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Transgenderism: A Theological Perspective

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Imagine, instantaneously, feeling alienated from those closest to you—your family, your closest friends, and your other immediate social circles. All of a sudden, all that is familiar to you is completely distant. The chemistry you shared with your family and friends has evaporated. Your residence and your community are now places totally foreign. You perceive, at best, you are considered a nuisance by those around you; at worst, an outcast.

Now, imagine the aforementioned feelings of alienation, discomfort, and maybe even disdain thrust upon you because you do not feel at home in your own skin—your own body. You have all the physical marks of one sex, but your heart is pulled towards being the other sex and you cannot escape these yearnings. They have been with you for a very long time, maybe even as early as your days in elementary school.

For most in the Church, transgenderism is an aspect of life that is hard to understand and relate to. Most cannot fathom the dichotomy existing in one person  being one sex and desiring to be another. Around 700,000 people in the United States, however, feel this “tug of war” every day according to UCLA’s The Williams Center. Compared to the rest of the population, transgender persons are a very small percentage. But from California to Maryland, states have already begun implementing policies affecting this group of the national community. For this reason and others, Time magazine has called transgenderism the next civil rights battle in a recent article.

Based upon interviews chronicled in the article, transgendered persons describe life before they embraced the sex opposite their natal sex in this manner: Susan Stryker, “There was a sense of who I was to myself that did not match who I was to other people, and for me that felt profoundly lonely.” She continued, “It felt like being locked in a dark room with my eyes and ears cut off and my tongue cut out and not being able to connect my own inner experience with my outer world.”  Seventeen year-old Ashton Lee felt the inner battle most when, as an elementary student, she and her classmates were asked to line up by sex. She said, “I would always struggle on which line to choose, because I didn’t feel like a girl, but I didn’t look like the other boys.” The same sense of feeling adrift in one’s own body is corroborated by other transgender persons who have shared their stories in other places.

It is quite easy for Christians and others to dismiss these feelings as illusionary or freakish. While some might express a postmodern sentiment and call for acceptance in one degree or another. Others might pronounce an outright, loveless condemnation to hell. All of these responses are wrong. To respond correctly, we must think biblically; and to think biblically, we must know how certain biblical truths relate to transgenderism and the helpful implications of these truths. The issue is not dealt with directly in Scripture, but creation of the sexes and matters of the heart are discussed exhaustively. These two topics are extremely helpful in understanding theologically the heart-breaking plight of transgendered persons.

Theology can be viewed from two perspectives. One is from the perspective of being tribal; the other from the perspective of being helpful. Theology can be used as a pedestal by a certain group to elevate itself and therefore consider itself superior to all others for it has the “true” interpretation on all biblical matters.  Those with this tribal perspective on theology can also use it as a weapon condemning those who do not adhere to their theological structure. In contrast, is the perspective of seeing theology as helpful. It educates mankind about who he really is and who God truly is. We are all born with a significant, soul-destroying deficiency about the true state of the human heart and the gloriousness God possesses. Theology is merely categorized truth about God and man. And Jesus declares the massive impact of truth in John 8:32, “ … the truth will set you free.” Jesus did not speak these words to transgendered persons only. Transgender individuals do need to be set free, but he spoke them to all of mankind. So the truths detailed below relate to all. They are intended to provide insight as to how to understand the confusion and struggles experienced by transgendered persons, and to share with them who we really are and who we desperately need.

Genesis 1-3 introduces us to the realities that are pertinent to transgenderism— the belief it is possible for a person to be born with one anatomical sex while having a yearning to be the opposite of the natal sex. Hence, the transgendered person strives to live out their yearnings and becomes a type of person not seen in the Creation story. Genesis 1:27 reads, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God created two distinct types of persons, the man and the woman.

Then, in verse 31, Moses, the author of Genesis, provides insight into God’s thoughts about the design of mankind and his creation in general when he writes, “God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good.” The phrase, “very good,” must be interpreted within the historical context. God’s sentiment about his creation was pre-Fall. There was no sin or imperfections caused by sin in the universe at the time. All was perfect.

