RESPONDING WITHIN THE CHURCH TO TRANSGENDER ISSUES
As the Christian mother of an adult son who believes he is really a woman, I have some opinions with respect to how the churches should or could be responding to the transgender issue – an issue which has literally stormed the doors of our fellowships, piggy-backing on the homosexual marriage debate. With churches still floundering and disagreeing over how to handle the homosexual issue, Christians have been caught largely unprepared for the momentum of this second cultural assault.
How has this happened? The transgender agenda follows closely behind a gradual undermining of truth in general, and of the correct understanding of marriage and sexuality in particular. As a consequence, society now readily accepts no-fault divorce, contraception, abortion, co-habitation and homosexuality. Transgenderism is the latest frontier. And the acceptance of these things is not just cultural but is also widespread within the church.
For years there has been ongoing pressure from society for the church to shed outmoded ideas and to become ‘relevant’, and the church is collapsing under the pressure. Whereas the church once helped to shape the culture, the situation has now been reversed and is absorbing the values of the culture around it. Soon it will be impossible to differentiate between the church and the surrounding culture.
How can the church remedy this situation? I believe it needs to get right back to Christian basics. The fact that some churches are even considering accepting this situation because we should just love everyone as they are like Jesus did, without judging is an indication of how far we have drifted from foundational Christian teaching and truth. As a Christian who has been directly affected by the transgender phenomenon, and one who still holds to the truth and rightness of the Biblical position, I have the following 8 suggestions for the church. Others may be able to think of more.
- Teach the true nature of truth.
The church needs to start with some very basic philosophy, restoring a correct understanding of ‘truth’. It might seem odd starting outside of the Bible in this way, but if we don’t get this right, we already undermine the Biblical position on these things. The transgender issue is part of the outworking of a gradual progress of the total undermining of ‘truth’, replacing it with the idea that there are many ‘truths’ and Christianity is just one of many. When Christians today claim they have the ‘truth’, it is considered arrogant in the extreme. Many Christians have fallen victim to this illogical thinking.
The traditional understanding of something that is ‘true’ is that it corresponds to reality - it corresponds to the world as it actually is. Something that is ‘true’ is true for everybody in all times and in all places, no matter what culture or personal feelings on the subject might be. If something is said to be ‘true’, it can’t be true for one person and not another. When we claim something is true for one person and not another, we have redefined the word ‘true’. 2+2 will always equal 4 for all cultures at all times and in all places. There is no time that it will ever equal 5. It cannot equal 6 for me, 4 for you and 8 for someone else. Something is either true or it is not. In the same way, God either exists or He does not. Christianity is either true or it is not. Christianity and Buddhism can’t both be true because they make contradictory claims. They could both be wrong but they can’t both be true.
As already mentioned, this falls into the realms of philosophy rather than Christian teaching, but Christianity is to do with the one who claims to be the Truth. And if we don’t believe in ‘truth’ in its traditional sense, and believe that we can pick and choose our own truth, then the importance of the second point below will be missed.
- The church needs to return to its Gospel foundations.
The Gospel is Good News but the Good News can’t be properly understood if we are unaware that there is bad news and what that bad news is – that we are sinners who have fallen short of the glory of a Holy God. The church today preaches much about the love of God, but little about the Holy and just God who cannot overlook our sin. A truly loving God must also be just to be truly loving.
So, returning for a moment to my first point about ‘truth’, if we think that truth is relative – something that we can pick and choose like our favourite ice-cream - we might dislike the idea of admitting we are sinners and choose a different ‘truth’. We need to be convinced that ‘truth’ exists and that the gospel is the truth – otherwise we won’t be affected by its life changing salvation message. It is much easier for some to choose another ‘truth’ to avoid facing up to this one.
- Pastors need to preach the whole context of Matthew 7:1.
This is the passage most often quoted to say that making judgments is wrong, but it is part of a larger context, which is often ignored. What Jesus says in this passage is that making hypocritical judgments is wrong. He is telling us how to judge.
It is impossible to live without making judgments – we do it all the time. To hold a particular opinion about any issue assumes that we have made a judgement about it after considering the evidence. To believe that we shouldn’t judge is actually making a judgement. Those who say it is wrong to judge are expressing their judgement on this issue.
- Stop ranking sin by human standards.
Christians have a tendency to rank ‘sin’ according to our own assessment of its depravity. We rank sexual sins such as homosexuality and paedophilia right at the top on a scale of depravity – along with everybody else’s sin. Our own sin ranks underneath the rest.
It is certainly correct that the Bible talks of different degrees of sin. The New Testament makes frequent reference to rewards in heaven, allotted according to works. To be clear, this is not salvation by works – salvation is by faith in Christ alone, but rewards are certainly allotted after salvation according to the deeds we have done while in the body.
Remember the words of Jesus to Pilate in John 19:11 – ‘He who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.’ The Old Testament supports this with an emphasis on the idea that punishment must fit the crime – an ‘eye for an eye’ and a ‘tooth for a tooth.’ This implies that different sins have different punishments.
However, when we rank sin I am not sure that we do it perfectly as God does. The very fact that we have a tendency to rank the sin of others as worse than our own is a guarantee that our assessment is not perfect. This is illustrated perfectly by the mistaken belief some people have that all transgenderism is sexual sin. There are so many reasons and causes underlying transgenderism and we do a grave injustice to individuals who are struggling with this when we conclude that the behaviour is always sexual in nature.
So while the Bible clearly states that sin is ranked in some way, and rewards dispensed accordingly, ranking sin ourselves is risky and we cannot be sure we are ranking it in the way that a holy and just God does. It is safer for us as fallible creatures to remember that in one sense all sins are also equal – that is that they separate us from a holy God – even the sins of our thought life, as Jesus made abundantly clear.
