Final Appeal to Your Pastor
March 8, 2008
This may indeed be a long letter and perhaps you have already made up your mind that Steve (who has chosen Stephanie as her new name, which I will use hereafter) is wrong/sinful/unrepentant in her insistence that she is really “a woman trapped in a man’s body”. I am writing to you because it appears to her from her interactions with you that she will be turned out from her church, which is certainly not what she desires. Therefore she has asked me to write to you in one last effort to help you understand her and her medical problem. I only ask that you carefully and prayerfully read what I have written and ask for the Holy Spirit’s power to discern the truth.
You may think that you already know the truth, but the current matter you are dealing with is far more complex than you have ever dealt with before and is NOT in any way similar to homosexuality; nor is it any form of immorality, which you may have erroneously equated this with. May I remind you of two exhortations from 1 Corinthians: “If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know” (8:2) and, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (10:12).
Since your understanding of her situation and the decisions you make about Stephanie will determine whether or not she can remain in your church, I therefore ask you to put away your preconceptions about this unusual congenital abnormality called Gender Dysphoria (or GD for short; also known as Transsexualism) and seriously consider that what I am writing to you is the truth- not just “scientific” truth but God’s own truth, which I have spent many, many years (and tears!) trying to discern.
Though you may think that what Stephanie is going through is something recent, she has been dealing with this from her childhood and has now finally come to a decision as to what she needs to do. In order to survive this incredibly difficult situation, being born in a body contrary to the gender she always knew herself to be, Stephanie learned early on to keep this totally hidden from others, even at times denying it herself. Because she knew that people would not understand or accept her if she revealed her “true self” to them, she put off doing anything until it became absolutely unbearable to continue living a life that was inherently false, in a gender role opposite to her true heart, soul and spirit.
Your negative response to her “revelation”, especially as a Christian leader, is quite typical; yet it is based in ignorance of both medical research and the Word of God. For when you study the Scriptures as I have, especially in the original languages, there is nothing that specifically condemns the alteration of the “outside” of one’s body if it leads to their relief from severe pain and suffering. Jesus’ exhortation in Mark 9:42-48 illustrates this in the most graphic sense. Also, for you to say that any such alteration of one’s body is violating God’s will (i.e. “If God wanted you to be born a girl, you would have had a girl’s body at birth!”), you should also be consistent and condemn ALL medical and surgical interventions (for birth defects, such as cleft lip and congenital heart defects; or any other disease, for that matter). However, you would thereby heartlessly condemn many people who could be helped medically, to lives of unnecessary suffering or even death.
Although this experience with Stephanie is a one-of-the-kind for you, I can assure you that there are many Christian brothers and sisters who love the Lord with all their heart but also have had to deal with this severe birth defect that they never asked to have. Far from doing anything immoral or contrary to God’s will, they have chosen to follow the only available and effective medical treatment to resolve this terribly debilitating problem, which will thus allow them to lead a relatively normal life. Yet, because we make this choice to “transition” (i.e. change our outward appearance to fit in with the gender we have always known ourselves to be), we are routinely ostracized by our pastors and fellow Christians and forced out of our churches.
Most Christians make the mistake of equating GD with homosexuality. It is not. A homosexual man may be attracted sexually to other men but he is still content to be a man himself. Our gender identity is intrinsic to who we are as people and can be quite separate from our sexual orientation. We essentially acquire our “gender self-concept” before we are even born. Even though most people have a difficult time trying to conceive of how one’s sense of identity as one gender can be in conflict with their outward “sex”, there are many rare but well-documented congenital anomalies that can cause a body (or more specifically, the brain) to acquire the gender identity opposite to the chromosomal sex. Genetic mutations and prenatal exposure to certain types of chemicals or hormones are well-linked to the development of GD.
When you consider it, there is really no reasonable “upside” for a Christian to reveal that they have GD and now desire to change their [outward] gender to conform to their inward being. (This is especially true for those going from male to female, with all the “status” problems women face). Why would someone do something that seems totally insane to everyone else and (usually) results in loss of one’s job, home, family relationships and severe condemnation from Christian pastors and friends? The only reason that we do so is that it just becomes impossible- totally intolerable - to continue to maintain the façade we had once created to please everyone else and “get along” in society. But previously, this had been the only way we could “cope” and thus avoid condemnation and ostracism, especially from fellow Christians and church leaders.
