Karen Swallow Prior
June 2, 2016
Christians who want to follow Biblical teaching in considering transgender identity must hold two competing truths in tension.
Editor’s note: Because of the volatile nature of online conversation about transgender identity, we’re going to be particularly selective in moderating the comments on this article. Anything that could be construed as discriminatory or derogatory will not be approved. We encourage commenters to be brief, stay on topic and stick to the specifics of Karen’s piece; to consider these GLAAD guidelines for respectful terminology; and to refrain from dominating the thread by engaging in extended exchanges with others. Let’s make this a dialogue of humility and grace. Thanks!
This is a very thoughtful piece. It echoes a lot of wrestling with contradicting ideas. This "wrestling place" is a good place to begin with a complex conversations such as gender dysphoria and related situations.
Part of the question for the Church right now is how to compassionately share the biblical truth. As there is no unity in the Church as to what is the biblical truth about gender, it becomes more complicated.
What I like about the metaphors that you used (salt, light, cradle, bludgeon) is that salt and light are everyday mundane phenomenon/materials while cradle and bludgeon depict passivity and offensive attack, respectively. They are completely different metaphors. Cradling culture or bludgeoning culture depict a different imagery than being salt and light in one's culture.
The fruits of the Spirit compels me as my primary mode of conduct when I approach this conversation.
Having said that, the political realities of the laws at hand also has to be tackled with sufficient rigor. I think it can be done with a lot of sensitivity.
To put it simplistically, this is a multi-level conversation (i.e. pastoral, theological, political, etc.) and requires multi-level responses.
There are many temptations in life to declare that you are god or to act as though you are God. Denial of the gender and body God gave you can be nothing else than rejection of His will. Feelings are not paramount! Choices based on God's sovereignty are. We all have feelings that are antithetical to either obedience or truth. Such feelings fed will become ingrained. But that does not make them good or righteous. How long do you wrestle with feelings that are not righteous? The Lord promises a crown of life only to those who are overcomers. Rev 2-3. Overcome evil with good. For all of us including those who FEEL transgendered.
What Charlotte said!
The fact that gender dysphoria is "real" is merely observational. I haven't run across too many folks who debate that it exists. But anorexia is also real and is treated, not celebrated.
The link between your two "truths" is that society has rejected truth in favor of feelings. If I "feel some way" strongly enough it must be "true".
It is fascinating that the LGBT community argued that homosexual orientation was a biologically determined fact for years in order to gain minority status and yet now asks us to accept that biological determination is wrong if someone feels dysphoria.
Thus culture cultivates anything that aligns with what is dictated by feelings rather than objective truth which it has abandoned.
While there is the acknowledgement of gender dysphoria, this is not a civil rights issue. The church is not denying its existence, we're just not empowering and glorying it. What ideas or identity battles one has, once in Christ, are yielded to the standard, which is absolute, of God's word. Yes, simply there's a battle. Yes, with sacrifice, there's an answer; Christ, and we the Body of Christ love everyone too much to allow them to live out a lie. The same truth that sets one free, sets us all free.
WWJD? (What would Jesus do.) We have evidence that he shocked the prevailing Jewish customs at the time with the way he hung out with people who were considered by most to be socially taboo. He thus would do the same with LGBTQAI and gender dysphoric (hard to imagine these sexual-behavioral categories would not also have existed back then as well; there are genetic and epigenetic reasons for this). Since He interacted with them socially, so should we. All that remains, and it's a big issue, is how to handle appropriately legally and culturally. Evangelicals (and non-evangelicals) should invest effort into the ELSI details so we get this right, with minimal harm to fellow Christians and especially unbelievers. Otherwise, we will look quite amateurish to the rest of the world, who's waiting and watching for something other than what appears as knee-jerk rejection of LGBTQAI people themselves.
John 5:6 Jesus asked "do you want to be healed" as a Christian we promote love with that very question, regardless of the condition of the person. Our Lord loves every person and will by His Way heal any condition to His purpose. And we are commanded to love our Brother. Period. Those who refuse the Lordship of Jesus are "treated as tax collectors" (not trusted). And certainly not incouraged to remain in bondage to an un-natural condition. Transgender identity is not Biblically a natural condition.
