What does it mean for Christ-followers to offer grace and love to persons struggling with intersex physiology or with psychological uncertainty about their gender role in relation to others? For Wesleyan Christ-followers, it means entering into our neighbors’ personal suffering and confusion with humility and compassion. It means entering into public policy debates related to transgender issues with a biblical perspective; with determination to uphold the divine origin, worth and eternal interests of others; and with the courage to speak the truth in love.
This paper is an attempt to apply The Wesleyan Church’s biblical and theological understandings to a difficult pastoral and social issue. As our beliefs are worked out in personal and collective behavior, our desire is to be a prophetic voice proclaiming the power of Christ by which all persons can be “Made New” through His saving, sanctifying grace.
The Current Confusion about Gender Diversity and Expression
“Transgender” and “transsexual” are synonyms usually referring to a rare psychological and sometimes medical condition of persons who identify themselves differently from their birth-assigned masculine or feminine physiology, hormonal characteristics and genetics.(1) Transgender persons often describe themselves as feeling trapped inside the wrong body type. Transsexualism manifests in various degrees along a spectrum, ranging from unexpressed feelings, to occasional cross-dressing or habitual transvestism, to persons who strongly desire or actually seek hormonal and surgical modification of their bodies and legal change of their birth-designated gender.
The psychological and medical communities currently regard transsexualism as a diagnostically identifiable mental and medical disorder known as “gender dysphoria.” This clinical diagnosis qualifies patients for access to treatment and possible insurance benefits.
The determining factors for the condition are a strong desire to be another sex and a persistent distress and discontent with one’s natural body.(2)
As rare as childhood, adolescent or adult gender dysphoria are compared to the general population, there are even fewer instances of hermaphroditic or intersex births—that is, children born with ambiguous external genitalia or internal reproductive organs that do not allow an individual to be easily or distinctly identified as male or female.3 Since labels of any sort often become controversial, the broad term “disorders of sex development” (DSD) is becoming more common in some professional circles.4 DSDs are typically regarded as birth defects and are often treated surgically at birth or soon after, based on the principle of harm prevention (i.e., reducing the prospect of long-term personal trauma by early intervention). Certainly, the possibility exists of mistakes in judgment by parents and physicians in such cases, although this is likely to occur less frequently today with the help of ultrasound, blood tests, chromosome analysis, and even exploratory surgery to find out a child’s true sex. However, it is impossible to quantify the frequency of such errors or evaluate their impact on gender dysphoria later in life. Current sentiments increasingly lean toward postponement of surgery until a child expresses a clear gender preference.(5)
Gender identity is a person’s own internal sense of being a man or woman. Gender Expression is a person’s external exhibition of their sense of maleness, femaleness or gender neutrality that may or may not match their birth-assigned sex. Some social activists and gender theorists argue not for two, but for multiple categories of gender identity. Terms commonly heard are (A) male; (B) female; (C) androgyne, intersexed or hermaphrodite, all synonyms for someone whose biological sexuality is either indeterminate or appears to be simultaneously male and female, such as effeminate boys or masculine girls; (D) eunuchs, who are celibate or castrated males; and (E) transgendered or “transgressively gendered” persons, referring to those whose sexual behavior and social activism are intended to transgress or confound normally acceptable male/female roles.(F)
The Christian Scriptures and Gender Identity
The Bible comments on a variety of sexual behaviors. Yet, it only describes human gender in binary terms. Genesis 1:27 provides the definitive statement: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”(7)
Regardless of one’s anatomical parts or feelings about them, all humans have the same responsibility for stewarding physical attributes and abilities. Our bodies are God’s dwelling place. In the context of discussing sexual identity and behavior, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20, emphasis added).
Gender assignment is a divine prerogative. There is no “third gender” or multiple gender construct in the Bible. Some argue that Jesus left room for this possibility in Matthew 19:12, when He said, “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.” Hermaphroditism was as familiar to ancients as it is to us today. However, it appears from the immediate and larger context that those to whom Jesus and others in the Bible refer as “eunuchs” were males who either biologically, surgically or spiritually were assigned or assumed a neutered social and sexual identity. Even if “eunuchs who were born that way” refers to intersexed persons, such still would have been regarded as fundamentally male by their cultural peers—just incapable of procreation.
