The following is a statement from Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry:
A negative statement on gender identity from 20 U.S. religious leaders shows the continued ignorance of gender awareness that exists among people who shape church teaching and policy. Four Catholic bishops who head committees for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) are signatories of this document which denies the existence of the transgender experience and promotes a false scenario about how gender topics are being taught to children.
In “Created Male and Female: An Open Letter from Religious Leaders,” issued December 15, 2017, the twenty religious leaders state that “human beings are male or female and that the socio-cultural reality of gender cannot be separated from one’s sex as male or female.”
Although the statement denies the reality of the transgender experience, it suggests that religious groups should respond to people who are gender minorities “with patience and love.” The statement also asserts state:
“The movement today to enforce the false idea—that a man can be or become a woman or vice versa—is deeply troubling. It compels people to either go against reason—that is, to agree with something that is not true—or face ridicule, marginalization, and other forms of retaliation.”
The statement perpetuates the double falsehood that gender is a choice and that children are being encouraged to think of gender as a choice:
“Children especially are harmed when they are told that they can “‘change’ their sex. . .”
This statement is dangerous because it distributes false information which can lead to attitudes, policies, and practices which will do physical and emotional harm to transgender people, a community already with a high risk of becoming victims of hate crimes.
The main problem with the statement is that it claims that gender is determined only by genitalia, a view which modern science and people’s experience have shown to be insufficient. Gender is also determined by other biological factors, often not immediately visible, such as hormones, genetics, brain composition, and internal self-understanding.
The statement also assumes that people are questioning their gender identities because of socio-cultural norms about gender are changing. That is false. Cultural history shows that in every society people have always existed who do not fit the male-female binary system of categorizing gender. Gender identity questions are not a modern phenomenon brought on by what some people see as a permissive culture. If anything, modern attitudes about gender are allowing people who do not fit the gender binary to live authentically and truthfully the way that God has created them.
As for the idea that gender is a choice, that is also not true. People discover their gender as they develop both biologically and socio-culturally. Just as a gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientation is self-discovered by an individual, so is someone’s gender identity. To force someone to live inauthentically is neither healthy nor holy.
Reading this statement makes one wonder if any of these leaders have ever listened to the journey of transgender people. If they had, they would find that transgender people often experience their transition as not only a psychologically beneficial step, but one that also involves important spiritual dimensions. Transitioning helps people become closer to God. That is something religious people should support.
What is interesting about this statement is that only 20 religious leaders from the U.S. have signed it. Furthermore, while the U.S. is one of the most diverse religious nations on earth, only a small handful of its numerous religious traditions have endorsed the statement: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Islam, Orthodox, Church of God in Christ, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Hutterite. Interestingly, of the Protestant denominations listed, the signers’ organizations do not represent the majority force in each of those churches. The lack of signatories indicates that the overwhelming majority of religious leaders did not support the statement’s message.
The four Catholic bishops who signed the statement are:
- Bishop Joseph C. Bambera
Bishop of Scranton, Pennsyvlvania
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
- Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archbishop of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth
- Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
Archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky
Chairman USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty
- Bishop James D. Conley
Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska
Chairman USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage
New Ways Ministry encourages you write to these bishops to express your points of view about transgender acceptance. You can find their contact information, including email addresses in some cases, by clicking here.
—Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, December 18, 2017