Transcending – Written in Stone

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post in my series Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love. This series is about why I believe the Bible does not support churches excluding LGBTQ people in general and transgender people in particular. And when I say “exclude,” I mean from membership and leadership, not simply from attending. Few churches exclude any sinner from attending their services, but many have rules about who can be a member or who can be in leadership.

I wrote the series when I was still hoping to change minds and hearts at Gateway Community Church in South Riding, Virginia, where I had been a member for thirteen years. I’d felt tremendously loved and cared for there. But in 2019, they voted in favor of a “Christian Living Statement” that essentially states that LGBTQ people are sinning if they live out who they are.

Although I understand where in the Bible they get the disapproval of same-sex marriage, I do not agree with that interpretation. To this day, I do not at all understand where in the Bible they get their disapproval of transgender people having surgery or taking hormones to make their gender expression match their identity. They have to seriously stretch their interpretation out of recognition and take verses out of context to do so. But that’s what this series is about, so read the other posts if you’d like elaboration on that.

Today I want to talk about a Bible passage I’d never realized has a modern application. Full credit for noticing this passage to Rev. Tom Berlin, senior pastor at Floris United Methodist Church, the church I attend now. Last week, he preached a sermon on “Responding with Justice,” and used the text Numbers 27:1-11.

The story is one I’ve read before any time I read the Old Testament, but passed over as a kind of boring detail the text mentions more than once. In Numbers, they’re dividing up the Promised Land before they even enter it, and assign different portions to different families, with fathers passing their portion on to their sons. But one man, Zelophehad, had no sons, but had five daughters. Those daughters say, “Hey, wait a minute! That’s not fair! Should our father lose his portion just because he didn’t have any sons?”

Moses took this question to the Lord, and the Lord told him to add a provision that daughters can inherit when there are no sons.

When I read this passage, in the middle of lots of details about establishing the law and dividing up the territory, I guess I thought of it as during time the law was still being developed, that it wasn’t written in stone.

But wait a minute! The law was written in stone! That’s exactly where we get the phrase!

Rev. Tom pointed out that the law that Zelophehad’s daughters said was unfair was given to them by God!

Moses could have said, “God said it; I believe it; that settles it!”

But Moses took their request to God, and God said, “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right.”

And God ordered the law to be amended as a result.

As Rev. Tom said, God had the humility to change the system he had given.

Now, LGBTQ people are saying, “That’s not fair!” about rules excluding them from church membership and leadership.

Rev. Tom did not explicitly make this application, but he did encourage all of us to stand with the good questions justice raises. He encouraged us to listen well to the voices of people being told they don’t matter.

I believe this applies to LGBTQ people. If the Law written by the finger of God could be made better soon after it was written, then surely rules in the church, interpreted from the text by fallible humans, can still be made better.

And surely at the very least, we should be bringing such questions before the Lord.

Transcending – The Council at Jerusalem

My series Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love is about why the church should welcome and affirm LGBTQ people, with a special emphasis on transgender people, like my own daughter.

Let me sum up what I’ve posted so far:

The Situation told how my church at the time was considering adopting a policy that declared that marriage is only for one man and one woman for a lifetime and that when transgender people attempt to change their bodies in any way, that’s opposed to God’s design. I disagreed strongly with that position and still hoped they would not adopt the policy.

In Creation, I looked at the one Bible passage the leadership came up with in saying that transgender people changing their bodies is opposed to God’s design. This is not at all consistent with any other policy at that church, as they freely allow people to make any other changes to their bodies: wear glasses or braces, color their hair, get any other surgery, get cochlear implants.

In The Science, I talked about a few (only a few) of the many studies that would seem to indicate that gender is something we’re born with — and it doesn’t necessarily match our external genitalia. So it is biological — in the brain.

In Self-Definition, I talked about how abusive it is to refuse to adopt someone’s definition of themselves because you think you know better.

In What Does the Bible Say? I looked at what the Bible says about transgender people and also what it says about making up policies against them.

In Not Conforming to the World, I talk about how the church should be more welcoming and affirming of outsiders, not less.

In Choice and Non-Choice, I present some of the multitudinous evidence that LGBTQ people are born that way, created by God that way. The only choice they face is whether or not to admit to themselves and to the world who they truly are.

In Interpretation, I pointed out that believing that same-sex marriage is sinful or a transgender person changing their bodies is sinful depends on your interpretation of only a few passages of Scripture. That interpretation is questionable and many, many Christians interpret them differently. Indeed, I quoted a scholar of ancient Greek and Roman literature who makes a strong case that we should interpret them differently.

In Gender-Expansive Children, I looked in detail at a position paper put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics as to best practices for supporting and caring for transgender children. Since then, I’ve found position papers from many more medical and psychological organizations. At one point, I hoped to look at more of them in detail. But wait a minute — why is a church arguing that transgender people shouldn’t get the most accepted medical treatment because they don’t think it’s effective? And that argument did come up. It’s pretty easily refuted with these papers and studies — but even if the established treatment were ineffective in making transgender people more satisfied with their lives (It’s not!), what would that have to do with whether it’s sinful or not? (If you’re actually contemplating medical or surgical treatment — by all means look up the studies and the statistics on effectiveness. But even if it were ineffective, that doesn’t make it sinful to try it.) This post and the paper quoted concludes by advising parents the same way the church should also be advising them: “they do want parents to assure their children that they are loved unconditionally, ‘however they express themselves and whoever they grow up to be.'”

