Tag Archives: gender

Clarity on Sexuality

November 2017 Credo

Without a doubt, human sexuality is one of the most controversial issues that the modern church faces. Insofar as the church is situated within a cultural milieu, it is in some sense influenced and sometimes inadvertently even shaped by society’s strongest sentiments. This is especially true with issues surrounding homosexuality.

Buffeted by unrelenting pressures from all sides, Christians have sometimes come under considerable stress to simply acquiesce to their demands. And recently, a number of conservative Christian thinkers and leaders appear to have buckled under the strain.

For example, in a recent public lecture, Nicholas Wolterstorff shocked those who have always known him to be theologically conservative by expressing his approval for same-sex marriage. ‘I’ve listened to these people’, says Wolterstorff, ‘To their agony. To their feelings of exclusion and oppression. To their longings. To their expressions of love. To their commitments. To their faith. So listening has changed me’.

In an interview conducted by columnist Jonathan Merritt of Religion New Service, Eugene Petersen, the celebrated author of The Message also affirmed same-sex marriage. He told Merritt that the ‘debate about lesbians and gays might be over’ and that he would conduct a same-sex wedding if he were a pastor.

Soon after the interview was published, however, Petersen retracted his statements. ‘To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm the biblical view of everything’, he said in a subsequent statement.

Amidst these episodes of capitulation and flip-flop by some of the most prominent conservative Christian leaders, the Nashville Statement on human sexuality is refreshing, timely and welcomed (https://cbmw.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/The_Nashville_Statement_Initial_Signatories_List.pdf).

The Statement is uncompromisingly faithful to Scripture, and provides a reliable compass to help the church navigate safely through the fog of confusion about sexuality and gender.

In its preamble, the Statement underscores the fact that Christians in the 21st century inhabit a period of ‘historic transition’. As Western culture drifts from its Judeo-Christian heritage, we witness ‘massive revisions of what it means to be a human being’.

This has brought about radical changes to the way in which we understand human sexuality. ‘It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences’.

The Statement presents a series of affirmations and denials (in 14 articles) concerning human sexuality based on the teachings of Scripture. In the rest of this article, I will briefly highlight some of its most salient points.

The Statement begins by clearly articulating its position concerning marriage (Article 1). Everything that it has to say about human sexuality and sexual relations in subsequent articles is framed by its biblical view of marriage.

The Statement eschews the view that homosexual, polygamous and polyarmorous ‘marriages’ are part and parcel of God’s design. It states categorically that marriage as God had intended it is a ‘covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, husband and wife’.

Against the prevailing secular understanding of marriage as a contract, the Statement insists on the covenantal nature of this union.

Sexual relations between a man and a woman are appropriate only within the covenant of marriage. The Statement clearly affirms ‘chastity outside marriage and fidelity within marriage’, and rejects all forms of sexual immorality, including sexual intercourse outside marriage (Article 2).

The divine institution of marriage is established on the doctrine of creation, especially that creation of human beings as male and female (Articles 3 & 4).

The Statement affirms that God created human beings as male and female as bearers of his image and ‘equal before God as persons’ (Article 3). In addition, sexual distinctions – male and female – are not the tragic results of the fall. Instead, they are ‘divinely ordained’, that is, they ‘reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing’ (Article 4).

God has created humans as sexed beings. Sexual difference – being male or female – is therefore not a social construct, but a biological reality ordained by the loving Creator for human flourishing. This means that human sexuality cannot be re-defined according to the temper of the times, the whims and fancies of the prevailing culture.

Articles 3 & 4 set the stage for the more complex issues surrounding human sexuality. They include the dissonance that some people experience between their biological sex and their self-conception as male and female (Articles 5–8). These articles deal primarily with homosexuality and transgenderism.

Article 5 makes clear that neither physical anomalies (inter-sex?) nor psychological conditions (gender dysphoria) ‘nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male and female’. The Statement rejects the claim that ‘adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption’ (Article 7).

Article 6 maintains that those with sexual disorders are bearers of the divine image and ‘have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers’. Article 8 in turn gives the assurance that people who experience same-sex attraction ‘may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ …’

Sin receives its first mention in Article 9. The authors of the Statement judiciously avoid singling out homosexual acts alone, but include both homosexual and heterosexual immorality in this brief article. ‘We affirm that sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality – a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality’.

The remaining four articles of the Statement address a number of different issues. These include attitudes towards homosexual immorality to the efficacy of divine grace in conquering sexual temptations and sins.

