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The Bible does not strike me as welcoming to transgenderism:

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God. -- Deuteronomy 22:5

And it is not hard to find knowledgeable Christian leaders (of various denominations) denouncing transgenderism via a web search. Incompatibility between transgenderism and Christianity seems like the norm. AthanasiusOfAlex, 2015, writes "transgenderism is deeply problematic" explaining that:

  • God created man and women (Genesis 1:27), and that
  • "[a person's] body is just as much a part of his being as his soul".

However, Wikipedia explains that (liberal) Protestantism accepts transgender people:

Within mainline, or more specifically liberal, Protestantism, several denominations or regional bodies within denominations have grown increasingly accepting and supportive of transgender members and rights.

This leads me to my question:

Question: How does liberal Protestantism reconcile supporting transgenderism with what the Bible teaches?

I'm not well-informed about Christian denominations, so I don't know precisely which Protestant subset has a "transgenderism is okay" stance. I'm interested in how they come to the conclusion that "transgenderism is okay" while others do not.

This question has an open bounty worth +200 reputation from mxyzplk ending in 3 days.

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    The cynical answer would be that liberal churches care more about being seen to be affirming of that which secular society wants to be affirmed rather than what God wants affirmed. The less cynical answer is that transgenderism and gender dysphoria is an extremely complex topic that is little addressed in the scriptures, and our position on it is more determined by our general principles of doctrine, exegesis, and wisdom. – curiousdannii Apr 25 '17 at 13:55
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    Protestantism is very broad (See Should 'Protestants' be used as a general group for asking theological and praxical questions?) and encompasses a wide spectrum of stances toward transgenderism. Are you specifically interested in the liberal Protestant response (of which, the current answer is not reflective) or are you more looking for an overview of different Protestant views? – bruised reed Apr 25 '17 at 14:07
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    @bruisedreed Honestly, my knowledge of Christianity is minimal (so maybe I was not specific enough). But I'm interested in how the denomination(s) mentioned in Wikipedia (who aren't opposed to transgenderism) overcome the problems mentioned by AthanasiusOfAlex. – Rebecca J. Stones Apr 25 '17 at 15:27
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    Please review this edit to see if it reflects your intent - if it doesn't, feel free to use the rollback option (above the previous version) accessible via the edit history – bruised reed Apr 25 '17 at 16:23
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    Done. The pope's opinion is gone, and is hardly relevant to a question scoped to protestantism. The Catholic view seems to be covered in the question you linked to from AthanasiusOfAlex answer. – KorvinStarmast Apr 29 '17 at 0:28
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Do you apply Deuteronomy in your own life? A liberal Christian would understand Deuteronomy and the Torah as a whole to apply only to Jews, and even Jews don't follow all of the 613 commandments. The subject of sexual identity isn't taught in the Bible. Or more specifically, only a heteronormative view is held because anything else wasn't known. The Bible doesn't talk about transgender people or their sexual identity. Interpreting verses that had nothing to do with such subject is nothing short of eisegesis.

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The selected verse, if applied to the modern day, has a gaping hole in it. What "pertaineth" to men and women? Neither men nor women now wear what men and women wore in the times of Moses. Some fundies try to gain something about "flowing garments" from torturing Biblical language, but the simple historical fact is that clothes change all the time. Trousers were "for men" in the West until a few decades ago... there were trousers for women in the East much earlier... and there were no trousers in the day of Moses for anyone.

There are other Biblical verses that are sometimes rolled out, and the liberal will show how each of these, in turn, should not be applied like that. For example, some conservative sources will claim, as one does here https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2016/09/08/what-does-the-bible-say-about-transgenderism/ , that when men and women embrace obviously other-gendered expressions of identity it is a disgrace (1 Cor. 11:14-15). 1Cor 11:14-15 says: "Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering." At this point the liberal will whip out a picture (or perhaps an Eastern icon, used as a picture) of a long-haired Jesus Christ, followed up, if the liberal is well-educated, by photos of some long-haired Eastern Orthodox priests. And laugh out loud, because the "gendered expressions of identity" just don't actually exist the way a plain literal reading says they would.

