Image from a 2013 rally on the equal health and livelihood of transgender people in Washington D.C. -  courtesy of Ted Eytan (http://bit.ly/17YHAAz)

Some Christians’ portrayals of transgender issues seem to leave out critical pieces of the puzzle – Image of a 2013 rally on transgender health and livelihood, courtesy of Ted Eytan (http://bit.ly/17YHAAz)

Since he was a baby, Kris, now 26-years-old, knew he was a boy stuck in a girl’s body.

“I have never not known that I was a boy or supposed to be a boy,” he says, “but I’ve only been able to express it in words for the last six to 10 years.”

Kris’s parents recently joined the church I attend, which is how we became friends. Every few weeks, we meet at a coffee shop near my house for a couple of mocha shakers and rich conversation. Like me, Kris was raised in a conservative evangelical home, and we almost always end up talking about faith when we meet. But it’s a sore subject for him.

“My experience as a transgender person growing up in the church was damaging,” he says. “I didn’t feel safe talking to my parents or my pastor about it. I felt like if I told anybody that I wanted to be a boy, things were going to go badly. Rather than talk about it, I prayed every night: ‘Please God, make me a boy.’”

Two weeks ago, Kris legally changed his name. Three and a half months ago, he started testosterone hormone therapy. Kris’s voice grows deeper each time we talk. He says the next step for him is to have a bilateral mastectomy or “top surgery.” The doctor also suggests a hysterectomy because it is believed the testosterone therapy can otherwise increase his chance of cancer.

When it comes to future relationships, Kris says he has no immediate plans to find a mate: “I’m fairly asexual, and though I do have a sex drive, I’m not pursuing a romantic or sexual partner. It’s just not a priority for me.”

Transgender people like Kris have increasingly become a topic of conversation among conservative Christians. Christian television personality Pat Robertson really commented about transgender people on his “700 Club” show, saying, “I think there are men who are in a woman’s body … I don’t think there’s any sin associated with that.” Liberals praised Robertson, while some Christians criticized him. The issue was brought to the fore again when California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill letting transgender students choose which restroom they would use and whether they would compete in boy or girl sports.

These events and others led some Christian leaders to speak out against the increased sensitivity to transgender people. An article by Russell Moore at the “On Faith” forum hosted by “The Washington Post,” for example, argued that transgender people are essentially confused. He urged churches to teach that “our maleness and femaleness points us to an even deeper reality, to the unity and complementarity of Christ and the church.”

Moore is someone for whom I have deep respect, and I appreciate his attempts to speak to this topic more compassionately than some of his Christian colleagues. Yet the issue seems to be more complicated than he and others are portraying.

Most conservative Christian’s arguments are rooted in Genesis 5:2: “[God] created them male and female.” This view states that one must be a certain way because one was born a certain way. If God makes humans with bodies of a particular gender, the argument goes, God did so intentionally.

The argument sounds pretty convincing at first glance–who are we to change what God has ordained?–but not all the facts are being considered. For example, there is no mention of intersex people, which are those persons who have physical and genetic variations that do not allow them to be strictly designated as either male or female.

According to research conducted by Anne Fausto-Sterling of Brown University, one in 100 children are born with “bodies that differ from standard male or female” biology. This includes those children born with both a penis and a vagina, as well as those with vaginal agenesis, ovatestes, or genetic disorders such as Klinefelter syndrome. Apparently, God sometimes creates humans both male and female or neither fully male nor fully female.

Intersex persons offer a critique of those who believe that gender is a static binary assigned from birth and divinely ordained. For example, what about a person who is a sexually “mosaic,” which means they have mixed gonadal dysgenesis such as the development of both ovaries and testes? It’s hard to say because Christian commentators almost never acknowledge the existence of these individuals.

When I asked Russell Moore about why he left what I believe is a significant part of the discussion out of his article, he said he doesn’t believe the existence of intersex persons is relevant to the discussion. “The substantial reason is that the question of ‘intersex’ is a question of epistemology, not of ontology,” he says. “It is of knowing whether someone is male or female, not about whether those categories pertain.” He adds, “only a minuscule number of cases involve persons of indeterminate gender.”

But the situation seems to grow even more complex when one considers the internal workings of transgender people. According to research conducted by the National University of Distance Education in Madrid, Spain, transgender people show significant differences in brain patterns. MRI scans of female-to-male transgender people, for example, resembled male brain function even though they were born biologically female.

Christians believe that God not only creates our bodies, but also our minds. Are one’s external created realities more revealing about God’s intentions than one’s internal created realities?

I suspect many Christians are like me and haven’t considered all the theological, ethical, and scientific intricacies of this issue. Perhaps we are afraid that what we discover will stretch the bounds of our thinking. My unsettled thoughts about how to reconcile Kris’s gender identification with my Christian faith tempt me to shrink back from my friendship with Kris. And yet, I’m so glad I haven’t. Our conversations challenge my thinking and force me to ask new and difficult questions of myself. Kris and I may not end up agreeing on everything, but we press on in our friendship anyway. And I think we’re both better for it.

The transgender issue is an important one and Christians must grapple with it in all its messiness and complexity. So let’s not pretend that any armchair theologian should be able to figure it out. Kris deserves better. And so do all of our transgender neighbors.