A pastor I respect deeply constantly reminds me to "Speak the truth in love." I've only met 1 transgender person that I know of in my life, but I have had family members and close friends that are or were gay, which is a closely related issue in terms of how we treat and love people. I love them and treat them with respect. My concern is not as much with the transgender folks as it is with the idea of catering to a minuscule percentage of the population, or at least using that as a cover story, in ways that cause discomfort to a huge majority. I've never been concerned about using a restroom with a transgender person, but now many restrooms are completely "co-ed" which means men are going to be using the same restroom as my wife, and that concerns me. Our local zoo has 3 restrooms, men, women, and family/handicapped which seems to be a wonderful way to allow everyone to have a place to go without feeling uncomfortable. Although this "dysphoria" obviously does exist, I read an interview from a former John's Hopkins Professor with 40 years of experience on the subject that helped me understand more about it. If you are interested, here is the link to that interview...http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/michael-w-chapman/johns-hopkins-psychiatrist-transgender-mental-disorder-sex-change
You are absolutely right in identifying that the issue is not really about bathrooms... it is about the very definition of gender identity.
Your observations about the reality of gender dysphoria being real and the fact that culture has a role "cultivating" it is also valid, but I don't think these two ideas are in tension... I believe that they are inextricably linked.
Culture has cultivated the notions of how men feel and act as contrasted with how women feel and act. So when a man's feelings and actions who does not align with cultural expectations of his feelings and actions as a male, he may experience gender dysphoria.
God made both men and women in His image. That means that everything we think of as "masculine" is derived from the character of God... likewise everything that we think of as "feminine." So if a biological male displays "feminine" traits, he is still a male that is reflecting God's image. Likewise for a female who displays "male" traits. There's no problem with this... in fact, I would suggest that it is a good thing... God didn't make everyone the same! He made us male and female, and He picks and chooses from His qualities to give to each one a unique collection of His qualities. It is culture that labels those qualities "male" or "female."
Finally, we need to stop harping about the bathrooms issue... culture is also the author of the expectation of "privacy" and even the practice of segregating men from women when they relieve themselves... it simply didn't used to be that way! And we dare not find ourselves as Christians defending a cultural convention as the "absolute truth" of God.
The bible does not provide for any alternative definition of gender than that defined by person's role in reproduction... but it also does not require gender-segregated bathrooms.
-- David Martin
My commentary on the gender-identity issue:
I think we (the Church) also need to acknowledge that we partly created the situation right now. This is not to shift the blame but to recognize our fault. The significant areas we have contributed are as follows: (1) dichotomy of the body, mind and spirit, (2) Scripture has not been as authoritative in the lives of many Christians (For example, divorce is the approximately same rate in the Church and outside the Church.), (3) we have wavered in our creation theology. There are others but these 3 are definitely a significant part of the conversation. Because of these, our voice (to impact the culture) has weakened.
This is not to deny that this issue and related issues were not politically motivated. In a sense, this political movement began many decades ago. They have a huge head start.
Theologically, I think we can mount a compassionate and thoughtful response. One area is the "Theology of the Body" as part of the conversations surrounding the "Resurrection of the Dead." It is not fully developed as other doctrines. Maybe this is the time to integrate and further develop both bodies of knowledge.
Politically, I think we can answer by providing sensitive alternatives so that the concerns of the majority and minority are addressed with sufficient balance. It is not sufficient to say that a law should not be passed but we should give them alternatives that answer their concerns and also address the concerns of others (such as women and children).
The responsibility rest on us to be compassionate and answer with wisdom and gentleness. We should also expect that they would not take this sitting down.
May James 3:17 echo in our hearts when we engage in this topic.
"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy."
Reading through all of your comments and I can't help but see so much hypocrisy. You say trans individuals are conforming to feelings rather than the truth. That, if they really want their identity to be true, that doesn't make it so. Have you put that same thought process towards the book you so desire to be true? If God made man and woman in Gods image, why all the confusion? Isn't God an all powerful deity with powers far beyond human comprehension? Why not come down and clear the air? Instead he speaks in riddles in books written in the Middle East 2-3000 years ago by people who didn't understand that the earth revolved around the sun. You desperately want it all to be true so bad, yet you can't back up claims of the bible without using the bible in an attempt to prove the bible. Which doesn't even really address gender dysphoria. Comparing gender dysphoria to anorexia is ridiculous. They do treat gender dysphoria by the way. It's called hormonal therapy. Yes culture cultivates. So let's cultivate acceptance by learning more about gender dysphoria and opening our minds. This is not something new.
