I have been steadily working through Andrew T. Walker’s God and the Transgender Debate and what I’ve found in Chapter 5 is the start of the real meat of the book. Walker’s book claims to be about what the God of the Bible has to say about trans people, which means looking at what the Bible has to say about us and about topics like gender should be the basis for everything else in the book. The problem in this case is that it’s not. Walker’s preconceptions colour what he finds in the Bible; furthermore, he doesn’t look closely enough at Scripture to see anything else, and then he uses what he does see to draw the wrong conclusion.
Before Walker even gets into his study of Scripture on the matter he has already committed a serious hermeneutical error. At the very end of Chapter 4, Walker asserts that “The Christian answer is to locate authority, knowledge, and trust where it can find a firm, stable, fulfilling foundation – in the crucified Creator. He may not always agree with our feelings or our reason – but he can be trusted, and he knows what he’s talking about, and he has the right to tell us how to live. His words are good to listen to and to obey. And, over the next three chapters, this is what we will be doing.” The problem Walker has with leading into Chapter 5 like this is that he has spent Chapter 4 implicitly arguing that trans people do not take God has the authority for who they are and are therefore not truly understanding themselves. He thus has to find a conclusion in Scripture that supports such an assertion regardless of whether or not Scripture does support it. He has set his argument up in such a way that we know what he’s going to conclude before he ever gets there and that’s a problem.
One of the things you learn when studying hermeneutics is that whenever we approach a text within the Bible we all have what Klein, et al. refer to as a “preunderstanding.” This “constitutes where we begin as we currently are,” and includes all of our views, opinions, etc., on a text before we begin to interact with it. As they go on to point out, “We cannot avoid or deny the presence of preunderstanding in the task of biblical interpretation. Every interpreter comes to study the Bible with preconceptions and prior dispositions.” The problem, then, is not that we hold such preunderstandings but rather what we choose to do with them. To quote Klein, et al. again, “Every interpreter begins with a preunderstanding. After an initial study of a biblical text, that text performs a work on the interpreter. His or her preunderstanding is no longer what it once was. Then, as the newly interpreted interpreter proceeds to question the text further, out of this newly formed understanding, further – perhaps, different – questions and answers emerge.” The point here is that if we are honest as we engage with the Bible we will modify our previously held positions in light of what we find therein. We will let the text speak for itself, regardless of what we find, and we will learn from that. Walker’s argument in God and the Transgender Debate is set up in such a way that he can’t do that.
Walker further compounds his hermeneutical problems by not looking closely enough at the Biblical text to let it speak. He draws his conclusions from Genesis 1-2, which is the logical place to begin examining the concept of gender in the Bible, but rather than ask questions like what is the text talking about when it says “male” and “female” or whether “gender” in the text is a separate concept from “sex,” he simply observes that man and woman can “physically become ‘one flesh'” and from that asserts that anatomy must ultimately determine who we are in a gendered sense. As he says, “Our anatomy tells us what gender we are. Our bodies do not lie to us.” And while Walker does acknowledge that “humans bear God’s image,” he attributes the “image of God” to our morality and not to our gender which, in reality, is only one of several possible interpretations. Walker hasn’t even begun to properly explore the Biblical text in Genesis 1-2 and yet he is comfortable with the conclusions he’s drawn. His preunderstanding of the text won’t let him see anything else and he is, for whatever reason, unwilling to challenge the view he holds.
The result of this flawed hermeneutical approach is that the conclusion he draws doesn’t have the evidence it needs to stand on. Without ever asking whether “gender” and “sex” as found in Genesis 1 constitute the same thing, he concludes, “Christianity doesn’t sever gender from sex.” He makes this conclusion without ever having proved it. And instead of closing out the chapter with more evidence, he does what he did in chapter 4. He appeals to the authority of God to support his position by asserting that those who reject his conclusion are, in reality, rejecting Jesus. As a minister myself, I have found that when one has a solid argument they don’t have to prop it up with an appeal to authority. Well-thought-out and well-researched arguments speak for themselves. Weak ones don’t.
I want to close by saying that I realise it can be easier to critique than to offer substantial alternatives. I have, I hope, shown the errors in Walker’s methodology and thus his conclusion. What I have not done in this post is offered any substantial conclusion in response. In my next post here I will look at the questions Walker refused to ask and from the answers to those questions we’ll see what the Bible actually says about trans people.