In the last edition of ET, I examined the transgender agenda. What is it? Where did it come from? Where is it heading? This time I ask, how should churches respond? I suggest there are at least eight things we must do.
1. We need to provide biblical teaching about God’s good purpose in creating men and women.
Our congregations need to be equipped to respond to the demands for ‘transgender rights’ with scriptural truth. The transsexual maintains that their felt ‘gender’ overrides biological reality. But our creation design teaches us that God has made us male and female to reflect his glory in every age.
This foundational creation reality is transcultural and a-temporal. Scripture simply will not allow the false split between sex and so-called ‘gender’.
The supposed split between the ‘real you’ and the ‘appearance of your body’ has been described as a new form of Gnosticism. It divides your mind from the physical reality of the body. It says that your thoughts can overrule the physical facts.
In New Testament times, this heresy claimed that Jesus may have risen from the dead spiritually, but not physically. Gnosticism divides what God has united.
We are made as ‘whole’ people. Our body, our mind and our spirit or soul are not to be divided or played off against each other. God specifically designs and determines our body. It reflects his intent. It is not irrelevant (Psalm 139:13-14; Jeremiah 1:5).
God deliberately created male and female as different and interdependent (Genesis 2:18; 21-24), and he prohibits the blurring of the distinction between the sexes (Deuteronomy 22:5).
The biblical position is that it is not possible to ‘change sex’. Whatever temptation a person faces, they should not embrace the lifestyle of the opposite sex. Treating every individual with true compassion and respect means staying true to God’s revealed will in all pastoral care and interaction.
In recent years the medical term ‘gender dysphoria’ has been used to describe the condition experienced by transsexuals. If ‘gender dysphoria’ simply describes a person’s discontent with their biological sex, then that is non-controversial.
However, recent definitions of ‘gender dysphoria’ increasingly embrace the false notion of ‘gender identity’ as something in conflict with biological sex.
There are various reasons why an individual may feel a measure of unease with their biological sex. Some of those reasons (for example childhood trauma) may involve having been sinned against, rather than deliberately sinning.
But assuming the identity of someone of the opposite sex does involve sin, medical interventions, whether hormone treatments or surgery, are to be rejected. It is absolutely wrong to encourage children to ‘change sex’.
As we teach God’s good design for men and women, we should avoid over-exaggerated stereotypes of masculinity and femininity which are cultural, not biblical.
Yes, we believe that the complementary qualities of male and female are designed by God and mirror deeper realities within God himself. But superficial cultural expectations can be enforced in an unhelpful way.
For example, just because a little boy is unusually artistic and gentle does not mean that he should be pushed into thinking of himself as homosexual or transsexual. A little girl may be sporty and tomboyish, but that doesn’t mean that she should be pushed into identifying as lesbian or ‘trans’.
Behaviours that would have been accepted as within the normal range even a few years ago (girls wanting to play boys’ games or boys not wanting to engage in rough and tumble games) are now being interpreted as ‘gender confusion’. This defies common sense.
2. Be aware of the pressures on young people.
We need to understand some of the different factors that lie behind someone experiencing gender confusion.
The breakdown of the family has had devastating consequences. Fewer children experience the unbroken stability of their own two natural parents staying together and with them throughout their developing years.
Consequently, fewer have stable role models of mother/father and positive role models of healthy masculinity and femininity. We live in a time when there are no moral absolutes and the old certainties are being rejected.
Certainly, our culture’s distorted approaches to masculinity and femininity must play a part. The radical feminist movement professed to abhor stereotypes, but campaigned for women to ‘enjoy’ exactly the same sexual freedoms as men, and so directly contributed to the ‘sexualisation’ of culture.
Girls are judged relentlessly by appearance. If they don’t relish the prospect of being sexually available to men from an unnaturally early age they are mocked as prudish virgins.
