Archive for the ‘Transcending’ Category

Transcending: What Does the Bible Say?

Saturday, May 18th, 2019

I’m writing a blog series Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love, about the church and LGBTQ people, beginning with transgender people.

The Situation told why this is personal for me.

Creation looked at what the Bible says about gender and how what transgender people say about themselves matches that.

The Science looked at the considerable scientific research that also matches both what the Bible says and what transgender people say about themselves.

Self-Definition looks at why we should believe people when they tell us who they are.

Today I’m going to look at what the Bible says about transgender people. Short answer: Nothing.

But there are verses that might seem to apply. In the Old Testament, we’ve got Deuteronomy 22:5 –

A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.

There are two reasons I don’t think this applies. In the first place, Christians are not under the Law. I wear long pants almost every day, and no one in my church has ever said that’s sinful.

In the second place, transgender people say they are the gender they transition into. Transgender women are women. So they should wear women’s clothes.

Another verse from the Law that has been mentioned is Deuteronomy 23:1. I think you can see if I continue on with the next two verses that nobody thinks the criteria listed here can keep anyone from Christ.

No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.

No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.

Instead, in the New Testament, we’ve got Galatians 3:26-28 –

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Based on that, gender is no barrier to coming to Christ.

Austen Hartke, a transgender pastor who wrote the book Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians, points out that the nearest thing to transgender people in the Bible are eunuchs. They, too, were in an in-between space, not really fitting neatly into either male or female.

Austen speaks at length on the passage Isaiah 56:3-7, which says:

Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant –
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant –
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Jesus even speaks well of eunuchs in Matthew 19:11-12, certainly not excluding them.

And then there’s the important story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. I’ll quote a section from Austen Hartke’s book:

We’ve talked about eunuchs already, and how they existed outside of the accepted gender roles and expectations of their time, but the eunuch we meet in Acts 8 was outside the norm in other ways as well. For instance, he was from Ethiopia – a place that was considered “the ends of the earth” in that day and was a military threat to the Roman Empire. As an Ethiopian he was probably Black – not necessarily in the way we understand Black identity today, especially in the United States, where our concept of Blackness is seen through the lens of American slavery – but he was certainly different from the people that Philip was used to.

The second thing that marked the Ethiopian eunuch as an outsider was his status as not-quite-Jewish and not-quite-Gentile. It’s made clear in the text that he was not born Jewish, but the story never calls him a Gentile either. Additionally, it’s the baptism of the clearly categorized Gentile Cornelius in Acts 10 that begins the conversation about Gentile inclusion in the early church. The eunuch may have been what the Bible calls “a God-fearer,” which essentially means a person who ascribed to the beliefs of the Jewish people despite not having been born among them. This placed him in between or outside of the established categories when it came to the Jew/Gentile binary of the times. If the eunuch hadn’t already been excluded from temple worship because of his status as a eunuch (since the welcome in Isaiah 56 was never implemented), he would have been kept out of the inner sanctums because he was neither a Jew by birth nor a full convert.

Lastly, despite being put in a place of authority, the eunuch must have been either a slave or a freed former slave, since it would have been unusual for a free person to be castrated. This means that the eunuch of Acts 8, whose name we never learn, was outside the boundaries of gender, race, class, and religion – a quadruple threat.

When the Ethiopian eunuch asks to be baptized, Philip doesn’t even debate. Austen Hartke finishes that chapter with these words:

In a way, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is a story about two conversions. The eunuch may be the one who gets baptized, but Philip is the person who has to change his metric for who’s in and who’s out. Even though this story is two thousand years old, a third conversion is still taking place: will the church eventually realize that when God’s love overpowers all human distincitions, nothing can prevent us from full inclusion?

So, those are all reasons why it is in the Christian tradition to include the outsider, but let me repeat this point:

There is NOTHING in the New Testament that forbids a person changing the sex of their body, whether through hormones or surgery. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

I’ve already talked about why I don’t think the Creation story warrants a prohibition against gender affirmative therapy. (I’m going to use that to include hormone therapy and/or gender confirmation surgery.) In fact, I was talking with a leader in my church about how there is nothing whatsoever in the New Testament against gender-affirmative therapy, and he admitted, “We extrapolated.”