The liberal Protestant will then find a response to any other verse that is proposed by any particular conservative attack on transgenderism. And on it goes - the liberal Protestant argument, for all I know (and I am trying to be on the middle ground in the debate), likes to deconstruct on these issues much more than it likes to construct. It strives to show that the conservative use of the Bible is not valid. Then it calls people to take on the unambiguously important parts of the Bible, the parts about loving our neighbor, about caring for people, about relieving people's suffering, about honesty, about selflessness - and leave the flawed moral kerfuffle aside.

The doctrine that Benedict XVI has expressed is not specific to Roman Catholicism; is also well known in Protestant circles. However, it does not escape from the liberal's deconstruction.

The liberal Protestant might or might not like to quote the Pope (depends on the kind of Protestant; I am Anglican, and within Anglicanism quoting a Pope is usually OK). But whether the Pope or some other expression of the same doctrine is used, here is a likely deconstruction in response.

If one applies the statement logically, without limiting it arbitrarily to sex-related issues, the doctrine seems to make not just biological sex, but other "bodily identities", like skin colour or disabilities, essential parts of human nature. Sounds absurd - very dangerously absurd, in fact, as it gave rise to the false concept of "race" and that concept was used to justify horrendous crimes against both natural and Divine law, like slavery and enforced segregation. And there does not seem to be a rational reason to apply this particular doctrine to just one aspect of "bodily identity".

Here is a good example of a liberal Protestant doing just that - deconstructing a large number of Biblical and doctrinal objections to transgenderism. http://www.transchristians.org/book/book-objections . Note that this website contains these objections, some stories of gender variant people in Scripture and history and modernity, a good introduction to basic transgender theory, literature references, and some statements of the author's position. What it does not contain is a positive logical Biblical framework for transgenderism, perhaps because, for the liberal Protestant, this is just less important - once the objections are cleared, general Christian charity should suffice as a basis for affirmation.

To summarize: the liberal Protestant will dismiss, with a lot of work, all specific arguments against transgenderism, and then call for accepting transgender people in such a way as to relieve their suffering and show them love - values which are unambiguously Biblical.

  • I have edited the answer to talk more about the Bible at the start and then to explain the position of the doctrine that the Pope expressed and also of Papal quotes. Protestantism is not a single thing and some Protestants are mellower towards Popes than other Protestants; being Anglican I'm somewhat used to Papal quotes showing up as scholarly or polemic examples, even while Papal judicial authority is not acknowledged. – Mikhail Ramendik Apr 28 '17 at 23:25
  • Ah, I see. Thanks for the edit. In your "if applied as stated" all the way to the end of your second to last paragraph, it is unclear if you are talking about what the Pope might say, or the deconstruction is based on. – KorvinStarmast Apr 29 '17 at 0:03
  • @KorvinStarmast thanks, this was indeed an oversight, I hope I have made it clearer now. – Mikhail Ramendik Apr 29 '17 at 0:20
  • That's why we do this, in comments, to clear up and try to improve. :) If you could give an example of a liberal protestant arugment, speech, teaching, or tract that supports your point, (your bottom line in the last paragraph) that would be great. (Also, check back in a day or two, I think the question may get edited again as the community is working with the one asking it on scope). You offered a link to a conservative input, a balance from the liberal side would be appropriate. – KorvinStarmast Apr 29 '17 at 0:20
  • @KorvinStarmast done! Now, the Website does not say the word "Protestant", it prefers the general designation of "Christian". But this designation, coupled with lots of discussions of the Bible and no discussion of Fathers or Councils, is a very well-known kind of Protestant self-presentation, liberal and conservative alike. – Mikhail Ramendik Apr 29 '17 at 0:38
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Define "Support"...


