What Does the Bible Teach About Lust?
Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock recently co-authored a trilogy of books offering their views on “what the Bible teaches about” lust, homosexuality, and “transgenderism.”
I’ve read and reviewed over 6 dozen books in the Bible and sexual orientation/gender identity genre. Typical of what has been presented from conservative-leaning sectors, Strachan and Peacock rehash much of what’s been written in the recent past. With marriage equality in the rearview mirror, the transgender community has become the focus of the conservative Christian community in recent years. This book adds nothing new to the conservative viewpoint and demonstrates that the work is not based on research and facts.
Without exception, all the conservative Christian authors I’ve read and reviewed in this category ignore what is known in the science of human sexuality about transgender issues. Consistent with the pack, Strachan and Peacock “go to the Word of God, the one source on planet earth that offers us timeless truth. Strangely, Christians sometimes focus a great deal on what psychologists and doctors say about gender dysphoria and related issues.” (p. 29) Strangely?
We pick and choose the sciences we like. We like advancements in medical science because they serve us, yet some, including these authors, resist, or more accurately, completely ignore the science of human sexuality and its advancement. Sexual orientation and gender identity are categories within medical disciplines, not moral or ethical disciplines.
In the third book of the series, “What Does the Bible Teaches About Transgenderism?” (Christian Focus, 2020, UK) the authors assert their “little book” is “about truth even as it is a book about love.” As I read this book, I tried to imagine the reception it might find within the progressive Christian community, in particular, what my transgender Christian friends might think about the contents.
For almost 20 years, I’ve been walking closely alongside LGBTQ people, and in particular Christians, and their families. I’m quite confident that LGBTQ Christians and their families have deeply examined the Scriptures within their lived experiences to discover “what the Bible teaches about” orientation and gender. For the most part, they have done a far more in-depth study on this topic than the authors of this trilogy. I count among these friends, several pastors, ministry leaders, seminary students, regular church attendees, and Christian parents of transchildren. So, no, these books are not loving. They are poison to the soul. Not only is the trilogy thinly academic, but it is also sub-par to the well-researched work being done in the progressive and LGBTQ-affirming communities.
Let’s begin by looking at the title of the book. Using the term “transgenderism” is offensive. This terminology frames transgender issues as an ideology, a philosophy, or a political agenda. By using the word “transgenderism,” people are reduced to an opinion and it’s easy to dismiss opinions. Whether an outside party “thinks” someone is transgender, or can or should be, is not up for the debate of a disinterested party. The correct terminology is transgender issues or just transgender people. An appropriate title for the book may have been “What the Bible Teaches about Transgender People?”
In laying the groundwork, the authors write “While the Word of God never uses the term “transgender,” it covers the matter with clarity.” (p.31) Adding, “The Bible teaches us much about what some call “transgenderism.” (p 31)
Though Strachan and Peacock believe the Bible “covers the matter with clarity,” how could this be true?
Gender would have never have been a discussion at any point when any portion of the Bible was written. The ideas about what it meant to be male or female were based on the balance of the four liquid humors in our bodies. If the internal humor balance was cold and dry, you were male. If the balance was was hot and wet, you were female. Diseases were “cured” by bringing one of the humors, blood, into balance through blood-letting. Female body parts were seen as the mirror or inverse of the male body. Some women’s body parts, like the vagina, didn’t have medical names until the 17th century. All the necessary parts of a human were in the male semen and the woman was simply a fertile planting ground. My goodness, we didn’t even know until the end of the 19th century that a woman contributed an egg to the creation of a baby.
The primary focus around sex was what a man did with his semen and where he placed his penis — did he place his penis and semen in a place that could result in a baby? Everything non-procreative was bad. For some part of church history, even sex inside marriage was inferior to celibacy. And, as to passion and sexual desire in marriage? No, a big no through much of church history. Sexual passion, even in a marriage, was bad. There were so many rules about sex, even in marriage.
No one was studying human sexuality until the end of the 19th century. As strange as it may seem, Linnaeus plant taxonomy of “plant sex” in the 18th century was the gateway to studying human sex a full century later. We hear it all the time that the biblical authors must have known about homosexuality and gender. Everything you imagine the Bible writers must have known about homosexuality and transgender people because they were writing under the inspiration of God, no.
The writers of Genesis (3,500 years ago), Deuteronomy (2,700 years ago), and the New Testament (2,000 years ago) knew nothing about human sexuality, the science of the body, or the concept of gender. They wrote through the lens of what they did know, men are superior, women are inferior, and never treat a man like a woman for that is demeaning. They were writing from the perspective of their world view and what was known. Imposing our 21st-century views and knowledge about human sexuality and the roles of men and women in 1st-century texts is utterly revisionist.
Still, the authors of this book write “Transgenderism is an egregious sin before God and tramples on his glory.” (p.146) “The Bible clearly closes off the possibility of adopting a “transgender” identity. We were made either a man or a woman by God. (p 64)
You might be wondering about the status of Intersex people. The authors refer readers to Alan Branch’s work (which I have also reviewed here on Amazon). In a nutshell, intersex people are a result of The Fall when “the entrance of sin has created ambiguous cases like this.” (p.144) No, again on this concept. Intersex people are not the result of sin. If you would like a balanced Christian perspective, my free audio chapter on my website covers this topic, as does the highly informational Intersex Society of North America website. Science and medicine are handy tools.
Scientific observation and study of gender identity are relatively new. It began with Magnus Hirschfeld who founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in Germany in 1897, and the Institute for Sexual Science in 1919. Hirschfeld collected interviews from over thirty thousand people who operated outside male/female normative roles in orientation or gender identity (though they would not have used those terms). His research was wiped out in the Nazi party’s burning of his institute and records.