71 Comments

  1. I definitely agree with you that this is a messy, complicated issue, and that ‘armchair theologians’ are probably doing a disservice when they use a historical statement (“Male and female He created them”) and illegitimately use that as a statement of current fact (“Male and female He creates them now.”) It’s also an even more complicated issue when you’re talking about such individuals in the church, since, as Kris said, sometimes one does not feel safe in talking about such issues in church, which can end up damaging the person.

    It strikes me, though, that there are essentially two different issues, which should be treated differently. One is what you focused on, the question of how we best respect the transgendered (and the intersexual, as you correctly raise as a critique to the binary view,) and help them see their essential worth in Christ and how to proceed with their life, in whatever way they choose to go.

    The second is the more political side of things, such as the California law that you mention. Like many other issues, politics does change things.

    The first part has me completely with you. Life isn’t as easy as we’d like it to be, and the first and most important thing is to be there for the person, allowing them to discuss these issues and feel and be accepted. But the second… that’s where it gets tricky. The reality of the situation is that the transsexual do have two different biological realities, as you put in your opening line- they are one gender ‘stuck’ in the other gender.

    However, that gender and that biology does still have an impact. Kris may have known that he was always male, but his body up until recently was that of a female. I can’t, in good conscience or scientific integrity, treat that as a non-issue. Likewise, I can’t ignore that a girl in a boy’s body would have a distinct competitive edge if she were to compete in the women’s team- in essence, we are speaking of someone who is having an advantage far greater than what one can achieve with steroids, and that too strikes me as fundamentally unfair.

    …my thoughts are also a bit tinged by a story I read recently, about an individual who thought that he was transsexual, went all the way with it… and then later decided that he wasn’t after all.

    For me, I think we just don’t know enough yet to chart a course here. I don’t know where the line is between someone who is transsexual and who is rebelling against gender roles, when we can safely say that someone is transsexual and when they are questioning their own gender/sexuality, or any of a host of other questions about it. I also am deeply concerned about how some are, instead of dealing with the complicated reality of this situation, are simply trying to replace a binary gender perception with what best suits them, especially when such changes are used as a political tool rather than as a societal discussion.

    To put it another way, some see the issue as closed and that there is no room for questions, and those individuals can be on either side of the issue. For now, I’d like for these conversations and these studies to continue, respectfully and with an open mind and grace given to both sides, so we can make the best choice.

    • Ben,
      thank you for your empathetic response. I am a transsexual woman and I feel I can add to the discussion here. First let me point out that one’s sexuality has been shown to be much more involved than simply X and Y chromosomes. Recent studies have shown that there are a great many “genetic marker” genes (this is in line with the same analysis when applied to an individual’s race). Studies do indicate that there are very few men or women that line up with all these markers completely at one end or the other. This data follows a typical bell curve near each end of the “male-female” spectrum. As a transsexual woman, I feel I would be one of those outlier points of data at the far end away from my external birth sex. I really wish I was born one gender or the other and not stuck somewhere in the middle. We all have to deal with the cards we are dealt so I am now living my life as a woman and I am much happier for it. Had I not transitioned, I know I would have ended my life by now. I did seek pastoral counsel when I was going through this. I found some accepting but unfortunately I also found intolerant pastors. When a pastor stands in front of the congregation and refers to me preaching about people who “defile the church”. What do you think that does to the person who is probably suicidal as it is (studies have shown that the “attempted suicide rate” among trans people is well over 40%). There is actually nothing condemning in the bible against trans people. Look up any reference to eunuchs and also look up Mathew 19:12. As to athletics, studies have shown that after 2 years on hormones and with no supply of testosterone to the body, there is no physical advantage for the trans athlete. As to how society or any individual identifies me, it’s none of their business. I am doing what I need to do in order to survive. I am a woman because that is how I live my life. For someone to judge my gender over what they think they know is wrong. I don’t go back and forth and now I am finally comfortable being me. As to the individual (s) who de-transition. I am not one to judge them but there can be many reasons not the least of which is family and religious pressure to have that person fulfill what society expects out of them. No procedure has 100% satisfaction, but people that talk to therapists during transition have a satisfaction rate well over 90%. Let people be who they were born to be. To be “disapproving” of trans people is at best, cruel and damaging. Let me face my own judgment day and don’t try to decide my degree of maleness or femaleness. This has been hard enough for me to process, I don’t want or need to justify myself to everyone.

      • You go Girl, I am a Transgender who finally “came out” after 57 years of living as someone that I am not. I destroyed many lives while trying to live as society said I should, I have not yet fallen for suicidal thoughts, and pray I don’t. I am glad you can express things so simply, me I try so hard, I make things worse. Thanks Bunches… I’Anna

    • Ben,

      I’m hoping that your concern about an unfair advantage in sports — isn’t a big part of your thinking. Really, who cares.. (I know that sports are big business, but let’s not let that count for anything that really matters.)

      I also wonder about calling something the “political” side of things. The fact is, “the political” is where we work out how we are going to allow people to be treated. Was slavery “political?” Then so are all matters pertaining to how transgendered people may live their lives in our society. “Political” is not bad — it is necessary.

