[art by Patrick Benbow]
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 in light of 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: as made clear above, humanity is the image-bearer of God. We are called to reflect and live in light of that Image. It’s what we’ve been designed and intentioned for, but because of disobedience and a sense of entitled, deserved autonomy, we refuse to live in line with that image. When we do this, we are actually going against how humanity was truly designed to live. We are, in effect, acting less human, not more. Therefore, in conversion, we are granted our resurrected humanity, established and purchased for us by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Being joined to him as our representative for true humanity, we find our truest, most truly human identity in him, not in our sexuality, 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. 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.
In conclusion, what bearing does this all have for our transgendered brothers and sisters? Well, a few things. First, it acknowledges that these feelings and confusions are in fact things that they’re born with. These thoughts and desires are very deep and ingrained and in and of themselves are not sins (though are the result of sin in the world and in our hearts). The real issue at hand is how we respond to them. This “resurrected humanity” we receive upon conversion is our truest individual identity. This means that the expression of this new humanity will look different for each person. The Bible gives some clear guidelines to know if people are actually living in line with what the “essentials” of “resurrected living” look like, and those that have truly been changed will want to follow these things, even at the expense of what feels most “natural”. But, unfortunately for us at this moment, and contrary to many fundamentalist intuitions, none of the Bible’s clear guidelines include clear dictates regarding the life and conduct of someone dealing with Transgender issues. So how do we navigate this?
God relates to us in two primary ways: revealed and hidden. There is a clear, objective Will of God that has been expressed in His Word and His Church. Then there is 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 these things, we are called to relate towards God in two different ways as well. Our appropriate response to God’s revealed will is to know the content of this will and then obey it. Our appropriate response to God’s hidden will is not to know it and obey, but to live life and trust Him in the midst of it.
Why do I bring this up? I think how the Transgendered person is to live belongs to hidden will of God for that individual, not the revealed. 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 their 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, live in the tension these issues will inevitably bring.
My personal intuition at this moment would be fine with them living and dressing in the way that they feel most purely expresses who they are in Christ — male or female. At this moment, I think I would want them to pick a particular gender and be all that until the Holy Spirit moves them another way (not, for example, switch gender every other week). These are issues where I am comfortable trusting the redeemed conscience of a true believer, because there is no clear-cut revealed instruction concerning all this. I would want to 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 gender transition? I honestly don’t know. I think it could be, but only if that person has acted and dressed as that gender for awhile and really does feel that their redeemed humanity is most clearly and unobtrusively expressed as that particular gender. Make sure they are trusting Christ and are in a place of obedience and sensitivity to the Spirit — that they would willingly obey if the Spirit were to move them elsewhere. And then, if all those things could be said of them, I would be okay with going through the process of physical gender alteration.
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.