By Emily Zinos, Coordinator, Ask Me First MN
On December 11th, the St. Paul Seminary and School of Divinity held a symposium entitled, “Man, Woman, and the Order of Creation” at the University of St. Thomas, which included a line-up of speakers impressively positioned to take on the issue of sexual identity in a world confused by gender ideology. I was delighted to join more than 400 attendees, including clergy, parents, students and academics, who were gathered to hear Walt Heyer, Dr. Michelle Cretella, and Dr. Ryan T. Anderson, among others, offer their reflections on an authentic vision of the human person. With a goal of equipping “clergy, religious, pastoral ministers, educators and lay leaders with the pastoral insights and language they need to reach out to those they serve – in love and in truth,” the symposium melded scientific observation of the human body and behavior with a Christian anthropology. There was a lot of information packed into the daylong event and the evening presentations that followed, but I’d like to share my top five takeaways with you here in the hopes that you will also feel prepared to respond in love and truth:
1. Affirming Lies Reinforces Confusion
Walt Heyer started the symposium with a deeply personal account of why he chose to live as a woman for nearly a decade of his life. Dissociating from a body that had been dressed as a girl by his grandmother, sexually abused by an uncle, and beaten by his father, Walt looked to become a woman as a means of escape. He warned that the popular treatment of gender dysphoria ignores the reasons many come to suffer sexual identity confusion in the first place, using puberty blockers, hormones and surgery to treat a condition that would more appropriately be resolved through psychological therapy and patience. For Walt, acceptance of his biological sex wasn’t merely the product of a therapeutic approach, though. His eventual acceptance of a male sexual identity coincided with a spiritual revelation that God’s forgiveness and love were inviting him to start over again as a child of God. We can embody God’s love when we keep open the doors to relationship with those who struggle to accept their sexual identity.
2. The Transgender “Moment” is Rife With Contradictions
Dr. Ryan T. Anderson, William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, spoke with great clarity about the underlying worldview LGBT activists, which he argued uses the psychological struggles of a few to campaign for sweeping changes to laws and policies that reference biological sex. Dr. Anderson made a strong case for interpreting the activism of the transgender movement as a direct attack on the reality and meaning of who we are as men and women with its assumption that a poorly defined “gender identity” alone determines our sex. He went on to detail some of the contradictions that undermine the premises of transgender ideology, asking why it is that gender identity can be determined by feelings, while age, height, or race cannot. He pointed out that gender identity is essentially a belief being used to determine a personal reality, which is in direct opposition to the way belief is meant to function. We are tasked with conforming our beliefs to reality, instead of conforming reality to our beliefs. Gender ideology is a deep misunderstanding of the human person, and it’s only the church that can offer the fullness of truth as an antidote.
3. Sexual Difference Goes Deep
Dr. Michelle Cretella, President of the American College of Pediatricians, gave an in-depth presentation of the physiological differences medicine has uncovered between the sexes. Dr. Cretella explained that our sex is determined at conception, with every cell in our bodies marked by our male or female chromosomes. Using a wide variety of scientific evidence showing intrinsic differences in anatomy and the manifestation of disease between the sexes as evidence, she argued that medical doctors must treat their patients according to their biological sex instead of a subjective gender identity. We differ biologically, but in dignity men and women are equals.
4. Men and Women Complement Each Other
Dr. Deborah Savage, professor of Theology and Philosophy at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, concentrated her remarks on the complementarity of men and women, which is the understanding that men and women are equal in dignity and while still retaining significant differences from one another. Dr. Savage used the two creation accounts in Genesis to show that, though women and men are equally endowed with intellect, will, freedom, we are also equal in the ways we are different. Men and women are not interchangeable.
5. Our Lord’s Conversation with the Samaritan Woman
Fr. Paul Check, Rector of the St. John Fisher Seminary, explained that the example of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well can serve as our guide in communicating the truth in charity. Our Lord doesn’t begin this dialog with judgement, but instead allows the woman to lead the conversation, took the time to get to know her, and, finally, shares the fullness of truth. Fr. Check also made the very practical suggestion that we all commit ourselves to using the phrase “sexual identity” when referring to our bodily reality, instead of a “gender identity” which is based purely on feelings. A pastoral approach necessitates kindness and gentleness, but not neutrality.
Though this transgender “moment” is a collection of human tragedies, there is a positive effect already manifesting itself in our midst: the renewed focus within the Christian church on celebrating the true nature of man and woman as a reflection of the image of God in the world. May we redouble our efforts to create a culture in which, as Dr. Deborah Savage says, “Every child is given an opportunity to become the beautiful person God created them to be.”
American College of Pediatricians position statement on gender ideology:
When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, by Ryan T. Anderson