Tag Archives: transgender

The Fruit of Bad Theology


One of the perks of finally getting Netflix is access to an ocean of really cool documentaries. The best one we’ve seen so far is Chasing Coral, about the loss of coral reefs due to rising ocean temperatures. A group of scientists and photographers sets out to document this loss firsthand and the end result is a moving, powerful look at just what is going on in our world right now. Perhaps one of the most poignant scenes comes when the team is diving off a floating restaurant. As the team observes, devastation to the reef is going on right under the feet (literally) of the people enjoying themselves and they don’t even realise it. They’re oblivious to it. The film at its core is an attempt to change that lack of awareness and speaking for myself at least it succeeds in doing so. (You can find the team on Facebook here.)

I bring this up not just because it’s a film I think you should see but also because it made me think. In conservative circles right now the loudest voices regarding trans people are men like Andrew T. Walker and Ryan T. Anderson, men who haven’t bothered to get to know us and yet who insist on telling the world that they understand us and know what is best for us. And the evangelical church is just eating it up. They don’t bother to look underneath, to change their perspective to see what’s really going on here. To see the harm that’s being done. They’re oblivious.

I haven’t read Anderson’s book yet (although the man himself has done nothing to show he cares for trans people; he blocks us on Twitter when we ask hard questions) but as I’m nearing the end of Walker’s book I’m understanding more and more just how dangerous this phenomenon is. For example, Walker spends most of Chapter 9 fleshing out his rationale for the “box” I mentioned in an earlier post. (To recap, he believes experiencing gender dysphoria isn’t sinful but transitioning is. This is the existence Walker is willing to allow us.) To Walker, dysphoria is the “cross” that trans people are called to bear.[1] As he says, “When it comes to gender dysphoria, Jesus is not promising that coming to him means walking away from that experience. He is asking someone to be willing to live with that dysphoria, perhaps for their whole lives – and to follow him nonetheless.”[2] (109) The problem here isn’t just the lack of supporting evidence (the only foundation for this suffering that Walker wants to inflict is his faulty exegesis) but also that, in light of where Walker starts out, it isn’t surprising that he’s ended up here. When you start with your prejudice and then examine Scripture just long enough to confirm it, requiring people to suffer for being who they are isn’t that much of a stretch. It’s a logical endgame, and that’s scary.

This is the fruit of bad theology. You get to hurt people, you get to lay the foundation for others hurting people, and you still get to call yourself loving. You get to stay oblivious, to go on living the good life while the world falls apart beneath your feet.

If you’re reading this and you’ve bought into Walker’s view, please open your eyes. Set aside your preconceptions, search the scriptures, and let the text speak for itself. Challenge your perspective and be willing to let go of old understandings. If you’re a minister or theologian, I’m asking for you to do it right. Don’t make the mistakes Walker does.

As a last word here, let me point out that this “fruit” isn’t limited solely to theology. When you start as Anderson does, with the premise that being trans is nothing more than a mental illness, and then block out anyone who says otherwise, you end up in pretty much the same place as Walker. The resulting worldview is logical given its premise but twisted and harmful in light of reality. (For a detailed critique of Anderson’s book click here.)

The reality of climate change is one that was difficult for me to accept. I’d heard too much about how climate scientists have been wrong with every prediction they’ve ever made. I figured whatever is happening right now is just part of a cycle and really nothing to worry about. Chasing Coral showed me I was wrong. I had to change my perspective and set aside my preconceptions.

I’m asking you to do the same with trans people before it’s too late for us.

                [1] Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate: What does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? (Epsom, UK: The Good Book Co., 2017), 108.

                [2] Ibid., 109.



“We Can’t Pretend You Don’t Exist, so Here’s a Box for You to Stay in.”

