I recently have received inquiries for my professional opinion and expertise surrounding the issues of transgender individuals who are also Christians. So I wrote most of this as a reply to one such inquiry and thought it fitting to modify it for my first blog post of 2013.
First and foremost, let me just say that the experiences of individuals for whom their sense of gender (how masculine or feminine they feel) is at odds with their biological sex is very challenging to say the least. Add to this internal conflict growing up in a conservative Christian environment with Biblical teachings and interpretations of Scripture that are unwavering in their binary approach to gender and you have a lot of people who have the potential of being extremely confused, hurt, shamed, frustrated, and invisible. I have had the privilege of listening to and reading the stories of many individuals for whom these are their experiences.
As a matter of fact, if this is a topic that really does interest you, you might want to check out an article that I co-authored with Dr. Mark Yarhouse while in my graduate studies. We did an exploratory study on the experiences of Male to Female Transgender Christians. In one section of the article we discuss our findings regarding our participants experiences of struggle with their faith and with God. You can preview the entire article here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15538605.2012.649405#preview Each person’s story grabbed my heart in a very real and dear way. I am so honored to be able to journey along with these amazing individuals.
As far as my personal and professional take on the transgender experience, I think it is too complex for us to try to pinhole or narrow down to specific reasons why someone has a conflict or split between his or her biological sex and sense of gender. Some scholars point to brain anomalies, some site hormonal differences, some propose environmental and relational influences, but all in all, each train of research surrounding etiology has its share of backers and naysayers. I personally think it boils down to the fact that we live in a fallen world and the state of sin (read overarching state of imperfection—not God’s created order), and because of this there are many things in the world and in our experience that are awry. Our job as created beings is to be and do what we can—live in such a way—to bring glory to God as much as possible.
God did not create humanity to live in conflict and turmoil—internal or external. He created us to live in harmony and loving relationship with the Godhead, three-in-one, and with each other. So, this side of the fall, we have to figure out how to get back to the created order as best as we can in our broken states. But the only way that that idea is even possible is through the redemptive power, atoning sacrifice, and healing presence of Jesus Christ. And this is true for EVERYTHING we encounter in life. If we indeed want to glorify God with our entire beings, we have to make sacrifices, we have to make choices that other people do not like, we have to make changes in our lives, and we have to press into God through the Word, our intimate times of prayer, and through Godly counsel.
So what does all of this mean for the transgender person? We all have to come to a place of congruence—a place of authenticity and unashamed abandon to God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. This is no different for gender minorities. Some would say that worshipping God from a place of internal conflict surrounding gender is not authentic, or what God would want for the person. To that end, I see two options to make the changes necessary to experience congruence in body and mind: (1) transition the outward physical body to whatever extent is necessary to experience congruence or (2) transform the heart and the mind to align with the physical body. I am not saying that one of these options is better than the other, I am just stating that these are the two options that I see. In all honesty, I do not feel as though I am in a place to judge anyone’s heart—because I see this as an issue of the heart. I believe that this is something that would take a lot of sincere deliberation, consultation, and prayer for the person of faith (and even for the person who claims no faith tradition, as anytime you are talking about potential surgical procedures you need to be fully aware of all the possible emotional and physical hazards, risks, and benefits involved).
You might notice that I do not tend to deliberate over whether or not it is ok from any particular reading of Scripture to transition. Or whether it is even “Biblical” to have gender dysphoria. The reason is because I do not think these are the right questions to ask. When it comes to people who believe in Jesus Christ, his sacrifice, and redemption, there is so much more to grace than we can imagine. So, the questions that I think are of paramount concern have to do with living every part of one’s life in such as way as to bring the most glory to God at every given moment. Isaiah 43:7 tells us that it is for God’s glory that we were created. Are we doing that? It is our job to bring him that glory. We have to figure out how we can do the best we can with what we have, albeit broken, tarnished, and unworthy…yet unabashedly loved, cherished, and adored and stamped as worthy by God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit!
All of this to say, I think there is a lot we do not know and do not understand when it comes to experiences of gender dysphoria. And I am ok with saying that I don’t have all the answers. But I do know Who can give us some direction. So, I trust that God will guide each and every one of us who are willing to be guided.
Many blessings to you as you keep on keeping on!
In Christ’s love and mine…
Above are some of my thoughts on the intersection of theology and transgenderism. If you’d like more elaborate treatments, here are some resources from various perspectives (not an endorsement of any of these):
Evangelical Alliance. (2000). Transsexuality: A report by the Evangelical Alliance Policy Commission. London: Evangelical Alliance Policy Commission. ISBN 0-95329-926-0.
Tanis, J. E. (2003). Trans-gendered: Theology, ministry, and communities of faith. The Pilgrim Press: Cleveland, OH
Gagnon, R., A., J. (2007). Transsexualism and ordination. Self published. Retrieved January 18, 2008, from http://www.robgagnon.net/articles/TranssexualityOrdination.pdf
Palmer, T., & Haffner, D. W. (2007). A time to seek: Study guide on sexual and gender diversity. Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. Retrieved January 18, 2008 from http://www.religiousinstitute.org/documents/timetoseek.pdf