|Staying Positive (I have no idea who this guy is)|
Parallel to my conclusions in Part 3, I don't think that there are any passages in the Bible which directly affirm Wanda's claim. While there were ancient cultures which understood the existence of transgender people to greater and lesser degrees (check out "two spirit people" in several Native American cultures, but there are examples from all over the world) they don't seem to get any attention in the Bible one way or the other. In the absence of direct passages, we move to looking at the indirect implications of Biblical teachings and here there is quite a bit to be found.
1. The fundamental role of Love
|Are you asking someone to carry this when God isn't?|
2. We are not to impose heavy burdens on people
In contrast to the burdens the Pharisees put on people [Matthew 23:4] Jesus claims that His charge is "light" [Matthew 11:28-30]. In contrast to those who would kill, steal, and destroy, Jesus claims that He came so that we could have abundant life [John 10]. When we look at applying these principles to the situation of transgender people, the application is pretty straight forward. When trans people are not accepted in their communities and/or have the legitimacy of their gender identity claims rejected or denied; when transgender people are subjected to "reparative therapy" and forced to conform to the gender identity and role society has based on their body, the load is far to often, heavy beyond what they can bear. Common outcomes are depression, anxiety, and death. (Check out studies here, and here)
3. Our bodies will all be different one day
|Incogneto Jesus on the road to Emmaus|
4. Christian Love is not epistemically arrogantThe second half of 1 Corinthians 13 (verses 8-12) is a reminder that we do not know everything and placed there, it should particularly remind us that we do not need to know everything in order to be loving. I think a lot of Christians feel somewhat paralyzed lately by a combination of the fact that the empirical evidence seems to pretty strongly suggest that transgender people will benefit most from having their gender identities affirmed, and the fact that many popular leaders of the evangelical movement are stating loudly that "transgenderism" is somehow sinful and that affirming transgender folks in their gender identities is paramount to enabling a harmful delusion. I think it is really important to note that when Jesus [particularly in Matthew 23], Paul, James,and John speak about love they prefer the doing of actual, calculable good to others over the preservation of a theological speculation. I am inclined to think that evangelical America is so overwhelmed and with a fear of having the wrong theology that we are often prevented from doing the good that is there in front of us to do. Try bracketing the theological question "Is it sinful to affirm the gender identities of transgender people" for just a second and look at the question "Are transgender people better off when we affirm their gender identity?" Study after study show that they are (check some of them out here, here, here and here). So now bring those theological concerns back in, but bring them in together with the interpretive questions and exegetical complexities I have been raising throughout this series, and I think the picture might look a little different. If we begin by prioritizing love and admit to the complexity of interpreting the "relevant" passages of scripture, the clear call of the Bible is to do that which is best for transgender folk, without ruling out a full and encouraging affirmation of their gender identities.
|This should be a safe and affirming place for trans people|
I hope (and on my good days, believe) that Christians of all stripes genuinely want to find the best, most effective way to love transgender people like Wanda. My reading of the current scientific, medical, and psychological data, and study of the relevant theology suggests that while (as my friend Michael Raburn is forever reminding the world) each person and situation is unique, we ought to be wide open to recognizing and affirming the gender identities of trans folk we meet. Before all else, we need to be for them. For their health, for their flourishing, for their dignity, and for their acceptance in our communities. Any conservative Christian will feel legitimately pressed to remind us that actions and attitudes which contradict any clear teachings of Scripture ought to be seen as non-loving for those involved since God has given us revelation in order for us to flourish (though flourishing often does not look like what many people might assume or what our cultures try to portray). As I believe I have shown though, a full affirmation of a transgender persons's gender identity is clearly not in contradiction to any teachings of scripture and, while I would not presume to suggest that there is a one-size-fits-all response to any pastoral or relational questions, a welcoming, caring affirmation of their gender identity is very much on the table and, in my opinion, ought to be the default response of churches, pastors, and individual Christians.
I have mentioned a few of these before but if you are really interested in learning about transgender Christians and theology here are some tremendous resources:
- Austen Hartke runs the Transgender and Christian Youtube channel
- The Gay Christian Network has some good stuff.
- Although she doesn't address transgender folk directly, Megan DeFranza's book Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God (she gets extra kudos for the Oxford comma in her book title)
- If you are looking for a conservative resource the best I have found so far is by Mark Yarhouse in Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture I disagree with a number of his conclusions but he presents a more honest look at the facts on the ground than some other voices I could mention.
- Allyson Robinson is a Transgender Baptist pastor. Check out her TED talk below: