Friday, June 5, 2009

Transgenders and Jesus

Here's the "ethics dilemma" that Dr. Russell Moore of Southern Seminary presented to his ethics class for pastors:

Joan is a fifty year-old woman who has been visiting your church for a little over a year. She sits on the third row from the back, and usually exits during the closing hymn, often with tears in her eyes. Joan approaches you after the service on Sunday to tell you that she wants to follow Jesus as her Lord.

You ask Joan a series of diagnostic questions about her faith, and it is clear she understands the gospel. She still seems distressed though. When you ask if she’s repented of her sin, she starts to cry and grit her teeth.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know how…I don’t know where to start…Can I meet with you privately?”

You, Joan, and a godly Titus 2-type women’s ministry leader in your church meet in your office right away, and Joan tells you her story.

She wasn’t born Joan. She was born John. From early on in John’s life, though, he felt as though he was “a woman trapped in a man’s body.” Joan says, “I don’t mean to repeat that old shopworn cliché, but it really is what I felt like.”

Joan tells you that when she was twenty she began the process of “transitioning” from life as a man to life as a woman. She underwent extensive hormone therapy, followed by extensive plastic surgery—including so-called “gender reassignment surgery.” She has lived for the past thirty years—physically and socially—as a woman.

“I want to do whatever it takes to follow Jesus,” Joan tells you. “I want to repent…I just, I don’t know how to do it.”

“I am surgically now a woman. I’ve taken hormones that give me the appearance and physical makeup of a woman,” she says. “Even if I were to put on a suit and tie right now, I’d just look like a woman with a suit and tie. Not to mention the fact that, well, I am physically…a woman.”

“To complicate matters further,” Joan says through tears, “I adopted my daughter, Clarissa, when she was eight months old and she’s ten years old now. She doesn’t know about my past life as…as a man. She just knows me as her Mom.”

“I know the sex change surgery was wrong. I know that my life is twisted. I’m willing to do whatever Jesus would have me to do to make it right,” she says. “But what would Jesus have me to do?”

Joan asks you, “Am I too messed up to repent and be saved? If not, what does it mean for me to repent and live my life as a follower of Jesus? What is right for me to do?”

You see, the scenario about “Joan” isn’t really all that hypothetical. Chances are in your town right now, there are people in that situation. Why don’t they show up in our churches? Is it because they doubt if our gospel is really addressed to them? Or is it because we doubt it?

Not another word from me. What do you think? What's the dilemma? What's the solution?

For Dr. Moore's article and conclusions, CLICK HERE. If you have no opinions about the dilemma, you definitely will about his conclusions!


Brad said...

She is not too messed up to repent and be saved - that is the easy one. The real question is the "what now" for her body and her daughter. That I confess that I don't know the answer. At some point she would need to come clean to her daughter I would think. But is it "right" to ask her to go through another set of surgeries to go back? Bad decisions usually have fallout and quite often that fallout is not reversable. I'm not sure it would be a pastor's duty to make a call like that for someone like that.

Joe B said...

I'm curious...why must she do either, come clean to the daughter or "go back"? Dr Moore assumed similar things, but gave no reason for it. He also said she must come clean before "the church", as though it is a foregone conclusion.

What's Brad say? Or the rest of ye?

Eutychus said...

My first reaction is this: Why is this, particularly, an important question?

The problem does not mention that she has hurt anyone. Are we making a special issue out of this one person's sins (and "sort-of-sins") just because they are rather uncommon?

Our loving attitude toward people in general is what matters. If it is genuine, we will respond to people somewhat uniformly. If we single people out because we think they are a little icky...I think that betrays us.

Great discussion post!

Anonymous said...

I don't know why we can't accept mistakes happen in nature! If Joan were born with no arm from the elbow down and had a prosthetic device no one in church would even blink. We recognize the existance of klienfelter syndrome and hermaphrodites, ( when genetic mutations cause a human to have both sets of sex organs or chromosomes that make identifying gender impossible)i.e. Jamie lee Curtis was born with a penis and a vagina. Her incredibly progressive parents gave her a gender neutral name and waited for her personality to develop instead of instinctually deciding to have her castrated in infancy. If that Can happen why is it so difficult to accept a female could be born in a male body?? Why is it the business of the child ever? It's certainly none of my business what my heterosexual parents' genetalia equip them to do or not do. We should be guiding this woman based on who she is inside not what it looks like on the outside.