Jesus made it clear that birth defects, disease and deformities are not divine judgments or punishments for sin (see John 9:1-3). He often chose to heal and correct such conditions to exhibit God’s true will for people to be whole. The exclusion of castrated men from public worship (as well as the exclusion of menstruating women – see Deuteronomy 23:1 and Leviticus 24:19-30) was a matter of ceremonial cleanness, not gender prejudice or persecution. In fact, the Lord declared His acceptance of gender-altered persons who remain submissive and loyal to Him in Isaiah 56:3-5.
Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.”
Some gay rights advocates contend that the Scriptures acknowledge multiple gender possibilities simply by mentioning examples, such as lesbians (Romans 1:26), homosexuals (men who have sex with other men as in Romans 1:27), effeminate men (those as in 2 Corinthians 6:9 who assume a feminine sexual role and mannerisms), and eunuchs (who would probably be called asexuals, neutrols or agenders in current lingo). However, the Bible also mentions incest, bestiality, male and female prostitutes, and other intentional distortions or disordering of the Creator’s intent. The problem with asserting that Holy Scripture hints at tacit recognition of multiple gender identities is that these behaviors are consistently condemned whenever they are mentioned (except eunuchs).
Doctrinal Perspectives on Gender Identity and Expression
Christian doctrine and life style convictions must be driven by biblical teachings and values—not by shifting political winds, psychological debates, celebrity endorsements, opinion polls or generational mores.
The Wesleyan Church’s stance on gender and human sexuality is biblical, historical, theological, practical, and deeply convictional. “Collective conscience” is a term that describes formal statements of Wesleyan beliefs and practices arrived at and affirmed by historical consensus and recorded in our official book of order. These statements are the result of a process of scholarly study, biblical exegesis, theological reflection, thorough debate, legislative agreement, and grassroots affirmation. They grow out of our understanding of the complexity and fallenness of human nature. They reflect our full confidence in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ’s atoning grace to save and sanctify all who put their faith in Him— regardless of their past actions, attitudes, addictions or perversions.
The following paragraphs quoted from The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church (Wesleyan Publishing House, 2012 edition) articulate our collective conscience about God’s purpose for gender, sexual gifts and their expression. The article of religion on “Marriage and the Family” asserts the binary nature of human sexual identity and expression. The article of religion on “Personal Choice” deals with the implications of the fall and the corruption of nature that is consequently reproduced in Adam and Eve’s descendants, wherein brokenness begets brokenness. These articles are part of the fundamental law of the Church—ensconced in its Constitution and established as doctrine that its ministers and members vow to declare and defend.
Respect and compliance with the Covenant Membership Commitments entitled “Toward Family” are also obligatory for ministers and members of The Wesleyan Church. These behavioral standards exclude non-heterosexual practices as acceptable Christian norms. They characterize psychological harm imposed upon one’s spouse or family as a form of abuse subject to church discipline.
The remaining citations here are from the “Special Directions” and statutory law of the Church and are official advice and guiding principles that are incumbent upon ministers and members. They inform the Church regarding the differentiation between homosexual orientation and homosexual practices, the responsibility of individuals for the stewardship of the body, and the prohibition of same sex marriage.
Discipline 222—Article of Religion 7 on “Marriage and the Family” We believe that every person is created in the image of God, that human sexuality reflects that image in terms of intimate love, communication, fellowship, subordination of the self to the larger whole, and fulfillment. God’s Word makes use of the marriage relationship as the supreme metaphor for His relationship with His covenant people and for revealing the truth that that relationship is of one God with one people. Therefore God’s plan for human sexuality is that it is to be expressed only in a monogamous lifelong relationship between one man and one woman within the framework of marriage. This is the only relationship that is divinely designed for the birth and rearing of children and is a union made in the sight of God, taking priority over every other human relationship.
Gen. 1:27–28; 2:18, 20, 23–24; Isa. 54:4–8; 62:5b; Jer. 3:14; Ezek. 16; Hosea 2; Mal. 2:14; Matt. 19:4–6; Mark 10:9; John 2:1–2, 11; 1 Cor. 9:5; Eph. 5:23–32; 1 Tim. 5:14; Heb. 13:4; Rev. 19:7–8.