I wrote Saying Farewell after my church did in fact adopt the policy.

My Gracious Argument post reflected some things I learned in this highly emotional discussion.

It’s been two months since that last post, and I’ve been thinking about posting more ever since, so I do have a lot to cover. I will try to make this coherent!

First, I do want to state that I am extremely happy with my new church, a local United Methodist Church. Now, the United Methodists as a whole do not have any policy about transgender people. They also allow women to be pastors, so they more genuinely reflect Galatians 3:28 — “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The denomination as a whole is not yet affirming of same-sex marriage — but the pastor of this church is one of the leaders in the movement to change that. When I went to a congregational meeting and he explained how the prophetic tradition calls us to change — it brought tears to my eyes that instead of arguing with the pastor, the pastor was presenting biblical arguments for being inclusive.

I’ve been thinking about the Science of Gender, too. Scientific American recently published a blog post titled “Stop Using Phony Science to Justify Transphobia.” It explains how we get our biological sex in detail. And we discover: It’s complicated!

I’ve had several different people who believe transgender people are sinning tell me that even if my child gets surgery, that won’t change “his” DNA.

So I asked them, Oh, have you had my child’s DNA tested, because I never did?

More than one person scoffed at my question — but it’s completely legitimate, as this article explains: “Biological sex is far more complicated than XX or XY (or XXY, or just X). XX individuals could present with male gonads. XY individuals can have ovaries.” And then it explains how that works.

I’ve heard an anecdote that a high school biology teacher stopped having his students test their DNA, because any time someone came out with chromosomes different than expected, that kid would get very upset. And this happened often enough, he had to stop that experiment. I’ve also read stories of people who found out as teens or adults that internally they had intersex characteristics. One person found out when they were getting ready to have gender confirmation surgery. Another person found out that was why they were infertile. Our bodies are complex. Chromosomes do not absolutely define your gender, or even what sex organs you have.

You can read the blog post and read the studies it links to about how scientists have worked to figure out how the body forms organs of one sex or another (or both). It’s complicated. It turns out that many factors come into play, even environment.

The paper makes a strong — and scientific — case that sex is not binary. The process of forming gender is long and complicated and not as simple as what chromosomes a fetus has. Do people really believe that just because God created Adam and Eve male and female, God will now make sure that every step of the process of forming biological sex in every single baby will always go smoothly?

Even my former church said that it’s not sinful for intersex people to change their bodies. But apparently they only accept as intersex people who are visibly neither distinctly male nor female. However, with that admission, they are acknowledging that the process of forming biological sex does not always go smoothly. Yet they’re assuming it’s only going to deviate from the “norm” in ways that we can see from outside the body. That doesn’t match many intersex people with internal organs of both genders. How much testing will they do to determine whether people are sinning or not?

As the Scientific American blog post sums up: “the science is clear and conclusive: sex is not binary, transgender people are real.”

Okay, all that is background! Now for what I wanted to talk about: The Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15.

I’m still reading through the New Testament on a schedule put out by my former church, and we recently read Acts 15. Verse 19 jumped out at me:

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

The background of the Council at Jerusalem was that many Gentiles were turning to God. And many Jews, who were the first followers of Jesus, thought that the Gentiles should follow the Law and become circumcised in order to be saved.

This was a big controversy — they had believed you approach God by keeping the Law. But they held a council and listened to the leaders who had seen Gentiles receive Christ, and they concluded that following Jesus was not the same thing as keeping the Law.

Honestly? I think a church having a Code of Conduct or a “Christian Living Statement” is setting up new rules, new laws.

I also think it’s interesting to look at the rules the leaders at Jerusalem did send out:

Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

This is the one time you see the New Testament church setting up rules — and three of the four are no longer anything anybody ever worries about.

And even those rules were presented as suggestions, not as requirements in order to be members of the church. The letter to the churches says, “You will do well to avoid these things.”

We are no longer under the Law. We are under grace.

Paul expounds on this controversy and these ideas in the book of Galatians. In the first three chapters he talks about faith and works of the law — the very passage that culminates in these words:

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.

We have established that gender is not binary and transgender people are real.

Now let us not make it difficult for the transgender people who are turning to God.

Let us neither make it difficult for the gay person or the lesbian or the nonbinary person.

Many Christian Jews of Paul’s day honestly believed that in order to approach God, a person needed to be circumcised. But the leadership came to see that rule was only making things difficult that should not be difficult.

Coming to God and being part of the body of Christ isn’t supposed to depend on following rules. Walking with Jesus is about love.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” (I Corinthians 12:21)

Let’s not make it difficult for anyone who’s turning to God. The body of Christ needs every part.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

That’s I Corinthians 12, and you see that again Paul is saying that we need everyone, all types of people.

Please look out before making up rules. Let’s not make it difficult to be part of the body of Christ.

Shouldn’t they know us by our love?

Transcending: Gracious Argument

I have a lot more to say in this Transcending blog series about what both Science and the Bible have to say about transgender people. But today I want to step back and talk about some things I’ve learned about arguing with grace while I’ve been going through this process of trying to convince my former church not to adopt a new “Christian Living Statement” as part of their constitution.

Let me say right up front that I am not good at arguing graciously. A lot of this was learned from doing it poorly.

However, I do think this process highlighted some principles I want to take away and apply the next time I disagree with someone on a matter of principle.

Like so much else, it goes back to Patricia Evans and her books on Verbal Abuse. I’ve read five of them: The Verbally Abusive Relationship, The Verbally Abusive Man, Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out, Victory Over Verbal Abuse, and Controlling People.

