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Transsexualism: Religious Aspects (1978)

Transsexualism: Religious Aspects (1978)

©1977 by Erickson Educational Association, 1993 by American Educational Gender Information Service, Inc., 2013 by Gender Education & Advocacy, Inc.

Source: Transsexualism: Religious Aspects. (1978). Baton Rouge, LA: Erickson Educational Association.




In the 1970s the Erickson Educational Foundation produced a series of booklets about transsexualism. Rights eventually came to my nonprofit American Educational Gender Information Service, and, in the early 1990s, we reprinted and distributed this and some of the other booklets.

Please keep this in mind: Transsexualism: Religious Aspects was published in 1978. Knowledge of transsexualism was limited and the medical treatment model prevailed. Things are quite different now. Nonetheless, it’s still a good read.


Transsexualism: Religious Aspects (1993 AEGIS Printing) (PDF)



Religious Aspects

Fourth Printing-1993: American Educational Gender information Service, inc.

Third Printing— 1986: J2CP information Services

Second Printing—1982: JANUS information Facility

First Printing— 1978: Erickson Educational Foundation



Many transsexuals, both those who have undergone surgery and those who are preparing for it, have expressed a vital concern as to the views of their clergy on the transsexual condition and its amendment by means of the sex reassignment operation. In their interest, Erickson Educational Foundation has canvassed a number of distinguished clergymen of various faiths who have generously agreed to share with us their conscientious reflections on the religious and ethical aspects of this question. In every case, their viewpoints have been enriched by personal experience in counseling transsexuals or members of other sexual minorities.

Since transsexualism has come to general attention only during the past 30 or so years, many churches have not yet formulated any official positions on the subject. Therefore, we wish to stress, on behalf of those clergymen whose statements on transsexualism are quoted in these pages, that their statements represent only the individual interpretations, within the context of thought of the churches they serve, of the pastors themselves. Nevertheless, we believe that the transsexual who is seeking religious guidance may find help and comfort in the fact that clergymen representing a wide spectrum of sectarian belief have given such careful and compassionate considerations to their problems as these statements deeply reflect.



Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

Table of Contents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  iii

INTRODUCTION . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  1

STATEMENTS BY CLERGY . . . . . . . . .5

Non-Denominational . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

Denominational . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9

Baptist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

Catholic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   10

Christian Scientist . . . . . . . . . . . .  12

Episcopal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

Jewish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

Lutheran . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17

Presbyterian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18

BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  20



Most men, regardless of sect, profess to believe that their God is a merciful God. Surely, then, it is enjoined upon man that he be compassionate, in imitation of his God. Yet, in practice, many of us unconsciously set limits to our compassion. The lines are generally drawn where we are confronted with a way of life that is seemingly so alien to our own that fear of the unknown leads us into harsh judgments of our fellow man. If we confuse difference with separation, we are forgetting that all men are manifestations of the one God, and that no man may be set outside the human pale. Even before Jesus, the Roman author Terence said: “I am a man; nothing human is alien to me.” If each individual is sacred to God, we might do well to perfect ourselves in the recognition of God’s likeness in every one of our fellow men.

The natural by-product of ignorance is prejudice, and the only antidote for the disease of prejudice is knowledge. Both scientific knowledge and religious, or humanistic, awareness offer means by which prejudice against the transsexual may be dispelled. Specialists in the physical and psychological sciences have long agreed, and offered convincing proofs to this effect, that masculinity and femininity are not opposites, but related polarities along the spectrum of human qualities. Our masculine or feminine identity is never so unambiguous as “common sense” may suppose.

Even if we are not scientifically inclined, each of us can prove this truth for himself. Look inward: honest introspection easily reveals that any one of us has some interests, characteristics, preferences and tendencies we may normally regard as properly belonging to the opposite sex. The current revolution in sexual roles, where our absolute definitions of masculine and feminine have begun to break down and shade into each other, reflects our growing awareness of this inner complexity.

Our bodies, too, will bear this out, for it is quite apparent that to some degree we all carry the characteristic physiognomy of the “opposite” sex.

We have only to intensify, by many magnifications, the sense of discomfort our own slight conflicts in sexual identity produce, to begin to understand the motivation of the transsexual to resolve a conflict that is absolute, and that hampers at every turn his desire for a fulfilled life.