Discipline 224—Article of Religion 8 on “Personal Choice” We believe that humanity’s creation in the image of God included ability to choose between right and wrong. Thus individuals were made morally responsible for their choices. But since the fall of Adam, people are unable in their own strength to do the right. This is due to original sin, which is not simply the following of Adam’s example, but rather the corruption of the nature of each mortal, and is reproduced naturally in Adam’s descendants. Because of it, humans are very far gone from original righteousness, and by nature are continually inclined to evil. They cannot of themselves even call upon God or exercise faith for salvation. But through Jesus Christ the prevenient grace of God makes possible what humans in self effort cannot do. It is bestowed freely upon all, enabling all who will to turn and be saved.
Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Deut. 30:19; Josh. 24:15; 1 Kings 20:40; Ps. 51:5; Isa. 64:6; Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21–23; Luke 16:15; John 7:17; Rom. 3:10–12; 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:22; Eph. 2:1–3; 1 Tim. 2:5; Titus 3:5; Heb. 11:6; Rev. 22:17.
Discipline 265:5-6—Covenant Membership Commitments “Toward Family” (5) To follow the teachings of the Scriptures regarding marriage and divorce. We affirm
that sexual relationships outside of marriage and sexual relationships between persons of the same sex are immoral and sinful. We further affirm that heterosexual monogamy is God’s plan for marriage, and we regard sexual sin of the spouse, such as adultery, homosexual behavior, bestiality or incest, as the only biblical grounds for considering divorce, and then only when appropriate counseling has failed to restore the relationship.
Ex. 20:14, 17; 22:19; Lev. 20:10–16; Matt. 5:32; 19:19; Mark 10:11–12; Luke 16:18.
(6) To preserve the sanctity of the home by honoring Christ in every phase of family life and by demonstrating Christlike love (always avoiding violence, including physical,
psychological, emotional, or sexual abuse toward one’s spouse or family members, as well as sexual infidelity or desertion, any of which warrant church discipline for the offender and may justify separation or divorce if true repentance and appropriate counseling cannot bring about reconciliation), and by living peacefully with one another, thereby building up one’s spouse and family members through word and deed, and encouraging the nurture and education of the children in the Christian faith so as to bring them early to the saving knowledge of Christ.
Prov. 22:6; Malachi 2:13-16; Mark 10:9; 1 Cor. 7:10–16, Eph. 5:28; 6:4.
Discipline 410:5—Human Sexuality The Wesleyan Church abhors the trend to ignore God’s laws of chastity and purity, and vigorously opposes public acceptance of sexual promiscuity and all factors and practices which promote it. The Wesleyan Church maintains a biblical view of human sexuality that makes the sexual experience, within the framework of marriage, a gift of God to be enjoyed as communion of a man and woman, as well as for the purpose of procreation. Sexual relationships outside of marriage and sexual relationships between persons of the same sex are immoral and sinful. The depth of the sinfulness of homosexual practice is recognized, and yet we believe the grace of God sufficient to overcome both the practice of such activity and the perversion leading to its practice.
Discipline 410:4—Care of the Body The Bible teaches the sanctity of the human body as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Christians should avoid the use of anything which would damage the body, destroy the family, harm society (1 Corinthians 10:23–24), undermine the fellowship of the church, hinder reaching full potential in Christ, enslave the will (1 Corinthians 6:12), inhibit evangelism (1 Corinthians 9:19–23), breach the Lord’s command to love God supremely and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:37–39), or become a stumbling block to the young in age or faith (Matthew18:6; 1 Corinthians 8:9, 13; 10:32–33)….
Discipline 3112—Ministerial Regulations on Marriage In performing marriages, Wesleyan ministers shall not unite in marriage persons of the same sex.
Stating Our Religious Convictions about Gender Expression
1. Gender differentiation is sacred.
Much of the modern debate about gender identity and expression is about ideologically and politically inspired social conditioning. Although statistically rare, transgender issues are rising in public awareness because of media attention and activism. Cultural voices are being raised to advance a social agenda that elevates the autonomy of the individual and calls for universal acceptance and affirmation of self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity as one of its ideals. The view in this argument is that all persons should have freedom to do what is right in their own eyes, without reference to moral absolutes or divine revelation.
Maleness and femaleness are universal human categories. A Christian perspective begins with the assumption of “divine assignment” at the head of the list of determining factors for one’s gender identity. At the same time, it must be recognized and acknowledged that feelings about gender identity also involve an intricate interplay of physiology, hormones, genetics, psychology, family nurture and the will (one’s own moral choices). The distortion of one’s sense of identity occurs whenever any of these causal factors is abused, ignored or goes awry.