The big idea behind those books is that it is verbally abusive to define other people or to tell them they have bad motives or to tell them what they themselves are thinking or feeling or what they should be thinking or feeling.

The bottom-line reason that verbal abuse is so hurtful is that it is nonsense. We have no ability to read minds, and we cannot tell what another person is thinking or feeling or what their motives are.

One thing I like about using it as a standard for argument is that it is about the statements made.  You don’t have to attribute bad motives to the person making the statement.  But if someone says, “You hate America,” that is a verbally abusive statement, saying something they can’t possibly know, since they can’t read your mind.

If someone makes verbally abusive statements even when you explain they have misjudged you or continues in a persistent pattern, you don’t have to even speculate about their motives, but it is a good idea to protect yourself.  Unfriend them on Facebook, stop communication.

Now, using “verbal abuse” about this, although I believe it can be warranted if done persistently, has strong negative connotations that are almost abusive themselves by this definition. So I am going to try to focus on the flip side of it and look at how we can avoid defining and attributing bad motives to other people when we argue with them. When we manage to do this, we come across as arguing with grace.

In the post I called Self-Definition, I looked at how this applies to trusting transgender people to know who they are.  People do it over and over again every time they say transgender people are “confused” or even refuse to use the word “transgender” but instead talk about “gender confusion.”  But now I’m talking about how it applies to arguments about principles.

As I was arguing about my former church’s proposed policy, I found that people responded defensively when they thought I was accusing them of being unloving, but people responded surprisingly well when I assured them that I didn’t think they were trying to hurt anyone.

But there were several times in the interactions when I was told how my thought-processes were wrong or how my motives were bad.

When I look back at the interactions, I think it goes back to the definition of verbal abuse. Or said more positively, it seemed to depend on whether grace was inserted in the conversation — whether good motives were assumed and mentioned or not.

Let’s look at some actual things that were said to me.

This one came from someone outside the church when I posted on Facebook about finding a Bible-believing church that welcomes and affirms LGBTQ people:  “You care more about feeling happy than you do about truth.”

Some verses were cited along with this statement.  But I (and the church I attend now) interpret those verses differently.  And the speaker actually cannot see inside me and know what I care about.  In fact, part of what upset me so much about my former church’s new policy is that I firmly believe it is contrary to Scripture and therefore contrary to Truth.

Others urged me to read the Bible more, as if that would change my views.  I’m not even sure how I could fit more time reading, studying, and memorizing the Bible into my life.  No, my views on this are coming directly out of my study of the Bible.

I do realize, though, that those who disagree with me are also getting their opinion from the Bible.  It is possible to interpret Scripture in different ways.  That doesn’t mean they don’t care about Truth.

There were some hurtful exchanges with the leadership of my former church.  I was told I was making too big a deal of the change.  I was told I didn’t understand the situation.  I was told what I was trying to do.  (It was not what I was actually trying to do:  Show that the policy was unbiblical and would hurt people.)

I was also told that I was using “many, many words” and wanted to use “many, many more” — which came across as telling me I was talking too much and being shrill.  In the same email I was told the writer could hear me “practically screaming” a response.  Putting words in someone else’s mouth in argument is creating a straw man.  Creating a straw man of the person you are actually speaking with is not respectful.

So those were some negative things that happened.  I very much doubt that my own words in that exchange were well chosen either.

However, an interaction that really surprised me happened after the first member meeting where the policy was discussed.

I sent the pastor an email where I said this:

I’m bringing up a very small point, because I suspect you will encounter transgender people in your life, and you would like to be able to minister to them.  The point is this:
Every time you use the word “transgenderism” I cringe inside and draw back.
Because transgender people never use that word about themselves.
So that gives transgender people and those who affirm them a heads’ up that the person who said that has not been listening to transgender people.
Do you want transgender people to cringe when you speak about them?
If not, you should try to avoid using that word.
Thought I should let you know!

What surprised me about it was that even though I wrote it when I was angry, the pastor thanked me for sending it. He said that I would have to have assumed the best about him.

All I said was, “you would like to be able to minister to them.”  But I do believe that about him.

In the next membership meeting I attended, he did not once use the word “transgenderism,” nor did he even once call transgender people “confused” (though an elder did).

And that’s what I’m getting at here.  Assume the best about people.  Try to tell them so.  It injects some grace.

I do believe my former pastor that he does not at all want to be offensive.  I do believe him that he wants LGBTQ people to feel loved and respected when he talks with them.

Yes, I believe that my former church is trying to be loving and caring toward LGBTQ people.  The elders have assured me of this repeatedly.  It’s in the policy statement itself.

I also believe that making up burdensome rules not found in Scripture is the sin of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:4.  However, I don’t think the church is willfully sinning.  I believe them that they honestly think LGBTQ people are sinning — so the loving thing to do, in their eyes, is to respect and love them, but when asked, help them avoid this “sin.”

I disagree with their initial assumption.  I do not think that same-sex marriage is sinful.  And I don’t think that transgender people changing their bodies to match their gender identity is sinful.

But the motives of my former church are good.  They are not being hateful.  They are trying to help people they love avoid sin.  They’re trying to build a relationship close enough that they will be asked for help.

But let’s mention that my motives, too, were good.  I honestly was trying to keep the church body I loved from falling into the sin of the Pharisees.  I thought I had some extra insight into the situation because of having transgender people in my life whom I also love deeply.  I have also studied the Bible in depth on this topic and hoped that would give my words some weight.

