The question of sin (3 of 4)

God’s Word, which is my preferred term for the Holy Bible, makes clear what is and is not the Lord’s will for our lives. As my very first seminary professor continually reminded us, when we are not clear on something it is due to our weakness and not from God’s being indistinct.

Smoking can get people, um, smoking. Since God’s Word does not speak to it, most of Christianity leaves it in the arena of personal decision. When I would teach religion to middle-schoolers, I would make two columns on the whiteboard and have the kids list the positives and negatives of smoking. The negatives side contained the typical things like cancer, emphysema, addiction, and expense. The positives side? It was blank. When they wanted me to write, “It tastes good,” I would, but then I would make arrows to all of the negatives. Of course, I did not want the kids taking up smoking. I will not outright declare it sinful, but I sure want to.

The commandment, “You shall not murder,” does not mean “kill,” as in all taking of human life, but the unjust taking of it. Across the Christian faith there always has been debate about killing in war, the death penalty, and more. In the direction of protecting life, not all Christians agree that abortion is murder, or that God’s Word even speaks to it. It is true that the word is not in the Bible, but every other aspect of it is. There is no doubt, abortion is an unjust killing of human life.

When we began heart transplants, debate arose over one person’s heart being put into another human. I don’t know if this is when the phrase, “You’re playing God,” came into vogue, but it was and continues to be used when the next big advancement comes along.

Recently, I read of a man who had shot himself in the face. He received another man’s face. Having seen the before and after pictures, I am so thankful for him. I suspect some Christians find this playing God. I find it no different than the organs that were used from some of my former members who died, which were transplanted for the good of the living. Now, what of the brain? What of when we are able to place one’s entire brain into the body of another? Let the ethical debate begin, and bring marshmallows because there will be fire.

Who decides when we are playing God and when we are not? Because of our advancements in medicine, we now have Christian bioethicists.

What of euthanasia (which means “good death”)? For those who read God’s Word as I do it is murder. Assisted suicide is what it says: suicide via homicide. Yet, as goes the culture so are many Christians going, focusing on the compassion aspect of desiring to curb one’s suffering, and many no longer consider it sin.

Whether a thing is a sin often depends not on the thing but on one’s intent and purpose. A favorite professor told us, “If you are in war, get captured, and are interrogated as to where the rest of your troops are, you lie to the enemy. You are not sinning.” That seemed like an easy one to me. But, nope, not all of my classmates agreed.

So, what of a person transitioning to ease his gender dysphoria. For many, it is as black and white as “male and female He created them.” Since a person cannot truly change his sex, his DNA, a “sex change” is seen as mockery, even nonsense. In my Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), those with you-can-see-them-with-your-eye intersex conditions are allowed to make decisions about surgeries and with which sex they identify, but those with it-is-in-your-head conditions, like gender dysphoria, no, you may not; you are sinning.

For me, this comes down to two things. If gender dysphoria can be proven to be a condition which is brought on through how one experiences life—one doctor compared it to anorexia nervosa—then transitioning would not be a godly answer—it would be like allowing the anorexic to starve to death—but appropriate therapy and medicine would be called for, with lots of pastoral care.

I am not remotely convinced that gender dysphoria is a learned condition. While I cannot yet absolutely insist that it is physical—that mine, for example, was caused in the womb, the hormone washings of the brain disrupted so that I suffer this mismatch of body and brain—the evidence continues to mount.

The following paragraph is vital.

For the many in the LCMS who insist that chromosomes always define sex and gender, these conditions disprove that: complete androgen-insensitivity syndrome (that is, women with male DNA), 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, Swyer syndrome, genetic mosaicism, 17-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase III deficiency, progestin-induced virilisation, prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol, and any of a wide range of endocrine-based variations that cause a person to have chromosomes that do not match their primary sexual characteristics or gender identity (Huffington Post, 7.22.15).

Did you note that my condition is included? “Prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol.”

This does not automatically tell me that transitioning is my answer. There are a host of issues which a Christian will take into consideration, even if he determines that transitioning falls into the areas of proper medical care and the freedom to make use of it. Because of the difficulty of it, even if the act is not sinful, other issues are not unimportant: marriage, children, church family, earning a living, economic concerns, and the like.

Intent and purpose now come into play. If a person intends to use transitioning in any way which would cause obvious sins—say, to divorce and remarry—it could not be condoned.

Acknowledging that gender dysphoria is a physical malady, if one’s intention is to find relief through transitioning—no different than the one who undergoes surgery to have his gall bladder removed—with the purpose to be healthy so that he or she is able to live a productive life for the sake of family and community, I cannot agree that transitioning is sinful, but a viable option for the Christian.

There is a bit more to be said, which I hope to wrap up tomorrow.

