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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Christian Defense of the Identities of Transgender Persons Part 4

If seeing this image anywhere near the word "transgender"
freaks you out, you might want to reflect on what baggage
you are bringing to this conversation.

This is Part 4 in a series which starts HERE

My separate series in defense of LGB relationships starts HERE

Introductory note: I have worked as hard as I know how to avoid creating a straw-man argument for the non-recognizing position. I have endeavored to present as fair (while still critical) a representation of those exegetical arguments I have been able to find, as possible, but am conscious of the fact that those arguments are (in my understanding) remarkably weak. I should point out that non-recognizing folk also make more general theological-anthropological and philosophical-anthropological arguments and that I have not addressed them in this post. I will do my best to address them in future posts. In the meantime if you know of stronger forms of the indirect exegetical argument I would encourage you to post them in the comments box where I will make every attempt to respond to them in  a timely manner. 

Here it is, the long delayed take on the oblique passages. Those parts of the Bible which are often thought to be relevant to the situation of transgender persons though they do not address transgender people directly. While I certainly have been working on a number of other things (did I mention I put a book out this summer?) I have also been doing my reading and my research so that I am now able to return to you, a more read and researched blogger.

What I have found is that the arguments against recognizing a transperson's identity generally boil down primarily to Genesis 1 and 2 (the creation account) and occasionally utilize Psalm 139:13 (God having created David while David was still in utero) and usually Matthew 19:4 (where Jesus quotes Genesis 1 as support for an argument about marriage and divorce). That is certainly not a whole lot to go on but it pretty much sums up the passages the anti-trans-identity Christians routinely cite in defense of their position (if you are in this group and there is an important passage you think I am missing please bring it to my attention, I am drawing predominantly on the work of Albert Mohler and Denny Burke). The key texts here are:

So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. (Genesis 1:27)
For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13)

The argument that is then constructed from these passages and - in the case of the Genesis text - their surrounding context, is that since God created humanity dimorphically (male and female), it must be God's intention that humanity restrict itself to a gender binary as any attempt to embrace a third (or fourth or fifth) sex or gender category (the passage is generally taken to refer to both sex and gender after an attack on any possibility of distinction between the two categories is made without reference to Scripture) would constitute an attempt to move beyond God's plan for the species.
Now I realize that the argument so far, regardless of how good or bad it is, doesn't actually speak to Wanda's situation (for an update on the extended illustration I am using for the series you are going to need to start at PART 1 - Short version: Wanda is a trans woman who was known as "Bob" for a while and would like to have her female gender recognized by her church). Wanda, like many trans persons in America today, isn't particularly interested in identifying or being recognized as a third gender, she identifies as, and would like to be related to as, a woman. However I think it is worth stopping here for a second to point out that the non-recognizing crew are presently deriving their conclusions from a philosophy which is built on the perceived implications of a mere one to three passages.

This break in the argument is brought to you by trans pride.

Back to the argument: Having established that God's sexually dimorphic design for the species implies God's intention that sex and gender remain binary in human society, the argument then moves to assert that since God is the one designing humanity, and (per Psalm 139) individual human bodies, we need to read the morphology of our bodies at birth (including genitalia and chromosomal makeup) as prescriptive of our sex and gender identities (remember that the necessary congruence of sex and gender is stated but not defended on any particular Scriptural basis). The experience of gender dysphoria and the physical non-binary morphology of intersex people is explained as a result of creation's fall into a sinful and broken state. Thus, the reasoning goes, when there is an experienced incongruence of sex and gender (or of sex morphology to conform to a dimorphic pattern), the goal is to help the afflicted individual achieve restoration to the binary ideal.

