The Inherent Fallacy of the BRI's Statement on Transgenderism

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” (Proverbs 13:3)

“Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly. The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.” (Proverbs 16:22-23)

Though there are several approaches one could use to dissent from the lines of reasoning found in the Seventh-day Adventist Biblical Research Institute’s (BRI) statement regarding “transgenderism,”[1] I will focus most of my argument on the faulty construction of their statement, and the dangerous environment that any such statement creates. It would be possible to direct my critique from several directions including those of modern science, biblical language and translation of terms into modern English, as well as my personal knowledge of the lived-experience of a large number of trans[2] individuals (something that seems quite obviously missing from the church statement). However, I have decided not to engage with the statement’s misappropriated reading of Genesis or the general misunderstanding of the basics of transition, genetics, or biology. Delving into all of the statement’s errors would require a great deal more space than is available to us here.

As noted, I have decided not to fully engage with the scriptural (mis)readings or the general lack of knowledge about the transitional experience, as expressed by the BRI statement, but I would like to make a few careful notes about some of the more fundamental errors. Firstly,as concerns the BRI’s scriptural grounds for their argument, while it is true that Scripture does not distinguish between sex and gender, this does not necessitate that transgender people be understood, as the statement has crudely worded it, “as being trapped in the wrong body.” This is widely understood as a misconception of the experience of gender dysphoria, and does not accurately represent the segment of the population they pretend to be referencing.

Secondly, their choice of language regarding genital reassignment surgery (also referred to as “sex change” surgery and “sex reassignment” surgery) is important because it reflects what we think actually happens in such a procedure. Medically, it is not a reassignment or singular change of sex. It is a reassignment of genitalia. Human sex consists of far more than just genitals. It also is composed of chromosomes, hormones, neurological structures, and internal reproductive organs — things that vary even among people of the same gender.

Thirdly, it is impossible to ignore the incorrect description of intersex individuals, which is lacking in the most basic facts. Intersex is a wide and diverse spectrum, rarely even diagnosed due to its often subtle or invisible symptom manifestations. To draw such a hard line between the experiences of intersex and trans individuals is unwise and shows a lack of education in this field of study. Furthermore, it is demonstrably false that most people born with ambiguous genitalia might “benefit from corrective surgical treatment.” Where such procedures are demonstrably beneficial to some transgender people, they are not for most intersex people. This fallacious flip combined with BRI’s choice to use “sex change” terminology over any other, more accurate, option, and their easily identifiable lack of information concerning the biological nuance of intersex and trans bodies, is a public display of their gross ignorance on these issues and should, in and of itself, be grounds to doubt their epistemic and theological authority on the matter. A basic Google search would easily provide updated, scholarly resources on this matter that could have corrected these essential errors. In addition, trans people of faith should have been consulted and/or should have been consulted better. This author knows, for a fact, that copious amounts of resources on this subject have been made available to the authors of the BRI statement, making their lack of research and respect for this subject matter wholly unacceptable.

A striking and revealing moment in the BRI statement says that “[w]hile the struggles and challenges of those identifying as transgender have some elements in common with the struggles of all human beings, we recognize the uniqueness of their existential situation and the limitation of our knowledge in such issues.” This admitted lack of knowledge on “such issues” should have been enough for the BRI to abstain from giving a public response, until they could demonstrate that they had at least an adequate understanding of both the wealth of scholarly work concerning trans and intersex bodies, and gender dysphoria. Instead, the BRI felt that, even with an obvious lack of knowledge on the subject, a response was necessary.

This kind of bold decision, to speak decisively concerning members of your congregation whom you do not understand is a dangerous one. Ted Wilson was quoted in the BRI statement, saying, that “[t]he last thing we want to do is chase people away from Christ and the Church. We want them to come to the foot of the cross and His changing grace.” If this is truly the case, then there must be at least the slightest attempt to understand how this statement affects this already-marginalized segment of the church population. I agree that the church should be the safest place to have these kinds of conversations and should welcome believers into that space with open arms! But to believe that the BRI’s statement has paved the way for this kind of safety is misguided.