But Jesus did not encourage extrapolating to develop new rules. In fact, I believe that is exactly the sin of the Pharisees that Jesus blasted them for in Matthew 23:4 – “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

The idea that gender-affirmative therapy dishonors God’s design is a made-up rule. It is nowhere found in Scripture, and it is completely contrary to the spirit of Jesus’ words in John 13:34 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Or Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

Or Paul’s words in Romans 14:4 – “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall, and they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

Someone may argue, “But we need to be discerning!” Indeed, Jesus said in Matthew 7:16-17, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”

Transgender people have high rates of attempted suicide, 37%, according to the 2015 World Transgender Survey. However, for transgender people whose families were unsupportive, the rate of attempted suicide jumps to 54%. Refusing to support transgender people yields a fruit of death.

Transcending: Self-Definition

Saturday, May 11th, 2019

I’m writing a blog series Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love, about the church and LGBTQ people, beginning with transgender people.

The Situation told why this is personal for me.

Creation looked at what the Bible says about gender and how what transgender people say about themselves matches that.

The Science looked at the considerable scientific research that also matches both what the Bible says and what transgender people say about themselves.

Now I want to step back for a moment and think about the question: What is the decent human response to transgender people?

Today’s post applies to every human, and not merely to Christians who have a calling to love their neighbors as themselves.

The background I’m bringing to this is that for years I’ve been an avid reader of Patricia Evans’ books about verbal abuse, including Victory Over Verbal Abuse. These books helped me tremendously when I was going through my divorce.

Patricia Evans’ defines verbal abuse like this:

Any statement that tells you what, who, or how you are, or what you think, feel, or want, is defining you and is, therefore, abusive. Such statements suggest an invasion of your very being, as if to say, ‘I’ve looked within you and now I’ll tell you what you want, feel, etc.’ Similarly, threats are verbally abusive because, like torture, they attempt to limit your freedom to choose and thus to define yourself. Of course, if you have defined yourself to someone, ‘I’m Suzy’s Mom,’ and that person says, ‘That’s Suzy’s Mom,’ they are affirming or validating what you have said. On the other hand, verbal abuse is a lie told to you or told to others about you. If you believe the lie, it would lead you to think that you are not who you are or that you are less than you are.

Now, there are plenty of people who don’t agree with this definition of verbal abuse. But I’ve found it’s a practical definition – when I come away from a conversation feeling bad about what was said – very often I look more closely at what was said and discover something was said defining me. Maybe they said, You’re trying to start an argument…” (telling me my motives), or “You are assuming such and so…” (telling me what I’m thinking), or “You’re making too big a deal of this” (minimizing my experience), or “You’re too sensitive” (telling me what I’m feeling).

The problem with defining someone else is that You do not know what’s going on in someone else’s head. This means that if someone tells you that you are wrong when you claim to know what they are thinking or feeling – they are automatically correct, and you are wrong. This is your opportunity to apologize and stand corrected.

And that’s what’s wrong with verbal abuse (by this definition). It’s nonsense. You do not know what another person is thinking or feeling. If someone says, “You’re just saying that to make me angry” – they don’t know your motives and they can’t see inside your head, and that statement is nonsense.

Now, with our friends, we do try to affirm them by telling them good qualities we’ve seen in them. Or maybe gently call them out on negative qualities. But if they respond by saying, “No, you’re wrong – that wasn’t why I was doing that at all.” Then it is time for us to stand down. Each person is the authority on their own thoughts and feelings.

Patricia Evans also explains why it hurts so much:

Clearly, when one person defines the other, the person doing the defining (abusing), has closed off from the real person. When a person is told what they are, think, feel, and so forth, it is not only a lie told to them about themselves, but also it means that the abuser is closed off from the real person. The abuser cannot really hear, see, and take in information from the real person. It is as if he sees someone else. For instance, if the abuser says, ‘You’re too sensitive’ or ‘You’re not listening,’ he is talking to someone whom he defines as ‘made wrong’ or as ‘not listening.’ So, the real person isn’t seen or heard. It is as if a wall has arisen between the verbally abusive man and his partner. This is why, when a man defines his partner, she feels pain. At some level, she experiences the end of the relationship.

The fact is, every human being has a right to self-definition.

When Caitlyn Jenner came out, before I had any idea how deeply this issue would affect me, I realized that there are few things more fundamental to your identity than your gender.

If there is any area where a person should be allowed to define themselves, it is their gender.

And if someone calls you by the wrong name or refers to you with the wrong pronouns, that’s going to hurt. They have closed themselves off from the person you know yourself to be. You certainly aren’t going to feel loved by them. How can they love you when they refuse to even see you for who you are? Refuse to acknowledge that you know what’s going on inside your own body better than they do?

