I am very pleased to publish this guest post on what the Bible might have to say about people who are transgender. Most people probably assume they know, or at least can surmise. Well, read on.
The post is by Douglas Wadeson, a Platinum member of the blog. As you probably know, Platinum members are allowed to publish posts (just) for other p\Platinum members, and after a several come in then they all vote on which one goes onto the blog itself. This one is the winner from the past batch (BTW: it was running against three other posts that were also *terrific*). If you would like to get in on this action — and create a blog post yourself (for example, taking a *different* point of view to this post or to any of mine, or simply posting about what you’re interested in) — check out the Platinum level of membership (click JOIN and you’ll see); there are other nice benefits as well, including a quarterly webinar that I do with Platinum members.
Here now is the post. Do you find it compelling? Controversial? Something else? Doug will be happy to respond to comments.
I recently read of a horrible incident in which a political candidate in Santa Rosa county, Florida, suggested that doctors who assisted with gender reassignment of young people should be hung from trees. Reportedly this comment was greeted with applause from the audience rather than outrage. Applause for the suggestion of lynching someone? Seriously? Unfortunately, the negative, even hateful attitude toward transgender people and gender reassignment often comes from those claiming to be Bible-believing Christians. Does the Bible say that having gender dysphoria or having reassignment surgery is a sin?
Obviously there was no transgender medicine or surgery in Biblical times – or was there? They did have one type of gender-altering procedure: castration, to create eunuchs. This was usually done by crushing the testicles of a boy before reaching puberty, so he would remain effeminate, rather than developing masculine characteristics. Why? Such men were considered safe around the master’s wife or harem. Since they did not marry or have children they were considered very loyal to their masters and very trustworthy. Some eunuchs (castrati) were used for singing, as their voices remained in the higher ranges. They were often used in church choirs when and where women were not allowed to sing, and surprisingly it was not until 1878 that Pope Leo XIII finally ended the Italian practice of castrating young males to maintain their soprano voices. TO BE CLEAR: I am NOT saying eunuchs are equivalent to transgender, but they fall outside the strict male-female dichotomy many modern Christians adhere to, so I think there is something to be learned from the example of eunuchs since they are mentioned in the Bible.
Eunuchs are mentioned a number of times in the Bible, but the process of making boys eunuchs is never condemned. It is never said to be a sin to become a eunuch. Let me repeat that: nowhere in the Bible does it condemn those who were eunuchs or label it as a sin. Eunuchs could be priests, but were excluded from offering up sacrifices (Leviticus 21:20), but then so were people with scoliosis, cataracts or a number of other common conditions, none of which were considered sinful. Still, eunuchs would likely have been looked down upon by some as sexual oddities. However, the book of Isaiah offers them hope:
For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me,
To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial,
And a name better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name which will not be eliminated.
Isaiah 56: 4, 5
Not only will eunuchs be welcomed into God’s house, but they will be given a place of honor for their faithfulness, even though they have been sexually altered and do not conform to the normal sexual stereotype.
The New Testament has two significant passages concerning eunuchs; the first by Jesus:
“For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by people; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:12
Obviously most were made eunuchs by others. Men like Jesus and Paul were so devoted to the Kingdom of God that they eschewed sexual relations, making themselves eunuchs in essence. However, some literally castrated themselves, like the early church theologian Origen, or the Skoptsy sect in Russia (they also performed mastectomy of women). But what did Jesus mean that some were “born” eunuchs?
Possibly people were aware of cryptorchidism, in which the testicles do not descend into the scrotum, but while this can cause infertility it would not cause the boy to develop into an effeminate or asexual eunuch. I think Jesus meant something different than that. People in Biblical times may not have had a good understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation, but they certainly knew that some men preferred the company of other men or simply had no interest in sex, and some men had feminine habits and characteristics. They were like eunuchs, but without having been castrated; they were simply that way from birth. I worked with a nurse who told me that her whole family knew her younger brother was gay long before he came to realize it; he was just “born” that way. We can argue the details, but I think Jesus was acknowledging that some people are sexually different from birth, not through the action of others, or by a later choice of their own. Those who suffered gender dysphoria, feeling like they were born into the wrong gender, had no access to medications, and the only surgical option was castration, and that was only for boys, not girls. So most simply had to live with it and make the best of it. But there is no suggestion in the Bible that it was a sin to feel that way.
The other relevant passage is found in Acts 8. There the evangelist Philip is directed by an angel to teach the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch. The eunuch was said to have “come to Jerusalem to worship” and is struggling with a passage from Isaiah, so it is likely he is already a convert to Judaism, but it is interesting that the author has this early story of a conversion to Christianity involve a person who has two strikes against him: he is a eunuch (a sexually odd person), and he is almost certainly darker-skinned than the typical Jew, quite possibly Black. I have no doubt that the people of that day had the same issues with different skin colors that we still see today. Read Numbers 12: Moses’ sister Miriam seems to take exception to Moses marrying an apparently dark-skinned Cushite (Ethiopian) woman, and so is given the ironic punishment of having her own skin turn white – with leprosy! Prejudice was as much an issue then as now.
