A CAREFUL VIEW OF SCRIPTURE with Regard to LGBT Questions
Lets talk about Gender Variance
Gender variance is likely one of the most difficult concepts for those of us who are straight and comfortable in our gender to wrap our heads around. It is important to understand that when people talk about gender variance they are talking about how they feel. Feelings are amoral ...morally neutral. In the holiness tradition we do not believe that we are judged because of our feelings. Holiness of heart and life is based on our response to God (submission to Christ) and our following of His leading. We specifically do not identify holiness / commitment to Christ with perfect feelings (whatever they are), perfect knowledge of scripture, and/or perfect temperament. Likewise in professional counseling you will find counselors encouraging their clients to share their feelings with the understanding that feelings are not good or bad ... they just are. So we need to be careful in an area like this that we don't entangle our own reactions or even aversions with what Christ calls us to. In other words ... we want to be careful not to condemn someone for having feelings. If we condemn people for the feelings they have we close the door on them sharing their feelings and we create an unwelcoming environment of shame and even fear. This is not conducive to the work of the Spirit.
Thinking outside of our own gender into these various areas of gender variance can be challenging. I personally started this journey by looking at intersex (which is not the same as transgender). Intersex is a term for a biological condition in which someone is born with incomplete genitals …ambigous genitals .. parts of both sets of genitals and/or the presence of both XX and XY chromosomes. For a more technical medical discussion of this condition see this link.
Early wisdom said to surgically assign a child born this way to a gender. However later wisdom showed this to be problematic since how you assigned the gender might later not relate to the actual gender of the individual. So the wisdom now (according to the North American Intersex Society) is to wait until the child comes to an age where they reach a conclusion on which gender they feel they belong to. At that point the option exists of doing surgery if desired. This also involves being open with the child as they grow up, not hiding that they are intersex, and not saying or doing anything that would create shame over having this. Again, see The North American Intersex Society website for more information. I would also recommend this video ... which is about androgen insensitivity ...one of many possible variants of intersex.
So here we have what is likely to be a conundrum for most of us.
How would we counsel this individual?
Would we recommend that she presents herself as a man since she has male chromosomes?
What assurance would /could we give here that she is loved by God?
How would we utilize scripture to support what we are telling her?
Would we say her sexuality is a result of Adam's fall? (hopefully not)
How would we help her and others like her who had hopes and dreams of having children?
If you are a pastor would you have problems officiating a marriage ceremony between her and a man?
If you are a pastor and she decided she was raised with the incorrect gender and wanted to change to what her chromosomes said she was ....i.e. into a man ... would you support her/him? And if he later wanted to marry a woman would you officiate such a ceremony?
I don't provide answers to the above questions. What I want you to recognize is that this is real. This involves real people with real lives. It involves people who may make a decision that others frown on , do not understand, and/or condemn. Most of us don't like leaving the comfortable binary of male / female but her story (and the story of countless others) represents something that we can't deny. While you are thinking about this you might also read this article: Athletic cases show the line between male and female can be hazy. The article discusses the problems that "have left judges, doctors and athletics officials -- those tasked with drawing a bright line between the sexes -- struggling to find a reliable gender test, some trait that divides all men from all women." Read this CNN article for a more personal view of how someone who is intersex can have difficulty when it comes to sports. And, as these Fox Program excerpts show, newscasters also make mistakes in this area subjecting folks who are intersex with uncalled for and completely out of line comments.
I share all of this ... and there is plenty more out there... to show that many who are black and white on this (like myself at one point) can be ignorant of the real life experiences of real people. In order to properly represent Christ and to show his love to others we need to catch up here on things that ... quite frankly ... scripture does not cover. This is consistent with the Nazarene doctrine of showing the love of Christ to all people. It is also consistent with Nazarene ideology in recognizing that the bible is not a medical book ... nor is it a science book ... nor is it a psychology book . It is a book about God reaching out to and salvaging His creation. It does not cover all these other things in detail. We celebrate what God has revealed in the medical field and elsewhere recognizing that Christ is ultimately the source of all knowledge. We also recognize that our biblical understandings of these things are limited ... Scripture was written to a people of a different time and place ... to a specific culture... before these medical discoveries and scientific discoveries were made. The only passage in scripture that comes remotely close to addressing this (but IMHO doesn't) is the one about men wearing ladies clothes and ladies wearing men’s clothes. I suspect this was more of an object lesson similar to not being allowed to plant two kinds of seeds in a field and/or not having clothing made from two kinds of thread. The purpose of these object lessons was so that the Israelites would remember not to mix worship of Jehovah with the worship of other gods … to not take up the practices (worship) of the people groups in the lands they were occupying. I suspect it had little to do with gender variance.
