The Church and Differences of Sex Development

An open letter to the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Southern Baptist Convention(SBC) is being encouraged to consider A Resolution on Transgender when it meets in Baltimore on June 10th and 11th. Rather than present Scripture passages which address gender identity or differences of sex development, the authors have taken the approach the disciples took with the man born blind.

His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'” (John 9:2)

The introduction to the resolution condemns anyone with a gender identity at variance with their biological sex. The proposed resolution also condemns parents who support their children by seeking the only effective treatment currently offered.

According to Denny Burk, one of the resolution’s authors, The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 says that “the gift of gender is…part of the goodness of God’s creation” Indeed, gender identity is an integral part of who we are. Yet the resolution treats gender identity as something learned. It assumes that a person’s gender identity can be brought into alignment with genital sex through the Christian process of repentance.

The resolution is aimed at those with a “transgender identity,” but it has implications for those of us born with a difference of sex development. Since Mr. Burk presented only general Scripture passages to support the resolution, I’d like to call his attention to some verses that actually deal with differences of sex development directly.

Barren Women

Genesis 11:30, Genesis 25:21, Genesis 29:31, Deuteronomy 7:14, Judges 13:3-2, Isaiah 54:1-5, Psalm 113:9, Proverbs 30:16, Galatians 4:27, Hebrews 11:11

There are usually biological reasons for infertility. Many of those involve intersex.

A woman with the complete form of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS), for instance, might live her entire life without knowing of her condition. Even a specialist might not tell her she’s XY and has testes in her abdomen rather than ovaries and uterus. Her body can’t react to androgens, but it does convert enough to estrogen to give her a normal puberty (without menstruation). She’s the poster child for the barren woman of Scripture. Nowhere is she condemned.

‘”Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD.’ (Isaiah 54:1-5)

Eunuchs

Deuteronomy 23:1, Leviticus 21:16-23, 2 Kings 20:16-18, Isaiah 39:5-7, Isaiah 56:3-5, Jeremiah 38:7, Matthew 19:10-12, Acts 8:26-39

Matthew 19:12 lists three types of eunuchs—intersex, involuntary, and voluntary.

“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.” (Matthew 19:12)

Anyone born with ambiguous genitals, anyone with masculine genitals who failed to virilize at puberty, anyone whose testes were removed—all these would have been considered eunuchs.

The passages in Deuteronomy and Leviticus indicate that eunuchs, due to their physical differences, were not allowed in the temple. They were not treated as males. Yet they are nowhere condemned.

‘“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.” (Isaiah 56:4,5)

Man’s Way

There have always been a certain number of babies born between the sexes (i.e. inter-sex). The Bible not only acknowledges their existence, it celebrates by giving them promises of a special place if their faith is in Him.

Men? Not so much.

Since the early 1950s, the treatment of those with a difference of sex development has rested of three pillarssurgery, secrecy, and shame.

Gender identity was assumed to be learned. The nature versus nurture debate had been settled in the minds of many. The theory said that intersex could be treated by early surgical intervention to eliminate genital ambiguity. Parents were instructed to never let their child find out what was done to them. Indeed, parents were sometimes not informed as to exactly what had been done. There was never to be any doubt about the child’s assigned gender. Nurture would make everything okay.

But secrets are difficult to keep, and children soon realize that there’s something so horrible about them that their parents can’t even talk about it. The result was a generation of intersex adults with a deep sense of shame about who they were—especially related to their bodies. For some, this included treatment-induced gender issues.

The John-Joan case, sometimes used to support a nurture theory of gender, was discredited long ago. Unfortunately, the deeply flawed message of nurture over nature has lingered on in much of our culture, including the church.

God’s Way

A Southern Baptist preacher once saved my life. Truman Barrow, an elderly man who bled kindness, was the pastor of a mission work in Rochester, Illinois in the late 1960s.

He could have called me queer. Being intersex, my body hadn’t developed into a man’s. He could have called me an abomination—I was, after all, in love with a boy, while trying to live as one.

At sixteen, I was suicidal. Pastor Barrow could have mocked my feminine face and voice. As others had. Or told me to be a man. Instead, he loved me as I was. That Godly man led me down Romans Road, introduced me to Jesus, and gave me a reason to live.