Even though we can keep up this façade intact for decades, those with GD can better be conceived of as having a “terminal disease” that one day will reach the point of “Transition or Die”. Though you cannot understand this, those with GD truly KNOW it is real. It just becomes impossibly painful to live in the wrong gender. It gets so bad that over 90% of those with GD attempt suicide at least once in their life.
But those of us who have the courage and trust in God to follow His leading into wholeness and peace, will make this “insane” (from your perspective) choice to accept the loss of our [usually quite successful, from the outside] former lives so we can survive and begin living consistently with our true gender- as our “true selves”. Ultimately, it matters little that we may lose much or all that we had, for the alternative is death. I truly came to understand in my heart and mind what Jesus meant when He told his disciples, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit [HER own] soul?” (Mark 8:36)
The path to “transitioning” begins with medical and psychological evaluation And for most Christians, it is also preceded by years of prayer and soul-searching, which also continues on throughout this long process. For all of us with GD, we have been praying for years, even decades, that God would heal us miraculously (I prayed for this since I was four years old!). But, as in Stephanie’s case and mine, God’s path is not always through divine healing, but IS through His grace and mercy in the provision of medical/surgical means which He allows His children to partake of in this modern age.
It is NOT “unspiritual” or against God’s will to conclude, after much prayer and counseling, that His plan for healing could involve the recommended (and very effective) medical treatment for such a terribly debilitating disorder. Stephanie has prayed much and honestly tried to discern God’s will. You as her pastor should consider that this has gone on for many years before she reached this decision. Even if her choice appears to you as being immoral or ungodly (because it is so unusual and beyond your scope of experience), it doesn’t mean that you have the right to jump to this conclusion. Condemning her for your lack of understanding, when you haven’t spent the necessary time, study and prayer over such a complex medical and spiritual issue, would be just plain arrogance of your part; for “you do not know as you ought to know”.
Christianity Today Magazine published an article, "The Transgender Movement”, in its Feb 2008 issue. It contained many inaccuracies regarding GD and quoted supposed “experts” (like Jerry Leach) who have no formal training or any degrees in medicine, psychology or counseling. These unqualified Christian “therapists” usually promote techniques such as “Reparative Therapy” to ‘heal’ Christians suffering from GD. Not only is this “treatment” ineffective and universally condemned by all certified mental health professions, it is dangerous. Many of those who are supposedly “healed” go on to take their own lives when they realize later on that “brainwashing” is ineffective at curing their underlying gender problem.
I ended up writing two “Letters to the Editor” to CT. One approached the topic of GD and Christianity from the “scientific” point of view and the second, from a much more spiritual perspective. These are the two “Letters” Stephanie has already shared with you. I believe that these were well written, certainly well researched (from both a medical and scriptural point of view) and have already received many positive comments from other Christians (both "transgendered" as well as "normal") that reviewed them for me.
I feel compelled (as evidenced by my Letters) to try to respond when Christian leaders express negative opinions concerning my brothers and sisters in Christ who are only trying to deal with their tremendously debilitating condition as GD as best as they can. I also endeavor to assist those who have trouble communicating this very complex problem to their church leaders. I have found that most pastors who express their vehement and often hostile points of view regarding GD haven’t taken the time to acquaint themselves with the diagnosis or the very effective medical therapy that has helped countless sufferers of this condition. Few people, and especially evangelical Christians, realize the enormity of the damage they do by their unwarranted attacks on those who are sincerely trying to honor God in their lives, despite their disability.
Jesus told us that His purpose on earth was "that you may have life", and that He wanted us to experience that life "more abundantly" (John 10:10). Beyond saving us, He further desires that we live a full and productive life. Jesus preached to bring about spiritual healing and He also used His time and power to heal many people’s physical infirmities. Though the apostles also carried out Jesus’ healing ministry, they were not beyond using the medical “wisdom” of their time to alleviate physical problems. Paul exhorted Timothy to “no longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1Tim 5:23).
Stephanie has a diagnosed medical condition that is severely damaging to her, psychologically and emotionally. By following the recommended treatment protocol, and by God's grace and merciful provision, this will allow her to finally experience "the abundant life" Christ wants her to have. Many Christians with GD have already taken this path and now are living a life of true freedom, becoming the men and women of God that He always wanted them to be. I have found that almost all Christians who complete this “journey” end up experiencing a far deeper spiritual life and intimacy in their walk with God than prior to their transition.
