This past month the Executive Committee of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church did something unprecedented in the history of that denomination. It published an official statement addressing the transgender demographic. Its position was predictable, though in past years the lack of an official position has left its leaders without ready answers pertaining to transpeople except for the usual spurious conflation of gender dysphoria with homosexuality, leading them to point their criticisms in the wrong direction. Now that has changed somewhat and the transgender approach to Seventh-Day Adventists must change accordingly.
The approved statements of religious bodies solidify their respective religious parties for better or for worse. Members almost universally follow the written position of their party so they can jealously guard that party and remain in good standing with their peers. Members typically accept these positions without criticism, sometimes as if handed down from God Himself. Members of Adventist society typically and condescendingly brand any critic as “inspired by Satan” or somehow “demonized”, a very common practice from Sabbath Schools to pulpits to missionary calls. But when engaged in the common spirit of triumphalism and arrogance they more often prove to inflict a great deal of harm upon individuals and families.1
The General Conference’s Document 111-17G, called the “Statement on Transgenderism,” revised on April 11, 2017 consists of 3 pages and 2 principle parts. The first part, subtitled “The Transgender Phenomenon,” describes a limited version of “transgender” that only in passing mentions the existence of intersex individuals. “Gender non-conforming”, a descriptive applicable to many transpeople appears nowhere in the document. The polemic itself occurs in the second part subtitled, “Biblical Principles Relating to Sexuality and the Transgender Phenomenon.”2
The one statement concerning intersex cases follows thus:
“On the physical level ambiguity in genitalia may result from anatomical and physiological abnormalities so that it cannot be clearly established whether a child is male or female. This ambiguity of anatomical sexual differentiation is often called hermaphroditism or intersexualism.”3
This statement carries the following footnote:
“Those born with ambiguous genitalia may or may not benefit from corrective surgical treatment.”4
This position stands as an immediate and serious affront to those of us who are intersex individuals, whether or not such an individual has accepted any part of the trans community, and many have over the years. The Seventh-Day Adventist position limits all intersex cases in terms of ambiguous genitalia when the truth tells a much different story.
Intersex cases include not only cases of ambiguous genitalia but also atypical chromosomal arrangements including Karotype 47 XXY (Kleinfelter Syndrome) applicable to both male and female phenotypes, Karotype 46 XY (Swyer’s Syndrome) affecting those with female phenotypes and Karotype 46 XX (De La Chapelle Syndrome) affecting those with male phenotypes, Karotype 46 XX (Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia) causing masculinization in females, and other conditions. The frequency of cases, most of which include the those of fully functioning citizens have been shown to be a lot more common than what has been commonly and what many Evangelical church leaders would like to lead its members to believe.5
The statement limiting intersex cases to ambiguous genitalia is a form of the Straw Man Fallacy, that which presents a false or incomplete model of what’s addressed in a point of debate. By presenting intersex people this way, the General Conference trivialized those who form an important part of the trans community. Leaders of a denomination that has built the second largest healthcare system in the world and generated masses of health care professionals should know better than to demean intersex people with this kind of propaganda.
Worse yet, the footnote regarding prospects of benefitting from “corrective surgical treatment” fails to allow the context of infant “corrective” surgeries long protested by intersex activists. To date not many understand that such surgeries (which have traditionally defaulted to the female) have left not a few intersex individuals with external genitalia and legal gender markers inconsistent with their gender identities which could be male, female, a combination thereof, or neither. The Seventh-Day Adventists failed to offer even one compassionate word about such people. By staying dismissively silent on this, the Seventh-Day Adventists have assumed a default position of their own: that the “correct” sex and gender must match the external genitalia as declared by a physician at the time of birth, including that of a surgeon who performed an infant surgery.
A position like that generates some serious problems:
- Only an intersex person who has accepted “corrective” surgery can be regarded as consistent with the “biblical gender binary (male and female)” as defined on Page 2, Line 1.