41U4s9JARAL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_One of the dangers of not allowing Scripture to challenge our preconceptions on a subject is that when those preconceptions lead you to the wrong conclusion that conclusion can, in turn, lead you to dangerous assumptions and more incorrect conclusions. It should come as no surprise that in God and the Transgender Debate, Andrew T. Walker views gender dysphoria, and thus trans identities, as a result of the Fall in Genesis 3. Gender in Genesis 1 isn’t a rigid enough concept to draw that conclusion, as I documented in my last post, but that is the conclusion Walker draws. Having made one wrong conclusion, Walker then proceeds to make another conclusion which is also problematic from a hermenuetical perspective.

At the end of Chapter 6 and throughout Chapter 7, Walker does his best to offer “comfort” to those living with gender dysphoria. It’s not really about comfort at all, as we’ll see, but that’s the overall focus here and he bases it on the assumption that “the feeling or experience of [dysphoria] is not sinful, but it is broken; and acting upon one’s dysphoria is sinful.” (74) In other words, there’s nothing wrong with feeling this way just don’t do anything based on those feelings. In short, he makes a distinction between the feelings and the action. The problem here is that in examples from Scripture where the text also compares feelings and action this distinction does not actually hold up.

In Matthew 5 we find two similar statements almost back to back. In Matthew 5:21-22 we read, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Notice here that simply hating your brother, or experiencing those feelings, is put on the same level as actually acting on those feelings. The same comparison is made several verses later in Matthew 5:27-28, which reads, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Again the experience of the feelings of lust is on the same level as actually acting on those feelings. My point here is not to push some sort of sin management gospel but rather to ask why, if in these passages there is no distinction made between feelings and action, such a distinction would exist between them when it comes to trans people. 

The short answer is that it doesn’t exist. According to the biblical examples given above, Walker’s logic would be correct in concluding that transitioning is sinful but incorrect in concluding that feelings of dysphoria are not sinful. (68) Now in the light of Genesis 1 we know that Walker is wrong on both counts so why even bring this up? The point here is that Walker has set up an artificial distinction, one that doesn’t hold up in light of sound hermeneutical principles, and he has done so solely to argue against trans people actually living openly as who we are. The rest of Chapter 7, as I mentioned previously, is “comfort” for people who want to transition but shouldn’t as far as Walker is concerned.

As I alluded to at the beginning of this post, that “comfort” isn’t really comfort at all and it’s not actually intended for trans people (neither is the book itself but that’s a subject for another post). In concluding that trans people are a result of the Fall, Walker is then forced to defend that conclusion and that’s what he is doing here. He can’t conclude that trans people don’t exist, because we do, so he modifies it a bit. The distinction he set up is his way of saying, “Yes, you exist, but you have to stay in this box or you’re sinning.” Trans people, as I’ve experienced particularly on Twitter, are a challenge for many people and for existing worldviews. The box that Walker unsuccessfully attempts to set up is to protect those people who do not want to be challenged. This is not only a flaw in Walker’s logic but also serves to reveal something of his underlying intentions. The man who supposedly understands trans people so well is really just trying to protect those who don’t want to have to deal with us.

When you make inaccurate conclusions regarding biblical texts, and then proceed to make more such conclusions in order to defend the first one, ultimately something has to give. The cost in this case is not only the integrity of Walker’s hermeneutical principles but also the very people that Walker purports to be helping. When you work to protect more mainstream views those of us on the margins are ultimately forced to stay there. Walker’s “care” for trans people is only hurting us further and there is nothing Christ-like about that.

The Bible and Trans People Part 2

41U4s9JARAL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_I closed off my last post with the observation that it’s not enough simply to critique the flaws in Walker’s methodology, and the conclusions he draws as a result, without offering a substantial response of my own. I don’t have comments on “trans ideology” or “transgenderism.” From talking to other other trans people I’m not even sure such things exist. What I do have is my own journey to accepting myself as a trans woman and my own exploration of Scripture and what terms like gender and sex mean in light of the biblical record. Now before you assume that as one who identifies as trans my bias is such that I’ll simply see in Scripture what I want to in order to justify who I am, let me say that I completed my Master’s degree through Liberty University and the hermeneutical tools I gained there are the ones I have used here. I have done my best to let Scripture speak for itself and I have then drawn my own conclusions in light of what I found.