Craig said...

Joe, you are such a pot-stirrer. . .

As I understand Dr. Moore, he bases his position on Truth and Honesty. Which I understand, and it resonates with me.

As the story is told, John was created male, not 'ambiguous' or hermaphrodite. He 'feels like a woman in a man's body', which has led him to do what he's done. As represented in Dr. Moore's telling, we don't have a 'mistake of nature', we have what amounts to a psychological disorder. Or so it would seem to me. And, as represented by Dr. Moore, John seems to have some awareness of that.

And, as far as pastoral care goes, I think Dr. Moore does about as well as could be done with what he himself admits was an intentionally 'intractable' situation.

The impact of his approach on the daughter is the biggest 'choking point' for me. It just seems like it would be incredibly disruptive for her, no matter which approach is taken.


OK, full disclosure. . . The daughter of friends of ours, who was a friend of our daughter's, 'transgendered herself' a few years back. Had her breasts removed, and took male hormones to grow a beard, etc.

It's really very sad. I could go into the tragic circumstances of her life, and their obvious impact on her young psyche, right at a crucial formative stage of development, but the pertinent fact here is that, by the time she was a young woman, she felt like she'd 'always been a man trapped in a woman's body'. And so she did what she did.

I've known this young woman her whole life. I wish her well, and not ill. The violence to her psyche is just tragic. But she hasn't got a 'Y' chromosome in her body, and she will never beget children (just as John will never get pregnant). Charity demands that I treat her compassionately, and with the full human dignity of one created in God's image, but I doubt that anything is served (and as Dr. Moore says, certainly not Truth) by pretending she's something she's not.

scott said...

I'm not sure we can just call it a "psychological disorder." This escalated much beyond that. Some seem to be confusing this with someone, maybe, with a penchant for cross-dressing. See this part:

"I am surgically now a woman. I’ve taken hormones that give me the appearance and physical makeup of a woman,” she says. “Even if I were to put on a suit and tie right now, I’d just look like a woman with a suit and tie. Not to mention the fact that, well, I am physically…a woman."

Seems kind of weird that part of the Dr's answer is that this person must now be addressed as a guy. If someone with suicidal tendencies cuts off his leg, then later comes to Christ, are we to pretend the leg is still there? :-)

Dumb analogy, I know.

I'm okay with public confession of past sins, I guess I'm just not sure why this one seems to be an exception to what we normally DON'T do. For instance, look at this scenario: A 50-year old woman married had young and was divorced by 30. She's now been remarried for 15 years. She comes to Christ.

Does her new church force her to leave her second husband and reconcile with her first husband? Do we address her as "Mrs Smith" (her first husband's last name) rather than "Mrs Jones"? Why not?

Craig said...

Scott, I say 'psychological disorder' with all deliberate purpose. Of course you know, there are psychological disorders and there are psychological disorders. A compulsive overeater is one thing, multiple personalities is another, but both are psychological disorders. I do understand the difference between 'a penchant for cross-dressing' and 'I feel like a woman trapped in a man's body'. But they're both psychological disorders, albeit of very different orders of magnitude.

As re the divorce example you pose, it presents a similar degree of 'pastoral intractability', which it is salutary to at least acknowledge - the first marriage, 'done and gone' tho it may be, is not nothing in that person's life, and we may reasonably suppose that it's not nothing to God. So, it shouldn't be nothing to the Church. Quite apart from questions of 'what we can do about it'.

scott said...

Craig, the only thing I meant when I said what I did about "psychological disorders" was that this person has had surgery on genitals and hormones to change what nature gave him/her. Permanently. It's been done. So I'm saying that having something in your head is one thing, once you've had this done, it tends to alter the situation greatly beyond anything just in one's head. I didn't quite understand Dr Moore's insistence that Joan now be referred to as a he, from a Biblical standpoint.