So the meaning of “very good” would not be defined in the same way as it would be if it were used in reference to a student receiving a B+ for a class. In this example, “very good” is quite complimentary, but would mean something less than perfect. The use of the phrase in the verse, however, means something more than perfect. It is a reality plus a reaction. God created the male and female species perfectly then observed his creation and saw that it was “very good.” It was an attractive perfection, a quite pleasing perfection. There was no confusion in the man’s and the woman’s minds about who they were or what their roles were. God tells them in verse 28, “Be fruitful and multiply ….” Adam and Eve had specific roles in this command to “be fruitful,” i.e., have children. God would not have given this command if he had not first given them clear minds about who they were as a man and woman. Their thinking matched their sex.

Another truth in verse 27 supports the claim that Adam and Eve possessed clear thinking. The verse states they were created in God’s image. They were not exactly like God, but they mirrored his being in limited form. For example, mankind is capable of being creative, but cannot be creative with nothing like God can. Man uses existing realities to express his creativity. In regards to clear thinking about one’s self and one’s needs, they imaged, on a human level, God’s clear thinking. 1 Corinthians 14:29a teaches God possesses clear thinking. The verse reads, “God is not a God of confusion.” If he is not a God of confusion, then he cannot think in a confusing manner. Therefore, this is part of God’s image that was received by Adam and Eve. Confusion came when sin entered the heart of man. It would be a cruel joke if God created a person with one set of sexual physicalities and a mind bent towards the sexual physicalities of the opposite.

So what helps us understand the confusion and the unnatural desires experienced by transgendered persons?  Moreover, what helps mankind understand the general confusion and unnatural desires experienced by all? At this point, it is quite helpful to expand the discussion to include the nature of all mankind after the Fall for all of us possess the same rotten core that causes confusion and unnatural desires. (To clarify, unnatural desires are those desires that are foreign and are in opposition to the ones God gave us through our Parents before the Fall. The desires can be expressed philosophically, physically, relationally, sexually, etc.) The doctrines of God, man, and sin give us understanding into these areas.

The doctrines of God and man have already been introduced partially when I spoke of the Genesis 1 account of the creation of mankind. The next point to consider is man was created in God’s image morally. God’s reference point for morality is himself. “All his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deut. 32:4).  Justice conveys the reality of the unity of God’s actions with his character and this unity cannot be called into question regarding motive, purpose, or action. A question or an accusation cannot be raised against God because he is not tainted, even in the slightest bit, with iniquity or evil (Jms. 1:13).

The point is made emphatically by the prophet when he records God saying, “I the LORD speak the truth, I declare what is right,” (Is. 45:19). The God of heaven and earth speaks not in terms of ambiguity or confusion or contradictoriness. He always speaks truthfully and rightly because all of his communication is based upon his character, which is just and right. Bible scholars term these characteristics as God’s righteousness. The God of the Bible is righteous. Therefore, he acts righteously. Wayne Grudem sums it up in this manner, “God always acts in accordance with what is right and is Himself the final standard of what is right.”

The implication of God’s attribute of righteousness is that when he made us in his image he created us to act rightly according to his “final standard.” God’s final standard is in complete agreement with his design of us as humans. Mankind was created perfectly to enjoy the full range of our male and female qualities in a moral or life-preserving fashion. The qualities were not created deficiently or confusingly. They were created perfectly.

The doctrine of sin informs us as to where the confusion and unnatural desires sprang from. Genesis 3 gives us an initial look at what sin is and hints at its core. Verse six states, “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate [against God’s command not to], and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command. Disobedience to God is a sin, but in the serpent’s tempting statement he hints at the sin fueling the sin of disobedience. The serpent said, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Satan tempted Adam and Eve with pride and he appealed to their lack of equality with God. He said they lacked knowing both good and evil and therefore, were not on the same plane with God. In essence, Satan says, “God made you deficient in knowledge. He is keeping it from you because he does not want you to be like him. Eating this fruit will complete you. You will truly be living if you eat this fruit because you will have the knowledge you currently possess plus the knowledge God possesses.” Satan made them feel inferior. He created a “need” and then provided a “remedy” to the need that was outside of God’s will.

