My church and gender dysphoria (1 of 2)

Last summer, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) of my church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), published a report, “Gender Identity Disorder or Gender Dysphoria in Christian Perspective.” It may be found in the menu on this page: http://www.lcms.org/CTCR.

The report follows a familiar format for the CTCR, providing background on the issue, applying God’s Word , then concluding with guidance for pastoral care. Based on my sense of how much our LCMS knows about the topic, they made an honest first effort.

As I discuss two of their conclusions and my reactions, let the reader know these things:
– The commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” compels me to put the best construction on what they have written, that I not be skeptical or decide that I know what was in their heart when they concluded what they did. I will strive to write in a manner which indicates my concern for upholding the commandment. I ask you to read me in that way.
– Each of my thoughts come from my deep need to understand myself and for my LCMS to properly understand these issues. I will make it clear that I find both the medical and Christian world to be only at the beginning of grasping gender dysphoria.
– It is my hope to have this discussion in my church body. These two posts are a nice rehearsal for how I want to approach things with my LCMS.

Today’s first point comes from the CTCR recognizing the difference between gender dysphoric and intersexed individuals. They concluded: “While an individual with hermaphroditic features may not fit the concept of gender identity disorder … or the concept of being transgendered, such a person will likely know some measure of distress or dysphoria and might well seek pastoral guidance and direction. Here the guidance would be more dependent upon medical advice than any particular scriptural position. The fundamental Christian perspective would be to encourage treatment of the condition in a way that allows the greatest possible fullness of service to Christ and others by the individual. This may well entail hormonal or surgical options that enable the person to deal most effectively with the biological sexual ambiguity which is present” (pp. 7-8).

I appreciate the spirit toward the intersexed person, which I read as “find your way in the sex with which you better identify.” Nowhere in the document do they allow for the same freedom of choice for the gender dysphoric. I do not believe we know enough about this to make that call. Here, I make a comparison to depression.

Depression has always been with us and, as my reading has taught me, so has gender identity disorder. From antiquity, depression was known as melancholia, thought to be caused by an imbalance of the four body fluids. It was not until the onset of the twentieth century that a modern sense of depression took root and grew into greater understanding in the 1950s, then 1970s, and onward. It took centuries to learn that many forms of depression are the mental and emotional expressions of a physical disorder. With this understanding, we now treat it as a physical condition, along with appropriate psychotherapy. Yet, even today, many people do not regard it seriously. As a pastor, I too often heard people say things like, “If Marge would just count her blessings, she would feel better.”

I see gender dysphoria, today, at where we understood depression in the 1950s and 1970s; that is to say, we have a lot to learn. My hope is that, with continued study, science will determine its causes for the benefit of treating its effects. Where we are, today, is that a large segment of medicine and psychology—along with our culture’s increasingly overall attitude of “just be yourself”—is fine with the “cure” of transitioning. While many find this a healthy answer, there are those, including me, who prefer to remain in our birth sex for a host of reasons, which for me boil down to family and faith.

I find myself split in half. On the medical/therapeutic side, I am being told that transitioning is my answer and I am not given any other viable solution. On the Christian side, I am told transitioning is sinful and I am not given any other viable solution, but to trust in the Lord.

Intersexed conditions, which include hermaphroditism and ambiguous genitalia, are visible, providing confidence in diagnosing. Not so for gender dysphoria. As I say that treating gender dysphoria is more challenging, I do not mean to discount the tremendous difficulties of being born intersexed. That said, I sometimes find myself wishing I had been born intersexed instead of as I am; I feel that my condition would get more respect and I would be given better avenues for a path toward wholeness.

In summary, I want both medical science and Christianity to have humility toward gender identity disorder, to recognize that we have only scratched the surface in understanding it, so that neither Church nor Science closes the door to further study. For my LCMS, I long for them to be exceedingly patient with folks like myself, who are trying to fight the good fight as we understand things from God’s Word and long to properly serve the Lord and our neighbor, just as the CTCR expresses for the intersexed person who makes use of medical options to achieve physical and mental wholeness.

As I have stated at other times, I am not naive, I do not know the future, and I now have a significant history with my dysphoria. I have come so far with this, asking and answering every pertinent question of faith, family, marriage, you name it. I know my Lord and myself, and no matter anything else all I want to do is fulfill the two great commands: to love the Lord with all my heart and love my neighbor as I love myself.

That sets the table for the second portion of the CTCR’s document—my much greater concern for gender dysphoric and trans Christians—which I will discuss next time.

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