Dear LCMS: transgender is not like making a Chevy into a Ford

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The top of the page of the article in question, from the August, 2017, issue of The Lutheran Witness.

Once again, The Lutheran Witness (LW), the magazine for the lay folks of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), has given attention to the topic of transgender, this time devoting a full, though very short article to it.

Each article in the August issue of LW addressed a question. “Vive la difference!” is the title of the essay in answer to, “Can people really be transgender?”

I cannot read the mind or motives of the pastor who wrote the article; I can only tell you how I reacted to this. Overall, I found the author not to have adequately answered the question. Worse than that, I felt that he made fun of the topic. By the conclusion, I was offended. I was left wondering how the LCMS can print something so short and flippant regarding a subject which is so deep and serious.

Here is what I mean by flippant, from the opening paragraph: “The changes those who ‘transition’ undergo, even if surgically or with artificial hormones, are merely superficial and cosmetic. It’s like putting Ford nameplates and logos on a Chevrolet, then claiming it ‘transitioned’ to being a Ford!”

No, pastor, it’s not even close to the same. And that you made such a wise-cracking comparison leaves me wondering if you have ever sat across from a human being who is struggling with issues of gender identity, who longs to find comfort in her or his birth sex but hates the person in the mirror and the female or male life which is expected of that person, who hesitates telling even one soul about the battle being waged inside for fear of rejection, even the ridicule which might be returned for the revelation, who is plagued by suicidal ideation, of finding comfort in the thought that it can all go away if she just takes enough pills, if he can gather the courage to hang the noose.

The author spent most of the balance of the article discussing how God made us male and female—no arguments here—only touching on the actual question which this piece was to be answering, when he wrote, “Apart from very rare genetic defects, humans universally have been and continue to be made male or female.” Actually, he referred not to transgender, but to one type of intersex condition, of which there are several. Transgender specifically refers to a person whose identity does not match his or her birth sex. A person could be intersex and never be transgender.

After sketching how God made us male and female, and that Eve was made for Adam as his helper, the pastor concluded, “The French have a cheekier way of saying it: Vive la difference!” Again, this felt like making fun in the midst of a deadly serious matter.

What if a Christian were reading this article, who is suffering from gender dysphoria (or a family member or close friend of such a person)? Do you think she or he might decide that, if the LCMS magazine printed this, then it must be how the entire LCMS sees the subject, which might be the way his or her pastor sees it, and therefore this Christian would never dare speak with the very person who is supposed to be there to minister to Christ’s flock, and to be especially compassionate to one who is in the hardest of times?

From the three references to transgender, which I found in 2017 issues of LW, I am concerned about many things regarding the church body which I continue to call my church family. I see a latent assumption that anyone who is favorable to transgender also then does not affirm correct doctrine. Because of the minimal manner in which transgender is cited in these articles, the sense I have is that the LCMS believes the issue is nothing more than as with telling the person who lies, “God says lying is a sin, so don’t lie,” as if there is not a confounding malady behind a person’s struggling with his or her gender identity.

Because I am in my third year of blogging, and since my name became widespread in the LCMS a year ago, a number of Christians, including Lutherans, have contacted me, people who profess sound doctrine and strive to live godly lives, but who are utterly befuddled by a condition which they did not ask to have plague them, which they are trying to address in a God-pleasing manner.

None of them wants to, or wanted to, transition, to live in the sex opposite their birth sex. Some have transitioned, as I have, hoping it gives them a measure of earthly healing, as they await eternal wholeness in the resurrection of the flesh, when Jesus Christ returns in glory and, in His everlasting New Creation, there will be no more gender dysphoria. Some anticipate transitioning, but they long not to destroy their marriages, or hurt their families, or experience any of the other fallout from being transgender, and so they bide their time. One (Robert, of whom I have previously written), is even taking cross-sex hormones, with the hope that increasing his estrogen and decreasing his testosterone will allow him to remain male. (Despite the changes to his body, which he knew would occur, after fifteen month he continues to be succeeding as a male.) All have this in common: the desire to strive in correct doctrine and to live as God-fearing Christians.

Since, last year, the accusation was made about me that I want to introduce the entire LGBTQ agenda into the LCMS (I don’t), I wonder whether the LCMS so fears the humanistic spirit of the day that any topic which has any appearance of being part of that—and if transgender doesn’t, nothing does—that it believes it has to take a completely hands off, doors closed, walls erected stance, lest it give an inch and find its doors beaten down by every unwanted issue.

