Christianity Today has an article (The Transgender Moment) and sidebar (Walking a Fine Line) (apparently these are in the print and online editions) quoting me and many others regarding transgender issues. Some have contacted me to ask if I was quoted correctly, feeling perhaps that my comments were inconsistent with my views expressed elsewhere. Here are my comments from “The Transgender Moment:”
Whether mentioned in Scripture or not, the transgender movement clashes with traditional Christian theology that teaches the only God-given expression of human sexuality is between a man and woman who are married.
“Transgender impulses are strong, but they don’t match up with the Christian sexual ethic,” says Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. “Desires must be brought into alignment with biblical teachings, but it will be inconvenient and distressful.”
Throckmorton, past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, says he has advised transgendered people who are in absolute agony over their state. Typically, such individuals are desperately in search of hope and acceptance, he says. It may be uncomfortable to tell transgendered individuals that their desires don’t align with the Bible, Throckmorton says, but pastors must do so. “Even if science does determine differentiation in the brain at birth,” Throckmorton says, “even if there are prenatal influences, we can’t set aside teachings of the Bible because of research findings.”
While I don’t remember saying these exact things, I think the biggest problem in order to understand my views on this topic is the absence of the context for these remarks. I do remember saying in my interview with John Kennedy that each situation was different and that each person experiencing gender conflict should consult with medical specialists, psychological professionals, and clergy. Some people may come to the conclusion that the Scriptures are silent on what they should do about their feelings. However, for those who do come to the conclusion that various options are not permitted by Christian teaching, the conflict can be agonizing. For those people, bringing desires into alignment with the teaching they believe to be correct is difficult but these individuals may come to see it as their calling to live out. In this article, I am speaking as if this context has already been set.
In practice, I believe mental health professionals should take the same perspective regarding transgender issues as I have advised with sexual orientation in the sexual identity framework – the client sets the value direction. Pastors, however, are more likely and indeed are called upon to interpret doctrine and the relevance of doctrine for action. I do not think research findings supporting an innate source of gender identity conflict is likely to sway pastoral advice much, in the same way that finding an innate source of homosexual attractions is unlikely to change traditional views.
Perhaps the quote that I feel the most troubled by is this one: “Transgender impulses are strong, but they don’t match up with the Christian sexual ethic.” I don’t remember saying it that way but if I did, I would certainly say it differently now. As I see it, impulses are not of the same moral significance as behavior, especially chosen behavior. I do not see sexual or gender inclinations as being chosen. What one does may or may not match up with a Christian sexual ethic, but I do not view feelings in the same manner. In any case, I want to emphasize that persons who experience gender identity conflicts should reach out and seek advice from medical and mental health professionals, as well as their spiritual advisors.
Now I suspect for some this will not be a sufficient reaction to this article. I invite readers to discuss the issues raised in the article. I invite clergy and transgender advocates to comment and offer rationale for their views. Some think I need educated; so educate me.