Every year at the conclusion of Christian ethics class here at Southern Seminary, I give my students a final ethical situation to answer for their final examination. They are graded not on their conclusion, but on how they arrived there. The question below is this year’s dilemma. They’ll answer, and then we’ll discuss it communally as a class on Thursday. Here it is:
This question takes place sometime in the future, in your ministry.
Joan is a fifty year-old woman who has been visiting your church for a little over a year. She sits on the third row from the back, and usually exits during the closing hymn, often with tears in her eyes. Joan approaches you after the service on Sunday to tell you that she wants to follow Jesus as her Lord.
You ask Joan a series of diagnostic questions about her faith, and it is clear she understands the gospel. She still seems distressed though. When you ask if she’s repented of her sin, she starts to cry and grit her teeth.
“I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know how…I don’t know where to start…Can I meet with you privately?”
You, Joan, and a godly Titus 2-type women’s ministry leader in your church meet in your office right away, and Joan tells you her story.
She wasn’t born Joan. She was born John. From early on in John’s life, though, he felt as though he was “a woman trapped in a man’s body.” Joan says, “I don’t mean to repeat that old shopworn cliché, but it really is what I felt like.”
Joan tells you that when she was twenty she began the process of “transitioning” from life as a man to life as a woman. She underwent extensive hormone therapy, followed by extensive plastic surgery—including so-called “gender reassignment surgery.” She has lived for the past thirty years—physically and socially—as a woman.
“I want to do whatever it takes to follow Jesus,” Joan tells you. “I want to repent…I just, I don’t know how to do it.”
“I am surgically now a woman. I’ve taken hormones that give me the appearance and physical makeup of a woman,” she says. “Even if I were to put on a suit and tie right now, I’d just look like a woman with a suit and tie. Not to mention the fact that, well, I am physically…a woman.”
“To complicate matters further,” Joan says through tears, “I adopted my daughter, Clarissa, when she was eight months old and she’s ten years old now. She doesn’t know about my past life as…as a man. She just knows me as her Mom.”
“I know the sex change surgery was wrong. I know that my life is twisted. I’m willing to do whatever Jesus would have me to do to make it right,” she says. “But what would Jesus have me to do?”
Joan asks you, “Am I too messed up to repent and be saved? If not, what does it mean for me to repent and live my life as a follower of Jesus? What is right for me to do?”
Show me, step-by-step, what you would say to Joan. Show me what you would tell her to do, short-term and long-term, and show me why in terms of a Christian ethic. Use Scripture, Christian theology, and wisdom to demonstrate not just your final decisions, but how you arrived at them.
You may use any resource that would be available to you in a real life pastoral situation. This includes Holy Scripture, books, articles, and the seeking of outside counsel from others.
Furthermore, show me how you would lead the rest of your congregation to think through and act in this situation with the mind of Christ.