The defining moment for me in my coming out journey was realizing that our gender really is a separate concept from our biological sex. I had come across an article (which for the life of me I can’t remember where I found it online), the gist of which was that when you call someone “Sir” or “Ma’am” while out in pubic you are not doing so based on their genetics. You may not even know what their genetic make-up. You are, rather, going off “secondary sex characteristics,” things like the presence or absence of facial hair or breasts, body shape, and hair length. These characteristics get their start in our genes, sure, but thanks to today’s science each of them can now be altered to a degree depending on how much you want to spend and what exactly you want to change. If our standard, so to speak, for determining gender is so maleable, is it really objective and should we continue to use it a means of defining one’s gender? The answer is no. And if that standard no longer holds, what then do we look to as a means of determining gender? The only answer left, really, is the individual inside the body in question. My challenge as a minister and student of theology was to see if this reality squared with the reality presented in Scripture.

There are any number of passages concerning gender in the Bible but the logical place to start is with the first one. As Walker does in God and the Transgender Debate, I went to Genesis. There are details in Genesis 1 that shed light on what it means to be a gendered being in light of Scripture, details that Walker overlooks. The key passage for our purposes is Genesis 1:27, which in the English Standard Version (ESV) reads, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Before digging into this verse it’s worth noting a couple of things. First, this is the first instance of “male” and “female” in Scripture. That makes this passage important. Second, look at the sentence structure here. We are created male and female “in the image of God.” The sentence connects the two ideas. (Yes this is an English translation of a Hebrew text, meaning one could argue that the connection isn’t necessarily there in the original, but this connection does carry over into other translations. The New American Standard Bible and the New International Version, for example, have almost the same wording as the ESV.) The theological question now becomes what does that connection show us about gender in this passage and what does that have to do with the question of gender and biological sex.

When we think of an image of something we may think of a photo or a snapshot of it but that’s not the sense here in the biblical text. According to The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word from which we get “image” means “image in the sense of essential nature,” referring more specifically in this case to “human nature in its internal and external characteristics rather than an exact duplicate.”[1] For our purposes here it’s worth noting that this text specifically ties together image and gender: “Being created in God’s image meant being created male and female, in a loving unity of more than one person.”[2] As the observations imply, being made in the image of God does not refer to a physical likeness. It goes deeper than that and refers more specifically to the elements of humanity that we may not be able to physically see. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament summarises this when it concludes that “God’s image obviously does not consist in man’s body which was formed from earthly matter.”[3] One side of the connection under examination in Genesis 1 is thus decidedly not physical in nature.

But what of the other side of the connection? “Male” and “female” have, at least for us, very physical connotations at times. Is that the case here in Genesis 1? According to Strong’s Dictionary, the Hebrew word for “male” in Genesis 1:27 belongs to a family of words which collectively refer to remembering or being remembered.[4] The male is “the most noteworthy sex.” The Theological Wordbook takes this a step further by observing that this word is “used for the male sex when sexual distinctions are in view.”[5] The male is worth remembering, in a sexual sense, because he “stands out.” The Hebrew for “female,” in contrast, comes from a root word which means “to puncture” or “to pierce.”[6] Such a description makes sense, again, when viewed in terms of sexual distinctions.[7] When viewing a naked man and naked woman side by side, which is the case here in Genesis, the man stands out while the woman is pierced. What we have here then, absent varying cultural interpretations, is what an observer would see were they standing right in front of Adam and Eve. What we have on this side of the connection is, at first glance, thus entirely physical in nature.

Such an observation may appear to be a damning problem for trans identities but it’s actually not. So much of who we are in a gendered sense comes from the culture around us. It is from our parents and from society as a whole that we learn what is and is not OK for us as men and women. If you’ll notice in Genesis 1, all of that baggage doesn’t exist yet. Adam and Eve have no parents to learn gender roles from and no society to tell them who to be. What the Hebrew record provides is exactly what we would expect it to provide in light of this.