Within the spectrum of "supporting" things there are those who believe the practice should be allowable, though it is not necessarily moral. For example, with the issue of homosexuality, there is some discussion about whether gay marriage should be legal or not independent of what the Bible says (or the moral judgement) about the issue.

The same is true of transgenderism. There are those who support the ability of people to undergo gender transition, but do not necessarily advocate this practice for Christians. The arguments for this are rather generic and beyond the scope of the discussion here, but generally boil down to whether we should pursue theocratic nations and whether we should be legislating morality.

Or in the words of Paul, this is the idea that

Everything is permissible, but not everything is helpful. Everything is permissible, but not everything builds up. (1 Cor. 10:23, ISV)



While we are defining things...


While it is one thing to believe that transsexualism should be permissible, there are those Christians who take this to the next level of support. In order to understand why these Christians do not believe Deuteronomy 22:5 applies you first need to begin with a sound understanding of trans culture. Most notably that Deuteronomy 22:5 is not a prohibition of Transgenderism or Gender Dysphoria but instead of Trasnvestism, or cross-dressing. It may help to define these terms which will hopefully help to make the distinction clear:

Transgender

Transgender people are people who have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex.

Transsexual

Transsexual people experience a gender identity that is inconsistent with, or not culturally associated with, their assigned sex, and desire to permanently transition to the gender with which they identify, usually seeking medical assistance (including hormone replacement therapy and other sex reassignment therapies) to help them align their body with their identified sex or gender. Transsexual is generally considered a subset of transgender.

Gender Dysphoria

Gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder (GID) is the dysphoria (distress) a person experiences as a result of the sex and gender they were assigned at birth. In these cases, the assigned sex and gender do not match the person's gender identity, and the person is transgender. There is evidence suggesting that twins who identify with a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth may do so not only due to psychological or behavioral causes, but also biological ones related to their genetics or exposure to hormones before birth.

Transvestite

Transvestism (also called transvestitism) is the practice of dressing and acting in a style or manner traditionally associated with the opposite sex.

Cisgender

Cisgender (often abbreviated to simply cis) is a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.

So, for a trans person, their brain and identity was created as a woman, but their body has male parts (for example.) While God intended this person to be a woman, something has gone awry with their body. In Duet 22:5 however, the abomination is dressing as the opposite of their gender. In fact, one could argue that by dressing according to their sex instead of their gender, the trans person is being "an abomination" for failing to be true to the person that God created them to be because they are denying their identity in Christ. Instead of dressing contrary to their gender, trans people are instead expressing their true god-given gender.

It is important to remember that trans people may frequently have good medical cause and need to undergo gender reassignment. For Cisgendered people life is very easy and they enjoy the privileged of never having to deal with the internal struggle of identity, never have to fear the call of nature and don't have to fear lynchings simply because of a birth defect. For trans people, this is not the case.


Gender is not straightforward, binary, or cut and dry

In fact, a large portion of trans people may be demonstrably and measurably intersexed.

Intersexed

Intersex people possess any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies". Such variations may involve genital ambiguity, and combinations of chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female.

While God may have created people as male or female according to Genesis 1:27, clearly for some people who are intersexed they have been created as male and female and do not fit neatly into either category.

For example, some people born with Complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, born with male chromosomes are completely immune to the effects of the testosterone in their bodies and in utero and are born with the appearance of being female and may even live their entire lives as women without knowing they actually have male chromosomes and DNA. Other people however may find that they have a dysphoria and despite appearing as a women, feel that their true identity is as a man.

And there are dozens of similar disorders which lead to intersexual expression

There is some evidence to suggest that the causes of transsexuality are similar to the above conditions and that many, most, or all cases fall into this category.


Conclusion


While there is a temptation to think of transgender people as choosing to go against the way God created them, we have to remember that when sin entered the world, there are many people with birth defects who are not born the way that God created or intended mankind to be - missing hands, arms, legs, fingers or toes, having cleft palates, or missing genitalia or having a surplus of genitalia - and that those with Gender Dysphoria may simply be among these others.