If they don’t want to engage in hours of expensive beauty maintenance and starve themselves to be unnaturally thin, they may be dismissed as ugly, or even labelled as lesbian. Some may conclude that if being a successful girl must mean looking and behaving like a porn star, they’d rather not be girls at all.
In our over-sexualised culture, there is almost as much pressure on young men to present an idealised male body. If a boy is smaller than average or bad at sport, he too may be bullied and cruelly mocked by children as being effeminate.
Worse, if a boy has negative male role models in his own life, or if he has been exposed to violent pornography, he may associate masculinity with violence, and decide that he doesn’t want to be male at all.
While there are challenges and tragedies as a result of these pressures on young people, this situation does give us a great opportunity to share the good news of God’s good design for all human beings.
We are not chance collections of atoms. Every human being is created in the image of God, and to be treated with dignity and respect. Our identity is not to be understood in terms of ‘feeling’, but in terms of ‘calling’. God has called us to live either as men or women, and his calling meshes with the way that he has created us.
We don’t underestimate the challenge that it will be for some to live out that calling, but long-term, to ‘choose’ an identity contrary to our created reality will only cause deeper distress.
3. We need to understand the current claims of the trans agenda, and ensure that our congregations know where to access helpful resources on this issue.
It would be wise to provide some opportunity (for example an extra meeting) where church members are given the biblical teaching on God’s good design for men and women, an overview of the current challenge and information about resources.
Using personal testimonies is helpful. Walt Heyer is a Christian author who has written extensively on this, arguing that real compassion must involve telling the truth that it is not in reality possible to change sex.
Heyer experienced gender confusion himself, and underwent both hormonal and surgical ‘reassignment’. He lived as a woman for a number of years, but once he became a Christian he was convicted that he was called to live as a man, as God intended.
He has written an autobiographical novel, Kid Dakota and the Secret at Grandma’s House. His book Paper Genders gives a devastating critique of the pioneers of transsexual theory and sex reassignment medication and surgery.
Heyer now coordinates a ministry called ‘Sex Change Regret’. He argues that ‘changing sex’ is short-term gain with long-term pain. Its consequences include early mortality, regret, mental illness, and suicide.
He argues that when children and young people seem to exhibit ‘gender dysphoria’, there are often other psychological issues and traumas that should be addressed first.
Heyer argues that people suffering in this way should be treated with respect and love, but that ultimately it is not loving to endorse a lie and push them towards unnecessary and destructive surgery.
Denise Shick leads a ministry called Help 4 Families, for families with transgender members. She herself experienced the trauma of a father who ‘transitioned’. When she was just nine years old her dad sat down with her and told her that he wanted to become a woman.
She writes: ‘I lost my dad that day’. For the rest of her childhood and adolescence, he routinely helped himself to her clothing and increasingly abused her. Denise found refuge in alcohol and boyfriends, and was considering drugs, when God intervened.
Since then, she has devoted her life to ministry with individuals and families caught up in gender confusion. Her collection of testimonies, Understanding Gender Confusion, offers vivid insights into this condition.
Denise now believes that God’s truth can bring healing into the most damaged lives, and has written a helpful book of Questions and Answers for Families.
Keith Tiller is a Christian with a testimony of having been released from deep gender confusion. He now runs the ministry, Parakaleo, for Bible-believing Christians who want advice on these issues.
4. We must be prepared to extend love and compassion towards those who may be struggling with gender confusion.
The trans-affirming movement insists that human dignity is only respected when we accept the premise that we are autonomous (on the basis that there is no creator God, so we can determine who we are and how we live).
In fact, human dignity is only respected when we understand that we are made by God, and in the image of God. We must be careful even in casual conversation not to joke about, mock, or belittle people with this condition.
When a transsexual person walks into our church, we see them as a human being, made by God, with eternal significance and worth. We are to treat everyone with civility and respect.
Ultimately, we must respect them too much to go along with the lie of ‘gender change’. Christ-like compassion will always be based on truth. The central point at issue is that a man cannot become a woman or vice versa.
