Making the Case, Part 5
In the U.S. (at least) a majority of the objections that people raise against trans people can be traced back to religious tradition. Even when the specific claim – such as men and women ought to pee in separate spaces – isn’t actually drawn from any Scripture, it’s still part & parcel of what they think of as “traditional morals” which they associate with religion. Someone who’s not well familiar with the Bible might be intimidated by such a discussion because the folks who choose this line of attack are often skilled at what’s called “proof texting” which is the practice of citing a simple verse in isolation of surrounding context in order to make a point that the passage as a whole doesn’t support. However, there are some things worth knowing even before we address any specific passage.
Before I begin, though, let me note quickly who you might be speaking to. If you encounter a Traditionalist Christian who’s anti-trans, you are most likely speaking to one of the following-
A Catholic – the hardest to sway, IMO, because they are the most rigid about deferring to the Church’s official doctrine as proclaimed by the Pope. They are indoctrinated into the thought pattern that the official doctrines of the church CAN’T be wrong;
An Evangelical – subject to constant manipulation by politically motivated leadership, but generally not well versed enough in textual criticism to hold their own when their claim is questioned;
A Fundamentalist – more rigid and legalistic than an Evangelical, but often even less well informed, usually a product of an “isolationist” theology that consider any outside source suspect;
A Charismatic – often partnered with Evangelicals or even lumped in with them in secular descriptions, the key is that they have sharp distinctions on several theological points which can work to your advantage in debate;
Mormons – while committed to the teachings of the church, they seem more willing to let loving-kindness trump doctrine.
Knowing this will help you be ready to adjust your points in response to the different sort of resistance you may encounter.
Also, a brief disclaimer – I know that many of you are not believers in any sort of higher power. Please understand that the context of my pos, and the next, is not to impress upon you that the Christian religion is valid – or false – but to discuss how to change the minds of such people. I promise you, going after them with snark about “Your Invisible Sky Daddy” will NEVER change anything. They are conditioned to EXPECT hostility for their beliefs, so when you meet them with hostility you are inadvertently further entrenching them in their views, which is not your goal. Or ought not to be. They won’t listen to anything else you ever say.
The first thing to consider is church history. Now, one cannot expect the average person who doesn’t have a religious bent to wade into such a vast and complex topic, but there’s no need to have a degree in the subject. Here’s the two big takeaways. One: the church, whether the capital “C” Roman Catholic Church, or any individual denomination one might name, has been wrong before. Many many times. Pointing this out automatically calls into question one of the majors supports for their prejudice, which is the idea that the religious authorities represent a faithful interpretation of Scripture. This can be tailored to the person you’re speaking with. If it’s a female, then point out all the times that “everybody knew” some point of church doctrine that was oppressive to women (like not being able to vote, or hold office, or own property – or even being silent in church, husbands being allowed to strike their wives, and such). If they are black, it’s easy to point to widespread religious support for segregation and before that slavery.
Two: the church is often guilty of assimilating a cultural tradition into their theological claims. Here, too, segregation is a wonderful example. There’s no actual theology supporting racial segregation, modern ministers (outside the white supremacist community) will acknowledge readily that the Bible says nothing about race. But because humans had a traditional tendency to look down on the “other” the widespread custom was absorbed into the widespread religion. It took the application of government force to pry the two apart again.
It can be, for some, a lot harder to argue from supreme confidence that the views they’ve been indoctrinated in are correct once it’s on the table that the church has, at various times, fought vociferously for segregation and slavery, against women’s suffrage as well as many other liberties for women, for state sponsored religion, the divine right of kings, and execution of “heretics,” been guilty of wars of conquest in the name of religion, been the font of viscous anti-Semitism, and spent hundreds of years fighting against the idea that the sun didn’t revolve around the earth. To name just a few.
Another major angle is denominationalism. Anyone who attempts to argue their Christian beliefs are absolutely true is logically obliged to account for the fella down the road with contradictory Christian beliefs that he holds to be absolutely true. Take for example, Deuteronomy 22:5 which I’ll have more about next week. This infamous verse says that a man shall not wear that which pertains to a woman, or a woman that which pertains to a man, and that to do so is an “abomination to God.” This is no doubt familiar to you and the most often cited (supposedly) anti-trans verse in the Bible. But it works here in a slightly different context. You see, there are millions of Charismatics that argue this verse forbids women to wear pants (along with other verses which prevent them from wearing make-up or jewelry or cutting their hair) which puts them in theological opposition to Evangelicals who disagree. Thus the question needs to be asked, if these millions of Christians disagree with those millions of Christians about what the verse means, then how can either one of them be confident that there’s only one accurate interpretation? There are theological difference among Christians on some of the most fundamental doctrines of the faith – so by what logic would we conclude that the God who lwft them foggy on the nature of salvation itself, was nevertheless careful to explain in indisputable fashion what sort of clothing you are allowed to wear? If the church can divide on core doctrine, it’s hardly in a position to demand compliance with fringy rules.
The third leg of the stool is the term “exegesis” and it’s semantical opposite “eisegesis.” These are Bible college words that many Christians have heard their pastor mention, but fewer have heard him explain and fewer still have considered how they apply to the doctrines they have been taught. But they are simple concepts to grasp. Exegesis is, simply put, reading the text as it’s meant to be read. The term means “to draw out of” and in this context means that in order to draw out of a passage a legitimate interpretation you have to consider several contextual factors including when and where it was written, to whom, the surrounding writing which gives it immediate context and the situation being addressed. By contrast, eisegesis means “to pour into” and refers to the faulty idea of reading into a verse or passage that which you want or expect it to say. This error is the basis for much of the disagreement between Christian groups, with each accusing the other side of making the error of manipulating the Scripture to support what they want it to say. It certainly is a danger, for even the most well intentioned student of the Bible. The point, for the purpose of discussing trans related issues, is that your opponent be cautioned to see whether eisegesis supports their beliefs. I’ll illustrate how this plays out in my next entry.
Photo by: Susan Prince