Article 10 states that ‘it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism’. Such approval, it notes, can never be seen as a ‘matter of moral indifference’ but rather essentially as a ‘departure from Christian faithfulness and witness’. Article 11 underscores ‘our duty to speak the truth in love at all times’.

Article 12 affirms that the grace of God in Christ has transforming power that enables Christians to ‘walk in a manner worthy of the Lord’. This same grace enables ‘sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions’, states Article 13, and to see the connection between biological sex and one’s self-conception as male and female.

Article 14 is a summary of the Gospel.

Like most documents of this nature, some passages are lacking in clarity and issues that are either left out or given just a cursory mention should be given more attention.

For example, it would be helpful to make clear the distinction between experiencing same-sex attraction and having homosexual sex. It would also be helpful to clarify that while the Bible categorically prohibits homosexual sex, it does not address the issue of sexual orientation.

The issue of sexual orientation, so important in the current debate, is totally omitted by the Statement.

Article 6 appears to be most problematic because of its lack of clarity. Who exactly is the Statement referring to by ‘those born with a physical disorder of sex development’ – the homosexual, transgendered or inter-sex person?

Since inter-sexuality is not mentioned at all, the unfortunate impression is that the Statement affirms the biological basis for homosexuality and transgenderism. But if Article 6 refers to the inter-sex person (which I think it does), it should make this more explicit.

But these minor glitches aside, the Nashville Statement is a clear and robust articulation of the Christian vision of human sexuality. It is thoroughly biblical and in harmony with the orthodox teachings of the Church throughout the centuries.

Since its publication, however, the Nashville Statement has been heavily criticised. This should not surprise us.

Some of the most venomous criticisms come from Christians who appear to have become subservient to the very culture to which they were called to exercise a prophetic witness.

For example, Brian McLaren (of ‘emerging church movement’ fame) scathingly opines that theologically the Statement ‘is based on the same regressive way of reading the Bible that was used to justify slavery, anti-Semitism, apartheid, the suppression of women, the rejection of good science, and the slaughter of native people’.

On the social front, McLaren says, the Statement ‘plays into the same virulent scapegoating that has encouraged the KKK and other white supremacists to take off their sheets’.

Finally, he adds that politically it ‘perfectly serves the purposes of Trumpism by creating a pristine and pure “us” who need to push the dirty “other” to the margins’.

Some Christians may no doubt find such rhetoric compelling. But these sweeping harangues are in fact vacuous and ludicrous. They only show how far some Christians have capitulated to the prevailing culture.


 


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Gender Chaos

April 2017 Pulse

At Brighton College, one of the most prestigious private schools in Britain, gender distinct uniforms have been abolished. This means that the students in the school could choose to wear trousers or a skirt, a blazer or a bolero jacket.

Teachers in some preschools in America are not allowed to call the children “boys and girls” because to do so would promote unhelpful gender stereotypes.

In its 2015 Report, the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee suggests that Britain should adopt the ‘self-declaration’ model that is currently used in Ireland, Argentina, and Denmark. Instead of undergoing sexual reassignment surgery, transgendered people should be allowed to simply declare the sex of their choice by filling a form.

The LGBTQI community has produced a glossary that lists a bewildering number of different expressions of gender and orientations. These include skoliosexual (people who are attracted to transsexual people), genderqueer (people who think of themselves either as pangender or genderless), third gender (people who do not identify with either male or female), and many more.

Gender-neutral language has also been introduced in some circles, where “Ze” replaces “he” and “she” and “Hir” replaces “his” and “hers”.

These are just some of the many examples of the chaos and insanity surrounding gender in modern society.

The traditional binary model that presents men and women as different and that insists that the difference between them is fundamental has been called to question. “There is no way that six billion people can be categorised into two groups”, asserts Dr Jack Dreshner, a member of the American Psychiatric Association.

Indeed the term “binary” is now regarded in some quarters as pejorative and even as carrying the same offense as terms like “racist”, “sexist” and “homophobic”. Gender fluidity – the idea that gender is not fixed but mutable – is now the new orthodoxy, and it is even promoted as a lifestyle choice.

The origins of this new dogma can be traced to the 1970s when postmodern philosophers and feminists argued that gender is not a matter of biological fact but a social construct.

Michel Foucault challenged the essentialism of the Enlightenment view of sexual identity, arguing that it is in fact a social construct that can always be negotiated and redefined.

Judith Butler argues that our understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman is very much shaped by the gender scripts that we receive from our culture. And as we perform these scripts, the gender it constructs is somehow etched into our bodies and psyches.

Needless to say, these conceptions of human sexuality and gender are antithetical to the teachings of Scripture, which clearly present the duality of sexes (the binary model) as the Creator’s intention for human beings (Genesis 1:27).

