Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thoughtful Discussion

Some of you know that in the warmer months, I like to walk kin the late evenings in a (futile) effort to budge the scales. There's a lot of time for peaceful reflection on the quiet streets in the night air. As the evenings get cooler, the walks have to get earlier and the walks are not always moments of solitude.

One day last week I was walking at the track here in town when a minister acquaintance of mine (I'll decline to give any more personal details than possible because I don't want to be careless about revealing the identity of those who speak with me on such a post without their knowledge) was there watching the kids play ball. As the game was wrapping up, he caught up with me and asked nicely if I had a few minutes to talk, and I was happy to oblige as well as curious to see how he would approach the subject I knew was coming. As a matter of personal ethic, I'll have a respectful conversation on this subject with anyone, even if I know they strongly disapprove. For the sake of this post, I'll use the name "John" with the full understanding on your part that this is NOT his actual name.

Bro. John was, of course, wondering how it is that a formerly upstanding Baptist Minister and BMC alum could have descended to such a wretched depth of depravity, though he is far too civil to have even thought of the situation in those terms, let alone speak the words. The main reason I want to share some high points of the conversation with you is because the one thing I didn't see coming (and should have) is just how little this otherwise well informed man knew of the world people like me live in, let alone understand. I'm certain he's better informed tonight than he was a week ago, but in some sense so am I.

I don't think I can do justice to a blow-by-blow account of the conversation from memory, so PLEASE do not take this as directly quoting the man's words. Also, he was pressed for time so the exchange was somewhat disjointed and rushed and even though we were there for an hour, we were both struggling to pour as much real content into our remarks as possible so often thoughts were left unfinished (which is another motivation for finishing them here).

Rather than disturb the narrative, let me say up front that over the course of the conversation he would at times ask things just to clarify background: Are you still married? what does your wife think? kids? how old? what do they think? What happened to you to make you do this? Are you still a believer? and many others. Anything I told him that I've already told you I'll leave out of this discussion.

To me, the key parts of the conversation were three in number, and I'll take them separately here.

First, the matter of whether or not what I'm doing is sin or not, am I in or out of the will of God for my life, and how does one with my background arrive at the conclusion that this is permissible. I'll admit the obvious up front, this is not the sort of thing that you are often going to convince a conservative Christian that they are wrong about. We talked about the whole business of "God made you this way" and he was open enough to agree (in fact, he used the phrase before I did) that we "live in a fallen world" so right away we open up, for later, the discussion of what it means if this is a birth defect. We talked about, and agreed, that we are a New Covenant people and not bound by the Levitical law.

For those of you who are a step behind on this one, Deuteronomy 22:5 says "A woman shall not wear that which pertains to a man, nor a man wear that which pertains to a woman. it is an abomination before God." The thing is, though, that those who pull this out and throw it at transsexuals as a weapon don't read the whole book. There are a great many things in Deuteronomy that they do not do (I'll wager none of them have tassels on their cloak per v. 12 of the same chapter, and more to the point - if their wife throws on one of his sweatshirts to work in the garden, he doesn't make her take it off lest she be an abomination.

Or, more frankly, I assume none of them have stoned any women for not being virgins when they got married as is explicitly instructed, also in Chapter 22.

But, back on subject, Bro. John and I were in agreement there, but he felt that I was still willfully sinning based on New Testament passages. Now, this post is going to be long enough without me detailing each of those potential passages in dispute (for another day, perhaps?) and we didn't have the time to go into that level of detail the other night. But the point that I tried to make with him is that, given that both of us were educated by the same man, I knew that he was a student of exegesis and was fully aware of the need to read a passage in the context of the author and audience he was addressing. I ask him respectfully if he, or any evangelical minister he knew, counseled his wife and the other women of his congregation to "keep silent in the church" and ask their husband at home if they had a question.

We both knew that they do not (and for good reason!). The reason for asking that is that it is a classic illustration of how Paul's teachings were often specific to the cultural audience which was his primary audience. He countered by pointing out that Paul made several lists of offenses which would keep a person out of heaven (including adultery, drunkenness, and lying along with "the effeminate") and my reply here was two-fold. First, one still has to understand the context in which those items which many believe to refer to homosexuality (and by extension, in their mind, transsexuals) were intended, both in the sense that these were VERY often (quite possibly always) acts which were associated with pagan worship, and in the sense that this was a culture in which women were second class citizens.

In the exact same way that Paul instructed those people to be sensitive to the culture in that they, in essence, kept their women under control so he would instruct them to avoid the appearance of homosexuality. Not because women were in fact not equal but because of the culture they lived in was steeped in that worldview - in the same way that a Christian woman in Afghanistan would still be wise to wear a Burkha if she didn't want to be stoned. And in the same way that culture specific instructions concerning women are understood to not be binding in the 21st century, so ought we to read the whole New Testament. Just because the first century culture was no more open to homosexuality outside the context of temple worship than they were to equal rights for women does not mean that the 21st century should cling to either blind spot.