What Christians might benefit from is considering how God treats those who aren't a part of the male/female binary. God makes amazing promises to eunuchs and barren women. Jesus talks about intersex (eunuchs from their mothers' wombs). He says some become eunuchs (by modifying genitals/gonads) for the best of reasons. And Philip requires nothing of the Ethiopian eunuch beyond faith in Christ.
Your main two points are dead on. Our culture has a bit of a fever about this right now. I expect it will pass simply because it doesn't finally hold together even on non-religious grounds.
Be sure to check out Rebecca Reilly-Cooper's work on sex and gender. https://sexandgenderintro.com/ She's a secular, feminist philosopher who pretty convincingly demonstrates the inherent problems of "gender identity". https://youtu.be/QPVNxYkawao
You then have to pivot and ask "how do you interact with those who believe in gender identity?" but we are used to interacting with lots of people with whom we have differences.
I suspect in time we'll see it just fall out of style again, kind of like regard for my striped bell bottom pants from 1974. Unfortunately there will be an entire population of people whose hormones have been medically manipulated as minors and their healthy sex organs mutilated by licensed doctors. 20 years from now we will look back on this chapter as a great tragedy while the victims of this fever make their way through the court systems filing lawsuits against parents and doctors.
Well said, Karen. I'll point out too that accommodating the reality of gender dysphoria has been part of the legal world and courtroom hearings long before anyone published bathroom guidelines: Sex in the Courtroom - a look at how name changes occur in my courtroom.
Being a transgendered person, I would like to help others understand. Being transgendered isn't a feeling. I know deep down in my very fiber of my being that I was all woman inside. I have known since an early age and was scared beyond my wits. I am a Christian as well and must truly share that my walk, faith and trust in Him has grown tremendiouy once I stopped fighting against my true self. I have no regrets. I had my surgery two years ago. I will gladly help anyone who may want to learn more from someone who actually is transgendered. Please don't try and convince with Scriptures that my decision was wrong. I am only here to help understand. Thank you for allowing me to share.
Thank you, Victoria, for coming here to read and comment and to reach out so graciously. You are greatly valued.
Charlotte, your comments are very insightful and wise! Thank you for contributing so significantly to this important conversation.
David, I think you are exactly right. Thanks for adding those good thoughts.
I've felt like I was born into the wrong body ever since I was a little girl. Tom Boy they called me and I'm fine with that label. One problem I do have with people who are completely transgender or even homosexual is that they still fall into either genders stereotypes, while I think we should ignore them altogether and just act and dress how we want.
I will say though that this article and these comments have given me some hope after having concerns about my own salvation and having these slight gender dysphoric issues. There are a lot here who don't and won't understand it and just see it as a passing trend, but try saying that to my five year old self who despite all the negative feedback and mocking from family did not conform to gender stereotypes. For me there was no transgender culture to sway me to these feelings. I just always wanted to be a boy.
As for comparing transgender to anorexia - anorexia is both a serious mental and physical illness. It makes women barren and can lead to death. I've had anorexia, I have anxiety and depression and transgender is nothing like these. To have a mental illness it needs to limit your quality of life. Being transgender doesn't do this; only it's people's perceptions that can lead to the development of mental illness in transgender folks.
I have a close relationship with God and I'm hopeful that I can continue it and be saved despite my dysphoric characteristics.
Could the people of today who struggle with gender indentity and even transgender people be equivalent to the lepers in Jesus time? Meaning the lepers were shunned and despised by most people except Jesus. However Jesus loved them, touched them and their lives were transformed. If this is a correct theory, as a Christian, I should reach out and love the people with gender identity.
I know that I am not Jesus, but I also realize that Jesus healed the lepers. He didn't leave them as they were. He not only transformed them spiritually but also transformed them physically?
Human sexuality is one of the most powerful forces we must deal with as creatures of corrupted flesh.
Like any powerful thing, such as fire or electricity, we much approach it's presence in our lives with respect for it's potential to harm us and others, and with respect for it's utility as well.