Christine Jorgensen, an American GI turned female in 1952, was the first widely publicized transgender transition. Until this time period, synthetic hormones were not available. Also, trauma surgery skills learned in WWII allowed for surgical transitions to be successfully attempted and more accessible for people who felt that their biological sex was not in accordance with their internal sense of identity.
One of the early doctors working in gender reassignment, Dr. John Money, wanted terminology other than “sex roles” to distinguish erotic and genital sexual activities from typical male or female nonsexual activities. In 1955, he appropriated the word “gender” to distinguish social roles from sexual roles. This was the first time “gender” was used in this way. It also marked a greater understanding that people may not be in biological sex and gender alignment.
Beginning in 1966, transgender people began fighting back against legal oppression by police officers. In 1980, “transgenderism” was officially classified in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual (DSM) as gender identity disorder. The visibility of transpeople increased both in the culture and online on the internet. In 2013, the DSM recategorized those who are transgender with gender dysphoria to reflect their feelings of stress. Experts who work on brain science and chemistry say we are likely several decades away from understanding why 0.25 to 1.0% of the population is transgender.
Shifting gears from historical and scientific information, the authors say they are strict adherents to biblical inerrancy. They cite Deuteronomy 22:5 to “prove” a man should not dress in the clothes of a woman. “Cross-dressing cannot fit into Christianity.” (p. 51) But, is this what the verse means, and are transgender people “crossdressing”?
Even among Jewish rabbis, 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 opt to 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. Crossdressing is not strictly and always forbidden in 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.
Contrary to their devotion to biblical inerrancy, the authors have misused and misapplied Deuteronomy 22:5.
Both authors have leadership ties to The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) founded in 1987. They are strict adherents to what is and even looks masculine and feminine. Even ‘looking” too feminine for a man or too masculine for a woman dishonors God. “A man honors God when he looks like a man . . . a woman honors God when she looks like a woman. The Bible gives us no in-between option.” (p. 51) “ A woman has the body of a woman, and should represent herself accordingly by having a different hair length than a man (as much as she can given her age, that is.)” (p 59) “Many men grow their hair long, and many women cut their hair short. They do so because they see no greater meaning in their sex.” (p. 59)
I hope the passage “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Sam. 16:7 comes to your mind as a solid refutation to these exhausting rules.
As expected, Strachan and Peacock believe those who are transgender follow “a modern form of Gnosticism.” This has become a common “call and response” in the conservative theological world. I say “transgender” and you say “Gnosticism.” This ideology connecting Gnosticism to transgender people has been floating around in conservative communities for about a decade. Frankly, when you pick it apart, it makes no sense.
(The authors suggest reading Andrew Walker’s work on this in his book about gender identity. I have read and reviewed that book as well on Amazon.)
Gnosticism was a heretical movement in the second century that espoused the need for a special knowledge from God that released a person from their material earthly body seen to be evil. Gnosticism believed in a tension between evil body and good spirit.
Calling transpeople Gnostic, according to the 2nd-century model, assumes those who are transgender see their spirit (soul, psyche, inner sense of gender) as pure, but their material bodies as evil. Second century Gnostics kept the two realms (good spirit and evil body) apart so that they might greater spiritual and emotional well-being.
It is quite the opposite of transgender people. When they do transition and align gender (spirit/soul) and biological sex (body), they feel more integrated, not less.
The authors disagree with all the major medical associations of experts who counsel transgender people that changing the body to match the internal sense of self is an appropriate action if one chooses (and often it comes down to financial ability) to do so.
Strachan and Peacock disagree with medical professionals saying the “biblical answer is to change the mind to suit the body.” (p. 75) because “Transgenderism is a false identity and tells a lie about God.” (p. 104)
Can one be transgender and Christian? “There is no such thing as a ‘trans Christian.’” (p. 108) They believe to use a transgender person’s preferred pronouns and name is wrong. Fellow Christians are encouraged to use the birth name and sex when interacting with a transgender person to “strongly affirm their superior allegiance to Christ.” (p. 146) “For the sake of love for God, the transgender person, and the church, we should not use those (preferred) pronouns.” (p.146)
I recently listened to a church presentation given online by Strachan. He encouraged Christians to put ideology and theology to a legitimacy test. Truth, he said, must take the lead over the heart and feelings. He encouraged believers to study history, to use sound resources, to think, to resist lazy thinking, and to seek God’s wisdom with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30)
I fully agree.
Seeking the Bible for wisdom in concert with studying history and science while holding dear the treatment, relationships, and respect for people right in front of us, living alongside us, will make us better witnesses to our faith.
If you would like to investigate this topic more there are numerous sound resources you might consider from a Christian perspective. I would suggest Lisa Salazar’s “Transparently,” or Austen Harke’s “Transforming.” I also offer a free audio of a chapter “The Myth of a Pink and Blue World” from my book. The link is hosted on the sidebar of my website Canyonwalker Connections.
I devoted a significant portion of time this week in reading and reviewing these books in consideration of my friend Devin. Devin came out at 18 and ended his life at 58. There was deep sorrow underpinning his life. Sorrow birthed in the constant rejection of who he was by his conservative Christian family. For the past four decades, they told him that he lived his life out of the will of God. Their theology was deadly and they were wrong. Devin was a man of God. He prayed, he served, he gave, he sacrificed for others.
His family was poisoned in their hearts, souls, and minds by books like this.
[Final point to the publisher. All three of the books in this series are poorly bound. Pages are coming out in all of them.]