By Shua Wilmot
Until recently, I was an employee of Houghton University, an institution of the Wesleyan Church, who worked directly with the institution's diverse body of students and employees. One of my degrees is in Human Development & Family Science. My position and education have enabled me to clearly see ways in which "A Wesleyan View of Gender Identity and Expression," which was written nine years ago, is outdated and theologically problematic, therefore causing harm in our community and our body of believers. It breaks my heart when vulnerable people groups in our communities are further marginalized–especially by the Church– due to a lack of understanding.
Earlier this semester someone told me, “We have heard our president say from the pulpit [we] are not welcome here.” While I don’t think that’s exactly what President Wayne Lewis said, the remark is very indicative of the climate he has played a role in creating here regarding matters of gender identity. The climate becomes further charged when Wayne refers curious or concerned individuals to the Wesleyan View on the topic, which he is charged to support. The View, linked below, contains scientific and hermeneutical inaccuracies I would like to bring to your attention, many of which are easily disprovable and objectively false. When people are directed to such an outdated and unsupported source, it becomes reasonably difficult for them to trust in those who have provided the source (Wayne, the Wesleyan Church, etc.). I want more for our community and our Body than mistrust, fear of differing perspectives, and the upcoming generation’s disillusionment with the Church.
The View does call on individuals to have "the courage to speak the truth in love" (para 1), and I am writing to you out of love and concern for the truth, the Church, and our fellow believers. Please understand I will not address anything within the "Religious Convictions about Gender Expression" outlined in the View. My intention is to first address the harmful and false elements of the View, not the convictions of the Church. It is my hope and prayer, however, that you will soon revise the elements of the View which I expound upon below, and afterward consider any necessary revisions to the Convictions with a group of church members who have a fuller understanding of gender than the original seven all-male authors.
To begin, I will address the objective inaccuracies, misleadings, and misinformation within the View. Even if no other changes to the View are made, it is imperative we remedy the following glaring mistakes.
First, "intersexed" appears four times in the View. It is not a real word. I hope you can see how that may cause readers to quickly discredit the View and its contents.
Second, and very notably, the View claims that transgender and transsexual are synonyms. This has long been untrue and should be updated in the View. The View also refers to these terms as "rare... condition[s]." There are 1.4 million transgender adults in our nation alone (World Population Review, 2023), which does not include transsexual or intersex individuals who do not identify as transgender. The outdated estimates of less than half this number, which are cited in the View, are from 2011 and 2008. You can easily update this information in the View.
Third, paragraph 3 could use some simple changes:
1. Remove the phrase "or habitual transvestism." The sentence has the same meaning without it, and "transvestite" has become a pejorative and unloving term.
2. Change "birth-designated gender" to "sex assigned at birth." Doctors assign sex, which refers to anatomical, physiological, genetic, or physical attributes. They do not assign gender.
Fourth, it is untruthful and harmful to imply that all trans people have "a medical disorder known as 'gender dysphoria.'" The DSM-5 explicitly states, "Not all transgender or gender diverse people experience gender dysphoria." I hope you see the value in correcting this section of the View.
Fifth, the long paragraph explaining DSDs falsely states intersex conditions are less common than gender dysphoria. There are in fact over 30 types of genetically intersex conditions, and individuals with such conditions are as common as people with naturally red hair. Due to over-exposure to male hormones while a fetus is developing, a sperm or egg cell that was malformed, or a number of other reasons, many people are born with a missing, extra, or atypical sex chromosome, or with genitalia more complex than those typical of an XX female or XY male. Also in this paragraph (and para 11), I would encourage changing the phrase "birth defects" to "congenital conditions." It is not a good look for the Church to call a large body of people "defective." As an additional note, the term "hermaphrodite" is no longer considered acceptable or scientifically accurate in the medical community.
Sixth, there are multiple errors in the paragraph preceding "The Christian Scriptures and Gender Identity." First, there is a consensus among professionals from scientific and medical communities that there are multiple genders; it is not exclusively "social activists and gender theorists" who believe this. Second, androgyne, intersex, and hermaphrodite are not synonyms. The View makes an embarrassing assertion that they are. Third, the inclusion of remarks on "transgressively gendered" people is problematic in ways I hope require no explanation. Please remove that sentence from the View. Less importantly, the seriation in this paragraph is not sensible or necessary.