And after it was all over, I did get some acknowledgement of that, which does help ease the hurt.  But please, when you’re arguing with me, don’t dismiss my argument because you don’t think I understand or you think I don’t care about the truth.

And I will try hard to do the same about people I disagree with.

Most of my friends have good motives.  Most of them want to be loving and caring in their interactions with others.  We may disagree about how that can be accomplished, but their hearts are in the right place.

When we can admit that about people on the other side of an argument, we’ll cause less pain.  We can insert some grace into the conversation.

And that’s what I’m trying to say in this installment of my many, many words.

Transcending: Saying Farewell

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

In The Situation, I told why this is personal for me. My church was considering changing their constitution to include a “Christian Living Statement” that marriage is defined as uniting one man and one woman (thus ruling out same-sex marriage) and that transgender people dishonor God’s design when they make any physical changes from the gender they were assigned at birth (not using that language, of course).

I disagree with the changes and have attempted to explain why in this blog series.

We voted on the changes this past Sunday, and the new policy passed. So it is time for me to say good-by. Fortunately, it doesn’t look like I’m going to have any difficulty finding an inclusive Bible-believing church where I can worship.

But I am grieved that my former church has taken this step. I’m going to copy out the letter I wrote resigning my membership to explain why I must resign my membership.

I will take out the name of the church, but here is the letter I sent to the pastor and the elders. There are more friends I haven’t gotten to talk with personally about this, so please consider this a letter to you, too:

Dear Friends,

It is with deep sadness that I am resigning my membership at [Former Church].

I’ve been a member for almost 13 years, and folks from [Former Church] brought me through the devastation of my divorce, took care of me when I had my stroke, and rejoiced with me as I served on the Newbery committee.

At [Former Church], I learned to listen to what God had to say to me — and not be apologetic about that. I see people with a heart for others — people who radiate God’s glory.

I’m still convinced that the number of times God uncannily spoke to me through a sermon or a song in the service is evidence that [Former Church]’s leadership are listening to God’s guidance as they plan each service, and that God’s Spirit is deeply present.

I am, though, deeply grieved about the new Christian Living Statement. You all know that I am convinced that the transgender paragraph in particular is not remotely biblical.

But the reason my conscience will not allow me to keep my membership at [Former Church] is that I also believe it is deeply hurtful toward a vulnerable group of people — a group that includes people I love. I would be ashamed to tell my kids I was a member of a church that adopted this policy, and it violates my conscience to have my name associated with it in any way, even by implication.

Know that I respect your desire to follow Jesus and your deep commitment to love everyone — including those you think are sinning. I am not for a moment saying that you are trying to be hurtful.

But I think it’s a very sad thing to tell people it is sinful to express the person they truly are, whom God created them to be. That is what transgender people say is happening.

Details: [Here I include ministry areas I’m resigning from.]

I am planning to attend [my friend]’s baptism this summer, and hope to find my way to [Former Church] for other special events. But I do feel like God is leading me to find a church home that is more inclusive toward all the members of Christ’s body.

But [Former Church] will always have my deep affection, love, and gratitude! You have been a supremely important part of my growth these last 13 years.

Much love,

Sondy Eklund

Transcending: Gender-Expansive Children

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.

What Does the Bible Say? looks at what the Bible says about transgender people changing their bodies to match their gender. Spoiler alert: It says nothing against it! And has plenty to say about supporting and accepting who they are.

Not Conforming to the World looks at how transgender people are a marginalized group of outsiders – and the church should not be piling on.

Choice and Non-Choice looks at some evidence that LGBTQ people are born that way.

Interpretation points out that concluding homosexuality is sinful is by no means the only reasonable interpretation of Romans 1 and other New Testament passages.

Today I’m going to look at gender-expansive children and how pediatricians recommend that we respond to them.

In my first Science link, I only referenced one professional organization of doctors. Even though I do not believe that the Endocrine Society has any reason to be biased in favor of offering treatment that is not helpful, I’ve been challenged about this, so have done some research about other professional organizations of medical doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists. It turns out that most national and international organizations of these professionals have some sort of statement, if they interact with transgender people at all. And they offer links to peer-reviewed studies and yet more scientific evidence on the effectiveness and helpfulness of treatment.

I want to look at more of these links, and I’ve decided to look in more detail instead of looking at them as a group – there’s so much information, it can get overwhelming.

It’s interesting to me that random google searches don’t necessarily gather this information, but if you’re looking specifically for professional organizations, you can find them, including those crucial links to research.

I’d like to start with a comprehensive paper compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics called “Supporting and Caring for Transgender Children.” This paper was prepared in conjunction with the American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

I’m going to highlight some statements in the paper, but I do highly recommend reading it fully, if you have any interest at all in understanding transgender children and the things they are dealing with.

Before I go through the paper, I want to make some comments. People who believe that using hormonal therapy or surgery to alter ones bodies is “opposed to God’s design,” and people who think transgender people are “confused” or perverting their sex drive or simply highly suggestible and led astray by counselors – have trouble explaining why young children would ever claim to be transgender.

With children, it’s definitely not about sex. That throws off the idea that being transgender is some kind of sexual perversion. On a child’s level, it’s about who they are and other people calling them the wrong thing.

Most transgender adults who came out as children now tell us that they explained to their parents that the parents were getting their gender wrong, not the other way around. This wasn’t about gender stereotypes or what colors they liked or what they wanted to play with, but was somehow about who they are.