- Only those whose lives are consistent with the “biblical gender binary (male and female) as defined on Page 2, Line 1 can gain full acceptance in membership consistent with Page 3, Lines 27, 28.
- Automatic acceptance of infant “corrective surgeries” would not have the same level of acceptance if corrective surgery was performed later in life if “elective surgery” means changing the legal gender marker. This remains a fact of the social attitudes of highly judgmental people including many Seventh-Day Adventists, especially those whose extreme partisanism has arrested any interest in cogent writing and those whose education has lacked such training.
The document goes farther, presenting a statement that demands human judgment against their transgender neighbors and their marriages:
“However, the desire to change or live as a person of another gender may result in biblically inappropriate lifestyle choices. Gender dysphoria may, for instance, result in cross-dressing, sex reassignment surgery, and the desire to have a marital relationship with a person of the same biological sex. On the other hand, transgender people may suffer silently, living a celibate life or being married to a spouse of the opposite sex.”6
The Seventh-Day Adventist Church herein takes the position that the heterosexual marriages of post-operative transsexual women to men and post-operative transsexual men to women must be regarded as homosexual and therefore “biblically inappropriate.” Naturally, that would include those intersex cases who sought to undo an infant surgery and married another opposite to their post-operative sex.
It’s the position assumed by the Texas decision Littleton v. Prange in which the court ruled the plaintiff, a post-operative transsexual woman, had no standing to sue for the wrongful death of her husband because the court presumed that her chromosomes must be Karotype 46 XY. This was accepted without an actual chromosomal test or further investigation into the medical history of the plaintiff.7
A profound hypocrisy reveals itself, and more than one case has been known, in which a post-operative transsexual woman applies for a marriage license to a typical female in a state like Texas after the Littleton decision. County clerks became legally bound to issue a marriage license to what’s for all intents and purposes a lesbian union. According to this pattern, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church must legally treat the lesbian union as heterosexual. But such a union, obviously, has no acceptance within the Seventh-Day Adventist Church which has openly condemned homosexuality over the years. The same condemnation has representation in this declaration which states, “the Church strongly cautions transgender people against sex reassignment surgery and against marriage, if they have undergone such a procedure. “8
You’d think that the Seventh-Day Adventist Church should require all members to get genetically tested, lest one of their pastors unwittingly conduct a same sex wedding. But to this writer’s knowledge, no such requirement has ever been exacted by any Seventh-Day Adventist minister just like no Adventist minister or committee has ever done an inspection of external genitalia. If they did so there would no doubt be an outcry of impropriety from a church society that has intermittently commonly treated all forms of sex to be innately sinful, even in marriage, backtracking only at the insistence of a pastor.
It raises a further question concerning intersex cases. If an intersex person born with Swyer’s Syndrome marries a typical female (46 Karotype XX), this would also have to be considered a heterosexual union. But if she marries a typical male it would be a homosexual union. What of those with other chromosomal anomalies? Polish sprinter Ewa Klobukowska, was found to have Kleinfelter Syndrome and was barred from international competition and stripped of her Olympic medals. Yet she later gave birth to a healthy baby.9 Should an intersex individual be denied marriage? If we’re to accept the written declaration of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, then we should expect the affirmative. But to this writer’s knowledge, no Adventist minister has stipulated anything regarding intersex cases beyond what secular authorities require.
Once again, the leaders of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in a legalistic spirit took on an issue far more complex than they think while demonstrating how poorly its leaders thought through the consequences of their declarations.
The second part of the declaration claims to state what’s clearly “biblical” and attempts to assert what’s by no means universally agreed. Consider the following declaration, for example:
“God created humanity as two persons who are respectively identified as male and female in terms of gender. The Bible inextricably ties gender to biological sex (Gen 1:27; 2:22-17 24) and does not make a distinction between the two. The Word of God affirms complementarity as well as clear distinctions between male and female in creation. The Genesis creation account is foundational to all questions of human sexuality.”10
The verse Genesis 1:27 reads thus:
Vayyivra Elohim et-haAdam b’tzalmo b’tzelem Elohim bara oto zakhar uneqevah bara otam.