Let us consider our broader context first. A recent study reported that 21% of trans people identify as Christian.[3] This is in drastic contrast with the 71% of the general US population who identify as Christian. However, studies have shown that, within the wider LGBTQ+ community, trans individuals are more likely to call themselves spiritually engaged and interested. This drastic contrast should give us pause about just how cautious church leadership should be when approaching any kind of public statement about this segment of the congregation. Trans individuals have already been extensively abused by the Church (in particularly unchristian fashion), as is proven by copious historical documentation. Statements like the BRI’s only reiterate the same harmful tropes and misunderstandings to which trans people have already been excessively subjected. In short, it annihilates “peace and mutual upbuilding” as Paul exhorts us (Romans 14:19). Not just because it fails to reach out and meet the intense needs of the trans population at-large or draw them into genuine conversation, but also because it threatens to bring the world’s hostile opinion of trans people through the church doors and into the congregation. If the church proves itself no safer than the world outside, why would anyone wish to find sanctuary there?

At this point in our argument, it is important to address the actual work that is done by releasing any kind of statement like the one written by the BRI. It is unequivocally unwise to deconstruct and detail the “sinful” aspects of an individual’s gender identity (including the physical make-up and possible bodily “alterations” involved) in a situation which is arguably “in front” of a global audience. A trans individual’s dysphoric struggle and societal transition is one of the most difficult and personal experiences that a human being could ever be asked to experience. Thus, exposing and examining this intimate process leaves an already disenfranchised and neglected population, in a way, dissected and prone for the peering eyes of a curious congregational public.

When human beings are placed in these kinds of dehumanizing situations, the impulse is to “flee the scene” and find a safer space, an often wise solution to these scenarios. The church’s statement has exposed and sidelined their trans church members in an inappropriate and painful way, which is a terrible idea if leadership’s true desire is to create a safe, welcoming, familial, and Christ-centered environment for all believers. They have proven themselves an unsafe space in which to have this conversation, as they are obviously unable to honor trans bodies, identities, and lived-experiences, let alone vocabulary or concepts. If you are truly interested in engaging trans church members, displaying their personal struggles and publicly otheringtheir embodiment is not the way to do it.

What I find the most confusing about the church’s statement is how the church has, in effect, declared transitioned bodies inherently sinful. Their logic and phrasing clearly communicates that any trans body having “undergone such a procedure” (here they are attempting to refer to genital reconstruction surgeries) has acted inappropriately, even sinfully, and is in need of healing and/or repentance. To then follow this with a generic call to love everyone is an empty gesture because it has already set these transitioned bodies outside of the sphere of “accepted” engagement with the church. Growing up as a Seventh-day Adventist child and then through adulthood, I can’t count the number of times I heard (and even used myself) teachings about how “everyone sins, but continuing to sin after becoming aware of your sin is the real problem.” This rhetoric creates a church culture wherein a transitioned body is inescapably outcast: if the church knows that you’re trans and have undergone any medical transition then you will never be able to distance yourself from the body which they have deemed “sinful.” While certain aspects of transition can be “walked back” retroactively, most of them cannot, and none of them can do so well. Meaning that even if a transitioned body wished to “repent”[4] of their trans identity and decided to medically transition back to their former gender identity, the marks of transition would remain on their body and relatively obvious to the observing public. This individual would never be able to be seen as a normative-bodied church member again, leaving the door open to gossip and inappropriate assumptions which would hinder their ability to work and abide peacefully in their church family. The church’s statement makes no attempt to bridge this gap in understanding or address the extremely dense layers of nuance surrounding bodies who have undergone any kind of transition. This bewildering oversight is unwise and, frankly, dangerous.