So ... just as with medical end of life decisions ... and with in-vitro fertilization ... and with certain psychological conditions (to name a few), I believe we need to rely on what the professionals in those fields are telling us. We need to put together our best ethical and pastoral decisions by prayerfully and carefully using a combination of over arching principles of scripture and the modern day knowledge that God is revealing through these sciences. In the past ... we have made mistakes in the area of science vs. scripture. Galileo's condemnation by Christian authorities of the day due to his sun centered model of our solar system is one example of the church's mistakes in the past. We need to prayerfully ensure that we do not continue such mistakes in the present. There will likely always be tensions in this area as we attempt to apply (or misapply) what we believe (or assume) are biblical principles to these complex situations. As we do this it is important to remember to face these issues with some humility and a willingness to listen, remembering our past errors ... and remembering that while God and his Holy Word are infallible ... we, as human beings, are not infallible neither in bible interpretation nor in perfect knowledge
Let us review again some of the questions raised by the story above which is typical of many intersex journeys. Again, due to appearances there was no reason for her to know anything else but that she was a woman. Intersex can be discovered quite later in life ... often when a couple goes for fertility testing due to the inability to conceive a child. (see link) As I shared earlier, the original wisdom on this for babies who were known to be intersex was to assign gender at birth through surgery. Later wisdom showed this to be unwise (see link). Modern wisdom, per the ISNA is to use a patient centered approach of letting the patient know at an age-appropriate time what they have and letting them make a decision later in life on what gender they believe themselves to be . They do not recommend raising a child as a so-called third gender but instead to raise them as one gender but allow them to make their own choices later in life (see links here and here).
Intersex raises questions of gender ... if the genetics and physical appearance is not an indication of gender (at least in these cases) then what determines gender? It would seem to have something to do with the brain ... something that we are currently unable to measure. At this point in the discussion I am going to go from concrete concepts to abstract concepts ... from something (intersex) that has clear genetic and/or anatomically evident clues to something (other forms of gender variance) that do not have these clues. I may lose some of you at this point and that's OK. But having met many folks who are gender variant and having heard their stories, and having had my own understanding of gender challenged by the clear and undeniable intersex questions I feel the need to take this further.
We now consider transgender folks in light of what I have shared thus far. I also note that the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene does not have any direction on gender variance /transgender circumstances (See link). Remember that with intersex, the true gender is uncertain since the biological and genetic clues are unclear (there are multiple variations). Once that gets established in our minds other non-intersex situations may become more understandable to us. With transgender folks, for example, there are no genetic or physical clues yet they also experience the feeling that they are in the wrong sex body. The transgender situation is unique from intersex but parallels the intersex journey in several ways. Here are some parallels...
There is the question of what gender a person is.
There is the realization that physical attributes and chromosomes do not necessarily determine a person's gender.
There is the realization that assigning a gender at birth does not always line up with the gender the individual later identifies as.
There is the realization that a person's internal 'felt' gender and their external appearance may be different.
There is the possibility of (voluntary) corrective surgery to bring congruence between a person's internal 'felt' gender and their external appearance.
There is the reality that the medical profession recognizes both intersex and transgender as distinct medical conditions (see: Intersex link see: Transgender link)
Before we go much further here it is important to note the difference between gender roles and gender identity. Gender roles are those roles usually determined by society to be stereo-typically male or female. These roles have changed quit a bit in the last hundred years or so. Some/many women have joined the work force. All women no longer believe their place is in the home. Some/many look for fulfillment elsewhere. Some men have become house husbands. And women continue to enter fields that were thought to be for men only. Stereotypical areas of interest such as in sports, auto racing, modeling and so forth are also changing for men and women. And many churches ordain women into pastoral positions. It should be noted that early holiness churches (and perhaps other groups) were doing this long before any woman's liberation movements were in place. So we can not say that this is just due to culture. As challenging as this has been over the past decades it has nothing to do with gender identity. Gender identity is the internally felt gender (male or female) that a person has regardless of their physical make up. I include medical and other references below to help you research this...
