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Reformers’ wisdom applied to transgender debate

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NASHVILLE (BP) — Amid contemporary discussion of transgenderism, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has helped resurface historic wisdom on gender and sexuality.

While predating by centuries the modern phenomenon of transgenderism, Martin Luther and John Calvin were among Reformers to denounce those who attempted to blur the distinction between men and women — an error dating back to the ancient world.

Union University ethicist C. Ben Mitchell told Baptist Press Luther’s 1522 sermon “The Estate of Marriage” “reads like it could have been preached last Sunday. Would that it was!”

Some aspects of Luther’s sermon likely would not be embraced by 21st-century believers — like his view government should execute adulterers and his counsel that women should be married at age 15-18 and men by 20. Still, many of his foundational principles were timeless.

“Although it might be considered anachronistic to apply Luther’s 16th-century sermon to today’s discussions of transgenderism, the implications are straightforward and clear,” Mitchell, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union, said in written comments. “Luther believed that homosexuality was a perversion of the Creator’s purpose for his embodied human creatures. This would apply no less to transgenderism than to homosexuality.”

Based on Genesis 1:27, Luther argued gender was binary and a gift from God.

“From this passage we may be assured that God divided mankind into two classes, namely male and female, or a he and a she,” Luther said. “This was so pleasing to Him that He Himself called it a good creation.

“Therefore, each one of us must have the kind of body God has created for us. I cannot make myself a woman, nor can you make yourself a man; we do not have that power. But we are exactly as He created us…. Moreover, He wills to have His excellent handiwork honored as His divine creation, and not despised,” Luther said.

Like gender, sexual relations between a husband and wife are “a divine ordinance which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore,” Luther said.

“Just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but creates them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply,” Luther said.

Luther acknowledged some people are physically unable to have children and that some are called by God to singleness and accompanying celibacy, but he claimed the inclination toward marriage between one man and one woman “is a matter of nature and not of choice.”

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