      And about the person who regretted transitioning — such things are rare, as the counseling is intense and long term proceding full transition. Nobody transitions overnight. But I wonder — when our society does an absolute number on people — treating such possibilities as shameful, — is it any wonder that we not only don’t know everything we need to know, but also make it as psychologically difficult as possible for people to come to terms with who they are. We create the conditions (silence, shame, loneliness) for people’s befuddlement — we can’t very well blame them later.

      Finally, I’m not sure we have to understand this completely to allow other people the freedom to be who it is they believe they are.

  2. It seems that the category of sin and its effects on the perceived gender identity need to be further explored before positing that there are actually males trapped in female bodies.

    • Riley, The bottom-line is this, This issue has been with us as long as humans have been on this earth (actually even before that if you bring in the animal kingdom). It is not up to you or anyone to “determine if trans people really exist”, with or without the influence of the church. Intersex people are born everyday and no one should determine what their gender should be. For society to “decide if I am sinful” or not based on opinions of people who have no concept of this condition is dangerous and ill conceived. I am human. I am hurting no one, and for me to do otherwise would result in my self imposed death. The medical and psychological communities recognize that the path I took (transitioning) was the only option for me that most likely, results in my being able to cope with life. What I do doesn’t affect anyone else, The church does need to re-evaluate how old perceptions do hurt people. I should not be afraid to talk to my pastor for fear of disapproval. God would not expect the church to hurt us.

      • You should not be afraid to talk to a genuine pastor. If he is doing a good job, he will disapprove of that which God disapproves, with love and kindness, which is vital for the person coming to him for care. You would not want to come to a physician with an illness, only to have him incorrectly determine that everything is fine. You come to a physician to find out if something is wrong. So it is with a pastor.

        The category of sin is not based on my opinion or anyone else’s, it is based on God’s inerrant word. He has explained to us what sin is in great detail in 66 books. God defines sin, and his definition never changes.

        My point above is that sin isn’t just bad things we do, it is a condition of our human existence which deforms our health, our “normalness”, even our thinking about the most intimate details of ourselves. Our brain-functioning, reasoning, and conclusions are impaired by sin. Therefore, we need God’s word to help us understand whether what we our own perception of ourselves is accurate, since we are prone to innacuracy in our thinking about ourselves due to a condition called sin. This is an aspect that Mr. Merritt did not adequately treat above.

        • Amen, and Amen!

          I completely agree with you. I’m so thankful for Christians like you, who spread the truth, love, and severity of God without apology :) We are called to that in the Bible, and I just wanted to lift you up and encourage you :)

        • Riley, it seems that you think the flesh IS sin. By nature humans are sinful, but God doesn’t say that being born with two sets of reproductive organs, or even a third arm makes you any more sinful than the person born without physical or other genetic defects. When the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned to produce the blind man, him or his parents, Jesus said that nobody’s sin was at fault, but he had been made that way so that the glory of God would be revealed.

    • No, it seems that the category of sin needs to be further explored before positing that not conforming to “perceived gender identity” is a deviation from God’s created order.

      • The category of sin has been explored in detail for more than 4,000 years by credible scholars and theologians based on God’s own self-revelation. This is not a topic about which we don’t know much, or about which there is significant uncertainty.

        • Riley where does God show his disapproval of transgender? It is not there. It just really is not addressed in the Bible at all. However, judging others is addressed plenty of times.

          Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that it is a sin, how should we address it? Jesus is all we need to be saved so clearly transgender people can be Christians. God does not categorize sin so it is no worse than any other sin. Do we require divorced people to go around with a capital D on their foreheads? No, we accept their past and welcome them into our churches. Closer to home…do we ostracize gluttonous people? No, Our churches are full of them. What about the prideful? Lustful? Greedy? Judgmental? All of these are specifically condemned throughout the Bible yet we accept them as normal. Our churches are full of people struggling with those sins. And we embrace them into our leadership without question. In fact, it is impossible to have a church full of people who don’t sin. It is even impossible to have a church with one person who doesn’t sin. This is not to condone or downplay sin but there has to be a reason why the church has such a strong reaction/opposition to certain sin. And that reason is 100% manmade and 0% God’s condemnation.

    • Its a ridiculous assertion that there are males trapped in female bodies or females trapped in male bodies. If anything there are people in need of psychological treatment and therapy.

      • And Frank weights in from the comfort of his sideline armchair with a unsurprisingly unhelpful insight into something he clearly does not understand! Thanks, Frank! If only you had the treatment and therapy you need!

          • I’m afraid all you know is hearsay, third hand knowledge and what your bias tells you. As a m2f christian who is celibate, in all ways, has dedicated her life to Jesus, keeps the sabbath and repents. prays and reads scripture daily I would offer myself as a guide in this matter. Isaiah 56, and matthew 19.11 and 12 come to mind. A third class of person – but as our Lord said – Mat 19:11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.
            This saying has been given to me and not to you. There is an eternal monument greater than sons and daughters and a name that shall not be cut off for those who follow the sabbath, are celibate and love and worship Yeshua and have moved beyond gender. I have accepted my role, a person of united gender – male/female body female mind with some male aspects.
            I also refer you to acts 8:26-39, one of the most amazing conversion stories of all.

