a report by the Evangelical Alliance Policy Commission

Book Review by Revd. David Horton


Issue 13
February 2001

Last September at Gendys I was concerned about this forthcoming report but expressed the hope that this would still be a valuable contribution to the debate on the subject in the church. Sadly, I now doubt this. I know many transgendered Christians who will be concerned to evaluate this report and so I offer this in the hope it will help them. I have only had the report for a few days and I ask you to bear this in mind in what follows.

There are three main approaches to authority in the church. The liberal wing tries to understand the world around and use that to inform their discussion. The Catholic or High Church wing emphasises the majesty and mystery of God, and the historical understanding that the church has developed. The evangelical wing uses the Bible as the prime basis of its decisions. Since the Seraphim are supposed to have six wings I suppose we are halfway there. Of course all the different groups use aspects of the others' understanding. In our society the evangelicals are the fastest (or only?) growing part of the church. Partly this is due to historical factors. Liberal optimism took a bad knock in the twentieth century - it was the 'advanced' nations that caused most of the pain. Similarly we live in a technological age that tends to regard mystery as a challenge rather than a support, although there is sometimes a reaction against this. So for now the evangelicals, who are also better organised, tend to make the running. In addition because they tend to regard Bible truth as being 'the' answer to (most of) our problems they have a certainty that can be very enticing in an age of change. But, if like me, you are an evangelical you face one major problem with this approach. The Bible knows nothing of transsexuality! How can it? So for evangelical Christians it becomes a question of how to interpret the Bible in this new situation

This report, wisely in my view, leaves aside proof texts after a brief examination. Thus there are no echoes of clergy lambasting the trousers worn by World War 2 Land Army girls via Deuteronomy 22 v 5, although it can't refrain from a few digs in passing. Instead, it derives a general principle based around Genesis 1 v 27 that the sexes are distinct and therefore in-between states and crossing the divide are not valid options. Anthias squampinnis (a sex-changing fish) please note! In effect, and I think without realising, the report has used one proof text instead of several or many. This is particularly a problem when the verse comes in a part of the Bible which is directly aimed at the other faiths of the time, and the violent creation stories of the Babylonians and other neighbours of the new Jewish nation. I tend to think that this verse from Genesis 1 is primarily to advance the strange notion that women are part of God's plan too! The alternative approach which I prefer is to look at the history of how the Bibles treats eunuchs. In early days in Deuteronomy 23 v 1 they are rejected. By contrast Isaiah several hundred years on promises them a blessing if faithful, and by the New Testament Phillip in Acts 8 finds it irrelevant. This is particularly important since Luke is selecting heavily from the available stories to make the point that the new era of faith applies to all. Thus he has encounters with Jews, Samaritans, gentiles, and the followers of John the Baptist, as well as this particular Ethiopian. There are other approaches possible as well of course.

Back to the report. Basing its approach on such a divide requires that it spend time discussing the various intersex conditions. This it does well, and there was some material on I found new. As I read it, however, it ignores the fact that the majority of transgendered people come from the biological male, since that might pose questions that would be hard to fit into the neat progression the report builds. I see nothing about the Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which I have related to current ideas that transsexuality may be one response to temporary hormone imbalances in the womb. There is also a robust critique of the research used to justify surgery. In fact it is so robust that I think it impugns the integrity and professionalism of those with whom it disagrees. There is a conspiracy (led by Press for Change perhaps?) to muddy the waters with inadequate or biased research. There is much to consider here, although I do notice that welcome calls for more long term follow up of treatment are not matched by similar calls for follow up of the anecdotal claims of 'cures'. In effect the report has argued that there is only a psychological basis for transsexuality, which forces it to challenge any research which might disagree with this conclusion. I am afraid that for years to come this will become the benchmark from which the argument will gradually move people away, as with western Roman Catholics and birth control. After months of discussion by e-mail I had hoped to avoid such a God-of-the-gaps approach, but as the Church Times noted, the EA had consulted at least ten transsexual sources (including my now out of print 1994 Grove booklet) in coming to their conclusions so must be fully on top of the subject. (It apparently hadn't occurred to them that I might have maintained an interest in the subject afterwards before they produced the report. Or that there are other Christian ministers involved in this area both personally and as helpers. Still, since they conclude that ministry by particpants is too flawed to be acceptable, and that those who disagree with them are unwisely gullible I suppose they have a point!)

There are useful sections on the social and ethical implications of transsexuality (which could well be read alongside the April 2000 report obtainable from the Home Office or on the PFC web-site to get balance). Since it concludes that transsexuality is a psychological condition, the report is very involved with questions of who should be allowed to do what to whom and why at the expense of issues like justice and human rights. While acknowledging that it is a personal inward conviction the EA tends to see it in terms of its effects on relationships. I suspect their ideas have been heavily influenced by discussions about homosexuality. After all, all differences from the norm must lie in the same direction, surely? They raise the valid if offensive parallel with antisocial conditions which are equally unresponsive to treatment, like gambling, which is an area that has disturbed me for many years. On the other hand I especially welcome the concern for the families of transsexuals. The pastoral guidelines follow on logically from what has gone before, which would be admirable if the foundations of their argument weren't so limited. Finally, a set of nine Affirmations and Recommendations is given, plus a limited bibliography, much from the one Christian organisation the EA feels able to recommend. Looking at the sources they provide I may be the only one that concedes the possibility that surgery may sometimes be appropriate.

A lot of effort has gone into this report, but based on the one principle noted above. To quote: "authentic change from a person's given sex is not possible and an ongoing transsexual lifestyle is incompatible with God's will as revealed in Scripture and creation (Affirmation 2)", and "We call upon evangelical congregations genuinely to welcome and accept transsexual people we hope and anticipate that transsexual people will come in due course to accede to the need to reorient their lifestyle in accordance with biblical principles and orthodox church teaching (Affirmation 3)".

After fourteen years of research I am unsure whether the issue is that clear cut. I accept that surgery is not a satisfactory solution, and honour those who for one reason or another choose not to follow this route. And yet I have dozens of good friends who have manifestly been enormously helped by the medical procedures now available. I have also been involved with several people who were trapped by their situation and committed suicide, which the report only mentions in terms of those discovering they had made a mistake after surgery has taken place.

I am greatly saddened by this report. I think it is a very positive step that the EA's first policy guide should be on this subject, and I do not doubt the hard work and thought and prayer that has gone into it. The result to me however indicates that the search for certainty has obstructed the search for truth, and if uncomfortable truth is found I fear it will be very hard for them to change their position. I pray the same may not be true for those who currently are more open to possibilities.

"Transsexuality" is published by Paternoster Press at £5.99
ISBN 0-95329-926-0 87pages

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