The delegates to the Spring Council voted to approve a statement, developed by the Biblical Research Institute, addressing the topic of transgenderism. Although it articulates biblical principles that logically condemn transgenderism, the operative language states that if transgendered persons do not have sex outside of heterosexual marriage, “they can be members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” See, “Statement on Transgenderism,” numbered paragraph 5.
This officially approved statement legitimizes the action of the Hollywood SDA Church in making “Rhonda”—a biological male who identifies, dresses and comports himself as female—an elder and Sabbath School teacher. (Fulcrum7 readers will recall that we published a story by Churchmouse on Rhonda in January 2016.) “Rhonda” recently weighed in on the official statement, and was described as follows:
Rhonda is a biologist and teacher currently employed by a very large mental health organization. She is a Seventh-day Adventist/Christian ordained elder who is also a transgender lesbian, otherwise known as a “transbian.” She is married to the love of her life. They have been together for 51 years and have two beautiful grown daughters.
Although oddly called a transgendered lesbian or “transbian,” considering “her” male birth sex, "Rhonda" is actually heterosexual. And "she" is also married to the woman with whom "she" has sex, so “Rhonda” fits perfectly within the policy set out in numbered paragraph 5 in the now officially voted statement. He is transgendered—he lives as a she—but he/she is not having sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Thus, per the newly voted statement, it is perfectly okay for him/her to be a member in good standing and an elder in the Hollywood SDA Church.
A Compromised Statement
The statement on transgenderism is clearly a compromise position paper, in which liberals got some things and conservatives got some things. Because the SDA Church is composed of both liberals and conservatives (and the higher the level of church government the greater the concentration of liberals) all official church position papers are starting to look like political compromises.
But while the conservatives got a few biblical principles inaptly applied, the liberals got a plain statement that transgendered persons can be members in good standing. The liberals got much the better of this incoherent compromise.
An Analysis of the Statement
After an introductory statement arguing that biblical principles apply to transgenderism, the statement then defines transgenderism:
“In modern society, gender identity typically denotes “the public (and usually legally recognized) lived role as boy or girl, man or woman,” while sex refers “to the biological indicators of male and female.” Gender identification usually aligns with a person’s biological sex at birth. However, misalignment may happen at the physical and/or mental-emotional levels.”
This is a concise statement that one’s gender identity, the sense of being a male or female, does not always match one’s biological sex. The term “misalignment” minimizes the problem, however, and makes it sound like something that could be fixed by a good automotive mechanic.
On the physical level ambiguity in genitalia may result from anatomical and physiological abnormalities so that it cannot be clearly established whether a child is male or female. This ambiguity of anatomical sexual differentiation is often called hermaphroditism or intersexualism.
Transgenderism is not caused by biological phenomena, nor it is about biological phenomena. Transgenderism is not about living out one’s biology, even if it is inter-sexed or sexually ambiguous. To the contrary, transgenderism is choosing to live as the gender opposite that indicated by one's birth anatomy. The most famous transgendered person in America, Bruce/Caitlin Jenner, was a very masculine man who won the Olympic Decathlon in the 1976 Olympics, an event that includes such masculine events as shot put, discus, and javelin, as well as the running and jumping events. Those extremely rare cases where a person’s anatomy is sexually ambiguous or intermediate are irrelevant to the issue of transgenderism. Typically, those who mention cases of biological ambiguity are engaged in special pleading, arguing that transgenderism is inborn and thereby not only justified and vindicated, but also a civil right.
The statement then moves on to discuss some technical psychiatric terms:
On the mental-emotional level misalignment occurs with transgender people whose sexual anatomy is clearly male or female but who identify with the opposite gender of their biological sex. They may describe themselves as being trapped in a wrong body. Transgenderism, formerly clinically diagnosed as “gender identity disorder” and now termed “gender dysphoria,” may be understood as a general term to describe the variety of ways individuals interpret and express their gender identity differently from those who determine gender on the basis of biological sex. “Gender dysphoria is manifested in a variety of ways, including strong desires to be treated as the other gender or to be rid of one’s sex characteristics, or a strong conviction that one has feelings and reactions typical of the other gender.”
This clinical discussion ignores the fact that “gender dysphoria” is most certainly not the same thing as transgenderism. Gender dysphoria is an obscure psychological pathology that affects very few people; transgenderism is a lifestyle choice in blatant rebellion against the created sexual order. Transgenderism is also a widely celebrated cultural phenomenon and a “civil rights” enthusiasm of our cultural and political elites. In Bible terms, gender dysphoria is arguably the temptation to live as the sex opposite one’s birth sex, whereas transgenderism is the sin of choosing to live in that manner.
