As I said in a previous post in this series (Part 1, Part 2), this problem of how the Church must address Trangenderism will be an increasing problem as time goes on. This is mainly because of how the whole idea of gender identity has changed in the past 100 years.
It is only since Sigmund Freud that we use our sexuality as an “identity”. And it’s only after the Enlightenment that living in light of one’s natural identity is seen as the highest ideal.
Now, Christianity agrees with the Enlightenment on this point, but with a caveat. A very, very important caveat that should shape this entire discussion, especially as it pertains to how we actually counsel and interact with transgendered individuals.
The caveat is this: humanity is the image-bearer of God. We are called to reflect and live in light of that Image. When we don’t do this, we are actually going against how humanity was truly designed to live. We are, in effect, acting less human, not more.
Therefore, as we become Christians and our hearts are (slowly) changed, we live more and more as our fully-human, Resurrection selves. Being joined to Jesus as our representative for true humanity, we find our truest, most truly human identity in him–not in our sexuality, not in our physical sex, not in our gender.
In Christ there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, gay nor straight. There is only Christ.
In light of this, our “natural” feelings and tendencies are recast in a different light. They are not done away with. Not ignored. Not brushed aside. But taken seriously. Dealt with. I was born with a sexuality that will desire to have sex with more than one woman my entire life. But this is not how my truest humanity is most truly and purely expressed. This “sub-natural” sexual tendency in me is not my truest identity.
What does this mean for our transgender brothers and sisters?
This acknowledges that these feelings and confusions are in fact real. They really are things that people are born with. People really do experience profound disconnects between their gender and their sex. These thoughts and desires are very deep and ingrained and in and of themselves are not sins. The real issue at hand is how we respond to them.
It also means that the “resurrected humanity” of Christianity is our truest individual identity. This means that the expression of this new humanity will look different for each person. This is scary and unpredictable, but it should also be freeing.
For many aspects of life, the Bible gives some clear guidelines to know if people are actually living in line with what the essentials of this “resurrected living”. Those that have truly been changed by God will want to follow these things, even at the expense of what feels most “natural” to them. And they will do this as an act of trust that God knows their difficulty and gives grace in the midst of the struggle.
But, unfortunately for us at this moment, and contrary to many conservative Evangelical intuitions, none of the Bible’s guidelines include clear dictates regarding the life and conduct of someone dealing with Transgender issues. So how do we navigate these murky waters?
What to do when it’s not so clear
God relates to us in two primary ways: revealed and hidden. There is a clear, objective Will of God that has been expressed in the Word (Jesus) and the Church. But there is also the mysterious, hidden Will of God that has to do with things not expressly talked about in Scripture (who should you marry? What college should you go to? etc.)
In response to each of these things, we are called to relate towards God in two different ways. Our appropriate response to God’s revealed will is obedience–knowing the content of this will and humbly submitting to it. Our appropriate response to God’s hidden will, though, is faith–not anxiously trying to “figure it out” and obey, but to live life trusting God in the midst of it.
Why do I bring this up? I think God’s desire for the Transgender Christian belongs to the hidden will of God for that individual.
Practically, this means that the way we counsel them is to keep them in community, under teaching, and receiving the sacraments all while letting them live their life trusting our God.
Don’t misunderstand me–make sure they are knowing and obeying the revealed Will of God in both life and conduct, but give them the freedom to wrestle, make mistakes, and live in the tension these issues will inevitably bring. As a community, we would strive to love them in grace and make sure they are trusting Christ, living in a place of obedience and sensitivity to the Spirit (just like the rest of us in the community).
Personally, at this moment, I would be fine with them living and dressing in the way that they feel most purely expresses who they are in Christ, even if it does not match their physical sex. I think I would encourage them to prayerfully (over time) pick a particular gender identity and be all that until the Holy Spirit moves them another way (not, for example, switch gender identity every other week). I would keep them in counseling as they wrestle through all the confusions, desires, temptations, and emotions.
Do I think it could be fine and God-honoring for transgender people to undergo sex transition? I think it could be, but only if that person has acted and dressed out of that gender identity for awhile and really does feel that their redeemed humanity is most clearly and unobtrusively expressed in that particular way.
These are issues where I am comfortable trusting the redeemed conscience of a true believer in community with believers and in Communion with the Spirit, because there is no clear-cut revealed instruction concerning all this.
What do you all think? Does this all make sense? Am I wrong? Is this helpful or does it still not answer some important questions? Please give your feedback. Like I’ve said, I’m flexible on this. And please, on this post, keep the comments on topic.
[image credit: painting by Patrick Benbow]