Why does Mr Potato Head get a lookin? All will become clear later! Read on…
In my last Blog I took a look at Intersex and Transgenderism and the inconsistency faith groups have in their handling of these issues. I referred to sexuality, gender and identity. I talked about science. We know from basic genetics, that the behaviour of chromosomes and hormones, can make us very different from the person next to us. Sadly, faith groups are very poor at applying and understanding the repercussions within the LGBTQ+ context. Instead, they are deliberately offensive and patronising as they usually insist it is purely a mental health issue and refer to identifying as trans as being an “Ideology” or “Ideation”. It is quite clear that many making these pronouncements have never met anyone who is trans, except in the stories they hear or read in the news.
On the one hand they agree and teach that every element of what makes us human can be affected by genetic differences caused by chromosomal, hormonal and other biological causes, but very strangely and mysteriously, sexuality and gender are completely untainted by the theological concept of the Fall. In their minds – we are either male or female – no other avenues are open. There is a kind of enslavement to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1: 26-27, where somehow sexuality and gender remain completely unaffected by the Fall. Obviously, that is theological naivety, and I speak as one who was trapped by that theology for years.
Given that this is in direct conflict with the Theology of the Fall (that sin has tainted every element of Creation), we recognise that most people are either male or female, but that there are, however, a good number for whom that is not true, and another group where the body and the mind differ.
I promised last time that we would look at the Bible passages frequently cited to justify the positions churches take, and so this is what I plan to do between the Blog, and the chapter I’m releasing with it. There are actually very few passages that can, in good conscience, be applied, and perhaps only two that come anywhere close to being able to take seriously. Those two are: Deuteronomy 22: 5 and Deuteronomy 23: 1. I deal with both in the chapter being released today so won’t spend much time on them here, though I’ll briefly refer to the first of those two. For my thoughts on Deuteronomy 23: 1, you’ll have to read the chapter!
Churches, in particular, get themselves into so much trouble because they stumble over two or three rocks they think they have laid as solid foundations. The idea for this illustration comes from the Rev’d Dr Jonathan Tallon who is a New Testament lecturer, and early Church researcher. He has a very helpful website, which I encourage you to visit, and he deals with Transgender people on his webpage: http://www.bibleandhomosexuality.org/what-does-the-bible-say-about-transgender-people/. Although I have borrowed his idea of foundations, and what they are, the narrative is my own.
The first boulder is that is they insist that there can only be two genders, male and female. We have dealt with this already in the earlier chapters of my essay and in previous Blogs, so there is no need for additional padding!
The second boulder is that they say God can never make a mistake. The thing is, although that is essentially true, the way the argument is presented, it is based on a misapplication of scripture to life in the real world. Who determines what constitutes a mistake. We can’t, because we can only see the “now” and look back to the past – we can’t see what will result in the future.
Personally, as someone who has had asthma for the whole of my life, and as a child had wanted to die, I can’t thank God that I was fearfully and wonderfully made – though I CAN thank God that people are fearfully and wonderfully made! (Psalm 139:14). I mentioned I had wanted to die when a child – in fact I nearly did on two occasions – although I know my body fought against it, when it came down to the wire, because I’m still here! However, there were times as a child, when, if there had been a physical switch I could reach out to, to turn off my life in an instant, I would have, without a second’s thought. That sounds strange and inconsistent, and probably has something to do with wanting a pain-free death as opposed to experiencing a painful death. These days my asthma is purely an occasional nuisance, so I’m glad there was no switch. I believe God permitted those genetic/chromosomal (whatever) “abnormalities” to occur when I was very young, and that when He saw me, He loved me and was pleased with His child, in spite of the difficulties that child would go on to face.
If you see God as a Controller determining how each child develops, what conditions they would suffer, talk to me about those other Asthmatic babies and children who have died because they could not breathe. Talk to me about the effects of Thalidomide on babies. Talk to me about those born with Intersex conditions. Talk to me about Down Syndrome, sickle cell, cystic fibrosis, hereditary genetic conditions, and so on. Did God deliberately choose them to suffer? Of course not.