The cultural and ideological trendiness of transgenderism is touched on in the next paragraph, but never adequately addressed:
Due to contemporary trends to reject the biblical gender binary (male and female) and replace it with a growing spectrum of gender types, certain choices triggered by the transgender condition have come to be regarded as normal and accepted in contemporary culture. However, the desire to change or live as a person of another gender may result in biblically inappropriate lifestyle choices.
This paragraph falsely implies that the problem is not “the transgender condition” itself, but rather that “certain choices” or “biblically inappropriate lifestyle choices” might result from transgenderism. Not true. The problem is not that transgenderism leads to bad choices; rather transgenderism is itself a bad choice. Choosing to live as a woman when you are a man, or choosing to live as a man when you are a woman, is itself a “biblically inappropriate lifestyle choice.”
Gender dysphoria may, for instance, result in cross-dressing [FN 5: Cross-dressing, also referred to as transvestite behavior, is prohibited in Deuteronomy 22:5.], sex reassignment surgery, and the desire to have a marital relationship with a person of the same biological sex. On the other hand, transgender people may suffer silently, living a celibate life or being married to a spouse of the opposite sex.
Here are a bizarre couple of sentences that contradict each other and highlight the compromised nature of this statement. If one does not cross-dress and does not seek to mutilate himself surgically, in what sense is one transgendered? If one does not cross-dress and does not act and live as a person of the opposite sex, and is happily married to a spouse of the opposite sex, one is not transgendered. At worst, one has strange thoughts.
The statement then begins to set out “biblical principles” relevant to the transgender phenomenon, some of which genuinely are biblical principles and some of which are policy prescriptions.
1. God created humanity as two persons who are respectively identified as male and female in terms of gender. The Bible inextricably ties gender to biological sex (Gen 1:27; 2:22–24) and does not make a distinction between the two. The Word of God affirms complementarity as well as clear distinctions between male and female in creation. The Genesis creation account is foundational to all questions of human sexuality.
This is a good statement of applicable biblical principles, and clearly forecloses approving of transgendered persons or allowing them to be members of the church. The Genesis account is foundational on the topic of sexuality, and tells us that God created two and only two sexes, male and female, and that our sex is assigned to us at birth. We are not at liberty to argue with God about what sex He assigned us.
2. From a biblical perspective, the human being is a psychosomatic unity. For example, Scripture repeatedly calls the entire human being a soul (Gen 2:7; Jer 13:17; 52:28-30; Ezek 18:4; Acts 2:41; 1 Cor 15:45), a body (Eph 5:28; Rom 12:1–2; Rev 18:13), flesh (1 Pet 1:24), and spirit (2 Tim 4:22; 1 John 4:1–3). Thus, the Bible does not endorse dualism in the sense of a separation between one’s body and one’s sense of sexuality. In addition, an immortal part of humans is not envisioned in Scripture because God alone possesses immortality (1 Tim 6:14–16) and will bestow it on those who believe in Him at the first resurrection (1 Cor 15:51–54). Thus, a human being is also meant to be an undivided sexual entity, and sexual identity cannot be independent from one’s body. According to Scripture, our gender identity, as designed by God, is determined by our biological sex at birth (Gen 1:27; 5:1–2; Ps 139:13–14; Mark 10:6).
This is a clever and creative application of the fact that the bifurcation between mind and body is not part of the biblical worldview, but something that came into the early church from pagan Greek philosophy. Adventists typically bring this to bear on the issue of whether the “soul” is a disembodied consciousness that continues on after the death of the body, but it can also be applied to the issue of transgenderism. We are a psychosomatic unity, a single mind-body entity, and our “mind” may not go a different direction, claiming we are a different gender, from what our body indicates.
3. Scripture acknowledges, however, that due to the Fall (Gen 3:6–19) the whole human being—that is, our mental, physical, and spiritual faculties—are affected by sin (Jer 17:9; Rom 3:9; 7:14–23; 8:20–23; Gal 5:17) and need to be renewed by God (Rom 12:2). Our emotions, feelings, and perceptions are not fully reliable indicators of God’s designs, ideals, and truth (Prov 14:12; 16:25). We need guidance from God through Scripture to determine what is in our best interest and live according to His will (2 Tim 3:16).
Why is there a “however” in the first sentence? There is nothing in paragraph 3 that is inconsistent with paragraph 2.
4. The fact that some individuals claim a gender identity incompatible with their biological sex reveals a serious dichotomy. This brokenness or distress, whether felt or not, is an expression of the damaging effects of sin on humans and may have a variety of causes. Although gender dysphoria is not intrinsically sinful, it may result in sinful choices. It is another indicator that, on a personal level, humans are involved in the great controversy.