I don’t know that any of this is the case, and I have been striving since 2013, and writing now, in such a manner so as not to sin against the Eighth Commandment (“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”), and so I assume that I know nothing for sure, but am trying to learn from the evidence I have, from LW articles, from the reactions of LCMS pastors and lay people which I have read and received, and from LCMS ministers with whom I have met.

President Trump is regularly criticized for pandering to his base, as with his recent condemning of NFL players who are taking a knee during the national anthem. Mr. Trump knows how to speak to his supporters, to rally them to his side, and he makes hay in his speeches and tweets.

The LCMS has its own pulpit, with LW and many other periodicals, websites, and other outlets. It knows who its base is, especially its leadership—the ministers and other church workers, and the lay folks who are in leadership positions in its congregations—and how to rally the membership. Overall, these are biblically traditional and politically conservative Christians. For the majority of them to be easily appalled at anything transgender is no leap of the imagination. Articles, such as “Vive la difference!” can work just as a Trump tweet does with his base.

If the LCMS wants to keep a distance from transgender, articles such as “Vive la difference!” can do exactly what President Trump’s words toward the NFL have been doing. The difference, however, is not whether a person is properly reverent to our flag and loyal to our nation, but the eternal lives of human beings who are being torn apart by one of the myriad of maladies which are common to we who suffer the fallen nature, which every human born of a man and woman must endure.

Is gender dysphoria a tough topic to handle? You bet, it is. Is having transgender women and men worshiping and communing in a traditional church body, as the LCMS is, a challenging thought? Again, you bet. Is this a topic, and are we as fellow humans—equally sinful and equally saved—worthy of the LCMS’ full, serious concern? Lord, have mercy, if it is not and we are not.

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8 thoughts on “Dear LCMS: transgender is not like making a Chevy into a Ford

  1. I hope this isn’t a duplicate comment. WordPress is playing its game with my comments again; I upload them, they disappear, and then if I try to repost them it rejects them as duplicates. I’m using a different email this time.

    How disheartening. 😦

    And the writer’s analogy was shallow. If he wants to use an automobile to illustrate transitioning, first he must allow for the car’s self-awareness; because fundamentally it’s not about what others think of you, but about what you think of yourself. Next, he needs to focus on some aspect of being an automobile that can’t be seen directly by the car itself –like the engine, for example.

    Using his illustration, the writer’s hypothetical Chevy would have been altered by some mechanic, who, for inscrutable reasons of his own, had had the temerity to sneak into the factory and put a Ford engine in a Chevy body. Our self-aware Chevy would eventually get the idea, by hearing the engines of other Fords and seeing how they performed, that, despite appearances to the contrary, it, too, was a Ford.

    Our Ford with a Chevy body might well suffer an identity crisis – a sort of fender dysphoria – and changing those externalities that could be changed might alleviate the pain of being misfendered.

    I’d like to say that the writer missed the boat; but I don’t like to mix my metaphors.

    Ann

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  2. Something occurred to me that is pertinent to this discussion. If the existence of gender dysphoria either is denied or is considered to be a mental condition, then transitioning is to be considered cosmetic surgery only. What about those who are not content with their bodies, but decide to have nose jobs, breast augmentation or reduction surgeries, hip augmentation procedures, and other similar surgeries purely for cosmetic reasons. There seems to be no broad condemnation of these, claiming that one should be content with one’s body as the Lord made it. If the only reason why cosmetic surgeries are not condemned because they have less to do with sex than transitioning surgeries, we have the answer. One cannot argue that the fall into sin affected every part of human life EXCEPT sexual identity. We know that sin affects everything, straight from Scripture. To deny that sin affects gender identity is to deny the total devastating effect of original sin. The Word of the Lord tells us differently.

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    1. Thank you for this, Ken. As usual, you are helpfully insightful.

      Though Christians should recognize the totally devastating impact of Original Sin, including upon the sexes – and LCMS Christians, with their on-the-mark theology, all the more should recognize the universal impact of Original Sin – so many, so easily get tripped up with “male and female He created them.” It’s like they go deaf, dumb, and blind to the impact of Original Sin on this aspect of creation, as if everything has been adversely wrecked, but not the distinction of the sexes.

      So, I continue to find as many different ways as I can to illustrate the issues involved in this complex topic. With helpful comments such as yours, I am continually informed how to think and how to proceed, and those who read are better informed. Thanks!

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