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How does a pastor respond to a family who has an intersex child?

I am a better pastor for having read tonight the following article in the New York Times Magazine:

What if It’s (Sort of) a Boy and (Sort of) a Girl?

Published today: September 24, 2006

It is the fourth most emailed article tonight on nytimes.com.   

Most recent articles on the nytimes.com are free to view.  It is really quite amazing that way.  You may have to create a free login account to view some of them.   

The article describes the dilemma parents have when a baby is born with genitals which are difficult to identify as either male or female.  Additional testing is needed and often surgery is recommended to make the genitals either "more male" or "more female" in appearance.  The article appropriately asks doctors and families to carefully consider whether surgery has more benefits or pitfalls. 

"Reports on the frequency of intersex births vary widely: Chase claims 1 in 2,000; more conservative estimates from experts put it at 1 in 4,500. Whatever the case, intersex is roughly as common as cystic fibrosis."


Just being aware that this occurs regularly will help all pastors to be prepared mentally, emotionally and spiritually to meet families or individuals who find themselves coping with this situation.  Pastors should counsel families that this issue is somewhat common and can encourage them to consider it thoughtfully.  Most importantly they can encourage the family to begin to love the child deeply.  I would also of course urge pastors to respect the confidentiality of families regarding the privacy of this matter.   

Here are the first couple paragraphs of the article which give one example of this dilemma. 

When Brian Sullivan — the baby who would before age 2 become Bonnie Sullivan and 36 years later become Cheryl Chase — was born in New Jersey on Aug. 14, 1956, doctors kept his mother, a Catholic housewife, sedated for three days until they could decide what to tell her. Sullivan was born with ambiguous genitals, or as Chase now describes them, with genitals that looked “like a little parkerhouse roll with a cleft in the middle and a little nubbin forward.” Sullivan lived as a boy for 18 months, until doctors at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan performed exploratory surgery, found a uterus and ovotestes (gonads containing both ovarian and testicular tissue) and told the Sullivans they’d made a mistake: Brian, a true hermaphrodite in the medical terminology of the day, was actually a girl. Brian was renamed Bonnie, her “nubbin” (which was either a small penis or a large clitoris) was entirely removed and doctors counseled the family to throw away all pictures of Brian, move to a new town and get on with their lives. The Sullivans did that as best they could. They eventually relocated, had three more children and didn’t speak of the circumstances around their eldest child’s birth for many years. As Chase told me recently, “The doctors promised my parents if they did that” — shielded her from her medical history — “that I’d grow up normal, happy, heterosexual and give them grandchildren.”

The article continues at nytimes.com

Later comment:

Todd Rhoades noticed this post and referred to it here at his blog "Monday Morning Insights."  The comments there are well worth reading.  While you are there, check out the rest of his blog.  From what I have seen in five minutes of checking it out, if you like my blog, you will love his. 

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