May I ask, then, how you as a pastor can stand in such ardent opposition to her, condemning her despite her prayerfully and carefully considered decision? Are you that certain that you possess the perfect mind of Christ and are also absolutely sure you know God’s will for Stephanie? If not, how can you honestly tell her that she must continue to live with an extremely debilitating (and often fatal) medical condition when there is a very effective medical treatment available? And if she does pursue this course, will you then eject her from fellowship/make it unbearable for her to stay? How is this consistent with the life and purpose of Jesus and His ministry (as in John 10:10), who you, as a pastor, are supposed to emulate? How can you condemn her like this and then consider it to be a demonstration of Jesus’ love for her?
Most Christians seem to forget that they are commanded by their Lord to respond to ALL their brothers and sisters in Christ, first and foremost, with the love of Jesus and His compassion and understanding (e.g. John 13:34-35; 1John 3:23). Instead, in their ignorance, they jump to instant judgment and condemnation, especially concerning medical and spiritual issues that are very difficult to understand and discern correctly (i.e. a person’s “heart” and true motivation). As such they further violate God’s command not to judge one another (Rom 14:4,10-13; 1Cor 4:5; James 4:11, 5:9).
So why then are Christians so quick to judge their brethren who suffer with such a debilitating disorder? Remember James 2:13 “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment!” Since the Bible is virtually silent concerning issues such as GD, when we are faced with something so complex, we should allow grace and mercy (and agape love and compassion) to “triumph” over judgment and condemnation!
If what I have shared with you (in this letter and the copies of my other two) regarding GD and Christianity doesn’t cause you to seriously reassess your conclusions, then I would be concerned that you are indeed endangering yourself by “showing no mercy” to your sister in Christ who has to contend with this terribly debilitating problem. Almost daily I have to deal with the incredible pain and suffering caused to these “special” sons and daughters of God by their often ‘well-meaning’ but incredibly ill-informed and unfeeling brethren and church leaders.
If your own ill-considered opinions and attitudes regarding Christians with GD result in condemnation and rejection, you are guilty of causing them needless suffering. When you show them no grace or understanding, you are indeed setting yourself up for a “harsher judgment” (James 2:13, again). None of us are perfect in every area of our lives, so we place ourselves in jeopardy of severe judgment when we, in our arrogance and self-righteousness, show no mercy or compassion to others. And as a leader and a teacher in your church, you must hold yourself to an even higher standard of responsibility to know the whole truth and wisdom of God in any area wherein you choose to pass judgment upon another.
My concern also is for your/her church, and for the Body of Christ as a whole. It was God, through His Spirit, who assembled His Church: “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the Body just as He desired” (1Cor 12:18). And He gave us all gifts and unique talents and made each of us different for a purpose, “so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (v.25). God forbids us from rejecting or excluding fellow Christians from His Body just because they are different (v. 18-21). In fact, Paul goes on to state that the more “unseemly” [weaker, less honorable] members are the MOST necessary: “But instead, there is [absolute] necessity for the parts of the body that are considered the more weak” (v.22, Amplified).
I believe that the reason God puts these “special” people (like Stephanie and me) into a church is so that the church members will be compelled to love each other with true agape love. For if everyone in church was similar in dress, political opinion, culture and social customs, there would be no need for God’s special love, for we could all get along with phileo love just fine. But when faced with a potentially “disruptive” presence, someone in the church who defies our understanding and far surpasses societal or cultural norms, all members are then challenged to show Christ’s love and compassion to that person, “and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).
Even though it upset all the religious leaders of His time, Jesus associated with the “scum” and “sinners” of His society. And through that practical expression of His love for them, these misfits were transformed into His beloved Children. The church was, at least initially, composed mostly of social outcasts and “low-life’s” (e.g. 1Cor 11:26-31). But nowadays it seems that the only people allowed to enter through our church’s doors [and remain there] are those that appear presentable and have only the “standard” and “acceptable” sins to deal with, like alcoholism, drug addiction, adultery or embezzlement.
