I have to thank Vickie Davis for bringing to my attention the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's October 5 event called "Transgender Confusion and Transformational Christianity." You can find the link here.
The event takes place in Louisville, but I feel the need to write about it since the Southern Baptist presence is so strong in Tennessee in terms of numbers of congregations and official organs of the denomination. I will also note that some of my response is accessible to any person who follows these issues, but that some of it is a response from within Christianity. I do not think it necessary for one to be religious to produce a strong response. I simply note that it provides an angle for my response, given my own theological background.
I'll tip by hand. Based on what I can tell, the confusion referenced in the title is evident among those putting on the conference, not transgender people. I'll go out on a limb and predict it will not be transformational because those in power at the seminary and in the denomination are not allowing themselves to be transformed or changed. And I have a hard time recognizing it as Christianity even though they use lots of Christian words.
And before I get further into the content of the conference, I just have to note that their use of the colors of the transgender pride flag is completely shameful.
Impetus of the conference: So what do they say? According to the text of their video on the page:
Our culture is flooded with transgender confusion. Parents delay the announcement of their infant's gender until the child makes an independent choice. Laws are passed allowing persons to choose which public restrooms they would use. Surgery attempts to erase the obvious physical indicators of manhood and womanhood. The Christian Gospel speaks into this confusion with revolutionary clarity. God sovereignly assigns a gender to people created in His image. The powerful grace of Jesus Christ redeems and restores to sanity our thinking which has been corrupted by sin. The Church must speak with biblical conviction into this chaos with the clarity and love of Jesus.
This is an utter disaster in the making. When disasters happen, you have to sort through the wreckage. So here we go.
Imagined harms: The first four sentences are the supposed religious and societal harms that come from so-called transgender confusion. Did you notice something? Not one of these harms has anything to do with someone who is not transgender. In other words, the conference organizers don't and can't show how anyone's gender transition/confirmation/identity affects anyone else in a negative way. Let's take them one-by-one.
1. Confusion: The transgender confusion they speak of, though they won't admit it, is actually a wider hostility to transgender people, despite growing acceptance. It manifests itself in job discrimination, homelessness, suicide attempts, etc. among transgender people. But let's get at the root of things here. These conference speakers are confused, but they can't admit that because they're credentialed so they project their confusion onto transgender people.
2. Parents and gender: So what if parents won't tell you the gender of their child? There's no evidence that this practice is truly widespread, by the way. But isn't it worth asking why we care so much? Is it because we are so eager to start putting our gender expectations on children? Probably so. But if the practice of not announcing their child's gender does become more common among parents in the U.S., I think our culture can stretch to handle it without descending into anarchy. It might even lead to conversations about gender-based violence and pay differentials. Wouldn't that be welcome!
3. Restrooms: There it is. You knew they'd say it. I'm surprised it wasn't listed first. The conference is trying to scare you with fantasies about who is in the restroom with you. It's been said thousands of times, but let's say it again. Transgender people are in the restroom to use the restroom like everyone else. Restroom choice is a safety issue, which OSHA now recognizes.
4. Surgery: First, not all transgender people have it. Many can't afford it because of economic struggles and others have no interest in it. Again, I'd have to note that whether someone has gender confirmation/transition surgery primarily affects the transgender person and not others. Perhaps the clue comes with the conference's phrase "erase the obvious physical indicators of manhood and womanhood." What's at stake here? Are the conference leaders suggesting they want to treat men and women differently and if they can't tell who's who, they won't know how to act? I think that's what they're stuck on instead of asking why they're treating people differently based on gender in the first place.
Twisting the Gospel as the solution: The remaining sentences in the video give us the proposed solution--the Gospel. But for the life of me I can't remember any classical Protestant reformer intimately linking gender to phrases like justification by faith. The Gospel pertains to the doctrine of redemption in Christianity. But what the conference verbiage actually does, despite using redemption-like words, is skip back to the doctrine of creation when it says, "God sovereignly assigns a gender to people created in His image."
This is breathtaking in its audacity. Harking back to Calvinism, which is a growing influence in Southern Baptist circles, but twisting it...God's eternal election of human souls is less about salvation and more about micro-managing the gender of each individual human being who has ever lived and will live in history. That's apparently the good news they have in mind for transgender people.
And guess what else they changed about the Gospel? Apparently the Gospel "redeems and restores to sanity our thinking" about transgender issues. Yes, conference organizers are all but telling you that Jesus came preaching and died on the cross to change people's minds about gender.
The strange departures from traditional doctrinal understandings of Christianity at work in this conference are sad enough in themselves, but the real issue is the ongoing persecution of transgender people that the perspective enables. If Southern Baptist leaders wanted to "speak with biblical conviction into this chaos with the clarity and love of Jesus," as they say they want to, they would explore the concrete harms transgender people endure, the connection between hateful forms of religion and those harms, and how they can begin working for inclusive congregations.
And they have every reason to do so if they put down their strange interpretation of Calvin and pick up Galatians 3:28, which says among other things, that "nor is there male or female." When the leaders of this important faith community lead their congregations into a welcoming posture, we will know that real transformation is taking place.
-Chris Sanders, M.Div.