But that doesn’t mean we abandon basic courtesy and kindness. Our churches need to ‘be family’ in terms of providing a loving community for those who, for whatever reason, may be struggling with this, or any other deeply troubling issues.
Rosaria Butterfield gives eloquent testimony to the part that a loving church community played in her own conversion. She had been persuaded of the rightness of the LGBT cause, and was content living with her lesbian partner, but a caring and compassionate pastor and his wife extended love and concern, while never compromising on God’s truth.
We need to be alert to the fact that many professing evangelicals now believe that personal experience is an authority alongside Scripture. Just as many evangelicals have, over the past fifty years, ‘accommodated’ homosexuality, so now there is intense pressure to ‘accommodate’ transsexuality.
Perhaps the most comprehensive work to date from an evangelical publishing house, Understanding Gender Dysphoria, is based on listening to the testimonies of transsexuals who profess to be Christians.
Mark Yarhouse accepts that Scripture teaches that the ideal would be for everyone to live according to their biological sex. But, in a fallen world, he believes that those who suffer extreme dysphoria may need to be accommodated, in order to manage their distress.
According to Dr Yarhouse, this may involve accepting them as the sex they believe themselves to be, and recognising the need for medical intervention in some cases. (I have serious reservations about this book and hope to publish a detailed review shortly.)
There is huge pressure from the culture, and even from within the evangelical church, to accept and affirm individuals’ own claims about their identity, especially if they are clearly suffering deep anguish.
But, as in every pastoral interaction, true compassion has to be grounded in God’s good design for humanity. Our Creator has revealed his will for human flourishing. Testimonies from those who transition and then, sometimes many years later regret it, point to the false compassion of affirming transition.
They agree that when someone in the church affirmed their transition, it provided the euphoria of acceptance. Yet, deep down, peace with God was not going to be found until truth was confronted.
So we need to help young people to see that holding on to the truth in this and every area is the most compassionate response.
Encouraging church members to address persons with gender confusion as the sex that they are not (i.e. using preferred names and pronouns) will, in many cases, mean the silencing of the conscience of believers, a conscience informed by Scripture.
God’s moral law tells us that we must always speak the truth. To force people to speak a lie is a terrible thing. And affirming people in their false perception of their own identity, will only lead to further confusion about sex and gender.
5. It is wise to update our church constitutions and doctrinal statements to clarify the biblical belief in the immutability of our created identity as male or female.
A church whose doctrinal position on this is clearly laid down is better protected against potential hostile discrimination claims than one which does not have a clear positional statement.
As well as updating the doctrinal statement and constitution, a church is better protected if they have a clear membership policy, a clearly defined marriage policy, and a clearly defined employment policy.
Activists could come to your church with hostile intent. They may use this issue as a way of attacking what they regard as ‘hateful’ biblical teaching. They could threaten legal action if, for example, they are denied access to the toilets (rest rooms/bathrooms) or access to the single-sex meetings of their ‘assumed’ gender.
But an individual cannot so easily take personal offence if it can be demonstrated that this is the established position of this particular church.
Churches in the UK could contact The Christian Institute if advice is needed. Churches in the US could consult Denny Burk’s How to protect your Church. If churches in South Africa face difficulty, they could consult Freedom of Religion, South Africa; those in Australia the Australian Christian Lobby. Family First New Zealand is linked with Ask Me First (a project to protect the privacy of women and girls).
6. It is helpful to be prepared ahead of time with regard to how to respond.
Stewards in church services, or those on the welcome team, may want to think through how to give a warm welcome to transsexual people, but also to be aware of issues relating to use of public conveniences.
If possible, it is wise, in addition to men’s lavatories and ladies’ lavatories, to also have a clearly visible accessible, separate, single toilet which can be used by both men and women.
