I left the transgender thing alone for a couple of days because I wanted to focus on making a wedding present for a friend and enjoying the relative quiet occasioned by the absence of three of my children. But today I woke to find that one of my fellow Catholic Patheos bloggers had produced a post titled “The Devil of Detroit and Caitlyn Jenner”. I know that this kind of thing has the capacity to cause a huge amount of hurt and scandal, particularly among trans and gender non-comforming people within the Church, so I felt that I’d better address it.
Fr. Longenecker’s article turns on the fact that the statue of Baphomet recently unveiled by the Satanists in Detroit includes elements of both male and female. Although he doesn’t quite come out and say it directly, the strong implication is that transgender people remake themselves in the image and likeness of a demon. “Through feminism, homosexualism , trans genderism, gender confusion and “identifying” as whatever gender a person wants the distinctions between male and female are being broken and put back together however it is desired.” Satan, of course, is the active agent behind all of these evils.
So, Fr. Longenecker asks, “Does that mean Caitlyn Jenner is a demon? I’m not saying that, but the Jenner story is part of something happening in our culture.” Okay…glad he’s not saying that Caitlyn is Baphomet incarnate, however he is comparing her body to a Satanic goat-headed idol. And he is definitely saying that the “Jenner story” is part of something evil.
Here’s the problem: there is a massive difference between the meaning of a symbol in a statue and the implications of the same physical reality in an actual human body. Take blindness for example. We often use the symbolism of blindness to refer to “spiritual blindness,” that is an inability to see the truth or apprehend the good. Scripture is very careful, however, to make it clear that blind people are not to be judged according to this symbolism.
The traditional Judaic prejudice was to think of blindness as a sign of God’s wrath – this is why the apostles ask Christ “Who sinned that this man was born blind?” — but the book of Tobit shows that blindness can also strike a virtuous man as a consequence of a virtuous action. In the story, Tobit is blinded after being forced to sleep out in the open – but his blindness is not a punishment for sin. On the contrary, it is a suffering that befalls him as a consequence of performing a very important act of piety and courage: burying the Jewish dead against the will of the the King.
Christ reiterates this point when He says that the man born blind was born this way, “Not because of sin, but in order that the glory of God could be made manifest in him.” The spiritual meaning of blindness is again upended in the case of St. Paul, who is blinded for three days after his vision of Christ.
Is it possible to say the same thing for someone who is transgender? Well, there really isn’t a complete cognate for the modern concept of transgender in the ancient world. Sexuality wasn’t really conceived of as a personal choice or a form of individual expression by the ancients. Marriage was often not really voluntary, and rape was only rape if is involved seizing a woman who was another man’s property without his consent. Similarly, the choice to become a eunuch generally did not lie with the individual – none the less, the eunuch did fulfil the social function of representing a kind of third gender. Eunuchs were often dressed in feminine clothing, and they weren’t expected to fulfil the gender roles typically associated with men.
So what does the Bible have to say about eunuchs? Well, as with blindness, the mosaic texts are pretty negative. In the Law, any kind of physical defect was associated with ritual imperfection or impurity. So Leviticus tells us “none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. (Lev. 21: 17-20) The text even goes so far as to say that if such a man did approach the altar it would desecrate the sanctuary.
Yet, as with the blind, the rest of scripture tends to be kind towards eunuchs. It is a eunuch, Ebed-melech, who intercedes for Jeremiah and rescues him when he is thrown into a cistern to die. (Jer. 38: 7-13) One of the first gentiles to receive baptism in the book of Acts is a eunuch from Ethiopia. (Acts 8: 27-39) Isaiah is quite explicit in stating that a eunuch may hope for salvation: “let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isa 56:3-5)
Leviticus concerns itself with the ritual symbolism of purity and perfection, but Scripture as a whole cautions us against using this kind of symbolic purity code to judge others, guide our interactions with them, or evaluate their relationship with God. Indeed, in the story of the Good Samaritan Christ comes down quite hard on the Priest and the Levite who leave the beaten man for dead – even though they were acting in obedience to the strictures of the Law which states that a priest “must not enter a place where there is a dead body. He must not make himself unclean, even for his father or mother.” (Lev 21:11)
Even if he is not saying that Caitlyn Jenner is a demon, Fr. Longenecker is saying that “trans genderism (sic), gender confusion and “identifying” as whatever gender a person wants” are all part of a Satanic plot to undermine the truth about human sexuality. Every single trans person who reads this is going to hear “your identity is demonic.” They are going to see themselves compared to a Satanic statue, and they are going to receive the message loud and clear that this Satanic symbolism is somehow representative of them. Whether it is Fr. Longenecker’s intention or not, what this actually communicates is a demonization of trans people and a rejection of their humanity.
Such demonization, on the basis of symbolism, is not scriptural. It represents a confusion between symbols and persons, and it treats Caitlyn Jenner – and by extension her trans brothers and sisters – as nothing more than an icon of evil. It’s scandalously uncharitable, and it’s not actually based on any sound consideration of what causes gender dysphoria, or of why people identify as trans.
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