Jan 31, 2022
Anabaptist theologian Stanley Hauerwas once said that in 100 years, if Christians are known as those who do not kill their children or their elderly, we would have been doing something right. May we, in fact, be known for nothing less than these things, but I hope we’ll be known for far more. Specifically, Christians must be known as those who acknowledge created reality, in particular the goodness of the human body.
This won’t be easy. Unthinkable a couple decades ago, it’s now normal to deny the purpose, the meaning, and the goodness of the human body. Increasingly the body is seen, not as a given of reality, but as a fully morphable canvas of self-expression. Not only do we celebrate unnatural ways of using it, we see it as something to be reinvented and remodeled, even mutilated if that allows us to “be ourselves.”
Because Christians believe in a world created by God, including the human body, we must not allow what is considered normal to seem normal to us. We might be shocked and grieved, but we should always point to the truth of who we are, and oppose these ideas which destroy and degrade, rather than liberate, human beings.
Any culture that denies what our bodies reveal about who we are must work hard to suppress the overwhelming evidence of reality. At times, like beach balls pushed below the water, this evidence re-emerges. For example, just before Christmas, New York Magazine released an issue with a cover photo of a person with a beard and body hair, wearing nothing but briefs, staring at readers. A massive scar dominates one leg. The headline reads: “My Penis, Myself: I didn’t need a penis to be a man. But I needed one to be me.”
The person in the photo is a woman. The organ in question was surgically constructed using flesh taken from her leg. The author and subject describe her “transmasculine” surgery, performed in a San Francisco hospital, in full detail. The procedure was potentially life-threatening and involved physicians doing things that, in any other surgical context, would be considered harm, not help.
The result of the surgery was not a male body, but a wounded and disfigured female body. The author is now in near constant pain, and in constant danger of infection or rejection. Even so, this dysphoric woman viewed the process as a liberation from her own body.
By portraying this procedure as a surgery rather than an act of harm, and by portraying the choice to undergo the procedure as heroic rather than heartbreaking, New York Magazine bypasses any real discussion about a host of related ideas, ideas about sex, gender, humanity, morality, medicine, and more. At the same time, the cover photo, of a largely exposed woman with horrific scarring, points to truths that, in the end, cannot be suppressed.
This movement is, in reality, an assault on humanity. The bad ideas behind the movement leave victims in their wake. In a sort of gnostic remix, these ideas reject the most basic of created realities. Christians, who believe that God called our bodies “good,” must continue to point to what is true. First, we must point out that there are very real scars left when people deny reality. And second, we must point those with these scars to Christ, the One whose scars can make them whole again.
Back in June, an episode of “Blue’s Clues and You” earned applause for featuring a pride parade of LGBT-identifying animals. Only later did viewers notice that one cartoon beaver, waving a trans pride flag, had scars like those of women who’ve had what’s called “top surgery.” A Nickelodeon spokesperson confirmed that the producers’ intent was to teach young children that this “surgery” is normal, and if women wish to have healthy breasts removed in order to mimic men, they should.
To point out that this sort of message, aimed at children, is body shaming and abusive will inevitably mean being called “transphobic,” “bigoted,” and “hateful.” We may be cancelled. But to be silent is not to be loving. Rather, it is to be complicit in harm.
In this cultural moment, faithfulness to Christ involves not just declaring salvation but defending creation; not just preaching how men and women can be saved but that men and women exist. Churches will need to include extensive and thorough education on what it means to be made in God’s image, why He made us male and female, and the difference that makes in modern culture.
All of which will mean proclaiming obvious, now unfashionable truths. But, given the damage being done by denying those truths, it’s the only loving thing to do.