Thursday, August 22, 2013

Learning from Manning's Gender Plea

You know what they say:

"Life is a lifelong learning experience."

Well, of all the things I'm learning - or not, as the case may be, I'm learning why some secular humanists so easily peg us evangelicals as bigots.  I'm realizing it's not just because some secular humanists may have predispositions towards bigotry themselves, which makes them hostile to people who don't share their views.  They could also be pegging us evangelicals as bigots because we may not be very willing to allow the Fruit of the Spirit to glorify God in our lives.  You know:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Instead, isn't it a lot easier for us to just blast sinners with a pronouncement of their guilt, and go about our day?

Some evangelicals think we should live our lives the way Christ lived a couple of hours of His - throwing the merchants out of the temple.  Or when He rebuked the Pharisees with those cool one-liners like "you brood of vipers."  We gloss over the fact that when Christ did both of those things, He was primarily addressing the people we'd consider to be the religious professionals of His day - the guys selling animals for templegoers to use as sacrificial offerings, or the keepers of the Jewish law.

Meanwhile, when Christ interacted with people he didn't expect to know any better, He mostly felt sorry for them.

That's not to say that we should not speak the truth, but we're to speak it in love.  It's not to say that we should never get angry, either.  But in our anger, we should not sin.

Yet how many of us this morning, when news was breaking about Wikileaks leaker Bradley Manning and his desire to change genders, initially rolled our eyes and muttered something about his being some sort of weirdo freak?  I know I did.

Not only has he just been found guilty and sentenced to Leavenworth for providing confidential military material to an unauthorized agent, but now his lawyer is on NBC's Today show reading a letter from Manning in which he claims, "I am Chelsea Manning.  I am female."

Can this case get any more bizarre?

The More Things Change

The BBC has already gone over transcripts from Manning's trial and deduced that he likely suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome.  Just look at his upper lip, they say - it's all smooth, just like a fetal alcohol baby's.  Manning himself professed to having suffered doubts about his masculinity throughout his life, and has said that he went into the military so it would make a man out of him.  After all, "be all that you can be" used to be the Army's marketing slogan.

If I was any more of a bigoted Christian than some left-wingers will inevitably peg me as being, I could continue making quite a funny joke out of it all.  But it wouldn't really be funny, would it?

It's all mostly sad.

Sad, because we're learning just how miserable life was in the Manning household.  Sad, because Manning squandered what could have been a promising military career with retirement benefits on a frustrated campaign for relevance.  Sad, because regardless of what he thinks, he's going to be Target Number One behind bars.  Does he think his future fellow prisoners don't watch the news?

And when he gets out, which legal experts say could be in seven years, what kind of life is he going to have?  Granted, the way our society's mores and tolerances are rapidly expanding, in seven years, his desired gender makeover may be hardly worth a raised eyebrow.  But seven years can be a long time.  And no matter what may take place between now and then, we know that at least one thing isn't going to change.

And that's God.

If you don't believe that the Bible is God's holy and inspired Word, then your eyes are fixin' to glaze over.  But I believe that, according to Jeremiah 1:5, God knew us before we were created in the womb.  According to Psalm 139, God had a set design for each of us, and it stands to reason that gender identity represents an integral part of that design.  It's in our DNA.

Of course, some people are born with differences that we consider to be anomalies.  We call them "birth defects," and they range from things like cystic fibrosis to sickle cell anemia to fetal alcohol syndrome.  To explain - and justify - their unusual sexual feelings, people who believe they are transgendered generally rely upon this reality that not everybody is born the same.

Vocabulary Lesson

It is at this point where many of us who doubt the legitimacy of transgenderism draw a line and say, "you're just trying to deny biology."  But it's not that simple.  There's actually a legitimate medical condition called "Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis" (MGD) in which an infant is born with two different gonads, meaning their sexual differentiation is ambiguous.  We commonly call it "hermaphroditism."  Surgery can remove the biological ambiguity, but the infant's parents need to decide, based on medical expediency, whether that surgery will identify their child as a male or female.  It is rare, but it does happen.  And experts say it can play a role in sexual confusion later in life, particularly for patients who've been differentiated as males.

Of course, mine is a flagrant oversimplification of the condition, but I'm not a doctor, and you're probably not a medical student.  Suffice it to say that in some cases, transgenderism may in fact have a basis in biological factors about which we may not be aware.  That alone should be enough caution for us to treat with care those people so exasperated with their sexuality that they're willing to publicly announce their transgender condition.  Undoubtedly, Manning's letter was not penned in a casual, flippant manner.  So, even though he may not want our pity, we can feel sorry for him, but we shouldn't make fun of him.

