“You Know Why We Don’t Talk…” and Other Fallacies

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I can only imagine what goes on in the mind of my adult daughter, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who clearly believes she can have no contact — excuse me, no “unnecessary”contact — with me, and faithfully holds to that position. I have no objective measure for what she considers “necessary” either, only that it is obviously unimportant whether I am well, or even alive. It is similarly unnecessary to respond to occasional attempts on my part to find out how she is faring, or whether the close friend she moved out to live with, who I later learned (not from my daughter, naturally) developed cancer is recovering, worsening, or even dead. I fully expect that one day my daughter will be married (if she isn’t already) and I will have grandchildren I’ll likely never meet, and it will surely not be “necessary” as far as she is concerned for me to ever hear a word about any of it.

I recently had cause to try contacting her, however — painful as that usually turns out for me since any attempts at communication typically receive not the slightest acknowledgement. But as her grandmother (my mother-in-law) whom she has also not seen in years was ill in the hospital, and things were not looking too good, I made the attempt.

So I was moderately surprised when my daughter actually responded to me via text message. Nothing of a personal or caring nature, mind you, but at least she thanked me for letting her know she appreciated this as an evidently “necessary” communication. But during the brief exchange, which was as unsatisfying as ever, she also made the particular statement: “You know why we don’t talk.”

That phrase has been kicking around in my mind for weeks now, because in all honesty, nothing could be farther from the truth. On the surface, I “know” that she views me as a “disfellowshipped” person. But with so many questions surrounding even that, there is frankly no way I can possibly know what her thinking is without discussion. The tyranny of the situation is such that, from her point of view at least, no discussion of any sort is “allowed.”

Even the elders, apparently, are not allowed to discuss anything with me. I was told by one of the brothers shortly after their decision to expel me that he would like to offer his help. He explained that if I wished, he could provide me with written material — articles — but emphasized that I would not be allowed to discuss anything or ask him any questions, only to say whether any material he decided to provide “helped” me or not.

Just in case you may be wondering about the scriptural basis for that kind of insane approach to “helping”, I’m fairly certain there isn’t one. I can’t see any practical basis either. “Hello, I’m your medical doctor, and I believe you have a serious condition. I’d like to help, so I’m going to experiment with various treatments, but you’re not allowed to ask any questions or describe any of your symptoms — you can only say whether you think the thing we just tried improved your condition or not. Yes or no.” Hmmmm…I think I want a different doctor.

Still, I responded to his offer, merely asking if he would please focus his initial attention on searching for material to address the areas I’d already explained at the hearing were sticking points for me. In doing so, however, I apparently overstepped the boundary of whatever minimal communication he felt was “allowed” because I never heard from him again either.

So really, given such an ultra-tight-lipped policy, along with the manifest unwillingness, inability, or both on the part of the congregation elders to provide any kind of relevant information regarding their stance even to me, I have to conclude that if anything, my daughter has even less of an idea as to why she isn’t talking to me than I do.

I can’t help thinking that this, too, seems out of harmony with the scriptures. Yes, we know that in Paul’s day, the Corinthian congregation was urged to stop associating with a particular member — but Paul made sure that they all knew exactly why. He did not ask them to shun fellowship with this person on his word alone — indeed, how could anyone in good conscience treat a fellow Christian in such a manner without clearly understanding the reason for doing so. And what was the reason? In this case, the man had taken his father’s wife as his own — something that, as Paul put it, was unthinkable even among non-Christian’s.

So then, I have to assume my daughter at least thinks I’ve done something wrong of similar magnitude. But what does she imagine that to be? Is my living as the transgender person I am enough of a reason?

In my view, the answer is no.  Jehovah’s Witnesses’ official stance, as far as I was ever able to tell, hinges first and foremost on an opinion as to whether there is any legitimacy to a transgender person’s gender identity (i.e., can a transgender woman in any way, in whole or in part, rightly be considered a woman — more and more research says absolutely, “Yes,” and in a very biological way — while the brothers simply remain inclined to think, “No”) — followed up with the subsequent opinion that exactly one scripture in the law of Moses, the letter of which we are no longer under (although we rightly draw principles from it) must be interpreted to apply in one very specific way to transgender persons, that interpretation itself being based on the first unsubstantiated opinion, mind you. So are two opinions and the resulting application of a single scripture, decidedly lacking in support from either additional scripture or secular evidence, really sufficient grounds for a potentially life-shattering decision to remove a fellow Christian from the congregation?

(I’ve previously discussed my rather bizarre exchange with the brothers on the subject in more detail, but I think it is also worth pointing out here that while they were quite adamant that they could never accept me as a transgender woman, rather confusingly, they never said that my own reasoning as I explained it to them was incorrect, from a scriptural perspective or otherwise.)

So now, should I assume that my daughter and other fellow Witnesses simply disagree, and to their thinking, there is ample evidence for the brother’s decision — but simply evidence that no one will share with me, because no one is going to speak with me anymore? Perhaps that is the case, but really, I suspect it is as likely if not more so that they are simply unwilling to give the matter any further thought at all. It’s certainly more convenient, in the supposed name of “unity”, to simply treat all of the society’s opinions and the brothers’ judicial decisions as equally soundly rooted in gospel truth.

And then it’s a further “unifying” simplification, I suppose, to encourage congregation members to treat every disfellowshipped person in the exact same extreme way, to have as little contact as possible, even with family members, and regardless of the supposed offense. So where does that idea come from? Because in his letter to the Corinthians, though Paul advised the congregation to stop associating with the sinner in question — not even taking a meal with the person — he certainly stopped short of instructing the congregation to refuse any and all communication of a civil or familial nature.

The idea that “no talking” whatsoever should even be permitted is taken from a different scripture in 2 John, which says that even saying “a greeting” to certain persons would make one a “sharer in their wicked works”. But the context of that scripture makes it plain it’s not speaking merely of someone who might be guilty of just any sort of sin, but rather specifically of an apostate — one who “pushes ahead” and does not remain in the “teaching of Christ”, but instead tries to bring in false teachings to corrupt the congregation — thus making themselves, not merely a sinner, but an open adversary of the Christian congregation and Jehovah himself.

So again, I’m left to wonder…does my daughter think that also applies to me? Have the elders told her that it does? Or is she simply adhering to the prevailing custom the Witnesses have of utterly shunning every disfellowshipped person in the exact same way, whether strictly warranted scripturally-speaking or not? I may never know for certain, because no one will say, at least not to me. Regardless, they certainly treat me as if that were the case. But all I’ve ever done with regard to this matter is to seek scriptural clarity. And failing to see that there is any such clarity behind their stubborn stance with regard to transgender persons, yes, I have blogged about it here. But I’m confident that any honest person can see that there is not a trace of malice or ill will in anything I’ve ever presented — only my own truthful observations about the experience. If I am “attacking” anything at all here, it is only what I continue to sincerely see as a singular injustice, and in reality, what appears to me to be an offense against the truth — I am certainly not attacking the truth, nor any of the plain teachings of Christ, nor the Christian congregation itself.

I happen to think my daughter, Christian elders and other former friends within the congregation might even be capable of realizing much of this. Except of course for the fact that “we don’t talk.” And they’re faithfully sticking to that, though Jehovah only knows why…because I certainly don’t.

Love of the Truth

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“By their fruits you shall know them.” So said Jesus of those who would adhere to the truth of his teachings, as distinguished from those who would diverge.

Jehovah’s Witnesses as an organization have manifested a great deal of fine fruit. There is a good deal of genuine love among the vast majority of those who call themselves brothers and sisters. Certainly as a whole, they don’t take part in divisive politics, or secular fights, or wars, or a good deal of other ugliness that for so many other folks — even those who consider themselves first and foremost to be Christian — tends to readily usurp their worship of God and love for their neighbor.

But a key thought keeps coming back to mind. Love of Jehovah and genuine faith in Christ ultimately also require an unswerving love of truth.  (2 Thess 2:10)  Where even long-held beliefs and ideas are found to differ from truth, a lover of truth will “make the mind over” and change. Where peers, even highly-respected peers, possibly even in large number, suggest ideas or actions that don’t gibe with truth, again, a lover of truth will not yield to the majority or to the pressure of mere men, no matter the cost.