Some persons who sincerely believe that they object to sex reassignment surgery on moral grounds may concede that the highest morality lies in providing relief from suffering, yet deny the right to this relief to the transsexual. These same individuals may hold that suicide is a mortal sin, while refusing to recognize that the transsexual who does not obtain medical help may well, in his desperation, choose death as the only alternative to his radical alienation from life.

Most religious philosophies affirm that the goal of life lived within a religious context is totally functioning, fulfilled man—man alive. The realization of the integrity, the wholeness, of each individual is his inalienable right before man and God. The transsexual, torn by the conflict between his physique and his psyche, often miserably able to function even on a minimal level, Let alone to fulfill his unique individual talents and contribute them to society, knows he can claim this God-given right, now that there is expert professional help available to him. Who would deny his suffering fellow man such help on moral grounds?

The spiritual integrity of the transsexual requires that his physique be adjusted to his inner sense of self. Since we no longer equate physical alteration with mutilation in the case of most surgical procedures, can we not apply the same standard of judgment to sex reassignment? Then we may more readily acknowledge that a spirit in conflict with the body is justified in claiming the right to be freed from this handicap.

The philosopher of religion, Alan Watts, in one of his many publications, The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, discusses the basis of this claim to self-realization. “Every individual is a unique manifestation of the Whole, as every branch is a particular outreaching of the tree…. Thus the soul is not in the body, but the body in the soul…. [The individual] may be seen… as one particular focal point at which the whole universe expresses itself…. This view retains and, indeed, amplifies our apprehension that the individual is in some way sacred.” In other words, the transsexual is as sacred as all others in the expression of the mystery of God’s universe.

It is in behalf of the right to fulfillment of the sacred individuality of the transsexual, and in the highest traditions of morality and brotherhood, that the statements by clergy printed herein were made.




Questions about the ethics of sex reassignment are capable of long-winded debate but they come down in the end to the conservative view that sex change is inherently wrong as such or to the liberal view that it is the right thing to do if and when its results are sufficiently beneficial to justify its costs.

The classical and traditional view in the mainstream of religious ethics, especially Catholic moral theology, has been conservative.    Its doctrine has been that our sexual faculties are “final,” meaning given in nature and therefore subject to no human control or alteration.

Against this there has always been a countervailing humanism, a more liberal opinion. This liberality has increased its following steadily, and I endorse it.

Whether any medical or surgical procedure is right or wrong is not to be decided by a priori moral principles and casuistry but the human needs of happiness and psychophysical well-being. In short, ethical problems about what is wrong or what is right are to be settled clinically, according to each case and its factors.

Sex changes can be not only right permissively but positively good. It depends upon the case, the situation. It is no more right or wrong, as such, than any other form of chemotherapy and plastic surgery. The only weighty objection in principle would be aesthetic, not ethical, and as a question of taste such disapproval would be entirely subjec­tive and personal—not in the order of moral objection at all.

Rev. Dr. Joseph Fletcher

Visiting Professor, Medical Ethics

University of Virginia School of Medicine

* * *

Sexuality is a deeply integrated and extremely complex dynamic of personhood and as such is intrinsically related to one’s sense of identity and authenticity. The gender identity of most persons is quite consistent with their understand­ing of their personhood, but for others there is a great disparity between the two. Thus the trans­sexual is similar to all persons who seek congruen­cy and authenticity… to all who seek to break the bonds of phoniness. The transsexual struggles to have consistency of gender identity and personhood.

The churches’ commitment to authenticity and acceptance is challenged by the transsexual. What shall be the response? Will we “game play” or should we not, in faith, struggle together in the reality of the present world depending on a gracious and loving God to minister to and through all persons seeking grace and fulfillment, especially the transsexual.

Rev. G. William Sheek

Director, Family Ministries and Human Sexuality

National Council of Churches

 * * *

Recently we have seen an urgent need to promote organ transplants in order to improve upon life expectancy. The heart, kidney, and other vital organs are being miraculously used to foster life for many persons. However, when we consider altering the sexual organs, there is generally a moralistic value injected that is curiously absent from surgical procedures involving other organs of the body.

This brings us to the central question which most transsexuals have to face at one time or another: Does surgery on one’s sexual organs in fact constitute a sin against God?

The Bible emphasizes that the godlike quality in man is God’s own image and not our sexual organs. Some interpret the image of God in man as a reference to our bodily appearance, but I believe it is more of an intangible likeness of God. For God has given man a transcendent nature which is free and limited at the same time. Within this nature man has the opportunity to worship and walk in fellowship with God, but he is still limited to finite conditions. This nature, and not our sexual organs, is what distinguishes us from other creatures.