Jesus referred to Satan as the “ruler of this world”, or the “Prince of this world” (depending on the version you use) in John 12: 31-32. One day Jesus will become the ruler of this world, but we are not there yet, and in the meantime, Satan has that title. So, although God is Sovereign, I do not believe He controls everything that happens day to day, although he can intervene and make good come from harm – and usually that will be a gradual process not a dramatic change. Generally, you’ll only notice the change, when you stop to look back. I believe one of the big things is that we all have the potential to put a smile back on the His face, as we play the hand of cards we have been given.
I’m being careful not to step into that rabbit-hole of “free-will” because it’s only a small mental jump away and this is plenty long enough already!
Jonathan Tallon’s third boulder is that gender confusion is wrong. Churches argue that if God made us male and female, and given that God doesn’t make mistakes, then gender and sexuality is fixed. Case closed. Q.E.D. Once again trapped by their theology.
Except that as I’ve just shown, with a small puff of wind those earlier boulders have changed to sand and this third boulder therefore disappears in a puff of logic – the fruit of the poisonous tree. We already know that if we look real life in the face, we will find many who experience gender dysphoria, and if you’ve read my previous chapters the evidence is all too real. Many faith groups like to focus on the fact that gender is determined on what can be seen, not on what is unseen. Why is the body more important than the mind?
However, Faith groups don’t use anything scientific to change people, but instead rely on prayer, exorcism, and counselling. For something as hard-wired into the mind as Trans, you need to be certain of success, not occasional success, or 25% , or 40%, or 60%, but 100%, otherwise you need to still be able to offer something cast iron for whom the treatment doesn’t work. And faith groups cannot offer that because half-measures are no good for the Trans person. I have personally seen people healed of many things in church and I praise God from my heart when that happens.
However, I have never seen 100% of people coming forward for healing, be healed. I have never known anyone with a genuine gift of healing, guarantee that everyone who comes to them will be healed – normally they are very cautious about these things. It is usually only a small percentage and it is extraordinarily dangerous to promise God will heal in every case. It is especially dangerous when dealing with sexuality, because that goes to the very core of who we are. If it were important to God that everyone with a physically female body, identified as female (likewise male and male in that phrase), He would make it possible that conversion therapy would work 100 times out of 100. God makes Salvation work in absolute terms (“everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” – John 3:16 – NRSV). But God doesn’t change LGBTQ+ people into gender typical people.
I sound critical of prayer there, but I don’t mean to. Prayer frequently works in many situations, but not all. How many people do you know who are now neurotypical, but used to be autistic, or a child prodigy?
The real numbers of people who claim prayer has changed them in this area, is so small, subjective and insignificant that it can’t be shown whether other factors are at play, such as the person learning to behave differently, even without anything else having changed. In fact, from talking with people, reading books and articles, and from my own experience I would say that as a rule of thumb God doesn’t work in this way in this area.
So, let’s take a theroretical situation, if one person were healed, what happens to the other folk who have failed to have their prayers for healing of their gender identity answered. They are left in a deeper sense of hopelessness than before, and suicides can result, and this is why Conversion Therapy is so dangerous. We will come back to this subject later, when we look at how Christians look to change those who are gay and lesbian. However, rather serendipitously there was an excellent Podcast released on the 2nd April 2021 by the Guardian, on the subject of Conversion Therapy, and hopefully they will do a better job than I can, of convincing you that CT must be stopped: https://www.theguardian.com/news/audio/2021/apr/02/why-is-gay-conversion-therapy-still-legal-uk Please give it a listen. The story George tells will have been thought of as a success for those praying for her, but really it was a failure, so I wonder how many other George’s there are. Quite a few, because I’ve read similar stories in the past.
That podcast also outlines some of the other abusive practices that go on in CT and they are quite horrific – totally opposite to the standards I expect of people of faith.
For those who trivialise being Trans, thinking it is attention seeking or whatever, how easy would you find it to tell your closest friends that you really identify as someone of the opposite gender. Why do you assume it is any easier for someone else? I would argue that as Christians, we are supposed to love and respect those around us, looking at what makes up the whole person, just as God does. As God said to Samuel, man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.