    • Oh Riley,
      One question… Whose sin? Was it the sin of the 2 year old who decided they would choose a path that leads nearly 50% of people to death at their own hands or those of the bigots who rape, burn, beat and murder them.
      Was it the Sin of the 6 yr old who wanted to run and play like OTHER boys but had to sit and play dolls because she was a girl? These factors are innate. The fundementalists are right, you cant change gender, its fixed somewhere from conception to three yrs old. By the way… “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.…the same reason you have been born i expect. BTW the notion of males trapped in female bodies is a really crass and simplistic term, its a tabloid term, shorthand for a really complex topic.

      • Yes, when I referred to “sin” above, that includes the sin of 2-year olds and even newborns. Sin is a condition of humanity since man fell into sin. It is something that we all live with, as sinners. It impairs judgment and thinking, the functioning of the brain, about everything, especially ones relation to the Creator. Please see my response to Tina above.

  3. This is a good discussion. Thanks to everyone who is participating. I had some struggles in my teens figuring out gender/ sexuality issues. In my early twenties I embraced my femininity in a full way, so I cannot fully relate to folks who feel like the physical part of themselves doesn’t match their gender. However I think that the bell curve point is a good one and I know that I have many strengths/weaknesses/traits that one might call masculine.

    I have read over the last couple of years in some Orthodox Christian writings a describing of each human person as having “masculine” and “feminine” attributes. To me this means being balanced. We grow, develop and learn to become more whole and balanced and healthy.

    There is one thought I am having about the word sin. Sin does not necessarily equal guilt and shame. This is a very limited, damaging way to view sin.

    The condition of the world since the fall is broken, stuff goes wrong. Many, many things go wrong and there is little we can do to change or help. I would imagine that a transgender person feels this very intensely.

    We all have plenty of brokenness and need compassion, understanding and love.

  4. I’m sorry, but you lost me when you gave credence to the whole “boy in a girl’s body” routine. Are you suggesting that God made a mistake by putting him into the wrong body? This article is pure unadulterated hooey.

    • I would consider it no more of a mistake than a child born with a bad heart or someone born with bad eyesight. Of course, God being all powerful, he could have made sure there was a working heart or good eyes in those babies. There are so many things that we simply do not understand.

      Unless God made a mistake with those babies too?

      • God does all things for His glory. I completely agree: nothing is an accident. But sin is inherited from Adam, and I think it can come out in different ways in different people. Transgenderism is just one of those ways — if, indeed, they were born that way. There is no question of whether sin will be in our life. The only questions about it are what sins will be ours; will with take them to God, repent of them and be forgiven thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice; and will we allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, to make us more and more holy every day for the glory of God.

        Transgenerism is, simply put, just another kind of sexual sin, and should be dealt with as that. If they were born that way, there was no mistake. Transgender people coming to God in their brokenness and lovingness towards him is a beautiful image, as is any person doing that with their sin. They are called to leave their brokenness in sin at Jesus’ feet so that they don’t have to suffer! They have a testimony unlike those who never had to struggle with this gender issue — a testimony that God can work through to change lives by bringing them to the cross.

        • Jonathan Merritt

          Holly,

          I think your reductionist answer still fails to address intersection people who are facing an unchosen, biological reality. If someone is born with both male and female sex organs and, for example, one ovary and one teste, how does your view apply if at all?

          Jm

          • And even that question presumes that sex is purely a function of genitals. Genesis 1 where we are created in God’s image male and female does not address anything physical at all, but addresses the soul which is made up of our mind and heart.

        • And Holly, simply put, doesn’t know what the heck she’s talking about. Transgender is a medical condition; did you not read the above article? As a recently outed TG myself, I can tell you it has nothing to do with sex. Do a little homework (like I wish whoever introduced the SBC resolution on transgender had done); be educated, not ignorant. BTW, I’m a seminary grad who has studied the Bible inside and out.

  5. I appreciate your willingness to be transparent about the category-shifting difficulty that these issues represent, and I also appreciate that you are the sort of person who is not willing to let that difficulty prevent you from maintaining a friendship with someone. My comment is not an attempt to make a specific point about your article but to offer a couple of thoughts to advance the discussion.

    1. Dr. Moore and others who reference God’s creation of humanity as male and female are suggesting that there is a norm to human-ness. Supposing their point were correct and a correct application of the Genesis account to this contemporary discussion, the existence of circumstances that fall outside this norm cannot logically be understood to challenge the norm itself (especially given their concomitant belief in the fall, which would be expected to produce deviations from norms and to which Christians often appeal to understand many of the difficult / less than ideal circumstances that exist today). I know that the word “deviation” might be offensive to some and I apologize; I mean it, in this context, quite literally, as a change that in some way does not follow some other trajectory.

    2. Given this view–again, I’m not necessarily championing it, just going with it for the sake of discussion–the way you introduce intersex into the conversation in this article is problematic. You suggest that intersex people challenge the idea of a norm for humanity because it seems that God has chosen to create intersex people. But this is not a standard that can be held consistently–does this mean that all birth circumstances must be understood to be chosen and created by God? I think there are Christians who might hold to this sort of divine determinism / understanding of sovereignty, but I don’t think you do, and I certainly don’t.

    3. It seems to me that there are three foundationally important questions for this conversation: (a) Is it in fact true that “male and female he created them” ought to be understood as an anthropological / theological norm? (b) If so, how is it that God is still loving and/or just if there are people born who fall outside this norm and thus have a greater burden placed on them, in many ways, from the very beginning? (c) Assuming that the answer to A is yes, and the answer to B is something like “we may not be able to explain all of this but we do believe that God is just and loving because he demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus,” the final important question is: how can church communities and individual believers best love and serve and befriend people who are intersex, transgendered, etc.?