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7 thoughts on “The question of sin (3 of 4)

  1. “In my Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), those with you-can-see-them-with-your-eye intersex conditions are allowed to make decisions about surgeries and with which sex they identify”

    Though I have not read the actual LCMS statement on the matter, if this is what they in fact say, then I must respectfully disagree with the church on this matter. The majority of people who are hermaphrodites (from my reading and understanding) are still either male or female. They just happen to be born with both parts. As such, if they were going to have say a surgery to remove the extra parts, then it should not be to become who they feel that they identify as but instead to be more in line with what they actually are. For example, say a woman was born with a penis. She has both male and female parts, but genetically she’s still a woman and not a man. Then I believe that she should either just live with the male parts OR have it removed so she fit in better as a woman, but she should not transition into a full blown man. Same goes for the opposite.

    What I am about to say next may sound really messed up, but it may help to offer perspective. Let’s say hypothetically that my wife was born with a penis (she was not (to my knowledge :P)) and genetically she was a woman, just with the extra part. And let’s say hypothetically that she still had it. I could deal with that. She would still be a female and always have been a female and I would still love her for who she is. Now let’s say that she was born a man, but always felt like a woman and transitioned in to a woman. I could not accept that. In fact, if we had a relationship, depending on how far we had gotten before I found out, I might even react violently. The outrage I would feel, I imagine, would be so intense. By the way, please don’t think that I am applying this scenario to you. I don’t think for even a second that you have some desire to become a woman and then be with a dude. That is just a generic scenario I came up with because this is now a very real thing society will have to deal with with gender transitioning.

    On a slightly amusing note, some years back before I was Christian, a girl I had been with for a while told me she was born with a penis. She said it so straight that I couldn’t tell if she was joking. So I asked if she was a woman who was just born with an extra part or was genetically a man. She was actually caught off guard by my question because she wasn’t expecting such a concerned response and told me that she was just messing with me. And then I explained how if she hadn’t been joking, I was ready to either embrace and comfort her or clock her in the head depending on the answer. We had a good laugh about it afterwards, but it was an intense 15 seconds for me as I waited for that answer.

    Anyhow, back on topic. So, when it comes to full on hermaphrodite where neither male nor female genetics dominate the other one, I honestly have no input. I couldn’t begin to give any advice. And really, how could anyone give advice on that? For example, going back to the ones I was speaking of in the beginning, the ones that despite physically have both genders, they are still either male or female. Being male or female, they can still act as an appropriate spouse in regards to reproduction (generally). But those that genetically are not dominated by either can in some cases impregnate themselves.

    So, we have one group of people who are born with both genders but are still technically either a man or woman on the genetic level. And then we have a smaller group that are born with both genders and are also both genders on the genetic level. So if the LCMS is saying that they can choose to be who they identify with, I think that is a bunch of phooey. Those who are genetically either male or female, should they decide to transition, should do so that they become that which gender they actually are. And those who are genetically both male and female, well, I don’t think the LCMS really has much place (at least until they can present a convincing argument) telling them to transition at all. Let them stay as they are, I say. The only trouble I really see there is if they want to get married. How does the church handle that? Is it considered straight, gay, or bisexual? But that’s a topic for another time.

    PS, sorry for not addressing the rest of the blog, but that part really stuck out for me.

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  2. My statement you quoted to open your comments I made from my reading of the CTCR document.

    A problem with the strictness of your thoughts on the matter of hermaphrodites gets to the heart of the problem: folks with any of the conditions have a horrible mixture going on internally. It is not a straightforward thing for many, perhaps most. To force some to live according to what appears to be their intended sex is to utterly destroy them – it is to make a judgment for them which we would not want them to be in a position to make for us. Here, let us embrace the Golden Rule.

    I will challenge you. The one that really strikes me is complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS). In CAIS, females have male DNA. There is nothing about their appearance which smacks of being male. They are, in fact, females. Yet, because of the disruption which happened in the womb, their DNA did not match up with their being. Forgive my bluntness: they were screwed. To force these people to lives as males, because they have male DNA, is to be completely and utterly cruel.

    In your scenarios, I suspect you would, indeed, be outraged – hurt, confused, and more – if you were to find out that a woman, with whom you fell in love, were a transitioned male. Your reaction matches that of many men who have been in that situation.

    This is a terribly sticky situation. I beg all people to be sympathetic.

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  3. Perhaps we have some confusion, Greg. I was speaking strictly of those hermaphrodites which have the DNA of one gender but the body of both. And even then, I saw no issue with them remaining as they were born if they were comfortable with that. Despite having both parts, they would be considered either male or female. Now, in the example you brought up in your response, I honestly don’t feel that I could make any kind of statement on that that would be remotely reasonable. Born with a female body but with the DNA of a man? That seems to be a completely different scenario to me. Yes, perhaps they are related on some level, but the situation itself is completely different and realistically could not be dealt with the same way. That’s like comparing apples to potatoes. Yes, they’re both plant and good for the body, but if you attempt to eat them the same way, you’re not going to be very pleased.

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  4. No confusion. I believe the issue rarely is this black and white for the hermaphrodite.

    My overall point is this: virtually all people, with one of the conditions in that one paragraph, live in a messy situation.

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