So, this dark-skinned eunuch is converted and saved. No issue is made of his status as a eunuch or a dark-skinned foreigner. Perhaps the author of Acts is using this as a fulfillment of Isaiah 56 (which mentions both eunuchs and foreigners), that now even eunuchs are openly welcomed into the kingdom of God. He doesn’t stop being a eunuch and his skin color doesn’t change, but he is welcome in the kingdom of God. It is a beautiful message, even though it was ignored in the days of segregated churches, and I fear is still being ignored today.
I suspect there were those in the early church who did harbor prejudice against eunuchs, because in 325 CE the first Council of Nicaea thought it necessary to address the issue of eunuchs. They did not approve of self-castration but they did say that eunuchs could be in the clergy if otherwise worthy. Not just in the church, but in the clergy. That sounds like a rather clear statement of tolerance and acceptance and a rejection of prejudice.
Does any of this prove that having gender dysphoria or going through gender reassignment surgery is NOT a sin? Maybe not, but I think the burden is on those who want to say that it IS a sin. On what basis? The argument that it is not natural is very weak: increasing evidence says that the variety of gender and sexual expressions we see in people is entirely natural; people are indeed “born” that way, as Jesus himself suggested. “But you shouldn’t change the way you were born; God doesn’t make mistakes!” Then explain circumcision to me. God put a foreskin on the male penis only to have Abraham and his descendants cut it off? A simpler example: God designed men to have hair on their faces and women on their legs, so is it a sin for us to shave those areas, since God doesn’t make mistakes? Or wear glasses or dye our hair? Should we tell a child with cystic fibrosis that she can’t have a lung transplant because God doesn’t make mistakes? We don’t apply that perverse reasoning to any number of other conditions that we are born with; why apply it to gender dysphoria?
Many conservative Christians want men to act like men, and women like women, and yet they oppose gender reassignment. That seems backwards to me. Transgender men want to look and act like the men they have been since birth, and women likewise. Christians should therefore welcome transition, not oppose it. And even if a transgender person does not choose to go through gender reassignment common decency as well as Christian decency ought to lead us to treat those people with the kindness and concern we should express for any human being.
Frankly, I think the objection to being transgender has no basis in the Bible; I think it is prejudice, pure and simple. Our human nature makes us suspicious or fearful of those who are different from us. But our human intellect can be used to overcome our prejudices; that is our advantage. I know that it may seem very strange to you that a man feels like he should be a woman, or that a woman feels that she should be a man. Likewise with a man being attracted to another man, or a woman to another woman. Guess what: you should “feel” uncomfortable with that! It is perfectly OK to feel uncomfortable with that! Of course it does not seem natural to you: you were not born that way; you are not wired that way. But that doesn’t matter. We need to recognize that there a lot of different people in the world and they don’t all have to be like us. What an awful and boring world this would be if everybody was like me! So, if I don’t “feel” comfortable with someone else I shrug it off and still do my best to treat them as a decent, worthy and equal human being. I want to overcome my errant feelings, not consecrate them and inflict them on the world.
Let me close with some advice from the apostle Paul:
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we instructed you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” 1st Thessalonians 4:11, 12
“For what business of mine is it to judge outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?” 1st Corinthians 5:12
Paul is basically saying, “Mind your own business!” And when he says to behave properly toward outsiders I do not think he means to lynch them!
It is not surprising to me that church membership is falling in America. I think many people, particularly young people are tired of seeing church members condemning and trying to control those outside the church rather than being concerned with their own morality and ethics, which often seems to be sorely lacking. How can one claim the moral high ground while calling for the lynching of others? Maybe such people should consider what Jesus said was the second most important commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) No exceptions noted.
 Cutting out of the testicles might cause complications like hemorrhage, infection and death, so crushing was safer, but I cannot imagine the pain involved, or the mindset of someone who would perform such a procedure on a boy.
 Like lack of facial hair, less muscle mass, more prominent breasts, higher voice.
 There is evidence that some eunuchs were capable of having sex, but because they were infertile they were not a threat to the royal bloodline.
 Children are given virtually no specific protections in the Law of Moses.
 Just as there would have been girls and women who did not conform to the expected female stereotype.
 Being gay and being transgender are different, but both are examples of innate sexual characteristics that incur the disapproval of some religious people.
 Segregated churches are not ancient history; some churches are still all-white by choice.
 No, the council did NOT decide Jesus was divine, or define the books of the Bible, but they did address eunuchs!
 Actually, according to Leviticus 21:5 maybe it is a sin to shave! And get body piercing. Does that include pierced earrings?
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