In my last three posts, I’ve been addressing some common concerns which conservative Christians raise when they encounter and/or consider transgender.
In the first, I noted that Trans is not the result of American secularism, feminism, individualism, etc. but a phenomenon which has been around for millennia in many contexts and cultures. I raised questions about therapeutic success, vulnerability, and honesty and provided resources for beginning to listen with compassion.
In the second post I began a dialogue with an article written by Mark Yarhouse, one of the most trusted voices among evangelicals on matters of sexual and gender identity. I commended Yarhouse’s recommendations for welcoming transgender persons into our churches and lives at the same time that I questioned the theology which undergirds his perspective.
In the third, I challenged the idea that “Cross-gender identification … threatens to dishonor the creational order of male and female—‘the sacred integrity of maleness or femaleness stamped on one’s body.’” I argued instead that sex is stamped on our bodies in many different ways and that for some people these various markers of sex—chromosomes, gonads, hormones, genitalia, secondary sex characteristics, gender identity, brain sex—do not fall into a neat line.
Of course, Yarhouse (careful scholar and experienced therapist that he is) is very aware of variations among men, women, and intersex persons. And while he does not see variation among men and women as a problem, he sees intersex bodies as “effects of the fall at the level of chromosomes, the gonads, and testicular or ovarian tissues among other things” (Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria, 39).
It is this claim that I would like to address in this post given that it is a common response from conservative Christians to variations of sex development and transgender experiences. And I think Mark would welcome my two cents, given what he writes elsewhere:
“To the extent that Christians want to have any kind of meaningful discussion of common ground and genuine differences, there is a need for the development of cognitive complexity, which includes the capacity to see through the eyes of others” (Yarhouse,Understanding Gender Dysphoria, 52).
I hope the following will help you see why I see things a little differently.
I often hear Christians argue that because intersex persons (eunuchs, androgynes, or hermaphrodites in ancient parlance) do not appear in the first two chapters of Genesis, their bodily differences can be attributed to the fall. In other words, these bodily differences are not what God intended. God intended the clear and distinct categories of male and female.
Whether or not Christians take the first few chapters of Genesis literally, most believe that these narratives reveal that this world is “not as it should be” and that human sin is partially responsible for disorder found not only in human relationships but in nature. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit with the result that even the ground is cursed (Gen. 3:17-19). The idea that the creation is not as it should be can also be found in the New Testament where Paul writes to the Romans that “creation was subjected to frustration, … in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay… groaning as in the pains of childbirth … for … redemption …” (Rom. 8:20-23).
The problem comes in identifying precisely where we locate results of the fall, orwhat we identify as disordered.
Some argue that anything that doesn’t appear in Genesis 1-2 is a result of the fall.
There are several reasons why I have come to disagree with this approach.
- There are many creatures which do not appear in Genesis 1 and 2 which we do NOT attribute to the fall. We read of sun, moon, and stars; but no mention of other planets, galaxies, comets, etc. (Gen. 1:16-18). We learn about sea creaturesand creatures which fly in the air and creatures which move along the ground but nothing of microbial life (which I was reminded last week is the vast majority of life on earth at our course for pastors on science and faith) nor anything of creatures which bridge more than one category—birds that don’t fly (e.g., penguins) or amphibians (which live in both water and land.) I have never read an Old Testament scholar declare these hybrid creatures “results of the fall” despite the fact that they fall into more than one category declared “good” and despite the fact that some of these are declared “unclean” in Israel’s dietary laws for a time (see M. Douglas, Purity and Danger for details). If these “hybrid” creatures can also be considered God’s good creation, why not humans who bridge the categories of male and female?
- The author of Genesis is painting with giant brush strokes using major categories of creation. We do not expect Genesis 1-2 to list every creature God intended to create given the vast diversity of life on earth. And yet, these categories cover the majority of creation. Still, we must be careful not to call the statistical majority “good” while declaring the minority “not good.” We would do well to learn from our own history in dealing with minority humanvariations such as left-handedness. My father-in-law was smacked on the wrist by teachers at his parochial school every time he picked up his pencil with his left hand. The right hand was the strong hand, the hand of blessing; the left the weak, the cursed. According to Wikipedia “The Latin adjective sinister means ‘left’ as well as ‘unlucky’, and this double meaning survives in European derivatives of Latin, including the English word ‘sinister…’ ” A quick word search reveals that God shows strength through his right hand in scripture (e.g., Exodus 15:6 & 12, Ps. 17:7) and that Jesus puts the sheep on his right but the goats on his left (Mt. 25:33). Thankfully, the practice of forcing left-handed children to use their right hands has passed—at least in contemporary U.S. culture… Might we learn that other human variations are not as sinister as we once thought?
- Other biblical authors don’t treat gender queer bodies as results of the fall.
Augustine said of eunuchs that they are “neither changed into a woman nor allowed to remain a man” (City of God 7.24) …
but God speaks through the prophet Isaiah to pronounce a blessing on them, saying:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases meand hold fast to my covenant–to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off” (Is. 56:4-5).
God blesses them but not by restoring them to some “creational given” or “original design” of manhood—that of a procreative father. God blesses them as eunuchs—giving them a name better than sons and daughters, an everlasting name.
- WWJD? More accurately, What did Jesus say? Jesus speaks of eunuchs in Matthew 19 when he argues against easy divorce laws (to which only men had access). In this passage, Jesus reaffirms the goodness of creation as male and female (Mt. 19:4-5) and yet, in verse 12, he still speaks of others… of “eunuchs who have been so from birth” (some intersex conditions), “eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others” (castrated males), “and those who make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (which the church has been trying to interpret for two millennia—see my book for my detailed study of this passage in biblical and historical context). What is significant is that Jesus does not speak of eunuchs as a result of the fall but holds them up as a model for discipleship: “The one who can accept this should accept it” (Mt. 19:12).
I understand why Christians argue that intersex, queer, and transgender bodies are results of the fall, given that they do not appear in the creation accounts. I used to think the same thing. But after searching the rest of the Bible (and a good bit of Church History), I have come to different view.
I have to say, I’m with Jesus on this one:
- the one who declared male and female good and still made room for others (Mt. 19:1-12).
- the one who declared all foods clean – even those hybrid shell fish that live in the sea but crawl like land animals (Mark 7:18).
- The one who opened the way so that Isaiah’s prophecy could be fulfilled – “for my house will be called a house of prayer for all people” (Is. 56:7).
Jesus is usually a trustworthy act to follow.
(originally published 6/23/15)