When I attempt to explain this to others, this is the point where some people say, “If your son called himself a pigeon, would you go along with it?” Or “When someone’s deluded, is it loving to go along with the delusion?”

These people need to read my post about The Science — complete with the conclusion that being transgender is not a mental disorder and that we’re born with a gender based in our biology, and the biology that determines gender is between our ears, not between our legs.

There are approximately 1.4 million transgender people in the United States. Maybe some of those are deluded, but certainly not all of them are. Just because their experience doesn’t match your experience doesn’t mean you know better than they do who they truly are.

Based on this, the decent human thing to do is to believe someone when they tell you what gender they are. To refuse to do this is to say that you know who they are better than they do themselves. And besides being cruel, that’s nonsense.

Transcending – The Science

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

I’m writing a blog series called Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love about what the Bible says about how Christians should act toward LGBTQ folks, beginning with transgender people.

In The Situation, I talked about why this is personal for me. In Creation, I looked at transgender people in the light of the creation account. Transgender people completely agree that God created them male and female (if they believe in God). They are not attempting to change their gender, but are changing their appearance and/or their bodies to match the gender God created them to be. This is what they say they are doing.

Now let’s look at the science. I’m going to refer to the Endocrine Society’s website. The Endocrine Society is a professional association of doctors. Yes, they deal with transgender patients, but there are many other disorders they treat as well. They don’t need to convince people it’s okay to be transgender in order to drum up business. They have no motivation to distort the science. They would want to give good care to their patients. They are dedicated to treating hormone disorders and advancing hormone research.

In September 2017, the Endocrine Society came out with a position statement about transgender people.

The key sentence in that document is this: “Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity.”

What does that mean in plain English? We’ve got lots of scientific evidence that people’s bodies determine their gender, that you are born with a gender.

It’s durable — people don’t change their minds about this on a whim. It’s biological — something people are born with, and it has to do with their physical bodies.

Hallelujah! That matches what it says in the Bible, that God creates us male or female.

However, while the Endocrine Society is sure there is a durable biological element to gender identity, they have not yet determined a way to figure out what that gender is from outside a person’s body. It does not always match external genitalia and it does not always match chromosomes. In press releases they say that gender does exist in our bodies, but it’s located between our ears rather than between our legs.

Hallelujah! That matches what transgender people tell us about themselves.

They list four disparate areas of research that back up this claim.

First are studies of intersex people. Attempts to change gender identity in intersex patients to match external genitalia or chromosomes are typically unsuccessful.

The second area is studies of twins. Identical twins are more likely to both experience transgender identity than fraternal twins, indicating a good chance there are genetic factors.

The third area had to do with exposure to androgens in utero, which seems to affect gender identity.

The fourth area had to do with certain brain scans, which seemed to correlate more closely with gender identity than with external genitalia or chromosomes.

Those four areas of study are all very different – but they all back up what transgender people say about themselves, that their gender is not what it appears to be.

The Endocrine Society points out that this claim does not make them mentally ill. There is “considerable evidence” that being transgender is not a mental disorder.

Fortunately or unfortunately, scientists have not yet pinpointed how to tell from outside a body what a person’s gender is. You still have to ask the person themselves.

Maybe we should believe them when they answer.

Transcending: Creation

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

I’m writing a blog series: Transcending: They’ll Know Us by Our Love. In this series, I will look at some reasons Christian churches should welcome, affirm, and embrace transgender people.

In my first post, I looked at why this is personal for me. In this second post, I’m going to start right in on one of the only reasons I’ve heard as to why transgender people should not change their bodies.

When Christians attempt to use the Bible to condemn transgender people or accuse them of dishonoring God, they usually go to the account of creation in Genesis, or the places where that account is quoted in the New Testament. It’s very clear that God created mankind male and female.

The trouble with using that against transgender people is that the passage never says how male and female are defined. And we are told that everyone is made in the image of God.

When a baby’s born, the doctor looks at their external genitals and announces which one the baby fits. But what about intersex people? What if the doctor can’t tell? Or what about people whose external organs fit one gender but whose internal organs fit the other? (This does happen.) What about people whose genitals do not match their chromosomes? What about people who have chromosomes different from XY or XX, XXY for example? Are those people made in the image of God?

In the book Transforming, by Austen Hartke, a transgender pastor, he reminds us that God created day and night – and He also created twilight. God created land and sea, and He also created marshes.

God created Adam and Eve male and female. But that doesn’t mean He has never created intersex people and transgender people. All are in the image of God.

