New Ways Ministry Responds to Interfaith Statement Denying Transgender Experience

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


9 replies
    • D
      D says:

      It never did, actually, at least not for humans. In a not insignificant minority of cases, chromosomes don’t even determine biological sex, which in humans is primarily determined by sex hormone exposure in the womb (which is typically directed by chromosomes, but sometimes the signals get messed up or other issues interrupt the process, such as chromosomal abnormalities or problems with sex hormone receptors).

  1. Barry Blackburn
    Barry Blackburn says:

    Francis, these comments are Blessed! Thank you for speaking the truth for us. New Ways Ministry is a powerful voice for all of us who see a wider vision: a vision of the Holy Spirit. To really see we have to look with the eyes of experience. This takes humility which this statement signed by these four bishops lacks.
    Continued Blessings in 2018 as you voice the truth for all of us.

  2. Friends
    Friends says:

    The late Stephen Gaskin — a counterculture “guru” of the 1960s, and creator of “The Farm” commune in Summertown, Tenn. — famously said, “Your belly button is your membership card that says you’re a part of the human race!” A lovely sentiment — but Gaskin himself was unfortunately prone to be homophobic and anti-GLBT. For that reason (among others), his own students eventually rebelled against his narrow gender ideology, and they “re-made” The Farm in a much more inclusive and welcoming way. I suspect that these reactionary homophobic Catholic clerics are facing the same eventual fate, if they don’t wake up to the fact that there are many different ways and modes of being a kind, competent, helpful and loving human being.

  3. Fr. Michael J. Nicosia
    Fr. Michael J. Nicosia says:

    All this retrenchment is based on the fallacy of Natural Law theory (hubris in the face of Mystery) and their obsession with anything that threatens the diabolical binary god of procreation (minimizing other ways of being generative, our broader calling), not to mention the fear of all things sexual….these foolish, dangerous men. The best of Christian theology (I thought mainstream, but evidently at the challenging edges) asserts that all is Mystery unfolding, and that as co-creators with God we are part of that process – of which transgender individuals are a visible sacrament.

  4. Richard J McIvor
    Richard J McIvor says:

    Thank you for your very clear statement that 1) gender is not a choice, 2) is not determined only by genitalia, and that non-binary people have always been part of cultural history. Your very clear statements here bear rereading and restatement. May God continue to bless your work.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] via New Ways Ministry Responds to Interfaith Statement Denying Transgender Experience — New Ways Minis… […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *