The article pictured above appears in the January 2021 issue of The Lutheran Witness. I found the information wanting, the focus wrongly placed, and the reader left with the wrong attitude toward gender dysphoria and transgender persons.
Scroll down past the photo of the magazine cover to find the letter I sent to the author.
In my review, you will see regular references to the author’s previous article—How do you know whether you are a man or a woman?—in our seminary journal, Concordia Theological Quarterly (CTQ). You may read my review of that article here: Scholarly article on gender dysphoria
I also refer to Swyer Syndrome. To learn more about it, click here: https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/5068/swyer-syndrome
Finally, I note that with this letter I sent the author a copy of my book, Ministering to Transgender Christians. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08FHBNGQV/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i0
As with every time I have communicated with persons in the LCMS, and all of the critiques I’ve put on this blog, my goal is to help correct wrong information, that the LCMS might accurately see gender dysphoria and transgender persons.
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I write regarding your article in the January 2021 The Lutheran Witness. With your previous article in Concordia Theological Quarterly in mind, if I didn’t know you wrote this LW piece I would think it was authored by someone else. In your CTQ article on gender dysphoria and transgender, I found you to have presented a lot of good information. I didn’t agree with all of it, yet it was the best thing I’d read from anyone in the LCMS. This LW article sounds nothing like the CTQ one.
You might not have written the subtitles, yet it is noteworthy that the quote of Ephesians 4:15—that we speak the truth in love—did not happen in the text. Key areas are either inaccurate, misleading, or false.
After referring to our creation and of marriage as reflecting our relationship with the Lord, you wrote, “Anything the devil can do to distort that reflection, he will do.” Though you did not specify transgender, that is the topic of the article, and so that is where readers’ minds are, so they are set up to hear you saying that the effects of gender dysphoria are the doing of Satan and, therefore, of a spiritual/sinful temptation nature. Indeed, that this article appears in this issue dedicated to living a “Chaste and Decent Life,” with features on pornography and immodest dressing, further lends itself to presenting gender dysphoria as a spiritual issue and living as a transgender person synonymous with worldly, ungodly living.
Further, you wrote of sexual ethics, which also set up the reader to hear this: gender dysphoria, and believing one is transgender, are ethical issues, and not the experiencing and addressing of a physical malady.
Writing about transitioning, you use “want” and “wish.” These are incorrect, and reinforce that gender dysphoria is a sinful desire. Gender dysphoric persons, including those who find they need to try transitioning to see if it helps ease their pain, don’t want or wish to be the opposite sex. Rather, they experience themselves as the other gender.
The gender dysphoric Christians I know want and wish they could be at peace with their birth sex, or their dysphoria is so intense they wish they’d been born in the biological sex in which they experience themselves.
And, try as they might to remain living in the gender in which they were identified at birth, striving to do so through trust in the Lord, spiritual care, talk therapy, and outright determination, sometimes they cannot. Indeed, in your CTQ article you rightly noted that intense talk therapy is rarely successful in alleviating gender dysphoria. To this, I can attest. I went into therapy with the desire to be at peace with my male self. I forced two therapists to address every last possibility why I was in conflict. I sought every means to lessen my pain, including placing myself under the care of two brother pastors when I was still in the ministry, and two more pastors after I retired.
I have gotten to know a number of transgender Christians, who have all had the same attitude, who have used talk therapy to find the strength to abide in their birth sex, who have used sheer determination, who have placed themselves in the hands of the Lord and the care of their pastors, and have strived in prayer that He might deliver them from this gender conflict. I can only think of one of these persons, who has so far found the strength to continue living in his birth sex, and one other who uses cross sex hormone therapy to ease his dysphoria—and it’s worked so far, though he had to have a double mastectomy because of excessive breast growth.
In your CTQ article, while commending all Christians to confession and absolution, you also said this experiencing gender dysphoria is not a spiritual issue to be specifically addressed with the Means of Grace. Yet, in this LW piece, I believe readers would believe confessing one’s gender conflict as sin is exactly what is prescribed.
