As I said in a previous post in this series (Part 1, Part 2), this problem of how the Church must address Trangenderism will be an increasing problem as time goes on. This is mainly because of how the whole idea of gender identity has changed in the past 100 years.
It is only since Sigmund Freud that we use our sexuality as an “identity”. And it’s only after the Enlightenment that living in light of one’s natural identity is seen as the highest ideal.
Now, Christianity agrees with the Enlightenment on this point, but with a caveat. A very, very important caveat that should shape this entire discussion, especially as it pertains to how we actually counsel and interact with transgendered individuals.
The caveat is this: humanity is the image-bearer of God. We are called to reflect and live in light of that Image. When we don’t do this, we are actually going against how humanity was truly designed to live. We are, in effect, acting less human, not more.
Therefore, as we become Christians and our hearts are (slowly) changed, we live more and more as our fully-human, Resurrection selves. Being joined to Jesus as our representative for true humanity, we find our truest, most truly human identity in him–not in our sexuality, not in our physical sex, not in our gender.
In Christ there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, gay nor straight. There is only Christ.
In light of this, our “natural” feelings and tendencies are recast in a different light. They are not done away with. Not ignored. Not brushed aside. But taken seriously. Dealt with. I was born with a sexuality that will desire to have sex with more than one woman my entire life. But this is not how my truest humanity is most truly and purely expressed. This “sub-natural” sexual tendency in me is not my truest identity.
What does this mean for our transgender brothers and sisters?
This acknowledges that these feelings and confusions are in fact real. They really are things that people are born with. People really do experience profound disconnects between their gender and their sex. These thoughts and desires are very deep and ingrained and in and of themselves are not sins. The real issue at hand is how we respond to them.
It also means that the “resurrected humanity” of Christianity is our truest individual identity. This means that the expression of this new humanity will look different for each person. This is scary and unpredictable, but it should also be freeing.
For many aspects of life, the Bible gives some clear guidelines to know if people are actually living in line with what the essentials of this “resurrected living”. Those that have truly been changed by God will want to follow these things, even at the expense of what feels most “natural” to them. And they will do this as an act of trust that God knows their difficulty and gives grace in the midst of the struggle.
But, unfortunately for us at this moment, and contrary to many conservative Evangelical intuitions, none of the Bible’s guidelines include clear dictates regarding the life and conduct of someone dealing with Transgender issues. So how do we navigate these murky waters?
What to do when it’s not so clear
God relates to us in two primary ways: revealed and hidden. There is a clear, objective Will of God that has been expressed in the Word (Jesus) and the Church. But there is also the mysterious, hidden Will of God that has to do with things not expressly talked about in Scripture (who should you marry? What college should you go to? etc.)
In response to each of these things, we are called to relate towards God in two different ways. Our appropriate response to God’s revealed will is obedience–knowing the content of this will and humbly submitting to it. Our appropriate response to God’s hidden will, though, is faith–not anxiously trying to “figure it out” and obey, but to live life trusting God in the midst of it.
Why do I bring this up? I think God’s desire for the Transgender Christian belongs to the hidden will of God for that individual.
Practically, this means that the way we counsel them is to keep them in community, under teaching, and receiving the sacraments all while letting them live their life trusting our God.
Don’t misunderstand me–make sure they are knowing and obeying the revealed Will of God in both life and conduct, but give them the freedom to wrestle, make mistakes, and live in the tension these issues will inevitably bring. As a community, we would strive to love them in grace and make sure they are trusting Christ, living in a place of obedience and sensitivity to the Spirit (just like the rest of us in the community).
Personally, at this moment, I would be fine with them living and dressing in the way that they feel most purely expresses who they are in Christ, even if it does not match their physical sex. I think I would encourage them to prayerfully (over time) pick a particular gender identity and be all that until the Holy Spirit moves them another way (not, for example, switch gender identity every other week). I would keep them in counseling as they wrestle through all the confusions, desires, temptations, and emotions.
Do I think it could be fine and God-honoring for transgender people to undergo sex transition? I think it could be, but only if that person has acted and dressed out of that gender identity for awhile and really does feel that their redeemed humanity is most clearly and unobtrusively expressed in that particular way.
These are issues where I am comfortable trusting the redeemed conscience of a true believer in community with believers and in Communion with the Spirit, because there is no clear-cut revealed instruction concerning all this.