Yes, having society’s “unacceptables” and outcasts can be a messy proposition for a church, but how else will the love of God be manifested to those who need it the most? And what is worse, when fellow Christians are so easily condemned and ejected from their church simply because they have been discovered to be “different” or are in violation of “church customs”, why would the world around us EVER believe our message of God’s love and grace? “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). But by your lack of love and compassion for Stephanie, the outside world will conclude that you are hypocrites and that God’s love is NOT in you. To eject a brother or sister in Christ from fellowship without sound biblical reasons (and a demonstrably unrepentant heart) is neither loving nor consistent with God’s Word.
You cannot dis-fellowship or “shun” a Christian just because their mode of dress or that their “unseemly” behavior ruffles some parishioners’ feathers. Violations of “church customs” or accusations that allowing Christians to transition “clashes with traditional Christian theology” (direct quote from the CT article, “The Transgender Movement) are insufficient grounds to warrant the drastic action of “excommunication” that is effectively occurring. Where is the specific scriptural prohibition that states that such behavior (i.e. following the medically recommended treatment for GD) is so destructive and “sinful” that it mandates such extreme censure from the church?
Adultery, pre-marital sex, gossip, greed, envy, arrogance and boasting are routinely going on in our churches. And we easily tolerate those who are “without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving and unmerciful”. Aren’t all these the very things that the Word unequivocally state are “not proper” and are products of a “depraved mind” (Rom 1:28-31)? Where is the “moral outrage” in the church against all these obvious sins? Why aren’t pastors routinely preaching against those who are “without understanding, unloving and unmerciful”? Gossip and slander are two of the most divisive sins that run rampant in the church today. Paul warns us that “if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another!” (Gal 5:15). And yet most church-goers can care less about these very evil practices going on in their midst, that God says He hates. Yet so many are up in arms about Christians who suffer from GID (a medical condition, not an immoral or sinful choice), of which not a single word or admonition is mentioned in the Bible!
Historically, “traditional Christian theology” has been responsible for some really great “gaffes” and mistakes that have made Christianity look stupid, inept and self-serving. As I stated in my first “Letter” to CT, the theology of Galileo’s time insisted that the earth was the center of the universe and excommunicated all those who disagreed. The early American church’s theology (circa 1692) gave us the Salem Witch Trials, which certainly showed how one’s “theological mistakes” can have deadly consequences. The Southern Baptist’s pre-Civil War theology allowed them to support slavery and condemn all Blacks because they (supposedly) were descendents of Noah’s cursed son, Ham, and “Ham” means “Black”. Many of the national churches in Europe in the 1930’s-40’s tacitly supported Hitler against the Jews and thereby were culpable for not standing against his genocidal policies.
So too, the present day church’s “theology” regarding those with GID will one day (30 years from now?) finally catch up to the fact that having GID is NOT a moral lapse or an ungodly “choice”. They will finally conclude that changing one’s “outside” to match the “inside”, so as to alleviate the tremendous suffering associated with living in the wrong gender, is no more of an “abomination” than replacing a congenitally damaged heart valve in a baby so it can live a full and normal life. In the future, I believe that Christians will look back on these times, hit themselves on the head and say, “How was I so blind to something that is so obvious?”
Then the “modern” Church will have to hang its head in shame regarding its long history of needless and uncaring condemnation of Christians with this unusual congenital anomaly, just as the Church at one time regarded all those who had epilepsy as being “demon-possessed”. But by then, what incredible damage will have been inflicted on Christian who truly love the Lord and have only chosen to follow the recommended medical protocols to allow them to try to live a normal life? How many, due to their despair of being cast out from their church during their extreme need for understanding and support, will choose to end their lives due to their hostile and uncaring brethren?
It is clear than many evangelical Christians and their churches have lost sight of their Lord’s absolutely unquestionable “first principle” commandments- to love our brethren and be compassionate and understanding towards those who are different from us. The Pharisees were so focused on appearing godly that that they ignored the important and focused on the miniscule: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Mat 23:23). It was for the unloving and judgmental religious leaders, not the “sinners”, that Jesus reserved His anger and condemnation.
I said above that I had written “for the sake of the Body”; for I firmly believe that 1Cor12:26 is true, that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” Stephanie is suffering now; and as a member of your church, the (local) Body of Christ is also suffering. And I can assure you that I, as a member of the Body am also suffering for/along with Stephanie. Just as Paul felt “the daily pressure of concern” for all the churches (2Cor 11:28), so I am also seriously “concerned” when I find that a Christian who loves the Lord with all her heart is about to be “amputated” from her local church.