    Some of those answers may not be as I have posited, but I think this might be a bit more nuanced a presentation of this line of thinking (again, that I see in someone like Dr. Moore) than you’ve presented here. I have to emphasize again that I appreciate you talking about such a sensitive / fraught issue and I also appreciate the other commenters here who have been open about their own experiences with being transgendered.

    Also, it is important to add that if some narrative like I’ve suggested above is true, it explains why it is always wrong for Christians to suspect that the category of transgender doesn’t actually exist (as a commenter did above). Aside from the fact that this demonstrates an ignorance of recent science in this area, theologically speaking a creation-fall narrative means that there is nobody who expresses “ideal humanity” other than Jesus (this is the point Hebrews 2, and the rest of the letter, makes so strongly). All of us are broken in different ways (again, on the narrative posited above). The difficulty comes in when someone might understandably take offense to the idea that being transgendered or intersexed can rightly be described by the word “broken.”

    • Rory, I agree that Dr. Moore has made a compassionate, and reasoned, attempt to deal with the challenge of transgender individuals. However, I think the discussion is hopelessly muddled until we separate the phenomena of transsexualism from that of transgenderism.

      Transsexuals, by and large, do not challenge the gender binary. “Male and female he created them” makes perfect sense to most transsexuals. They simply believe they were assigned the wrong gender at birth. And this is why the issue of intersex is so relevant to the discussion.

      Dr Moore stated: “The substantial reason is that the question of ‘intersex’ is a question of epistemology, not of ontology,” he says. “It is of knowing whether someone is male or female, not about whether those categories pertain.” From what I have read, most transsexuals, and most intersex individuals, would agree with Dr. Moore’s statement. Their objection is that Dr. Moore seems to think that outsiders can assign a gender identity to a child, despite that child’s protestations. The tragic story of David Reimer is a cautionary tale that gender identity is not socially constructed. No one, whether doctor, parent or pastor, can assign a gender to someone. The etiology of gender identity is poorly understood, but it is more complicated than the shape of a persons genitals or the status of their sex chromosomes. Only the individual who is experiencing their gender identity can make a determination as to whether they are male or female.

      • Dale, thanks for the elaboration / feedback. I hadn’t thought that carefully about the important difference between transsexual and transgender, and I see how that’s very important.

        I want to make sure I understand your point clearly. You’re saying that, while most transsexuals would agree that sexuality is a binary given (male/female), gender identity is not, nor is it necessarily tied to sex, and it is important to allow a child some measure of freedom in discovering what gender he/she is and how that gender is related to his or her sex?

        If that is your point, I think someone like Dr. Moore would reply that the biblical text (which would be broadened to include not only Genesis but also the rest of the OT and specifically NT reflections on sexuality / gender wherever they are found, as a sort of rough-and-ready biblical theology) seems to imply as a given that sex and gender are linked in important ways. The important questions at this point are:

        1. Is this a correct reading / application of the text? (And, more broadly, is biblical authority a relevant category in this area and others?)
        2. Given that people clearly exist whose lives / experiences do not fit this mold, what approach should be taken? Does it necessitate re-reading the text, or does it necessitate a creative and sensitive re-application of the same (authoritative) reading in a way that is sensitive to people’s unique needs and experiences?
        3. What would church communities look like who actually practiced this?

        I have not seen very many church communities do this well; but it seems that Dr. Moore is hoping for something like what I have just described.

        I myself have not done very much in-depth reading into the relationship between sex and gender broadly or, specifically, the biblical take on that; what I do know i have picked up along the way investigating other things. But I am convinced that this is one of those frontiers of church conversation that isn’t currently being done well enough and so in that spirit I appreciate this article (and, again, your feedback to me).

  6. Jonathan, I’m glad to hear that you pursued this with Russell Moore. His response to you shows me that he hasn’t thought about the question much. I think we need to be careful in how we use both terms, transgendered and transsexual. Some people who say they are transgendered, do not desire to seek a shift in sexual anatomy or seek hormonal input. They are comfortable with their sexual biology. We also need to be careful in how we understand gender as opposed to sex.

    • Mike, you touched upon an important point. Being transgender does not always lead to reassignment surgery. That step is a matter of individual choice and is often dictated by the degree to which an individual’s gender dysphoria requires it for congruity and peace of mind. After dealing with my transgender condition by keeping it secret and trying to defeat it for over six decades, I finally accepted who I am and thereby became a significantly happier person. But, being in excellent health for my age, I have no interest in having a major, invasive medical procedure unless it’s absolutely necessary.

      Incidentally, as a person of faith, I believe the body to be transitory and of little importance in the overall scheme of things. I – my self, my soul and my gender – reside in my brain.

    • Jonathan Merritt

      Mike,

      Thanks for you comment. I would add that we also need to be careful in the use of transgendered vs transgender language. I prefer to talk about “transgender people” or “transgender persons.”

      Best,

      Jm

  7. I should be kept in mind that some of the compassionate perspectives that need to be heard — I’m thinking about people like Sy Rogers, Joe Dallas and Joseph Nicolosi — are perspectives that the LGBT activists and their political allies seriously don’t want Christians or anybody else to be hearing and applying.

