Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
“A California Christian university,” recently noted, “has asked a professor who was once its chair of theology and philosophy to leave after he came out as transgender.” This was first published through the Religions News Service, and then picked up by Christianity Today, “Transgender Theology Professor Asked to Leave Christian College.” The report states,
Heather Clements taught theology at Azusa Pacific University for 15 years. But this past year, he began referring to himself as H. Adam Ackley. “This year has been a transition from being a mentally ill woman to being a sane, transgendered man,” he said.
One of the reasons for Heather’s “coming out” was that “he accepted his transgender identify earlier this year after the American Psychiatric Association removed ‘gender identity disorder’ from its list of mental illnesses.” In an article written by Heather, she writes of her past and more recent experience,
most of which I spent in treatment with female hormones and psychiatric medications for gender dysphoria and related symptoms of mental illness. Recent changes in diagnosis and treatment of transgender persons, along with a lifetime of research on the theology and biblical understanding of gender, have helped me live as one who is clearly sane by ceasing to fight my transgender-masculine identity. However, this has caused what has become a very public conflict with my employer, one that is being mediated with outside help and cannot be addressed any further here.
One feels deeply with and for Clements in how some of these matters were addressed and the utter exasperation she felt and experienced. However, one must also question whether or not this is the right “prescription to address the ‘problem.’”
As part of her new identity, she concludes there is a broader understanding of the biblical meaning of marriage, viz., “covenantal partnership between human beings”:
I also affirm in my spiritual life and my teaching that faithful sexual partnership grounded in covenant with God and community is sacramental, regardless of the gender of the couple celebrating that grace-filled sacrament. From the perspective of my biblical faith, I believe very much that God pronounces in the creation account in the first biblical book (Genesis) that it is not good for the human (ha'adam, a being not yet divided into two binary genders) to be alone, and that God thus blesses covenantal partnership between human beings. As a transgender person myself, a person who has characteristics of both of the conventional binary genders, I cannot help but embrace this biblical teaching not as a principle that exclusively upholds heterosexuality but as an affirmation of the importance and blessedness of human partnership.
Then through her cultural and contextual lens, Clements claims that since the authors of the Bible were unaware of these sorts of diagnoses, and therefore since it does not address such present-day experiences, it must be reinterpreted.
not having had a cultural category for queer identity and orientation at the time, the broader spiritual principle underlying this teaching wasn't made explicit in the Bible: We are not made for partnerships that are unnatural for us, in whatever way we are made. For example, we now know that many of us (though not the majority) are made neurologically, genetically, and hormonally "queer"; in other words, some of us are fearfully and wonderfully made with a gender and sexual orientation that falls somewhere in the LGBTQ spectrum from birth. For those of us who are naturally trans* to live as cisgender, and/or for those of us who are only sexually compatible with others gendered most like us, to partner with those we simply can't would be an "unnatural act" for us, just as performing a homosexual act outside a heterosexual covenant would be "unnatural" for a straight person. Loving one another in the ways that are God-given and natural for each of one of us as we are is the only love that is sacramental.
As most often happens when one’s view of the Bible is prefaced as Clements does, what follows is a reinterpretation of the Bible to support one’s own belief and experience. That is what we hear from Clements.
Another recent example of this occurred at California Baptist University. Domaine Javier, born male and now living as a transgendered woman, applied to the school as a woman. According to the report,
California Baptist University has rescinded a 24-year-old transgender woman's acceptance after school officials discovered she had been featured in an MTV True Life episode revealing her transgender identity.
She was accepted to CBU's nursing program and planned to start classes this month. But in July she received a letter temporarily expelling her for "committing or attempting to engage in fraud or concealing identity," and presenting false or misleading information during the university's judicial process, according to the Press-Enterprise of Riverside. Her expulsion was finalized August 30.
"This totally ruined my career path," Javier told the Press-Enterprise. "I've been trying to finish as soon as possible. … I didn't know [Baptists] were that extreme."
The most recent update is that “California Baptist University has been sued to a transgender student who was expelled by the academic institute for inaccurately stating that he was female.”
These two recent examples in Christian schools, one a teacher and the other a student, reflect the reinterpretation of the Bible based on the moral tsunami now occurring in our culture. We must stand firmly on the Word of God, “thus says the Lord,” and we must apply it pastorally with wisdom and discernment.
Though these two incidences occurred in Christian Universities, and though they live by different legal requirements than does the church, as pastors and leaders of the church we must prepare God’s people to understand these issues and to know how to respond and engage. We must also prepare our young people to know, understand and live under the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life, including human sexuality. We also must pray for our Christian universities that they will stand firm on God’s truth. And finally we must be prepared as a church to think through these issues and how we ought to live, serve and minister both with and against the grain of this fallen-redeemed-not-yet-glorified existence.
Some of these issues are the reason why we are addressing the theme of “Christian Faithfulness in a Changing Culture” at our upcoming EFCA Theology Conference. Please plan to join us!