The medical procedure of amputation is something that is done with great regret, when all other therapeutic measures have been tried and failed and all hope to save that limb has been exhausted. So also, forcing a Christian from her local Body, a “spiritual amputation”, must be done only in the most extreme of circumstances and is undertaken both for the sake of the person her/himself, as well as the welfare of the whole Body. Yet the ultimate aim is to provoke repentance and should be done in the hope of overall healing and restoration of that member back into the Body.
But the present course you are taking with Stephanie has absolutely NO hope for restoring her to your fellowship. You are basically telling her that to remain in your church she must “repent” of her GD, which is like demanding that a person repent from having blue eyes! She was born with it and no matter how much she hated growing up with this, and despite the many, many years she begged and pleaded for God’s divine healing, He chose to NOT provide it in the way she asked. Instead, He has responded to her (always in His love, for He desires the very best for each of us) by showing her “a better way”. This process, though very long and painful, is quite apparently God’s choice for her. His plan is to simultaneously achieve wholeness in body, mind and spirit AND to begin to transform her into the “woman of God” He has always desired her to become.
I went through this incredibly hard journey myself, God leading me every step of the way, not in spite of God’s “failure” to heal me miraculously, but precisely because He knew that by the testing and trials that “transitioning” brought me through, He could use this to mold and transform me, increasing my faith and trust in Him like no other trail could. His desire is that I “be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3-4) and that through this very difficult path of suffering, I might obtain the perseverance, proven character, hope and the love and compassion (Rom 5:3-5) I now have in my ministry to those who are so misunderstood and frequently cast away from their own churches.
Perhaps you are frightened by the prospect of one of your members changing their (outward) gender expression right there in your church, for all to see. Maybe you have thought of the implications for you as a pastor- that if you were to support Stephanie in her decision to transition, this could cause several in your church to leave. Perhaps you have weighed this prospect from the “practical” side: “Isn’t it better that one person be forced to leave than to risk the exodus of many?” But remember, the sacrifice of one (i.e. Stephanie, who really needs the support of her church right now due to what she is going though) for the benefit of many, was Caiaphas’ reason for executing our Savior (John 11:49-50). Jesus’ perspective is diametrically opposite: He is willing to leave the 99 “good sheep” for the sake of finding and saving the one who is lost and in serious jeopardy (Luke 15:4-7).
By God’s grace, I have seen and worked with pastors who have prayed and sincerely sought God’s guidance and wisdom regarding the “transitioning” of someone in their congregation. Yes, there were some difficult times and a lot of meetings and discussions went on. But these “noble” pastors who had sincerely looked into God’s Word for the answer (like the Bereans of Acts 17:11) ultimately found the grace they needed in such a difficult situation. They felt that showing love, compassion and mercy to a sister or brother in Christ was what Jesus commanded, even if they didn’t fully understand this complicated problem.
And in the end, mercy triumphed over that all-to-easy “jump to judgment” (James 2:13). Yes, some people did end up leaving, but not as many as their pastors feared. And the church indeed was exhorted and challenged to learn and express true agape love for one another. Amazingly, the acceptance of one with such a difficult problem led to far more openness on the part of many others in the church who had major life struggles of their own but had kept them hidden out of fear of rejection by their brethren. People were being released from bondage to things that no one else ever knew about. The churches grew and the true agape love of God moved beyond the church walls and the surrounding community began to take notice that “the love of God is truly in them”.
This, ultimately, is how Jesus wants His church to behave, each joint and sinew being held together and functioning in unity, controlled and empowered by His love, which is working in and through every member of His Body. You are Stephanie’s pastor and God expects you to be a loving, caring and compassionate man of God to every member of your flock (1Pet 5:1-4). How you respond will determine if your own church, as well as the whole Body of Christ, will suffer, or grow in the love and power of her Savior. To choose a path that will certainly force Stephanie to leave is to willfully bring harm to the Body. It will surely grieve the Holy Spirit and bring God’s own judgment of “showing no mercy” upon you.
You will eventually have to stand before God’s throne and give an account of your words and actions regarding Stephanie, His special “little one” (Mat 18:7-9, but particularly v.10) that He has entrusted to your care. I hope and pray that we will both be rejoicing on that day!
Walking Daily in His Wondrous Love and Grace,
Your sister in Christ,
Jennifer Burnett, MD
P.S. I would gladly discuss anything I have said here with you, via phone or e-mail.