Satan and our flesh work in concert tempting us to find satisfaction to our needs in places outside of God. The greedy man seeks contentment outside of God by striving to gain and hoard money. The insecure wife may seek security from her husband and others by serving them endlessly in order to feel a sense of value and worth. The transgender seeks peace of mind by capitulating to his or her desire to be the opposite sex.

Our sins are motivated by pride leading us to believe we can live lives apart from God and find solutions to life’s dilemmas and “provide” our own satisfaction. It is also the core sin breeding all others. We are tempted to live and act as gods of our own lives and are greatly deceived in this pursuit. Sin has caused a deceitfulness that consumes the hearts of mankind. Jeremiah provides great insight, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9).

This is why we must look at God’s truth to understand how we were created to operate. We are constantly being lied to by our own hearts into believing that what is God-honoring and satisfying is not. Moreover, the prophet says it is impossible to have complete knowledge of how deep the deception runs or how frequently it occurs. Granted, deceitfulness is significantly conquered in one who has believed in Christ as Savior, but it can still tempt and cause one to sin.

Some examples of the deceiving heart: The lustful man who marries the gorgeous woman is deceived into believing he has found the most beautiful woman and now he will be satisfied. The satisfaction, however, runs out and in a short time, he is cheating on his wife. The single, Christian woman is deceived into thinking her satisfaction will be quenched when she marries. Yet, she finds the bitterness against God still clings to her after she says, “I do.” The transgender is deceived into thinking God or nature made a mistake when he or she was born with a natal sex impossible to identify with. Yet, after the surgery or a time of hormonal supplements, the sense of being adrift in one’s own body remains.

Finally, sin is about feeling in control. To man, feeling in control provides comfort because one knows exactly what is happening and what needs to happen next. Control arms a person with power one is wishing to wrest from another. Satan slyly tempted Adam and Eve with control when he mentioned they would have the knowledge of both good and evil if they ate the fruit. He tempted them to think something was amiss because God had not fully given them control of all possible knowledge. They fell for the lie and found out “control” of knowledge was only an illusion.

In our day, the controlling person tires him or herself endlessly in many ways. The fitness fanatic selfishly seeks control over the body in order stave off the effects of age as long as possible only to die at an early age because of a heart attack. The overbearing parents seek to control their children’s behavior in hopes of producing trophy children whom they can brag about only to see them become criminals or sloths. The transgender seeks control over a body given to him or her by God only to be left wanting more because the control did not satisfy.

Interestingly enough, the more we seek control the more we begin, in time, to understand how little we control. Adam and Eve sought control and became uncontrollable sinners. They found out instantly how they possessed no control over their hearts. The alignment of our hearts with God’s was lost on that fateful day. The unregenerate heart is the fountain of man’s evil as Jesus stated in Mark, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness,” (7:18-22). And Paul summed up the inability of man to change his heart when he wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works …” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Our external actions cannot save us from our unregenerate hearts. To be clear, transgenderism does not send one to hell no more than non-transgenderism gets one into heaven. It is an unregenerate heart refusing to believe in Christ that causes the punishment of hell to remain as the person’s eternal end (Jn. 3:18).

This is the satisfaction all of mankind is seeking—an escape from the joy-killing, unregenerate heart. The escape is not found in a spouse, a position of control, a child, acts of service, affluence, or a “new” body. Ephesians 2:9 brings us full circle. “We are his workmanship.” He created us; we have rebelled against his design for us. God loved us still and in an amazing manner. “He gave his only Son that whoever would believe in him would not [experience eternal punishment], but have eternal life,” (Jn. 3:16). He sent “his Son that the world might be saved through him,” (3:17).

We can be saved from our sinful selves. We can find the satisfaction we desperately seek. Our satisfaction lies in Jesus Christ alone. He is the hope we all long for, transgender and non-transgender alike.

Tim Scheiderer
Tim Scheiderer is a former journalist and recent Southern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate living in the Washington, DC area.

religious liberty

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