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.