To say that “gender dysphoria is not intrinsically sinful” risks implying that gender dysphoria is innocent. Gender dysphoria is both a result of the sinfulness and fallen-ness of the world and a temptation to commit the sin of transgenderism. Gender dysphoria is not innocent, and it should not be made to sound innocent.
5. As long as transgender people are committed to ordering their lives according to the biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage they can be members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Bible clearly and consistently identifies any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage as sin (Matt 5:28, 31–32; 1 Tim 1:8–11; Heb 13:4). Alternative sexual lifestyles are sinful distortions of God’s good gift of sexuality (Rom 1:21–28; 1 Cor 6:9–10).
Here is where the whole game was given away to the liberals. The entire balance of the statement was red herring designed to confuse and bamboozle conservatives regarding the real effect of the first sentence of this paragraph.
Transgendered people are not people who have been tempted by “gender dysphoria” (or whatever), they are people who have given in to the temptation and committed the sin of transgenderism. They are dressing, living, and being addressed as persons of the gender opposite their birth sex, just like our friend Elder “Rhonda” at the Hollywood SDA Church. And the Spring Council just voted a statement saying that “Rhonda” and everyone like “her” can be not only members in good standing in the SDA Church, but also elders, ministers, and one day conference presidents.
The paragraph talks about homosexuality and sex outside of marriage, but what have these to do with transgenderism? The essence of the sin of transgenderism is rebellion against God’s sovereign choice regarding who and what He made us. Fornication is sex outside of marriage, adultery is cheating on your spouse, sodomy is having sex with someone of your own sex, and theft is taking property that does not belong to you. Transgenderism is not any of these sins. Transgenderism is a separate sin. Transgenderism is living in a way that denies your birth sex; it is a public rebellion against the created sexual order. And the Spring Council just voted that it is not anything that need be an impediment to membership, office, and ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
6. Because the Bible regards humans as wholistic entities and does not differentiate between biological sex and gender identity, the Church strongly cautions transgender people against sex reassignment surgery and against marriage, if they have undergone such a procedure. From the biblical wholistic viewpoint of human nature, a full transition from one gender to another and the attainment of an integrated sexual identity cannot be expected in the case of sex reassignment surgery.
It is not just from a biblical worldview that sex change is not achievable. It is a biological fact that surgery cannot change a man into a woman, or vice versa. You only get a mutilated person, a Frankenman or a Frankenwoman. But instead of dissuading souls only from irreversible self-mutilation, the statement should discourage all from dressing, acting, talking, demanding to be addressed, or even thinking as a person of the opposite sex. Don’t even start down the road of gender rebellion; don’t even flirt with such a blatant sin against God.
7. The Bible commands followers of Christ to love everyone. Created in the image of God, they must be treated with dignity and respect. This includes transgender people. Acts of ridicule, abuse, or bullying towards transgender people are incompatible with the biblical commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
And yet sin must be called by its right name, especially the fashionable sins of the day, and no sin is more fashionable just now than transgenderism.
8. The Church as the community of Jesus Christ is meant to be a refuge and place of hope, care, and understanding to all who are perplexed, suffering, struggling, and lonely, for “a bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (Matt 12:20). All people are invited to attend the Seventh-day Adventist Church and enjoy the fellowship of its believers. Those who are members can fully participate in church life as long as they embrace the message, mission, and values of the Church.
If I walked into the Hollywood Church and saw “Rhonda” teaching the Sabbath School class, I would not consider the place a “refuge.” I would probably want to wheel right around and go find a refuge where Rhonda’s visage could be effaced from my memory. God forbid a family with young children should wander in and see such a thing.
9. The Bible proclaims the good news that sexual sins committed by heterosexuals, homosexuals, transgender people, or others can be forgiven, and lives can be transformed through faith in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:9–11).
Neither here nor there. Transgenderism is itself a sin, not a gateway drug leading to other sins.
10. Those who experience incongruity between their biological sex and gender identity are encouraged to follow biblical principles in dealing with their distress. They are invited to reflect on God’s original plan of purity and sexual fidelity. Belonging to God, all are called to honor Him with their bodies and their lifestyle choices (1 Cor 6:19). With all believers, transgender people are encouraged to wait on God and are offered the fullness of divine compassion, peace, and grace in anticipation of Christ’s soon return when all true followers of Christ will be completely restored to God’s ideal.
Here is one last conflating of the issues of (1) gender dysphoria --the temptation to transgenderism, (2) transgenderism—living as the opposite sex, and (3) the sin of sex outside of marriage into one big stew designed to the confuse the issue and further obscure what was actually done in this statement, which was to say that there is no problem with as many Elder Rhondas as want to join the church.
The bottom line, as was stated by Dr. Iskander back in January of last year, is that "people who do not act and dress appropriately to their birth sex should not be allowed to become members, much less elders or other congregational leaders." The statement voted by the Spring Council does not clearly state this. To the contrary, it appears to state exactly the opposite.