7. We must not be naïve.
The tragic reality is that there are sexual predators who have used the legal rights afforded to transsexuals in order to pose as a transsexual person in order to gain access to female-only facilities to abuse girls and women.
We should be especially vigilant about protecting young children in everyday life (for example, ensuring they do not use toilets unaccompanied if there is any possible threat to their safety).
8. We must seek to protect children from harmful ideology and harmful interventions.
We should grieve over the way that the minds of children and young people are being poisoned against God the Creator. As Christian parents we need to be ensuring that we teach our children about God’s good and wise design for men and women.
The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New is a beautifully produced picture and story book presenting a systematic theology for children, with an accompanying CD including the chorus:
‘We are the image of the God of all the world
He made us boys, He made us girls
Different pieces of the puzzle
Joined together perfectly
We are just the way God wanted us to be’.
That of course is now deeply politically incorrect! But it is true.
On a wider level, we need to present the case for protecting children from dogmatic presentations of the ‘gospel’ of gender fluidity, which can only serve to confuse them. We should argue strongly against endorsing the ‘social transition’ of pre-pubescent children.
Glen Stanton writes: ‘It is well established today that the overwhelming majority of such children — from 75 to 98 per cent — who experience gender dysphoria grow out of it by the time they reach puberty. It is not inborn.
‘Thus, the leading clinics seeing such children — such as those in Canada and the Netherlands — do not recommend parents and schools facilitate gender changes in such children for various reasons.
‘The push in culture today to embrace and affirm such children’s wishes is founded more upon a political ideology than it is in careful science and experience’.
We need to argue strongly against allowing children and young people to be subjected to medical interventions that are dangerous both physically and psychologically. To intervene medically is unnecessary and unwise. Under-age youngsters are not mature enough to make such momentous choices and decisions.
As we noted earlier, Walt Heyer writes: ‘Changing genders is short-term gain with long-term pain. Its consequences include early mortality, regret, mental illness, and suicide. Instead of encouraging them to undergo unnecessary and destructive surgery, let’s affirm and love our young people just the way they are’.
Parents are often put under huge pressure to affirm their children in an expressed desire to ‘change sex’, and threatened with the prospect of their child being likely to commit suicide if thwarted in their wishes: ‘would you prefer your child happy or dead?’
Walt Heyer turns that around by arguing that those who transition are still often likely to commit suicide. And the statistics sometimes used to blackmail parents have recently been shown to be spurious.
God has put us here, in this culture, at this time, for such a time as this. Some evangelicals take the route of simply ‘preaching the gospel’ (defined in the narrowest possible way), and remaining silent over contentious issues.
But this means we will fail to protect children and young people from a dangerous lie, and that we will fail to engage with people who have been deceived by the claims of gender theory. We could refuse to engage with anyone with problems. But that is not Christ’s way.
In the coming days, this will be a ‘frontline’ issue for Bible-believing Christians. It may not be long before gendered speech (use of terms man/woman/boy/girl etc) is regarded as hate speech. There may be pressure to censor sermons. There will be resistance to teaching children God’s design for men and women. There will be huge free speech implications.
We need to be informed, wise, compassionate and courageous. Above all, we need to be prayerful.
Help 4 Families http://help4families.com/
Sex Change Regret www.sexchangeregret.com/
Transgender Trend, a group of ‘parents questioning the trans narrative’ (not a Christian group) https://www.transgendertrend.com/
Christian Institute Briefing Transsexualism http://www.christian.org.uk/resource/transsexualism-briefing/
The Christian Institute, www.christian.org.uk, has a briefing for parents, available on request: Radical Gender Ideology: Protect your Child.
Sharon James, ‘Are We all Omnigender Now?’ Available from http://www.affinity.org.uk
Dr Sharon James is a Christian author, speaker, and Social Policy Analyst at The Christian Institute. This article is an extract from a longer article first published by Reformation Today. The full article with accompanying reference notes is available on the RT website, reformation-today.org