It’s extremely important to note that while Jehovah’s Witnesses generally refer to the religion itself as “The Truth”, it is not scripturally speaking a “religion” that is to be loved, nor a religious organization. It is real, live actual truth. And plain and simply put, despite the best efforts of imperfect men I happen to still believe are well-meaning to faithfully direct the organization, it is a simple fact that not everything printed in the Watchtower magazine, or suggested with regard to handling of matters in the congregation, “judicial” or otherwise, has either the ring of absolute truth or the clear weight of scriptural truth behind it.

The unity Jehovah’s Witnesses cherish is a wonderful thing and beautiful to observe everywhere that it is solidly founded in real truth, but when their unity of thought and action crosses into areas where it leans fundamentally upon the words and ideas of men — not so much anymore. By comparison to the vast, obvious good fruit that is produced when the Witnesses as an organization (or any people for that matter) adhere to the obvious true teachings of Christ, and share these with their neighbors, the fruit of confusing the truth with every word uttered by congregation elders, or by the governing body, or ever printed in a Watchtower magazine is not nearly always so good.

Nor should this really be surprising. “We must obey God rather than men,” is a scriptural principal that doesn’t add, “unless the men in question hold various positions of oversight and responsibility within the Christian congregation.” Nor does this simple truth in any way contradict all the good the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses accomplish, or that their work as a whole bears all the signs of having Jehovah’s blessing and spirit.

Rather it’s a logical consequence of yet another scriptural truth: “It does not belong to man who is walking to direct his own step.” If the imperfect men leading the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses could do so without error, without occasionally causing harm rather than good, without occasionally adopting positions based on something other than solid truth — then they could in fact, even in their imperfect human state, successfully rule all of mankind. And that, we are told in no uncertain terms, is something no human perfect or otherwise, can do.

The fact is, whenever various stances the organization has taken step beyond the boundary of plain scriptural counsel — when they, for example, disfellowship certain individuals on the basis of holding a viewpoint rooted in scripture itself, but a viewpoint that might happen to question a particular point of organizational teaching which itself appears to be founded on some measure of speculation — the organization and the brothers are showing a certain lack of love of actual truth, or at the very least, a preference for love of the organization over whatever really may be the truth in that instance.

And the fruit of such actions is bitter — alienating individuals and family members, separating genuine friends from one another, and as most faithful witnesses seem to view their obligation to “the truth” (as in the organization), preventing any display of love, affection or concern for the affected party, very likely for life. Because unlike disfellowhipping involving matters of clear scriptural sin, when concern for actual truth has been pitted against an organizational stance and lost, it is not very likely that the lover of real truth is going to be able to give that up to “turn around”, and “repent” from something that not only ought need no repentance, but would actually amount to a violation of personal integrity to assert,  in order to  “come back” to the welcoming arms of men rather than Jehovah, the arms of those who in this particular matter at least appear to love the truth less.

The truth is that it is never wrong to seek greater clarity when a particular statement or teaching or practice does not seem entirely right in light of one’s own understanding of truth as illuminated by the scriptures. We must serve Jehovah with our own minds and our own power of reason, after all, if we are to serve him at all. Nor is it ever wrong to act appropriately in harmony with what we perceive as true and right. There is nothing inherently disrespectful in doing so, neither towards the organization nor towards Jehovah himself — quite the opposite, in fact. Yet in truth, some are labeled “apostate” (and subsequently treated as despicable outcasts) for this  sort of reason, and this sort of reason alone.

I’ve deliberately not tied the discussion thus far specifically to my being a transgender Christian — I’ve covered that at length in some other posts (such as this one on the subject of .”Fleshly Thinking“, particularly with respect to transgender individuals, and a separate discussion of my frustrating failed attempts to get some scriptural clarity on the organization’s view of transgender persons). That’s because I strongly believe, while yes, this absolutely affects me in my personal situation, it’s a somewhat broader and more systemic problem than that where the organization is concerned.

In short, however, with respect to transgender Christians, the organization continues to disregard what is becoming a growing body of secular evidence that we are born biologically a cross between genders, and leans for no good scriptural reason on the viewpoint that certain bits of our physically visible biology at birth trump all else and are just more significant than our “irrelevant” innards — our brains and minds and figurative hearts — in determining how we need to live as Christians. Nor does the fact that all efforts at trying to live that way almost invariably fail to work in the long term for the transgender person appear to sway them to reconsider how their position might not, in fact, be based on either truth or sound scriptural understanding.

The fact remains that for me, the truth is I was born a transgender woman — living as a male was a long-term pretense, a pretense that despite all efforts including spiritual ones, increasingly did not work, growing to affect every aspect of my life and my failing mental health in particular. Whereas living as myself is one no longer. And with regard to the scriptures, I cannot find, nor have I been shown, any scriptural basis to concluded that it is against the law of Christ for me to do so, or that I must also teach others like myself that it is unquestionably wrong to do so (as remaining a member of the organization in good standing would also require me to do).

I genuinely love all the good the Witnesses do as an organization, and all of the real, fundamental Christian truths they have done more to spread worldwide than any other group on the face of the earth. However, the truth is, even if I were somehow able to do what they insist is the only thing I can ever do to become part of the congregation again — without actually losing my mind, or holding deep bitterness in my heart for being forced back into an unhealthy pretense that I only finally managed to escape — I actually consider myself morally obligated not to ever do so, and to rather hold firmly to my position right here, where I am, which is for the time being outside the congregation that will not have me — as a genuine lover of the truth and a transgender Christian.

A Matter of “Fleshly Thinking”

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Jehovah’s Witnesses as a whole recognize, as spiritually-minded Christians should, that thinking “in harmony with the flesh” — meaning the sinful flesh, in particular, when those thoughts conflict with the thinking of Jehovah and his Son Jesus as revealed in the scriptures — is a danger. For example, when Peter sought to dissuade Jesus from following through on his sacrificial course, Jesus sternly scolded him, saying “…you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.”(Matthew 16:23)

Of course, one of the signs that we may be ignoring the thinking of God in favor of our own concepts, and perhaps misconceptions, is when we are paying too much attention to the flesh, literally. Peter, in the cited example, was surely guilty of this, since he thought only as far as the idea that his beloved Lord was about to die (in the flesh), and that this was obviously a terrible thing and therefore ought not to happen. “Be kind to yourself, Lord,” he said, clearly showing that he was not considering all the benefits to be derived from Jesus’ casting off of that fleshly body, nor the superior life and role that Jesus himself would secure for himself upon his resurrection thereafter.

Now it occurs to me, in the case of transgender persons, that JWs themselves remain the ones guilty, quite literally, of pure fleshly thinking. I have considered elsewhere the limited — and to my mind, inadequate and sorely misapplied — scriptural basis upon which the organization routinely disallows and/or disfellowships transgender persons. This time, I want to take a look at the situation from a different angle. And the argument I have in mind is relevant, I believe, not only to Jehovah’s Witnesses, but to each and every religious sect that looks upon transgender persons with a mix of disdain and horror, and as somehow inherently living “sinfully”.

Let us suppose that a man, let’s make him a brother and an elder in the Christian congregation, is driving alone in a fairly isolated area when he is involved in a terrible automobile accident. His body is mangled beyond recovery, and yet he somehow arrives at the local hospital trauma center still alive — though not for long if something cannot immediately be done. His only hope is the newest of cutting edge and admittedly controversial procedures — a full body transplant. The odds of having a body donor are already infinitesimally small, since a viable donor must have a relatively healthy body, while being declared conclusively brain-dead; the relatives of the donor must agree to the procedure; and then there is only a small window of time where the body remains viable. Additionally, doctors must agree that the recipient has no prospect of recovery without the procedure, while at the same time, the recipients brain is deemed free of unrecoverable damage. Yet all of these coincidences fall into place for our brother. As he in no condition to be be consulted, and no family can be reached in the limited time available, the surgeons move ahead with the procedure. Twenty-four hours later, the brother is recuperating well, with a prognosis of full recovery, thanks to his new body — that of the unfortunate coma victim — a woman named Susan, of the about the same age as our brother — who lapsed into brain-death the same day as his accident.

