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Topics: The Nashville Statement, Transgenderism

Transgenderism at the Evangelical Theological Society

November 19, 2018
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Editor’s Note: This blog post originally consisted only of Colin Smothers’ critique of Andy Draycott’s 2018 ETS presentation. Recently however, Draycott has offered a public statement retracting the argument made in his presentation. Dr. Draycott also provided us with this statement:

Dr. Andy Draycott’s presentation was exploratory in nature on the topic of transgender identity from an academic perspective and based on the theological assumptions he clarified in a statement apologizing for his lack of clarity and setting forth his convictions about the issue of transgender identity. In summary, Dr. Draycott unequivocally affirms that God has created humans as male and female and that gender dysphoria and transgender identification is a manifestation of human fallenness. Biola and Talbot’s faculty remain faithful to Scripture and also deeply love and tenderly care for all in our communities and churches, including those who experience gender dysphoria. You can read Dr. Draycott’s statement online.

We are grateful for Dr. Draycott’s humility and  collegial spirit, and we give thanks to God that “iron sharpens iron” in engagements like this one. You can read the rest of Draycott’s retraction here. Colin Smothers’ original critique is below.


Transgenderism at the Evangelical Theological Society

by Colin Smothers

When I opened the program guide for this year’s meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Denver, I was surprised by a paper titled “Walking across Gender in the Spirit? The Vocation of the Church and the Transgender Christian.” My interest piqued, I made plans to attend the session to hear the presentation. I honestly thought going into it that the title was intended for shock value to garner interest in order to set up an evangelical rebuttal of transgenderism. But what I heard from that paper went beyond anything I had thought possible at the Evangelical Theological Society.

The paper argues for the legitimacy of transgender identities. It appeared in an “Evangelicals and Gender” section, which means that the paper was vetted by committee members before being accepted into the program. Every member of the steering committee except one is a contributor to an evangelical feminist group called Christians for Biblical Equality. This raises the question: does CBE now accept the legitimacy of transgender identities? In addition to this session, there is at least one article that suggests it might.

Andy Draycott, Associate Professor of Theology and Christian Ethics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, delivered the paper to a crowd of maybe thirty or forty. Draycott set out his thesis at the beginning of his paper in answer to the question, “Should we consider ‘transgender Christians’ as having a good self-understanding?” His answer was an unqualified yes, that “transgender Christians” do have a good self-understanding when they perceive themselves to be gendered opposite their biological sex.

Draycott suggested four analogies from Christian theology to help the church process and even support transgender people through their transition as they “wal[k] across gender in the Spirit”: (1) Adoption, (2) Baptism, (3) Gifts, and (4) Disability. Below, I briefly summarize his argument on each analogy before offering my own critique.

Summary

(1) Draycott’s first analogy was adoption. Adoption truly reflects legal and social realities that are not reflected biologically. For example, a person who is adopted has legally and socially recognized parents who are not his biological parents. In the same way, Draycott argues, the church can understand “transgender Christians” to have legal and social identities that are not concomitant with their biological identity. This has consequences for one’s social relationships, including marriage and parenting. For example, Draycott cites Susan Faludi’s memoir, where she writes about when the man she knew to be her father, who “fathered” her, began to identify as a woman. Draycott offered Faludi’s experience as a positive example for how social and legal realities can change due to one’s transition; a father can become a mother and nevertheless still be considered the one who “fathered.” Draycott even went on to suggest that a married person who “transitions” after marriage may need to receive the pastoral counsel to divorce their spouse. No rationale was given for why this was a good.

(2) Draycott’s second analogy was baptism. Baptism, according to the New Testament, portrays a death to one’s old self and resurrection to one’s new self. In the same way, Draycott argues, the church should understand the experience of “transgender Christians” as a kind of dying to or even killing one’s old gendered self and living to one’s new gendered self. Here Draycott cites the experience of Rachel Mann, a male who identifies as a woman and who is ordained in the Anglican church. In Mann’s memoir, he talks about his transition as “killing that young boy, that young man” in order to live as a woman.

(3) The gift analogy received the shortest treatment in Draycott’s presentation. He suggested that “transgender Christians” are gifts to the church, and as such should not be rejected. Instead, “transgender Christians” should be incorporated into the life of the church in order for the church to prophetically test and affirm their identities.

(4) Disability was the final analogy Draycott offered in order to understand the good of the transgender experience. He spent the first part of this point arguing that, contrary to many opponents of transgender ideology, eating disorders are not good analogies to the transgender experience. If someone misperceives themselves as being too fat to the point of starvation, as in the case of bulimia or anorexia, they are believing something wrong that leads to their death. Draycott argues that since transgenderism does not lead to death or invite ill health — something he asserts and does not substantiate — this analogy is not appropriate. Instead, because disabilities are the result of the Fall, Draycott argues that disabilities should be overcome insofar as it is possible for the Christian. This may include pursuing transgender identities, even surgery, in order to bring the disabled body in line with the right understanding of the mind. Draycott argued this was a pursuit toward eschatological wholeness and resurrection life, when our gender and sex identities will no longer be mismatched. He offered the caveat that the church should not proclaim a kind of transgender prosperity gospel that promises unmitigated peace on the other side of transition.

In his conclusion, Draycott asked the rhetorical question why Mark Yarhouse, whom many consider to be an authority for evangelicals on transgenderism (I do not for reasons detailed in part here), seems mostly opposed to gender-reassignment surgery in spite of the rest of his somewhat positive assessment of transgender identity. Then Draycott suggests that Christians should be free to pursue mind-body unity out of a hope for their eschatological, resurrection bodies, which Draycott implies will be conformed to their current self-understanding, not their biological sex. He argues that since the body is good, contra (ironically) Gnosticism, pursuits of mind-body unity are goods to be encouraged, i.e. gender-reassignment surgery.

