The Church and the Transgender Moment: Part 1
In a recent interview, Grammy award winning singer/songwriter Sam Smith revealed he considers himself to be non-binary sexually and has considered a sex change. He stated, “Maybe I’m not a man, maybe I’m not a woman, maybe I’m just me.”
What is your church prepared to do with this?
What Sam is offering is an embodiment of our cultural transgender moment. The church has largely been at arm’s length from transgenderism. Many would assume, or prefer, transgendered ideologies to be outside the purview of the church. A problematic question, however, presents itself: Is transgenderism outside the purview of the Gospel?
This topic can be extremely uncomfortable for many within the church. Discussing definitions and asking difficult questions about transgenderism must come from within the church and be to the glory of God and for the edification of the church. To this end, I intend to offer a short series of articles outlining our transgender moment and how the church can respond with Biblical faithfulness, Gospel compassion and an offering of hope and truth through Jesus Christ. This is part one of the series and hopefully offers a helpful definition of transgenderism.
What is Transgenderism?
The native tongue of gender across religious and cultural boundaries for millennia has been a language of male and female distinction. While this division has adopted various forms and expressions, the idea that there are boys, girls and differences between the two, has been the dominant opinion and observation. However, a new language is presenting itself whose echoes and accents are becoming more prevalent in our common dialogue – unbridled by distinctions deemed “traditional.”
Transgenderism is a term many Christians have heard, but could likely not accurately define. Basically, transgenderism is expressed when one feels one’s biological sex and gender are incongruent. Transgender activist Chaz Bono explains the concept and belief: “There’s a gender in your brain and a gender in your body. For 99 percent of people, those things are in alignment. For transgender people, they’re mismatched. That’s all it is. It’s not complicated, it’s not neurosis. It’s a mix-up. It’s a birth defect, like a cleft palate.”
Historically, one’s sex and gender have been identified at, or before, birth based on one’s chromosomes and anatomy. However, this biological identification of gender, in some cases, can conflict with one’s inner feelings of being male, female, neither or both. This conflict is known as gender dysphoria. Studies suggest that between 1 in 10,000 and 1 in 13,000 males and between 1 in 20,000 and 1 in 34,000 females identify with this condition.
A primary contention of transgender advocates is that gender is in the mind, not the body. Whereas one’s bodily sex may be determined by biology, transgender individuals believe thoughts and feelings determine one’s gender. According to a 2016 statement from the American College of Pediatricians, “No one is born with a gender. Everyone is born with a biological sex. Gender (an awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept, not an objective biological one.”
A second assertion of the transgender community is that gender is fluid. Since individuals may fall anywhere along a continuum in identification with sexual constructs, a gender binary system is considered rigid and restrictive. In her book Gender Trouble, transgender activist Judith Butler concludes, “It is only through the mediation of (a) series of social practices that the body becomes gendered at all: the body…is not a ‘being’, but a signifying practice within a cultural field of gender hierarchy and compulsory heterosexuality.”
Transgender advocates also contend that one’s sex, gender identity and gender expression are each unique in form and function. Since gender expressions are considered merely cultural, one may choose to adopt a gender expression that is either congruent with their biological sex, their perceived gender, neither or both. A person born with male chromosomes and sexual organs may identify as a gendered female, but still choose the gender expression of maleness – adopting culturally male garments, styles, and physical features. Likewise, a person born in a traditionally female body may identify as a gendered female but express herself culturally as a male. In recent times, she may be referred to as a tomboy.
For transgendered individuals who desire congruence between their biological sex and perceived gender, medical procedures are increasingly encouraged to help bridge the gap between gender identity and sex. Traditionally, this has included a four-step treatment process of social transition, puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and gender reassignment surgery.
The transgender movement has moved with shocking velocity in recent years. In less than two decades, transgenderism has progressed from being a perceived mental disorder to a protected community under the banner of civil rights. Transgenderism as a viable, socially acceptable, even celebrated way of life has been one of the most powerful shifts in modern social history.
The Church and Transgenderism
How then should the church respond to our transgender moment? First, the church must understand the moment and its definitions. Second, the church must understand what it believes about human sexuality, why it matters and what the Bible openly discusses in relation to male/female realities.
The church must be willing to ask questions of itself and our transgender neighbors. While not agreeing with the assertions of transgender activists, the church may need to engage channels of dialogue previously unopened. Followers of Christ historically have been surprised at where Jesus’s footsteps have led them – or more accurately, whom they have led them to. Jesus’ disciples often found themselves in the homes of tax collectors, in the company of prostitutes and in conversation with those they considered beneath their attention. Why? Because that’s where Jesus went.
The church must also recognize that there are those within our fellowship who find themselves wrestling with the fact that their feelings and the gender models placed before them do not line up. They are filled with questions and need an outlet for discussion. Where will they go to have this conversation? Our world has already created the dialogue and has answers that lead to a community with open arms. What will they find in the church?
To be clear, the church does not need to embrace the transgender moment – but we may need to consider the way we embrace transgender people. The blood of Christ does not stop at a levy of sexuality. While we need not give our affirmation, we need to be conversant with the issues of our day in order to introduce the Gospel. We must know and speak the truth, but do so in love as those who like everyone else have no hope apart from Jesus Christ.