go wrong. He felt very strongly that Gender Reassignment Surgery was justified in certain cases. He indicated that there are several different types of gender anomalies that can and do occur in the human species. And, again, given the facts of human development, both physical and emotional, it's a small wonder things don't go wrong more often than they do!

I think this impressed me all the more because of Pattison's conservative
Side B views on homosexuality. His research was in "religiously motivated" change in sexual orientation. (In fact Pattison's old study is constantly floating around the Internet as proof of homosexual orientation change — even though it never was conclusive, and now seems completely irrelevant.)

c.) Subsequent interaction with transsexual individuals on the Internet has also given me considerable "food for thought."

One early example still stands out in my mind.

Long ago I read a long and painful internet exchange between a male-to-female transexual in the Southern Baptist Church and her many detractors. It was heartbreaking to read — on many levels! Since it was a discussion that took pace in one of the old, unmoderated newsgroups, she got flamed repeatedly from all sides. But, she hung in there. She was castigated, condemned, called a pervert, etc. Bible verses were thrown at her (the OT on cross-dressing and μαλακς in 1 Corinthians 6) — and all for what? She'd already had the operation, for crying out loud. And, I don't really think those verses relate to the "transgender" phenomenon anyway. (To be honest I wish I knew what μαλακς in 1 Corinthians 6 refers to — I am not at all sure.)

Since that time I have had other opportunities to interact with transgendered individuals. I have appreciated hearing about their experience of life (which are certainly very different from mine) .

While I realize there is a strong Christian moral case against same-gender sex acts, any case against transsexualism is very shaky, indeed — in fact, upon close examination, nonexistent.

This is why when the issue came up at the United Methodist General Conference (oh, let’s see… that was 2008, maybe) it caused very little controversy. Theologically, there is very little to go on here. And, the Bible verses that are sometimes quoted, upon close examination, are seen to be irrelevant.

Nonetheless, I am inclined to want to defend the notion that gender is "bipolar." Christians value and respect sexual differentiation. There are two poles, though there are also some people who are inter-sexed. The notion that gender is bipolar is so intuitive that I really think it can be and should be defended. Nonetheless, there are certainly complications & variations — and that's a good thing too.

So, the view I'm moving toward is one that would affirm gender as a "good thing" and gender variations as a "good thing" also.

Chocolate twist does not call into question the existence of either chocolate or vanilla.

In some book somewhere (I wish I remembered!) I was informed of a passage in the writings of Lactantius (one of the early Latin Church Fathers, 260-330 CE) that celebrated the wonders of gender variation in human beings. This is Chapter 12 and beginning of Chapter 13 of On the Workmanship of God. However, when I went to the standard set of the Church Fathers I discovered that the passage in question had been left untranslated from the Latin! You will find the same to be true if you check out the writings of the Church Fathers online. I would love to know what it says. It would be nice to know if the old boy had some wisdom to share with us about this issue.

And, as a way of rounding out these reflections, I offer this quote from Coleridge. It somehow seems to me to be relevant to the transsexual issue and to the gay/lesbian issue — and any number of other issues, wherein certain people are seen as deserving of contempt & rejection rather than acceptance & appreciation.

The Jews would not willingly tread upon the smallest piece of paper in their way, but took it up; for possibly, they say, the name of God may be on it. Though there was a little superstition in this, yet truly there is nothing but good religion in it, if we apply it to men. Trample not on any; there may be some work of grace there, that thou knowest not of. The name of God may be written upon that soul thou treadest on; it may be a soul that Christ thought so much of, as to give His precious blood for it; therefore despise it not.

— S. T. Coleridge, Aids to Reflection (1825)

We may not always understand. But, we can determine to “trample not any.”

UPDATE: The “Ask a Transgendered Christian” Questions and Answers have now been posted at the blog mentioned above.

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