Personally, this fits my belief that God created people “male and female,” and gender identity is something you are born with. Gender identity is biologically located in your brain and won’t always match your external organs, just as chromosomes don’t always match your external organs and internal organs don’t always match your external organs. That even children claim to know their own gender despite what people tell them seems to be strong evidence that gender identity and genitals don’t always have to match.

But let’s look at the American Academy of Pediatrics paper, “Supporting and Caring for Transgender Children.” I’m going to go through it in detail, but do recommend reading it yourself.

They begin with a story, mentioning Jazz Jennings, one of the youngest people to publicly come out as transgender. She is now eighteen years old and has had gender confirmation surgery and is still happy with her journey. But the point of mentioning her is that she testifies that she had a safe and happy childhood.

The purpose of the guide is clearly stated:

This guide is designed for anyone who knows a transgender or gender-expansive child, plans to write about children who transition, or simply wants to learn more. It reviews what medical and education experts know about transgender children, explores some myths about gender transition in childhood, and offers suggestions for adults with a transgender child in their life.

The focus is on children who have not yet reached puberty, approximately ages 5 to 10.

First, they explain terms. They tell about gender-expansive children, who don’t necessarily follow norms for gender expression.

Occasionally, a child consistently asserts a gender identity inconsistent with the sex they were assigned at birth. Jazz, for example, insisted she was “really a girl,” despite being told she was a boy. These children may also express discomfort with their sex, such as a desire to be rid of their genitals or a wish that they’d been “born in a different body.” They will often say “I am…” rather than “I wish I were…” Children and adults who identify with a gender and/or sex different than what they were assigned at birth are known as transgender. Transgender children are a subset of gender-expansive kids.

They cite a study that most gender-expansive children do not grow up to be transgender adults. Being gender-expansive is much more common than being transgender.

The first advice they give is not to pressure children — one way or the other.

Although families and communities may struggle with uncertainty, pressure (either to transition or to stop gender-expansive behaviors) can be harmful, so their patience and support are immensely important.

It is not uncommon for a child to feel pressure — at home, school or elsewhere — to hide their gender-expansive traits. This social pressure, when it exists, can be intense and very painful, leading children to hide their “true gender selves” altogether. Families may even encourage the child to do so, hoping to protect them from bullying. Unfortunately, hiding one’s identity or gender-expansive traits can cause serious problems during childhood and later in life — including depression, anxiety, self-harm and even suicide.

Just like the studies the Endocrine Society linked to, the Pediatricians also assert that gender identity cannot be changed by others (with links).

Although social experiences help to shape a child’s gender identity, neither families nor professionals can change that identity, and trying to do so can be extremely harmful.

Next they discuss gender dysphoria and transgender children. I want to highlight that for children, they are not talking about medical intervention.

Depending on the child’s age and signs of distress, “gender-affirmative” counseling or therapy can help manage gender dysphoria. However, in many cases, the remedy for dysphoria is gender transition: taking steps to affirm the gender that feels comfortable and authentic to the child. It is important to understand that, for children who have not reached puberty, gender transition involves no medical interventions at all: it consists of social changes like name, pronoun and gender expression.

While acceptance and affirmation at home can help a great deal, children do not grow up in a vacuum, so even children with supportive families may experience dysphoria. Nonetheless, families and doctors of transgender children often report that the gender transition process is transformative — even life-saving. Often, parents and clinicians describe remarkable improvements in the child’s psychological well-being.

They mention, as I’ve read other places, that a child who is transgender will be insistent, consistent, and persistent about their gender identity, with little or no ambivalence.

The paper explains that even without medical intervention, transition is not simple, and they’ll need medical, psychological, family, and school support.

I love this paragraph about how that transition typically goes for the child, despite all the challenges:

Despite these difficulties, a child’s gender transition is almost always a positive event. Often, the child’s debilitating gender dysphoria symptoms lift, diminishing difficult behavior that came with them. Dr. Ehrensaft calls this the ex post facto (“after the fact”) test: a dramatic reduction in stress, and blossoming happiness for the child and family, indicate that social transition has been the right choice. Along with joy at this renewed well-being, families are often thrilled to find that gender transition removes the emphasis on gender in a child’s life. With their gender identity no longer in conflict, the child can focus on the important work of learning and growing alongside their peers. Many children feel relief, even euphoria, that the adults in their life have listened and understood them.

(This is exactly what I’ve heard about from so many mothers of transgender children in my Facebook group.)

The article does touch on what’s going to happen when puberty hits. Usually transgender children will take puberty-blockers to give them more time to be sure whether they want to fully transition as a transgender adult. These are fully reversible.

Another important section sums up what we do know with very good evidence at this time (and it’s heavily footnoted):

Experts who work with transgender children, adolescents and adults generally agree on some important points. First, transgender adolescents and adults rarely regret gender transition, and the process (including social and/or medical changes) substantially improves their well-being. Second, some children express a strong transgender identity from a young age and grow into transgender adults who can live happily and healthily in their authentic gender. Third, discouraging or shaming a child’s gender identity or expression harms the child’s social-emotional health and well-being, and may have lifelong consequences.

A very important section follows, where they look at the strong evidence that gender-affirmative therapy (“focusing on what the child says about their own gender identity and expression, and allowing them to determine which forms of gender expression feel comfortable and authentic”) is the best approach, as opposed to reparative therapy, which attempts to “correct” gender-expansive behaviors, or delayed transition, which “prohibits transition until a child reaches adolescence or even older, regardless of their gender dysphoria symptoms.”

