So, how then shall we think about transgenderism given the importance of embodiment and a theology of engendered bodies? How then shall we live as the culture war surrounding us increasingly demands allegiance to one or the other side? Further, in a world of social media polarization and dishonest representations of transgenderism, how then shall we speak to and about trans people and act on their behalf in a way that is humanizing and informed by biblical anthropology?
In this short article I will present a way of thinking that might help us avoid such temptations and discover ways in which the church and the mental health professions can come together with mutual understanding and shared healing practices.
For a field that previously prioritized perception and mere verbal exchange, this increasing focus on the lived body is promising. But, for the professional Christian counselor, as well as pastoral counselors, the importance of embodiment in care and counseling should also be fundamentally informed by biblical and theological narratives—not just the scientific or therapeutic.
Despite the difficulties we may have considering what it means to have a body, the Bible has much to teach us about our physical nature in God’s creation. Using the framework of creation, fall, redemption, and re-creation, let us consider what it teaches about our nature as embodied creatures.
“Disability” is a word tossed about easily in our world. Yet the sheer spectrum of disabilities makes the term ambiguous and even artificial. It is helpful to conceive of disability as a term that points to a limitation due to an involuntary bodily impairment, social role expectation, or external physical/social obstruction impacting participation in communal life. Beyond this definition, the church is faced with a deeper challenge to define disability while wrestling with various theological implications of over-simplifying the term.
In a small way, this illustrates the power of digital technologies. On the plus side, they connect us with people we otherwise could not meet, such as the researcher in Australia I only know through a Skype video call. On the negative side, these technologies have the power to dis-connect us from people, by creating virtual relationships with nameless strangers, whether on Words with Friends or Facebook. When I occasionally—and ever more rarely—drop in to Facebook, I notice posts from people I do not even recognize. (How did they “friend” me?) If I met them in person, no name would come to mind. What aspect of friendship, or even mere acquaintance, could I attribute to these “Facebook friends”?
For those with eyes to see, the movie WALL-E (Disney and Pixar, 2008) can be something of an apocalypse, revealing God’s Kingdom and stoking a Christian imagination. 800 years from now the remnant of humanity exists on the Axiom, a space cruise ship. The high-tech deck chairs supporting their overfed/corpulent bodies double as hovercraft to move them around the ship. All interaction between humans is mediated by a device. Every hobby is virtual. Every meal comes in a cup. The trip on the Axiom was initially billed as a five-year cruise. But 700 years later, the remnant is unaware of any other existence, or indeed, of their ancestral home which had been so thoroughly trashed (literally) that it can no longer support life of any kind.
In her 2018 book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, Christian apologist Nancy R. Pearcey tackles a variety of hot-button ethical issues including abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, hookup culture, and transgenderism. Chapter by chapter, Pearcey makes the case that Western secularism denigrates the human body by embracing each of these practices, and she defends the holistic realism of Christian ethics in response.
We are at a relatively early stage in developing digital social networks. With Facebook, smart phones, and GPS, we can find what we are looking for and track our friends with comparative ease. Interconnectivity is developing to the point at which, when we are sent electronic communications, algorithms identify what we might like on the basis of the included content. Satellite and CCTV offer some degree of surveillance, but not to the extent provided by the Bentham Grid. The narrator tells us that in 2023 “you can’t do anything in New York City without the Grid knowing who you are and where you are.” Merely science fiction? Read on.
If the risen and glorified Jesus is holey, wholly, holy, and our aim in discipleship is to look more like Him, then how do we disciple in brokenness (holey)? How do we embrace the whole, not simply neurological, person (wholly)? How do we form followers of Christ who look like Him (holy)?