Even if we move this discussion of trans identity awy from the physically transitionedbody, and instead consider trans individuals who have not undergone any medical transition and are just beginning to deal with their dysphoria, the BRI statement continues to show negligence. For these individuals, the church’s argument makes “coming out” and admitting trans-ness to friends, family, or pastoral leadership a dangerous and highly scrutinized act. The fear associated with the potential community blow-back of this admission encourages trans believers to remain in denial, in “the closet.” This is a very dangerous position, because history, psychology, and life experience has proven the fact that closets kill people. Setting up a structure in which “obvious” or “observable” sin (such as a body in transition or performing non-normatively for any number of reasons) is what limits a believer’s engagement with, and respect from, the church dangerously threatens to eventually put all of the congregation in the closet, because hiding is easier than being judged. The BRI statement is one more step down the path to slowly closeting its congregation, and that is terrifying. I serve a God who came to earth to bring life, and to bring it more abundantly. If the Adventist church wants to reflect Christ’s service and love in their congregations, then setting up a structure which makes closets the most attractive option is dangerous both spiritually and (for trans and other members of the LGBTQ+ community) existentially. I would like to see the church at least attempt to do better.

It is important for our discussion to mention the global increase of violence (both physical and otherwise) against the full spectrum of trans people. In broader society, framing trans bodies as outside the scope of normative human identity has placed them in a dehumanizing space which leaves them prone to violent acts[5] and even a denial of their human rights.[6] Every trans person I know has experienced some form of violence due solely to their trans identity, and a few have even died because of it. I am not meaning to suggest that the Adventist church is necessarily oblivious to the struggle of trans people, but to admit that trans lives are daily at stake in the world and then to create official church doctrine that makes them even slightly unsafe in their home (church) is an unwise move for a church which claims to do the work of Christ. I am also not suggesting that the Adventist church is a place where a trans individual is likely to be beaten or brutally hazed, but I think that we should carefully define some terms, as specifically pertains to othering and violence. Violence is not inherently physical and not always obvious to us. The Oxford English Dictionary states that having violence done to you simply means that you have been damaged or adversely affected, meaning that we can be violent to each other in the subtlest of ways. To make this point, let us examine a portion of the BRI statement:

The Bible commands followers of Christ to love everyone. Created in the image of God, they must be treated with dignity and respect. This includes transgender people. Acts of ridicule, abuse, or bullying towards transgender people are incompatible with the biblical commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

This comment is lacking multiple levels of proper interrogation, the most obviously significant being a proper definition of the following terms: “ridicule, abuse, or bullying.” At face value we accept that these are unacceptable actions and we would all encourage our children, friends, church members, etc. not to ridicule, abuse, or bully anyone. This is not Christ-like and we know it. But there is a subtlety with which all of these things can be regularly performed against trans and othered bodies in a church power system. For example, leadership positions, such as deacon/deaconess, Sabbath School teachers, or any roles that place one on the church platform, are commonly denied to LGBTQ+ church members. To deny these members the ability to serve and use their gifts — fulfilling their call and feeding their souls — is a violent and painful act. To be denied your role in a faith community for reasons that do not directly relate to your ability to serve or to your spiritual gifts is hurtful, not to mention illogical. This situation is compounded when the denial from positions of service is due to the appearance of your body, which you cannot escape (as we discussed earlier).

Let us not pretend that involvement with church leadership and doctrine requires a perception of holiness which, due to the church’s declaration of the sinful state of a transitioned body, cannot be attained by any such body. This means that a transitioned body, regardless of education, gifting, or demonstration of ability, can never be seen to hold authority on matters of theology, faith, doctrine, or practice. This sets them aside from the general Christian or Adventist population, deeming them, in effect, illegitimate. The act of declaring a believer’s faith illegitimate is a bold and brazen act, whether it is done by leadership or lay individual. To make this kind of judgment call requires the firmest of beliefs in one’s own spiritual authority — arguably an ultimate authority, which borders on blasphemy.