Now that our observations have yielded a connection between something physical and something not physical, what are we left to conclude? Are gender and biological sex one and the same in view of Genesis 1? “Male” and “female” have their basis in the image of God which, as we’ve observed, is not a physical concept. They may be represented physically in our biological sex but they are not dependent on it. There is simply too much going on in this text to conclude that Christianity does not separate gender and sex. As such, there is room in a Christian worldview for trans identities.

Having said that, I realise this will not be a popular conclusion with evangelicals and therefore a word about methodology is in order. I have done my best to not twist the meaning of the passages under examination just as I have done my best not to see evidence in these passages that isn’t there. Rather, my methodology has been similar to that used by Prof. John S. Feinberg in his No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. In defending his analysis of various theories of creation, he says, “The tension [here] arises when we try to match the teachings of Scripture with science. Since evangelical theology must give greatest weight to Scripture, if science contradicts what Scripture clearly teaches, the conclusions of science must be rejected. Of course, the way I have stated this requires us to be sure about what Scripture really teaches, and we must also make a judgement about what the scientific data really require.”[8] What I have done here, I hope, is to show that when one compares the reality that underscores trans identities with the foundation of biblical views on gender there is no contradiction between the two. The tension can be resolved without rejecting either side.

The real danger here is that evangelicals reject one side to save the other for in doing so they reveal a hole in their worldview. The reality that underscores trans identities, that biology is not a definite indicator of gender and therefore gender and sex are not one in the same, is an objective, observable fact. Take away the moral implications that evangelicals like to attach to it and it still exists. Changing one’s secondary sex characteristics can and does occur. If the only response evangelicals have to this reality is that it shouldn’t occur then that’s a problem. Christianity at its heart is a worldview, an overarching story within which the world is supposed to fit and make sense. By saying this shouldn’t happen you indicate that your worldview is not strong enough to support it and if you’re not careful that can bring down the entire worldview. What I have tried to do here, ultimately, is to show that a Christian worldview is strong enough to support this reality and as such does have room for trans people. Assuming otherwise also leads to problems in methodology. As in Walker’s book, you’re forced to pick and choose evidence from Scripture to support a conclusion you’ve already arrived at. In doing so, you ultimately compromise a worldview in order to defend it and if as Christians we are to give Scripture the respect it deserves that is not an acceptable result.

One final word is necessary here. This post has been a response to the conclusion drawn by Andrew T. Walker in his God and the Transgender Debate but the Scriptural evidence discussed here also serves as a criticism of the Nashville Statement. If you’re not familiar with this document, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released it last year to show their position on what they view as God’s design for human sexuality. In Article VII of the Statement they say, “We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.” I am not familiar with their methodology, simply because I haven’t seen a discussion of it yet, so I am uncertain as to whether they followed Walker’s flawed approach or not. I also have to say that the “homosexual” portion of their statement is beyond the scope of this post not because I believe they are correct in that regard (I don’t) but rather because if I tackled that issue as well this post would go on forever. It is a discussion for another time. That being said, regardless of their methodology their conclusion regarding trans people is too narrow for what Scripture actually shows regarding gender and sex. They may not have willingly excluded evidence that does not support their position but they have drawn a conclusion that does just that. They distort their worldview in order to defend it and thus compromise just as effectively as Walker has.

There is room for trans identities within a biblical worldview if you’re willing to ask the questions of Scripture and allow that worldview to evolve based on the answers you find. As students of theology and of Scripture we can do no less.

                [1] James Strong, The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible with their Renderings in the King James Version and with Additional Definitions Adapted from W.E. Vine and Cross-references to Other Word Study Resources, in James Strong, The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Red Letter Edition (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2010), 6754.

                [2] Ibid.

                [3] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 1988), 1923.

                [4] Strong, 2145.

                [5] Harris et al., 551.

                [6] Strong, 5347.

                [7] Harris et al., 1409.