So now we see the dilemma. Is our brother, because of his new body, no longer a man? Will he have to give up his role in the congregation, and learn to dress, groom and present himself as a woman from henceforth, because that is the body he now finds himself in? Will he even have to give up or else change his sexuality? Literal fleshly thinking might answer, “Yes!” But how much sense does that actually make? Is he not the same person now as before? And even if that might be difficult for some people to see or accept, wouldn’t our creator, especially, continue to view him in the same light?

Now, some of you might be thinking this is too unrealistic a dilemma. What these surgeons did was unconscionable! They should never have acted without consent. And if such an operation were really ever to become possible, I’d certainly never agree to one! I’d rather die first.

Well, if you are thinking at all along those lines, then welcome to the dilemma transgender persons are born into. And yes, thoughts of death quite possibly being “better” do occur to us, too. Because like our hypothetical brother, we also find ourselves in a body that does not match our brain — does not match us — the only difference being, we start life that way. We get no opportunity for choice or consent. The choice is only in what we do with what we are given, the same as now confronts our hypothetical brother.

So do you believe this brother, to please God, would now need to live the rest of life in the flesh as a woman? I have a difficult time believing anyone who would answer yes to that question. Still, then, let’s turn this around for just a moment…

…what if our accident victim was a transgender woman. Not an elder, or even a member of the congregation, obviously, because that is something JWs and some other sects view as reprehensible and ungodly. Now, after recovering from this accident, far from being disturbed by her new body, she may well be overjoyed with it! Would those of you who rejected her previously as being “sinful” now accept her with open arms? By the same fleshly standards you presently apply to transgender persons, how could you possibly say that you would not? And yet, she, too, is the same person she was before. If you can accept her afterward, why not before?

Yes, this is all hypothetical. We do not have brain and body transplantation. But before you dismiss the argument outright on that basis alone, consider: the creator himself is capable of providing a perfect solution. He has virtually promised to do so in the future. So which do you think he is more likely to do for the person born transgender? Give them a body that better matches who they are? Or change who they are to fit in the body they happen to have originally been born into?

Unbelievably, at least one JW elder expressed to me with the utmost certainty that Jehovah was bound to do the latter. Only Jehovah knows for sure exactly what he will do, of course, but for that brother to be so convinced that my heart and mind wouldn’t matter to Jehovah and my physical body alone must be the clear determining factor — that is absolute hubris, and the epitome of fleshly thinking.

Here is the equivalent circumstance, expressed using our hypothetical example one last time: once again, our accident victim is a transgender woman. Meaning of course that her body was (ostensibly) male at birth, but in her own heart and mind, she has never been male. So in particular, she is utterly convinced now of her femaleness even if others cannot grasp this, and she lives her life accordingly. Let’s go as far as to say she would like to be part of the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but isn’t accepted there, simply because she is transgender.

This person would, of course, be just as happy as before to end up in a 100% female body! But this time it’s not to be. This time, the only damage she encountered in the accident was to her brain. It’s been destroyed. And as it happens, some other trauma victim — let’s make him another Jehovah’s Witness — is lucky enough to be able to survive by having his brain transplanted into her otherwise intact body.

Now we can be completely sure you would happily accept her into the congregation, can’t we? There’s an “M” on the body’s original birth certificate, and the brain of a brother in that body. You can be sure there will be no more preferring dresses to suits. No more using a female name. Maybe her body has some more feminine features by now, but that won’t be a huge problem either. The new recipient might set about altering those, or else just do his best to hide whatever bits of his appearance don’t feel masculine enough. So yep — we’re all good. Except for the fact that she’s dead. That’s not her in there anymore. Congratulations. We’ve killed her, but at least she’s finally acceptable to you.

And that is what this sort of fleshly thinking and hypocrisy is doing to transgender persons who genuinely desire to be faithful Christians and witnesses of Jehovah. Killing them.

 

 

 

 

JW’s and the Misdirected Fear of “Independent Thinking”

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I recently came across a 2005 blog post in which a former Jehovah’s Witness discusses an evolving trend in both publications and talks from the platform, which is for Witnesses to be warned more and more frequently about “Independent Thinking” in a way that I believe has problematic implications.

Unsurprisingly, this raises red flags among some who wrongly try to accuse the Witnesses of being a “cult” because cults do prosper on that very idea: the suppression of independent thought in favor of an unquestioning “following the leader” mentality. That is never what JWs have been about. Christ, and not any man, is recognized as leader of the true Christian congregation, and neither did Christ himself, nor the scriptures , nor any witness I ever studied the Bible with, ever once suggest that anything be accepted unquestioningly, on “blind faith,” and without reasoned consideration.

So while the organization of JWs may not necessarily intend their warning in any bad way (more on this below), I think there is a real danger, and sometimes very real consequences, to the implications that some elders and congregation members alike seem to be drawing from it.

Please note, I am not recommending the blog from which the article I read (referenced below) came. At just a quick glance I can already tell that in too many ways, “Doc” Bob chooses to ignore all the available evidence of Jehovah’s strong support for the modern-day organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in a manner unlike any other religious organization you can find on earth today. (Just the worldwide activity alone in over 200 countries, with Bibles and Bible study publications routinely produced in hundreds of different languages and always offered, everywhere, entirely free of charge — an activity that continues to be carried out by unpaid volunteers and supported entirely by voluntary, unsolicited donations  — that’s right, free of charge, no fund-raising campaigns, and no collections taken, anytime, ever, in keeping with Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, “You received free, give free” is utterly unprecedented, and frankly, nothing short of miraculous.) I cannot help but think such a one-sided presentation as Bob’s is therefore deliberate, and calculated to cause harm.

However, his article discussing the trend in the JW’s view of “Independent Thinking” is mostly on point. In my own experience, over the years, I’ve heard that phrase popping up more and more often in talks from the platform, as well as in some published articles, with the implied connotation that critically questioning any aspect of the earthly organization’s published thinking is, if not quite a “sin”, at the very least, extremely dangerous.

So what’s wrong with this? Simply put, the organization is not flawless, nor should we expect it to be. The Jews of Jesus’ day had certainly introduced a great deal of erroneous thinking on top of the word of God they were charged with keeping, and yet at that time, scripturally speaking, they were still Jehovah’s people, his Witnesses. Today, the men taking the lead, from the governing body on down to congregation elders, also remain imperfect humans, no matter how spiritually inclined. I believe it’s safe to say that the vast majority are far more well-intentioned than those religious leaders of Jesus’ day, whose motives Jesus showed to be corrupt, but these men today are still just as subject to common human frailties and therefore quite capable of making mistakes, both individually and organizationally.

I think they probably mean well when they try to issue such warnings. Counsel provided against things like the dangers of the internet, various trends in modern dress and entertainment, even dangers inherent in buying in to the “philosophies and empty deception” that can be found in some modern education — all of these warnings are well-founded, and it would be unwise to ignore the scriptural reasoning behind them.

But therein lies the point. To even take counsel like this to heart in a proper way, independent thinking is absolutely required. If I do something simply “because the Watchtower said so,” or I heard it from a brother on the platform, and don’t take the additional step of convincing myself as to the thinking of Jehovah himself that underlies it, as revealed in his word, and how that actually applies to my own individual circumstances, what have I really done? I am no longer putting faith in Jehovah, but rather in men. Thinking independently of Jehovah is the real danger, according to the whole theme of the Bible itself, yet in actuality, isn’t that exactly what I’m doing if I relegate my understanding of Jehovah’s thinking to someone else, and simply take their word as to how it all probably applies to me? Worse yet, I may actually be elevating the word of men above that of Jehovah — not unlike the Jews of Jesus day whom he rightfully accused of elevating their own customs and traditions above the word of God.

Perhaps the organization believes that, regardless of where I put my faith, I am being “safeguarded” simply by listening to them, but such thinking is misguided. Faith in Jehovah means doing my best to bring my own thoughts and actions into line with Jehovah’s thinking, and not any man’s, because I have reasoned things out and concluded that his ways really are the best. That is the real and only safeguard.