Many who use the Creation story to condemn transgender people say that yes, they can get treatment, but nothing that changes their gender.

However, according to transgender people, they are not changing their gender, they are making their appearance and their body match their true gender. The current term for surgery to do this is Gender Confirmation Surgery. They are not changing God’s design but revealing it.

You might say that it’s wrong to make any changes to the body God’s given you. But this is weak since most churches don’t condemn other bodily changes. What about cochlear implants? Coloring your hair? Straightening your teeth? Breast reduction surgery for women?

In fact, if it’s dishonoring to God to change the body He gave you, why did He command that Jewish men be circumcised?

I don’t understand why a prohibition against changing God’s creation would apply to transgender people but not to anything else.

In fact, transgender people take gender – and God’s creation of mankind as male and female – more seriously than anyone. So seriously that they’re willing to upend their lives and go through painful surgery and hormone therapy to get it right.

In my next post, let’s look at some current scientific studies on gender that turns out to back up what transgender people are saying.

Transcending: The Situation

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love

I’m going to start a blog series about the Bible and LGBTQ people and Christians and LGBTQ people, beginning with transgender people in particular. To give it a catchy title on my blog, I’m calling the series Transcending. The subtitle, which I may not repeat in every post, will be They’ll Know Us by Our Love. That’s the overarching biblical command that applies.

In this first post, I’m going to explain why I’m looking at this topic.

I have a transgender daughter. She came out a few years ago as an adult, when she was 27 years old. She lives on the other side of the country from me, in Portland, Oregon. I was fortunate in that she did tell me in person, so I could see with my own eyes this is still my beloved, wonderful child. I was prepared to mourn my son – but I don’t have to, because my child is still the same person I’ve loved all her life.

That happened three and a half years ago. The intervening time has had some bumpy moments, but my daughter has told me that living as a woman feels like Truth. And that’s what I’ve been praying for her all along.

I got to visit my daughter in February this year, and learned the happy news that she is engaged to be married! She’s marrying another transgender woman, so this is definitely a gay wedding – and I’m super happy for them. I see lots of signs that the two of them are good for each other, and I’m so happy to welcome another daughter into my heart.

But when I got back from my trip, my church called a meeting of the deacons to get their feedback about a new policy the elders want to add to the church constitution.

[Post edited here. I had included the two paragraphs of the proposed policy that disturbed me most, but I have been told that they still may be changed after discussion with the deacons. I have removed those paragraphs and will just speak in general terms about why I believe Christians should be affirming toward transgender people.]

I disagree that marriage can only be between one man and one woman (and this completely ignores all the polygamy in the Old Testament), but I at least understand where in the Bible this is coming from, even though I disagree with this interpretation. I hope to get to that eventually in this series.

But my main focus at least at the beginning of this series will be looking at the paragraph about transgender people and why I believe it is not remotely biblical.

Now, before I start those arguments, some of my friends may wonder why I am still attending a church that proposes such a policy. So this first post will be about my history with this church and why I feel called to stay – at least until the congregation votes on this policy in Fall 2019.

And the policy has not passed yet. To add anything to the church constitution, there must be a meeting of members, announced in the program at least two consecutive Sundays before the meeting, and the change would need a two-thirds vote of the members present.

That’s a high bar to pass. If two-thirds of the members really do think that being transgender dishonors God’s design, then it is time for me to find another church. But I still have much hope that this will not happen.

Honestly? I believe that to make up a rule not found in Scripture and enshrine it in a policy statement would be to commit the sin of the Pharisees from Matthew 23, tying up heavy loads and placing them on people’s shoulders. I love these people and hope I can convince at least a third of them not to take this step.

But why are they worth it? Well, one thing I’ve always loved about this church is that they do not ever preach (well, until now) that one political view is the “Christian view.” Whenever the pastor has a point that will appeal to conservatives, he balances it with a point that will appeal to liberals.

All my life growing up in conservative evangelical churches, the churches I attended would pass out “political scorecards” which claimed to tell which legislators were taking the “biblical” position in their votes. At the time, I already knew the Bible well enough to know things weren’t as simple or as clear as they pretended. It always bothered me that they dared to know the “Christian” view on every issue. But the pastor at the church I attend now has never allowed anyone to pass out those scorecards. I so respect that!

About six years ago, this pastor did a political series, looking at some major political issues for about four weeks. I cringed, expecting to hear only one side on each issue. But no! Much to my surprise, he admitted that Christians were on both sides of each one of the issues presented. In many cases, he had someone come in to present another side, and where that didn’t happen, he worked hard to research the other side.

