BYU-Idaho is in the news, seeking a religious exemption to Title 9 antidiscrimination laws for a transgender student who appealed to the federal government in a case of discrimination on campus. In the letter to the office of civil right in the US department of Education, President Clark Gilbert argues that transitioning to another gender is against Mormon Doctrine, citing the Proclamation on the Family and its assertion that gender is eternal. The church is well within its constitutional right to do this. The Supreme Court has long upheld religious freedom. Most recently in 2012, A Lutheran pastor wanted to fire a secretary with Narcolepsy who took time off while getting treated and could not get her job back once she was better. The Supreme Court upheld that a church could not be held to anti-discrimination law, in this case the American’s with disabilities act, because of religious freedom and the division of church and state. I have to I find a certain irony however that the ruling essentially states that no church can be forced by the government to do what Jesus would do. To me, this is why getting a religious exemption to anti-discrimination law is something that should be done only upon very careful consideration. I have to disagree with President Gilbert. It is by no means clear to me that transitioning to another gender is against our doctrine, even taking into account the eternal nature of the gender of our spirits asserted in Proclamation on the Family, a document that despite its omnipresence in these types of discussions, has never been canonized. President Gilbert is not the first to make this assertion. I recall it being a point made in deacon’s quorum lesson I sat in on when Caitlyn Jenner was in the news. My immediate question was how he knew Caitlyn was not a female spirit placed into a male body. He had no real answer. Regardless of the understanding of the roots of gender dysphoria in psychology and biology, there is a perfectly Mormon explanation for how the phenomenon of the transgender individual could occur. Unlike the perceived threat to eternal marriage posed by the idea of Gay marriage, transgender identity is no threat to Mormon doctrine as we know it, whatsoever. This is not to say you won’t get protest to this argument online. It also has not stopped people from speaking out against transgender people and encouraging the boycott of Target in Sunday school. I know this because my daughter, who has a good friend struggling with gender identity issues, walked out of her Sunday school class in tears recently.
The argument is typically that God does not make mistakes so it is impossible for a female spirit to enter a male body or vice versa. As a child neurologist, I beg to differ. I have seen much worse “mistakes” every day on the job, where I care for a beautiful and wonderful population of individuals with heart wrenching genetic mutations that greatly limit lifespan, muscle or brain function. Too many people buy into the “God planned it that way” argument for this population. Please know that this position is patently offensive to those involved and far from Mormon doctrine. Even so, one might consider that perhaps God wants us to have transgender individuals as well, to stretch our minds and teach us compassion in the face of rigid cultural norms.
I have a pretty big name that has gone on record stating we really don’t have a doctrine regarding transgender individual, no less than Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the quorum of the twelve. In a rare interactive interview with the media last year to support anti-LGBT discrimination legislation in Utah, Elder Oaks was asked by a mother, “I have a transgender son who came out to us about a year ago. … I hate having to fear what retaliation [from church leaders] I might have for supporting him … I think we as members need that assurance that we can indeed have our own opinions, support our children, and still follow our beliefs.”
Elder Oaks responded:
This question concerns transgender, and I think we need to acknowledge that while we have been acquainted with lesbians and homosexuals for some time, being acquainted with the unique problems of a transgender situation is something we have not had so much experience with, and we have some unfinished business in teaching on that.
It seems the assertion of President Gilbert to the federal government directly conflicts with a statement on the record by Elder Oaks. We have no doctrine regarding the unique problems of the transgender situation. If Elder Oaks is to be taken at his word, it follows therefore that BYU-I has no business filing for a religious exemption to discriminate against transgender individuals.
In fairness, current church policy does discriminate against transgender individuals. According to current church policy, members who have undergone an “elective transsexual operation” are not eligible to worship in gender-separated special temple rites or to receive the priesthood if female to male transgender. The concern for an “elective” operation may reflect an acceptance of surgery in some circumstances, such as for intersex children or adults (those who are born with ambiguous genitalia or the genitalia of both sexes.) However, anyone considering surgery is warned that it may result in formal church discipline. A transgendered prospective member of the church may be baptized only with approval from the first presidency, but anyone even considering transition-related surgery is barred from joining the church. There is no policy on transitioning in ways that don’t involve surgery, such as hormone therapies, “cross dressing,” or other means of living out one’s gender but I’m guessing that culturally, most Mormons don’t approve. This is a clear case where we have a bucket of fear filled policies in a vacuum of any clear doctrine.
This past year has been a rough one for church public relations as public opinion is firmly against our gay marriage exclusion policy. While I know most members loathe the idea that “the world” could have any pull on what the church does, we do seem to care enough to have an actual public relations department. This seems a totally unnecessary way to blacken the name of the church even further in the public eye. As I say this, I realize that public opinion seems to have only caused many members to dig their heels in more and more in the most angry and stubborn ways.
What I would plead for President Gilbert and for any Mormon reader to consider is that if we are going to err, can we just this once try erring on the side of compassion instead of fear. After all it was Paul who wrote that “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Can we just once decide to do what Jesus would do, freely, without the intervention of the government, as it our right? Wherever you stand in the face of this doctrinal uncertainty, I would argue that if we must turn out wrong in the end, the compassionate and wrong will have much better standing with God than those who get it wrong in ways that cause so much pain and suffering in others.