Please be sure that we have no delusion that transgender people (or anyone else other than Christ) are without sin. However, we, as a church family, cannot deal with our sin appropriately if those who are ordained to help us refuse to remove the log in their own eyes (Matthew 7:5, Luke 6:42). Even the smallest of children can understand that engaging in a conversation without the most basic levels of general knowledge or vocabulary on the subject is a pointless, even embarrassing course of action which should be avoided whenever possible. If the leadership of the Seventh-Day Adventist church, or the Biblical Research Institute, wants to gain an understanding of the lives of trans people across the globe and within their church, we are here and ready to engage in the conversation. But if the church wishes to remain in the dark about the lived-experiences and current studies on trans individuals, then they should also remain silent on the subject, as they clearly do not comprehend the harm they are doing.

[1]The use of the term “transgenderism” is inappropriate and uninformed. This is outdated terminology and makes it very hard to take the authors seriously, due to the obvious lack of education on the subject.

[2]For simplicity and clarity’s sake, I will use the term “trans” to refer to any individual identifying on this spectrum, and will use more specific terminology when necessary. For more information regarding the use of the term trans, see the following resources:

“Transgender Terminology." National Center for Transgender Equality. National Center for Transgender Equality, 26 Feb. 2016. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <http://www.transequality.org/issues/resources/transgender-terminology>.

"Why We Used Trans* and Why We Don’t Anymore." Trans Student Educational Resources . Trans Student Educational Resources , n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2017. <http://www.transstudent.org/asterisk>.

"What does the asterisk in “trans*” stand for?" It's Pronounced Metrosexual. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2017. <http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/05/what-does-the-asterisk-in-trans-stand-for/#sthash.plCLRaIQ.dpbs>.

[3]James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Ana , M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.

[4]I want to make clear that I, in no way, believe that this is a necessary action or that any transitioned body need repent for its actions. This example is being used only to make a point about the BRI’s grossly negligent statement about the bodies of trans people.

[5]Campaign, Human Rights. "Violence Against the Transgender Community in 2017." Human Rights Campaign. N.p., 22 Mar. 2017. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

[6]Divan, Vivek et al. “Transgender Social Inclusion and Equality: A Pivotal Path to Development.” Journal of the International AIDS Society 19.3Suppl 2 (2016): 20803. PMC. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

The author is currently a graduate student and published academic with extensive study in the areas of Biblical Studies, Theology, Gender Studies & Sexuality, Philosophy, History, Education, Cultural Studies, Critical Theory, Representation Theory, and Biblical Languages. In addition to these specific areas of academic study, the author is an avid consumer of the most current peer-reviewed and academic publications which pertain to transgender and intersex studies in the areas of Psychology, Theology, and Biology. The author has spent extensive portions of their life in various church service and leadership positions, including pastoral roles, local and overseas mission work, evangelical work, chaplaincy, worship ministry, Biblical Education, and counseling. The author is also a transgender individual on the biologically intersex spectrum, and therefore speaks out of both personal experience and general knowledge of the wider LGBTQ+ community.

If you would like to contact the author to discuss this subject further, you are welcome to do so using this email: trans.SDA.response@gmail.com

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7978
1 Like

Anonymous –
Thank You for being so clear and concise.
A remarkable piece of journalism on the topic.
Steve.

I have trans and GL persons I know and it would not be helpful to them to be invited to become SDAs.
They ARE Christians and members of other Christian communities, and are allowed full inclusion in
all the church life.
As you mentioned, when one counts Christians among the population of these groups, the ability to
say one is Spiritual and Christian, or Christian and Spiritual may not always be one of the boxes to check.
Many times for persons 18 to 50’s being Spiritual [having a relationship with God of their understanding] is more important that just saying “I’m a Christian” and not having a relationship, just having a Church-Denominational Membership.