Each of the gender dysphoric and transgender Christians I’ve gotten to know have gone the route of confessing as sin their conflict, believing it a spiritual issue before they learned more about its being a physical malady. They have strived in confession and absolution, receiving the Lord’s Supper, bathing themselves in the Father’s grace, clinging to Christ. They have longed to find comfort in their birth sex.
They know the lay of the land. They don’t want to transition. They don’t want to harm their marriages. They don’t want to disrupt their families. They don’t want to face rejection in every sphere of their lives. They don’t want to be kicked out of their churches.
They find themselves stuck. And, should they try transitioning, seeking the same physical relief their brothers and sisters in Christ seek from medicines and surgeries to heal their infirmities, they are condemned as sinners and kicked out of the Church. I also know that, firsthand.
They are left stuck between the heaviest of rocks and the firmest of hard places. Is it any wonder persons in this spot attempt suicide at a 2 in 5 rate? And the Church is doing nothing to help them.
It cannot be overstressed: gender dysphoric persons do not wish or want to be the opposite sex. They wish for healing and want some internal peace. When we continually misstate, with wish and want, their desiring to be the opposite sex, we do harm to them, because we arm with misinformation those who do not understand, those who do not accept this malady as a real, physical condition—people who, in their state of misunderstanding, end up condemning as unrepentant sinners those who transition.
It might not be the intention not to put the best construction on their situation, but that is what happens.
You defined dysphoria as intense unhappiness. It’s much deeper than that. I use a literal translation—ill feelings—to stress the physical ailment aspect of it.
“Unhappiness” gives people ammunition. You might hear this reaction, “They just want to be happy. Well, lots of us are not happy with many things in our lives. That doesn’t give us permission to sin!”
Happiness is not the goal of transitioning; it is a byproduct of getting healthy. Gender dysphoria is not intense unhappiness; it is intense distress.
Discussing our fall into sin, you wrote: “[W]e can fall into the trap of loathing our physical form and hoping to somehow transcend our biology. Transitioning one’s biological programming is an attempt to transcend that biology,” followed by, “Current trends in sexual ethics encourage people to find their identity by transcending their physical flesh. This encourages people to deny God’s good creation of their bodies. … It is contrary to the Gospel to claim that the immaterial soul is one’s real identity …” None of the gender dysphoric and transgender Christians I know agree with any of this. None have this attitude.
Attitude is everything—the starting point from which a person undertakes transitioning. The trans Christians I know do not listen to current trends in sexual ethics. They are not part of a so-called “transgender movement,” which disparages everything biblically true about our creation. Rather, these Christians are hurting intensely and are seeking physical, emotional, and mental relief—not to transcend their biology but to get their messed up biology into enough order that they can abide in their flesh.
These Christians I’ve gotten to know have flocked to me because they have found in me one who is as peculiar as them: Bible-believing, traditional and conservative in how they think and live, who do not deny God’s good creation of their bodies, yet experience this gender conflict. They have the same attitude as Christians suffering cancer, or a birth defect, or Alzheimer’s. They are living the outcome of Adam’s sin—physical harm to their bodies—and as with other ailments and diseases are striving to find some temporal healing.
They reject these silly notions espoused by progressive thinkers, that we can transcend our biology. They reject thinkers—Christian or otherwise—who claim the soul is one’s real identity. They know who they are, in their biological sex, and have no interest in denying it. Indeed, as I speak with them, I talk about our coming resurrection, and ask them if they recognize that they will be raised from the dead as their biological sex, finally free of this confounding sex-and-gender conflict.
All of them recognize this truth. All of them rejoice in Christ’s gift of the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life when there will be no more pain, where the former things will not be remembered.