In principle this ought to leave open the possibility that the tension could be relieved through hormone replacement therapy and sexual reassignment surgery thereby bringing the sex into alignment with the gender. However it is very important to folks who are thinking along these lines to insist that these actions would constitute an attack on healthy organs and bodily processes and that the only legitimate way of restoring the individual to the desired pre-fall state, is to take them through therapies (either religious or psychological) which will help them to re-orient their gender identities in order to bring them into congruence with their physiological sex. This is often supported by an appeal to a semi-Thomist "natural law" idea (pointing to reproduction as the healthy purpose of genitalia) while some theological accusations of the Gnostic heresy (which, among other things, denied the moral importance of the body to spiritual development) are occasionally deployed.
If all of this seems weak, I should point out that it is generally bolstered by a number of ancillary, but non-Scriptural arguments. Transgender people are generally compared to folks suffering from mental delusions in an attempt to account for the testimony of trans people. Thomistic natural law theory is not infrequently employed to make teleological arguments about the "proper" purpose of the body. Examples of mental illness are emphasized while examples of physical illness are generally downplayed (the mind is generally taken to be more fully subject to brokenness and the fall than the body is) and, in the worst cases, (certainly not all) emotional appeals to disgust, pity, and fear are combined with hand wringing over the advance of "liberal" thought and the advance of "secular society". But these arguments, strong or not, are not part of the exegetical conversation and so ought to be put aside for the purpose of this portion of the discussion.
Fountainheads not Paradigms

What we are left with is then the argument that God created humanity as a sexually dimorphic species (male and female), that any deviation for a gender or sex binary must therefore be a result of human brokenness in the fall, and that restoration consists in changing the individual's mind to conform with their genitalia or in a supernatural relief of the individual's dysphoria. The problem then, is that this argument is flawed in each major step.

First, while the Genesis and Matthew passages could be legitimately read as a confirmation that humanity began as a dimorphic species, there is nothing inherently prescriptive in those passages (I encourage the reader to go check them out). As Megan DeFranza points out in her excellent book Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God :
Reading the Genesis account in light of the larger Biblical narrative, we are able to affirm the goodness of sex difference as the fountainhead of human difference without requiring the male-female pattern to become the paradigmatic form of the other. (loc.4517-4545 Kindle Edition)
Essentially, the Genesis account doesn't set up male-female as the pattern to which the species must perpetually conform but the origin from which the diversity of humanity is derived. This is made especially clear when we notice that there are all sorts of wonderful creatures and species which do not fit into the Genesis categories. As DeFranza points out elsewhere, bats, amphibians, platypoi, sunsets, and fungi all arguably fall between various Genesis categories and yet they remain "good". At the very least, the claim that Adam and Eve ought to be seen as the paradigm for human sexed-ness and gendered-ness rather than as the fountainhead is a legitimate exegetical debate.

Furthermore, there is Biblical warrant to conclude that redemption from a fallen state is more likely to look like a progression towards something new than a return to what was before. In term of Biblical narrative: humanity is restored to a city, not a garden; marriage is not restored in the Kingdom, but replaced with something else, and eunuchs are not (apparently) healed to become procreative, but given "a name better than sons and daughters" [Isaiah 56:4-5]. In short there is no biblical warrant to assume that healing the brokenness of the fall must look like a return rather than a progression to something new.

This is Allyson Robinson, a
transgender Baptist pastor.
She is confusing to
complimentarian theology
But even if the first points are granted, the third falls flat as an argument against recognizing Wanda as a woman. Even if humanity is necessarily reducible to a sex and gender binary such that any apparent deviation from dimorphic humanity must be credited to the brokenness of the fall, that does not imply that restoration must require changing a person's mind to conform to their body. It is just as possible, and arguably more likely given the existence of transgender Christians, that restoration to a gender binary would consist in conforming the body to the mind. This seems to be the position of Peter Kreeft who argues that gender dysphoria (he doesn't use that term) might be reasonably healed by a "sex change" either surgically on earth or supernaturally "in heaven [theological sic.]".

Ultimately the oblique exegetical argument seems to be almost as weak as the direct exegetical argument. In my next post in this series I intend to revisit the positive theological and exegetical arguments for recognizing Wanda in her own self-perceived gender identity before I go on to address some of the broader philosophical, social, and theological concerns which are being raised by those who would deny the legitimacy of Wanda's feminine gender identity.

P.S. If you are interested in cool ways you can show support for the transgender community, check out #illgowithyou they are pretty awesome.
Also for way more information that I have provided, you should head over to youtube and check out Austen Lionheart.

Part 5 is HERE

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