What do you all think? Does this all make sense? Am I wrong? Is this helpful or does it still not answer some important questions? Please give your feedback. Like I’ve said, I’m flexible on this. And please, on this post, keep the comments on topic.
[image credit: painting by Patrick Benbow]
11 thoughts on “Open Mic: A Theology of Transgenderism? (pt.iii)”
I feel that some get caught up in the literal interprtation of “image of God” in that they see it to mean the outer manifestation of a human body Genesis points to that. But what of the internal image?
Our soul, if you will, is what some says returns to God but in reality, it never is seperate from God and God is Omnipresent. For me, the more important image to be concerned with is this internal image – my personal connection with God, or the Christ within.
I agree with your notion that we who live with the challenges of transtion have to follow God’s hidden Will. It is not easy for some of us following to even understand what this Will is sometimes.
Though let me make it clear that I am not saying everyone who transitions follows the Christian way or even anyway – this does not make them less human and as a result they should be treated with respect any human deserves.
Another point to be clear on is that transsexuals DO differ greatly from the occasional cross dresser, drag queens and transgender population as an umbrella whole. It is a medical condition that has an approved medical treatment plan with a ‘cure’ which is complete transition.
Christians should be careful not to confuse the two groups – transsexuals and transgender as the same. They are not.
In the face of outright hostility that many transsexuals face from the Church as a whole, they will often either turn to the Christ within and live accordingly to His Will or will be completely frustrated and seek other spiritual paths elsewhere.
I appreciate your honesty of not being really sure how to address transition people from the Church perspective however, I feel your views as listed in the last paragraph if taken to a moderate extreme by even well-intentioned individuals could prevent real transsexuals from seeking the medical help they need to become whole through fear of loss of community and/or the wrath of God.
Many pastors, priests and the like have, as a result of their own ignorance or bigotry, attempted to dissuade many transsexuals who needed help to transition from doing so. As a result, their well being declined or they turned away from the Church.
More education on the part of the leaders of the Church that is based on scientific and medical information would be beneficial for those wanting to assist transsexuals with regard to the spiritual life and connection to God.
Transition alone, with no spiritual focus is challenging enough – adding difficulty in one’s spiritual life due to an unaccepting community or Church can make it hell-like.
I want to thank you again for your very thoughtful, loving, sensitive and open minded approach to this question. I would also have to say that fundamentally, I agree with the general scope of your conclusions.
However, I do see a distinct problem in your nomenclature. I do not see this as intentional, but simply a very common mistake, frequently caused by the conflation of two very distinct and different conditions. (def. “Conflation occurs when the identities of two or more individuals, concepts, or places, sharing some characteristics of one another, become confused until there seems to be only a single identity” ).
The two terms or conditions being conflated in your analysis are “TRANSGENDERISM”, (def. Transgenderism is a social movement seeking transgender rights and affirming transgender pride”). or…http://createdgay.com/tgdef.html) or…www.knowledgerush.com/kr/encyclopedia/Transgenderism…..AND…
“TRANSSEXUAL”, (def. A person who has undergone or is in the process of CHANGING from one sex to another.) http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/transsexual.
Once you begin an in depth inquiry you will find that despite the occasional conflict and conflation, the inherent differences become clear. “Gender” refers to the social construct, or how one dresses or acts. “Sex” is the physical anatomy.
A transgender “crosses over” the socially accepted norms to dress or act like the opposite sex. A transsexual actually changes, or desperately desires, “NEEDS”, MUST change their physical sex in order to function coherently as a human being.
Now having offered you my best, although certainly incomplete explanation of the two distinctly different terms or conditions, I would share with you my own personal experience.
I was born with the physical genetalia of a male. By the time I was 3 or maybe 4 years old, I KNEW something was seriously amiss. When I started kindergarten at age 5, there was no longer any doubt in my tiny little mind, that I was not, (physically) the little girl that I KNEW that I was.
This terrible dichotomy drove me to seek out my closest and dearest friends, Jesus, Our Mother Mary, and my Guardian Angel. They were never far away and have always to this day been unfailingly at my side. The message was clear. This was God’s will, and they would help me through this.
They did, and I am forver grateful. While I would never wish this path on anybody, (it is a difficult row to hoe), I have absolutely NO regrets and I am thankful that I am here today to continue to do God’s will and answer your questions to the best of my abilities.