For many years, there was a belief that those with infirmities faced these handicaps due to sins they or their parents committed. One of the radical and transformative aspects of Jesus healing ministry was to manifest "forgivess" of "sins" through healing, but also to send a message that these handicaps and illnesses are not the fault of the victims of these handicaps and diseases.

Just as it would be wrong to call someone sinner because of the way they were born; black, without legs or similar, you need to consider that this is what you are doing to those with Gender Dysphoria.

In fact, it was Jesus himself who held up Eunuchs as people the divorced should emulate in Matthew 19:12 (NIV)

For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others--and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

Progressive Christians would appeal to the above facts in order to support the view that transsexualism should be supported within the church.


Notes:

  1. Most of these thoughts come from a lecture given by postgraduate student presenting her Masters Thesis in Gender Studies at The Gathering in Salem, MA - a self-defined Emergent Church, a denomination many consider progressive/liberal

  2. This posting is not intended to suggest that people who are trans are "defective" or that all intersexed people are types of trans people or should undergo gender reassignment to select one of two genders. Many would take umbrage at these suggestions. These communities are diverse and while some people would find these ideas comforting, others would take offense.

Helpful Resources:

transchristians.org

  • Do you have a link to any studies showing that "...a large portion of trans people may be demonstrably and measurably intersexed"? I know many people who work with public health (most of them functionally agnostic) and have never heard them comment on any tendency towards hybrid sexual expression. If the proportion is "large", then we must be talking about at least 1% of the general population? – Wtrmute May 3 '17 at 15:50
  • @Wtrmute: Actually, this is a point of contention within academia. It is really difficult to quantify how many trans people there are period. This makes it even harder to figure out how many intersexed people experience gender dysphoria, but one paper estimated that 8.5 to 20% of intersexed people experience gender dysphoria - contrast that with the general population which has a rate of .5 to 1.2% of the pop. experiencing gender dysphoria. – James Shewey May 4 '17 at 4:07
  • The % of trans people is probably lower if you exclude those intersexed people with Gender Dysphoria. Considering the trans population is less than 1% of the population, and intersexed people account for 1.7% of the general population, your statement If the proportion is "large", then we must be talking about at least 1% of the general population doesn't quite make sense. What I said was "...a large portion of trans people may be demonstrably and measurably intersexed". – James Shewey May 4 '17 at 4:07
  • Several studies back that up, 9%, 5.2%, 12.1% respectively. All well above the general population, but with variance among the type of intersexual disorder. – James Shewey May 4 '17 at 4:07
  • From reference 1 and 2 (it's the same URL), "...Nine (9.1%) out of 99 individuals with PAIS changed gender."; 3, "9-item gender identity interview was administered to 43 girls with classical CAH (...) 88% of girls with CAH had scores..."; in both cases it's a percentage of people in a selected group with a particular syndrome, not the percentage of the general population which contains that syndrome. But in any case, a reference (link) to those studies in the answer would certainly improve it. – Wtrmute May 4 '17 at 13:58
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The reasons are similar to the arguments for homosexuality being potentially moral. (Note, while you may disagree, this is called "answering the question...")

The Bible

Scriptural reasoning against the practice is, frankly, thin.

You have basically two lines of Biblical argument.

First, rules based - there's some mentions in Deuteronomy (22:5) that sound like all the "don't eat shrimp" kinds of Jewish law restrictions we don't use under the new covenant; plus there are plenty of Biblical figures that didn't align with gender standards of the times that don't get called out on it, while Jesus says "don't worry about clothes" several times during his ministry. Deuteronomy 23:1-2 seems to say "no eunuchs" but Jesus in Matt 19:12 and Acts 8:27 kinda put that on blast. I think it's fair to say that without going in with a presupposition, there's not a clear Biblical red line here. (Even among our Jewish brethren that do hold to the law there's more complex views about what it requires...)