Bravo, I saw Pres Gilbert's move and it made me so so sad. What an awful thing to do. I agree with you that I wish he had been able to err on the side of kindness and compassion and love instead of fear. It's really embarassing. I know the man personally and I felt so sad that he felt the need to do that.
The one word of caution about the notion that "God gives us transgender people so we can learn something." I have a son with developemental disabilities and I have been told by well intentioned folks "Oh, God gives people disabilities so we can learn patience and love!" I am not equating anyone on the LGBTQA spectrum with anyone with physical or mental disabilities (though the Church certainly does) but I just like to watch out that we don't assume that folks that are different than us are that way because us normal folk need to learn to be more accepting. They are not accessories, here for our benefit. They are here for THEM.
I think I am a bit sensitive to this notion because frankly, there is implied junk in our faith that women are actually here for men. Men were created and women were then made FOR them, to be their helpers. The temple is chock full of "women as secondary and not made for her own experience" messages so anytime I hear the idea that someone is *for* someone, anyone, my hackles raise.
Overall, great article, even when the topic is so very disappointing and sad.
Thanks for the comment. I actually 100% agree with you both regarding transgender individuals and disability. I even blogged similar thoughts in the past at http://rationalfaiths.com/disability-and-human-potential/
My point was directed at those members who cannot even imagine God even allowing the “mistake” of a female spirit in a male body or vice versa. I think such people could use some compassion regardless. I don’t pretend to know the why’s of such situations but see no reason to see it as a defect.
I completely agree with you that it should be so easy to “do what Jesus would do” and be loving and kind to each other. The problem is that most Mormons in “Leadership” positions tend to use Jesus as an excuse for their bad behavior. You can take Dallin Oaks’ own words from October 2014 as an example of this:
“The Savior showed the way when His adversaries confronted Him with the woman who had been “taken in adultery, in the very act” (John 8:4). When shamed with their own hypocrisy, the accusers withdrew and left Jesus alone with the woman. He treated her with kindness by declining to condemn her at that time. But He also firmly directed her to “sin no more” (John 8:11). Loving-kindness is required, but a follower of Christ—just like the Master—will be firm in the truth.”
The key sentence in that quote is “He treated her with kindness by declining to condemn her at that time.” He believes that Jesus condemned her afterwards. I view the story of Jesus showing forgiveness to the woman “taken in adultery” as a witness that Jesus has no need to condemn us for our mistakes. Last I checked, the Atonement wasn’t made to condemn us, but to allow us to put things behind us and move forward without letting fear drag us down. It even includes the understanding that when we’re ordered to “go and sin no more” that without a doubt we will fall short of that. And with that understanding disappears the need to condemn. It strikes me as odd that any church with the Bible in its canon could have a policy that makes it a turnkey process of excommunicating people in the same situation. Unfortunately, Church “leaders” use Jesus as an excuse for bad behavior. If they stepped off of the bandwagon for just a few minutes, they would realize that they behave the way they do because they believe that God is petty and childish and has to punish and condemn good people for “bad behavior”.
Unfortunately, my viewpoint are opposed to somebody who claims to be and whom most other Mormons believe to be a “special witness of Christ”. Their followers will ultimately believe that their bad behavior is inspired of God and will follow suit. But, if getting into heaven means that I have to believe in their version of God, I will gladly go to hell with my belief that God is always merciful beyond what we are prepared to believe. And the minute I get to hell, I’ll set to work making heaven out of it.
I think the key sentence from Oaks is “Loving-kindness is required, but a follower of Christ—just like the Master—will be firm in the truth.” As I tell my therapy clients, Oaks just gave Jesus a big BUT. I would completely agree if he even just left out that one word: “Loving-kindness is required. A follower of Christ will also be firm in the truth.” That way there’s room for firm convictions AND empathy, sincere belief AND compassion.
There is no indication in this story that Jesus forgave the woman for her sins. The scriptural passage does not say that she repented of her sins and / or that he forgave her for them. There’s no indication that she ever even knew who he was. Jesus only tells her to go and sin no more. We cannot know what else happened during or after that incident. The upshot message in this story is not about sin, forgiveness, repentance, condemnation, etc. The message is about the machinations of the Pharisees once again trying to trick Jesus into saying that, under the law, she should be punished. These Pharisees knew had not been properly indicted, tried, and condemned by any legal authority under the law. No man (judge or court) had legally and properly condemned her. Thus, they knew she could not have legally been punished under the law. Jesus called them on it and having failed, they departed. (Jesus was later punished (crucified) under the color of law without proper adjudication under the law.)
You are mistaken in concluding both that Jesus forgave the woman for her sins in this story and that Elder Oaks believes that Jesus condemned the woman at a later time. No such conclusions can be drawn. Therefore, your response pretty much fails.
Can you add the word ‘she’ to the sentence “The Pharisees knew (she) had not been…..” in my post awaiting moderation please?
I left that out. Thank you!
Oaks might benefit from studying the sermon of his apostolic predecessor, Erastus Snow, delivered on March 3, 1878, Journal of Discourses 19:266-79 (#40), in which, taking Genesis as his text, Snow analyzed how God is “both male and female.” He said: “There never was a God, and there never will be in all eternities, except they are made of these two component parts; a man and a woman; the male and the female.” It’s an interesting thought, especially for those Mormons who are on their way to the CK to “become Gods” themselves.