When we rank sin in our fallible human way, we often exclude certain people from our fellowship, particularly those whose sin is sexual in nature. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 5, this is the correct action to take when a sinner is unrepentant with no intention of turning from their sin, but where a sinner recognises their sin, and is repentant, contrite and seeking God’s help and the love and support of Christians to come alongside them in their struggle, we should welcome them with open arms. The church is for those who are willing to confess their sin – in the biblical Greek the word is ‘homologia’, basically meaning to ‘say the same word’. So the church is for those who are willing to say the same of themselves as God says – that they are sinners in need of a Saviour, unable to rescue themselves.
So while we are justified in our understanding that God ranks sin, he does so according to a perfect standard of holiness, while we are incapable of doing this. It is safest for us to humbly remember that all sin separates us from a holy God, and to look for evidence of the confessing, contrite and humble heart in those who seek our fellowship, whatever the sin that weighs them down, and be prepared to walk alongside them as Christ to them.
- Teach how the words ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ are being used by the culture.
The changing use of these words helps to push this agenda. The word ‘gender’ came from the Latin ‘genus’ meaning birth, family or nation. Its earliest meanings in English were ‘sort, genus, type or class of noun,’ as in language study, to differentiate nouns as masculine, feminine and neuter. ‘Gender’ gradually became an alternative to the word ‘sex’. However, since 1955 there has been an increasing push to differentiate the two with ‘gender’ being something shaped by society (socially constructed), while ‘sex’ applies to the genitals a person is born with – now considered to be an ‘assigned’ status.
- Churches must make Christians aware of what the medical experts say.
The medical and psychological experts teach that there is no biological grounding for transgenderism. Science still supports that it is delusional behaviour but political pressure is not going to give up until this idea is tossed out. For years, everyone has known what it is to be male and female – not just the doctors. There is no space in this article to refer to everybody who has written about this, but the note below mentions just a few for anyone to start with who wants to research this further.
- Make Christians aware of the deeply spiritual underpinnings of gender identity disorder.
Sometimes gender identity issues are something that children ‘grow out of’ over time, but Gender Identity Disorder often has deep-seated roots in rejection, abuse, and/or trauma.
People who experience this also often talk about a longing to belong, and of seeking identity and affirmation. I suspect that these things have been missing in the lives of people affected by this disorder – they have missed out on healthy same sex role modelling and affirmation as valuable persons in the sex in which they were born. Many speak of other family members dressing them in the clothes of the opposite sex, causing confusion. I know of many people who say this happened to them.
Because of this, I don’t use the term ‘transgender’ as an adjective to describe someone, such as a ‘transgender child’, a ‘transgender man’, or a ‘transgender woman’. I believe this affirms their identity problem. We don’t use the term ‘heterosexual’ in the same way or with the same frequency, because we know this is only one small part of who we are. Heterosexuals don’t define themselves that way, though there is a push towards it now that the conversation has been opened up. So let’s not support people in their quest to self-identity using these words. In a similar way, I no longer refer to ‘homosexual men’ or ‘lesbian women’.
- Families who have been touched by this are grieving.
As a final point, the church must be aware of the grief that transgenderism brings to families. Sometimes families are battling with the experience of a parent in this situation, but I am writing from my experience as a parent whose child is caught up in this.
When my son told me that he no longer exists as my son, I wanted to curl up and die. It was as if my son was dead – but it was also as if my son had killed him. I was angry and broken at the same time. That person is dead, he told me, and I had to get used to having a ‘daughter’. I am not allowed to use his birth name. My son is ‘dead’, but there has been no funeral, no burial, and no flowers. No one visited me or called to ask me how I am. People didn’t drop by with casseroles or to pray with me.
When a person tells someone that his or her loved ones have ‘got it wrong’ all these years, it is an assault on reality. I was there at the hospital. I experienced the pain and joy as this child was born. I was there when the doctor held him up and told me that I had a son. This was reality. This was truth. There were many witnesses. Yet, I am expected to deny reality and accept a delusional version of reality. I now have to watch my child transform himself into a parody of the person he/she truly is.
As a sole parent I have also had to go through this without the support of a spouse. I soldiered on and didn’t miss a day of work. It was sometime before I could share with anyone what was happening. I had to process it myself first. But when I did begin to open up and reach out, I found little understanding and no pastoral help. People are either embarrassed, and quickly walk away, or they are the other extreme – totally fine with it and telling me off for not being able to celebrate this and embrace my child’s ‘true self.’ This has been one of the most isolating experiences of my life. But it has had an excellent outcome - I have had no recourse but to go directly to God – and only to Him. This is surely a good thing.
I don’t believe at all that it is a lack of love driving the lack of response from the church, but people just don’t know how to respond. Dear Church, families need your hugs and your prayers, not your distance. We want you to weep with us and be with us prayers and shared tears.
The hardest thing of all for me in this is not dealing with my own pain. God has given me what I need to get through each day, in His Word and His never failing presence. But I recognise that my son’s pain is far greater than anything I am experiencing as a bereaved mother. I have my identity in Christ but my son does not. On the surface, he seems content with his decision, but there are signs that the struggle is still there – though he does his best to hide it. I cannot take that pain from him. It is a pain that can only be taken away at the foot of the cross.
NOTE: To read further on what the experts say about the transgender issue, here are a few places to start –
Mayer, Lawrence S and McHugh, Paul R New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society (Fall 2016 – “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological and Social Sciences”). The article contains 373 footnotes involving some 200 peer-reviewed research studies on the issues.
Richard B. Corradi, M.D. is professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio “A Psychiatrist looks at Personal Identity, family Structure, and Identity Politics.”
See also the American College of Paediatricians website