Transgender Issues and Ministry

450_lgbtMany of you have read the recent blog about a church leader who is revealing that he is transgender. If not, this is the link: paulstonewilliams.com. In this blog, a highly successful, talented, and respected author and minister in the Christian Churches discusses the issues of transgender (dysphoria) and his lifetime of dealing with this situation. Briefly, transgender is when a person with a male body identifies as a female (or vice versa). It is not the same as homosexuality, although it has been associated with gay identity in the now common designation LGBT. All of these, Lesbian, Gay (men), Bisexual, and Transgender claim to be “sexual minorities” that are fighting for recognition and rights in both mainstream society and the political/legal arena. As many of you know, this has been divisive in many churches and families.

The author of this blog is a person I have known for a long time. I don’t want to overstate the depth of our relationship, not because I am afraid to do so but out of honesty. He is a person whom I have worked with on writing assignments for Christian Standard, and he was a guest lecturer at my college last year.

My friends and colleagues have been discussing this blog since it came out last week. I have shared my initial reaction several times:

I don’t know what to think.

I have not moved very far from this. However, I would like to share a couple of observations.

1. Paul is correct in stating that the Bible does not address his situation directly. It neither condemns nor commends transgender orientation. Yet I’m not sure this means that the Bible has nothing to say about this. I will have to think more about this, but biblical silence is a hermeneutical issue that has been misused in the past, so I don’t want to eliminate biblical teaching from this discussion.

2. Although Paul does not push this angle, I have been told before that as a straight man, “You can’t possibly know how I feel.” That may be true, but it deserves a little push back. If a person has felt wrongly gendered when it comes to body for all of his or her conscious life, then that person cannot possibly know how I feel either. It goes both ways, and judgmentalism can be a two way street.

3. I see this blog as a type of “confession” in the sense that confession means acknowledgement. We have long been told that confession is good for the soul, and I believe that. However, I wonder about the very public nature of confession by blogging. For whom is this good? I think that question is legitimate and needs to be asked. I can’t help but think there is more to come here.

4. I believe that God is gracious and loving, but right now, I am in no position to know or understand what God thinks about this. I do believe that God knows all the secrets of my heart, and some of them are not pretty. He knows them and still loves me. I just don’t want to put myself in the position of seeming to speak for God in this.

That’s about all the further I have come on thinking this through. I know that LGBT realities will have a great impact on the church and its leaders in the coming years, and that we cannot ignore these issues.

Mark Krause

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6 thoughts on “Transgender Issues and Ministry

  1. I appreciate your thoughtful response on this… whatever our responses are, as the church, ought to be “full of both grace and truth,” if we want to reflect the heart of Christ.

  2. I posted this to the Facebook page, but I wanted to also put this here, because if you are asking these questions and thinking these things, I can be certain others are too. I transitioned from theology to the behavioral sciences, and this is basically what I have learned through the course of working through that degree. It draws from Derald Wing and David Sue, Peggy
    McIntosh, and other papers to which I have been exposed.

    One of the concerns I have been thinking about is point 2. The problem is that as cisgendered straight males, we get a lot of validation about who we are. We never go through life feeling wrong in being cisgendered, or being told that being cisgender is wrong. We never feel suicidal for the reason that we are cisgender. Society rolls out the red carpet for us, and in every area of society, reminds us that we are doing it best. Large portions of us are never suicidal on account of being cisgender. But then we throw in Gottman’s 5-1 ratio into the mix, where it takes 5 good comments to overwhelm one negative. When that is applied to a social level, we get a mess. Humans are very adaptive and prosocial. We try to conform to the norms of our society. And because of that, in psychology and sociology, there is a huge problem with internalization. If you run a google scholar search on LGBT internalization, a lot of examples pop up. Even if a transgender individual is proud of being one, internalization can rear its ugly head and damage self-concept. And gender is deeply tied to identity, so it is a very vulnerable area in life. Society rolls back the red carpet, and goes out of its way to remind them that they are doing it wrong or worst. And when you need a 5-1, and you have less than half the population supporting you, that 5-1 is not reachable. Internalization occurs, and depression, and poor self-concept takes hold in that situation. We know normal so well, that we have a hard time telling how different normal is from abnormal when it comes to minority experiences.

    But when we compare our situation, of having to deal with adapting to -information- about someone we know being transgender, VS. adapting the -reality- that we feel inescapably transgender, a false equivalence is really brought to light. It is uncomfortable for us in the moment when we are having to get used to the idea. It doesn’t make us suicidal though. We have so much support to worth through this idea with. We have the red carpet of “normal” to see us through. The vast majority of society is essentially cheering for us like the great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews affirming everything we are. So for us it is distressing, but we can work our way through it. The situation ends up really coming to light as incomparable.

    That leads to point 3. Coming out is an essential need for marginalized groups. It is a moment in which although one has been suppressing and hiding in shame everything they were, they are no longer going to hold themselves under that burden any longer. They are going to acknowledge what they are. This is incredibly important because they have been closeted about who they were and feeling mental anguish about how they could not reveal it. Publicly coming out helps others who are still behind and in distress. It helps also counter the imbalance of hiding who one was for so long. Gender is a core identity. It is healing for the person, as it helps restore a balanced healthy self-concept, and for others to realize that they don’t need to be ashamed of who they are. Coming out is essential, when a portion of the society says “you are wrong”.

    • John, I appreciate your thoughtful comment on this. I still think #2 needs to be appreciated by both sides of this issue. I have been told by gay men both “You don’t know what it is to be like me” and “I know what you are thinking about me.” Well, the first might be true, but I think there are assumptions in the LGBT community about what the straight community thinks that may or may not be true, especially with individuals.

  3. Hi Mark, After reading this in 2014, I printed and saved the article. I found it this weekend and it was very timely. I had breakfast with a friend who works & serves at a local church and her church is being impacted by this. Someone who has transition wants to be on stage leading worship.

    After reading your last sentence (I know that LGBT realities will have a great impact on the church and its leaders in the coming years, and that we cannot ignore these issues) I was wondering…what are your thoughts these days? It is having an impact on my friend and on her church…

    • Di, I’m not sure how much further I have gotten. I think there are a couple of things going on here:

      1. In today’s cultural climate, people will not attend a church where they don’t feel welcome. I think there is a self-sorting for trans people in this area. If they don’t want to remain hidden, they will not go where they might be humiliated or embarrassed.

      2. I’m still thinking that this is not the same as the issue concerning gay people in the church. I know there is overlap, but lumping together the LGBT community as sort of the “united sexual minorities” may not serve all groups equally. Sexual identity and sexual behavior are not always connected.

      That’s about as far as I have gotten. I should do another blog on this.

      MK

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