Oh, and Anonymous, the Jamie Lee Curtis thing is essentially an urban legend, by the way. Unless of course you were in the delivery room when she was born.

Craig said...

As I understand it, if such a person stops taking the hormones, the effects will 'undo' over time. Perhaps I am mistaken on that.

Which still leaves you with the 'surgical alterations', which are no small thing, I realize. But the whole thing starts with a tragically skewed psyche. . .

John/Joan still has a whole body-full of Y-chromosomes, and even for the surgical lack of a penis and testicles, he doesn't have a 'real' vagina, or a uterus, and will never bear a child.

My understanding is that even 'clinical best practice' is beginning to move away from the surgical/hormone 'solution' to situations like John/Joan's (or my friend's daughter), and recognizing it as a psychological problem in need of a psychological treatment. Mother Nature turns out to be not so easily fooled, and our psyches and bodies are more closely-coupled than what was suspected when the 'surgical/hormonal' approach was first put into practice.

Garry said...

Joe, interesting post and comments.
I read this and the answers supplied by the original 'pot stirrer' and wonder, did we miss the most important question of John/Joan?
Joan asks you, “Am I too messed up to repent and be saved? If not, what does it mean for me to repent and live my life as a follower of Jesus? What is right for me to do?”
Someone correct me if I've got this wrong, Jesus never said, "Go back and undo all that you've done that is sin and follow me." or "Clean up the mess you've made and follow me."
He says to the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condem you, Go and sin no more."
There is Zacheus(?), who said on his own, "I will repay those I've cheated with 300% intrest." But I can't remember anyone who was instructed to do anything but, "Go and sin no more."
Scott's divorce analogy hit home with me. A few years back a friend of mine was saved along with her husband and the children who were old enough to understand. The church they were attending knew that her husband had been married previously. He was instructed by the pastor to leave his current family and go back to his first wife if he were to continue to call himself a Christian. How much more wrong can you get?!?
I guess that, as a matter of practice, a good case could be made that to allow her/him to continue the life as a woman is perpetuating a deception and should not be allowed. Would it be right to do a 'cost/benefit' analysis here? Am I going into the black hole of "situational ethics"?
The idea that Joan must confess her sins to the church body and 'out' herself is not benificial to the Body of Christ for some of the reasons already assigned, some folks won't be able to get past it and their walk with the Lord will suffer for it.
Honesty with the daughter is necessary only when she is at a point in life when she can emotionally handle the truth of the matter. Then, it should be explained to her that 'Mom has ask for and received forgiveness from God for the sin in her life.'
We tend to have a pecking order for sin, not too bad, bad, serious, very serious and unforgiveable. It makes it easy for us to get through the day sometimes. This is not God's standard at all

Joe B said...

I met a guy who had a huge, pornographic tattoo on his shoulder he had acquired in his past life as a major pervert. Does he need to be "honest" with the church about the terrible things he did, things which are clearly associated with his tattoo? Why or why not?

Anonymous made a good point (Jamie Lee notwithstanding) that sometimes biological reality can be a bit disorienting. But God can handle it.

One only need look at the people around you to see that some men are far more masculine than others, same for women. My best pre-school friend carries a man's wallet in her man's jeans. My neighbor walks like a schoolgirl though he is a bald man. I worked with a man who did the whole operation and changed his name from Danny to Dana, and I also worked with a fine christian man who was born with a physical-sexual anomoly whose effects (including a strong dose of bisexuality) he considers part of his identity, though he lives as a faithful monogamous husband. And one of the groomsmen in my wedding is now a 6'6" woman. Not all have dealt well with these issues, but some have.

Real life is strange, it's plain to see. But if we somehow imagine that God is the only one who cannot see it, we are just silly.

People's anomalies are not synonymous with their sins. I feel like Dr. Moore fails to understand this, focusing too much on a right answer and too little on a right attitude (hey, he is a professor after all.) It may take a bit of wisdom to distinguish between a surgical-hormonal procedure and the past sins it's associated with, but there is a distinction. The divorce and the tatto both illustrate that.