And was creating Godhead the Adam with his image, in an image of Godhead he created him, male and female he created them.11
The question arises whether God is essentially male when creating Adam in his image. We therefore cannot automatically assume from this that God is male only because a hermaphrodite would also appear in the masculine in Hebrew. If we presumed only maleness in Adam (Man), then the female cannot be considered in the image of God. Most Seventh-Day Adventists don’t believe this. Instead, the image of the Godhead manifest in the word Elohim (a feminine Eloah + a masculine plural ending) must be male and female together consistent with the traditional teachings of Adventism. But a being both male and female and dual as described in this passage in the image of the Godhead that expresses both male and female qualities in a phenomenal plurality must be essentially hermaphroditic, not exclusively male.
This view isn’t a transgender invention. It’s a long and commonly held rabbinic position also, manifest in The Zohar which openly states that Adam was originally a hermaphrodic being in which the male and female were joined side by side (hence taking the rib from Adam) before dividing Adam to make male Adam and female Adam (remember there was no “Eve” till after the fall according to Genesis 3:20) who then come back together face to face in sexual intercourse.12
If Rabbis had been teaching this over the centuries regarding Genesis 1:27, then the Seventh-Day Adventist leaders beg the question by presuming that the meaning of the verse has been established for all who study the Bible. Clearly, not all agree upon its meaning and Seventh-Day Adventists notoriously ignore positions on verses other than their own, knowing that their members typically lack either the capacity or the willingness to examine their reasoning.
If we must insist as do Seventh-Day Adventist clergy that Adam was simply a male, then the separation of the female Adam must have also come with a sex change of the clone. Exactly what were their chromosomes? We have no way of knowing. As stated on Page 2 Line 19,20, “The Genesis creation account is foundational to all questions of human sexuality,”13 this naturally opens up the possibility that sex can be changed to match gender.
Why can God do this but man must be forbidden to attempt this in medical arts? The answer really comes down to an issue of silent prohibition, a principle espoused by bodies like the Non-Instrumental Church of Christ to forbid the use of musical instruments but has never been a hermeneutic principle generally accepted by the Seventh-Day Adventists. The inconsistency is obvious. The position can be compared to claiming that because God breathed in Adam the breath of life then we do an evil thing by attempting rescue breathing.
Of all the passages quoted in Statement on Transgenderism, no mention has been made concerning the biblical role of the eunuch. The first person baptized outside Palestinian Jewry was a Falasha (Jewish Black African) eunuch baptized by Phillip according to the writer believed to be Luke in Acts 8. This eunuch was a chamberlain to Queen Kandake of Ethiopia. Throughout history both cis-gender eunuchs and transgender eunuchs existed. Both were historically addressed in the masculine till more recent times, even if feminized like the Arab Mukkunathun. Too many commentators of the Bible fail to tell their readers and listerners that a fundamental requirement for the office of a chamberlain was naturally and logically imposed in any society hiring eunuchs as chamberlains. Such a person cannot and may not have any regrets to having been castrated. Cis-gender eunuchs, especially those whose genitalia had been forcibly removed in whole or in part, typically do have regrets. Transgender eunuchs almost never have regrets. Chances that the “Ethiopian Eunuch” may have been transgender are quite strong. But if any possibility exists, however small, that this person may have been transgender, then it behooves Christians everywhere to reconsider their traditional hostility against the trans demographic.
The reason is simple. That “Ethiopian Eunuch” was reading from Isaiah according to the account in Acts 8. Isaiah offers conciliatory language toward eunuchs who keep the commandments of God.14 Matthew quotes Y’shua to say that some would make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven, in other words, becoming so for a specific spiritual purpose. 15
Seventh-Day Adventists have also typically ignored some basic facts about Hebrew words and society that do indeed indicate anomalous cases of sex and gender that don’t follow the gender dichotomy.