Gender differentiation and male/female uniqueness are part of a divine design that God indelibly engraved upon creation. God gives our bodies to us for spiritual and relational purposes, as well as physical ones. It is His desire that the most fundamental distinctions we experience as human beings should remind us that our completeness is ultimately found in communion with Himself and others. For this reason, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’” (Genesis 2:18). Personal fulfillment involves intimate fellowship and union with God, as exemplified by the ideal of Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as His bride (Ephesians 5:22-32; Revelation 19:7-9).
Based on our biblical and theological study, there is no argument for a “third gender” among humans. Gender confusion and dysphoria are ultimately the biological, psychological, social and spiritual consequences of the human race’s fallen condition. This state of depravity affects all persons individually and collectively.
While society is at liberty to destigmatize or legitimize any behavior it chooses simply by reclassifying and renaming it, Christ-followers adhere to biblical boundaries. It is our Christian conviction that renaming them cannot normalize sin and its expressions. We call upon biblical Christians to continue to accept their role as witnesses who speak prophetically about the need for repentance and sanctification in every culture.
2. The Church is an advocate for social holiness for all persons.
Social holiness in the words of John Wesley is “Faith working by love.”(8) It is love in action through personal piety and doing good to all people. There is no question that many transgender people suffer enormously. Besides the personal anguish of bearing the burden of their own dysphoria, many suffer greatly at the hands of others.(9) Advocating social holiness will involve defending the right of transsexual persons to provide for daily necessities (food, shelter, clothing). It will mean standing for their religious liberty, while defending our own. It will mean fighting for fair treatment under the law, as well as personal protection from persecution and violence. While loving others does not necessarily mean approving of their behavior, it does mean working for their best eternal interests.
We oppose laws, regulatory controls and executive orders that force individual Christians, Christian institutions and Christian-owned private businesses to choose between being sanctioned for noncompliance and violating their own strongly held biblical principles and religious conscience.
Elevation of the secular and marginalizing of the sacred in public life is as objectionable as the inappropriate domination of church over state. Therefore, we also oppose laws that force public institutions, schools and businesses to accommodate minorities who define themselves by gender and sexual preferences without respect or regard for the preferences and rights of the majority. People of religious conviction as well as secular opinions share these social entities.
3. Gender identity reflects God’s sovereignty.
Human gender and its associated interpersonal roles are a divinely bestowed status. Such status has explicit responsibilities and accountabilities. For example, God gave married males priestly functions and non-totalitarian headship in the home under the lordship of Christ (Genesis 3:16; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23; 1 Peter 3:7). At the same time, He gave married women the role of ruling alongside their husbands (Genesis 1:28), loving companionship (Genesis 2:18-24; 1 Peter 3:1-6) and family nurture (Genesis 3:20; Proverbs 31:10-31; Ephesians 5:22 and 23). He makes husbands and wives each other’s servants (Matthew 20:25-28; 1 Corinthians 11:11-12) and mutually responsible for one another’s sexual fulfillment and protection (2 Corinthians 7:3-7). In the ultimate example of male/female uniqueness, He commands husbands and wives to submit and relate to one another in the same sacrificial way that Christ loves His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:21 and 25).
It is God who assigns individuals their fundamental human identity and gender. Switching sexual identity is not God’s will for individuals. Those who do so with a rebellious spirit are in danger of rejecting God and His created order, and substituting self as an idol in His place. It is immoral and idolatrous to live in willful defiance of Him and to place one’s own feelings and desires above voluntary submission to Him. Submission to God’s creative will and authority is essential to personal peace and relational well-being. God, who created us, knows us best and has our very best interest at heart.
We regard adult gender nonconformity as a violation of the sanctity of human life, except in those profoundly rare cases of persons who are physiologically, genetically or hormonally proven to be the victims of a mistaken gender assignment in childhood over which they had no control and gave no informed consent. Even under such circumstances, however, contentment with one’s current status is likely to be less problematic and disruptive to a wide circle of relationships than attempted adult gender reassignment. As the Apostle Paul admonishes, “…Contentment with godliness is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6)—whether it is financial contentment (based on the immediate context of this verse) or overall spiritual contentment, as indicated by the larger context of this letter that addresses issues such as the status of women, youth, widows, slaves and leaders in the Church.
