This Sunday, attendees of the Living Stones Church, Reno, Nevada will hear a sermon partially focused on gender. Deuteronomy 22:5 is one of the proof texts being used to discuss gender so that hearers might be “biblically faithful and compassionate to those struggling with (gender dysphoria).”
[NOTE: I am going to claim a victory over bad ideology/theology won by posting this article BEFORE the March 13th sermon was preached. Pastor Harvey did not follow the prepared sermon notes and avoided commentary on transgender issues in his sermon. He did however lay the foundation as to why biblical marriage “requires” a difference in genders. This concept, extrapolated, of course would exclude same-sex marriage. He also spoke of a gender binary, which taken to its conclusion, places those who are transgender outside the male-masculine/female-feminine restrictive boundaries.
Sermons that either plant biblically unsupported opinions, or speak direct misrepresentations of Scripture about gender, result in marginalizing members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. Hence, a post on Gender Binaries and Complementarianism)
My motives in posting alternative views of Scriptures to those offered by your pastor are the same as those detailed in greater length on a previous post. I am concerned that the young adults in this area not misuse Scripture to further marginalize members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community and inadvertently, even though their hearts be rooted in good intentions, hinder LGBT people from authentic relationship with God.
To the Deuteronomy passage, it was written 3400+ years ago and is part of The Law, yet is frequently used to shame the transgender and transsexual communities and those who express their gender in a variety of ways.
A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the LORD thy God.
It would be simple to brush away Deuteronomy 22:5 altogether, saying that it is part of the Law and therefore no longer relevant to modern Christians. After all, cisgender Christians, those whose sex and gender are in alignment, no longer adhere to this prohibition either; women wear pants, men wear kilts, and clothing styles are more influenced by culture than religion. Rather than simply ignore or dismiss the verse, it is more useful to try to understand what the verse means in the context of the culture in which it was written.
First, even among Jewish rabbis, who devote their lives to studying these texts, there is no agreement as to what this verse means precisely; there is, however, general agreement that it does not refer to those who cross-dress or to transgender people who wear clothing more aligned with their gender identity. The three predominant possible meanings of this verse have one commonality: wearing the clothing of the other sex with the intention to deceive. One interpretation proposes that the phrase “that which pertaineth to a man” refers to a sword or other pieces of his weaponry. In other words, a woman should not be given weapons and sent to war. It is also similarly suggested that this verse means that a man should not dress in the clothes of a woman to hide among women, particularly during a time when he should be soldiering.
The final two predominant arguments are in line with the general instruction found throughout the Jewish Law to keep things separate: types of seeds in a vineyard (Deuteronomy 22:9), an ox and a donkey when plowing (Deuteronomy 22:10), and wool and linen in clothing (Deuteronomy 22:11). Men and women in ancient Israel (and in some sects even today) were regularly segregated, thereby limiting their interaction. This argument is supported by the discourse on marriage and adultery that follows Deuteronomy 22:5 in Deuteronomy 22:13-30.
The intent of the Law, in this last interpretation of the verse, is to prevent men and women from mixing by deceitful entry into the segregated space of the other sex with the intent of committing adultery. In the verse, adultery is what is called an abomination unto God. Cross-dressing is not strictly and always forbidden by the Law; it was specifically permitted beginning in the 16th-century Code of Jewish Law that allowed men to dress as women and women as men for the Jewish feast of Purim for the purpose of celebration, as opposed to with the intent to deceive and commit adultery.
The interpretations of the verse are diverse, and while many conservative Christians have tried to use the verse to condemn transgender people who wear clothing opposite to their birth sex, most Jewish legal discussion of the verse centers on the intention of deception.
Deception, however, is not the motivation of transgender people wearing the clothing of the gender with which they identify. When transgender people wear the clothing of their internal gender, they are trying to decrease their emotional and mental stress by bringing their outward appearance into congruence with their gender identity.
Following are a few brief insights into transgender people (it might be useful to listen to my entire free audio chapter on sex, gender and orientation when formulating doctrine and policy on gender identity).
Humans are indeed born with an internal sense of gender. Though brain science is not yet definitive enough to inform us of exactly how gender is established, the best information experts currently have leads us to believe that gender is set in the brain at about four months of fetal development. A combination of epigenetics (mechanisms that sit atop genes and turn on and off traits and characteristics on genes themselves), and hormonal influences in utero contribute to brain gendering, as well as the development of internal reproductive systems and genitalia.
When the internal sense of gender does not match the biological sex, this person is transgender, as opposed to cisgender, where gender and biological sex do match. There are about 1.5 million transgender Americans, reflecting approximately 0.5% of the population. According the American Psychiatric Association, transgender people have a condition known as “gender dysphoria,” a social discomfort of varying degrees created by the surrounding culture.
All people have a: gender identity (how they personally identify on the male-to-female spectrum); most identify as either male of female, but some have a more fluid identity. All people have a gender expression (how they present to the world on a masculine to feminine spectrum in terms of dress and behavior), biological sex (male, female, or intersex), and finally, a sexual orientation, which refers to the emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to the same sex, either sex, or no sexual attraction (asexual). All these dimensions are a natural part of the human population, and a part of what makes up each individual created by God.
The problem occurs when Christians, most of whom mean well, are lacking the information needed to be loving and to protect the most vulnerable among us. We must be careful not to impose the consequences of this lack of information on others, nor to interject current-day cultural fears and myths into the Bible. Verses used out of context and read with literal translations might sound reasonable, but can do immense damage when used to reject one of God’s creations. Please do not use Scripture to further wound one of the already most marginalized groups in our society. If your doctrine is a weapon, ethically and biblically, there is something wrong with it.
As Christians, we can either allow science to inform us about the beauty and diversity of God’s natural creation as it acts in harmony with the richness of God’s spiritual recreation, or ignore it and impose prejudices and bad information onto Scripture and continue to damage people.
To the new generation of Christians at Living Stones, please expand your empathetic listening, invest in solid Bible study, pursue relationship with those who are gender non-conforming, and take advantage of access to scientific information so that you may hear the voice and views of the marginalized. Please consider whether current mainstream church teaching are producing good fruit, or leading to injury to individuals and to the Body of Christ.
I am not hopeful that this redemptive transformation is on the near horizon for Living Stones. If you want to participate in a truly more welcoming and inclusive community, try The Rock Church in Sparks. The worship style and community are similar to Living Stones, but non-oppressive to those who are marginalized, and those who love them.
Follow-up to Gender-Sex March 13th sermon at Living Stones. Living Stones — Complementarianism IS Hierarchical and Damaging to Women & LGBT People