- Şarişim: Eunuchs (Male to Female transgender or cisgender). They always take male pronouns in Hebrew texts and have representation throughout the TaNaKh (Old Testament).
- Ailonot: Female to Male transgender (literally “ramlike women”). They always take female pronouns in Hebrew texts despite masculine features.
- Androgynosim: Androgynous beings. The word adapted from Greek takes male pronouns in Hebrew texts.
- Tumtumim: These are the ones with ambiguous genitalia and take male pronouns in Hebrew texts.
In which case, Jewish tradition has long recognized 6 genders including typical male (zakhar) and typical female (neqevah).
The crux of the Seventh-Day Adventist objection to transition as a therapeutic act rests upon the Conditionalist concept of the soul that consists of a body (gūf or corpse formed from the “dust of the Earth” or adamah from which Adam derives his name) plus spirit (ruach). Adventists also insist that the nefesh, representing such union as a “soul” must identically apply to the neshamah or “higher soul” (equivalent to the Atman in Hinduism) of which also include a chiah and yechidah. Only the yechidah provides the actual means for union with the divine, but the existence of the yechidah has no place in Adventist theology because it appears in Hebraic literature outside the Bible. Because Adventism claims to consider the Bible only, despite turning to extra-biblical sources in its Historicist position on Bible prophecy. As a result the existence of a higher soul is ignored and the neshamah becomes redefined in lower terms contrary to historically understood intentions. What remains is a necessarily gross materialism tied to physicality. It also reveals gross reductionism relating to the soul, and consequently, the mind.
Following this, the Seventh-Day Adventists lack a cogent argument respecting what the document calls a “psychosomatic unity.” The statement, “Thus, the Bible does not endorse dualism in the sense of a separation between one’s body and one’s sense of sexuality,” has its basis in the Conditionalist approach to the soul.16
If the Bible “does not endorse dualism” as the document asserts, then 2 approaches must logically be mandated:
Gender dysphoria cannot exist despite ample evidence that it does exist, resulting in denial of facts.
- Gender dysphoria is just cause for Seventh-Day Adventists to sit in judgment against transpeople.
Both naturally stand in direct conflict with the following paragraph from the document:
“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).”17
No transgender person can be treated with dignity and respect if a church tells that person that dysphoria can’t exist. That can only perpetuate the natural conclusion that transpeople are delusional, even mentally ill. This writer has witnessed instances of mentally ill people being stigmatized by Seventh-Day Adventists, some electing to leave the church.
No transperson can be treated with dignity and respect if a church’s members will only talk about how wrong, sinful, and abominable transpeople necessarily are. It’s a societal milieu that allows discrimination in the areas of hiring, tenancy, business, even medical care in Adventist facilities. It permits the general erasure of transpeople and the histories thereof. It renders the following statement particularly disingenuous:
“The Church as the community of Jesus Christ is meant to be a refuge and place of hope, care, and understanding to all who are perplexed, suffering, struggling, and lonely, for “a bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (Matt 12:20). All people are invited to attend the Seventh-day Adventist Church and enjoy the fellowship of its believers. Those who are members can fully participate in church life as long as they embrace the message, mission, and values of the Church.”18
Despite an attempt to cover up the obvious with the glittering generalities of “hope, care, and understanding,” every transperson can anticipate being either ignored or belittled in any Seventh-Day Adventist congregation, and if such desires membership, would be obligated to detransition, purging, and possible celibacy as a condition for membership. Those who happily accept such an imposition very likely confuse clinical gender dysphoria with a whimsy. But such an ecclesiastical milieu has given us a new phenomenon: the “ex-ex-transperson”, the kind of transperson who often has had enough of church abuses.