The scriptures are full of exhortations that show us we must cultivate thinking ability. We must serve God with our whole mind, not someone else’s. We render sacred service with our power of reason. While I’m sure the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses does not intentionally mean to undermine this, the culture that I have seen evolving among congregation elders, and trickling down to the rest of the congregation members today, is at times beginning to resemble that of the Jew’s view of their Talmud, their own complex and voluminous collection of reasonings on the scriptures by their most learned and respected men. That is to say, everything published by the Watchtower Society, along with anything else issued from the platform is frequently treated as though it should automatically have weight equal to that of God-inspired scripture, and that simply can never be so.

As I said earlier, I have noted this growing trend for years, and it is something that concerned me all the while I was able to be an active member of the Christian congregation. The issue goes far beyond my own personal circumstances (which I have discussed in sore detail in other articles).

Recently, of course, I’ve obviously given this more thought from the standpoint of living as a transgender Christian. Jehovah’s thinking, as best as I can sincerely comprehend it from the scriptures, has room for those like myself. I absolutely have been willing to listen to alternative views with an open mind, but none of the brothers I have dealt with were ever able to present any scriptural reasoning to the contrary. Nor have they ever attempted to address any of the scriptural reasons that I patiently and repeatedly expressed to them as to why I am so strongly convinced I am doing nothing wrong, but rather continuing to live with integrity, to the best of my ability, in the best way possible for me.

Instead, they very religiously rely upon the organization’s relatively few published interpretations on the matter, which appear to be based on little to no application of scripture and some underlying, unsubstantiated and frankly very stale assumptions about transgender persons. That evidently forms the whole basis of their current thinking, and yet for them, it clearly carries sufficient weight to take the very serious next step of removing a person from the Christian congregation.

Sadly, by doing this, they close the door in a very permanent way upon the transgender Christian. I am utterly convinced this is a door that should remain open. What I believe is the appropriate exercise of “independent thinking” — properly rooted in Jehovah’s thoughts as found in the scriptures, but free of the erroneous assumption that every notion the clearly blessed, but still imperfect, human organization has ever put forth is as absolute as Jehovah’s Word itself — continues to lead me to no other conclusion.

The Simple Truth – Why JWs are Absolutely Wrong in their Treament of Transgender Christians

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I haven’t written here in awhile, simply because nothing has really changed. As a “disfellowshipped” Christian, my former friends in the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to have nothing to do with me. As for my daughter, who for just about every reason other than this, I am pleased to say is a happy, active member of the Christian congregation, the only contact I have had with her since she moved out of our home last summer was a recent question about an insurance bill, which apparently was deemed sufficiently “necessary” communication that she could temporarily break her silence with me and not be somehow “sharing” in my “horrible” sin.

However, it occurred to me this morning, that this situation is really far, far simpler than even I have been viewing it in the past. With that in mind, I want to try for a very succinct summary of the problem with JWs view of transgender persons — a twisted and inaccurate view that is sadly shared by various “fundamentalist” Christian groups as well.

It simply comes down to this. As a transgender woman, I was born neither fully female nor fully male, but rather partially both. Yes, the sexual plumbing bits turned out to be more or less male — I was never going to be capable of giving birth to children (lamentably, from my point of view) — only of “fathering” them. That does not in any way diminish the significance of the female parts of me, which in fact turned out to be vastly predominant in pretty much every other way.

There is more and more evidence coming forth in recent years to substantiate the validity of such a claim, but for me personally, having lived the experience, I don’t need scientific studies to tell me it is the truth.

If you accept this truth, then it is plain that the transgender Christian who ultimately comes to terms with their condition by living in accord with the gender that is predominant within themselves is in no way disrespecting their creator, who from a Biblical point of view may not originally have purposed for children to be born with such a condition, but nonetheless has allowed such things to occur since the downfall of Adam and Eve.

The problem is, Jehovah’s Witnesses as an organization, along with various other so-called Christian groups, simply choose to disagree. There is no rationality to it, no basis in medical or scientific research, no credence given to the life experience of the transgender individual. There is not even any sound Biblical basis. The transgender person is simply seen as wrong — wrong about themselves — wrong about their birth condition and life experience — and therefore wrong about living in the way that works best for them, psychologically, emotionally and even physically, when that way happens not to match the Witnesses’ assumptions about the genitalia that person was born with.

For transgender persons who may eventually opt for genital reconstruction, as a means of further correcting what they see as an unpleasant birth defect, the Watchtower instead sides with various other fundamentalist groups who insist on calling such surgery “genital mutilation” instead.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I do not insist that everyone else grasp, accept, or even try to wrap their mind around what it means to be transgender. When opinions lead to seriously negative judgement, however, and potentially to action as adverse as cutting off all association for someone whom you previously claimed to have deep Christian love for, then unsubstantiated opinion alone won’t do anymore. Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christian groups who take such a hard stand against transgender persons have absolutely no basis in fact and no right to say that their opinions are absolute truth, while discarding as irrelevant conclusions that persons like myself have painstakingly drawn based on a lifetime of experiences, available medical and other evidence, and for those Christians among us, even our own consideration of the scriptures.

Transgender Issues, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Bible: Can We Get a Little Clarity Here?

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I want to write about this issue from a different perspective today: there remains a fair amount of confusion in much of the population as a whole about what it even means to be transgender — let alone among the Christian community, as to what a transgender person’s particular moral obligations might really be, from the Bible’s point of view. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses as an organization take a stand that suggests there is no confusion on their part with regard to either of these questions.

All well and good, but in that case, how is it that they are so certain? It’s a fair and honest question, and to be frank, it’s the sort of question many sincere folks have asked Jehovah’s Witnesses about a great many of their beliefs. To their credit, Jehovah’s Witnesses stand ready with very sound Bible-based reasoning to back up the vast majority of everything they teach with surprising clarity. It is one of the things that drew me to them in the first place; a firm reliance upon scripture, as opposed to the interpretations or opinions of men. 

So what about the case of transgender Christians? Jehovah’s Witnesses’ position, at least, appears to be reasonably clear and succinct: no transgender person can become a part of the genuine Christian community (or remain one, if they were previously baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses), unless that person agrees to live outwardly as the gender the Christian congregation expects them to be — essentially meaning their assigned gender at birth — regardless of how wrong that gender may feel to the person, or why.

The brothers that spoke with me indicated that the organization’s viewpoint with respect to a “hermaphrodite” might be different — though they declined to elaborate further on what that viewpoint might actually be. I asked, more than once in fact. As was to become a pattern, I just didn’t get an answer to that question.

That leaves me to wonder, among other things, what their understanding is of what it means to be “hermaphrodite”. Modern medical science has not used the term hermaphrodite for quite some time, and instead today recognizes a broad range of what are now called intersex conditions, which I will sum up, very non-technically, as a wide variety of ways in which gender can be physically observed to be ambiguous at birth. In other words, some physical indicators of both male and female gender are present. Importantly, some of these physical indicators may not even be visible to the naked eye. (As just one of many examples, it is entirely possible for a Y chromosome, generally considered the prime “male” genetic marker, to be present — or else absent — when the sexual organs would appear to indicate the opposite gender.)

But I digress. Even if there is some confusion about what constitutes a “hermaphrodite” or intersex condition to which, at least in theory, the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses might afford a different consideration, the brothers’ viewpoint on what constitutes a transgender person at least, must obviously be clear enough, otherwise, how else could they formulate such an equally clear prescription for the transgender Christian: “You must live in accord with your apparent birth sex. Period.” Right?

Well, maybe not. I am a transgender woman — which to me quite simply means I was born with visibly male parts, but at the same time, with a deep-rooted sense from the earliest age I can recall onward that I was absolutely not a boy, but a girl. Is this their understanding of it? The closest thing I received to an answer was that “they take no stand as to whether I, and other transgender persons like myself, may have been born this way or not.” Hmmmm. That sounds more like uncertainty than certainty. Or else they simply think it doesn’t matter. 