Second, there's the more general "but, God made them male and female."

Genesis 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

And its reiteration in Matt 19:4.

Yes, but we live in a fallen world now. People are born in all kinds of intersex manner (hermaphrodites etc.). The Bible isn't a science book, the sun doesn't go around the earth. The exact same chapter talks about "And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night: and the evening and the morning were the first day" but we don't refuse to recognize the other shades of daytime not enumerated there.

The LORD formed me in the womb (Psalm 139:13) but people get born with Down's syndrome and we take prenatal vitamins and some have birth defects we conduct operations to correct. This line of reasoning is a lot like "well woman was cursed to have pain in childbirth so painkillers aren't OK..." Sure, some fringe denominations believe that but it's not part of mainstream Christian thought.

If it's kind of unclear and mostly old-testamenty, what are we to do? Well, 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 give us some guidelines from the ol' eating meat sacrificed to idols question. My TL;DR - Some people think it's wrong, others don't, be convinced in your own conscience (but really, it's not, come on, God's bigger than that...) See also The Tyranny of the Weaker Brother.

Whereas Scriptural admonishments to love your neighbor, etc., are clear and compelling.

Church Teaching

I'm Episcopalian, and we include LGBTQ+ folks including trans people, including for ordination (search "gender identity" in The Acts Of Convention for deets) and this is effectively the grounds for their and other denominations' stance of prioritizing love instead of exclusion. It's often just mentioned alongside general LGBTQ+ inclusion, see also Episcopal Church: Transgender Rights for Episcopal articles on the topic.

Same deal with, for example, the Presbyterian Church that I was a youth minister for back in the '90's. Many professional theologians better trained than your uncle on Facebook have evaluated it and come to the same conclusion, so it seems to me in the scope of mainstream Protestant Christian practice.

So TL;DR many Protestant church theologians say God's love and community
a) includes even sinners, duh and
b) it's not real clear this is a sin.

What's The Real Question Here?

Of course most people asking whether being transgender etc. is moral aren't asking because they are trans and really want to know if it's a sin. They want to know if they can be rude to, discriminate against, etc. those who are.

There is a super clear Biblical answer to this and the answer is no. An even basic canvas of the Gospels reiterates how Jesus eats with prostitutes and sinners. Lying, theft, and adultery are big 100% clear Christian no-nos, but you don't publicly attack those people. Catholics don't believe in divorce, but if someone's divorced and remarried, the Church may not recognize it, but they are still referred to as "Mr. and Mrs. Whatnot."

Every generation you can pick some Bible verses and use them to abuse those who are different - from actors and scientists in the more medieval times to women who work or have short hair, or black people who are uppity enough to not want to be slaves or have interracial marriages, or dance, or plan the devil rock and roll music with the gee-tar, or any number of similar things.

Matthew 7:4 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

Seems to me there's plenty of murder, greed, lying, cheating, and so on to be up in arms about, things that are restated scores of times as being really actually bad, and past that maybe treat everyone polite and realize that you may think they dress funny or their food is weird or their car is too ostentatious or they date someone you don't like, but that's all down in the small details of being a loving Christian community. Because that's more important than whatever picky little point you want to make so bad.

That's the point of a lot of the other Episcopal etc. church rulings against discrimination, bathroom laws, and so on - whether you believe transgenderism etc. are moral or not, you are responsible for having a Christian response to it yourself, and what that is is writ pretty large across the Bible.

Matthew 22:36-40 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

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    welcome back to cse. Not sure that "The Greatest" commandment would be out of place in your catalogue of scriptural support. – KorvinStarmast Oct 20 at 0:30
  • Thanks. Still generally on strike vs SE but I figured this was a good exception given the current brouhaha. – mxyzplk Oct 20 at 1:24
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    Like how you put that as "the bottom line." – KorvinStarmast Oct 20 at 2:23

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