n.b. this piece is part of a series based on the Sydney Diocese Social Issues Committee Gender Identity Report.
- GETTING ACROSS THE TRANS ISSUE – INTRODUCTION
- GETTING ACROSS THE TRANS ISSUE – 1. WORDS AND WORLDVIEWS
How does the Bible speak into our rapidly shifting worldview? The report sets out clearly that, contrary to the “queering” philosophy of no given structures, there is a straightforward way to understand the way that God has created humanity.
(36) The first chapter of the Bible tells us that God made humanity male and female. While other creatures are implicitly also created male and female (cf. Gen. 1:22), with humanity this binary sexual distinction is explicitly part of being made in his image, and his good purpose for us (Gen. 1:26–28). This sexualdistinction and its association with being made in God’s image remains after the Fall (Gen. 5:1–2).
(37) Genesis 2 develops this distinction between male and female, when we meet the first man and woman and they are joined in a life-long one-flesh union. The correlation and alignment of biological sex and gender is seen as the ‘male’ and ‘female’ (adjectival nouns) of Genesis 1 become the persons of ‘man’and ‘woman’, ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, and ‘father’ and ‘mother’ (gendered personal nouns) of Genesis 2 and beyond.
We ought to also observe that the binary nature of humanity (male/female) is consistent with the other “binaries” in Genesis 1; light/darkness, sky/sea, land/waters, and their “filling”. It is almost as if this is the crowning “binary”.
We go on to note that the description is repeated after the Fall in Genesis 5:1-2 and that Jesus affirms this creation description (Matt. 19:4-5 = Mark 10:6-7). That there is a clear understanding of this binary nature of humanity throughout the Scriptures is abundantly clear. Rather than being a purely artificial construct it is deeply integrated into God’s very good created order.
But is the distinction between male and female only skin deep? The trans person will claim that their physical attributes are in conflict with the deeper inner sense of being. The report argues that, contrary to this, “the sex and gender differences of man and woman are not incidental to their personhood” (s.40). They have distinct origins and identity (s.40), complementary purposes and roles (s.41) etc. Some of these differences are expressed according to culture but even in those various cultures the distinction between men and women ought to be expressed in appropriate ways (s.44 citing Gen. 17:10; Deut. 22:5; 1 Cor. 11:4–5; 1 Tim. 2:9–10).
While the essential binary nature of humanity continues after the Fall, there are obvious changes. Relationships are broken (s.44) and bodies may not properly display the distinctions between male and female (s.45).
In the face of these truths and the ravages of sin, what we do with our bodies is important (ss.48-54). Nevertheless we must acknowledge the real pain when things are not as they ought to be (s.55) “yet alongside its acknowledgement of the groaning and pain of life in this fallen world, the Bible consistently upholds the dignity, blessing, value and sanctity of human life, and God’s love and concern for all he has made” (s.55). Any Christian response therefore seeks to achieve two aims; upholding the goodness of God’s created intention of a holistically healthy person (s.57) while also acting with compassion and care towards those whose experience in this area is very painful (s.58).
As with many other areas, the less real understanding we have of these issues the more difficult it is to respond appropriately.
At this stage is may be worth making a comment about what is effectively a common but sub-Christian response in this area. One timely example will suffice; a priest in the Diocese of Brisbane who has announced their male to female transition and describes it as “becoming more truly who I am” (see also this video published today on the ABC website). Implicit is this kind of language is what we might refer to as the “born this way” argument, i.e. that this is how God has made the individual. But such a position automatically assumes the goodness of everything that the person is with no space for allowing that some aspects of their personhood might not be God’s very good creation but the deleterious effects of the Fall upon that very good creation. In other words, a form of Pelagianism; one of the most pernicious Christian heresies. While classical pelagianism centres around question of moral culpability and agency the central issue is exactly the same – is our very good creation in the image of God corrupted by the Fall or not? The transition-affirming statement cited above answers “no” to that question in an area that (as we have seen in the Biblical data) is intrinsic to our created personhood.
Finally, the report calls us to consider our identity in Christ as the one who gives us our true identity and hope, but a hope resting in the promise that on Christ’s return we will finally be raised to perfection (4.3). Since this means that dysphoria may not be removed in this life the body of the Church becomes an important place for us to find support, comfort and encouragement (4.4).
Contrary to some claims, the Biblical data appears clear on this issue. God really did create us in his image as male and female. This creation is holistic, encompassing all of the person, and it is very good. The trans person experiences a movement away from this very good creation as a result of the Fall. Their hope is not in transition now but in Christ and his very good promises which the church receives and waits for together.
image: Travis Agnew