Fine, so then, if that doesn’t matter, the thinking must be that no matter what I’ve felt on the inside from infancy on up, it must somehow be plain to them that God absolutely views me as a man, right? Is this their point of view, and thus, the reason they insist the only acceptable way for me to live is to look, appear, and act as a man?

You might think that it must be, but I could not get an answer to that question either.

Hmmmm…

Does that mean they’re not exactly certain how Jehovah views me? Well, from my understanding of the scriptures, it’s plain that the God of the Bible sees and values the inner person, so I happen to think it’s quite reasonable that even if other people cannot understand it, He first and foremost would be the one to actually know and comprehend my femaleness.

The line of reasoning makes sense to me, but clearly not to the brothers. Why not, though? You guessed it: NO ANSWER!!!!

Double-hmmmm….

I hope any reasonable person can see why this has been so highly frustrating. Still, I kept trying. Ok, well, is there just no way that you brothers can view me as a woman?

“No!”

That response was immediate, clear and emphatic enough.

Then why not?

(– insert dead silence here –)

I believe that is the point at which I essentially gave up. There was a bit more discussion along equally unsatisfying lines, but in the end, regardless of whatever I said or the questions that went unanswered, their unanimous decision was to remove me from the congregation for what they obviously consider a very serious violation of Jehovah God’s standards, despite the fact that nobody was able to clearly explain why they maintain that viewpoint, nor has anyone attempted to do so since.

As best as I can determine — and some educated guessing is involved on my part here, because none of Jehovah’s Witnesses have ever attempted a clear, direct explanation — they essentially rely on Deuteronomy 22:5 in taking this stand concerning transgender persons. Further, to do this, they apply it as follows: Jehovah said it was detestable for a man to wear women’s clothes or vise versa; Even though we’re not under that law as Christians, if Jehovah said something was detestable to him then, there’s no reason to expect God to think differently now, since in his ultimate wisdom as the creator of all things, his views never need to change. Furthermore, in their view, regardless of whatever my own personal experience may be, I am obviously a man, no more, no less; yet I now dress and present myself as a woman. Case closed.

Before I can begin to accept such an argument as sound — sound enough to change my whole life around again based upon it, and head back in a direction that I’ve otherwise come to see as totally improper and damaging for me — here are what I viewed at the time, and continue to view, as legitimate and sincere questions in need of straightforward answers. Assuming Jehovah’s Witnesses are really certain of what they are doing in this regard and why, they really ought to be able to provide me with ready, clear responses:

1. As Christian’s we are not under the law given to Moses, so to use one of the statutes of that law as a basis for the serious step of removing someone from the Christian congregation, there must be some significant discernible principle involved, one that plainly transcends the law, and is clearly applicable to Christians. With respect to Deuteronomy 22:5, the key — and only — scripture relied upon in making any kind of scriptural case for my removal, what is that principle? Surely it is not about anything as trite as the mere wearing of garments. Jesus made it plain that the eating of various foods could not defile a person — and indeed, the dietary restrictions of the law were explicitly noted as being done away with for Christians; how could the mere wearing of a garment of any sort defile a person? The brothers agreed with me on that point, but never answered the question of what they believe the underlying principle to be, or why.

2. Personally, I believe the gist of Deuteronomy 22:5 to be that a person ought not to present themselves as something they are not. (I’m not talking of costume parties or taking on a role for entertainment, such as theater and so on — I’m talking about “faking” something out in the world for real, for purposes that are essentially fraudulent or dishonorable.) In fact, to me, having come to a fuller understanding of myself over time, as a transgender woman, that very principle means I ought not continue to present myself as a male when in fact there is so much more about me — the whole inner person, in fact — that is female. Indeed, to my mind, the very notion of reverting to trying to live as a man now would mean to carry on a sorry pretense, and that is something I think Jehovah would not want me to do.  But I am more interested here in asking what do Jehovah’s Witnesses really think, as opposed to restating for the umpteenth time what I think. With regard what I’ve outlined here, I did ask them to tell me, what they believe is wrong with my thinking? This question also received no response, scriptural or otherwise.

3. To answer to the previous question would of necessity also entail an answer to another question, probably the most fundamental of all, namely, what really is Jehovah’s view of me, and other transgender persons? The brothers made it plain that they personally cannot bring themselves to view me as anything but a man, evidently because they know (or at least believe they know) I was born with some visible, unambiguously male parts — i.e., a penis — and apparently to their way of thinking, nothing else could possibly matter more than that. All well and good — everyone is entitled to their opinion — but the most crucial question which I posed for them, in all earnestness, also remains utterly unaddressed, namely: Do you believe that is also Jehovah’s viewpoint? If so, why? If not, what exactly is it that you believe He thinks? And what scriptures lead you to your conclusion?

These questions all deserve a clear answer, and I cannot emphasize enough how disappointing it has been to have each of them repeatedly ignoredI do not know what else to conclude except that in this particular matter, Jehovah’s Witnesses are themselves, at best, uncertain about the answers.

But if that is really the case, then I would beg this of them: until you can really be certain, one way or the other, stop being unfairly prejudiced in your opinions, because at present your actions are potentially stumbling and harming a good many people who through no fault of their own suffer as I do from a transgender condition.

No Hugs for You!

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I love my daughter more than words can describe. From the day she was born, when she cried after her first bath and I rubbed her tiny feet to soothe her, to today, the day she moved out of our home, at the age of (nearly) twenty-two, I have never stopped loving her.

There have been inevitable trials — teenage uncertainties — the first boyfriend — that boyfriend who as a parent I could just read and know was trouble — and so much more. I have always done my best to guide, comfort, provide and at some of the most frustrating of times, when no amount of parental insight was going to be heard, or heeded, just wait patiently for things to turn around. Through all of it, I have loved her unfailingly. I may have failed in many other things in my life, but never that.

So it hurts more than words can describe to have my oldest child take this bittersweet next step towards her inevitable independence, without even the barest of hugs or a backward glance of affection.

Why? Apparently there can be no affection shown towards a disfellowshipped parent. Is this something that is taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses? Not directly, at least as far as I know, but it is obviously how she’s been made to feel, and to act. I half-teasingly asked her to at least get in touch and let me know about any really big things in her life — if she moves to Uganda, say — or gets married — or has children. She, not teasingly at all said to me: “I’m sorry, but you know I can’t.”

Well, I am very sorry, but I know no such thing. I fear that the people I love — Jehovah’s people — have crossed a dangerous line. In the name of unity, they have developed some customs and practices which, though scripturally-based in spirit at the core, have in practice pushed well past Bible teaching into the realm of man-made customs and rules.

Does it make me what they call an “apostate” to point this out? Many Witnesses would likely unitedly cry out that it does, without regard even to what that term actually means, or whether there is any basis in fact to my observation.

The Bible term apostasy means a turning away from the true God and true worship. I want nothing more than to worship Jehovah in truth. I believe that’s what the overwhelming majority of brothers and sisters who call themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses also want. I point out what I do, not to tear anyone down, or to take away from all the good work that the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses has done and continues to do, but because from all the evidence I can see, there is something seriously wrong right here, with these particular matters, not from my own point of view, but from Jehovah’s as best as I can discern it from the scriptures — and I point it out in this forum because, again apparently in the name of “unity”, no brother or sister will speak about this (or anything else for that matter) with me.

With respect to someone who is bent on carrying on gross practices that Jehovah clearly hates, the scriptures make the admonition to stop associating with that person, to the point of not even taking a meal with them. This certainly makes sense! If I am serious about my love for Jehovah, and you want to basically thumb your nose at my God and reject what He as the foremost judge says is good, why would I ever want to “hang out” with you, or give you even tacit approval? I wouldn’t! Now if that person is a family member, or other loved one, who has taken a seriously wrong turn in their lives, that’s going to be even more painful, but still, the admonition applies. But does that mean no affection can ever be expressed? There’s to be no talking at all? (The scriptures do make a separate distinction concerning one who would “bring a different teaching” counter to the truth of God’s Word into the congregation, that one should not even “say a greeting” to that person. To me, this plainly speaks of a very particular type of offense, essentially outspoken apostasy; however Jehovah’s Witnesses, by custom, seem to also apply this as a blanket rule concerning anyone removed from the congregation for any reason.)