Garry said...

As a follow up, I hit the "publish" button before I was done.
I can't think of a place in scripture where Jesus said, "Go and tell all you have done to the church," either. Certainly, there are examples of individual's sin being called out in public, Ananias & Saphira, come to mind quickly. The man in Corinth who was caught up in immorality, accepted, rejected and re-accepted, the last two on Paul's intstuction from the NT. The OT example of Achin springs to mind.
While I see the value in confessing our sin to our pastors and our 'accountability partner' so that we can in fact be held to a standard. I don't think that is what is meant when were instructed, by Paul to 'confess our sins one to another.'
So I'm probably going to disagree with those who would say the Joan/John has to, for lack of better phrasing, "expose himself/herself" to the world just because if she has to, I have to also. (Even as I write this, I am struggling with the self examination, "What would I still try to hide?" and "why?")
Some one tell me, am I missing something?
Dr. Mason's question, if it were a sin of money, murder etc., would we even be having this discussion? His selection of this situation makes us examine ourselves and find where our "line in the sand" is when it comes to someone elses worthiness(?) for Grace to be extended.
The fact is this, we have all been saved from the same hell, by Grace alone through Faith alone in Christ alone. What I have been personally convicted of by the Spirit that caused me to see my need of salvation really doesn't factor in the equation at all.

Craig said...

Garry, it occurs to me that sexual sins (and really, sexual 'stuff' in general) strikes us so viscerally, because sexuality is so 'ontological' - so close to the core of our being. Not that sexual sins are 'worse', but they strike closer to our human core than, say, theft. All sins are not equal, though any of them makes us liable to Hell. . .

Following on the Scriptural example of Zacchaeus, is it far-fetched to suggest that restitution ought to made, where it can? Perhaps the man with the pornographic tattoo should have it removed, or at least the 'pornographic' parts of it effaced. The thief should return what he stole, if he can. And the man who 'made himself a woman' (and of course, he can do no such thing; he can only mutilate the manhood with which he was created) could be construed as such a case; certainly, that is the gist of Dr. Moore's argument. . .

Of course, Dr. Moore posed his 'problem' in the first place as a 'hard case', specifically designed, it seems, to explore the tension that can arise between Love and Truth. But of course, Love and Truth are not opposites, and the Christian, at bottom, ought to insist on both.

'Stuff happens', for sure, and human sinfulness being what it is, the world can present us with some pretty intractable problems. But it seems to me that the way forward is not to force ourselves to choose between Truth and Love. We ought, rather, to look for the ways that satisfy both, and pray for grace to discern the 'hard cases'

Garry said...

Craig, I tried to resist responding quickly but can't seem to do it. Your insightful question, "shouldn't resitution be made where it can?" is fully dependant on motivation, in my mind.
If, because I am now a believer, I want to make amends because I now want to be a 'Christlike person', yes, I should.
If, because I am now a believer, I can improve someone's life that I have wronged in the past because I want to be Christlike, yes I should.
If, because I have received much Grace I want to extend much Grace , yes I should because Christ did for me.
All these things and many more, because I have been forgiven much, I want to love much. Because Christ loved me much and I want to be like Him.
The Grace I receive is not dependant on how successful I am at actually doing these things.
Because Christ shows us a better way, we want to follow it.
By repaying that which I have taken (thanks for spelling Zacchaeus for me) by dishonesty. Because I know a better way, I want my body art to be gone or at least altered so that I don't advertise for the other side.
Good things I do are a result of what I believe and evidence of my Faith.
Where this question leads is to let someone else (Dr. Moore) determine if Joan/John(I) is going to be worthy of Christ in stead of Him.
Only if I'm willing to accept and do what you(Dr. Moore) think I need to do, will I(Joan/John) be acceptable to the Lord.
Should my faith lead me to do the right things, absolutely. If it doesn't, where am I?
Is Christ pleased by my, or anyone elses, desire to correct the past? I beleive the answer is yes.
Is my salvation dependant on my undoing all that I have done? If it is, I am in a bind.