Reflecting on this passage, Karl Barth concludes that “We cannot say man without having to say male or female and also male and female. Man exists in this differentiation, in this duality”. Put differently, the distinction between male and female, their equality before God and their fundamental mutuality are indispensable to our understanding of the meaning of human existence.

In addition, although sexual differentiation cannot be said to only serve the procreative purpose, procreation would not be possible without it.

All this means is that although gender has to do with the complex relationship between biological sex and behaviour, it is in fact not as fluid as the postmodern deconstructionists have made it out to be.

In its document on human sexuality, the Evangelical Free Church of America rightly states that “All of human existence, including sexuality, has been damaged by the fall into sin”.

However, it should be pointed out that the fall has not only resulted in perversions in our sexual desires, habits and behaviour. It has also introduced serious distortions to our understanding of human sexuality and gender that has resulted in the current confusion.

This new orthodoxy concerning gender, therefore, should not be greeted in a cavalier manner as if it is just a benign social experiment or a harmless quirk in culture. The dysfunctions it legitimises and the irrational intolerances it advocates can create an oppressive hegemony, a new tyranny that deprives society of certain rightful freedoms.

It must therefore be challenged and rejected.


 

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the ETHOS Institute™ for Public Christianity. This article is first published in Methodist Message.

Is it Ethical?

January 2017 Pulse

In 2006, in an article published in Methodist Message, I argued that gender dysphoria is a form of mental disorder – a view I still hold today. If this judgement is sound, then far from being a helpful correction to the condition, sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) is in fact collaborating with the illness.

In this article, we focus on a different but not unrelated question. SRS is legal in many countries, including Singapore and Iran (because homosexual acts are punishable by death, homosexuals in Iran are forced to undergo SRS – but that’s another story). Countries like Thailand and South Korea have become international hubs for SRS, attracting medical tourists from across the globe.

SRS may be legal, but is it ethical from the standpoint of medical ethics? To answer this question, we must examine what SRS entails and what benefits (if any) it brings to persons suffering from gender dysphoria.

SRS is a major procedure with significant risks.

SRS for the male involves hormone treatment, the removal of the penis and testes, preparation of genital tissue for the creation of pseudo-vagina, the creation of the pseudo-vagina, opening the urethra, breast implants, silicone implants in the hips and buttocks, and cosmetic surgery.

For the female, SRS involves hormone treatments, mastectomy, hysterectomy, the creation of a pseudo-penis and testes, and treatment to increase testosterone levels to stimulate hair and muscle growth.

The pressing question here is whether it is ethical to perform a procedure that not only mutilates but also destroys healthy sexual and reproductive organs.

SRS must be distinguished from surgical procedures to correct or restore deformities in the sexual organs caused by congenital defect, genetic abnormalities, injury or disease. While the latter procedures are performed to correct deformities, it is debatable if SRS could even be described as treatment – although this remains a contentious issue.

One of the most important principles in medical ethics is nonmaleficence. This principle obligates physicians not to cause harm to their patients, encapsulated in the oft-quoted maxim Primum non nocere (“Above all [or first] do no harm”).

Some ethicists have combined this principle with that of beneficence into a broader principle. But Tom Beauchamp and James Childress are surely right to argue that “conflating nonmaleficence and beneficence into a single principle obscures critical moral distinctions as well as different types of moral theory”.

In destroying healthy sexual and reproductive organs, SRS has arguably transgressed this important principle in medical ethics – to “do no harm”.

But does SRS benefit the person suffering from gender dysphoria? Two important points must be made in answer to this question.

Firstly, SRS does not change the sex of the person with gender dysphoria, but only creates an illusion of change. As Richard P. Fitzgibbons, Philip M. Sutton and Dale O’Leary have pointed out in their excellent study: “It is physiologically impossible to change a person’s sex, since the sex of each individual is encoded in the genes – XX if female, XY if male. Surgery can only create the appearance of the other sex.”

Secondly, persons who have undergone SRS continue to struggle with problems of sexual identity. A recent Swedish study showed that persons “after sexual reassignment, have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviour, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population”.

SRS therefore is not a treatment for sexual dysphoria. As Dr Paul McHugh has put it quite bluntly in his article ‘Surgical Sex’: “We psychiatrists … would do better to concentrate on trying to fix their minds and not their genitalia.”

The language that we routinely and very often uncritically use has clouded our thinking on this issue, creating more confusion than clarity.

“Sexual reassignment surgery” is itself a problematic term because it implies that the sex of a person assigned at birth can be reassigned by surgery. This, as we have seen, is not the case at all. The term “transsexual” is equally problematic because it suggests that a person of a certain genetic sex can simply move to the other sex.