Your last entry…
[Paul] as I said in a previous post in this series (Part 1, Part 2), this problem of how the Church must address Trangenderism will be an increasing problem as time […]
… intimated that you still feel that organized religions will continue to experience problems of acceptence. Does this not fly directly in the face of the teachings of Christ, Our Savior?
To quote Zoe Suzanna…
“If you have been touched by Jesus in an actual meeting with him…you would understand something more profound than you could imagine. As a result – the desire to exclude others, to reject others – Trans or not would never enter your mind. You would understand on a deep profound level what Jesus taught.
Jesus did not teach exclusion and hatred.”
i’m sort of replying to everyone, but mainly annierose55.
but first, before i do: the “big ideas” of what i was writing really don’t hinge upon all these precise definitions. of the whole myriad of comments all these posts received, only 1 or 2 actually pertained to the content of the posts. every other comment was part of some internal argument amongst commenters over definitions. in the first part i laid out how i would be using the terms, i cited my source (wikipedia) and then moved on. i was really hoping for a more substantive discussion over the material, and i was very disappointed that almost no one wanted to engage with the real information, they would rather focus on the nuances terms. i found this very frustrating, leading to my prior lack of engagement.
but, as for your last comment, annierose55, i will say that i think you have a good point. i do think the church is meant to reach out and serve and accept the marginalized, hurting, and rejected. i also believe that as time goes on, the church should get better and better at this.
but, it’s one thing to accept people into our community, it’s quite another to accept all their behaviors. there are some expressions of our corrupt natures that really should not be “tolerated” in the people of God. an extreme example – pedophiles have a very natural-feeling sexual attraction to children. the church should accept pedophiles in their midst and love them as Christ would, but they should definitely address those issues and seek healing for those issues and try and help them control those very natural desires in healthy ways. they should not “tolerate”those particular expressions.
now i personally don’t feel like transgenderism falls into this category–not even close. but there are a few important principles here: not all things that feel “natural” are right, not all “natural” things should be allowed to be acted upon, and sometimes the most loving thing a person can do for someone is not let them do those wrong things that may even feel natural for them. a huge portion of the western church still doesn’t know if/where transgenderism fits into this and how they should respond.
my comment that the church will be facing this more was more of a statement that our culture is going to be increasingly accommodating to the Enlightenment assumption that “natural”=”correct”, and this will rub more and more against some things the church believes. they will HAVE to figure out where they stand on these issues as time goes by.
thoughts? this was rushed, so be gracious.
An accommodating “Enlightenment” culture that assumes, or even goes so far as to postulate, that “natural”=”correct”, is most certainly not something that I agree with. To be disappointed that many of the comments cut to the crux of your question/dilemma is to ignore the fact that “Transgender-ism” is in fact a product of that “Enlightened/post modernistic” culture against which you and most others churches rail. (In my opinion, for good reason).
In order to address your question you must recognize the difference between a naturally occurring biological, medically treatable and CURABLE condition, trans-sexuality and transgender-ism which is quite different.
If you choose to ignore that distinction then you choose to buy into that very “ENlightened” counter-culture which forces you to beg your original question.
Until you accept the distinction, you have trapped yourself in a classic catch 22.
I don’t understand the Transgendered.
I don’ t have to. They’re fellow humans.
The fact that I’m erroneously put in with them, or with gays, or whatever, is immaterial. It matters to some, but when it comes to treating people decently, I don’t care one whit.
How marvelously open minded of you. No doubt the Iranian people are also wonderful folk as are their leadership or the Taliban and Right Wing Religious Fundamentalists. (Can you see the subtle difference here?) THAT is conflation.
I am wondering how charitable you will feel towards them when they slip a suitcase nuke into one of your cities, force all women to wear burkas and/or start beheading all “sexual deviants”?
My point is that I generally react to people based on how they treat me. Take the IRS for example. If they collect their taxes and leave me alone, we get alone just fine. If however, they get intrusive and begin checking up on my sex life or what caliber weapons I keep in my closet, then I tend to get a bit defensive.
I have no beef with TG people, gays, straights, muslims, buddists or even christians, as long as they do not impose their value system on me or mine.
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Wow! Just like that….I guess your silence speaks for itself.
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