Seventh, the View posits that eunuchs “would probably be called asexuals, neutrols or agender in current lingo.” We would not use these terms synonymously in current lingo, and even historically these would not be overlapping identities. Asexual and agender people are not eunuchs.
As you can see, the View contains many falsehoods, and it is my preference that readers do not receive lies from the Church. Last year Wayne directed a group of our students to read the View. I later heard those students laughing at and criticizing the View. I do not think that is an inappropriate or irreverent response to the View; as I have illustrated above, the View communicates a degree of ignorance on matters of sex and gender.
Next I will address my theological concerns. It may be worth noting that I honed my Biblical exegesis skills at Wesley Institute (now Excelsia College) in Sydney, Australia.
First, the Wesleyan Church's assertion that there are only two genders hangs solely on the text of Genesis 1:27, "male and female he created them." The View illustrates that the Wesleyan Church takes this phrase literally; humans were made as male and female only. That assumption completely ignores the common Hebraic rhetorical device of naming two seemingly opposite things as a short-hand way of saying "all things within this category." God says, "I am the first and the last" (Isa 44:6, 48:12; Rev 1:8, 1:17, 21:6, 22:13). He means that He was and is and is to come, but applying the same logic to these verses as the View applies to Gen 1:27 would mean that God is the beginning and the end, but nothing in between or on either side of those points. The Wesleyan interpretation would diminish God’s sovereignty. Even applying the same interpretative process to other verses within the context of Genesis 1 is questionable. "God called the light 'day,' and the darkness he called 'night'" (v. 5). Interpretive consistency begs the question: do Wesleyans deny the existence of dusk and dawn? "God called the dry ground 'land,' and the gathered waters he called 'seas'" (v. 10). So was there another god responsible for the creation of coastlines, marshes, tidepools, alluvions, and estuaries? The Wesleyan exegesis of Genesis 1:27 fails to take into consideration cultural, linguistic, and literary context, giving the impression that the View twists Scripture in order to uphold a tradition of injustice and unacceptance towards gender-expansive people, rather than looking to scripture to inform how we ought to treat our neighbors.
Second, the View's attempted justification to exclude eunuchs as an example of Biblical trans people is an inextricable web of words that is self-defeating by the end of the next paragraph, in which the View refers to the eunuchs of Isa 56:3-5 as "gender-altered persons." The View attempts to assert here “there is no ‘third gender’ or multiple gender construct in the Bible, yet it also explains some people in the Bible “biologically… were assigned or assumed a neutered social and sexual identity.” Again, I would like to emphasize that the View is making claims that it cannot Biblically support, when scriptures in fact counter the points outlined in the View. The View is in need of revisions.
Third, the final sentence of the last paragraph of the "The Christian Scriptures and Gender Identity" claims that gender-expansive "behaviors are consistently condemned whenever they are mentioned." In reality, there are no examples of their condemnation in scripture. Joseph's colorful tunic was a ketonet passim (Gen 37:3), the same type of robe worn by the king's virgin daughters (2 Sam 13:18), and the only condemnation Joseph received for cross-dressing was from his jealous brothers. It may be the case that the inaccuracy of this paragraph of the View is due to the authors' conflating sexuality and gender, which are actually separate, distinct subjects.
Finally, attempting to use Scripture to affirm the existence of only two sexes or genders has another more inherent problem: the Bible is not a science textbook. Recall Galileo, who received a life sentence from the Church after claiming Earth orbits the Sun (which contradicts the "science" of Joshua chapter 10).
It is also important to address that the View begins with the fundamental assumption that everyone with intersex physiology or an affirmed gender that does not match their assigned gender is "struggling" with these aspects of their identity. In reality, many siblings-in-Christ are content with their bodies and/or gender diversity. To paint their lives as an internal struggle is misleading to members of the church who wish to learn more about issues of sex and gender, and it is ultimately harmful to the individuals the View is describing. Again, the View gives the impression that the Wesleyan Church has forsaken responsible exegesis in favor of making unsupported claims in order to justify trans-exclusion and marginalization of people who Jesus would have loved and understood. I find this very concerning, and I think you should too.
I look forward to the Wesleyan church creating and publishing a more truthful, loving, and informed View on gender identity and expression. Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.