First the Vatican, then the PCA

Lianne wrote a letter to her PCA pastor after the denomination deliberated over signing the Nashville Statement, another Anti-LGBT document which skates over intersex people’s experiences. A few weeks ago it was the Congregation for Catholic Education with its statement. This weekend, the PCA.

We at Intersex and Faith have our work cut out for us. Please consider becoming a regular donor to Intersex and Faith to make it possible for us to free up time to respond to these religious leaders and to complete our curriculum for churches to help church leaders listen to the stories of intersex people of faith, some like Lianne, from their own denominations.

#NashvilleStatement #PCAGA


Last night, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America passed Overture 4, by which they endorsed the Nashville Statement, a document written by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Article VI of the Nashville Statement says that those born with a “physical disorder of sex development” (i.e. intersex),

“should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.”

Article V states, in part,

“We deny that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.”

If self-conception (i.e. gender identity) can play no role, then how does one determine which sex an intersex person is to embrace?

Dr. Denny Burk, the president of CBMW, and one of the primary authors of the Nashville Statement, reduces sex to the presence or absence of a Y chromosome,

An infant with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome is born with female external genitalia and has testes in her abdomen, which, if left in place, will give her a feminizing puberty. She could live her entire life without knowing she has XY chromosomes. How is it Biblical to consider her male rather than a barren woman?

Medical studies suggest that the most reliable way of determining the gender of an intersex child is to wait until they’re old enough to speak and then ask them. Historically, the Church expected intersex people, when old enough, to choose either male or female. That’s what I did. My body’s intersex. I have Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis. I was born with a mix of ovarian and testicular tissue. But some of my cells have a Y chromosome, so Dr. Burk, CBMW, the Nashville Statement—and perhaps now the PCA—would consider me male.

I’ve met hundreds of people with differences of sex development. Understand this—your Nashville Statement drives intersex people away from the Gospel. Historically, doctors have castrated us, surgically assigned us a sex, given us hormones, told us lies, kept secrets from us, and caused us to live in shame—all in the name of your precious binary vision of sex. When you say that we should embrace our sex insofar as it may be known, what we hear is that you approve of the things being done to us to coerce our bodies and our genders.

The PCA General Assembly also passed Overture 42, which establishes a study committee on sexuality. The PCA could clarify their stand on intersex and distance themselves from the approach taken by CBMW. It is rare, however, for Christians who issue pronouncements regarding intersex to actually listen to us before they speak.

If you discover that the reason your teenage daughter hasn’t gotten her period yet is that she has testes in her abdomen rather than ovaries and uterus, will your church insist that she’s really male? Often, the most serious issue for parents isn’t having a child whose sex is ambiguous; it’s maintaining a relationship with a church that doesn’t understand the issues they face.

Intersex and Faith’s mission is to help communities of faith minister to those born with a body outside the male-female binary. Our documentary, Stories of Intersex and Faith addresses how some people reconcile their faith with having a body that’s not entirely male or female. Our small-group curriculum is in beta test.

What if the doctors aren’t sure whether your newborn is male or female? Then contact us. We’ll help you find other parents of similar faith who also have an intersex child.

Rather than suggesting that an intersex child’s sex or gender be coerced based on the presence or absence of a Y chromosome, why not join us in helping those with a difference of sex development to thrive within the PCA?

I’m female in the eyes of God’s law. I hope to remain in good standing with Faith Presbyterian and the PCA.

Thank you,

Lianne Simon

Barren Women and the Nashville Statement

Intersex & Faith, Inc. recently completed a survey of more than 100 of the signatories of the Nashville Statement, asking for clarification of Article 6, especially the call for intersex people to, "embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known."

Historically, doctors have castrated us, surgically assigned us a sex, given us hormones, told us lies, kept secrets from us, and caused us to live in shame—all in the name of their binary vision of sex. So it was easy for some of us to conclude that Article 6 called on us to embrace the evil being done to us.

None of the signatories who responded agreed with that reading. None appeared to be in favor of childhood genital surgeries. In fact, Dr. Denny Burk, one of the architects of the Nashville Statement, opposes them.

Regarding the treatment of intersex cases, we received a variety of replies. Most either said they didn't have enough experience with intersex, or that individual cases merited deeper consideration than a set of rules would allow.

The largest group, however, referred us to the writings of Dr. Burk who appears to reduce the diversity of biological sex to the presence or absence of a Y chromosome.

We included a short questionnaire with our survey. It's available online here. The first question deals with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome:

"Your sixteen-year-old daughter Connie’s a godly young woman. She’s healthy but never got her period. A specialist says that she has Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Although externally she’s a typical female, she has XY chromosomes, and testes in her abdomen rather than ovaries and uterus."

Dr. Denny Burk, on his website (about halfway down the page in the comment section) addresses AIS:

"With AIS, there is an XY chromosomal make-up and the internal organs are still male. It is the external reproductive features that are malformed. This is a tragic, difficult condition, and those who experience it are in need of our compassion, love, and understanding. But that doesn't preclude us from helping them see that they are essentially male in spite of ambiguities in external features."

In his book, What is the Meaning of Sex?, on page 81, Dr. Burk appears to suggest that anyone born with a vagina but with XY chromosomes should be considered male.

"Try to determine as soon as possible the chromosomal makeup of the child. If there is a Y chromosome present, that would strongly militate against raising the child as a female, regardless of the apperance of the genitals or other secondary sex characteristics."

This is certainly different than the commonly-accepted Biblical view or the historical view of the Church regarding how to determine a person's sex. We believe that biblical authors would have identified a woman with CAIS as female, as a barren woman.

Barren women are usually infertile for biological reasons. Often, that is an intersex condition such as Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. It is only recently that the technology became available to determine karyotype (i.e. XX or XY).

A woman with Swyer Syndrome would have a functional vagina and uterus, but no gonads (or penis). Using IVF and a donor egg, some have carried a baby to term. Yet it appears that Dr. Burk--and some of the signatories of the Nashville Statement--would still consider her male because she has a Y chromosome. Again, the Bible would consider her female--a barren woman.

With the continuing debate over the ethics of transgender treatment, I'm astounded that any conservative Christians would take the position that someone born with a vagina and no penis is male, regardless of their genetics.

If you're a Christian and you or your child is intersex, please contact Intersex & Faith and/or liannesimon@yahoo.com.