Given the context of the document, the conclusion is puzzling as to how Bible scholars can actually make such a statement:
“With all believers, transgender people are encouraged to wait on God and are offered the fullness of divine compassion, peace, and grace in anticipation of Christ’s soon return when all true followers of Christ will be completely restored to God’s ideal.”19
Seeing how that “ideal” is described in the document as necessarily a gender dichotomy in which only male and female exist and never the twain shall meet except in a narrowly defined heterosexual marriage, this flirts with danger of conflict with Matthew’s quoting of Y’shua: “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are they given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven.”20
Are angels sexless? Are they exclusively “male”? Usually when we ask what the angels in heaven are like in terms of maleness or femaleness we’re told it’s none of our business. However, if the ideal is necessarily a gender dichotomy, and we should seek to have it happen, then yes, it is indeed our business and yes, transpeople do have the right to probe with questions concerning inconsistent claims.
Seventh-Day Adventist leaders appear to still prefer to enforce silence upon those it does not really want to hear and with whom they do not really care to coexist in society. It comes down to a lack of understanding of liberty and human rights. Liberty, unlike tolerance, does not presume the right to judge another and so allows others to live their lives unmolested. The Statement on Transgenderism, by mandating judgment, cannot be a liberty document. It’s a document that only sets some of tolerance. But sooner or later, limits shift, tolerance breaks down and the people who initially offer an invitation eventually turn to at least covert and even overt discrimination. Sooner or later, these acts lead to violence, something that, despite claims to the contrary, do pop up in Adventist groups from time to time and some more often than others.
Seventh-Day Adventists, through arrogance and triumphalism, too often alienate others in the world. This document offers no fresh perspective in a mixed message that belies a spiritual violence and mental cruelty. Those of us who are transpeople who have appealed to the reason of Seventh-Day Adventists over the years will now have to take a different approach to Adventists relating to human rights, revealing the prevailing disingenuousness that has long been evident, knowing that the extreme partisanism of church members will mean they probably won’t listen and that those inclined to meanness and rejection will only grow meaner.
- Unless otherwise noted, the writer relies upon her own experience in Seventh-Day Adventist society, having been a member for about 17 years that included missionary service before resigning from the church. References to Hebrew language rely upon the experience of the writer who has been a student of Hebrew since 1978.
- (n.a.) 111-17G Statement on Transgenderism (Rev. April 11, 2017) Web: General Conference Executive Committee: https://executivecommittee.adventist.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/111G-Statement-on-Transgenderism.pdf . Also found on Adventist News Network: https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2017-04-11/seventh-day-adventist-world-church-vote-statement-on-transgender/ Retrieved May 11, 2017.
- Ibid, p. 1, lines 24-27.
- Ibid, p. 1, footnote 2.
- (n.a.) How Common Is Intersex? (n.d.) Web: Intersex Society of North America http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency . Retrieved May 13, 2017.
- Op cit, page 2, lines 3-8.
- Littleton v. Prange (October 27, 1999) Web: FindLaw: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/tx-court-of-appeals/1079164.html . Retrieved May 5, 2017.
- Op cit, page 3, lines 12,13.
- (n.a) Ewa Koblukowska (n.d.) Web: Controversies in Biology and Society, UCLA project: https://societyandgenetics.wordpress.com/spring-2013/testing-sex-for-competitive-sports/victims/ewa-klobukowska/ . Retrieved May 13, 2017.
- Op cit, page 2, lines 16-20.
- Genesis 1:27, translated by the author. The use of “Godhead” this way by no means attempts to refute others’ translation of “Elohim” as “God” but only does this to amplify the point being made. “Elohim”, as opposed to the Tetragrammaton, “YHVH”, a phenomenal plural expression of God when YHVH points toward a noumenal one emphasizing unity.
- Sherwin, Byron L. Kabbalah: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism (2006) Rowman & Littlefield, publishers. ISBN: 9780742543645 Page 67.
- Op cit, page 2, lines 19, 20.
- Isaiah 56:4,5.
- Matthew 19:12
- Statement on Transgenderism, page 2, lines 25,26.
- Ibid, page 3, lines 18-21.
- Ibid, page 3, lines 23-28.
- Ibid, page 3, lines 37-40.
- Matthew 22:30, KJV