With the technical possibility of surgically creating pseudo-genitals, these disturbingly misleading misnomers have given rise to yet another misleading idea: that SRS is a form of treatment for people suffering from gender dysphoria.

Perhaps it is time to re-examine the ethics (and legality) of SRS.



Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. This article is first published in Methodist Message.

Transexuality

Should Christians endorse Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS) as an option for transsexuals?

I think it is best if we begin with a working definition of transsexuality. A transsexual person is someone who is uncomfortable with the behaviour required for his or her chromosomal gender. In other words, a transsexual is someone who rejects his or her biologically and genetically determined sex, and prefers to live as a member of the opposite sex. Studies conducted in the US show that the incidence of transsexuality is relatively low: about 1 in 30,000 males, and 1 in 100,000 females. In the UK, the incidence of transsexuality is less than 0.003% of the population.

There is no consensus on the cause and origin of transsexuality. Most studies maintain that feelings of discomfort, known as gender dysphoria, begin from childhood. Studies have also indicated that transsexuality could possibly be associated with clinical, behavoural and family factors, but none of these is conclusive. No clear reproducible sex hormone abnormalities are found in transsexuals. That is why those undergoing GRS must be treated with adequate sex hormones for the target sex. Studies conducted on identical twins seem to indicate that transsexuality has no genetic basis either.

Historically, transsexuality has been considered as a psychiatric condition. But since GRS became available in the 1970s, transsexuality has been relabeled as a medical condition.

Can the Bible provide guidance on transsexuality? We must begin with what the Bible has to say about human sexuality and reflect on the specific issue of transsexuality from that standpoint. Genesis 1 provides the clearest statement regarding gender, that human beings are created as male and female (v 27). This basic statement also means that a person’s sexual identity is biologically determined and part of who he or she is. Genesis 2:18-25 sets out God’s ideal for sexual relationships: they should be monogamous, heterosexual, and open to the possibility of procreation. This is the creational ideal with regard to human sexuality, and God’s people are expected to live according to this ideal even in this fallen world. That is why any breach of sexual differentiation, like cross-dressing, is an abomination to God (Deut 22:5).

This ideal, as we know, is disrupted by human rebellion which led to the Fall. Sin did not only alienate human beings from their Creator; it also brought about a perversion which touches human nature in every aspect. In the case of transsexuals who feel that their bodies and sexual identities are at variance, the distortion is more pronounced, making their struggle more intense. But the distortions, contradictions and ambiguities brought about by human rebellion touch every single human being.

Should transsexuals seek therapy for their condition? Of course they should, but much depends on what sort of therapy is sought.

Since the emergence of sex-change surgery in the early 1970s, many transsexuals have undergone this almost irreversible procedure, in which extensive plastic surgery is performed, and extensive preparation and follow-up required. In the past, the accepted medical wisdom is that GRS should be the absolute last resort. But more recently, ‘transgender’ activists, who are often allied with gay liberation movements, have argued that transsexuals are entitled to whatever surgery they want. GRS has also become more common because of medical centres in countries like Thailand, which would perform the surgery with ‘no questions asked’ for anyone who can pay for it.

GRS is not an option for transsexual Christians seeking therapy because it transgresses the divine creational ideal for human sexuality and sexual relationships. The Bible appears to favour the view that human sexual identity is determined biologically. Put in modern scientific terms, human sexual identity is built into our constitution mostly by the genes we inherit and the embryogenesis process we undergo. According to this view, transsexuality is not deterministically enforced genetically or biologically, but rather has a psychological origin. This means that transsexual operations will not correct the profound psychological disquiet experienced by transsexuals.

Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Jon Meyer at Johns Hopkins found very little change in the psychological condition of post-surgical transsexuals, despite their claim of being happier and more fulfilled.

On the basis of such research, hospitals like Johns Hopkins have stopped performing gender reassignment procedures in adults with sexual dysphoria. Similarly experts in the field at the Portman Clinic in London no longer make such procedures available because they believe that offering GRS to transsexuals is preying on their delusional fantasies. For these doctors transsexuality is a form of psychiatric condition called ‘autogynephilia’, a kind of sexual misdirection which is manifested in cross-dressing, and which eventually leads to the surgical option. To provide surgical alteration of the body is therefore to collaborate with a mental disorder rather than to treat it.

Christians suffering from sexual dysphoria should seek psychiatric help. The Christian community should never agree that transsexual operations be allowable for Christians. But it should at the same time be willing to support the Christian transsexual who is willing to work patiently through the issue.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the Methodist Message.