While researchers have much to learn about gender-expansive and transgender children, there is evidence that both reparative therapy and delayed transition can have serious negative consequences for children. While some groups promote these strategies in good faith, many use misleading descriptions of research or even outright misinformation.

This section describes the theory and evidence behind each approach. It explains why clinicians have embraced gender-affirmative care, and outlines what we have yet to learn about caring for transgender children.

Right now, my church is considering a policy that says that any “attempt to change ones birth sex” is “opposed to God’s design.” Since that amounts to saying that gender-affirmative therapy is opposed to God’s design, they’re left with reparative therapy. Please, please, take a look at the statistics here which show great harm can come from reparative therapy. Follow the links and look closely before saying that transgender children must use this approach, against the overwhelming consensus of major medical organizations.

There is no scientific evidence that reparative therapy helps with gender dysphoria or prevents children from becoming transgender adults. Instead, experts and professional organizations believe that it inflicts lasting damage on children. In particular, it harms family relationships and makes children feel ashamed of who they are. Sociologist Karl Bryant, who as a young boy underwent therapy designed to make him less stereotypically feminine, wrote in 2007 that “the most enduring residue [of the treatment was] the shame of knowing that those I was closest to disapproved of me in what felt like very profound ways.”

They then look at Delayed Transition and the problems with not treating children individually, but setting rules for all children based on age.

That section has some lovely conclusions:

Gender-affirmative clinicians emphasize considering each child individually — and in terms of their developmental stage, not their age. They advise that transition should take place when the child indicates that they are ready, rather than when adults dictate it.

With affirmation and support, many transgender and gender-expansive children mature into happy, healthy young adults. These young people are remarkably resilient to the challenges they face. Emerging research reports that transgender children whose families affirm their gender identity are as psychologically healthy as their non-transgender peers.

The paper finishes up with advice to parents and with lists of resources (and of course the 98 footnotes). They don’t want anyone to rush to assume their child is transgender (most gender-expansive children aren’t), but they do want parents to assure their children that they are loved unconditionally, “however they express themselves and whoever they grow up to be.”

Growing up transgender or gender-expansive can be difficult. By supporting families, sharing the facts and practicing gender-affirmative attitudes with all children, each of us can make life a little easier for these unique, resilient kids.

Transcending: Interpretation

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.

What Does the Bible Say? looks at what the Bible says about transgender people changing their bodies to match their gender. Spoiler alert: It says nothing against it! And has plenty to say about supporting and accepting who they are.

Not Conforming to the World looks at how transgender people are a marginalized group of outsiders – and the church should not be piling on.

Choice and Non-Choice looks at some evidence that LGBTQ people are born that way.

I’d been meaning to finish talking about transgender people first, but tonight I’d like to talk about same-sex marriage.

My church is indeed pursuing adding a policy to its constitution stating that transgender people changing their bodies to match their gender identity dishonors God’s design and that marriage can only be between one man and one woman. In the first members’ meeting to discuss this, the pastor read from Romans 1 and said that the plain meaning is that homosexuality is sinful.

[After that, he admitted that there is nothing in the Bible that speaks against transgender people changing their bodies to match their gender identity. But said we can conclude it’s wrong because of creation. I covered that reasoning in Transcending: Creation.]

I will grant you that reading Romans 1 in English in 2019 does give the impression that the Bible condemns homosexuality.

But what if one of Paul’s contemporaries who was a native Greek speaker came forward in time? If we explained same-sex marriage to that person, would they think it had anything to do with what Paul was talking about?

Look more closely at what Paul is saying. It’s not a prohibition. It’s all in present tense. Paul is saying, “Look at how terrible our society has gotten!”

I recently read Paul Among the People, by Sarah Ruden, an expert on Graeco-Roman literature. She writes about what people were doing in that time period. It was commonplace for men to prove their manhood by preying on the weak – slaves, boys, men of lesser standing. It was even part of their idol worship, especially of Priapus, an idol of sexual aggression. She points out that Paul’s attitude was completely different from other writers of the time:

Paul could have, like generations of Greek and Roman moralistic and satirical commentators, lit into passive homosexuality, into the victims. But in Romans 1 he makes no distinction between active and passive: the whole transaction is wrong. This is crucially indicated by his use of the Greek word for “males,” arsenes, for everybody; he does not use the word for “men,” as the NRSV translation would have us believe. The Classical and New Testament word for a socially acceptable, sexually functional man is aner. In traditional parlance, this could mean an active but never a passive homosexual. But Paul places on a par all the male participants in homosexual acts, emphasizing this in Romans 2:1 and clearly implying that they are all morally degraded and that they all become physically debilitated from the sex act with each other. Such effects were unheard of among the Greeks and Romans when it came to active homosexuals: these were thought only to draw their passive partners’ moral and physical integrity into themselves.

This has nothing in common with a loving, committed, monogamous same-sex relationship.

What if couples in same-sex marriages are not sinning? What if the act of homosexuality is not sinful unless you’re hurting someone?

For that matter, does the New Testament call anything else sinful that doesn’t harm anyone – either the person doing it or someone else? If Paul was talking about preying on weaker people, then it makes sense for him to condemn it. But how does a committed same-sex marriage hurt anyone?

If we exclude people in same-sex marriages from membership in our churches, aren’t we saying to a part of the body of Christ – “We don’t need you”?