RMW said...

Interesting ethics question but I'm not sure it is overly illuminating as presented.

The issue to me seems to be one of degree of sin as Dr. Moore appears to treat this situation and is the concept of degree of sin valid? In other words is sin equal sin or not equal depending on the sin?

To my reading, the Bible states that there is 1 unforgivable sin which would strongly imply that all other sins are forgivable. In other words there is the implication that in God's eye all sins are equal or at least equally forgivable under the same requirments.

So, if that is true, it begs the question of Dr. Moore, does he have the same requirements that he imposes on Joan/John for say a divorced person, someone who had an abortion, a liar, gossip, adulterer, chronic spreader of seed upon the ground?

Would for example Dr. Moore require that a divorced person who is remarried leave their spouse and lead a celibate life since Dr. Moore treats his example as a continuation of a sin and lie which is also the case in divorce?

Would he require that the children of such a union be brought forth and told they are "bastard offspring" in the name of Biblical truth? If not, then where is God's perfect justice in Dr. Moore's requirements?

I tend to think that Dr. Moore most likely does not do these things which strikes me as hypocrisy.

I freely admit I don't know what God's answer to this situation is but I also don't believe Dr. Moore knows either and in such cases I tend to thread lightly and not assume to speak for God.

Joe B said...

Let us remember that Dr Moore did not "choose" this case, he invented it. Why is it so difficult? Because he thinks it is difficult. Because we make it difficult, as we will tend to do.

Believe. Repent. Love.

Craig said...

I am certainly not saying (and I don't think Dr. Moore is, either) that John/Joan's salvation depends on one or another specific course of action. And even if I think I have a wise, or just, or true, approach to a given specific problem, your salvation doesn't depend on doing what I say you should (or Dr. Moore). If I'm 'hearing from the Lord', you might be foolish to blow off what I think, but your life, and your choices, will always be your own.

Pleasing God is a good thing. Wanting to please God is a good thing. Amen. And, as I understand Dr. Moore, he's trying to help John/Joan discern what 'pleasing God' might mean in a concrete sense. And isn't that something of the nature of the Church? Helping each other grow closer to God, and please Him better? Isn't that why there's even a Church in the first place - because it's hard to live the Christian life all by myself, and I need support, and wisdom, from my brothers & sisters, and God's work in their lives can strengthen me, and build me up?

Joe B said...


Well, maybe inconsistency rather than hypocrisy.

There is that glaring issue of the forgiveability of various sins, and I think this case illuminates that we seem to feel like this sin (homosexy, you know) is a "special case." But what kind of special case? It's certainly not a case of injury and restitution (Dr Moore never mentions any particular injury to anyone.) It does not disgrace the gospel, since this soul did their sinning as an unbeliever.

Perhaps it disgraces...the pastor? Who feels like he must prove due diligence, must make sure that everyone understands he does not condone "that sort of thing"? And maybe prove it by raising some little extra obstacle to the kingdom of God? Hmmmmm?

Frankly I just cannot imagine, if this "case" involved a couple of cute blonde college roomates, that this ever would have been considered an ethical or pastoral "dilemma", let alone an intransigent one. But a big 50 year old man with boobs? That's icky. So let's make him pay for his salvation.

Joe B said...

Re: Craig

We could conceptually separate Joan's compliance with Dr Moore's prescription from Joan's "salvation". But in the real world that's kinda bogus. She asks "what must I do to repent", he replies with a very painful, life disrupting process with no constructive purpose. What has Joan really been told? "Save yourself."

I am affirming that Love is above Law, and mercy triumphs over judgement.

Craig said...

