Transgender bishop says 'rewrite Nicaea' (the ancient council that produced a creed)

Eunuchs, the letter A, and the Bible

The American Lutherans’ brand new Bishop says they are about to “dismantle Nicaea”.

What Bishop-elect Megan Rohrer means is changing the teaching of the first council of Nicaea, 325 AD, which gave us the Nicene Creed – a theological statement which unites Christians who are Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal and Evangelical.

What has the bishop against the Council of Nicaea – which met in the city of Nicaea in Bithynia (which is now in Turkey) in 325, and focussed on affirming that Jesus was ‘begotten not made” and “eternally of one being with the Father?” That is what the council is best remembered for (and also because the Emperor Constantine called it.)

But they (the bishop is a person born as a woman, who later identified as a lesbian but now as transgender) want to “dismantle Nicaea” because of the first canon (motion) of the council which says that men who castrate themselves can not be clergy.

Canon 1 reads: “If any one in sickness has been subjected by physicians to a surgical operation, or if he has been castrated by barbarians, let him remain among the clergy; but, if any one in sound health has castrated himself, it behooves that such an one, if [already] enrolled among the clergy, should cease [from his ministry], and that from henceforth no such person should be promoted. But, as it is evident that this is said of those who wilfully do the thing and presume to castrate themselves, so if any have been made eunuchs by barbarians, or by their masters, and should otherwise be found worthy, such men the Canon admits to the clergy.”

This was a symbolism of purity …

Bishop-elect Rohrer seems to think that the first canon was aimed at transgender persons. But as Anglican minister Matt Kennedy points out on the conservative StandFirm podcast, it was not. Nicaea had an opposite problem to the sexuality of today – people were castrating themselves for ascetic reasons. “If it causes you to sin …”

Nicaea reflects Deuteromy 23:1 which forbids eunuchs from “the assemby of the Lord”. In the same manner that animals being offerred at the altar inside the tabernacle had to be without blemish, the people had to be also. This was a symbolism of purity that attached to tabernacle worship, along with ceremonial washing and the like.

And the Nicene bishops would have wanted to discourage self mutilation – which has blighted much religion throughout history. The rules (canons) that Nicaea passed are pragmatic; Canon Three forbids “subinducta” unmarried women living in association with a minister in a merely spiritual marriage – another example of unrealistic asceticism.

Canon Two gives some very good advice about new converts: “Those who have come from the heathen shall not be immediately advanced to the priesthood.”

The progressive view

Bishop-elect Rohrer has misinterpreted both Deuteronomy and Nicaea.

An alternative view of Nicaea is the Dan Brown theory, as outlined in his The Da Vinci Code novel, that the Council was an attempt to subjugate the world to a conservative version of Christianity. The Bishop’s vision of deconstructing Nicaea is consanant with that.

Transgender issues are dealt with in a different part of the law – as the progressive Human Rights Campaign acknowledges: “Deuteronomy 22:5, ‘A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the LORD your God,’ (NRSV) is the only verse in all of Scripture that directly references gender-based notions of clothing.” As HRC comments, that verse has been somewhat of a stumbling block for the trans cause.

HRC’s solution is to deconstruct Scripture to reduce its claim to authority.

“… No matter what you do, on accident or on purpose, you can’t screw up God’s love for you.” – Megan Rohrer

Rohrer is a bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). It is one of the “seven sister churches of mainline American protestantism” that adopted progressive or liberal theology in the 20th century, and which have declined from being the majority in protestantism in the 1970s, to a much smaller share.

The ELCA has three million members but is losing some 70,000 a year; this decline sees it “ceasing to exist within the next generation”, according to Dwight Zscheile, President of Luther Seminary (the ELCA’s largest ministry training college).

Rohrer, like many other progressives, sees her election as welcoming new groups into the church – but the numbers belie this strategy. “Our baptismal theology is very strongly about no matter what you do, on accident or on purpose, you can’t screw up God’s love for you,” the Bishop recalled being told (reported in an interview with the Religion News Service).

“I just believed that was true and kept believing that was true, even when folks maybe were curious how God could use me, of all people. I really was more interested in figuring out how I could translate good news to people who were curious about how God was using people beyond the scope of their imagination.”

‘The one who can accept this should accept it’

Having been explicitly referenced in Deuteronomy, eunuchs make a return in Isaiah 56. It is a passage of Old Testament prophecy worth quoting at length (verses 3-8):

Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
    “I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose what pleases me
    and hold fast to my covenant —
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
    a memorial and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that will endure forever.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
    to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
    and who hold fast to my covenant —
these I will bring to my holy mountain
    and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
    a house of prayer for all nations.”
The Sovereign Lord declares —
    he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
    besides those already gathered.” (NIV)

Eunuchs “who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant” are those who are welcome in the prophet’s vision of a new kingdom.

“… There are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

Centuries after Isaiah prophesied, Jesus responding to his disciples asking whether “it is better not to marry?’ Jesus said: “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others — and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (Matthew 19:11–12 NIV)

Here, Jesus is referring particularly to the celibate – especially those who “live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”. These people are not seeking a new sexual identity – in order to engage in relationships as the opposite gender – but to live denying any sexual appetite.

Those kingdom eunuchs have made a return to popular culture, in perhaps what some readers would see as an odd place.

Considering the acronym LGBTIQA+, the “A” stands for asexuality. This group is a spectrum that will include people who are celibate in the traditional sense, avoiding sexual contact and, in some cases, prefering friendship to sexual relationships. Bishop-elect Rohrer would disagree, seeing eunuchs as belonging to the letter T.

But when seen as part of the “letter A” group, such people represent the kingdom eunuchs Jesus is talking about – which can also take in the Isaiah prophecy.

It is always a temptation to “read in” modern ideas and issues on top of Scripture. While we always need to consider modern life in the light of Scripture, there will always be connections we cannot make.