Monday, July 14, 2014

Clobbering the Clobber Verses

[this content is a re-posting of, and expansion upon, a couple of blog entries which I posted elsewhere that I have cross-posted here in order to expand upon the thoughts which were constrained by size limitations over there.]

Let me offer a disclaimer at the very beginning of this column: if you are a hard-core skeptic when it comes to the subject of religion, this is probably not the best reading material for you. I do not presume to entertain the question here of whether or not any given religious view is correct. Rather I want to take this time to speak to those who do believe, particularly within the context of Protestant evangelical religion, and speak to them within the context of the faith which they hold to be true. If that's not you, I apologize but I probably don't have anything for you this time.

In the wake of the vote by the Southern Baptist Convention (which is the denomination in which I spent most of my life) this month in which they took the time to express their formal disapproval of transgender people and medical or civil actions which  support that which they consider to be "delusion" or "mental illness," I have been involved in not a few conversations with traditionalist Christians who approve of that action. As always in that sort of conversation, my foundational argument is that you should first make an effort to prove that the thing that you are condemning is, in fact, sinful before you can call on the church and Christians to disapprove of it. Most of those I interact with don't even try, but those who do will usually first resort to the familiar "anti-gay" verses which forces you to disabuse  them of the idea that being trans is essentially being "Super Gay." if you can't get them to see the error in that concept than they are likely beyond hope of reason. But if you can than they usually will still turn to a very limited set of references which each have simple and specific rebuttals. There are essentially four major "clobber verses" that come up in these sorts of conversations. two in the Old Testament and to in the New.  I'm going to take them (almost)in order and gives you the answer which debunks each one as a weapon against trans people. If you are feeling the mental and emotional pressure that comes from having your fellow believers reject you and struggle with whether or not they are right and you're wrong, then this is for you.

Genesis 1-2

Various verses from this chapter might be cited but they all are used in some way to support the idea of the inflexibility of the original created binary order: male and female sexes and gender roles. The argument is that since transition (or cross gender behavior) violates God's intended order it is therefore sinful. This has two parallel faults, both of which reflect the fact that those who cite this verse are not consistently apply their "reasoning" to other aspects of human life and activity. First, if you're making the argument as many of us do that being trans is a biological condition present from birth, then you force them to explain why other birth conditions which deviate from the creation story (which would be pretty much all of them) are not subject to the same condemnation. However, many of them will immediately dismiss the claim that this is a biological condition from birth but that still does not get them out of the box. The reason for this is essentially the same reasoning, logically, as in the above case: that while they condemn this "behavior" they do not apply the same logic to other areas of human behavior, the most obvious example of which I will save for another passage coming up soon.

Deuteronomy 22:5

A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.

 You might also get a citation here from some other book of the Torah, but any citation here is going to be in reference to cross-dressing, basically "a man shall not wear that which pertains to a woman, or woman that which pertains to a man, it is an abomination". The problem here is should be obvious: inconsistent application. The places were such a verse appears always have within the same chapter another verse which they have no such passion for enforcing, including versus about clothing.

11 “You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together.

 Indeed, in the same chapter it speaks of stoning women who were not found to be virgins when they married, and forcing a woman who is raped to marry her rapist.

20 “But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, 21 then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.

28 “If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.

Oddly, I've yet to find a modern Christian who is enthusiastic about enforcing that one.
Moreover, this introduces the problem of variant interpretations. One of the best arguments against being overbearing in your application of your particular theological interpretation is the reality that not even all Christians agree on practically any important theological subject (and on the scale of theological subjects this one is certainly not that important). Of course it's obvious that if various denominations can agree on the major points of doctrine, there should be room for disagreement on the minor points. How does that apply here? Simple. In many charismatic denominations, they cite this verse as support for the concept of barring their female membership from wearing pants at all. Any Christian who does not believe that that is a valid interpretation, and yet respects the right to disagree therefore obliges himself to respect your right to disagree about the legitimacy of applying this verse to you.

One overriding point in these sorts of conversations is that the person you are discussing with need not be convinced that their view is wrong, merely that others may read the same passage and draw a different conclusion and that the modern Christian tradition is to respect each others right to disagree on doctrinal questions. One of the wisest acts of the Founding Fathers was to recognize that there was a difference between being a moral people and enforcing by force of law any sectarian doctrine upon those who held a different doctrine. That is a principle which in most realms of doctrine even the most ardent evangelical implicitly understand what seem to forget when it comes to LGB /T people.  If you find yourself in one of these discussions remember that you don't have to change their doctrine so long as they are willing to apply this principle.

 For the purpose of clarity, I'm going to reverse the order in which I discuss the New Testament two because the second one if taken in order of appearance in Scripture is very minor but the first one is the one which they are most likely to hang their argument on and the one that requires the most discussion.

1Corinthians 6:9

 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals...

This is a citation which seldom comes up because basically it's only one word and the word which is subject to interpretation. That alone is enough to question the legitimacy of their argument, however there is more. The King James translation is the primary source for the use of that word for the Greek word in the original text, and there is strong critical evidence that the word is a poor choice for the concept being described in the original language. There is not space here to get into the textual criticism discussion but suffice it to say that there is tons of room to question whether or not they word "effeminate" is a word that even belongs in the Bible at all if properly translated. Now, let's move on to the elephant in the room.

Matthew 19

3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They *said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 He *said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery”

This is passage from that key chapter which is supposedly, in their view, the New Testament confirmation of the Genesis 1 creation account I referenced last time. According to their logic, since Genesis refers to a strictly binary creation and Jesus in the New Testament affirms that model of creation therefore we can assume that any deviation from that model is not allowed.
However their own citation defeats the proposition because in this very passage Jesus describes a circumstance wherein it is permissible to divorce (and later in the New Testament Paul will expand upon this) and yet it is self-evident that the pre-fall creation model made no provision for divorce. So in the passage they cite, Jesus affirms that what is permissible in the eyes of God after the fall does not necessarily have to align to the perfect creation before the fall. But wait, there's more! Let's continue to read in chapter 19.

10 The disciples *said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” 11 But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

Let's be clear, it is too much of an assumption to suggest that the eunuch in biblical times was a direct equivalent to the modern trans person. There may have occasionally been some parallels but not in most cases so far as we know. However, the passages relevant all the same. Let me explain. The traditionalist will argue that it is sinful for a person to actively either by conduct or by actual physical "mutilation" deviate from the creation model.
However we know as a certain fact that those which the Bible refer to has "eunuch" were men who, either by nature ("from their mothers womb" i.e. intersex persons), or by some physical alteration ("made by men") or by the way they choose to live ("made themselves") were people whose lives deviating significantly from the pre-fall creation binary model of manhood. And Jesus references these people without any hint of condemnation. You might also note that in the Old Testament the prophet Isaiah specifically speaks positively of these individuals.

Oh by the way, one more bonus point just to seal the deal at the end of your discussion: to the one who says that there is no way that God would affirm the surgical alteration of human genitals from the form in which they were born, you need only answer with a single word – circumcision.

In summary, not only does the Bible not, properly understood, say anything negative about transsexual individuals either directly or by implication, but indeed the only reference from which an implication might be drawn is a positive reference.