At the age of 19, I found out that my beloved daughter had become addicted to heroin. I am very happy to say that with some firm, persistent help, in time, she turned things completely around, is completely clean, and unlikely to fall into such a snare ever again. However, what if, instead of simply being firm for what I believed was right, while continually reassuring her of my love, I had taken that sort of drastically hands-off approach with her? I seriously doubt things would have turned out so well. Yet, if my daughter were a young baptized witness living on her own at the time of her falling into that sort of trouble, and was disfellowshipped for it, that is exactly the approach the Watchtower would appear to recommend. It’s been suggested in print that it “might be possible to have almost no dealings at all” with a disfellowshipped family member, and that this drastic approach may be the best way to make them see the seriousness of things, and return to Jehovah.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with the Watchtower making that point. It indeed might be possible — and depending on the individual, what they actually were engaged in, and their attitude, it might even be absolutely the right approach to help that person. Tough love, so to speak. The problem only arises when that suggestion rises to the level of a prevailing custom as the one and only allowable way to ever deal with disfellowshipped family members, and then is given weight equal to that of scripture itself. In the name of “unity” all Jehovah’s Witnesses are to treat all disfellowshipped persons the same way all the time. Period. Those who are seen to do otherwise could be subject to suspicious scrutiny themselves, and may even find themselves in front of a judicial committee at risk of being put out of the congregation. To go that far does not have a basis that I can find in scripture, nor does the notion of “one-size-fits-all” treatment mesh at all with the sense I get of the insightful compassion behind Jehovah’s and Jesus’ dealings with people, as recorded in the Bible.

I understand that there may be difficult lines to discern here. Not everyone can know everyone else’s circumstances. For example, if we know a person was removed from the congregation by a judicial committee, and we don’t know any of the details, we probably are not in a great position to make any assumptions about that person’s attitude, etc. A faithful brother or sister will want to assume that the judicial committee acted appropriately, that the person was removed with good reason, and until shown otherwise, is therefore at the very least not a “good associate”. Even if we do know more — as we are most likely to with family members — we still wouldn’t want to treat things lightly. Do these considerations, however, mean that the disfellowshipped person ought to always be treated as if they were invisible or do not even exist? Because that tends to be more or less the prevailing custom if a disfellowshipped individual attends congregation meetings, for example, or is simply even encountered in public. It is the rare — but very welcome — witness who will afford such a one even an honest glance, or a warm smile that reminds them they are still cared for, or even rarer still, a much-needed word of encouragement. Yet it does not appear to me to be the scriptures that prohibit such potentially helpful and compassionate actions — only the prevailing custom.

The society suggests in its published materials that it is the congregation elders, and they alone, who are in a position to exercise proper discernment in these matters, and thus apparently they alone who are in a position to know how and when to express compassion, if warranted. I suppose that keeps things simple from an organizational perspective, but I cannot see where such a restriction has its basis in scripture, nor does it always work. And even there, it appears, there are more organizational (as opposed to scriptural) rules in place. The brother overseeing my judicial committee expressed to me afterward that he could, if I wanted, provide me with some additional scriptural instruction with respect to my situation — namely being transgendered — but that he couldn’t discuss it with me. I could only say whether the material helped or did not. I said, quite honestly, that I didn’t see how he was going to be able to help me all that much if I couldn’t express to him what parts of which things I was having trouble with — but sure — I’d still look through whatever he had in mind to share with me. After that I never received a thing. It’s been about a year so far. Far, far more insightful compassion is needed.

There is no question that it is a far simpler thing to have rules and customs that can be applied in a blanket way. Far simpler, but not nearly as Christlike. But to “open the gates” to all brothers and sisters exercising Christlike discernment in their dealings will absolutely require more work. And so it seems, for now, no hugs for me.

 

JWs Advice to Transgender Christians: Scriptural View or Added Burden?

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Jehovah’s Witnesses advocate that a transgender christian must live as the gender manifest by their genitalia at birth, and that to do otherwise is an offense against Jehovah. I’ve discussed this from various standpoints here, but today I want to consider one empirical argument against my living as a transgender woman presented by the brothers I spoke with, namely, that somewhere, someone supposedly knew of another transgender (MTF) person who after studying the scriptures ultimately determined that despite whatever they themselves had felt, “Jehovah had made them male” and so they concluded that is the way they needed to try to live to the best of their ability.

It’s impossible to verify such a colloquial story being passed on. However, assuming it’s essentially true in the details, and that this person came to such a determination honestly for themselves, then I wish them every success, and I expect that as long as they are sure of the decision in their own mind, they will be successful.

The reason this is no argument for transgender people in general is that it’s in no way a given that we could all possibly reach that same conclusion. Science is coming to understand that, whatever the causes, transgender individuals are born that way, and like so many other birth conditions, it manifests itself across a wide spectrum. I for one in all honesty could never conclude that Jehovah made me a male. On the contrary, what I can understand in line with Bible truth is that Jehovah allowed me, and others like me, to be born neither fully male nor fully female, but a mix of both.* I expect that many persons like myself would feel similarly. While this was clearly not Jehovah’s intention for mankind according to the scriptures, because of Adam and Eve’s sin, things have been allowed to go awry in many, many ways, and we are left to deal with the consequences. Naturally, even faithful Christians are not immune, and we must in good conscience contend with whatever “hand we have been dealt” to the best of our ability while maintaining integrity to our God.

The good news is that scripturally, it actually is quite clear what I, as a Christian transgender person, absolutely need to do: love Jehovah, with my whole mind and strength, and my neighbor as myself; excercise faith in his son, Jesus Christ; to speak truth; to abstain from blood, fornication, violence and other practices Jehovah hates; to do my best to help others in need, and to keep myself without spot from the world. (Matt 22:37-39; John 3:36; Eph 4:25; Acts 15:28-29; James 1:27)

To go beyond these Biblical requirements is to impose burdens that Jehovah clearly did not intend (Acts 15:28). For anyone to simply conclude that my femaleness is irrelevant (even though it is clear that the inner person and not the outer flesh is what matters most to Jehovah; 1 Sam 16:7; 1 Pet 3:4; John 6:63) and living in accord with it must therefore be a blemish of “worldly desire” and a practice that Jehovah hates, is not merely a matter of opinion, but utterly inappropriate. Pointing to a single statute in the law given to Moses pertaining to expectations of “able-bodied men” and “women” as justification for such a viewpoint (Deut 22:5) does not hold up to scriptural scrutiny. That law was done away with for a purpose; it was a perfect law which imperfect people could never fully live up to, a tutor leading to Christ (Gal 3:19-25); therefore it did not even attempt to address Jehovah’s view of someone born partially male and partially female, which situation was never meant to exist, but does. I can find nothing whatsoever in the law of the Christ, nor in the whole of scripture, that negates the absolute legitimacy of anything I have outlined here.

Finally, as Christians, we know society is not our measuring stick — this world accepts, even promotes, many things in opposition to Jehovah — but it remains a consideration, for where something is not defiled in itself, yet has the potential to stumble others, we as Christians must in good conscience take that into consideration as well (Ro 1:13-15). Fifty years ago, even if it might have been healthy, mentally and otherwise, for a transgender person like myself to free themselves from the burden of having to constantly hide their true inner identity, society as a whole would have had a problem with it. Today, while there are certainly places that remains true, the cultural shift is undeniable. By and large, the majority of people today are much more likely to be stumbled by a stubborn refusal to accept what society now does, namely, the legitimacy of a transgender person’s identity. If that refusal really were in line with Jehovah’s thinking as outlined in the scriptures, the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses would remain justified in their stand, but I cannot see how that is the case.

In short, it seems clear to me that the earthly organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ present viewpoint and treatment of transgender persons presents a huge man-made burden that may ultimately prove insurmountable for the transgender Christian. It certainly has been so in my case, leading to my being cut off from all association with the congregation, which in itself presents a significant added burden. All of this presents a needless stumbling block for the transgender person, their family, and others.  I believe any clear-thinking person open to an honest consideration of all the available evidence, scriptural and otherwise, would have to arrive at the same conclusions. It’s not my intention to cause dissent, however, it is my fervent hope that this might eventually reach the ear of some in the organization who are in a position to give the matter much-needed prayerful attention.