Secondarily to that, I pointed out to him that Christians do not go out of their way to condemn a lot of other things that the NT is much more clear on. I've told you before how I asked one judgmental Christian woman who pronounced me fit for hell how many times she'd called up any of her divorced friends in the church and delivered a similar condemnation of them. I contend that it does not honor God for vocal Christians to pick and chose which sins are bad enough to warrant their active judgment on folks. It smacks of the conclusion that many modern Christians have acclimated themselves to the "sin" of divorce and take only a passing interest in condemning it (the half who have not themselves participated in one) while people like me are still "freakish" enough to be an easy target.

Here, Bro. John conceded me the latter point but seemed unconvinced on the former. Hopefully he'll look at those passages with a fresh eye at some point in the future. also, on this point, I argued that how we understand such instructions have to be seen in the context of God's overall clear message of grace. if there is any rational possibility that this thing is a birth defect (and I challenge anyone to find any other causational factor in my life that accounts for my condition) then to suggest that God judges one a sinner for this is akin to saying he would judge someone for being fat because they have a natural predilection to gain weight (the sin of gluttony aside). More on this in a bit.

The second major area of discussion was the place where I'm forced to admit he made his best point. John pointed out to me that Paul said "if my eating meat causes my brother to stumble, I'll eat no meat forever." In essence, Paul taught denial of the self in the interest of the spiritual health of another. Now, the easy counter argument to that is that Christ himself said he came to set us free, and free indeed. but that's not the only place that Paul cautioned that, while we are indeed at liberty, we ought not let our liberty lead us into error.

I confess that for a couple of seconds, I thought he had me. But then it occurred to me that very few Christians actually practice this. If any. Let me illustrate.

Consider, let us assume that you have a young girl who was raised in a strict Holiness Pentecostal tradition and was led to believe that wearing pants was flat-out sin for a female. Let us further note that this girl goes out into the world and sees hundreds of women every day practicing the thing she has been taught is sinful. Does this make those women guilty of creating a stumbling block for our young holiness girl? If she falls into sin because of their actions do they bear guilt before God for it? Should all yall Baptist and Methodist (and so forth) women rush out and burn your pants so as to protect the tender sensibilities of those who believe a different doctrine than you do?

Of course not. to all questions. The simple reality here is that our young lady is not a victim of the women who wear pants, she's a victim of the false teaching (at least, insofar as most Christians see it) that she shouldn't be wearing pants. Now, I ask you, if Bro. John's wife and daughter and mother are not obliged to get their skirts on in order to respect a teaching they believe to be false, lest someone who does believe that teaching is offended or stumbles - then how am I bound to put my skirt away on that logic? I don't think I convinced him (because, of course, he's convinced that that which he believes is not a false teaching, as do we all, but that misses the point) but I'm pretty sure I made a point that was hard to answer.

The third major area of discussion is what fascinates me the most. I redirected the conversation back to the "fallen world" concept and my opinion that transsexualism (and likely homosexuality) is a form of birth defect (for those of you who object to the word "defect" you may think of it as having a harmless birthmark or any other inborn trait that is not necessarily a flaw).

In order to lay a foundation for my reasoning, I brought up the reality of intersex conditions. To my considerable shock, he'd never heard of such a thing. I described the condition of having both sorts of genitals (what was once called "hermaphrodite"), of having a disparity between the primary and secondary sexual characteristics, of having XYY chromosomes or other aberrational genetic configurations, of testosterone resistance (wherein a genetic male develops along female lines) - all of it was completely foreign to him.

It made me wonder how many other sincere Christians are just as under-informed.

As the case may be, I had to ask him to take for the sake of argument that these things are real (with advice to go home and look up the term "intersex") then I posed this question:

If it is possible for abnormalities in the womb - likely hormonal issues but for this point WHAT sort of abnormalities isn't important - can produce an infant with physical sexual/gender traits which do not fit into the presumptive gender binary, how is it then impossible that one's brain - which is also a physical organ just as much as one's genitals are - cannot also be likewise affected?

To his credit, he didn't weasel on that point. A lesser man would have ignored his lack of information and pressed on.

But the point is one that needs an answer. For all the efforts made by Social Conservative researchers to identify one or more common characteristics of the experience of LGBT people which might account for their "behavior", they've repeatedly failed to do so. There is no common factor that appears across the spectrum, and very often (as with me) none of the postulated precursors occur.

