Michel Corneille the Elder, 1601-1664
Church Saint Nicholas-des-Champs,
Paris, central motive, fresco vault
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Gen. 1:27)
"Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard." (Lev. 19:27)
"A woman must not wear men's gear, nor a man wear women's robes, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this." (Deut. 22:5)
"Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head -- it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice -- nor do the churches of God." (1 Cor. 11:4-16)
"As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored." (1 Cor. 14:33b-38)
"A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." (1 Tim. 2:11-12)
The commands of these passages may be summarized with the following table:
Today few, if any, of these rules are enforced by even the most conservative churches. The twentieth century saw the abandonment of head coverings by the Catholic Church. Among all but the very conservative, female pastors and priests are allowed. This last is an area worthy of discussion at another time.
Lawrence O. Richards (Richards, Lawrence O., Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), p. 428) writes,
"In most cases the OT civil laws governing the rights of men and women reflect cultural patterns. They fall short of what many believe to be a deserved "equality." But it is important to remember that no culture provides equality. Injustices exist in every culture. And OT law was not a perfect expression of God's ideal for the whole human race (Mt. 5:21-43). OT law was an accommodation, bringing righteousness as close as possible to men and women who lived in a world in which all things were tainted and twisted by sin."
Many of the rules that Paul imposes on men and women above are reflections of practices in the Jewish Synagogue. For example, "The woman does not read out of the Torah, for the sake of the honor of the congregation." In contrast to this, it was also Paul who wrote,
"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal. 3:26-29)
Richards continues (ibid, p. 430),
"With the gospel came the announcement that in Christ 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus' (Gal. 3:28). This proclamation insists that there is spiritual equality in God's sight, despite those cultural distinctions made in every society. Yet believers remain male and female, slave and free. And each must live out his or her life within roles imposed by society as well as within the believing community.
"For the church, the teaching of the gospel is a challenge to become the kind of community that Scripture says we are -- one that values persons apart from their social role. For the woman today, the teaching of the gospel is a challenge to be comfortable with herself as a female. A woman, because she is significant in Christ, can find worth and dignity by living life as a woman -- without a need to act like a man."
I would expect Richards would be willing to expand this section to include, "For the man today, the teaching of the gospel is a challenge to be comfortable with himself as a male. A man, because he is significant in Christ, can find worth and dignity by living life as a man -- without a need to act like a woman." And this is where the real issue for the transgendered begins.
How can the transgendered, whether male or female, be comfortable with himself/herself within his/her gender? To address this issue it is necessary to understand who and what a transgendered person is.
The transgendered person is usually not homosexual. The stereotype of the gay drag-queen is exactly that, a stereotype. Although a few cross-dressing (transvestitism?) homosexuals exist, they are rare compared to the number of heterosexual transgendered people. If transgendered people spend a lot of time at gay bars, it's because they find more acceptance there than they do in the "straight" world.
The transgendered person is not sick. Mental health professionals state publicly that transvestism is not a mental illness... People who cross gender lines in dressing can be classed into four categories.
For the transsexual, cross-dressing does not produce sexual stimulation. Instead it is used as a way to feel like they fit into the desired gender. Belonging is the most important motivator, and being forced to return to the birth-gender role can be emotionally traumatic for them.
This shows a deep-seated brokenness with self, and often there are problems of low self esteem. Sometimes this brokenness can be healed in the gender of birth; sometimes it can only be healed by transitioning to the gender of choice. Here the challenge is to find healing in a way that does not destroy the sufferer's relationships with those around him, especially family and friends. Often the result of this struggle is divorce, with its accompanying problems.
This happens even though most transsexual people highly value these relationships and mourn their passing. Another deep-seated problem is with the transition process itself. Many transsexuals have trouble following the Benjamin Standards of Care. There are many cases of abuse of illegal hormones, overdosing on prescription hormones and going off-shore for surgery.
So how can the transgendered, whether male or female, be comfortable with himself/herself within his/her gender? There is sin in the life of every transgendered person, just as there is sin in the life of every "normal" person. And the solution is faith in Jesus Christ, just as it is for every "normal" person.
"But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished -- he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus" (Rom 3:21-26)
"Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions -- it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph 2:3b-9)
Justification by faith is the key. When the relationship with God has been repaired (justification) in Christ, then the Holy Spirit begins to work healing (sanctification) in the life of the transgendered person. The power for this comes through the Word, in the community of the church. It is to the church that the transgendered need to turn for help in healing the relationships that sin has broken in their lives, relationships with others and with self.
There is some value in comparing the transgender issues of today to the women's movement of the twentieth century. The women's movement was militant and political. This is in many ways the opposite of the transgenderism movement. The transgendered usually want nothing better than to conform and blend in. The desire is to just be "one of the girls." And with advances in hormone therapy and sexual reorientation surgery, this is becoming more practicable. Where this is not possible, there is a tendency for the transgendered person to "stay in the closet."
This means that the approach the church needs to take is different than dealing with women's issues. Where many churches develop women's programs toward empowerment, transgender programs need to provide safe places to draw out the feelings, the hopes and fears, of participants. There needs to be a support system for wives and others in close relationship with the transgendered. There needs to be a support system to help the transitioning deal with Standard of Care issues. And there needs to be opportunities given for the constructive expression of cross-gender feelings that make each one feel valued in both the gender of birth and the gender of choice. What the church needs to bring is compassion, not condemnation.
The real question is whether the church will be willing to aid in that healing. If the church withholds the word of the gospel until the transgendered have fixed the sin in their lives, that healing will never happen. Happily it is the Holy Spirit that provides the real healing through the words, "Christ died for you."
Except where noted, scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
This page: (c) Copyright 1998 Elisabeth Anne Kellogg, all rights reserved. You are expressly granted permission to copy this article provided you do not modify any portion of the text, including this copyright notice.