Some commenters have noted that there is much complaining about the voted statement on the liberal websites, the implication being that the statement must be conservative because liberals are bitterly complaining about it. But I never said that liberals would be completely happy with the document. I said it was a compromise in which conservatives got some things and liberals got some things. But although everyone got something, the plain statement that transgendered persons can be members of the church is by far the most important element of the statement.
Liberals may be complaining that the voted statement does not give transgenderism, and particularly surgical transsexualism, a clean bill of health. But they do not disagree with me about the import of numbered paragraph 5, which is that “Rhonda,” the transgendered elder of the Hollywood SDA Church, is a member in good standing. “Rhonda” herself agrees with my reading; here is what “she” had to say about it:
The Committee states, “As long as transgender people are committed to ordering their lives according to the biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage, they can be members of the Seventh-day Adventist church.” To the Committee I say, “Oh my, what a graciously gratuitous statement! Thank you for your willingness to reluctantly include me as a member, but I am already a member and an ordained elder in my local Adventist church, and I didn’t need your authorization to become so.”
Recall that “Rhonda” not only cross-dresses, “she” appears to have had surgery to give “herself” an impressive bosom, so impressive that Churchmouse felt compelled to cover it up with duct tape.
Is Transgenderism a Sin?
Just to further distill and highlight my basic disagreement with the voted position paper, the paper seems to be holding that transgenderism is not a sin so long as it does not lead to “biblically inappropriate lifestyle choices,” principally sexual intercourse outside of marriage. This impression is conveyed in several places in the statement, including but not limited to numbered paragraphs 5, 9 and 10. My position is that transgenderism, defined as living as a person of the sex opposite one’s birth sex, is a sin, and it remains a sin even if the transgendered person is entirely celibate.
What is Transgenderism?
When I say that transgenderism is a sin, I mean dressing, living, and demanding to be addressed, as someone of the sex opposite his birth sex. I consider strange thoughts, or “gender dysphoria,” to be mere temptation that may be resisted. One of our commenters, Kenneth Neal, notes that in the psychological literature, there is no distinction between gender dysphoria and transgenderism—the terms are interchangeable—and that transgenderism does not necessarily involve cross-dressing, surgery, or any outward behavior at all. Since Neal is a psychologist, I will defer to him on the clinical meaning of the terms. But I do not believe that this psychiatric/psychological approach matches the biblical view.
In the biblical worldview, a desire, urge, or compulsion to do a wrong thing is called a temptation, and temptation can be resisted by the power of the Holy Spirit. (See, e.g., James 4:7; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Peter 2:9; Luke 22:40). (As I understand the view of the “Last Generation Theology” camp, the temptation itself is not culpable if it is resisted; as I understand the “Original Sin” camp, the desire or urge to do a wrong thing is itself culpable and guilty, even if the temptation is resisted, the desire not acted upon.)
As Christians, we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by our temptations. The principals of “Coming Out Ministries” do not like to be called homosexual, regardless of the degree of persistence of their same-sex “orientation” or temptation. They do not act on that “orientation” or temptation, and hence they are not homosexuals. Likewise, I would argue that someone experiencing “gender dysphoria” in his mind is not transgendered unless he overtly acts on the temptation to reject God’s sovereign choice for his sex.
What Does the Position Paper Think Transgenderism is?
Where does the voted position paper stand on this? It is not clear. If the authors of the statement are taking the position that strictly inward or mental “gender dysphoria” without overt transgendered behavior is “transgenderism” (and, again, this is the position of the psychological literature, although I do not think it squares with a biblical worldview), then it is possible to read Paragraph 5 as holding that gender dysphoric persons can be members of the SDA Church only if their internal feelings are not manifested in outward behavior. If that is what the position paper intended to communicate, then the intent was to exclude “Rhonda” from being a member of the church.
The confusion goes to heart of the paper, and it could easily have been cleared up by stating, "as long as transgendered people do not dress or act as persons of the sex opposite their birth sex, they can be members in good standing." But instead, the authors made the criterion not having sex outside heterosexual marriage. The statements in paragraphs 5, 9, and 10 seem to be saying that persons can be members in good standing, even if they outwardly act in a transgendered manner, so long as they are not having sex outside of heterosexual marriage.
This confusion is too profound and too easily remedied to not be intentional. It must have been the result of a conscious compromise. Perhaps it is too harsh to say that the compromise was between liberals and conservatives. Possibly the compromise was between those who saw no problem with overtly acted out transgenderism, provided it does not lead to some form of unlawful sexual intercourse, and those like myself who see a serious problem with transgendered behavior regardless whether it leads to unlawful sexual intercourse.