The Doctrine of Trans
Let me offer a disclaimer at the very beginning of this column: if you are a hard-core skeptic when it comes to the subject of religion, this is probably not the best reading material for you. I do not presume to entertain the question here of whether or not any given religious view is correct. Rather I want to take this time to speak to those who do believe, particularly within the context of Protestant evangelical religion, and speak to them within the context of the faith which they hold to be true. If that’s not you, I apologize but I probably don’t have anything for you this time.
In the wake of the vote by the Southern Baptist Convention (which is the denomination in which I spent most of my life) this month in which they took the time to express their formal disapproval of transgender people and medical or civil actions which support that which they consider to be “delusion” or “mental illness,” I have been involved in not a few conversations with traditionalist Christians who approve of that action. As always in that sort of conversation, my foundational argument is that you should first make an effort to prove that the thing that you are condemning is, in fact, sinful before you can call on the church and Christians to disapprove of it. Most of those I interact with don’t even try, but those who do resort to a very limited set of references which each have simple and specific rebuttals. If you are feeling the mental and emotional pressure that comes from having your fellow believers reject you and struggle with whether or not they are right and you’re wrong, then this is for you. I’m going to take them in order and gives you the answer which debunks each one as a weapon against trans people.
Various verses from this chapter might be cited but they all refer in some way to the original created binary order of male and female sexes and gender roles. The argument is that since transition (or cross gender behavior) violates God’s intended order and is therefore sinful. This has two parallel faults, both of which reflect the fact that those who cite this verse are not consistently apply their “reasoning” to other aspects of human life and activity. First, if you’re making the argument is many of us do that being trans is a biological condition present from birth, then you force them to explain why other birth conditions which deviate from the creation story (which would be pretty much all of them) are not subject to the same condemnation. However, many of them will immediately dismiss the claim that this is a biological condition from birth but that still does not get them out of the box. The reason for this is essentially the same reasoning, logically, as in the above case: that while they condemn this “behavior” they do not apply the same logic to other areas of human behavior, the most obvious example of which I will save for another passage coming up soon.
A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.
You might also get a citation here from some other book of the Torah, but any citation here is going to be in reference to cross-dressing. The problem here is should be obvious: inconsistent application. The places were such a verse appears always have within the same chapter another verse which they have no such passion for enforcing, including versus about clothing. In the most often quoted passage in Leviticus, in the same chapter it speaks of stoning women who were not found to be virgins when they married. Oddly, I’ve yet to find a modern Christian who is enthusiastic about enforcing that one.
Moreover, this introduces the problem of variant interpretations. One of the best arguments against being overbearing in your application of your particular theological interpretation is the reality that not even all Christians agree on practically any important theological subject (and on the scale of theological subjects this one is certainly not that important). Of course it’s obvious that if various denominations can agree on the major points of doctrine, there should be room for disagreement on the minor points. How does that apply here? Simple. In many charismatic denominations, they cite this verse as support for the concept of barring their female membership from wearing pants at all. Any Christian who does not believe that that is a valid interpretation, and yet respects the right to disagree therefore obliges himself to respect your right to disagree about the legitimacy of applying this verse to you. One overriding point in these sorts of conversations is that the person you are discussing with need not be convinced that their view is wrong, merely that others may read the same passage and draw a different conclusion and that the modern Christian tradition is to respect each other’s right to disagree on doctrinal questions. One of the wisest acts of the Founding Fathers was to recognize that there was a difference between being a moral people and enforcing by force of law any sectarian doctrine upon those who held a different doctrine. That is a principle which in most realms of doctrine even the most ardent evangelical implicitly understand what seem to forget when it comes to LGB /T people. If you find yourself in one of these discussions remember that you don’t have to change their doctrine so long as you are willing to respect the principle.
I’ll touch on the New Testament references next week including explaining what I mean above regarding the other “obvious example”.
Photo by: Adam Dimmick