Therefore, one could question the use of the Bible as a club to inflict unnecessary guilt upon a person considering a change in sexual, identity. Usually, this approach drives a transsexual to denial of faith in God while what is really being rejected is a misuse of the Bible.

James E. Mallory

Chaplain Resident in Pastoral Counseling

Georgia Mental Health Inst. Atlanta, Georgia

 * * *

The Erickson Educational Foundation is to be highly commended for its work in helping transsexual people to understand their problems and to encourage those who wish it to seek sex reassignment through hormonal and surgical techniques. Given our present state of knowledge of the transsexual, it would appear that sex reassignment is the therapy of choice for the transsexual person, as all other approaches seem to fail. In my opin­ion such a procedure is entirely ethical and moral, and I cannot imagine any scientifically and spiri­tually enlightened person taking any other view.

It is my belief that God intends for us to live abundant and self-fulfilling lives, and if sex reassignment better enables the transsexual to achieve this goal in living, then it would seem to me to be positively good.

The Rev. Alvin P. Hart

Associate Chaplain

St. Luke’s Hospital Center

New York City, NY


As a college professor and Southern Baptist clergyman, I am grateful for the work of the Erick­son Educational Foundation. Their pioneer work in cross-gender identification has given hope to many who otherwise would not have access to understanding and acceptance.

As a counselor I have worked with only one transsexual and have seen in his behavior modification a transformation akin to the Christian phenom­enon called conversion or being “born again.”

Answers to life’s complicated problems are not easily found, but abundant life and wholeness seem to be what the gospel is all about. Jesus was not a stone caster. He was always eager to restore health to those who were blind or deaf, or palsied, or taken in the act of adultery.

The helping professions today must strive for a compassion born of understanding and coupled with an intelligence of what we can and cannot do for people. God loves the transsexual as much as anyone else. And He wants us to act responsibly in giving of skills which ‘can aid the transsexual to a more abundant life in this world.

Dr. David Edens

Director Marriage & Family Program

Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri

Pastor, Unity Baptist Church, Fulton, Missouri

 * * *

Transsexualism, or as it is better described today, sex reassignment, opens the door to numerous debates in religious circles concerning its moral and ethical implications. As in all medical cases, science must have the last word. Progress in understanding the evolution and development of man, both mentally and physically, is an ever-increasing manifestation of scientific growth and discovery. Religious leaders, of necessity, must apply their moral teachings and traditions to modern situations only after careful reflection and study. One has only to think of the debate, not so very old, centering around organ transplants and blood trans­fusions to realize the reevaluation religion has had to make in dealing with the wisdom and knowl­edge gained through scientific study and experimen­tation. Sex reassignment will long be a debate in religious circles but open minded religious leaders everywhere will particularly wait for science to show its inner worth. I, for one, feel it is not so much a moral issue as a medical-psychological one.

Rev. Richard C. Messina

Catholic Priest Boston, MA

* * *

The orientation of sexual preference and gender identification is brought about, it would seem, by a complex interplay of genetic tendencies and environmental stimuli. These nature-nuture complexes, such as those that bring about dextral dominance, most often lead to sexual attraction for the opposite sex and gender identification congru­ent with biological makeup.

However, given the range of variability within the human genotype, these normal phenotypic outcomes are not always the case.    Thus homosexuals and transsexuals, as well as left-handers, have always been part of the human scene, perhaps pro­viding, as E. O. Wilson suggests, increased surviv­al capacity for the species as a whole.

I believe that deep religious faith is not incompatible with either of these two variants of human sexuality. If God is color blind, he is also blind to homosexuality and transsexalism when persons who have these orientations attempt to live in a responsible way.

What does a transsexual’s responsibility before God entail? One of two things: either (1) to discover why he or she feels trapped in the body of the wrong sex and, if there are environmental and psychological forces at work, to change these so that one might more readily identify with one’s biological sexual identity, or (2) to undergo surgical gender reassignment when mental reorienta­tion is not recommended or possible.

It might be pointed out that approach (1) occasionally works and should at least be pursued before the irrevocability of surgical gender reas­signment is performed. However (2) should be seen as a responsible option in some cases.

Official Catholic Church teaching would proba­bly oppose surgical gender reassignment, not on the basis of its own merits, but that it inevitably (at least at the present time) leads to sterilization. However, one could make a case that sterilization is a foreseen but unintended side-effect (much like removing a cancerous uterus) and that the operation is therefore in principle congruent even with official Church teaching. Be that as it may, one must still follow one’s conscience in this regard as in all other areas relating to human sexuality and personal and social responsibility.

