Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Transgenderism from a Theological Perspective

Transgenderism is widely spread among news stories today and--being a relatively salacious topic--is one of those things which is widely discussed.

But what I find most valuable to discuss, and what I find rarely to be discussed, is this: how should Christians think about transgenderism from a theological/philosophical perspective?

The Christians I have spoken with on the topic give extremely predictable responses:  those who voted for a Democrat in the last election would talk about protecting the rights of the transgender as a social justice role; those who voted for a Republican in the last election would talk about it as unnatural and a further slide down an increasingly-slippery slope.

In other words--at least in my experience, Christians are viewing this issue primarily through their political prisms, rather than through a theological one.

Due to confirmation bias, this is exceptionally easy to fall into--but this doesn't make it right.

So I want to spend today talking about transgenderism from a theological basis.

Starting Place:  The Redemptive Hermeneutic

To begin with, I highly suggest reading my post on "De-Confusing the Bible," as it provides a great aid in viewing the issue.

As discussed in that article, it is valuable to view the following picture to describe the history of humanity from a Christian perspective.

God created the world pure and good, so whenever we want to know the "Paradise" state we look at Gen 1-2.

Due to sin, we had "Paradise Lost" and live in a fallen world (Gen 3).

In the end, Jesus will return and give us "Paradise Regained" (Rev 20-21).

Right now, we live in the period of Redemption--a period that sees the "seed" of redemption in the Old Testament law, redemption which bloomed in the first-fruits of Jesus, and which we as the Church are now spreading throughout the world.

So, this is our starting place.

Where Transgenderism Fits

Gender at the time of Creation

Our starting place always must be -- what is the original state of creation? In that, we see God's plan for our lives.

The original state of creation from a gender standpoint is that gender is a part of Creation:  "So God created mankind in His own image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them."

So this gives us our first data point:  genders are a "good thing"--that is, they are not a result of the Fall. Those who report feeling genderfluid--that their gender changes and then changes back later--cannot be defended on a Scriptural basis.

So we start with one clear statement--God creates us with a particular gender, and that particular gender is a good thing, it is not a part of the Fall, but a part of Creation.

Gender at the time of Restoration

We know therefore that at the Restoration, when Jesus comes back and the Kingdom of God is established, all issues with gender confusion will be defeated.

Hearing this should be a tremendous relief to  those who have lived in a state of paralyzing identity crisis over their gender; there is a gender that God created for each of us, and the identity crisis will not be the case for eternity. When we receive our resurrected bodies, we will all find that we are comfortable in our own skin!

Gender during the Fall

The question becomes--what impact does the Fall have on us? The Fall, by matter of breaking the very nature of reality, can affect gender in three ways that I can think of (no particular order):

  1. Spiritual:  as a result of the Fall, sin and spiritual deadness can make us seek identity in things other than God, which could result in a conscious or subconscious rebellion against the gender roles assigned to us by God;
  2. Physical:  as a result of the Fall, birth defects happen and it is certainly feasible that one might be born with the wrong set of genitalia (or both sets, as in the case of hermaphrodites); and
  3. Psychological:  as a result of the Fall, we are all psychologically broken and the environments (nurture) in which we are raised are also psychologically and spiritually broken, so it is entirely feasible that the manner in which one is raised, and their experiences in life, could cause confusion in gender identity.

Thus, from the Fall we have three potential causes of gender confusion.

Gender during the Redemption Period

All of this leads us to today--what can we, as the Church, do to assist in redeeming the situations to the greatest of our ability?

If we look at the three potential causes, we see that the actions required to bring redemption or healing are radically different.

  1. If the cause of the gender identity confusion is predominantly spiritual in nature, then the only way to "fix" the identity crisis will be a firmer rooting of the individual's identity in Christ. Gender reassignment surgery and/or hormonal efforts will do nothing to ease the identity problem. In this case, they have the appropriate body parts and the appropriate psychological consistency to live a fulfilled and happy life, they simply need spiritual healing in order to move from a state of "fallen" toward a state of "restoration."
  2. If the cause of the gender identity confusion is due to a birth defect, such as being born with the wrong genitalia, then gender sex change operations and/or hormonal therapy will be the only way to heal the issue. This is the only option in that case for moving one from fallen to restoration in this area.
  3. If the cause of the issue is primarily psychological, then sex change operations or spiritual focusing will have little impact unless the underlying psychological issues are dealt with. It has been suggested in the past that this is why post-op transgenders have such a radically high rate of depression and suicide.

The Crux of the Issue

What makes this particular issue so difficult is two-fold:  first, there is (with very rare exceptions) no scientific method of determining the root cause of the gender confusion from among the three options; and second, to perform the wrong action is devastating.

This cannot be overlooked. If the primary cause of gender dysphoria for an individual is spiritual or psychological in nature, then a sex change operation is the last thing they need--it will not solve the problem, and yet will cause massive impact to their lives financially, physically, socially, and emotionally. Post-operation, suicide attempts spike to an astonishing 41%, compared to only 10% pre-operation and only 2% in the general population. That is, roughly half of all people after undergoing sex change operations decide the only next step is to end their lives.