See this video below for a personal testimony from Ruth (from the UK NHS page above) ....
This subject is likely to be controversial with many of you. However ... adherence to Christian principles is not controversial. Thus my main focus along with providing information, resources, and personal testimony is to continue to give guidance on how to be missional incarnational in these situations. To that end, what follows are more definitions along with the do's and don'ts of talking with gender variant folks. Keep in mind that while I have focused thus far on intersex and transgender, be aware that there are other gender variant journeys such as: gender fluid, gender queer, and bigender to name a few.
Terminology and Approach ... Being Missional Incarnational with Gender Variant folks.
Labels matter ... this is a very diverse area with different folks describing themselves in different ways. If you are unsure it is best to ask ... Asking how someone wants to be referred to and what pronouns to use is typically looked at as being respectful and polite. However it is best not to start the conversation this way ... a simple 'hello' works. Do not make assumptions about a person's gender. While some transgender folks may not (to you) look like they have successfully achieved the look of male or female (called "passing") it is best to not make any remarks about this or open with this question (of pronouns and such).
Male to female/ MTF : an acronym for females whose bodies were initially born male ... refers to a sociological and'or surgical transition from male to female.
Female to male/ FTM: an acronym for males whose bodies were initially born female ... refers to a sociological and'or surgical transition from female to male.
Transition: the social and biological processes of changing one’s social gender or physical sex. It is a complex process that takes place over a long period of time, often years. Transition includes some or all of the following adjustments: telling one's family, friends, and/or co-workers (coming out); changing one's name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly some form of chest and/or genital surgery.
Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS): surgery to physically change one's appearance / body configuration to match the gender they believe themselves to be (not everyone chooses this option)
Passing: successfully appearing as the gender a person believes themselves to be
Note: See Transwhat for one example of a more complete glossary of terms.
Words and statements to avoid... (courtesy of GCN ... used by permission)
Problematic: "transgenders," "a transgender"
Preferred: "transgender people," "a transgender person" Transgender should be used as an adjective, not as a noun. Do not say, "Tony is a transgender," or "The parade included many transgenders." Instead say, “Tony is a transgender person," or "The parade included many transgender people.
Preferred: "transgender" The word transgender never needs the extraneous "ed" at the end of the word. In fact, such a construction is grammatically incorrect. Only verbs can be transformed into participles by adding "-ed" to the end of the word, and transgender is an adjective, not a verb. NOTE: This rule seems to have changed as of late ... however it is probably best to continue to follow it.
Preferred: "transition" Referring to a sex change operation, or using terms such as pre- or post-operative, inaccurately suggests that one must have surgery in order to truly change one's sex.
Preferred: "intersex person" The word "hermaphrodite" is a stigmatizing and misleading word, usually used to sensationalize intersex people.
Defamatory: stating that transpeople are "deceptive," "fooling," "pretending," "posing," or "masquerading".
Gender identity is an integral part of a person's identity. Please do not characterize transgender people as "deceptive," as "fooling" other people, or as "pretending" to be, "posing" or "masquerading" as a man or a woman. Such descriptions are extremely insulting.
Derogatory: "she-male," "he-she," "it," "trannie," "tranny," "gender-bender" These words only serve to dehumanize transgender people and should not be used at all!
I will be adding more information in the future. I trust this is enough to get us started down the road of being Christlike toward this unique people group.
Denominational Disclaimer The thoughts, ideologies, interpretations, and beliefs expressed on this website are my own.
I believe that what I have written on this website is within the boundaries of the theology and beliefs of my denomination. However, homosexuality is a very complex topic with varied viewpoints. Since this is the case, it should be understood that the views expressed by myself and other Christians on this website and in our blog and / or forums (if we have them) may not necessarily reflect the official position of my / their respective denominations. Additionally, when / if I reference various web resources it should not be assumed to be an endorsement of the entirety of that resource.