In the case of same-sex marriage, you could tell what the pastor thought, but he did present why many Christians believe homosexuality is not a sin. In fact, I had already slowly come to that conclusion – but that sermon was the first time I heard a reasonable way to approach the Bible verses that seem to be about it.

There’s no Code of Conduct at this church. Yes, if there are concerns, it could keep someone from becoming a member. Yes, when an elder had an affair, he was removed from office and there was church discipline until he showed honest repentance and was restored to fellowship. But when we become members, they ask us in front of the church if we have accepted Jesus as Lord of our life and if we feel called to give our time, treasure, and talent here at this church. There’s never any impression that you have to follow a list of rules to be a member.

My sense is that we’re a bunch of people who don’t necessarily agree about every little thing, about politics or every point of doctrine – but we all love Jesus and want to follow him. And we’re here to serve and care for each other.

I’ve got a long history with this church, too. They’re like my family. I came to northern Virginia from Germany after my then-husband had an affair and got himself ordered to Japan so I couldn’t follow him. I came to Virginia to be near two dear friends I’d known since third grade. They both attended this church – and right away the church took me in and loved on me and helped me survive my divorce and heal and grow.

So I’m not going to leave lightly. And I’m deeply grieved at the thought that these people I love might make a policy that would exclude so many wonderful people.

They don’t want it to exclude. And that’s partly why they’re trying to bury the new policy in the bylaws of the church constitution rather than in the statement of faith. They don’t even necessarily want people visiting the church to know it’s there.

What I’m hearing from the leadership is that the reason for the policy is that the Supreme Court has ruled that you can’t discriminate against LGBTQ people unless it’s based on a deeply held belief, and it’s not a deeply held belief unless it’s in writing.

Now, my solution to that is simple: Don’t discriminate.

I think the rationale for why we need this now is that the church recently built a building and we run a child care center. The leadership doesn’t want to be required to hire LGBTQ staff for the child care center. And I think they also don’t want to have to rent the facility to hold same-sex marriages. They are afraid they might be targeted by some sort of malicious lawsuit and want to cover themselves by having a statement that this is sinful. (At least this is my understanding of the rationale.)

Again, my solution is simple: I don’t think being LGBTQ is sinful, so I don’t think we should discriminate against LGBTQ people in any way. For that matter, you may not even know if someone applying to work there is transgender or gay or anything else, and you don’t really need to know that to determine if they will be a good teacher. (And background checks are required for all volunteers and staff who work with children, as well as plenty of training to be extra careful that the children in our care are safe.)

So that’s the situation. This church is filled with people I love. I’ve always been so proud of the church for not pretending that one political viewpoint is the “Christian view.” We’re a bunch of people who love Jesus and want to follow him seeking to join together in authentic Christian community.

And now we’re contemplating a policy that I believe would exclude vulnerable people and tell them that God is not pleased with who they are.

I have talked at length with the pastor and the elders about this, and they listened to me with compassion and respect — for a while at least. The last few emails I sent were not answered at all. I don’t blame them for getting weary of talking with me about it — I keep bringing it up. I should add that the first version I saw was worded much worse than this version, and I appreciate that they changed it — but it’s still not enough. And it still hurts that they would propose a policy so hurtful to my child and any other LGBTQ folks who might have otherwise been attracted to the gospel of Christ.

But that’s why I’m now ready to talk with the other members about this. There are many, many reasons why I am against this policy. Writing them out will help me keep track of those reasons and practice presenting them to others. I do know what I’m talking about — I’ve memorized the New Testament and got my undergraduate degree at Biola University, where everyone minors in Bible. With my personal connection, I have a perspective on it that others might not and a strong reason to do the research.

So the posts that follow will explain why I so strongly believe that transgender people should be fully loved and affirmed for who they say they are. And why I believe that fits much better with what the Bible teaches.

[Edited to add: I didn’t realize that the proposed policy changes are not public yet. I’m told there is a process, and right now the deacons of the church are considering the policy, but it is not before the congregation. The deacons may revise it, or they may decide not to go forward with the changes at all. I’m told there will be plenty of public discussion at the right time. I am going to continue this series. — Responding to transgender people is obviously a major issue in the church today. But I will not specifically talk about this policy, fondly hoping that my church will not adopt it. The discussion about the policy and things people have said to me along the way is why this is heavily on my heart and mind at this time, so this post still provides background for the posts that will follow.]