So, about those passages! Please don’t expect a complete refutation of all the passages people quote. You will have learned by now that we need to be careful how we use Scripture. I used to love attending the Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival, held over the August Bank Holiday each year. I think it was probably around 1984 that I went to listen to a seminar by Steve Shaw, one of the co-founders of Greenbelt. He spoke about Dualism, which in Christianity elevated the Mind above the Body. The mind is spiritual, which is good, and the body, physical, which was evil. However, God made us whole people, with both a body and a mind, and we need to keep that God-ordained balance. After all Jesus lived in a human body, and God said His Creation was very good, back in Genesis 1: 31. We must not be guilty of splitting the sacred and secular.
Something of this tension was caught in the 1982 Jim Henson film, “The Dark Crystal” with the tensions between the Skeksis and the Mystics, where it turned out they had been single beings at one time, but split apart when evil came, following the fracture of the titular Crystal.
Anyway, Steve used an illustration I found helpful. Imagine a sheet of rubber stretched on a square frame with a grid printed on the rubber – a bit like a spreadsheet! In each of these cells you can put a label relating to one element of Theology. I don’t want to give you specific labels, because they may not be helpful, especially if I pick one you favour! If you then focus all your attention on one particular area of Theology, it is like pinching the rubber grid at the square corelating to your chosen subject and pulling it towards your face. All the other squares become distorted as well, and the doctrines are no longer in balance.
This is what happens when we misuse Scripture. I’ll give you a quick example using our primary reference, Deuteronomy 22: 5, which I cover in greater depth in the essay. Sadly, it gets trotted out every time a church takes against the Trans community. In the NIV it says:- “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.” Churches think that is a slam dunk, and there is no point investigating further. Once again, case closed. How wrong they are. To quote from my essay:
… look closely at this chapter. The first four verses relate to farming – how you are to return property to the owner, whether it be an ox, donkey, cloak or whatever. If you can’t return it, you must look after it until you can. Likewise, if an animal has fallen over, help it get back on its feet. We then have this single verse which lacks any context and is ambiguous at best, after which, we have two verses about what you are permitted to do with a bird’s nest. Then there follow more common-sense verses about making the flat-roof safe to walk on, not mixing seed and not ploughing with different sized animals. We are then told not to mix fibres when making clothes, and to put tassels on your cloak. I would argue that if we focus on verse 5, we also must focus on the rest of the chapter and fulfil those requirements. The real problem then comes in verses 13 to 30 where punishments are described for promiscuity. A lot of stoning for violations is prescribed, but I don’t hear a clamour for us to fulfil these verses – we quietly pretend they aren’t there. If you are seriously going to base a whole theology about Trans inclinations on this one verse, you are absolutely obliged to take the content of the whole chapter and fulfil it entirely, including verse 29, where the rapist is required to marry his victim with no possibility of divorce. If you regard integrity highly, you do not have a choice.
I would therefore expect to see anyone who thinks this is about transgender issues, removing from their wardrobe all clothes made of mixed fibres, and sewing tassels on the corners of all their coats. If you don’t do this, what spiritual authority did you use to determine you could set aside these laws, and bolster a law that doesn’t apply to you, or touch you in any way, but only affects others?
That may be borderline offensive to some, but it is only intended to shake people out of their complacency and realise there are real lives behind this. Lives precious to Jesus, lives for whom He died, and lives He wants to use to grow His Kingdom.
Most verses used against Trans folks are taken completely out of context, and I simply don’t have space to tackle them, but I want to give one more example of how we pick and chose the laws we want to obey. Read Leviticus 19 (go on, or at least skim-read it!).
Did you spot verse 27? If you are male, do you follow it? In case you missed it, it says:27 “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” By whose authority did you decide you didn’t have to follow that law? I obviously don’t follow it when I’m clean shaven and I still don’t follow it when I have a beard, because I keep my beard trimmed fairly short. How can you therefore insist that Deut 22: 5 still applies? In any case it wasn’t talking about people who are Trans, it was much more likely to be addressing the issue of Idolatry followed by the Canaanite peoples, where it was expected that you dress in the manor appropriate for the god or goddess, and as a part of the rites you would have sex with the Temple prostitute. And Moses didn’t want God’s people to go off and do what the Canaanites were doing. In any case if this is only deserving of one verse, where there are four about farming, and two about bird’s nests, it is difficult to argue this is a show-stopping verse especially as it is difficult to know what Moses was referring to.