                [8] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 580.

The Bible and Trans People Part 1

41U4s9JARAL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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.”[3] 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.”[4] 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'”[5] 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.”[6] And while Walker does acknowledge that “humans bear God’s image,” he attributes the “image of God” to our morality[7] 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.”[8] 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.[9] 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.


                [1] Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate: What does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? (Epsom, UK: The Good Book Co., 2017), 45-46.

                [2] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, rev. ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004), 154.

                [3] Ibid., 155.

                [4] Ibid., 166.

                [5] Walker, 54.

                [6] Ibid.

                [7] Ibid., 49.

                [8] Ibid., 57.

                [9] Ibid., 59.

A Place for Transgender People in Christianity

m0ab83l4m94yI have been meaning for the last couple of weeks to put forward some kind of response to Andrew T. Walker’s God and the Transgender Debate. I have not yet read the book but in emailing the author earlier this year I became familiar with the ideas at the heart of it and I believe it to be, at the very least, a dangerous book and one that does not represent the best of who we are as Christians or who trans people really are. I believe there is, in fact, room for transgender people as they are within Christian theology (despite the negative and incredibly harsh responses this idea has received lately on Twitter).

I had planned an entire post laying out the Scriptural evidence in support of transgender people but I haven’t done that yet. It’s not because the evidence isn’t there and it’s not because I don’t believe in it anymore. It’s for two reasons. First of all, our theology as conservative Christians is hurting trans people and we can’t even acknowledge that. What we’re doing is offensive and I don’t mean in the sense of 1 Corinthians 1:18. We are causing real pain to real people and the fact that we can’t acknowledge that or even be bothered to examine our theology to see if we might have gotten things wrong is repulsive. We need to examine our theology, we need to ask the hard questions, and we need to take a long look at what we claim to believe. The second reason is something I was reminded of earlier this week. We can debate the merits of transgenderism all day long, but at the end of the day there are real people at the heart of this. Real, hurting people, who do not exist solely to fuel our discussions and debates. They are who they are and they matter. We can’t lose sight of that as we debate amongst ourselves as to whether or not we have room for them. (I’ll give you a hint. We do.)

If God and the Transgender Debate is the best voice we have for trans people then that’s not good. If we refuse to even allow other voices because they’re “deluded” or “deceived” then that’s even worse. We need to get our heads out of the sand.


Discrimination Based on Fear is Still Wrong

hidden-figures-desktop-all-platforms-front-main-stageWe watched the movie Hidden Figures recently and there was a lot more to it than I thought there would be. I’m an avid space enthusiast (fits with being a Trekkie) and I enjoyed seeing the early days of Project Mercury portrayed on film. It’s something I’ve read about in great detail but never seen in this way.

What really caught my attention, though, was seeing the reality of living in a segregated society. I didn’t live through the 1960’s (I’m too young to have been around then) and I have never experienced something like that firsthand. There’s one scene in the movie, for example, where one of the main characters has to go into the “white” section of the city library because the book she’s after can’t be found in the “coloured” section. When the staff find her there she’s escorted out by police.

In another scene, one of the other main characters has to walk half a mile to use the bathroom because there’s no “coloured” one in the building she’s assigned to work in. I can’t imagine having to live like that, nor can I imagine how the society of that time thought this was OK. When this comes to the attention of her supervisor, he takes a crowbar to all the “coloured women’s restroom” signs on the campus and tells her to “pee wherever she pleases,” and that “at NASA we all pee the same colour.”

I think that most of us who see this movie, or any other dealing with similar subject matter, can’t help but be touched by seeing scenes like that. Offended, even. I mean, how could society justify treating people like that?

What I really don’t understand, and what bothers me still even now several weeks after seeing the film, is how we can be offended by such beliefs when they apply to one group and yet look the other way (or even endorse them) when they apply to a different group. You’d have to be living under a rock the last few months not to have at least heard of the different “bathroom bills” that have popped up across this country and the controversy they are causing. We are as a society again trying to regulate where people can pee. Simply put, if it was wrong to do so with black people then why is it OK to do so with trans people?