Whatever transsexuals might decide, they have the right to expect love and acceptance from their clergy who should encourage them to lead lives responsible before God. If there is brokenness or guilt involved, clergy must act as pastors and healers, reconciling those who live in a less than perfect world with God and one another.

Rev. James J. McCartney

OSA Georgetown University

* * *

The Christian Scientist views Divine Love, or God, as the creative principle of the universe, inclusive of man. “Love is impartial and universal in its adaptations and bestowals” writes Mary Baker Eddy in her textbook [2] on Christian Science. These teachings recognize that man and the universe are created in the very image and likeness of God.

Love, the creative force, would never inflict upon a man or a woman an affliction which is indel­ible or unchangeable. Love is caring and cherish­ing in its concern for all its creation.

The way out of any human dilemma is afforded to every child of God. And this way out can best be seen and recognized as a way “over” the adverse human situation, be it expressed as an undesirable character trait, enmeshment in an inappropriate human relationship or entrapment in a chemically imbalanced genetic human body. Love offers an infinite variety of solutions to every adverse human situation and condition. Love offers infi­nite alternatives to its creation, man and the universe, with which to solve that which is seen or recognized as a human dilemma.

The way out—or over—the human need is accom­plished when the individual acknowledges and ac­cepts Divine Love as the very—and only—creative principle of his entire being.

Through regular and consistent prayer and meditation, the individual afflicted with the gender identity problem begins to alter his perspective relative to the problem. Instead of blaming God for creating him abnormal, he would acknowledge God—or Divine Love—as the perfect Creator of a perfect universe, inclusive of him­self.

Naturally, the opposite of this type of affir­mative prayer would only lead to further entrench­ment in the problem. So it is important—vitally important—for those who desire changes in their human situations to be positive in their affirma­tive prayer.

And Love, in its infinite concern for man, would then be known, trusted and felt as a deliver­er from the “snare and noisome pestilence.”

In summary, then, the Christian Scientist recognizes the need to utilize affirmative prayer in ever adverse human situation—a prayer which acknowledges God, or Divine Love as the sole Cre­ator of the universe, a prayer which acknowledges man as created in the very image and likeness of God, and a prayer which trusts Love to be the universal solvent to adverse chemicalization, be it mental or physical.

Man, aligning himself with absolute Love, emerges victorious in his adjustment to every human challenge.

Name withheld by request

 * * *

“Wholeness” seems to have been an important goal in the healing, helping ministry of Jesus. Not only was He eager to restore health to those who were blind, or deaf, or palsied but also He brought a total health to those who were both physically and emotionally distressed. There are many instances in the Gospels which bear upon this point. Surely a familiar one is of the frightened woman, ill for twelve years, who fell at his feet and touched him to receive his words “Daughter be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.” (Luke 8:48).

As a pastoral counselor working particularly with persons who often express anxiety because of their sexuality, I am impressed that responsible leaders in the field of medicine, psychiatry, and other helping professions have not only identified the transsexual male or female but also have devel­oped ways and means to help restore harmony and “wholeness” to an individual who has known much personal and social pain. In my mind, the researchers and others who have labored courageously in this controversial work have been involved in bringing about miracles which turn despair into hope, sorrow into joy and turmoil into peace.

If there are problems in this area of trans­sexualism, they lie in the realm of fear and igno­rance on the part of the great bulk of the popula­tion. But again, ignorance has always, even as it did in the first century, held back the truth and the freedom it brings. As Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” (John 8:32). For a man or a woman to learn the truth about his sexual identity and then to have the support of certain available medical and psycholog­ical services to help bring about the long hoped-for freedom, makes whatever procedures involved seem ethical and moral from a Christian point of view. The hope must be that all Christians may one day know what “wholeness” and “truth” and “freedom” mean to those whose defined identity seems to fall within what we call “transsexalism.”

The Rev. Canon Clinton R. Jones

Christ Church Cathedral

Hartford, Connecticut

* * *

In no way are they or anyone else to blame for the problem. But they should have help to deal with the problem, either to solve it and dissipate it, or to learn to live with it. If the solution for such a person is by sexual reassignment sur­gery, there is nothing in the social code or in the religious value system to condemn him, even if there are representatives of society and religion who are ready to condemn. Certainly they throw no light on what the solution can be.

