Letter to the Editor of Christianity Today Magazine
I’m an evangelical Christian, active in my AOG church (choir, altar ministry) and have participated in 15 medical missions on 4 continents. I have led numerous Bible studies at church and in homes and consider myself to be a “Doer of the Word” (James 1:22-25). I am also a Board Certified Family Practitioner, Assistant Professor of Medicine at UCSF-Fresno and hold an advanced degree in Molecular Biology (how DNA/genetic mutations affect biological organisms).
First, I want to state that I see NO conflict between Science and the Bible when each is properly interpreted within its specific boundaries. True Science does not (indeed, cannot) make valid statements on the existence (or non-existence) of God, as this is beyond its scope. (Personally, I feel that the known scientific data make it difficult not to believe that some incredible intelligence is behind the creation of the universe!) Science is therefore NOT the enemy of Christian faith.
However, many Christians err when they attempt to push the Bible beyond its intended purpose and try to use it as a “scientific textbook”. The Bible supplies us with everything that is essential to understand God and His plan for mankind, showing us how to develop our spiritual relationship with Him. It is, however, silent in many areas and speaks only tangentially/metaphorically in regards to most scientific/medical issues. God’s Word is Truth, but it never claims to be a comprehensive science or medical textbook!
Throughout the centuries “The Church” has held erroneous beliefs based on false/unsupported interpretations of the Bible. During Galileo’s day, theologians were so sure that the universe was “earth-centric” (i.e. that the sun, planets and all the stars revolved around the earth) that any scientist who disagreed was threatened with excommunication. Up until the 18th century, most Christians assumed that everyone who had seizures must be demon-possessed, as described in passages like Mat 17:14-16.
We must be very careful not to interpret what we experience today as being “evil” just because it appears to be similar to something we read in the Bible. Certain types of epilepsy may cause uncontrollable “fits” of bizarre behavior or unusual verbal outbursts. This could easily be attributed to some demonic manifestation by the uneducated. However, the vast majority of people with seizures respond far better to medication than they do to an “exorcism”.
Unfortunately, Christianity as a whole still is slow to accept scientific advances and often feels (unjustifiably) threatened when such discoveries seem to contradict their own, often fallacious, interpretations of the Bible. Gender Dysphoria (GD; also called Transsexualism) is such an example. Many Christians claim that it is impossible for anyone to be born with a normal male body and yet have the “mind” of a female (or vice-versa), for “God doesn’t make mistakes!”
Indeed, God created a perfect universe wherein such a situation would never occur. Yet, due to Adam and Eve’s disobedience, sin entered into the world and with it came death, disease and deformity. Children are born every day with serious birth defects. Some are quite obvious, like cleft lip and deformed limbs. Others are not so visible but are found quickly by physical exam or standard neonatal testing (heart defects, PKU). Others are invisible and may go undetected for years or even decades (Tay-Sachs, Huntington’s Disease). GD is such an “invisible” birth defect, caused by a dissonance in “brain gender” and (outward) sexual development.
Gender is not always concordant with our chromosomes (XY= male; XX=female) nor our physiology (e.g. the amounts of testosterone or estrogen in one’s system). Androgen Insensitivity (AI) is a genetic defect in the cellular receptor for testosterone. These XY males appear at birth to be normal females and even have a vagina. They grow up, “think” and act just like normal girls, even developing breasts at puberty. They often are not diagnosed with AI until they fail to begin menstruation. Then tests show them to be XY, without uterus or ovaries, but instead have internal testes and sky-high levels of testosterone- none of which can cause masculinization, as they lack that cell receptor.
Intersexed individuals are born with both male and female genitalia, possibly with both functional ovaries and testes. There are even rare individuals who are true chimeras- half their body’s cells are XX and the other half XY! The Intersexed are often ‘arbitrarily’ assigned (surgically altered) by their physician to one sex or the other when they are very young. But when they grow up, they may be at odds with their bodies because their brains tell them they are opposite their assigned gender.
The causes of GD are multi-factorial and not easily understood. But research does indicate that there are subtle microscopic differences in the development of “gender centers” in the brain that appear to differentiate around 12-15 weeks of embryologic development. Hormone levels, certain drugs and chemicals in our environment have been linked to GD. Medical and psychological testing and psychiatric evaluation are needed to sort out (common) pre-pubescent, cross-gender experimentation and psychological manifestations of childhood sexual abuse from those with true, life-long cases of GD.
Because this analysis is difficult and there isn’t a single definitive “lab test” for GD, mistakes can occasionally be made. That is why medical, psychological and gender counseling typically continues for many months to years. This is followed with administration of cross-gender hormones and then a minimum of 1 year of Real Life Testing (living and working full-time as their desired gender) before Sex Reassignment Surgery is considered. The vast majority of those going through this extensive protocol are appropriately diagnosed and do much better in their new lives, no longer suffering the terrible anguish of mind-body/gender role incongruity.
If space permitted, I could tell you about many devoted Christians with GD who, by God’s grace, have achieved not only mind-body wholeness, but since “transitioning” are now becoming the "Men and Women of God" they were always meant to be.
Jennifer A. Burnett, MD
(Previously “afflicted” with GD- Now and Always, God’s beloved daughter!)