What do U.S. churches believe on the transgender issue?
THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:
As with American society at large, churches’ consideration of the sensitive transgender issue emerged only recently and rather suddenly, compared with their decades-long-debate over whether to leave behind the Christian tradition against gay and lesbian relationships. The religious implications go well beyond political agitation over “bathroom bills,” athletic competition, or women’s shelters.
Transgenderism is part of a broader gender-fluidity movement. A recent survey by the interfaith Religion News Service asked readers to identify themselves as either female, male, transgender, trans woman or MTF, trans man or FTM, intersex, questioning, non-binary, genderqueer, gender fluid, agender, or “other.”
Among theologically flexible “Mainline” Protestants, a key breakthrough was the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s September installation of Megan Rohrer of California, its first transgender-identified bishop. Rohrer was barred from the clergy till a 2009 policy change so was originally ordained by the independent Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, which works for full LGBT inclusion. (Oddly, that organization suspended Rohrer from membership in December over alleged and unspecified “racist words and actions.”)
The United Methodist Church is expected to split this year over the older same-sex disagreement, exactly 50 years after the first floor debate at a governing General Conference. In October, religious media reported the gender transition of the formerly “cisgender” Methodist pastor married to Peggy Johnson, the just-retired bishop for eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and eastern Maryland. But last month Indiana Methodists removed Pastor Craig Duke from his congregation over drag queen shows and drag education to express solidarity with his daughter, who identifies as pansexual.
As early as 2003, the United Church of Christ encouraged all its congregations to open ministry and full participation to “transgender and intersexual people” and those “named as neither man nor woman.” The liberal denomination based its policy change upon Jesus’s rejection of Old Testament “outward conformity” rules, biblical admonitions to “look past human divisions,” the “goodness of creation,” and the “love of God for all people.”
In 2012, the Episcopal Church revised canon law to add gender identity and gender expression as protected categories under its anti-discrimination policies for ordination of clergy and lay participation. In November, the neighboring Anglican Church of Canada authorized experimental use of new rituals that celebrate “journeys of gender transition and affirmation.”
The pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign posts further information about religion at www.hrc.org/resources/faith-positions.
On the opposite side, Catholic traditionalism was defended by Pope Francis in a 2016 “apostolic exhortation” that affirmed teaching from an international bishops’ synod. The bishops said the new gender “ideology” denies ” the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family.” Francis appealed, “Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator” and instead respect humanity “as it was created.”
A 2019 paper on this “crisis” from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education said similarly that “Holy Scripture reveals the wisdom of the Creator.” It opposed efforts in education and legislation that promote “a radical break with the actual biological difference between male and female” and make human identity “the individual’s choice, which can also change in time.” Except for rare cases of biological ambiguity, the Vatican office stated, the scientific facts of human genetics differentiate each individual “from the very moment of conception,” with “a structural determinant of male or female identity.”
There’s related Catholic activity behind the scenes, according to a December report by the conservative news site www.pillarcatholic.com. It said the Vatican’s all-important doctrine office has withheld a 2018 policy draft on the gender-identity problem. The U.S. bishops’ conference developed a policy that was sent for Vatican review in 2017, revised, submitted again, but not issued. According to The Pillar, the leaked Vatican draft said a person who had sexual reassignment surgery cannot validly marry, nor is a physical male who identifies as female eligible for the priesthood, but an adult treated for “attempted sexual reassignment” may be baptized “after proper preparation,”
Conservative and evangelical Protestants’ accord with the Catholic stance is demonstrated in three representative documents.
A notable and detailed platform was issued in 2016 by the Christian Medical and Dental Association, representing 19,000 healthcare professionals who affirm “the divine inspiration and final authority of the Bible as the Word of God” (text at https://cmda.org/policy-issues-home/position-statements/). The association believes the biblical teaching that “God created humanity as male and female” matches the “objective biological fact” that one’s sex “is determined genetically at conception” and is “immutable,” not “a social construct arbitrarily assigned at birth or changed at will.”
This statement addresses rare gender anomalies at birth and urges compassionate and sensitive professional care, but objects to transgender “ideology” imposed by “excluding, suppressing, marginalizing, intimidating, or portraying as hateful” those who dissent, whether on “scientific, moral, or religious grounds.”
The largest U.S. Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, declared in 2014 that “God’s design was the creation of two distinct and complementary sexes, male and female (Genesis 1:17, Matthew 19:4, Mark 10:6), which designate the fundamental distinction that God has embedded in the very biology of the human race.” Though “our transgender neighbors” are “image bearers of Almighty God” and the Baptists welcome them to church and condemn “abuse or bullying,” they oppose efforts to “validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy.”
Many Baptist leaders were among 165 evangelicals from varied churches and schools who endorsed that outlook in the 2017 “Nashville Statement,” brokered by the conservative Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
Recent items of interest apart from the church discussions:
“The Transgender Exigency: Defining Sex and Gender in the 21st Century” (Routledge) by Edward Schiappa unpacks evolving conflicts and confusions over language.
“Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality” (Oneworld) by Helen Joyce is a skeptical history of the gender-identity movement, praised by a New York Times critic as “a good, impassioned start” toward honest debate.
“Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters” (Regnery) by Abigail Shrier provoked fury and efforts to squash sales, yet is rated one of 2021’s best books by The Economist. She analyzes the huge trans upsurge among teen girls and opposes gender-transition hormone treatments and surgery till adulthood.
An October academic article by Lisa Littman of Brown University, who researches disputed “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” reports on 100 patients who “detransitioned” to reverse their gender-transition treatments (see https://littmanresearch.com).
A September Commentary magazine article by Paul McHugh, longtime chief of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and University of Notre Dame law Professor Gerard Bradley, insists that medical ethics requires “informed consent,” which cannot occur with young patients subjected to irreversible transition treatments.
In the September 13 New Yorker, Amia Srinivasan examines the “trans-exclusionary radical feminist” or TERF movement, which spurns trans women’s claim to womanhood. Along those lines, Commentary‘s January cover story by Christine Rosen favors tolerance but targets “the new misogyny,” contending “the claim that anyone can be a woman is a denigration of all women.”