Having said that, part of me wonders if the whole transgender phenomenon doesn't actually belittle those people who suffered MGD as an infant.  Many of us are working hard to be so politically correct all the time, but might people claiming a transgendered state be encroaching on what may be intrinsic to another person's biological heritage?  In other words, for transgendered people who are making their changes based more on emotion than a surgery, might they be expressing a form of disrespect to those people who needed a medical procure to dictate their sex?

Might it be that various factors other than mis-assigned sex organs are convincing transgendered people of their need to change?  Emotions, perhaps, or a backlash against increasingly dysfunctional family units?  It's Biblically incorrect to say that God "made" you that way, since we all have our sins with which we struggle.  It's politically incorrect to suggest that sexual roles and expectations are anything more than cultural contrivances.  It's who's inside that counts, right?  However, finding who's inside is leaving a lot open to interpretation.  Indeed, being transgendered is itself a contentious condition in the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender community, with all sorts of variant nomenclatures, such as pansexual, polysexual, and intersexual.  There's a whole new vocabulary being invented to accommodate a perceived spectrum of gender identities.

Meanwhile, the Bible explicitly states that God created "male" and "female."  Period.  It's so blunt, it's hard to ignore.  Or, for many, to accept.

Convenient Truths

Again, if you do not believe the Bible teaches God's truth, then you're going to say that the Bible is wrong.  You're going to assert that since God allows babies to be born with MGD, and that since I believe God forms babies in their mother's womb, that I'm mistaken in believing God does everything perfectly.  According to your view, God does make mistakes.  Which would mean that only we humans can fix mistakes, or that it's up to us to do what we want with the reality we discover.

Yours would be the classic narcissistic worldview, and it would fit conveniently into modern culture's narrative of there being no absolutes.  There aren't just men and women.  There are more than two categories.  Which would mean that people like me who obstinately maintain that God made male and female only, that He doesn't make mistakes, and that somehow, a child being born with MGD fits into God's sovereign plan for His glory, are the stupid ones.  Bigoted, even, since we refuse to bow in the face of your humanistic logic.

This is why we believers in Christ need to live in and with the Fruit of the Spirit.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Isn't it usually true that people who are not convinced of their beliefs generally lash out at people who challenge them on their beliefs?  Doesn't it take something a bit extra - miraculous, even - to restrain yourself when people claim your worldview is ridiculous?  God gives people like me the Holy Spirit to help us model its Fruit - and they come as a set, not piecemeal.  That's why, when Bradley Manning asked us to now call him "Chelsea" this morning, I had to repent of my spontaneous, unkind reaction.

Yes, I believe that God is perfect, right, and just.  I believe that there is some good - a good that we may not see - when He allows somebody to be born with MGD, or any other birth defect.  I believe the Bible teaches that His glory should be our paramount desire, not our own comfort, or our own ability to understand everything that happens to us.  I also believe that all of us are sinners, and that daily, we all sin.  But I believe that there is only one sin that will eternally separate us from God, and that sin is denying what the Holy Spirit teaches us about Jesus:  that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him, we have eternal life in His name.

For those of us who trust in Christ, He gives us grace to encourage us in His truth, and comfort us when others don't.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Here in Texas, I have an unsaved, non-religious friend who recently announced that he has a new name and a new gender.  He has started a hormonal treatment and hopes to one day undergo surgery to turn one set of sexual organs into another.

I know this person.  I've had dinner with him many times.  I've been in his home, ridden in cars with him, talked with him about his job and his family, and helped encourage him when his father underwent a sudden heart surgery.  He's clever, warm, witty, caring, industrious, intelligent, and ambitious.  And I'm struggling with changing my referencing pronoun for him from masculine to feminine, like he'd like all of us to do.

I've already told him that while I don't believe God makes mistakes, I also don't believe God puts people in my life for me to simply crush under my heel when they make decisions with which I can't agree.  So, if we can continue to maintain a friendship despite our disagreements, I'm willing to try.

It's not easy, and it's not something many evangelicals would probably do, or with which they'd agree.  Mock him, some would retort, perhaps doing it themselves.  Cut him loose; don't bother trying to be friends with such a sinner.

That's another thing I'm learning about life:  the Fruit of the Spirit can be exercised both when you and your acquaintances are in agreement, and when you aren't.

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