"What's Missing from the Evangelical's Response to Caitlyn Jenner?" by Sarah Ngu

This article was originally featured on faithstreet.com

"After Caitlyn Jenner came out as a trans woman and captured the public’s heart overnight, there remains one central question many Christians have been wrestling with: How should we respond to someone like Caitlyn Jenner in our church?

Much of the evangelical Christian response has pointed out that while it is important to be compassionate and loving, it would be reckless — if not immoral — to cast off the “natural design” of our bodies in favor of our internal ideas and feelings about ourselves.

Russell Moore, head of the ethics organization of the Southern Baptist Convention, first lays out an important perspective:

We do not see our transgendered neighbors as freaks to be despised. They feel alienated from their identities as men or women . . . In a fallen universe, all of us are alienated, in some way, from who we were designed to be.

He then goes on to say:

But neither should we fall for the cultural narrative behind the transgender turn. The narrative is rooted in the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, with the idea that the ‘real’ self is separate from who one is as an embodied, material being . . . We are not machines, to be reprogrammed at will; we are creatures . . . We are born not out of self-effort but in the pure providence of our creator.

Before we start going down the “this smells like Gnosticism” road, let’s pause. Consider this from J-Baker Johnson, the trans man behind transchristians.org:

Separating mind from body is illogical from a scientific perspective. The brain is an organ, just like any other. But psychology shows the mind directly affects the brain and vice versa. I say all this to demonstrate that the mental/spiritual is inseparable from the physical and the mind from body.

In other words, he agrees with the critique of Gnosticism. He goes on:

Then also, gender is an expression of the body just like everything else. Somewhere in my own brain some neurons are shooting electric charges forming my conscious thought right now that my body is both male and female. Those neural pulses come from my brain cells, which are part of my physical body. You can tell me those feelings are delusional or errors and that’s fine. But they exist.

What Johnson is saying is that, phenomenologically or scientifically, the experience of being trans is not really mind vs. body, but body vs. body. We can’t neatly separate things into “mind” or “body” and view trans people as people who are trying to will their bodies into re-definition.

Here’s the main difference between Caitlyn Jenner and, say, Rachel Dolezal (the white woman who pretended to be black) — aside from Dolezal’s deceit: while one can be attracted to the features, history, and culture of another race, there is no such thing as racial dysphoria, no sense of tension within your biological body as to which “race” you really are — which is the case with gender.

(Some trans people, in fact, eschew bodily modification altogether, believing that changing their bodies would inevitably confirm the belief that you are only female if you look female, the very belief that they are trying to subvert.)"

Please click here to read the rest of Sarah's article to find out what she believes is missing in our response as evangelical Christians to this particular conversation. Please email us at nycurbanproject@gmail.com with any questions! 

Sarah Ngu (@sarahngu) is a freelance writer and an alumni of Trinity Forum Academy and Columbia University. Based in Brooklyn, she blogs on faith and culture, and produces thought leadership for businesses.