Tag Archives: transgender

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?