Gender reassignment does not guarantee resolution of the unhappiness of transsexual persons. It complicates their lives with a new set of physical, psychological, legal and other problems and difficult adjustments. Even if gender dysphoria was the result of a mistaken pediatric surgery to address an intersex birth, the Christian’s best response may be humble acceptance that we live in a fallen, imperfect world, but can do so with unwavering faith in a perfect Redeemer.
4. Gender non-conformity that disrupts marriage and adult family relationships violates the law of love and the sanctity of the family.
Marriage and family are sacred relationships, ordained by God and the focus for a multitude of His promises and blessings. It is in the holy arena of matrimony that human sexual union is meant to occur between male and female. It is in marriage and family life that forbearance, forgiveness, faithfulness, perseverance and selfless love are taught and encouraged. It is in the context of marriage and family life that the procreation and nurture of godly offspring becomes a priority. The home is the primary locus of the Church, which is the gathering of even just two or three where the wonder of Christ’s presence is experienced. The home is the place for daily Christian fellowship, communion, worship and service.
A Christian who suffers gender dysphoria must consider the destructive effect of deciding he or she is no longer content with his or her birth-assigned identity. Sex-change procedures create immediate integrity issues related to one’s relationships and sexual activity. If single, will such a person be content to live a celibate life? When should the truth be told in romantic relationships? If already in a marriage covenant, how will changing one’s gender expression impact a mate, in-laws, siblings or children? It has the effect of defrauding a marriage partner of normal conjugal rights and forcing him or her into a de facto same-sex relationship if the marriage survives. Serious spiritual and psychological harm will be done not only to one’s spouse, but also to any children already brought into such a home.
The importance of parental influence cannot be overlooked in considering the causes and treatment of childhood gender dysphoria. The wisdom of this age is somewhat bipolar in its simultaneous affirmation of personal autonomy (i.e., the individual’s right to choose) and a form of natural determinism (i.e., “I was made this way and therefore I am just following nature”). Parents who listen to these voices will be sorely tempted to treat gender and the sexual patterns and practices by which it is expressed as the autonomous choices of their children that they must simply accept and affirm if they are “good” parents. However, “Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:15). Children are the product of nature and nurture – of heredity (the DNA contributed by their parents) and environment (the moral atmosphere of the home in which they are raised). The erosion of biblical family values must be strongly resisted by the Church, on the one hand, while healthy, hopeful, loving, Christ-centered homes are held up with the other as the most desirable ideal.
5. Reconciliation with God is the foundation for reconciliation with oneself and with others.
Psychological disorders, genetic defects and social stigma are all consequences of the fall caused by human sin. They are not the Creator’s original design for human beings. Death and decay are at work in all of us. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:19-25,
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Transsexuals may experience inner turmoil over their own confused gender identity and its consequences, including a conflicted personal conscience and damaged self-image. They may suffer from unresolved issues with parents, spouses, family members, friends and peers. Some are victims of inexcusable violence and hatred. Some leave their own trail of broken relationships, dysfunctional families and destroyed marriages. Others violate the sanctity of their own bodies in their pursuit of an idealized self-image. Suicide rates are significantly higher among transsexual persons in comparison to the general population.(10)
Yet, the One who is not willing that any should perish, but that all should have eternal life, has provided a way of redemption through the incarnation, sanctification, passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No matter how broken our lives have been, the compassionate love of God opens the door for restoring a sense of self-worth grounded in relationship with Christ and His people. Entering into a right relationship with God and restoring right relationships with others with the help of His enabling grace paves the way for release from guilt and shame and for discovering new self-confidence and inner peace.
We affirm the reconciling power of the gospel to bring congruity to lives torn by sin, guilt and shame. It is this redemptive power that we believe can establish new clarity about one’s personal worth as a bearer of the image of God. Individuals can be “made new” by responding to the gospel call “to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:17-24).
6. Those who are struggling with gender identity issues deserve the Church’s compassion and ministry.
God loves all people, including those who are struggling with gender identity. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, “…Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Pastoral care for transsexual persons will communicate the eternal worth of all persons to our Creator/Redeemer God. The Lord’s desire for all persons to be reconciled to Him must be proclaimed unequivocally. God loves transsexuals with everlasting love, just as He loves all other persons in need of His saving grace and the gift of faith. Christ’s ambassadors will imitate His love.