However, if the issue is physical due to a birth defect, then no amount of praying or psychological evaluation is going to fix the concern. They will be forced to live in that scenario for their lives--and you can just imagine what it would be like to live with both sets of genitalia, or to lose yours in an accident; it would be a major impact on your mental health.

Managing Risk

What often happens is that you end up having to manage risk.

Since there is no way to be certain of the root cause, you must choose to manage each of these as "false alarm" (alpha) risks or "false positive" (beta) risks.

Assuming it is Spiritual:
  • Alpha risk:  if we assume it is spiritual and it isn't, then the person lives in a state of identity crisis. Furthermore they may become turned off of Christianity after "praying it away" fails to work.
  • Beta risk:  if we assume it is NOT spiritual and it is, then you will never address the root cause so you still end up living in the state of identity crisis--plus you have spent time and money in either psychological or physical cures which may not be reversible.

Assuming it is Physical:
  • Alpha risk:  if we assume it is physical/biological birth defect and it isn't, then you undergo a massive elective surgery which is physically brutal, and financially and emotionally expensive, and your risk of suicidal-level depression rises 400%.
  • Beta risk:  if we assume it is NOT physical and it is, then you will continue to live in a state of identity crisis/discomfort.
Assuming it is Psychological:
  • Alpha risk:  if we assume it is psychological and it isn't, then you end up wasting time and money in psychological treatments which will likely be ineffective, as well as staying in the same state of identity crisis.
  • Beta risk:  if we assume it is NOT psychological and it is, then you will fail to address the root cause of the issue, maintain the identity crisis, and possibly undergo massive sex change operations as well.

Viewed through this prism, we can provide wise advice to those in our lives who feel this way.

Conclusions to Draw

  1. Surgery is the last possible option. 

    The worst-case risk above is the alpha error of assuming it is physical/biological, if it turns out to be spiritual or psychological. As such, discussion of a sex change operation should be either (a) not even considered or (b) an absolutely desperate last-case scenario only after all other attempts have failed. In no other situation would we allow such a risky surgery for something that cannot be proved; this would be akin to addressing ADD with a partial lobotomy: it is an extremely high-risk surgery for something that we cannot be certain fixes the issue. Permanent solutions to uncertain problems are never a wise approach, so before we start encouraging people on such a path we must be absolutely certain that there is no other option.
  2. We must all begin by admitting that there is no blanket answer.It is not okay for the conservative Christian to simply assume that all transgender people simply "need Jesus or a shrink", nor for all liberal Christians to simply assume that they need sex change operations. Both are SERIOUS errors.

    We are called, above all else to LOVE one another. That means giving wise advice. Which means understanding their individual scenario. Which means--in a case like this, where there is no scientific way to know precisely what the root cause is--that we should not jump to conclusions.

    However, it also means that we cannot simply "trust their feelings," for if the problem is either spiritual or psychological, then their feelings are in fact broken as well!

  3. The goal is to lovingly restore each individual person.

    Love must be our overriding issue. And love wants what is best for a person--no matter if that is uncomfortable for me, or uncomfortable for them.

    There is nothing loving about enabling someone with psychological problems to lop off body parts. There is ALSO nothing loving about going up to someone with a physical birth defect and denying them surgery because you don't believe that it really is an issue.

    Loving is hard, because it requires us to ask questions we wouldn't normally ask, and see things from their perspectives.
  4. We all must break out of our politics and see them as people.

    We all have too much tendency to think of this issue politically. What is written above is--I believe--simply clear logic and falls out naturally from what we know about the issue and the Bible.

    However, many of you will disagree with portions above. The reason isn't Biblical, or scientific. The reason is emotional--because you want to defend your particular position, because it via confirmation bias, confirms your existing beliefs about your party and the other party.

    We don't like to see ourselves this way, but it's true. Democrats are using the transgender community to further one agenda; conservatives, to further a different agenda. Christians who view the issue through those prisms will simply be puppets to the same.

    Loving a person means wanting to see them moved from broken to restoration. Gender dysphoria must be devastating to a person, and they deserve every bit of compassion and love we have. But also, that doesn't mean teaching them that gender reassignment is the right approach--necessarily. It depends on the individual situation.
  5. Which leaves me with my final, and most key point:  Do not make statements about generalities, only speak about individuals whom YOU KNOW.

    If you go around saying, "Sex change operations help so many people," or saying, "Trans people are just spiritually lost," I am going to ask a simple question.

    "Tell me of one of your close friends who has been through this. Tell me their story. How long have you known them? When did you first begin discussing it? What was trialed before you reached your conclusion?"

    If the answer is--as it usually is--that you actually don't know anyone in this scenario, then may I respectfully ask that you (and I!) keep our mouths shut here?

    As we've shown above, the situation of moving fallen people from gender confusion to gender restoration differs greatly by situation, and therefore we cannot make blanket statements.

    We are neither loving people nor helping them in their times of crisis, by making generic statements or assumptions which can then be repeated to everyone else who might be in different situations.

    Rather, in discussing the issue, we should all admit that there are three potential causes; that it is impossible to prove which is the case; it is impossible to even make an educated guess unless we are extremely close friends with the person; that some actions are extremely dangerous if wrong; and that we need to treat each one on a case-by-case basis with the primary goal being to restore them to the way God made them.

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