Jeff Walton reports on a presentation on gender confusion given at the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic synod
[Juicy Ecumenism] As the Church of England this week encourages its clergy to create affirmation of baptism ceremonies for transgender people to welcome them into the Anglican faith, some prominent clergy have spoken about how gnostic anthropology underlying the LGBT movement is incompatible with biblical anthropology.
The modern sexual and gender revolution raises some of the most significant questions about humanity that are at the very heart of what the biblical story addresses, according to an Anglican clergyman specializing in the area of biblical anthropology.
With an increasing number of people in Western culture, especially teens, identifying as transgender, issues that once seemed uncommon or far removed are becoming more prominent. Persons identifying as transgender tell of how their “inward” experience of masculinity or femininity feels askew to their “outward” biological sex, male or female.
“The bible does speak into these matters with clarity, and it offers us confidence about how to think about these things,” shared the Rev. Sam Ferguson.
Ferguson spoke Saturday, November 17 at the Anglican Church in North America’s Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic Synod. He serves as part of the pastoral team at The Falls Church Anglican in Falls Church, Virginia, where he transitions to the role of rector in the spring of 2019.
With the topic of transgender identity now mainstream, Ferguson stated that Christians need to think carefully and compassionately about questions, including: What anthropological assumptions underlie popular views and treatments? What does a loving Christian response look like?
Ferguson began the talk with an assumption of common brokenness and an acknowledgment that the issues were not abstract but involve real people and real pain.
“None of us has stewarded our sexuality – our maleness or femaleness – perfectly,” Ferguson began. “Because of that, we don’t approach a topic like this as though we’ve got the moral high ground. We are all people who are in need of grace.”
Ferguson noted that some of the questions being asked center upon identity, “Who am I?’, being, “What am I? What is the meaning of my body?” and hope, “Where do I go for fulfillment?” “Where do I go looking for resolution for my pain?”
“These are all deeper issues that flow underneath the modern LGBT movement,” Ferguson assed. “And, these are issues at the heart of the Biblical story.”
Ferguson defined that the transgender movement is about being a broken human being – even down to one’s gender – and longing to be made whole.
“Anthropology with a longing for transformation,” Ferguson summarized.
Ferguson posed the question “what anthropological assumptions are underlying this view of being human?” He identified two shifts that the gender movement makes about anthropology:
- The meaning of the words “sex” and “gender” – gender has become a purely psychological or emotional category divorced from biology – a “free floating concept rooted in the mind (psychology), or sociology – how people perceive you.”
- Mind and body. Inner sense is prized over the body when it comes to identity.
Sharing a graphic of “the genderbread person” that displays differences in sexual orientation (heterosexual/bisexual/homosexual), biological sex (male/intersex/female), gender identity (woman/genderqueer/man) and gender expression (masculine/androgynous/feminine), Ferguson identified this as gnostic anthropology. The Anglican priest diagnosed that the transgender movement requires an anthropology where the mind is split from the body, identity is a matter of how you feel not what you are, and, therefore, identity options are limitless.
“Is this a feasible means of being human?” Ferguson asked. “Does it cohere to biblical anthropology?”
Anthropology, Ferguson explained, is at the heart of the biblical story. “God became man”
Noting that Genesis Chapter 1 verse 27 tells of God creating man male and female, Ferguson identified “The obvious implications are that we are not our own authors.”
“We are stewards of identity, not originators or creators of it,” requiring a posture of humility when it comes to our identity, Ferguson stated. “We don’t have the freedom to choose whether we are male or female, these are things that are decided by our creator.”
Humans, Ferguson noted, are created, and a creature’s identity issues from their creator. Genesis Chapter 2 teaches that humans are a combination of soil and spirit, a fusion of material and spiritual elements (Adam is made of more than one element, but Adam is not divisible).
Ferguson outlined two implications from the dynamic unity: first, bodies are essential to true identity, not incidental. Second, that true God-given identity cannot be reduced to feelings, but must account for the whole person.
Gender, Ferguson argues, is an “embodied reality” – it is more than just about reproductive organs, but it is never less. Gender in the bible is never divorced from biology, but is an embodied, holistic reality:
- Humans are created; identity issues from the creator.
- Humans are a dynamic whole; identity cannot be reduced to parts.
- Gender is embodied; when God designed our body, he gave us our gender.
- God made two bodies, male or female; therefore there are two genders, man or woman.
Transgenderism, Ferguson explained, requires a non-biblical anthropology where the mind is split from and is prized over the body. The body itself is viewed as either accidental or incidental when it comes to viewing our true selves.
A disembodied humanity, Ferguson insisted, is not just an anthropological problem, it is a Christological heresy.
“This is serious. If we can create a sense of human identity divorced from the body, Jesus never had to take on flesh and he sure didn’t have to suffer and die for your sins,” Ferguson charged. “This is not the first time that the church has had to deal with anthropology; it is just presenting itself in a new light.”
Recalling his walk alongside a man undergoing a gender transition who also became a Christian, Ferguson said that Christians must figure out how to offer hope to those facing gender dysphoria.
“Who of us can’t relate to having dysphoria, feeling bad, and wanting peace?” Ferguson asked. But the transgender movement, he asserted, does not offer a good enough hope for human beings. The surgical offerings of the transgender movement are relatively new, Ferguson reported, and do not offer conclusive evidence that they are good things for human beings.
“The hope offered by the transgender movement is well-meaning, and I affirm their desire to offer people with dysphoria hope. It’s simply not good enough for making human beings whole,” Ferguson assessed. “Who offers better transformation? That is the gauntlet that has been laid down.”
Ferguson explained that the biblical idea of transformation shares with the modern gender movement a desire to transition to another condition. The Christian wants to put off the old person, and increasingly become the new person, who is more Christ-like.
However, the Christian concept of transformation is unique from the gender revolution’s idea of transitioning in important ways:
- The Bible offers a better explanation for dysphoria (their hearts were darkened, Romans 1:21, Our outer self is wasting away, 2 Corinthians 4:16). What the bible teaches is that to be human is to have dysphoria – unease between desires within and life without.
- The bible offers a better picture of transformation (Jesus promises to transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, Philippians 3:21)
- A better promise of belonging “At the heart of the gender revolution is a desire of becoming and belonging. People want to know who they really are, but they want to belong and be embraced as they really are.” “The deep promise of God is not grounded in you knowing who you are. It is grounded in God knowing who you are. The key to peace for a human being is that you are known by God.”
Quoting Oxford University Professor of Philosophy William J. Mander, Ferguson said “God doesn’t know what it is like to be me, for he knows me better than I know myself … God knows the true me; the person I really am.”
The Christian response to transgenderism, Ferguson offered, is not to laugh at or condemn it. Rather, it is to recognize the pain that it represents as well as the hope it reaches for and, ultimately, with outstretched arms to help those with dysphoria turn towards Jesus. And, with unveiled faces as Paul says beholding the glory of the Lord to be transformed into his image from one degree of glory to another.