No Easy Answers

For Immediate Release, Wednesday September 30, 2009

By Affirmation Co-spokesperson Diane DeLap

It is an unfortunate by-product of the computer age that we seem to think
that we can answer any question by a quick search on Google. We've even
translated that tendency to our study of the Bible. A quick search of
BibleGateway.com or BibleStudyTools.com will give us as many quotes and
interpretations as we need on most any subject from whatever Bible version
(including Greek and Hebrew), concordance, or commentary we like.
Unfortunately such a search for quick and easy answers too often leads to
incomplete and false conclusions.

Paul instructs Timothy to "study to shew thyself approved unto God, a
workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
(2 Tim. 2:15 KJV) The Greek word orthotomeo translated as "rightly
dividing" could also be translated "correctly portioning" and the NIV
translates it as "correctly handles." What Paul is suggesting is that a
good student of the Bible needs to be able to "correctly handle" the word.
Simply looking up a passage from your favorite translation and quoting it as
a proof-text of your opinion isn't good enough. Unfortunately that seems to
be the prevalent level of the scholarship among conservative Christians
today. A true Bible scholar in the Pauline mold needs to be able to discern
differences of context, language, and culture to handle the Word correctly

For same-sex relationships they quote Lev. 18:22, or 20:13, or Rom. 1:26 &
27. For gay marriage they quote Gen. 2:24 or I Cor. 7. For gender
differences they quote Deut. 22:5 or Gen. 1:27. It's easy. You don't have
to think. Just quote a verse and that settles the question. "The Bible
says.." Unfortunately life is more complicated than that. Two recent
incidents point out the difficulty of relying on proof-text theology for
answers to life's difficult questions.

First, on Wednesday Aug. 21st the 18 year old South African sprinter Caster
Semenya won the 800 meter race at the 2009 International Association of
Athletic Federations (IAAF) World Track and Field Championship held in
Berlin. Finishing her first senior race in a world record time almost two
seconds faster than her nearest competitor, who is the former world
champion, Semenya almost immediately heard cries of "Foul!" Competitors and
media alike declared her "too masculine" to be a woman, and accused her of
having a sex change or of taking illegal testosterone. In response, the
IAAF called for Semenya to submit to a battery of gender verification tests
including psychological, gynecological, and hormonal examinations.

Whatever the results, the need for the tests shows the extraordinary
complexity of what most Christians consider a basic question. It's simple,
a doctor checks between the legs and whatever is there determines the
answer. If that doesn't answer the question, certainly a DNA check will
reveal either the XY or XX chromosome markers for male or female.
Unfortunately, those simple answers don't take into the at least 1 in 3000
children born with various conditions described as "ambiguous genitalia."
Even when the doctor makes a determination of birth sex, the child can be
subject to any one of several conditions that are visible only to internal
or DNA tests. There can be internal organs of the opposite sex or
chromosomal combinations other than XX or XY. About 1 in 1600 births is a
child that is neither XX nor XY. As much as we'd like a simple easy answer,
it's not always there. God's creation is far more wonderfully complicated.

Second, on Sunday Aug 30th Rev. David Weekley revealed to his congregation
at Epworth UMC in Portland, OR that almost 30 years ago he underwent gender
transition from female to male. Each person in his congregation, his
District Superintendant, and Bishop as well as the UMC all have to decide
what they feel about Pastor Weekley. It's almost a repeat of what the
denomination faced in 2007 in the case of Rev. Drew Phoenix who transitioned
from female to male gender while serving as pastor of St. John's UMC of
Baltimore. His Bishop ruled that Rev. Phoenix could continue to serve his
congregation, but that ruling was appealed to the Judicial Council which
affirmed the ruling.

That episode resulted in several legislative petitions being filed at the
2008 General Conference. One would have included as a chargeable offense
"identifying as transgendered or undergoing elective hormonal or surgical
procedures to alter one's God-given identity as male or female." This
petition and all others that would have rejected transgender United
Methodists were turned down, most by wide margins, by the Conference
delegates. Now once again, the denomination is faced with a decision with
regard to transgender clergy. We can be sure that conservative elements of
the church will once more step forward to repeat the simple and rejected
biases of the past. They will present petitions to the Judicial Council and
demands for legislation to the 2012 General Conference.

Affirmation commends Rev. Weekley and his family for this courageous
revelation, and pledges our resources to once again stand with a pastor if
they are attacked by those who want simple answers to complex questions. We
were with Rev. Phoenix during the 2008 General Conference, sponsoring a
media panel of transgender United Methodists who spoke of their experiences.
We also monitored all legislative committees considering transgender
legislation and serving as resources for progressive delegates. Affirmation
will continue to demand that the United Methodist denomination repudiate
those who look for an easy way out of life's difficult questions by
rejecting those of God's children who experience the glorious differences of
Creation.

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As an independent voice of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer
people, Affirmation radically reclaims the compassionate and transforming
gospel of Jesus Christ by relentlessly pursuing full inclusion in the Church
as we journey with the Spirit in creating God's beloved community.

Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and
Queer Concerns is an activist, all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization
with no official ties to The United Methodist Church.

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