Christian Colleges/Universities and Transgenderism

Greg Strand – November 5, 2013 2 Comments

“A California Christian university,” recently noted, “has asked a professor who was once its chair of theology and philosophy to leave after he came out as transgender.” This was first published through the Religions News Service, and then picked up by Christianity Today, “Transgender Theology Professor Asked to Leave Christian College.” The report states,

Heather Clements taught theology at Azusa Pacific University for 15 years. But this past year, he began referring to himself as H. Adam Ackley. “This year has been a transition from being a mentally ill woman to being a sane, transgendered man,” he said.

One of the reasons for Heather’s “coming out” was that “he accepted his transgender identify earlier this year after the American Psychiatric Association removed ‘gender identity disorder’ from its list of mental illnesses.” In an article written by Heather, she writes of her past and more recent experience,

most of which I spent in treatment with female hormones and psychiatric medications for gender dysphoria and related symptoms of mental illness. Recent changes in diagnosis and treatment of transgender persons, along with a lifetime of research on the theology and biblical understanding of gender, have helped me live as one who is clearly sane by ceasing to fight my transgender-masculine identity. However, this has caused what has become a very public conflict with my employer, one that is being mediated with outside help and cannot be addressed any further here.

One feels deeply with and for Clements in how some of these matters were addressed and the utter exasperation she felt and experienced. However, one must also question whether or not this is the right “prescription to address the ‘problem.’”

As part of her new identity, she concludes there is a broader understanding of the biblical meaning of marriage, viz., “covenantal partnership between human beings”:

I also affirm in my spiritual life and my teaching that faithful sexual partnership grounded in covenant with God and community is sacramental, regardless of the gender of the couple celebrating that grace-filled sacrament. From the perspective of my biblical faith, I believe very much that God pronounces in the creation account in the first biblical book (Genesis) that it is not good for the human (ha’adam, a being not yet divided into two binary genders) to be alone, and that God thus blesses covenantal partnership between human beings. As a transgender person myself, a person who has characteristics of both of the conventional binary genders, I cannot help but embrace this biblical teaching not as a principle that exclusively upholds heterosexuality but as an affirmation of the importance and blessedness of human partnership.

Then through her cultural and contextual lens, Clements claims that since the authors of the Bible were unaware of these sorts of diagnoses, and therefore since it does not address such present-day experiences, it must be reinterpreted.

not having had a cultural category for queer identity and orientation at the time, the broader spiritual principle underlying this teaching wasn’t made explicit in the Bible: We are not made for partnerships that are unnatural for us, in whatever way we are made. For example, we now know that many of us (though not the majority) are made neurologically, genetically, and hormonally “queer”; in other words, some of us are fearfully and wonderfully made with a gender and sexual orientation that falls somewhere in the LGBTQ spectrum from birth. For those of us who are naturally trans* to live as cisgender, and/or for those of us who are only sexually compatible with others gendered most like us, to partner with those we simply can’t would be an “unnatural act” for us, just as performing a homosexual act outside a heterosexual covenant would be “unnatural” for a straight person. Loving one another in the ways that are God-given and natural for each of one of us as we are is the only love that is sacramental.

As most often happens when one’s view of the Bible is prefaced as Clements does, what follows is a reinterpretation of the Bible to support one’s own belief and experience. That is what we hear from Clements.

Another recent example of this occurred at California Baptist University. Domaine Javier, born male and now living  as a transgendered woman, applied to the school as a woman. According to the report,

California Baptist University has rescinded a 24-year-old transgender woman’s acceptance after school officials discovered she had been featured in an MTV True Life episode revealing her transgender identity.

She was accepted to CBU’s nursing program and planned to start classes this month. But in July she received a letter temporarily expelling her for “committing or attempting to engage in fraud or concealing identity,” and presenting false or misleading information during the university’s judicial process, according to the Press-Enterprise of Riverside. Her expulsion was finalized August 30.

“This totally ruined my career path,” Javier told the Press-Enterprise. “I’ve been trying to finish as soon as possible. … I didn’t know [Baptists] were that extreme.”

The most recent update is that “California Baptist University has been sued to a transgender student who was expelled by the academic institute for inaccurately stating that he was female.”