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*(People classify gender at birth based on the organs that developed in the womb. Looking at it that way, I’m really not asking anyone to judge differently in my case — I’m simply pointing out that they ought to consider ALL of the organs. While my reproductive system came out essentially male at birth, my brain — a vital organ that cannot be ignored — absolutely came out female. There were other physical characteristics pointing to this mixed state as well, especially during and after puberty, but to me nothing trumps the significance of the mind itself, which in my case knew it was female from as early an age as I can remember.)

 

A Matter of Integrity

I my last discussion, I implied that my choice, my decision to suffer one set of consequences over another was a matter of Christian integrity. To understand why, it’s helpful to consider a historical Biblical view of God’s chosen people over the years.

In the pre-Christian era, when Jehovah was using the nation of Israel, faithful Israelites were obligated to be obedient to Jehovah’s earthly arrangement. Of course, at times  there was much that the leaders of Israel did, and led the people to do, that was clearly wrong. To the extent that any individual knew what their leaders were telling them to do was against Jehovah’s principles, those people surely bore responsibility for their own actions. They should not have gone along. They should have known better.

Of course, it can be argued that many of those leaders, according to the scriptures, proved to be ill-motivated, unfaithful men, blatantly disobedient to God. Jehovah has done a great deal to cleanse his organization today of such influences. I readily agree that from the members of the governing body on down, the vast majority of those taking the lead in his organization today are genuinely faithful – and in case any are not, he does not allow such a situation to remain for long – still, not one of them is yet perfect. Nor can the organization itself – the earthly part – be perfect. Not yet. For that reason, it may be more illustrative of my point to consider the example of David,  a foremost example of someone deemed faithful by Jehovah.

Even after David’s terrible lapse of judgement concerning the wife of Uriah, Jehovah later on showed he viewed David as faithful, a man “agreeable to his heart”. Yet at the time when David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then ordered his army chief Joab to place Uriah on the front lines of battle and draw back, allowing him to be killed, that was surely a terribly harmful lapse on the part of this faithful man. Did Joab wonder at all about this order? The scriptures don’t say, other than to report that he carried it out. Other men besides Uriah also lost their lives as a result. Was Joab merely acting out of loyalty to Jehovah’s appointed king, by not questioning that order? Perhaps! Yet clearly, Joab bears some of the guilt for that action. It should have been very obvious to him that, despite it being the command of Jehovah’s appointed king, something inconsistent with Jehovah’s principles — in this case, outright murder — was going on. Joab should have questioned what he was being told to do. Obedience to those appointed by Jehovah is always relative to our obedience to Jehovah himself.

So it is with obedience to the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses today. “Be obedient to those taking the lead among you.” Yes. But never unthinkingly, and never without regarding Jehovah’s viewpoint as above that of any man. What then, if a brother, an overseer, a member of the governing body, or the printed pages of the Watchtower, should say something that to our minds does not exactly seem to be in sync with Jehovah’s thinking, according to our current understanding of the scriptures?

Of course there is good reason to give those taking the lead the benefit of the doubt. If the point of difference seems important enough to us, we’ll want to ponder the matter further, prayerfully searching the scriptures, maybe even discretely bringing our questions to one of the elders, or another mature Christian. In the process, it’s likely that we’ll refine our own understanding. If after that, we still don’t grasp the point for ourselves in the same way as it’s being presented, sometimes – perhaps often – it will be the case that we can just let it go for the time being. After all, regardless of which understanding might actually be more “correct,” we have little reason to suspect ill motives on the parts of our brothers, and especially the organization as a whole.

So there is a lot to be said for simply acting in unity, and as long as the difference is relatively benign, we can tuck the question away in our own hearts, so-to-speak. If it’s truly important, Jehovah will settle it in time. But should we just disregard the question? Especially if to us it seems more of a critical matter? If we have given the matter our own faithful consideration, and that has not resolved the difference in our own minds and hearts, then absolutely not! No one is served by pretending, to ourselves or others, that any of these men, or the organization they are charged with directing, is perfect, incapable of ever taking any misstep or holding a wrong point of view! Mistakes can and will happen. Some are harmless, of course, while others can and do prove damaging – harming, or even contributing to the stumbling of others. Pretending that this cannot and does not ever happen serves no one, and goes counter to a love of truth.

I’m in no way suggesting giving ear to the railing of apostates – those who have turned against Jehovah and actively oppose the organization he is using – who may well try to use, twist, or even invent such sorts of things to poison others against the truth. It’s not difficult to detect the ill motives of such a person. On the other hand, when genuine errors arise, in either teaching or action, the prevailing pretense I have seen time and again in evidence among many brothers and sisters is that in the name of unity we must somehow all speak and act as though there could never be any fault or doubt laid upon anything the organization ever says or does.

That, however, is a distinction belonging only to Jehovah himself. He alone is faultless. To hold such a viewpoint towards men, even the obviously faithful men charged with oversight of his earthly organization, is utterly misguided. It does not reflect loyalty to Jehovah. Holding forth such a viewpoint only serves to heap more pain and hurt on top of whatever damage some particular error may have already caused.

And so it currently is with a consideration of the plight of transgender persons. So many otherwise faithful witnesses flee from any genuine consideration of the subject. I’m not talking about closing one’s ears to any vehemence, blame or bitter vitriol targeted at the organization by apostates and those seeking to oppose Jehovah’s organization and Jehovah himself, whether on account of this or any other subject. I’m simply talking about an honest consideration of all the presently-known facts about what it means to be transgender, as well as the body of actual scriptural principles that bear on how Jehovah himself is likely to view such an individual, and what is clearly expected of them from a scriptural standpoint, in contrast to the added burden the organization currently asks them to bear.

In this case, it seems to me that no one in the organization itself has been willing to consider whether there might not well be a significant difference between those two things – Jehovah’s thinking and expectations as outlined by the scriptures vs. those of the men taking the lead in his organization. The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, thus far, certainly has not. I don’t come to this conclusion because I have a different opinion. It’s true that my long-term and ongoing consideration of all the scriptural principles that seem to me to be involved has led me to an understanding that differs from what the organization and the elders keep telling me. But I conclude what I do – that the organization has not yet given this subject their serious enough consideration – mainly because at no time either before or since my being disfellowshipped, was any brother able to present me any substantial scriptural argument to explain their insistent belief that what I am doing is simply wrong. No substantial consideration has been published by the society, and what little has been published is very dated – not at all taking into account modern understanding of the condition itself – but more importantly, it is also exceedingly light on any application of scripture.

Individual Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves therefore seem unlikely to give the matter much serious consideration for themselves – most are satisfied to readily accept the organization’s stand and loyally support it – not entirely unlike Joab, who I imagine would not have been prone to pondering the correctness of whatever his king instructed him to do.

I have not had that sort of luxury. The matter of how a transgender person can or cannot live and be pleasing to Jehovah is essential to me, whereas to the vast majority of Witnesses, it is not. I was born neither completely female nor fully male. This is not a contradiction of Genesis (“God made them male and female”) but merely another fact of inherited imperfection. Like many other birth defects, it’s not something Jehovah intended, but it does happen. Neither sex nor gender are as simply determined as once thought: it is not merely a matter of a single chromosome — there are cases of XX males and XY females, as well as a number of other known aberrant variations; physically-observable cases of mixed gender (intersex conditions) regularly occur (estimates range from 1 in 1000 live births to 1 in 100, or even greater, depending on the definitions pediatric “experts” use to determine sexual “ambiguity”); and whether physically observable characteristics are present at birth or not, a growing body of evidence overwhelmingly suggests that some people are born with a male-wired brain in a predominantly female body, others with a female-wired brain in a fundamentally male body.

In my case, there are those who simply insist that I must be a “man” because my body mostly came out looking that way at birth – even though my brain says otherwise, and has from the earliest age I can remember. They are entitled to their opinion. The only thing I do not find a basis for in scripture is the stubborn insistence that their opinion must also be Jehovah’s opinion, and must therefore guide how I act, look, and present myself to the world. There, in fact, I only find basis for the reverse: Jehovah sees what the heart is; the body is of no use at all; serve Jehovah with your whole mind … and so on.