I guess I have been tainted by my 11 years of carting vehicle-poor friends around to AA and NA meetings and week-end conventions. This one group presently I attend with a friend, this one evening 4 persons spoke up and said they were either a son or daughter of a pastor, grew up in a pastor’s home. But Never had a relationship with God until they discovered their Higher Power and developed a relationship with “him” now. They actually were thankful for going where they went in drugs and/or alcohol so they COULD finally discover a relationship with their Higher Power.
I think a point I am attempting to say is this — Most SDA Local Communities DO NOT develop the ability to be OK with having persons enjoy fellowship with one’s Higher Power. And to allow them to express their love for their Higher Power in SERVICE in all activities of the Local church, the World-Wide church of SDA.

Edit-- A Sabbath Meditation. TITLE-- The Community and Prayer.
“Prayer does not depend on “religion” in an institutional sense, nor on dogma, or creed, but rather
on true heartfelt feelings that arise when a person recognizes that one’s surroundings and one’s
friends are not there solely for one’s own happiness, but instead, these relationships give rise to an
obligation whose source is Life Itself.” — Eleizer Schweid. Siddur Lev Shelem [conservative], pg 39a.
[From the Jewish Book of Common Prayer – Conservative – reading tonight.]
AFTER reading this, I was wondering IF WE HAD CHURCH ALL WRONG?
Remember what Jesus said – MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL NATIONS, ALL PEOPLE. Seems like that would include ALL Heterosexuals, ALL GLBTIOS.
So WHY do those “Old Guys” at Silver Springs, and from around the world presume to have AUTHORITY from God to tell certain of God’s Children, you are NOT WANTED HERE?
It seems to me that this type of behavior and declaration is certainly Anti-Christ, certainly NOT Christ-like.

5 Likes

You have shown us that you understand the situation that the church is up against .How do we address the 50 plus variations of gender as outlined by the LBGQT community . ? Is the term ,'Trans , " being denied some of these individuals , by their own group ? So is homosexuality wrong according to the bible or is the church just behind the times ? Or is it that man has evolved and the church should just do the right thing and accept everyone because they love each other ? Is the BRI wrong for trying to help the church define it’s position on this issue ? Let’s agree to pray for the church and each other .

1 Like

A strong argument, but for what purpose? Why insist on acceptance in an institution that has set its marks against accommodation? Particularly one that makes equal trash of the Gospel as a mere aid in the redemption process.

8 Likes

It is pathetic, pitiful, and yes poignant, that an intensely emotionally fraught entity like the transgender condition should be pontificated upon by theologians with WOEFULLY inadequate medical expertise.

How could they be so presumptive as to even presume to make a statement about a condition of which they have ZERO training or knowledge.

How many psychiatrists, pediatricians and geneticists did they consult?

How many transgender individuals ( and their families, ) did these BRI
"SEXPERTS " interview??

Unless they spoke to at least fifty, their statement is " hogwash ".

Or did they, in their overwhelming omniscience, feel that they were eminently competent and qualified to issue expert advice about subject matter that was not related to their field of knowledge?

Nothing now surprises me about our current church administration.

15 Likes

To add to the arguments in this piece, I would say that I find the charge of “dualism” against transgender persons to be particularly specious. If they truly were dualists, they might be able to live with the discrepancies between “mind” and “body,” as they would see them as functioning on two different levels. Instead, it seems to me that transgender persons do experience their person as a “psychosomatic unity,” as the GC statement says. Therefore, they seek to bring some sort of resolution to the conflicts that are present within that unity, in order to achieve a more coherent state of being. That is not dualism. It is thoroughgoing “whole person” thinking.

5 Likes

Excellent work. Thank you. The insight about language is especially helpful to those who may not have recognized that language more or less (more) creates reality. At best, it generates or advances conversation about what we share in the “real” world; at worst, it creates a world that is recognized only according to our personal or insular or isolationist lexicons. The “-ism” challenge is particularly problematic. But all of this essay is a terrific addition to the discussion at hand.