Just as combustion and the flow of electrons can be used to help or hurt, ones feelings about one's gender and sexuality can be help unite and strengthen healthy relationships (as defined by scripture) or to isolate and alienate one from others.
Fire codes and rules for burning and fire safety and the practicalities of wiring insulation, voltages, amperages, and other aspects of dealingf with electricity don't have anything to do with anybody's feelings about fire or electricity, they have to do with the physical properties of those things and preventing negative manifestations of their power.
God's laws and scriptures guidance concerning the appropriate expressions of our feelings about gender and sexual identity also have more to do with the potential for grave harm to people and their relationships with others and with their Creator than their feelings g about their own gender identity or sexuality.
As a "strait" male or female, we are not enjoined against adultery or fornication (sex outside the marriage of a man and woman) because there is something wrong with our feelings about our gender identity or sexuality, we are enjoined against these things because they are bad for us and others, regardless of our opinions.
The bible's prohabitions against "cross-dressing" or presenting oneself in a sexual identity other than one genetic sexual identity aren't telling those with gender-identity issues they are bad people because of their feelings, specifically and uniquely, scripture is simply prescribing "good" and "safe" behaviour in dealing with powerful forces.
Those who have not sinned in these areas are extremely rare, let us not sin further by hardening or hearts against those who sin differently than ourselves.
Shanti, thank you for reading and commenting. I'm so glad you have found hope here! I agree that our culture's extreme gender expectations certainly contribute in some cases to a sense of dysphoria. While God created us male and female, I think the ways to live and express maleness and femaleness have a much wider range than most cultures allow for. I hope you know that you can find salvation in Christ and that salvation once gained is secure. While we will all struggle in this fallen world, we can live here in the hope of the new heaven and the new earth as equals in Christ. It starts and ends with professing Jesus as Lord. I pray you find that peace and love that can be found only in him. I pray you see that reflected here. Blessings to you.
One thing I can't quite square in my mind. The article claims that in effect some people were born in the wrong body. If that is so and some men should have been born as women and vice versa then aren't you saying that God made a mistake? If so then how can God be God? After all if God can make a mistake then you are taking his divinity from him something that Satan tried to do in the beginning. Needless to say he failed in his purpose and had to settle for tempting Adam and Eve.
People are born blind. That doesn't mean God made a mistake. The idea of a woman being born in a man's body is simply a way of describing what happens when someone's innate sense of sex doesn't match what's between their legs. Why should it be so difficult to accept that gender is rooted in biology?
There's a condition called cloacal exstrophy, in which the abdomen doesn't close up, and the genitals aren't formed at all. Historically, doctors have castrated these babies and told their parents to raise them as girls. But, guess what? A majority end up living as men. If gender were learned, one would think most would be happy as women.
Thank you Victoria for your contribution to this discussion. I used to be as hard against transgender and transsex as some of the commentators on this article. Then, for the first time, I knowingly met a transgender person. At first"he" was dressed as a male and had male facial features; "his" face did have a rather feminine quality. "He" told me that he was transgender and suicidal. I listened to "him" without judgement. We agreed to meet again and over a year we developed a friendship. During that time "he" transitioned to female. First in beginning hormone treatment, then wearing gender neutral clothes, then having facial hair (very thin and wispy) removed by laser, then wearing women's clothes. Her mental health ameliorated.
I knew nothing about transgender. So I did research on transgender, including discussing it with a Christian psychotherapist. I learned that there is a biological base for true transgender, that very young children may display traits of transgender, and that the deep knowledge, not just a feeling, of being transgender does not go away and is not susceptible to any "cure". The Evangelical psychotherapist agreed with this assessment.
My transgender friend move away to far to meet, but we've kept contact by email. A few months ago I received an email from her in which she told me that the day she wrote was the first day since early teen-age that she has not wanted to kill herself. My belief about transgender has taken a volte-face. I've come to understand that the binary dichotomy of male and female is how God created humanity, but a lot has gone awry with us since the fall; sickness, birth defects, conjoined twins, intersex and transgender. None of these differences from the norm are the fault of those who have. Some are not too painful, physically or psychologically. Others are extremely painful. I've learned that untreated transgender is extremely painful psychologically.Just as we would treat any other painful variation from the norm, we need to treat transgender. The obvious way is for the person to transition.