Yet the organization, the elders, and by extension, the rest of the congregation, continue to insist the only way I can ever please Jehovah is to live and look like a man. Because I could no longer honestly continue to do so – to live in accord with a small bit of the outside that was so seriously out of harmony with the inside (a state so many transgender persons eventually find themselves in) I have been removed from the congregation as a presumably wicked person, acting in opposition to Jehovah.

I have repeatedly searched the scriptures, both before and since, to see where my understanding on this might be wrong. I have found nothing to support the viewpoint of Jehovah’s organization in this matter, neither were any of the elders involved able to present anything. Really, the only even mildly-compelling argument the brothers were ever able to present is that it would be good, and humble, and submissive – even if they themselves happen to wrong about this (their own words) – to do my best to still be obedient to those taking the lead. I would even agree with that reasoning – if I could do so in good conscience. But that, I cannot do.

Never mind the fact that I fell into a deep depression over the course of many years, culminating in near-total shutdown, to the point of barely functioning as a human being. Never mind the fact that I began to see death as a viable, perhaps even desirable option. All that could be overcome – I am confident that Jehovah gives power beyond what is normal to those acting out of faith towards him. The problem is the only faithful choice I can make in this matter is to do my best now to live honestly as what I really am! I know I am not a man putting on women’s clothes – I am a woman (at least I am so to a very much greater extent than I have ever been a man, especially where it matters most, which is in my inner being, in my mind and heart) – I just happen to have been born partially male, a discontinuity that has caused unfortunate problems throughout my entire life.

I know there are some who cannot understand this. I do not blame them. It’s challenging enough to comprehend it myself, having lived with the experience. I don’t expect others to ever fully understand it. Neither do I have any desire to “stumble” anyone. Some have expressed the opinion that if only for the sake of others, I should really have just gone on living as the male “shell,” with no one else ever having to know, and that would have been the kindest thing I could have done for all those around me, all my friends in the congregation, and my children in particular.

That, in essence, is what Jehovah’s Witnesses suggest that I must go back to doing, in order to be “forgiven” and accepted. But the truth is, my living in a shut-down near vegetative state was no kindness to anyone. Terminating my own existence, which was beginning to seem preferable to the deepest of the depression, would have been the ultimate selfishness. Living honestly now as who I am presents its own challenges too, but it is proving far better than either of the above choices, and in this state, at least I am have something to offer others again. Dead or mentally and emotionally comatose, I would have nothing left to give to anyone.

Finally – and in many ways, most importantly – were I to nevertheless attempt what feels so utterly impossible and wrong – to go back to living in accord with the flesh (speaking literally in this case, of those incongruous male bits I was born with), if only for the sake of “being obedient” to those taking the lead, not only would I be expected to silently endure whatever ongoing suffering that choice continued to cause me (and those around me), but I would be expected to be fully supportive of the organization’s stance. I would need to be willing to tell others like myself that this is the only way to please God: keep pretending, and don’t ever let anyone see who you really are on the inside, because Deuteronomy 22:5 obviously indicates doing so would be disgusting to Jehovah.

Unfortunately, as far as I have ever been able to determine, that viewpoint is far from being sound scriptural truth, and the ramifications are far from benign. It’s a viewpoint with the clear potential to stumble and harm others, especially other transgender persons like myself. Therefore this choice comes down to a matter of integrity for me. In regard to this, I cannot obey the brothers. Jehovah comes first.

If Joab had disobeyed the king’s order regarding Uriah, he might well have been put to death for it. That does not mean that he shouldn’t have still put Jehovah’s principles first, and accepted whatever suffering that decision might have brought his way. I am not comparing David’s motives in that instance to the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I believe they think they are doing the right thing, and their motives are pure. I’m simply pointing out the similarity with regard to the type of choice involved, of whom I must obey and why, regardless of the consequences.

Thus the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses has removed me from the congregation – and they will not allow other transgender persons like myself into the congregation – on the basis of a single specific law about clothing (Deut. 22:5), a law that Jehovah himself has repealed – and their assumptions regarding what the one-time existence of that law implies about Jehovah’s view of persons unfortunate enough to be born of mixed gender, and thus, what he must expect of such persons today. In all this time, they have not brought one single thing to my consideration that would contradict the body of evidence I see, both scriptural and otherwise, which tells me that in this case their assumptions are fundamentally flawed. There is no disloyalty intended on my part, certainly not towards Jehovah, nor towards the organization I believe he is using. However, the consequences of their viewpoint in this matter are not so insignificant that I can in good conscience ignore what I perceive to be a harmful error.

Terms of Confinement

I could never control who or what I am — a woman unfortunate enough to be born into a mostly visibly male body. There is, however, one thing over which it seems I have always had some measure of choice: the terms of my confinement. Today, I have essentially traded one sort of imprisonment — having locked my genuine self away for many years in favor of presenting the “male” face that society, from my earliest years, showed me that it “expected” of me — for another type of sentence. Now that the person I have always been on the inside is finally free to be herself, she is cut off from any contact with many of her closest and dearest long-time friends and associates, the majority of whom are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The question arises, why have I made this choice? Some who have expressed questions along these lines to me, appear inclined to view my decision as a “selfish” one. I could go on about the growing cumulative negative impact of my former course on my own life, and my psychological and emotional well-being, along with the impact that had on those around me. Those of a different opinion sometimes go on about all the apparent “positive” impact I was able to have, perhaps on them, or my family, or others with whom I was associated (and can no longer be), all the while that I was managing to present myself in a way that met their expectations. The fact is, weighing the choice cannot be all about me, nor is it all about them. It’s also about what is right, and what is wrong — which course is most honest and true, and which a matter of pretense — and which has the greatest potential to help or harm, not just myself, but other fellow humans.

In this last regard, I know full well that my fellow Christian brothers and sisters are inclined to automatically conclude that any course recommended by the “faithful and descreet slave”, the governing body of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, can only ever be helpful, and so any choice that appears to go against such a recommendation (such as mine) can only ever be harmful. I will be the first to agree that the brothers serving in this capacity are (1) faithful, and (2) genuinely motivated to keep their decisions in line with Jehovah’s thinking, as expressed in the scriptures. However, I also believe they would be first to admit that despite their best efforts, they remain, as the rest of humanity, imperfect. And while brothers and sisters by and large recognize this in theory, the tendency exists, in the name of “unity,” to overlook this small, but significant fact.

No human being can live his or her life to any extent without eventually causing some harm. We all do it, hopefully most often unintentionally. It is part of being the imperfect creatures that we are. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that when such harm comes, we can at least say that the actions leading up to it were well-motivated. It is in many ways remarkable that Jehovah has used humans throughout the centuries to carry out his will – he dignifies us by giving us the privilege of serving him in our imperfect state – and he has enabled both the individuals and nations that have had his blessing to accomplish many great things. He has also refined both individuals and nations who have proven faithful so that they can better accomplish his will. None of this means that we have ever been able to expect perfection of humans, not even those whom Jehovah so clearly seems to be blessing.

If this is true of us as individuals, it is surely no less true of us in groups. There can be no such thing as a perfect human organization – not prior to the end of this system of things and Jehovah’s setting straight of inherited sin once and for all – if such perfection were possible, that would contradict the whole theme of scripture itself!  Even with Jehovah’s blessing, the ancient nation of Israel could not prove to be perfect in its day, and neither can the spirit-directed organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses today.

Often, in the name of peace, love and unity, any perceived mistakes, especially ones that are clearly not ill-motivated, can be overlooked. Things can be smoothed over. It is a testament to the genuine Christian love practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses as a whole that this tends to be the order of the day, in dealings between individuals, as well as any minor questions that might arise about some direction coming from those taking the lead in the Christian congregation.

Sometimes, however, the consequences are more serious, the issue a deeper one of integrity and conscience. My situation, for me, has been such a case. Understanding why is at the core of understanding my choices. I’ll go into more detail in my next post.