I realise that for many this is a very complex and touchy subject and I’m not even going to try to examine all angles of it here. We’d be here all day and then some, and it’s not really my point. All I really wanted to do with this post was pose the question I raised above. If it’s wrong to isolate one group within our society and discriminate against them on the basis of one or two characteristics then how do we justify doing it to another?

In James 2 the characteristic in question is wealth. James was concerned his audience was honouring wealthy visitors at the expense of poorer ones. As the English Standard Version puts it, they were showing “partiality,” and James’ instructions were simple. Don’t show partiality. Love your neighbour as yourself, no matter who your “neighbour” is. Treat everyone the same.

When we discriminate against people, no matter what the characteristic is we’re going by, it says more about us than it does about them. When you favour a wealthy person over a poorer one you either want something from the wealthy person or you believe money is more important than people themselves. In the case of discrimination based on race or gender identity, the likely cause is fear. Fear of what’s different. Fear of what we don’t understand. And I understand that fear. I’ve felt it myself.

The thing is, when we’re faced with that fear we have a choice. We can choose to give in to our fear and use it to justify hurting others or we can choose to set it aside, reach out in love, and work to understand. No matter how great our fears may be, discriminating based on those fears is still wrong.

Our Best Days Are Not Ahead of Us

AM17-logoThe 2017 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention ended a week ago, and it was the first time that I have been involved in such an event even from a distance via social media. It was also the first significant opportunity I had to advocate for the LGBTQ community with the very people who need to hear it the most. That being said, I have waited until now to give my thoughts on the event. LGBTQ rights can be an emotional subject for many people, myself included, and I wanted to let the dust settle in my own mind before commenting on the experience.

I have to say that I am amazed at how passionately Baptists tend to oppose any theological position that values gender non-conforming people for who they are. (I do realise that not all Baptists do so; it was just the general sense I got from #sbc17.) What also amazed me was the oft-repeated position that Baptists have compassion for all people but cannot and will not abandon God’s plan for human sexuality as laid out in Scripture. It is this sense of compassion, apparently, that leads Baptists to tell LGBTQ people that who they are is a sin, offensive in God’s sight, and something that must change. What I found incredulous was that no one sees the issue with such a stance. Putting it bluntly, if the best we can do to show compassion to these people is drive them farther away from Jesus than we have a seriously problem. That is not compassion. It’s discrimination hiding behind a veil of religious acceptability. If it really was compassion, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

I am becoming more and more convinced that our stance as Baptists in this country is turning us into the 21st century version of the New Testament Pharisees. Allow me to explain. One of the things I noticed when I studied the history of the Jewish people from the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC through the Intertestamental Period was that they progressively lost more and more of what it meant for them to be God’s people. The temple was destroyed (rebuilt, yes, but never to its formal glory). They were consistently subjugated by foreign peoples, and even during the brief period where they were able to rule themselves the office of High Priest, for example, became little more than a political pawn. Many of them lost the Promised Land as well when they were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. In the end, all they had left was the Word. The Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament. This is the climate in which the Pharisees came to be. When all you have left is the Law, rigorous obedience to that Law becomes everything.

We see the ultimate expression of this in John 8 when the Pharisees bring the woman caught in adultery to Jesus and ask Him what they should do with her. As we’re told verses 3 and 4, the woman has been caught in the very act. She is obviously guilty, and the Pharisees are very much aware of the penalty given in Leviticus 20:10 for this situation. (Before you point out that Leviticus 20 applies to the man as well and that the Pharisees are just using this woman as bait to test Jesus, I am aware of that. I have another point to make here.) By the letter of the law, so to speak, the Pharisees are correct in what they say. That they can make the request, however, without any evidence of guilt, shows just how focused they are on obeying the Law. They actually think they’re doing the right thing.