What makes this completely worthless is diagnosing a problem created by culture and self-satisfaction without distinguishing between fact and Truth. The author gives no distinction of "the Truth shall set you free" because there is little acknowledgement of the bondage these people have jumped in.
We are so afraid to tell the people the truth. We are so afraid to tell people of who God is and He created us for His purpose and having a relationship with Him, but it must be on His terms. Yes, we are to love them but to avoid not telling them about the holiness of God is loving them while we escort them onto the gates of hell.
Maybe most of us Christians need to revisit (if possible) the sermon by Jonathan Edwards, "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God." We need more fear of God in the Church, if we really care to bring sinners to Christ for repentance (Matthew 9:13KJV).
Is not the church part of culture? If the church doesn't represent a biblical aspect to culture on the subject we can be sure that the devil will.
I came upon your article as I have been presented with this in my personal life in the last year.
I saw a friend go from a caring conscientious professional and person to a bullying game playing person once assuming a transgender identity.
When one has known a person well for a long period of time this can be shocking.
Manic depression or episodes of mania and then crashing depression is what I have seen as a layman.
There is also occult involvement and a bunch of new friends surrounding the individual. The cradling type of enablers who question nothing this person is doing.
While I think there is something to intersex and those things, I do not know if this is what's happening and don't see this as a positive road for my friend. My prayers are that an openminded discerning counselor can get to the root of the problem to help my friend heal. Whether that will be going through a transition or simply getting on the proper medication concerning a mental issue is what I want for my friend as this situation is very bad right now.
In seeing some of the conduct which is not in character for this person and knowing that some antidepressants were prescribed that did not seem to help at all or possibly made things worse....makes me wonder if this might be a casualty of improper antidepressant prescriptions?
It has been something to witness, I have to say and I have worked with other transgendered individuals on a limited basis who did not show such signs of mental imbalance. I have also known of people to really lose it when taking antidepressants or ADHD medications when the mental issue was not diagnosed properly.
Prayers for peace for my friend, please.
This transgender issue is so complex I have a hard time dealing with it and I am still working on it. The issue I have is males who claim to be a female on the inside have the right to go into women's restrooms and dressing rooms and the same goes for females. To me this is wrong. They should be allowed this right once they have their transgender operation, not before. Then there is the issue of sports. It is not fair for a transgender male to play in some women's sporting events simply because there muscle structure remains the same throughout their life. These are my thoughts on the issue.
I totally agree with that.
Some of that attitude is bullying to me to force themselves into restrooms, but especially locker rooms and sports at school ages if total transition has not taken place. I supposed some feel they will be bullied in the restrooms, but just the same, if the anatomy hasn't changed yet, I do not think there should be restroom crossover. Many places have unisex or family restrooms and it would be a non-issue if these were used.
My friend, who is quite mixed up right now... and I won't believe otherwise until he's diagnosed by a psychiatrist has really turned into a bully concerning this trans thing. Others I have known have not. Time will tell. He was never like this before, it's like something has taken him over and I don't mean something positive. There is some occult involvement, too which is very troubling to me.
Prayers are about the only thing a person can do watching this horror movie from the sidelines.
Keep in mind, I am only commenting on this particular situation, not using a broad brush concerning it.
Some LGB folks are not happy about the restroom issue either, they see it as stepping over a line where the rights they have fought for all these years might come into question. All of these things are not the same, not at all.
One of the problems with forcing a transgender child to use the restroom consistent with their anatomy is that it discloses their condition to classmates who might not otherwise know.
You talk about a change in anatomy that simply isn't allowed for these children until they're in their late teens at the earliest.
On the other hand, some are taking hormones. So you might have a sixteen-year-old transgender girl who has breast development and a feminine body shape (except for the male genitals).
If she uses the girls' room, no one has to even know. And if there are private changing areas in the locker room, then that shouldn't be an issue either.
If you're worried about opposite sex students seeing each other naked, why aren't you worried about same sex students seeing each other naked?
I would think the locker crossovers would reveal everything and create real issues for kids to be bullied or maybe worse.
Has physical education classes changed so much that kids aren't using common showers anymore?
Concerning a restroom there is always the stall instead of the urinal unless snoopy kids are looking to see if someone's feet are turned to stand up inside the stall.
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