In addition to the clear presentation of the gospel, the Church must offer grace and holy love to those who are struggling with gender identity. This means welcoming them as congregants with full access to pastoral care, corporate worship and discipleship instruction. No one should expect such acceptance to be given or received without mutual pain and difficulty, though. Some observers and some recipients will mistakenly interpret simple compassion as approval of nonconforming gender behavior. However, every person deserves the care of others within the body of Christ, as we “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way… fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Children exhibiting gender dysphoria and their Christian parents need the strong support of the Church and professional help that honors biblical teachings. Since there is evidence that most children outgrow signs of gender confusion by the time of puberty (for example, a transient interest in cross-dressing or tomboyish behavior), we discourage parental overreaction or early exploration of transsexual transition.11 Behavior is a conditioned response, as well as a personal choice. Therefore, it is important for Christian parents to instill godly virtues in their children and joyful identification with their assigned sex. Among the strong biblical admonitions to parents are, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6), and a special word in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
7. When necessary, church discipline of gender non-conforming individuals must be administered in holy love.
In the case of married members, a strong case can be made for treating gender nonconformity, especially when it progresses to the point of active gender reassignment procedures, as “marital infidelity” according to the definition of biblical grounds for divorce in Discipline 265:5. Such infidelity would obviously warrant removal from church membership if appropriate counsel and admonition fail to bring about repentance. Gender nonconformity involving unmarried persons would need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis as to justifiable personal circumstances and motivations of a person who desires to maintain church membership.
Corporate consequences of gender nonconformity may also lead to degrees of church discipline. Discipline 265:7, one of several Covenant Membership Commitments that all members pledge to abide by, requires individuals “To work together for the advancement of God’s kingdom and the mutual edification of fellow believers in holiness, knowledge and love; to walk together in Christian fellowship by giving and receiving counsel with gentleness and affection; by praying for each other; by helping each other in sickness and distress; and by demonstrating love, purity and courtesy to all.”
This means one person’s psychological needs and struggles cannot be allowed to dominate the attention and energies of an entire congregation, church institution or ministry, nor distract from its missional priorities and effectiveness. Church leadership, especially in pastoral, administrative and teaching roles, is problematic for persons who are openly struggling with gender identity issues or actively pursuing gender modification. In most cases, such leadership positions should be avoided or surrendered voluntarily, as long as a person’s attention needs to focus on resolving serious personal matters and the interpersonal conflicts gender nonconformity inevitably causes. Occasionally, however, ministry leaders may need to counsel those serving as volunteers or employed by the Church or its agencies who announce or openly exhibit gender transition desires and actions to seek other involvement or employment because of the obstacle their behavior presents for church unity and advancement.
The Church must make it clear that all human desires must be brought into alignment with biblical teachings, even when saying and doing so is difficult. The Bible addresses this matter in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24:
Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.
Dr. Jerry G. Pence, Senior Pastor, Brooksville Wesleyan Church, Brooksville, FL
Faith and Public Life Task Force Advisory Committee:
Dr. Chris Bounds, Professor of Theology, Indiana Wesleyan University
Dr. Richard Eckley, Professor of Theology, Houghton College
Dr. Robert Herron, Provost, Oklahoma Wesleyan University
Dr. Larry Lindsay, Interim Provost, Indiana Wesleyan University
Dr. Josh McNall, Assistant Professor, New Testament Studies, Oklahoma Wesleyan University
Dr. Robert Poole, Vice-President for Student Life, Houghton College
1 See http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/… 2011.pdf (retrieved 10/29/13). Population estimates cited are from an April 2011 article by Gary J. Gates, entitled “How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender?,” from The Williams Institute, a national think tank at the UCLA School of Law that supports LGBT advocacy with academic research. Even if biased toward the LGBT community, the article estimates the American transsexual population is less than 700,000 (0.3%), covering every variety of transsexuality, including persons who suffer no dysphoric symptoms, act out no gender nonconformity, and evidence no desire to change their gender expression. Also see http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/… This Christianity Today article by John W. Kennedy posted in February 2008, estimates the transgender population at about 400,000 persons— slightly more than half the number claimed in The Williams Institute report.