Sometimes, when I introduce this topic, they don’t like the idea of being resurrected in their birth sex. They experience themselves so intensely as the opposite sex that to be resurrected in their birth sex sounds too foreign. I speak gently to them, reminding them that when they are resurrected the conflict will be gone, that they will be healthy. Eventually, they are able to rejoice that the Lord will, indeed, accomplish what right now seems impossible: they will live in peace and joy as their birth sex.
Onto the Church’s response. I appreciated the paragraph in which you suggest the church be neither repulsed nor affirming, agreeing with the sense of affirming in which you write. Sadly, in their repulsion, too many Christians link all transgender persons with liberal trans activists, yet there are many trans Christians who disagree with these activists’ ideas.
As you move on to how the Church should minister to gender dysphoric and trans persons, I don’t see a resolution for those who have transitioned. Perhaps, you were intentional, leaving to each pastor to minister according to each situation.
You wrote, “If someone you know suffers from gender identity confusion, love him.” What does this mean? Listen and be compassionate so long as the person doesn’t transition? Continue in that attitude if the person does transition, or now reject them?
We must ask: what if a Christian transitions? Does the pastor and congregation listen to this person’s confession of faith and how transitioning is viewed? Is this child of God to be excommunicated if they do not repent and cease transitioning?
In your paragraph beginning, “Furthermore,” you rightly acknowledged faith in Christ does not cause gender dysphoria to go away. Then, you reinforced that they are suffering a spiritual problem, instead of a physical malady: “Rather, people who know and love our Lord Jesus continue to struggle against all kinds of sins…”
The gender dysphoric Christians of whom I write do not “delude themselves” or “embrace the lies of the world” or “reject the intentions of their Creator.” They don’t “need to be admonished and invited to confession and absolution” for their gender struggle any more than we would expect a person striving with cancer to confess as sin their pain and desire for wholeness of being.
This point cannot be made too often or too strongly. These Christians hold the same faith you hold, believe the same doctrine you believe, long to serve the Lord and their neighbor to the glory of the Father as you long to do so. There is only one difference between them and you: they are stuck in a confounding malady that is misunderstood and disrespected for what it is.
In your CTQ article, you attested to gender dysphoria being a real, physical malady, when you stated that calling it an intersex condition is consistent with the evidence, and when you recognized that talk therapy rarely eases one’s struggle. Here is a portion of that section: “The hypothesis that gender dysphoria is an intersex condition of the mind/brain is consistent with the evidence. It also helps explain the strong resistance GD [gender dysphoria] has to all forms of psychotherapy and all current drug therapies. If this hypothesis is granted, one cannot argue that maleness and femaleness are determined exclusively by the genitals, gonads, secondary sex traits, or even chromosomes.”
You recognize that maleness and femaleness are not determined exclusively by the chromosomes, etc. Indeed, as only one example of this, women with Swyer Syndrome have XY/male chromosomes, yet they virtually always experience themselves as female. This is one vivid example of how our physical nature does not automatically line up with our experienced self. With Swyer’s, it is easily accepted as fact—a woman with male chromosomes—because it is observable. Most folks’ gender dysphoria is not genetically or otherwise observable. Does that make it less physically real?
Finally, here is how I would expect the average LCMS reader to take your LW article: “Some people are intensely unhappy with their bodies, and because they deny that physical biology is as important as their spirit—which is where we experience happiness—they find transitioning acceptable. They deny God’s Word regarding how the Lord has created us and, therefore, are sinning.”
I’m worn out, Scott. It’s coming up on six years since I went public with my gender dysphoria, and articles such as this continually appearing in LW and other places make me feel that, for every educational step I take forward, I’ve been pushed back five leaps.
Please, read my book. I provide specific, detailed information as to how to minister to gender dysphoric and transgender Christians. Evaluate all of my information, theology, and suggestions for spiritual care. Consider the Christians I profile. As I do in the book, bathe everything in the Good News of our Lord Jesus, so that the Gospel wins the day for hurting children of God.
Scott, might we work together to provide good information for the sake of our fellow Christians?
The Lord be with you!