These two recent examples in Christian schools, one a teacher and the other a student, reflect the reinterpretation of the Bible based on the moral tsunami now occurring in our culture. We must stand firmly on the Word of God, “thus says the Lord,” and we must apply it pastorally with wisdom and discernment.

Though these two incidences occurred in Christian Universities, and though they live by different legal requirements than does the church, as pastors and leaders of the church we must prepare God’s people to understand these issues and to know how to respond and engage. We must also prepare our young people to know, understand and live under the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life, including human sexuality. We also must pray for our Christian universities that they will stand firm on God’s truth. And finally we must be prepared as a church to think through these issues and how we ought to live, serve and minister both with and against the grain of this fallen-redeemed-not-yet-glorified existence.

Some of these issues are the reason why we are addressing the theme of “Christian Faithfulness in a Changing Culture” at our upcoming EFCA Theology Conference. Please plan to join us!

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

2 responses to Christian Colleges/Universities and Transgenderism

  1. Kimberly Schroeder November 11, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Hi Greg,
    I was a little disappointed in your coverage and reasoning. Now understand I am not a TEDS grad, but a TEDS dropout. I dropped out in 1989 because no matter what I did my transgender ‘issues’ were not going away. In good conscience I could not accept a life in ministry knowing I was female. My last true attempt to change happened at TEDS with the help of Dr. Alex Masterson who was the director of the counseling program if I remember correctly. He was as sincere in his desire to help as I was to change. I am very grateful in that he helped my depression, but ironically the less depressed I became the more my conviction of being female seemed right. Common wisdom in Christian circles at the time stated that I was a gay male and gender expression was in reality an extreme expression of my homosexuality.
    My skills as a Biblical researcher are quite humble and in no way at the level of most of your readers let alone you yourself. However, I don’t see how you came to your conclusion and claim that you are not seeing an issue through a cultural lens in like manor to that of Ms Clements. I urge to base your conclusion on scripture rather than on her words directly be they right or wrong. Most of us who have transitioned really don’t consider scripture the primary consideration in their transition, however, your readers do. Her quote used as you presented it certainly would strike a sour note in the minds of Bible believers, however, I see no evidence in support your position. In fact I don’t see a Biblical position at all. I submit that there is no coverage of gender-reassignment in scripture at all. I cannot say that was the intent of Ms Clements, but it is a conclusion I consider true. There are some things the Bible is silent on and this is one of them. To be clear I do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture any more. However it becomes an issue for me when those believe in inerrancy and claim to base all things Christian on that criticize another of falling short yet fall prey to the very same in their critique.
    I will be frank; the bible does call anything homosexual sin. I cannot see how revisionists claim otherwise, but the bible manor does NOT call slavery evil. Be that as it may Evangelicals were a driving force in the abolitionist movement and they did not call for reform to that of biblical standard, but called for the practice to be ended as was the case elsewhere in the world. Forgive me, but I am very grateful that these Christians allowed their experience to influence their interpretation of Scripture instead of traditional biblical interpretation.
    In my case I wish to pose a question:
    I am a transitioned MTF and I am married to another woman. I consider myself female. It is a given that I am gay. I am telling you I am because I prefer women and always have. By your definition and based on scripture what do you say I am? Please take a moment to clear your mind of the remarks you just thought of. By all means repeat them you your fellows, but re-read the previous sentence and consider the implications of my question.
    Thank you
    Kimberly Erika Schroeder

    • Thank you for your lengthy comment. I appreciate your openness, honesty and transparency. I also appreciate your explanation of how you understand and live with this, and your understanding of and relation to God’s Word and your experience.

      In the post I was informing readers of some important and noteworthy issues, with a few brief comments. Though those comments were undergirded by my understanding of the Bible, I was not presenting the biblical teaching on the subject matter. For a broader discussion of this – biblically, theologically, culturally, experientially and pastorally – you can see how we approached this at last year’s EFCA Theology Conference.

      Since the comment section is not the best venue to carry on these important discussions, I will leave it here. If you are interested in carrying on this discussion further off-line, I would be glad to do that.


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