Actually, Joe, as I recall from Dr. Moore's article, the sin, at least as Dr. Moore describes it, would be a kind of rebellion against God, for having created him differently than he'd have wished. Which really does get to the point, and deserves to be addressed. The essence of discipleship is, 'my life is not my own', and sex-change surgeries (quite apart from questions of 'yuckiness') are pretty much expressive of the polar opposite of that. And so, when John/Joan asks, "What must I do to repent?" (a somewhat different question, by the way, than 'what must I do to be saved?'), a fairly early step in the way of repentance is acknowledging that God is one's Master, and one is no longer one's own Master. Which gets pretty close to the heart of the matter.

Joe B said...

So then...I guess he has to get his w**nie back after all, since whacking it off was an act of rebellion, and the rebellion continues so long as he is dismembered. How then can one still say that "how to repent" is a separate question from "how to be saved"?

That rebellion bit was the weakest part of Dr M's position I think. It seems he is only calling this an act of rebellion because he is groping for some basis to qualify the sex-change as any sort of sin. Which one of the ten commandments does it jibe with most closely, after all? Which of Jesus' teachings does it defy? It is a stretch to begin with to say this is necessarily a sin, unless being a very confused, troubled person is a sin.

I realize we are at a very difficult intersection cognitively as well as theologically, and we could just grab opposite ends of the stick an pull and pull.

Again, you can tell me that " repent" and " be saved" are truly different matters, and I can process that and agree. I even think I made that point myself when I said you can conceptually separate them. But an average IQ is 100, and an average 50 year-old has no frame of reference for such razor thin distinctions. So, this guy Joan asks how to repent, and this pastor is saying you have to dump your whole life upside down, crawl over broken glass, and monogram a man's name on your pink golf bag. So...

You do have to repent to be saved >> You do have to do all this to repent adequately >> so yes, Dr Moore most certainly is telling Joanie-John he must do this to be saved.

Now, if he is correct, I say tell it like it is. But he is misunderstanding the nature of repentance, and it's probably because he is stumbling over the man-boobs.

(How many of you have felt the instinctual urge to pray for this hypothetical person?)

Redacticus said...

Ladies? LADIES???

Not a single lady has commented on this article, and it directly relates to a WOMAN! More or less...

Come on girls, let's hear from you!

Craig said...

Of course, being troubled and confused isn't, of itself, a sin. But being a sinner (which, for the record, is all of us; just for the sake of saying so) often makes one troubled and confused. 'Darkened minds', and all that.

And as re the 'rebellion', I think of Isaiah 29:16. . .

Craig said...

Also, there is repentance, and there is repentance. There is the repentance of, "Repent and believe". There is also the repentance of, "I screwed up; how do I make it right?"

If repentance and salvation are always and necessarily that closely-coupled, then Lord have mercy on you and me when we snap at our wives. Washed in the blood as I am, I still need to repent. Often. Because I still sin, even if Sin isn't the 'determining factor' of my life anymore. I still need grace, and lots of it, to live a Christian life as I ought.

But this is starting to feel like a much more basic 'theological' thing, touching on the nature of sin, and repentance, and salvation, and humanity, etc. more than just 'Transgenders and Jesus'. Which isn't surprising, I suppose. . .

Eutychus said...

Yeah, it is becoming "Unsearchable Soteriology 401". Short of revising everyone's entire body of the theology of salvation (on which we all seem satisfactorily agreed anyway) and sum up with the question: are we treating this paticular case in the same way we'd view all other cases. Ifwe are swerving in this case in a way we would not in other cases, it reveals hypocrisy.

Joe B said...

Re: rebellion and Isaiah 29:16

I am not too pleased with the way God made me, and I would change some things if I could. I have defects and deficiencies I would eagerly change with surgery or medication if it were possible. God "made a mistake" on my daughter's teeth, and it cost me $4k for braces. And what if it had been boobs? Are we easing towards sin now? Afer all there are boobs involved so it must be bad...

Am I less rebellious than John was, just because there is no surgery for me? Do I need to send out an announcement to be a good disciple of Jesus?

Readers, give Craig a break. Weigh in for yourselves! Christi, I know you're reading this!!!

Anonymous said...