For that matter, we agree that everyone who comes to Christ comes as a sinner. We expect, after they accept Christ, for His Spirit to work in their lives and that He’ll help them overcome sin. Christians are not under Law, but under Grace – in the past, my church has let the Holy Spirit decide what sins other people should work on. The important thing has been that we’re a gathering of people who have accepted Jesus as the Lord of our lives.

There are verses about coming alongside Christians who are trapped in sin – but always gently and with humility. And those verses never call out a specific sin ahead of time. There are many, many more verses about how important it is not to judge others. Remove the beam from your own eye before you try to take the speck out of your brother’s eye!

If we add a Code of Conduct (even if it’s called a “Christian Living Statement”), we’re saying that these particular sins have to be cleaned up before you can be a member of this church. And it’s questionable whether they are actually sins.

And that’s the biggest problem I have with calling same-sex marriage sinful. The only reason to do so is because you believe one particular interpretation of the Bible – an interpretation that many, many other Christians don’t agree with. But it doesn’t harm anyone. In fact, same-sex marriage, like heterosexual marriage, is all about love. Isn’t Love a good thing?

People say that they believe same-sex marriage is wrong because the Bible says so – so this way they can be proud of how faithful they are to the Bible. But please be aware that this is your interpretation of what the Bible says, and it is by no means certain. And it doesn’t fit well with the rest of the Bible message to love one another, to include all parts of the body of Christ, and not to judge.

Judging others indeed does harm. And it’s so much easier to judge about things you’ll never be tempted to do. As I covered in Choice and Non-Choice, there’s plenty of evidence LGBTQ people are born LGBTQ people. Do we really believe that God’s best for every single one of them is a life without a committed, loving, monogamous partnership? And we’re basing that on one interpretation that’s quite weak if you look at the historical context.

Transcending – Choice and Non-Choice

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.

What Does the Bible Say? looks at what the Bible says about transgender people changing their bodies to match their gender. Spoiler alert: It says nothing against it! And has plenty to say about supporting and accepting who they are.

Not Conforming to the World looks at how transgender people are a marginalized group of outsiders – and the church should not be piling on.

Today I want to say something about choices. Often when I talk to people who condemn transgender people, I get the impression that they think being transgender is either a delusion or something people choose on a whim.

For example, after my last post, someone asked me: If transgender people have a suicide attempt rate of 37% — so much higher than in the general population – aren’t you afraid to have your child be transgender? Why would you ever affirm that?

This person was forgetting the other part of the statistic. (These are from the 2015 U. S. Transgender Survey of 28,000 transgender people.) For transgender people with nonsupportive families, the suicide attempt rate was 54%. You better believe I’m going to be supportive!

Now, I grant you – nobody has statistics about people whose families were nonsupportive who decided not to come out as transgender after all. But I have a very hard time believing that group has very many members. You might hide who you are because of your family, but you can’t change who you are.

Transgender people keep telling us, This is who I am.

In fact, as I mentioned in my Science post, Science keeps telling us gender identity is something you’re born with. And even though we try, people have not figured out a way to change someone’s gender identity.

I am going to eventually do a lot more posts about scientific and research studies. I’ve discovered that at least a dozen major medical organizations have position statements about transgender people. But in the meantime, I ran across this summary of studies on human sexuality and gender, put together by a doctor and her husband, a librarian.

The author of the webpage summarizes her literature review as follows:

Our LGBTQ community has consistently told us that sexual orientation and gender identity are not chosen, and cannot be changed. Based on the consistency of their stories, the available scientific literature, and the complete lack of evidence in any opposing viewpoints, it is time that we believe them.

I found another literature review by following the link in the Endocrine Society Position Statement on Transgender Health. It’s called Evidence Supporting the Biologic Nature of Gender Identity. With the help of google, you can download and read the actual article. There is lots of evidence that gender identity resides biologically in our brains and is something we’re born with. It doesn’t necessarily match our genitalia and doesn’t necessarily match our chromosomes. The best way to be sure which gender someone has is to ask the person who lives in that brain.

Just today, a friend announced that her spouse is coming out as a transgender woman. I love the way her spouse put it in her Facebook announcement:

I have been living with something for most of my life that I’ve kept fairly well hidden until now. I am a transgender woman currently in the process of transitioning to present as a woman. I know this will come as a shock to most of you reading this as I don’t come across as very feminine (and have been told this by those who already know). Please know that this is something very real that I’ve lived with since high school and it was only in the last few years that I felt I could start the transition process and begin to live as my true self. It’s been a personal challenge coming out to family and close friends but everyone has been loving and supportive and now I’m ready to come out to the wider world.

Listen to what she says! Yes, she had a choice whether to present as a woman, whether to come out as transgender. But she didn’t have a choice about the fact that she is a transgender woman. She is courageously saying, “This is Who I am!

No one’s going to take lightly a choice to change their body and their appearance. But choosing which gender we are? We don’t actually have that choice.

And I’m never going to make a blanket statement of what people should do who know they are a gender different from the one they were told they were all their lives, the one that matches their external genitalia.

But please, churches, let’s not make a blanket statement either. Sometimes, what honors God’s design is for transgender people to use current medical science to make their appearance and body match the true gender they know themselves to be.

Who you are is not a choice.

How you present your body to express who you are? That choice should be yours and yours alone.

Transcending: Not Conforming to the World

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.

What Does the Bible Say? looks at what the Bible says about transgender people changing their bodies to match their gender. Spoiler alert: It says nothing against it! And has plenty to say about supporting and accepting who they are.

