By Colleen Tinker
On April 11, Adventist News Network published the newly-adopted statement on transgenderism that was voted during the annual Spring Meetings this month. The writing of the statement was overseen by Ekkehard Mueller, the associate director of the Biblical Research Institute and the leader of the Biblical Research Institute Ethics Committee. His committee consisted of “ethicists, Biblical scholars, theologians, sociologists, psychologists and members of the medical community”.
The statement contains ten points which caution “transgender people against sex reassignment surgery and against marriage, if they have undergone such a procedure.” It further condemns “ridicule, abuse, or bullying towards transgender people” and encourages them “to wait on God” and reminds them that they “are offered the fullness of divine compassion, peace, and grace in anticipation of Christ’s soon return when all true followers of Christ will be completely restored to God’s ideal.”
The conclusions of this statement are not surprising, but the arguments for arriving at these conclusions ironically reveal the underlying Adventist worldview and its skewed view of the nature of man.
For example, while the first point of the statement accurately calls upon the Genesis creation account as the foundation “to all questions of human sexuality”, the second point argues that a person cannot have a gender identity different from his biological sex because a person cannot be divided into physical and immaterial “parts”. In fact, this second point of the statement is a clear public statement of Adventism’s disbelief that man has a spirit that exists apart from his body:
“From a biblical perspective, the human being is a psychosomatic unity. For example, Scripture repeatedly calls the entire human being a soul (Gen. 2:7; Jer. 13:17; 52:28–30; Ezek. 18:4; Acts 2:41; 1 Cor 15:45), a body (Eph. 5:28; Rom. 12:1–2; Rev. 18:13), flesh (1 Pet. 1:24), and spirit (2 Tim. 4:22; 1 John 4:1–3). Thus, the Bible does not endorse dualism in the sense of a separation between one’s body and one’s sense of sexuality. In addition, an immortal part of humans is not envisioned in Scripture because God alone possesses immortality (1 Tim. 6:14–16) and will bestow it on those who believe in Him at the first resurrection (1 Cor. 15:51–54). Thus a human being is also meant to be an undivided sexual entity, and sexual identity cannot be independent from one’s body. According to Scripture, our gender identity, as designed by God, is determined by our biological sex at birth (Gen. 1:27; 5:1–2; Ps. 139:13–14; Mark 10:6).”
The argument that one’s biological sex and one’s gender identity cannot be different because a person cannot be divided into material and immaterial “parts” is a straw-man argument. It is using an unscriptural belief to establish a solution to a moral dilemma, and this incongruity leaves one without a truthful way to address the problem.
Moreover, this statement implies that a belief in a human spirit or soul separate from the body is what supports the belief that gender identity can be separate from biological sex. Thus, point six of the statement says, “Because the Bible regards humans as wholistic entities and does not differentiate between biological sex and gender identity, the Church strongly cautions…against sex reassignment surgery.”
The biblical teaching that man has a body and also a spirit which survives death (2 Corinthians 5:1–9; Phil. 1:22-23) is not the culprit in the growing concern about gender identity. Neither does a belief in man as merely physical provide a framework for addressing the problem.
A biblical foundation
Romans 1:18-32 describes the natural condition of all mankind apart from belief in God’s promises and provision in the finished work of the Lord Jesus. In fact, Paul articulates that gender identity issues increase as men and women do not “honor Him as God or give thanks,” thus becoming “futile in their speculations” and darkened in “their foolish heart” (Rom. 1:21). Eventually, God gives them over to their lusts (v. 24), their passions (v. 26), and finally to “a depraved mind” (v. 28).
In short, apart from an understanding of human depravity as our natural inheritance from Adam, we have no good way to discuss social concerns. Ultimately, each one of us, no matter the nature of our personal struggles, needs a Savior. In fact, it is not possible to address serious issues such as transgenderism or addiction or any other sort of compulsive behavior apart from knowing that we are born spiritually dead and must be made alive. Only in Christ is there any hope of addressing our deepest sin and shame.
The Seventh-day Adventist statement on transgenderism does state in its ninth point:
“The Bible proclaims the good news that sexual sins committed by heterosexuals, homosexuals, transgender people, or others can be forgiven, and lives can be transformed through faith in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:9–11).”
Nevertheless, the statement fails to articulate the gospel. It does, however, suggest that Adventism is the means of finding grace. Point number eight in the statement says, “The church as the community of Jesus Christ is meant to be a refuge and place of hope, care, and understanding to all who are perplexed, suffering, struggling, and lonely…All people are invited to attend the Seventh-day Adventist Church and enjoy the fellowship of its believers. Those who are members can fully participate in church life as long as they embrace the message, mission and values of the Church.”
In fact, the statement ends with an appeal to follow biblical principles without offering the hope of the gospel—new life and forgiveness through believing in the finished work of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Instead, the document merely calls “those who experience incongruity between their biological sex and gender identity” to “follow biblical principles in dealing with their distress.” They are to “reflect on God’s original plan of purity and sexual fidelity,” and finally they “are encouraged to wait on God” and His offer of “the fullness of divine compassion, peace, and grace in anticipation of Christ’s soon return when all true followers of Christ will be completely restored to God’s ideal.”
The Adventist transgenderism statement mandates against sex reassignment surgery and transgender marriages, but it does not—because Adventism cannot—offer the true hope of being freed from the bondage of one’s own shame and struggle with sin and flesh.
Interestingly, however, this document reveals in clear ways that the Adventist view of the nature of man—its idea that humans are merely physical without human spirits that are separate from the body—shapes its approach to human suffering. Without the understanding that humans are born literally spiritually dead and needing to be brought to life, they can only mandate behavior.
While attempting to craft a conservatively compassionate response to a serious social issue, Adventism’s transgenderism statement actually spotlights one of the religion’s fundamental flaws: its unbiblical belief in the mere physicality of the human race.