If all of us had to lay out all of our sins in public before we became Christians, well I bet the church would be smaller. Certainly you must confess your sins to God. Unfortunately many people can't handle the past lives of others. I don't need to know all of your transgressions and you don't need to know mine. To many times people feel like they have to get all of their problems straitened out before God will accept them. How sad. They don't get that from the bible. They get it from us. Jesus said "come to me all of you who are weary and have heavy burdens and I will give you rest." I have been in churches who have asked new christians to go back to their former mates to be in a "right relationship with God." How crazy and wrong is that. We can't solve our own problems, let alone those of others. In this situation I say let God figure it out. God offers salvation, not us. Show her/him the love of God and go forward. I know this may by hypothetical and put here for us to discuss. However it is a problem that churches have all over the world. We spend too much time trying to undo people and not enough time trying to help them know the Great Physician.

Joe B said...

I was looking over the thread and I realized that it appears like I think Craig is an ogre. Craig is smart and wise and I highly respect his opinions and judgements, including all those he contributed to this thread.

I did not mean to suggest that Craig really consciously thinks or advocates that John needs to undo his surgery or that John is "harder to save", etc. It's just an analytical device, to recasting a question with different subject and object (pervert with tattoo vs transexual with breast implants, etc) to see if the logic holds together. Throw in a little ironic humor and heck, it looks like I think he's a monster.

I was NOT trying to imply that Craig ha a heartless point of view. In fact he is kissing close to my philosophy on this whole matter. I just get overly excited in these discussions, and REDACTICUS is on an airlpane to California today. Got out of hand.

Apologies to the whole assembly of unChurch sages.

Craig said...

Joe, I don't require you to confess your sins publicly. . .


But I do appreciate your explanation. I don't take your 'rhetorical' comments personally (at least, I try not to).

Sometimes I wonder about the 'utility' of these 'arguments over hard cases', but sometimes they really can help us clarify things. . .

Joe B said...

Sin publicly, repent publicly. It's only fair.

Garry said...

Many of the comments here are the best evidence of why we should let God be God and not us.
Craig make some good arguments for living a life of open-ness, expose our lives to the Light. Craig, like Joe, appologize if I misconstrued or twisted your comments. We are on the same side, the joy should be that a sinner has repented and the population of hell is decreased.
This question is designed to force us into a corner I think. We all have our thoughts on what should be done. It is similar to another 'real life' example, that of Jeffery Dahmer. Gruesome as he was and the things he did, he accepted Christ in prison about a year prior to being killed by another inmate.
God's Grace reached out to him and if my interpertation of scripture is correct, he is enjoying the worship around the Throne even now.
How can this be fair? Why would God extend His love to someone so dastardly as Jeffery? How can God extend His Grace to someone like Joan/John?
These are the wrong questions, I have to ask myself, why me? And the answer is because God is a just God.
Sin is what separates us from God, not big ones and little ones that cause the distance to be calibrated by the sin. Little sins cause little distance, big sins cause larger distance. Sin is sin and we are separtated from God because of it.
Repentence accepts Grace and Grace provides forgiveness. Forgiveness allows us back into communion with the Father.
What we do after that to make things right with the ones we've sinned against will be put on our hearts by the Spirit.
Ethics questions are always very hard. That is why I avoid having ethics. ;-D

Craig said...

No offense taken, Garry.

It seems to me that part of what we're wrestling with here is the distinction between 'what must I do to be saved?' and the demands of discipleship. Of course, John/Joan might decide that Dr. Moore's 'prescription' is just more than he can deal with, and live out the rest of his life 'as a woman'; and still be welcomed into Heaven as a repentant sinner.

And yet, moving from repentance into a life of discipleship demands more of the would-be disciple, and the 'pastoral' questions become more complex. Can one be saved while declining to enter a life of discipleship? There's a lot of warrant for saying 'yes'; but I wouldn't want to be standing before the judgment seat, having to say that I knew what I needed to do, and steadfastly refused to do it.

And as soon as I say that, be clear that I understand that, on multiple levels, that is exactly the position I'll find myself in. Romans 7, and all that. . .

