More valuable commentary on Chelsea Manning's announcement yesterday: at Andrew Sullivan's Dish site, Matt Sitman responds to statements made recently by Russell D. Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission about transgender people. The Religion Dispatches article by Candace Chellew-Hodge that I discuss in the posting to which the first link above points also engages Moore's comments.
Borrowing language from Pope John Paul II's theology of the body, which is now found all over the place in right-wing evangelical Christians' defense of absolute maleness and absolute femaleness (with the obligation of the female to "complement" the male by submitting to the male), Moore argues that God created only male and female, with the intent that male and female complement each other. Only and absolutely. No variations. No complexity.
No mess of real life.
Only my schemata, as a white heterosexual male speaking on behalf of
myself God to the rest of you, imposing my views on a much messier reality in order to argue that who I am and what I say reflect a god who is just like me, who is made in my image whom I happen to exemplify in a unique way as a heterosexual man . . . . Moore concludes that transgendered people are "in revolt" against him and other men like him "God's lordship."
It's truly bizarre to characterize the struggles and, often, suffering of the transgendered as a "revolt" against God, as if their experiences merely were a form of arrogant defiance, something chosen and pursued out of a prideful rejection of God's plan. Even more importantly, its far from clear to me that "creation" is so simple.
And then, citing Jonathan Merritt, he goes on to note the abundant scientific evidence which demonstrates incontrovertibly that some people are made both male and female, i.e., intersexed, and that the neural pathways and brain structures of transgender people differ from those who are biologically males or female.
Merritt has presented Moore with this scientific evidence. His response? Puh-leez: don't bother me with the facts (the same response a reader of my posting about the clash between scientific fact and religious ideology vis-a-vis the morning-after pill gave me yesterday, interestingly enough).
Don't bother me with the facts. My binary scheme for classifying reality is reality. Because
I say so God says so. Everyone is really made either male or female. The problem is, some people just haven't figured this out yet in their personal lives--they haven't yielded to me and other heterosexual men like me God, and are in rebellion against Him.
Sitman's response to Moore's brush-off of Merritt:
What I find so disturbing about Moore’s approach is both its evasion of the actual, documented facts noted above and its a priori imposition of easy answers, gleaned from one rather narrow reading of Scripture, on this sensitive question. I haven’t considered all the theological implications of transgender people – its an issue, I suspect, many Christians haven’t fully considered – but I do know thinking through the question should begin with profound empathy, and a willingness not to presume to have the “right” answer from the start. Moore’s position bothers me, then, not just because of its substance, but because of the posture it exemplifies: there’s not a trace of doubt in his essay about the righteousness of his own approach.
I do know thinking through the question should begin with profound empathy: as Sitman notes, this is a point that Sharon Groves has also made exceptionally well in a direct response to Moore, in which she emphasizes that the obligation to love is the central Christian obligation: not the obligation to obey biological imperatives about male-female behavior. And love is embodied. We do not love in the abstract. We love real, enfleshed human beings with all their complexity and ambiguity.
And then Sitman concludes, powerfully,
The heart of Christianity is grace, or God’s one-way love for each of us, wherever we are in our lives. Its a message of radical acceptance and affirmation, without conditions. It does not depend on our having figured everything out, or having gotten our lives together, or having settled questions about our gender or sexuality. Similarly to the way the Bible does not address the matter of homosexuality as we have come to understand it, there is no “biblical” position on the issue of transgender people – except to love them exactly as they are. Transgender people need to be shown this love, not have their own experiences dismissed as a form of alienation from God’s intentions for them. Showing them this love, if it is real and not a mere pose, necessarily includes walking along side them on their journey, not pointing them to a one-size-fits-all destination. A love that seeks to change or cure is not love at all, but only a more subtle form of power and control, the very means of relating to others Jesus consistently rejected. Like all of us, transgender people need mercy, not easy answers.
And he's right. Because he's speaking gospel truth.