To him I wasn’t some despised Samaritan. I was just one more sinner in need of the grace of a forgiving God. A wayward lamb to be shepherded like any other.

nineface

I was raised for a time as a boy. I wanted to be male, sometimes more than anything else in the world. I thought that if I was good enough, if I tried hard enough, God would make me a real boy. Since I wasn’t, some terrible moral failure must have been to blame. Perhaps the reason was that I often wanted to grow up to be a wife and mother.

As a new Christian, I assumed that God would change me so I was all one sex. As in male. Boy. Instead, the mask behind which I’d hidden crumbled, and I was forced to deal with the world as me instead of someone else. That led to my choosing estrogen over testosterone—pink over blue—and a life that no longer revolved around gender.

My genetics aren’t standard XX or XY. That resulted in gonads that were messed up and failed early. My genitals were masculine in shape, small in size, and not entirely functional. I was tiny and frail as a child and had spatial issues that kept me from learning complex sports or dance moves. A small jaw gave me a feminine face.

When I was an infant, a quick glimpse between my legs would have convinced anyone I was a boy. A quick look at my face and behavior got me clocked as a girl. I’m intersex. Between. Yet a happily married woman. And, for what little it’s worth, I don’t identify as transgender.

Most who do identify as transgender haven’t been diagnosed as having an intersex condition. Most have typical sex markers (e.g. genetics, gonads, genitals) that agree with each other. Who knows why their gender identity doesn’t agree with their biological sex? Does it even matter?

The Bible doesn’t condemn cases in which the sex markers don’t agree or are incomplete. Why make an exception for gender identity? Grace and a bit of humility would seem more appropriate.

Take the time to examine the testimonies of Christians who are transgender or who have an intersex condition. Meanwhile, throw open the doors to people with biological sex differences or a gender that doesn’t meet your expectations and let the Holy Spirit sort out what needs to change in their lives. It’s okay that they’re different.

#Baptist #intersex #trans #gender

5 thoughts on “The Church and Differences of Sex Development

  1. Honestly, I don’t have to know if you are a man or a woman. if you dress like and act like a man I’ll assume you are one. If you dress like and act like a woman I’ll assume you are one. God loves us all. And every one of us has stuff we haven’t acknowledged is wrong yet. Maybe you look at me and see what I’m doing wrong and condemn me just as much as I do you. So I will look to God and make his aim mine.
    The Bible says “let love by your highest aim. It also says that we should bear with one another, and forgive each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Colossians 3:13 NASB. So I’ll forgive you for judging my ignorance as malice and trust that you will do the same. May God bless you and yours with all the good he has stored up for you in Christ.

  2. “Men? Not so much”. In the early 1980s I was in my mid 20s, and a trial member in a Pentecostal (mostly Catholic) live-in religious community. At a small noon-time outdoor prayer gathering a younger man stepped forward to share the good things the Lord was doing for him. Everyone believed in miracles. He also was a trial member. He showed only a hint of male puberty. He was shaped like a 180 pound pear and reminded me of “Herbie the Fat Fury”. I was only halfway through my college anthropology courses and had little knowledge of gender disorders. Even my own external corrections were thought by me to be only cosmetic. Even so, I could tell this man was not actualized for maleness. He thanked the elders (two of three were present) for allowing him to become a member. He went on to thank them and his doctor and Jesus for helping him with his hormone imbalances and to defeat his homosexuality. A discomfort rolled through the small crowd. At the end, with the crowd dispersing, one of the elders caught up to the other. It was the only time I ever saw him angry. He said Herbie (I don’t know his real name) ‘had blown his trial commitment’. From their conversation I learned Herbie had promised not to share this sort of thing in public. I could have corrected them for exposing me to what should have been a private consultation. I should have exhorted them both to pray about this before making a life-affecting decision. In the end all I did was add a second size 10-12 tee shirt to hide my tanner 2 aa cups. A third would follow. I never saw Herbie again. I think Nazi Germany got started this way. – Tupungato.

  3. Lianne, Great web site/blog!

    I am the Director of the UK Intersex Association (founded in 2000), You may be interested to know that in 2013 I assisted Susannah (Cornwall) with her research. It was around this time that UKIA began a major research project in to the attitudes towards and integration of intersex people into their faith community. This is still ongoing, partially because there are so many discussion to be had, but it is also rather difficult to get faith leaders to discuss this matter. One can speculate why ….

    Best wishes

    Jay

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