2 The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) has replaced the former term “gender identity disorder” with what advocates regard as the less stigmatizing term “gender dysphoria.” Some are calling for further revision by introducing the term “gender incongruence.” “Transsexualism” is classified as a medical disorder by the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), which defines it as “the desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by the wish to make his or her body as congruent as possible with the preferred sex through surgery and hormone treatment.”
3 According to the abstract for an article entitled “How Sexually Dimorphic Are We?” by Anne Fausto- Sterling, et. al. (American Journal of Human Biology, vol. 12, issue 2, pp. 151–166, March/April 2000), “The belief that Homo sapiens is absolutely dimorphic with the respect to sex chromosome composition, gonadal structure, hormone levels, and the structure of the internal genital duct systems and external genitalia, derives from the platonic ideal that for each sex there is a single, universally correct developmental pathway and outcome. We surveyed the medical literature from 1955 to the present for studies of the frequency of deviation from the ideal male or female. We conclude that this frequency may be as high as 2% of live births. The frequency of individuals receiving “corrective” genital surgery, however, probably runs between 1 and 2 per 1,000 live births (0.1–0.2%).”
Leonard Sax’s research on the prevalence of intersex/DSDs led him to contest Fausto-Sterling’s conclusions (see “How Common Is Intersex? A Response to Anne Fausto-Sterling,” Journal of Sex Research 39 [Aug 2002], pp. 174-179). Sax argues that Fausto-Sterling wrongly includes statistics that inflate the intersex/DSD population in order to make it appear far more common than it actually is.
Sharon Preves estimates that intersex/DSD births are about as prevalent as the occurrence of Down’s syndrome or cystic fibrosis – about 1 in 2,500 children in Europe and North America (see Intersex and Identity: The Contested Self [New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press, 2003], p. 3).
4 A helpful glossary of intersex/DSD conditions is found in Susannah Cornwall’s book, Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ: Intersex Conditions and Christian Theology (London: Equinox, 2010), pp. 237-246.
5 Ibid., p. 3. Cornwall states, “In the recent past it was common in Britain and North America for surgeries to be performed neonatally, but pressure from intersex/DSD groups has led to an increase in delayed or non- surgical treatment. Where early genital surgeries have been carried out in the past, it has generally been advised that corrected children should never be informed about any erstwhile ambiguity of sex.”
6 It is a mistaken notion to conflate transgender and intersex conditions. While not mutually exclusive categories, they are not identical experiences or conditions either. Some intersexed persons object to being identified with the LGBT movement, feeling that their experience, which for them has more to do with a medical/anatomical condition than a sexual orientation or preference, is being co-opted by others for the advancement of their own agenda. As Cornwall observes, “…Plenty of intersexed people feel remarkably male or female even if their genitals appear unusual” (ibid., p. 6).
7 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Holy Bible, New International Version NIV, copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011, by Biblica, Inc.
8 John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, Wesleyan Conference Office, London, 1872, Vol. XIV, p. 321.
9 Rolling Stone, in an article entitled “About a Girl” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely (Nov. 7, 2013, p. 61), cites a study about transgender people that showed “…more than half report being bullied in school; 61 percent are physically assaulted; 64 percent are sexually assaulted. Trans people have sky-high rates of unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse and suicide: Forty-one percent of transgender people attempt suicide, with trans teenagers the highest at-risk group.”
10 See http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J082v5… (retrieved 10/29/13). According to the abstract for an article in the Journal of Homosexuality (vol. 51, issue 3, 2006), based on a study of 392 male-to-female (MTF) and 123 female-to-male (FTM) individuals, “The prevalence of attempted suicide was 32% (95% CI = 28% to 36%). In multivariate logistic regression analysis younger age (<25 years), depression, a history of substance abuse treatment, a history of forced sex, gender-based discrimination, and gender-based victimization were independently associated with attempted suicide. Suicide prevention interventions for transgender persons are urgently needed, particularly for young people.”
11 According to the Canadian Psychological Association’s “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Gender Dysphoria in Children” (2013), “Gender dysphoria is much more common in children than in adults. However, the majority of children with gender dysphoria do not grow up to be adults with gender dysphoria: They seem to outgrow it. Studies that have followed children with a strong desire to be of the opposite sex have found that only a very small proportion of these children continue to have gender dysphoria when they grow up.” http://www.cpa.ca/docs/File/Publications/FactShee… .pdf (retrieved 3/24/13).