I address Genesis 1: 26-27 in the chapter and talk about Psalm 139: 13-14 in various places in my essay – as well as quoting it just now. I therefore want to take a look at I Corinthians 6: 19, which I didn’t include in my essay. I probably got side‑tracked following another thought down some rabbit-hole or other!
I Corinthians 6: 19-20 says: 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
Why pick this verse? I quote it because I personally heard this being used at a church I attended. It was one of those occasions that finally convinced me I no longer had a future there. Internally I was seething, because the double-standard was so clear. What about all those in church who don’t control their intake of chocolate, fast food, crisps (or indeed any foods eaten exclusively)? What about those who choose to take no exercise? What about those who smoke, or those who drink too much? What about those who sit for hours in front of the TV or computers or handheld devices? What about those who participate in dangerous sports, like base jumping? What about the current trend for tattoos – banned by Moses in Leviticus 19: 28 ” ‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD”. What about those who develop unhealthy obsessions – whatever that might be? What about those who are abusive to others? How often do you hear a sermon on those issues? Instead, we want to pick out and hit on the Trans community, because they offend my sensibilities.
Using the examples I quoted, all those people have chosen their lifestyle, even if some have now resulted in medical or mental health conditions, and yet you want to pick on the one who has no choice over their identity, but who is trying to do the best they can to reconcile their internal and external identity.
Some other big questions I have heard are:
- Does it matter to God?
- How does He see the person who has transitioned?
- Does he see them in their natal or assumed gender?
How would you answer those questions? I think the second and third questions tell us more about the person asking the questions. It tells me they see God in quite a narrow way, possibly as an authoritarian God. For me, I would come back to that verse from Samuel, I quoted earlier. God sees me as I am, not as who I try to be, not as the person I present to the public. God loves the little kid inside me, the little kid who is vulnerable and uncertain, afraid in case he takes the wrong path, the little kid who experienced rejection and bullying by his peers, the little kid struggling to make sense of the Bible and prevent other little kids from being bullied by bigger folk who should know better.
I haven’t answered the first question, but I would argue I have, or at least that I don’t need to, because you already know the answer.
For me, another big question is “What makes God male?” I look at this in the chapter released with this, but I want to deal with it here as well. In my last blog I said that our determination of what is male or female is made “primarily on our physical appearance at birth, if there is a penis, then male, or if vagina, female”. This is the only definition churches give as well. This is very strange. God has no need of a penis or vagina, and as a spiritual being what function would they serve? Can you tell me? If He doesn’t have either, how do we argue He is male or female. The Bible uses male personal pronouns. Jesus refers to Him as Father, which may simply be a “literary device” to help us relate to God – or else, is there something else that determines gender, like character, or personality? God has characteristics that are both masculine and feminine.
Then a few weeks ago we had the Mr Potato Head controversy where Hasbro decided to drop the “Mr” part of the name and just refer to the toys as the Potato Head family. People got really animated thinking it was all part of the “Woke culture” (I hate that expression, and I’ll never use it again – promise) idea to de‑genderise the toy. Again, what makes Mr Potato Head male? What makes Mrs Potato Head female? Neither have genitals – so tell me what makes them the genders people claim they have.
So, what makes God male? What makes Mr Potato Head male? Yet, when a trans man says he is male, or a trans woman says she is female, the church all too frequently says, “Oh no you aren’t, you can’t self-proclaim your gender”. We impose whatever gender on God we feel most comfortable with. We impose whatever gender on Mr Potato Head we feel most comfortable with. I’m sure you see the problem and inconsistency.
In the meantime we are called to honour God by showing respect and honour to the outcasts, inviting them to our celebrations (Leviticus 16: 14). Micah also has some important words in chapter 6 v 8:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
In my next Blog I’ll begin turning my attention to those who are lesbian and gay. There are a lot more Bible passages to look at, but initially I’ll just look to prepare the ground, and in later chapters look at the Scriptures used in the debate. Again if you have any helpful insights yourself, please drop me a line.
You can download Chapter 6 from here (Dropbox) or here Google Drive/Docs. Please note there is also an additional couple of pages of purely Trans related resources.