Today I want to look for a moment at a verse that I’ve heard more than once used as a reason not to affirm and support transgender people: Romans 12:1-2. I believe this verse actually provides another reason we should affirm them. Here’s what it says (New International Version):

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I’ll be honest – I get angry when I hear this verse used to say we should not affirm transgender people.

I’m not entirely clear what the thinking is. Are they saying that if ethical non-Christians speak up against something, then we’re conforming to the world if we also say it’s unethical?

Are they saying that because “the world” accepts transgender people, the church should not?

Are they saying that we shouldn’t listen to medical personnel or peer-reviewed research studies because those are part of “the world”?

To be fair, I do not know what argument people use to rationalize using this verse against transgender people getting gender affirmative therapy. I don’t understand the train of thought at all. Maybe there’s a way that I haven’t conceived of.

Looking at my first two questions above, I’m afraid “the world” was in many cases ahead of the church when it came to the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, civil rights, interracial marriage, child labor, and many, many other social issues. Yes, in many of those cases, Christians were at the forefront of the movement toward social justice, but this movement out in the world was often ahead of the church at large. They were certainly ahead of many individual churches. You can’t condemn something as evil simply because there are people out in “the world” who advocate for it. They might be onto something.

As far as peer-reviewed medical research studies, I already provided some links to some in my first Science post. Since then, I’ve been looking up more statements by medical and psychological associations about transgender people and appropriate and effective treatment. I’ve discovered there’s much, much more scientific information out there. I plan to write some more posts about them.

But why is the church weighing in on which treatment is effective, anyway?

Does the church really want to go up against the prevailing scientific opinion in an area on which the Bible doesn’t speak? When we try that, it doesn’t usually go well.

The Bible does not condemn being transgender; the Bible does not condemn changing your body via hormones or surgery to match your gender identity.

An analogy that works well is this:

Imagine if a church came out with a policy that said taking insulin dishonors God’s design because it changes your body chemistry given to you by God.

Such a policy would not affect most people. But for those it does affect, it can be a life-or-death issue.

And the Bible doesn’t speak about it. This insulin prohibition I invented would be based entirely on extrapolation with a made-up principle by someone who is unaffected by the new rule.

I would like to propose that Romans 12:1-2 actually gives a strong reason that we should support and affirm transgender people. Because if we want to be different from the world, the world in general is not treating transgender people well.

I used as the subtitle for this Transcending series: They’ll Know Us By Our Love. That comes from John 13:35 –

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

We should be known for our love, not for our rejection.

Here’s where it gets personal for me. When I visited my adult transgender daughter in Oregon last February, I was shocked and surprised to learn that she was the only one in her community of transgender friends who had supportive parents. In fact, her new fiancée is the daughter of an evangelical pastor in Arkansas. Her family rejected her when she came out, and that’s why she’s in Portland now.

Many of my daughter’s transgender friends are homeless and unemployed. (Thank God healthcare in Oregon does cover people in this situation!) They try to help each other out, but she told me there’s a joke going around the transgender community that they’re all passing around the same five-dollar bill.

As my daughter was talking about her friends, she said, with passion in her voice, “They’re such beautiful people!” And I immediately thought — Oh, that’s what the church should be saying about them! We should not be throwing these people away. As the world is doing.

After I got home, I discovered the 2015 U. S. Transgender Survey and learned that the experience of my daughter and her friends is by no means unusual.

There’s a lot in this survey that’s sobering – I strongly recommend taking a look. There’s a whole chapter of the report called “Family Life and Faith Communities.”

Do read the report in detail for more nuance, but here are a few statistics that struck me:

Sixty percent (60%) of respondents who were out to the immediate family they grew up with reported that they had supportive families, and 40% had families that were neutral or not supportive.

One in ten (10%) reported that an immediate family member had been violent towards them because they were transgender.

Fifteen percent (15%) ran away from home and/or were kicked out of the house because they were transgender.

Much more disturbing were the consequences of this:

Family support was associated with positive outcomes while family rejection was associated with negative outcomes. Respondents who were rejected were:

Nearly twice as likely to have experienced homelessness (40%) as those who were not rejected (22%).
Almost twice as likely to have engaged in sex work (16%) as those who were not rejected (9%).
More likely to have attempted suicide (49%) than those who were not rejected (33%).

The report also looks at the reactions of faith communities. This part strikes home, as I’ve seen many Facebook posts from transgender people that express great anger with the church – and anger with God. If you’ve been rejected by a church, this is a natural reaction – and it breaks my heart. Because I don’t believe for a moment that God is angry with them or disapproves of their getting good treatment. In fact, I believe God sees their beauty better than anyone and loves them deeply. Isn’t the church supposed to be the body of Christ? Shouldn’t we be expressing Christ’s love?

But the report gives this statistic: “Nearly one in five (19%) respondents who had ever been part of a spiritual or religious community left due to rejection. Forty-two percent (42%) of those who left found a welcoming spiritual or religious community.”

Put more negatively, more than half of those rejected by a faith community never returned. Which breaks my heart. It does provide a bit of hope – only 19% were rejected and 42% of those did find a welcoming community. Welcoming communities are out there!

And I pray fervently and with all my heart that the churches I am part of will always be included among them.

May we not be conformed to the world, thinking it’s okay to reject and marginalize and judge an entire group of people.

Instead, may we be transformed by the renewing of our minds. And may they know us by our love.

Transcending: What Does the Bible Say?

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

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.