It is pointless to blame God or the accident of birth or the genetic antecedents for sexual estrangement. What is given, the only factor to consider, is severe psychic damage with, perhaps, a somatic complement. Here, resolution is needed to be or not to be. And there is no pose of responsi­bility in allowing a twinge of conscience to inter­fere or delay the decision. The choice of making the decision must be kept simple, like whether or not we like carrots. No moral structure in this world can force the decision to be complicated. If a solution comes by sexual reassignment surgery, all people of wisdom can truly say, “Thank God!”

Wilford S. Crum

(Deceased July, 1977) Episcopal Chaplain

Manhattan State Hospital Ward’s Island, New York

 * * *

Biblical law as interpreted by the Talmud and subsequent Jewish teachers is both the narrowly behavioristic and broadly moral.

An aspect of the former is the prohibition against castration and related acts, rather consis­tently applied in Jewish law. Transsexual surgery would be included in this category, and hence is an option to be avoided. Additionally, the new sexual status of one who has undergone such surgery is not unequivocally defined; this creates Jewish-legal problems with respect to his or her specific obligations in marital, personal and ritual matters. Hence, Judaism would strongly counsel the avoidance of this option and urge one instead to seek whatever medical and psychiatric therapy may be useful. Of course, this ruling can apply only to Jewish people or to others who accept the Jewish interpretation of Biblical imperatives.

Where proper therapy is unavailing, however, and one does have recourse to the alternative of transsexual surgery, the action may yet qualify as acceptable under the basic principle of Jewish law that “a threat to one’s life or health sets aside” most commandments of the Torah. In the extreme cases where this might be so, the person has acted within Jewish legal provisions and is entitled to full acceptance in his present personhood.

So much for the strict application of the behavioristic aspect of Jewish law. From the standpoint of Judaism’s broader moral outlook, every person beset by genuine human problems, and every person who takes sincere and reverent steps toward their alleviation, is entitled to be judged affirmatively and lovingly by the rest of us, even as he or she must certainly continue to be loved of God.

Rabbi David M. Feldman

 * * *

As a clergyman I support all attempts to enhance the humanity of all peoples. I see in the statements of the Lutheran Church of America no conflict with the services, research and goals of the Erickson Educational Foundation in helping those with the problem of transsexualism begin to find the harmony and wholeness of their being.

Donald Olsen

Lutheran Church of America Center for Dialogue

 * * *

Christian faith proclaims God’s disclosure of acceptance in Jesus of Nazareth, transforms person­al identity, and brings justice to social relation­ships. The life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth persistently speaks in terms of healing physical and emotional anguish, touching and being seen among social outcasts, freeing individuals from the bondage of guilt and frustra­tion regarding the standard picture of who is acceptable in God’s sight and included within God’s unyielding love. Throughout the Gospels, the dominant theme is of a Divine Person actively engaged in bringing wholeness and equality to people who are trapped.

Further, Christian faith asserts that the community formed by the spirit of God visible contains people who find God’s active concern as revealed in the life and message of Jesus of Nazareth presently functioning in their lives. Finally, members of this community of faith discov­er that their encounter with unyielding love enable and compels them to stand between the dehumanizing forces within society and people whose life and hope would otherwise be eliminated. God’s justice calls the church to not only accept the outcast but to stand and identify with the outcast.

In my contact with transsexual people I have seen lifetimes of self-loathing and societal rejection slowly crumble as a result of gender reassignment and hearing the incredible message of God’s unyielding love.  In addition, the discovery that there is a community of people who not only talk about God’s justice, but who demonstrate that justice by accepting the transsexual as a person of God’s love enables the transsexual to transcend the pain of the past and begin a life characterized by joy.

Donald D. Denton, Jr.

Minister, Cutler United Presbyterian Church

Cutler, Indiana



Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Cath­olic Thought.



[1] This is consistent with the sympathetic attitude shown by many American clergymen from the outset. A year after completion of the first sex reassignment operation at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, a sampling of opinions of Baltimore clergymen of various faiths was undertaken. It was reported in the Baltimore Sun, November 23, 1966, that thirteen of the clergymen approved the procedure, while one reserved judgment. This is consistent with the sympathetic attitude shown by many American clergymen from the outset.  A year after completion of the first sex reassignment operation at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, a sampling of opinions of Baltimore clergymen of various faiths was undertaken. It was reported in the Baltimore Sun, November 23, 1966, that thirteen of the clergymen approved the procedure, while one reserved judgment.

[2] Science and Health with Key to Scriptures.