Are contemporary Baptists that different? We have lost so much in this country of what made us who we are. We no longer have prayer in schools. We no longer really have the voice to speak to societal issues, and when we do speak, fewer and fewer people still listen. We are now but one voice in a sea of voices, many of which are given more respect than our own. All we really have left is morality. It’s the one area, as I see it, that we feel we can still speak to. We have, in Scripture, the reality of sin and judgement, of forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross, and of God’s moral law in the Old Testament. This is a basis that no other group has, at least as far as we’re concerned, which gives us the confidence to still speak out on moral issues. The problem is that when morality becomes all you have left it can easily become the whole point and it’s not supposed to be.

Many of those I spoke with through social media during #sbc17 were quick to point out that the Bible calls same-sex relationships a sin. And, technically, they’re right. Leviticus 18:22, amongst others, says as much. While I disagree with that interpretation (I believe there is plenty of room in Scripture for same-sex individuals the way they are without it being sinful or something “they have to repent from”), it is the interpretation held by many Baptists and by the Convention as a whole. Our focus on morality means that Baptists can share that stance with LGBTQ people, people who as I’ve written before have gone through so much and given up so much just to be who they are, and actually think they’re doing the right thing. Baptists tell them God rejects them, too, and like the Pharisees in John 8 they have no guilt about what they do. We actually have the gall to think we’re being compassionate.

(As an aside, I do still say “we” and “our” when referring to Baptists. Obviously I disagree with the Convention on a number of issues, and the voice of discrimination against LGBTQ people is not one I share. That being said, I was ordained in a Baptist church and I feel that I still have a voice within the Convention even as an ally of the LGBTQ community and an advocate for their rights. I have a foothold, so to speak, in both worlds, and I plan to use that position, and that voice, as much as I can in situations like this.)

Someone, and I can’t remember who, tweeted out during the Annual Meeting that our best days as a denomination are before us. I could not disagree more. As long as we can justify marginalising an entire group of people then our best days are definitely not still to come. Even a brief look through the Gospels shows that Jesus reached out and identified with the outcasts of His society. And what do we do? We make gender non-conforming people into the outcasts of ours. If as a Convention we can’t see that then we have a very big problem indeed.

More Thoughts on the Bible and Gender

31118_000_005_05What are we missing in the Creation story as found in Genesis? What isn’t there that we might not realize isn’t there because we take it for granted that it is? The short answer is a lot. We fight tooth and nail over creation and evolution, for example, yet do we stop to consider whether or not what we’re advocating is supported by the text? We can make the same mistake with regards to gender in Genesis 1 and 2. Granted, the Bible contains many other passages dealing with gender in one form or another, but this is where it starts. There is a lot to go on here in the text, but as I realized the other day we’re actually missing a big piece of the puzzle.

What we like to advocate based on these passages is that God makes us as men or as women. Nothing else. Not transgender, not lesbian, not gay. Man or woman. But here’s the thing. Like I mentioned in a previous post, in Genesis 1:27 we get “male” and “female.” The Hebrew word from which we get “male” translates roughly as “remarkable,” which makes sense when you consider the male sex organs. Without being too graphic, they’re prominent. They stick up. You “remark” on them because you notice them. The Hebrew word for “female” here translates roughly as “pierced,” which when you consider the physical act of sex makes perfect sense.

That’s the only description of male and female that we get in Genesis 1. It’s a physical description, written as if one was standing there observing these two people. That being said, notice what it doesn’t include. It says nothing, for example, about what’s going on inside their heads. I also mentioned in a previous post that sex or gender (however you want to term it) is deeper than mere biology. There’s not a hint of that in these descriptions. What we get is the most basic physical description and little else.

The big piece of the puzzle I referred to earlier is something along the lines of what we’ve been discussing but which you might not even notice unless you were looking for it. Last week an article I stumbled across on Facebook pointed out that definitions of gender change from culture to culture. What constitutes a man in one culture is not necessarily the same as what constitutes a man in another culture. We learn to be men or women, at least initially, based largely on culturally established norms. These norms can and do change over time but we as children exist within them and learn from them even as we may question them. Our parents did the same before us, as did their parents before them and so on.