    They want you to deal with “the complexities” (and those complexities are real) only if you deal with it the way THEY want you to deal with it. If you don’t, if you insist on working through the issues under at least a general framework of 1 Cor. 6:9-11, you can see how New Jersey and its governor recently decided to declare a change-is-possible approach illegal.

    It may soon become necessary for Christians to decide not only what they believe and how they will respond to this important issue, but also how much they’re willing to PAY for doing so.

    • Ah yes, once again we find Christians are the truly misunderstood and persecuted group. Even when they cloak their bigoted and judgmental theologies in compassion, gosh darn it! News flash: if you smile when you tell someone they are less than human, you are still an a-hole.

    • Hummmm… I know Sy, Joe and Joseph. I’ve heard all three of them speak. I’ve read what they have written. I think that each of these three men, while they would agree on many things, would each have their own unique perspective on this issue. How we would view the compassion of each of these men’s positions would depend upon our own perspectives.

    • Hi Doc,
      Personally I love listening and reading Sy. I find his sermonds helpful and deeply moving. But he was never trans anything and under the guideline now in place would never have been recommended for surgery. I would question also, from reading his testimony that he was gay. He had found love and acceptance with a man for a while but this does not suggest that the process he espoused works for all Gay people let alone any trans people either transexual or transgendered. I’m from Australia and I can only guess that the law you referenced is to limit psychological practices which have NEVER been based on empirical research, which have potentially very very harmful outcomes and which are often applied not by clinical personnel but by well meaning and zealous individuals. From my perspective I tried to pray away the trans for years, I took the advice of Exodus to marry, have children and fly straight… This led to damaging not only my life but my ex and my children.
      I heard Sy Rogers at a Colour Conference, a Women’s conference in Sydney where I had been invited by women in my church…. and you know what that level of acceptance was wonderful…

  8. Jonathan, this is outstanding. The two areas you focus on, relationships and theology, are both important. I’m big on getting things right theologically, since sound doctrine is emphasized quite a bit in Scripture. Yet I find myself more concerned with the relational aspect on this particular issue.

    I think my concern goes primarily into the relationships we have with people because that’s what I saw Jesus doing in the gospels. He certainly wasn’t shy about setting people straight on doctrinal matters (just ask the Pharisees about those conversations), but when it came to people’s needs he brought comfort and healing and an invitation to be with him.

    I’d rather that God’s people put their time, energy and resources – their very hearts – into reaching out and building relationships and showing people the love of Christ. God might very well be working in lives when we least expect it, but whether he is or not is up to him. It’s up to us to love folks.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    P.S. On God’s pleasure in my own gay relationships, and on God’s people reaching out to those who may be in the LGBTQIA community.

  9. Catherine Berger

    This particular point is NOT to belittle or minimize the difficulties that TS/TG (TransSexual/TransGender) people face, but if we want to look at diversity and the spectrum of God’s creation do we need to look any further than the monotremes? Somebody tell me how a creature like a platypus is not a direct example of diversity and crossing species norms. If we have an animal like that doesn’t it stand that in the infinite diversity of the universe there are people who blur the gender lines and even cross them. Bigotry and denial is not the answer, celebration is.

    • Love it Catherine,
      Some might say God just put all the left over bits together, personally its prrof positive ….. The God of Heaven and Earth, has a truly awesome sense of humour.
      (PS i know that wasn’t your point, please forgive the wee bit of flippancy)

  10. Courtney Cobbs

    Here is another perspective on the “trapped in the wrong body” narrative: http://janetmock.com/2012/07/09/josie-romero-dateline-transgender-trapped-body/

  11. What I find more lacking today in our culture and our society is compassion and respect and love coming from people who are gay affirming in their own position, towards people who are not in denial, but who are open about the same-sex sexual attractions that they experience and who have decided for themselves to not pursue intimate same-sex sexual behavior. They might be in heterosexual marriages. They might be single. They might have been married and are now divorced. They might or might not have experienced a shift of some degree in their sexual attractions.

    I think our culture today has encouraged people who are gay affirming in their positions to take a page out of the playbook of people from past decades who were also unloving toward people who experienced same-sex sexual attractions, when being open about this topic was not culturally acceptable. It’s so easy to speak disrespectfully about or toward someone whom you disagree with, when you are in the cultural/political power position.

    Men in one prison setting where the majority of the CSC men in the group were heterosexual in their sexual attractions chose to use Sy Rogers’ video material in their prison support group because they felt he addressed issues of sexuality better than people who were only attracted heterosexually to other people. They understood well that Sy was not a person who was transgendered. They understood that he was a man who had strong mannerisms that our culture would view as feminine. They also understood that he was/is a man married to his wife, who still experienced some level of same-sex sexual attractions. As they prepared to be released back into society, they appreciated Sy as a role model as someone who was able to be honest about his life and about how people responded to him.

  12. You are correct in that it doesn’t require a theologian.. of any sort. When it says God created male & female that’s exactly what he did. And it was all good. Then the fall. Since that time sin entered the world humanity and the universe have been jacked up. Pollution, going our own way in disobedience,etc. have corrupted the gene pool & our planet. This jacked up aspect of creation is of man, not God. It in no way diminishes the truth of God’s word. Don’t fall for the same old lie of Satan “.. Surely he didn’t mean….” His aim is to deceive you into doubting God.