Critique

It is hard to know where to begin with a critique of Draycott’s paper. For one, I do not have a hard copy. Perhaps when/if Draycott publishes his ideas, I will engage more substantively. But to say that I was alarmed at what I was hearing at the Evangelical Theological Society would be a massive understatement. The main thing that was running through my head the whole time was, “how is this any different from the world?” To put it another way: would a bonafide LGBT activist disagree with Draycott about any of it?

At the beginning and end of the paper, Draycott attempts to cordon off his argument in order to avoid addressing (so-called) gender-reassignment surgery, treatment of gender dysphoria in adolescents, or the public controversy surrounding sports and bathrooms. While a 45-minute paper can’t say everything, there are massive implications for what Draycott argues, some of which have to do with these very things he avoided. For Draycott, adoption, baptism, gifts, and disability provide Christians with apt analogies to understand “transgender Christians” and incorporate them into the life of the Church. All four are immensely problematic – and even revisionist – from a biblical viewpoint. And each deserves its own rebuttal.

To start with, the Christian metaphor of adoption refers to our incorporation into the family of God in spite of how undeserving we are to be called children of God. Paul uses the adoption metaphor to encourage killing fleshly sin in the life of the Christian. As Paul says in Romans 8:12–13, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Paul defines what he means by “flesh” in the previous chapter as that part of the man that is “sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14), the part in which “nothing good dwells,” that is opposed to doing what is right (Rom. 7:18). How ironic, then, for Draycott to propose adoption as a proper way for a Christian to live “in the flesh” in rebellion not only to his God-given nature, but contrary to the explicit commands of Scripture (Deut. 22:5).

A similar yet greater irony exists in Draycott’s suggestion of baptism as a lens to understand the “transgender Christian.” In Romans 6, Paul says that baptism symbolizes the Christian’s death to the old self, and life to the new self in Christ. Because of Christian baptism, Paul argues, “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). Sin — that which is done contrary to God’s will and apart from faith — is not to be embraced, but mortified in the life of the Christian. How is it mortifying sin to adopt a gender-identity contrary to the one God gave at birth? This is a question Draycott fails to answer in his assumption that one’s psychological self-understanding, how one perceives one to be, is more accurately one’s “self” than the anthropological psychosomatic unity everywhere attested to by the Scriptures. Draycott fails to even consider that the dying-to-self imagery supplied in Christian baptism could — and I would argue must — inform a Christian’s dying to a sinful self-concept, i.e. a transgender identity, and living to their renewed, sinless identity in Christ. In fact, this is exactly what Paul argues later in Romans 12:1–2 when he writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Draycott would have the Christian “renew” his body in conformity with the worldly conception in his mind instead of renewing his mind in accord with God’s revealed will in creation.

Both Draycott’s gift and disability analogies break down for less obvious and ironic reasons. If “transgender identities” are a gift to be received by the church in the same way God gave apostles, prophets, and teachers, or in the same way God gave spiritual gifts like prophecy or tongues (it is not clear to me which Draycott meant), then there must be some edifying virtue or vocation in the transgender experience for the building up of the church. But is crossdressing really a virtue, contra Deuteronomy 22:5? As far as the disability analogy goes, it is not true that eating disorder analogies break down for the reasons Draycott gives. Cutting off one’s genitalia in the pursuit of a biological fiction is certainly a step toward self harm in the same way that the anorexic starves himself because he thinks himself too fat. It is noteworthy that the “disability” framework is utilized by “Gay Christian” proponents in order to extol the virtues of identifying as gay. Since when did we start using the word “disability” to describe something that is good instead of a privation of the good?

Of course, this discussion of transgenderism and which analogies are appropriate is downstream of the assessment of whether or not a transgender identity can be conceived of as a “good.” Draycott assumes the goodness of transgenderism from the outset of his paper, and even dismisses evangelical appeals to Genesis 1 and 2 as flat-footed — Jesus’s words in Matthew 19:8, “from the beginning it was not so,” notwithstanding.

But in Genesis 1, we read that God created mankind male and female, and it is clear in the original that these words have subtle etymological reference to sexual organization (zkr, male, = “sharp, pointed” while nqb, female, = “cavity”). In Genesis 2, God’s creation of Adam and Eve, man and woman, map squarely onto this creational binary in Genesis 1, grounding such prohibitions as we find in Deuteronomy 22:5. Scripture unequivocally teaches that males are created by God for manhood, and females for womanhood, and to rebel against this natural structure is to rebel against God and his creative will.

But for Draycott, the Scriptural text does not seem to be decisive. Instead, the personal experience of Rachel Mann, Austin Hartke, Susan Faludi, and others is what drives him to consider how “transgender Christians” can be better understood and how the church can better incorporate them into the church, transgender identity and all. Draycott asserts through ephemeral appeals to 1 Corinthians and “life in the Spirit” that as Christians, we should hold loosely our gendered identities in the life of the body of Christ. But here again Draycott finds himself opposite what concerns Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul labors to preserve male-female distinction and order in the assembly.

Is a transgender identity a “good”? Draycott answers yes, and then proceeds to offer four analogies for processing this “yes.” But what if the answer is “no”? If “no,” then as I have demonstrated above, the analogies offered by Draycott run in the exact opposite direction, and a transgender self-conception is not consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

In sum, what happened last week in Denver at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society should concern all evangelicals. Because what happens in these meetings often makes its way into articles, which make their way into books, which make their way into evangelical pulpits and pews. And at this meeting, a tenured professor at an evangelical institution made an argument for the good of transgender identities for Christians. If ever there was a flesh-and-blood example of why CBMW felt the Nashville Statement was necessary, here it is.

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