See, the thing with these 'hypothetical hard cases' is that they tend to get us thinking all 'abstractly'. When maybe the lines we ought to be thinking along are more like, 'what would such a situation demand of me?' This particular question started looking a whole lot different to me when I actually knew someone who'd 'transgendered' herself. . .

Deborah said...

Do you still want a female comment?

Joan's repentance is between her and God. It's none of the congregation's business what she's done in her past, and not their call to make, anyway. That's God's job.

From a spiritual perspective, Christians should consider adopting the physician's creed:"First do no harm." If Joan is told that she must revert back to John, there's going to be some major damage to a certain 10-year-old. And that damage will, in turn, hurt Joan.

So we have two hurting souls. For what? So a church body can feel "able" to accept this sinner into the family? God said, "Love one another." He didn't say, "Love one another as long as certain conditions are met."

This hypothetical irks me because it ignores the profound miracle, the incredible and joyous event that is salvation! A celebration should be taking place!!!

Instead, the beauty of this soul's acceptance of Jesus is completely overshadowed by the legalistic workings of the human mind. Instead of celebrating this precious GIFT from God, it's all about what Joan has to do to "earn" the right to be considered "repentant" here on Earth.

God knows what's in Joan's heart, and He'll lead her to take the path He desires. Shouldn't we trust God's going to take care of this in His own way and to His satisfaction?

(I just read over this, and it occurs to me that I may sound disrespectful or snotty. That is not my intention. I'm enjoying what I'm finding on this blog - it's like water to a dying plant!)

Scott said...

Glad to have a female comment! Thanks again for your thoughts.

I'm on the fence about what you wrote -- I agree with the vast majority of it, but I'm also a great fan of the healing power of confession and healing within a community. Repentance and confession ISN'T always just between a person's heart and God. Sometimes sharing these issues gives others the opportunity to love MORE. But I do understand your point. People shouldn't need a guy to have another sex-change to accept him into their church-family.

And you didn't sound disrespectful at all... You'll have to try a lot harder than that!

Craig said...

Deborah said,

"Joan's repentance is between her and God. It's none of the congregation's business what she's done in her past. . ."

With all appreciation for the whole of her comment, I firmly disagree with that notion.

The Church is not a collection of solitary individuals, each with his/her own relationship to God, in isolation from each other. In whatever mysterious way, our lives are connected to each other, and the sins of each of us affect all of us. God's treatment of Israel vis-a-vis Achan give us one scriptural example, among many others. . .

That said, it is the duty of the Church to treat John/Joan with mercy, and grace, and compassion, and not 'break the bruised reed'.

A fundamental part of our mission, as being the Church to each other, is helping each other get to Heaven. And part of that is 'speaking the Truth in Love' to each other. 'Not my business' isn't 'speaking the Truth in Love', any more than 'speaking the Truth judgmentally' is. We dare not sacrifice Truth to Love any more than the other way around; we need to insist on both. Which ain't always easy to pull off. . .

Deborah said...


I agree with you to a certain extent, but I think, for me, it all lies in a search for balance. Of course we should be honest with one another, but we need to temper that honesty with common sense and discretion.

I don't agree with most blanket statements when it comes to people and situations. What works in one situation could be disastrous in another.

One could share the most intimate details of one's long-ago sins with one's congregation, but I think it's dicey to consider it mandatory and/or an absolute necessity.

Every soul is different, and when it comes to healing of this magnitude, that person's needs should take front row and center. I'm not saying the congregation's needs shouldn't be considered, but there are times when they need to take a back seat to the individual's. Would the congregation WANT to know about this? Some members would, some would not. Do any of them NEED to know? No.

This is a terrific discussion, btw!

Craig said...

Just for the sake of putting all my cards on the table. . .

I wouldn't really advocate any kind of 'public confession', and I would even agree that, as far as the 'whole congregation' goes, there isn't necessarily a 'need to know' about all of each other's past sins.

I do, though, envision some manner of 'pastoral care' aimed at helping John/Joan live as 'whole' a Christian life as possible. Which, as I said, would walk some ticklish lines between Truth and Love, and could easily be abused. But that would be the aim, I think. . .