Yesterday, I started a little miniseries on Transgenderism in response to a question a friend sent me. They were wondering how Christians are supposed to look at this particular issue. I laid out the questions and definitions involved here and asked for feedback (be sure to read all of those comments). Today, I’m talking about a “Prolegomena of Transgenderism”.
“Prolegomena” is just a big (but appropriate) word that basically refers to all the things we must keep in mind before trying to answer big questions. For example, in Systematic Theology, Prolegomena is when we lay out the very foundation of our knowledge about the given topics and the presuppositions that will guide us through the rest of the endeavor. That’s what this post is. I want to explore a couple of perspectives that have driven a lot of the answers I’ve seen about this before trying to come to firm conclusions in the next post. So, with all that being said, let’s get started.
Two Lenses by which to Think
Looking at transgender issues from a systematic theology perspective, many people would first turn to Genesis 1:27 which says: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he female he created them.” It seems that gender is unique in that it is more fundamentally inside-out rather than outside-in. Gender, according to this passage is rooted, primarily, in the “image of God” within us. In other words, Gender is an expression of that image and our physical embodiment is meant to be an expression of that gender.
But what if we use a biblical studies approach? Doing so, one has to admit that neither the original writer nor the ancient audience of Genesis would have read that verse and taken it as some sort of ultimate statement about a modern conception of “gender identity/expression”. It was probably a poetic statement in line with the sexual imagery of the poetry of Genesis 1 where the Creator God is creating “mini-Creators” that will continue to fill the earth through “pro-Creation”. There’s only so much we can take from that verse.
The Wrong Way to Approach This
Nearly every problem the Church has ever known can go back to a dualistic view of the world that imagines a huge gulf between material/immaterial, expression/form, accidence/substance, physical/spiritual, earth/heaven and then (often) elevates the spiritual and abstract aspects over and above the physical and material parts of creation, calling us to cast off the material for the sake of some spiritual “ideal”.
I think this is so utterly wrong, damaging, and harmful to theology, the world, and issues of sexuality. All these seemingly separate things actually overlap in very real and profound ways. There’s an almost “transubstantiated”, sacramental aspect to all parts of this life and world. The physical has been made and designed to reflect, hold, contain, partake in, accomplish, and put forward the divine.
So how do we do this with our sense of gender? If there is a mysterious union between our physical and psychological selves, how do we approach those with Transgender issues?
The “liberal” would probably say “God made you a certain way internally. That’s who you are. So try and change your outward self.” The conservative fundamentalist would likely say to them “God made you a certain way physically. That’s who you are. So try and change your internal self.” (That’s the conclusion of this essay by a Christian Ethics professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary sent to me yesterday.)
I don’t think it’s that easy. Both of these are wrong. There’s something much more mysterious, beautiful, and difficult happening in all of us dealing with our sexualities and gender.
The Way Forward?
Any account we try and give as Christians must bear all this in mind and not fall to either extreme. We must take very seriously both our individual personhood and our embodiment, because God has. The Divine Personhood became embodied in order to redeem it and make it worthy and able again to contain the Divine once more.
And while we’re talking the redemption and ushering in of New Creation, let me ask all of you this: when time has ended, creation restored, and we have all received our glorified bodies, what kind of body do you think the Christian Transgendered person will receive? Will their external form finally match the internal, thereby giving them a fuller sense of identity; or will their minds be changed in such a way that they finally feel a harmony with the physical sex they were originally born with in this life?
Tomorrow I’ll give my proposed answers to many of these questions, but like I said, these will reflect where I’m at right now. I’m very willing to be swayed in other directions. I just wanted to write this post to give people a framework. Any answers we try and give must take all of these things into account.
Real hearts, lives, and souls are on the line in this issue and we can’t afford to offer simplistic, naive, knee-jerk “solutions” to the people that need to hear them the most. This does injury, injustice, and insult to the Gospel–a Gospel that promises to adequately address all issues of life and salvation with nuance, care, grace, and sufficiency.
So what do you think? How would you harmonize the tension between the conclusions of systematic theology versus biblical studies? Do you agree that both the Fundamentalist and liberal approaches are inadequate? If so, what “third way” might you propose that might be more nuanced?
[image credit: painting by Istvan Sandorfi]