Exploring Intersex and Transgender Theology

Dr. Susannah Cornwall

On Friday, September 7, 2012 over fifty people assembled in Sherrill Library at Episcopal Divinity School for a groundbreaking panel on intersex and transgender theologies. The panel was organized in association with the Lincoln Theological Institute and the Boston Theological Institute, and it looked at the implications of intersex conditions and transgender identity for Christian theologies, as well as how intersex and transgender theologies might function in church contexts.  The panel also examined how intersex and transgender experience might change the way theology is taught and learned in university and seminary contexts.

The panel included Dr. Susannah Cornwall (left) of the Lincoln Theological Institute at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, Dr. Megan K. DeFranza from Gordon College, The Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge, the Episcopal chaplain at Boston University, and Iain Stanford, a ThD candidate at Harvard Divinity School. The panel was moderated by The Rev. Dr. Patrick S. Cheng, Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at EDS.

After a welcome from EDS Academic Dean Angela Bauer-Levesque and introductions of the panelists by Professor Cheng, Dr. Cornwall opened the panel with an explanation of intersex people whose physical bodies challenge the binary sex classification of male and female. She then shared quotations drawn from interviews with intersex Christians from a range of denominations in Britain, in which these individuals discuss the interactions between their intersex identity and faith identity.

After Dr. Cornwall spoke, Dr. DeFranza examined the biblical discussions of eunuchs in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and she argued that those passages might help evangelical Christians change their attitudes towards intersex people. The Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge looked at how gender might be considered in connection to the idea of God’s calling, and he explored the framework for constructing a transgender theology around the themes of ambiguity, transformation, and collective embodiment. 

Iain Stanford discussed the most recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church and the passing of a nondiscrimination resolution with respect to gender identity and expression for ordained ministry. He then explored how the issues of gender and sexuality were separated in the conversations in ways that they might not have been.

Dr. Cornwall hoped that the panel would help people to “consider the explicit and implicit assumptions about sexes, genders and sexualities that might exist in their own congregations and other communities.”

“I’d like people to continue asking what it is that renders only some bodies questionable and problematic in our own societies, and who it is that has the power to decide what renders a particular body or gender ‘pathological.’ I'd also like those who are already or are preparing to be in positions of leadership in churches to consider the extent to which an intersex person or a trans person might recognize themselves as a good creation of God in the context of their own church congregation,” said Dr. Cornwall about the panel. 

After the panelists spoke, Dr. Cornwall responded briefly to each of the other panelists.  The panel concluded with questions from the audience, which included a question about the best way to achieve change within church denominations about intersex and transgender issues. 

Read a new blog post by Professor Kwok Pui Lan about this groundbreaking panel at EDS.