8 Likes

I am happy to see graduate students posting their thoughts online. However, is posting anonymously a submission to fear or a failure of courage? If you write something and publish, why not put your name on it and stand for what you believe and write? It encourages me when I see others put their name on their work. I’m longing for the time when we can all express ourselves without fear of reprisal.

5 Likes

The reality for many individuals who are transgender is that once transitioned they live their lives and people who they meet and know after transition do not know that part of their history and in many cases have no real need to know. In this case it could be very disruptive to the authors life and thus they have made the choice to publish this anonymously.

You can be certain that there is no fear of failure or lack of courage, but a reasonable desire for privacy to prevent possible destructive disruption within the authors life.

9 Likes

In relation to the rapid, severe judgmentalism often experienced on this blog, this person has every right to feel the need for protection by writing anonymously! You don’t know whether the need for anonymity is to protect themselves, or perhaps their very Adventist church-employed family. This blog, unfortunately, is not a safe place to be honest IMHO.

8 Likes

This is a great take down to one of the most upside down documents ever released from the GC. I considered a similar article. My thinking was based on several obvious facts:

  • The BRI team displayed complete disregard for what the Bible says. They claim it says things it does not.

  • There was routine wanton disregard for even the simplest logic in the BRI article.

  • There was a complete failure to dialog with differing views. I do not claim to have the best understanding of this complex topic. But even the poorness of my understanding readily grasped the disrespect for transgender people. I find the deepest irony in knowing that the 10 commandment law requires giving the gift of respect. Yet, these people claim to keep the 10 commandment law?

  • It is one of the clearest commands that Christ gave: We are required to love those about us. It is not optional. The document by the BRI clearly runs counter to this requirement.

This take down of the BRI document is correct. It is essential reading for every Adventist. It is especially vital for those who claim to lead this people. The BRI statement on transgenderism must be rescinded by the GC.

8 Likes

Well, I was not surprised by this from the church. They don’t want to drive anyone away?- well, my inclination would be to leave and I want to. This will drive people away. I was going along to a church quite happily until this statement came out. Why did they not get a trans person’s story. I could have told them mine. I have had gender re-assignment surgery but I had a woman’s shapely body before I completed transitioning. I was never taken seriously as a male and was often mistaken for a woman before I started. Where would I fit in this church? I wouldn’t, I would forever be an outcast. I live on the margins in the church. I am not dismayed by this, after all, who did Jesus mingle with? I know that Jesus loves me and that is all that matters. I am saddened by the church’s attitudes. I am sad for those who are young. I don’t want them to go through all the rejection I felt. I don’t struggle with who I am now. I don’t buy the church’s statement. I don’t believe everything they teach either.
This is what LGBTIQ people struggle with and it just got worse by this nonsense:

Many Christians like to say that a gay person is “struggling with their sexuality”, but that is usually incorrect. In most cases, they are only struggling with the way Christians are treating them because of their sexuality. They are struggling to avoid condemnation, struggling to stay hidden and protected from the bullies, struggling to remain in faith communities where they are mistreated and shunned. Chris Pavlovitz

6 Likes

Peta, come to our church. We would love you and include you. No one needs bullies, condemnation, singling out, sent to the margins, or delegated to an outcast in God’s house. You are loved and wanted. You need a community of supportive, loving brothers and sisters.

6 Likes

The statement from the BRI says more about the Biblical Research Institute than transgenderism. The BRI is a misnomer. Statements from the BRI generally demonstrate they are neither biblical nor rich in research. This latest statement is simply another example of my contention. Having observed the BRI for decades and knowing personally some of its members, I am led to conclude that the basic prerequisites for membership are academic mediocrity and a direct link to the GC by puppet strings.
It would save the SDA church much embarrassment, not to mention considerable expense, if the BRI was disbanded. The church would be better served by commissions of enquiry composed of qualified experts according to the topic and as necessity arose.

13 Likes

Thank you for your excellent article. You have articulated so much that I wish I could have written

1 Like