  13. Jonathan,

    The biggest practical problem with your post is your startling refusal to recognize the significance of terms like “dysgenesis” and “disorder”. Klinefelter’s is a genetic dis-order, etc.

    Yes, the pastoral response is complicated and requires great sensitivity. But the theology which must be foundational to our anthropology really is as simple as Genesis 5:2 indicates. God created us male and female, period. Everything else is the complicated result of sin entering the world. Cancer, Down’s Syndrome, Atherosclerosis, Glaucoma, AND Transexualism are ALL consequences of the Fall. If we don’t embrace Athersclerosis, neither should we embrace the sexual confusion of transsexualism.

    Rather than nurturing your friend’s delusion that she is a boy, have you ever asked, “Did you never ask God to help you be thankful for being a girl?” Jonathan, have you seriously looked at the history of sex-reassignment surgery and the problems patients suffer post-op? Are you aware of the number who regret they have paid to have their bodies mutilated and wish they could go back? It’s not the cure many try to make it out to be. Every cell in your friend’s body is still female. Every cell. And she will have to maintain a strict drug regime for the rest of her life to be able to maintain the fiction and repress that basic biological fact.

    I’ve known about sex-reassignment surgery for forty years. I’ve seen patients at all stages of therapy and surgery. It’s not a path I would wish on anyone.

  14. Elizabeth Power

    I know this comment will elicit “flames” and hope it will also elicit a little compassion. A number of years ago, when I ran a resource center for dissociatives whose dissociation was interfering with their lives, I received a call from a couple who wanted to visit when they came through town. Down the hall came a person whose appearance and affect was very mixed–lanky male legs in tight blue jeans and a male walk with a very feminine puffed sleeve eyelet top on accompanied by someone who looked for all intents and purposes like a classic female cheerleader. The person in the blue jeans had been institutionalized for some time insisting he was a woman, living as a woman, dealing with multiple personalities. and his wife (the cheerleader) insisted his gender dysphoria was a female part running his life. He ultimately agreed. Dissociation–often the subject of demonization by Christians in spite of its’ necessity for the spiritual gifts–can also result in male/female personalities running opposite gender bodies.

    This is a complicating issue in addition to the 1 in 100 born with mixed or indetermintate genitalia. We certainly haven’t figured out how to think about either issue without generally foaming at the mouth!

    I wonder–If God is Love, then who is excluded? If any of these variations is excluded or condemned, then God cannot BE love.

    • No flames here. Only mild confusion as to why someone who appeals for compassion would speak in such depersonalizing terms as “dissociatives”, as if you can reduce a person to a disorder. Or indeed, why you would claim such a rare and maladaptive disorder would be necessary for spiritual gifts.

    • Elizabeth, I can’t imagine your comment inflaming people here. But I do think it’s silly to think you can define God and his love. What it really sounds like you’re saying is that if these people are excluded then it doesn’t fit your own logic or definition of love. That’s fine as far as it pertains to your logic and definition of love, but it shouldn’t be confused with saying that God’s love is so defined.

      Blessings,
      Tim

  15. Jonathan, thank you for bringing this issue to me. Yes, indeed it is a challenging one.. and it is a good test of personal conviction in knowledge of God, which Christian life supposed to be. However, I am afraid very often when we consider loving and accepting our neighbor, without passing judgement, as if we would be receiving them in the household of God. And it is not the same.. not at all. We are called to be Good Samaritans in the heart of Love. But who will seat on the right or left hand of the Lord it is not up for us to decide. It is more important for us to stand for receiving and accepting one another, which doesn’t mean that we have to be like this other person! Yet we can and should offer patience, kindness, selflessness, gratitude, respect and honor – all what God really is.

  16. Robert Thompson

    As someone who has studied the LGBT-and-the-church issue for 40 years, including at the PhD level, I appreciate this article very much. I once held the standard evangelical/fundamentalist view that LGBT people could be changed or else could, if sincere, simply trust God to make them chaste and accepting of their physical gender. However, the church is coming to what I call its Galileo moment on these issues, when science is showing us more and more the realities of human sexuality and gender, and how so much of it has to do with brain patterning, most of which takes place in the womb (and read Psalm 139 here). The Bible isn’t a book of science, and its ancient world view cannot inform us fully about human sexuality. What it does affirm is that we have each been created with a purpose, and there is a God who loves us in Christ unconditionally. We are not to judge others and the journey each is on but should hear their story and seek to understand. The vast majority of church people don’t have a meaningful friendship with an LGBT person and make no effort to try to understand the complicated issues involved, preferring to remain at the level of what they’ve always been told and what they say they know the Bible says. Yet most of them are good, loving folks and they–or their children or grandchildren–someday will know the truth that sets them free.

  17. Germany recently passed a law requiring birth certificates to have a third box for gender, a blank box.
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/third-gender-option-to-become-available-on-german-birth-certificates-a-916940.html

    The third blank box for gender originally struck me as odd, but this is a way to allow the person themselves to choose the gender they most identify with.

