PMW 2018-098 by Colin Smothers (Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)
Gentry note: The church is in need of revival. We are witnessing even evangelical bodies in a state of decline. Now even one of the largest and most esteemed evangelical agencies has allowed fallen culture to be represented in its annual meeting. Postmillennialism expects true revival and culture-wide reformation. Both are needed today. And they will come. But they will come only if we are alert to what is happening around us. Smothers’ article is a good warning call. Let us pray that the ETS heeds his call. I am presenting this article on December 7, as we are witnessing an attack on our culture.
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.
(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.
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(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.
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In his conclusion, Draycott asked the rhetorical question why Mark Yarhouse, whom many consider to be an authority for evangelicals on transgenderism, 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.
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 ….
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Colin Smothers serves as Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He holds a Ph.D. in Biblical Theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where has also taught adjunctly. He also holds a Master of Divinity from Southern Seminary and a B. S. in Industrial Engineering from Kansas State University. Colin is married and has four children.