What I noticed when I looked in Genesis 1 is that there are no parents for Adam and Eve to learn cultural norms from. If you accept the biblical passage (and if you don’t that’s fine), Adam and Eve are the first. There is no established culture for them to learn from. It just doesn’t exist. They are, put simply, making it up as they go along. To be sure, they’re learning directly from God himself, but that doesn’t change the reality that culture as we understand it simply doesn’t exist.

Now why is that a problem? Simple. We like to read our own cultural understandings back into the text as if that is what the text was talking about and it’s not. We can’t read our own cultural concepts of what makes a man a man and a woman a woman back into Genesis 1 because culture as we understand it doesn’t exist. It’s not there.

How then can we justify using Genesis 1 to attack people who don’t fit in to our cultural norms? Maybe it’s time that we stopped twisting the text and instead tried to fit ourselves into its norms. If we don’t, we’re missing out on more than we realize.


Biology and Gender

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, and I came across one particular article last week that for the life of me I can’t remember where I found it online but which raised the point that contemporary definitions of gender and sex might be a little too rigid. The main argument that I see conservatives making regarding the possibility of people being transgender is that, biologically speaking, you’re either male or female and while you may feel like your gender doesn’t line up with that you can’t change that fundamental reality. As the article pointed out, there are two problems with this position. The first is that the very characteristics we use to determine who is male and who is female, such as the presence or absence of facial hair, show considerable variation even between two individuals who are presumably of the same gender. For example, I rocked a goatee in high school at age 17, and I can still remember talking to one guy I worked with one summer who was shocked that I wasn’t 23 like he was because I had this awesome facial hair and all he’d ever managed to grow was stubble.

The second point raised in the article is that all of these various characteristics, from facial hair to breasts to the presence of one particular type of plumbing, can all now be changed. Hormone therapy and surgery can change everything but your genes. Yes, genetics determines what you start out with, but if every characteristic that indicates gender can be changed, can we really use biology as the ultimate indicator of one’s gender? I don’t think we can, and for me that raises further questions. What then do we use as an indicator of gender? And given that conclusion, is it wrong for someone to say I’m transgender, I’m a woman in a man’s body?

As Christians, even if biology is out as a fixed point in determining gender we would still say that the Bible is pretty specific. You’re either male or female, as God created you, and that’s that. To see if the biblical picture really is that fixed, I had a look at some of the evidence. In Genesis 1 and 2 we get the story of Creation, and what I found here is enough even by itself to make we question our commitment to our position on gender. In Gen. 1:27 we’re told, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This verse would seem to end the argument, right? 

Take a closer look at the wording of this passage, though. The structure of the sentence connects “male and female” with the “image of God.” In other words, we’re created in the image of God as male and female. Now there is a lot of debate out there as to just what the “image” of God actually entails, but that’s not what I want you to see here. What I want you to see is that if we are created in the image of God, then there should be a connection between our sex/gender (however you want to word it) and God. Depending on how you define “image” you can define that connection in different ways, but notice this. God at this point in the story does not have a physical body. Jesus and the Incarnation is all the way off in the New Testament. Whatever the connection may be, it therefore can’t be solely physical. Whatever makes us male or female can’t be solely our plumbing, so to speak, because at this very point, when we’re told we’re created male or female in God’s image, God doesn’t have plumbing that we know of. What makes us who we are in terms of gender or sex (again using those words interchangeably) must therefore be something deeper than simply our physical bodies. 

I am not for a moment suggesting we throw out every passage of Scripture that speaks to us as male and female. I am suggesting that our understanding of what it is that makes us male or female or transgender or agender or whatever else needs to change. If we can’t use physical characteristics as a fixed determination of gender, and if Scripture isn’t as black and white as it would at first appear, then what we are left with to determine the gender of a particular body is the person living inside that body. If they decide on something we don’t agree with, who are we to argue with that?