    How do evangelicals explain these unusual births? I’m sure there are a variety of positions. The simplest is that this is a birth defect. The term used in the article is “genetic variation” but this is just another term for birth defect. Any birth defect is a tragedy, but at least this is one that can be mostly hidden from society. Although if they become athletes, it does complicate gender tests such as required by the Olympics.

    Regarding transgendered people without any apparent physiological complication from birth, the common evangelical position (as held by Russell Moore) is that they are gender confused. But it seems possible there is a physiological component to this condition as well. As the article points out, the brain patterning is confused. This may be a hint of something that is hard-wired into our brains regarding sexuality.

  18. Mr. Merritt says, “Christians believe that God not only creates our bodies, but also our minds.” And then he asks, “are one’s external created realities more revealing about God’s intentions than one’s internal created realities?” The answer might very well be the opposite of what he thinks. I’m going to vote “YES,” because:
    (1) The external reality is obvious to all and unmistakably created by God
    (2) The internal “reality” (of assigning yourself a gender opposite of your biology) is not so obviously from the Creator, but, like many other internal “realities,” may have a more “human” source related to a fallen psyche, a dysfunctional childhood, a fallen culture that seeks to treat all such abnormalities as “normal”, or some other non-God etiology
    (3) For God to say one thing externally and the opposite thing internally is incomprehensible
    The issue is complicated, no doubt; but there is probably a better explanation than “I was a girl in a boy’s body.” Is it a coincidence that the rash of these examples has come with the steady abandonment of a biblical worldview?

    • The abandonment of a biblical worldview may play a role in the rise of these situations. Another factor that may play a role is genetic devolution. Contrary to the beliefs of many, genetic variation over time is usually detrimental. The longer mankind lives, the greater the number of genetic variations which result in lower intelligence and higher number of birth defects.
      http://www.naturalnews.com/037942_humans_devolving_brain_function.html

      If our gender is, in some sense, hardwired into our brains (men and women are known to think differently), then it is possible a birth defect could result in a person having one gender physically and another in the brain.

    • Actually, you’re mistaken. You can find examples of transgendered individuals throughout history, going back thousands of years. The Native Americans actually held them in high regard and gave them their own special community. One tribe referred to them as the “Aya kwa” (phonetic sp) meaning “two spirited ones”. There are examples in old China, India, many many places.

      You only think this is happening because more people are talking about it.

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  21. Thank you for seeking the truth of the Lord in this matter.

    I was born as a female, yet throughout my entire childhood I constantly exhibited male traits. Everything from dressing as a male, which I was constantly beaten by my Christian Evangelical mother for 14 years. There are so many pictures of me where I looked like a boy. I was always who I was. I wasn’t trying to defy God as a small child. I remember I’d constantly feel my throat as a 7 year old, trying to see if my Adam’s apple had grown in yet. I’d take my shirt off at 6 years old, so I could play tennis in shorts with my dad and my uncle.

    After 5 years of dressing for the approval of my family, panic attacks were increasing in severity. Suicide attempts were multiplying. I had to have a talk with the Lord at 19 in November of 2004 after my body began to change when I started developing facial hair. I had an increase in body hair as well. I wasn’t developing hips as my twin sister had. I finally came to terms with who I was supposed to be and fighting that for the sake of my family almost killed me.

    Jesus has made Himself quite real to me throughout these years, saving my life on several occasions when I called out to Him. He’s provided food and clothing for me, so so many things that I’ve needed. I’ve had people who were professed “witches” look at me and say “You’re a Christian.” I’ve also had others who were non-believers tell me that I was the best example of a Christian they had ever seen.

    Yet it broke my heart when again the other night, my twin sister spoke to me on the phone saying “I don’t know how you can call yourself a Christian. You’re saying that God made a mistake by going against the way you were born… I was more of a boy than you because I used more power tools at the house growing up…” Just insane stuff like that. She really thinks that one’s use of tools makes up their gender. Then she wouldn’t let me reply, saying she had to go take a bath.

    I was so hurt, I was shaking. Then I had another talk with Jesus about the situation and was reminded of Clown fish. Did you know that if “Finding Nemo” was based on fact, that Nemo’s “father” at the time of the attack would’ve undergone a natural sex change and became Nemo’s mother, then he would’ve hatched Nemo’s egg and later mated with Nemo? That’s real life, people.

    Christians seem to constantly try and take the position of God in shunning people, condemning them, judging them, and driving them to want to kill themselves- everything that the Bible is against.

    I was born a Eunuch yet my mother is constantly telling me that she doesn’t want me to “wake up” some day and be sad about not having children. She refuses to listen to the fact that I cannot have children, nor could I bear the thought of having to carry a child within me, as much as I love children. I have told Jesus that all I want to do is to be a servant for Him, through my future profession of Nursing (which I’m currently in school for).

    I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when I die, Jesus will say to me “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

  1. […] Jon Merritt responds to Russ Moore: “These events and others led some Christian leaders to speak out against the increased sensitivity to transgender people. An article by Russell Moore at the “On Faith” forum hosted by The Washington Post, for example, argued that transgender people are essentially confused. He urged churches to teach that “our maleness and femaleness points us to an even deeper reality, to the unity and complementarity of Christ and the church.” Moore is someone for whom I have deep respect, and I appreciate his attempts to speak to this topic more compassionately than some of his Christian colleagues. Yet the issue seems to be more complicated than he and others are portraying.” […]

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