That brings us back to the question - if it is possible for every other organ of the body to be disordered from birth, why is it not possible for the brain? Heck, we already know that that is possible because there exist conditions like Autism. so more specifically, if it is possible for every other gender-related characteristic and function of the body to be disordered - specifically disordered towards the opposite of the presumed gender - then why not the brain?

And if there is no good scientific answer to that, then the question becomes - if it is POSSIBLE that transsexualism results from a disorder of the brain present at birth, then by what logic can we say that God condemns that condition or the treatment of it? By what logic do we argue that one who suffers tremendous mental anguish, leading very very often to depression and not uncommonly to suicide, should be "lived with" when there is a medical solution to the suffering? What other medical condition with a treatment do we counsel people to "put up with" rather than avail themselves of a cure because to do so is "sin"?

If it is even POSSIBLE that this is a "birth defect" do we honor God by flatly refusing to consider that possibility and pointing the gnarly finger of judgment at the afflicted?

The problem here is that the well-meaning believer is reasoning backwards. They have been told, and they believe - because (a) they are conditioned to believe what their pastor and teacher tells them; and (b) because it's comfortably consistent with their cultural worldview - that transsexualism (and homosexuality) is a sin, therefore they HAVE to look at the conditions around them and somehow justify what they have already chosen to believe.

(I speak from experience because this is EXACTLY what I did myself for 20 years)

If the predetermined worldview is true, then these things CAN'T be a birth defect because they know that the god they believe in would never condemn one for a condition they were born with. so they close their mind to that possibility without ever considering it. I understand that temptation, it's a very easy trap to fall into.

However, it still leads to error. I submit to you that if you turn the question on it's head and look at the facts first, without pouring them through a moral filter, then you can see how the world IS and then go back and look and see how your faith tells you to deal with what IS rather than what you WANT it to be. IF these things are inborn (and they are) and IF God is a God of love and grace and mercy (and he is) then the obvious conclusion is that what you have been taught about these conditions does not, in fact, reflect God's opinion on the subject.

Think for yourselves, people! Even my friend the minister agreed with me that far too often a Christian's answer, when ask a hard question, is "let me ask my pastor." Folks your pastor is not your brain, nor is he your intermediary to the mind of God.

If it is POSSIBLE, let alone factual (and it is) that this is an inborn condition, then when you rail against it you condemn people God has not condemned. Is this not as potentially grave a sin as how and when and with whom you have sex? Is that a chance you are so willing to cavalierly take?

Doesn't that make YOU the stumbling block instead of the "freak" you wish to condemn?


  1. I enjoy your writing, because your arguments make sense and built logically. I say this because I usually don't even get into or read religious conversations about "sins".
    I found it is very tiring to try back and forth to find out God's will in all of this, and to differ it from what-people-think-Gods-will-is.
    Then again, I'm a very very open minded Christian and I can't really think in those spheres. I never tried to define scientifically what the bible says about me being trans. I believe that God is love. Otherwise this won't work for me. And this is all I need to know. I feel in my heart that God is okay with me that way, because he made me this way. I don't need proof from the bible if being trans is a sin or not. I just don't go there.
    But I understand that with your background you'll be very interested to explain your point to others that are as well very religous by going through the bible. Nothing wrong with that. At all.

    I liked most about your text, that John actually took his time to talk to you about it. He could have turned around when he saw you. There seems to be someone who is willing to learn about things he can't explain. And this is a good sign.

  2. Well...Paul's remarks were about eating meat dedicated to idols in 1Cor8. It's a significantly different thing.

    The concern is that a believe will see Paul eating his idol-meat and assume worshiping idols is okay...because they can't know Paul's mind and the fact it's okay for him because he doesn't even believe an idol is anything real. Nothing is taken from God.

    How does a trans-person equate? I have never heard of, not could I believe someone...say my husband for example...would see you presenting female and suddenly decide wearing dresses is great. How would seeing you cause someone to stumble in the same way Paul's dinner might?

    I suppose in the sense it seems to make supposedly good Christian folk turn into hateful, judgmental fools. Jesus did warn..."I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword" I suppose things like this is what he was talking about.

  3. Tammy - just remember this about religion - in your case, Christianity: your goal is to spend eternity in the loving embrace of a self-confessed, multiple-occasion, mass-murdering, maniac who thought it was OK to have his son strung up until dead in order to pay for someone else's so called sins. Madness, insanity.

    As a former xian, a former near-priest, and now a very happy and contented atheist if it's morals or ethics you're interested in - TRUST ME - your personal ones are far better than having to accept a few kernels of truth dug for in a vast biblical broth of mostly putrid insanity and stupidity.

    You don't need a god to be all that you can. You know what to do. Religion be gone! The world can only stand so much stupid.