Transgender—Bringing Clarity to a Confused World

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The transgender movement has shattered the culture’s understanding of God’s design. How can Christians respond with biblical love and integrity?

Strange stories are now commonplace in our daily headlines. You know them well: a child who was born a boy has “transitioned” to a girl (or vice versa). Now, the child is playing sports against girls and stacking up wins. The stories are still weird enough to merit prime placement on websites and in newspapers, but beyond acknowledging the strangeness of it, no one today seems to know quite what to do in such instances.

Christians read about these stories just the same as anyone else. But we are different from our non-Christian neighbors. We do not merely have a nagging, undefined sense that something is wrong with these events. We know that such cultural developments are deeply wrong, deeply immoral, and deeply unfair.

We know this because we love Scripture. We love God’s design. We love the world God made and the men and women he created to display his glory (Genesis 1:26–27). But we also know the full truth about this place: it is not as it should be. It is cursed because of original sin (Genesis 3:1–13). As a result, humanity does not glorify or honor God as we should. In our rebellion, we take the design of God and try to remake it, rework it, even ruin it.

Gender-bending and cross-dressing are not new behaviors. They are ancient (see Deuteronomy 22:5). But what are believers to do when a society—not just random individuals—rebels against God and mandates that we accept and approve of boys trying to become girls, and girls trying to become boys? How do Bible-loving, Christ-worshipping men and women respond to “transgender rules” that normalize such behavior?

Let me suggest briefly three ways we can engage our culture today.

First, we can remember that transgender rules oppose Scripture and common sense. Christians have a tremendous opportunity today. In an age that opposes wisdom, we can humbly and boldly make the case for it.

When people around us wonder out loud about the transgender phenomenon, we can point them to divine design that appears in concrete language.

When people around us wonder out loud about the transgender phenomenon, we can point them to divine design that appears in concrete language. On this issue, unlike some other apologetic challenges, we don’t only have to refer them to detailed principles about unseen realities—as in the triune nature of God. Scripture plainly describes what nature obviously displays. There are men in the world, and there are women (see Genesis 1:26–27). We have male bodies, and we have female bodies.

It is a beautiful thing to discover why manly shoulders and their muscle mass are made to be strong, and how a woman’s body and wide hips are naturally geared for childbearing. Think of the first time we walk children through these anatomical realities. Their eyes grow wide. They have long had a sense that Dad and Mom are different, but they have no vocabulary by which to articulate the differences. Suddenly they see the world in a much richer and fuller way, and they are never the same afterward.

Our creation is revolting against such realities and precious moments of discovery. We’re told to play down the distinctiveness of manhood and womanhood. We are encouraged today to dress the same, fill all the same roles in life, and blur the uniqueness of our God-given gender. But God does not want us to sanctify androgyny (gender ambiguity). The Lord wants us to revel in our manliness or womanliness (see 1 Corinthians 11:11–16). He himself has made us a man or a woman. Christians have the delightful duty of celebrating God’s design by embracing their biological sex.

We can do so with confidence and joy because the Scripture doesn’t lie. God’s original plan for his creation is beautiful and flawless. The early chapters of Genesis are not religious fiction. When God made the first man, he really did form him from the dust (Genesis 2:7). When God made the first woman, he really did form her from Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:21–22).

We cannot miss the connection here. If Genesis 2 is merely poetic in nature, then human biology is malleable in character. If the man and woman are not made by God as Scripture says they are, then human identity—including the sexes—really is up for grabs. But here is the marvelous truth: God’s Word tells us the truth. God made mankind. God designed men and women according to his own super-intelligence. Because this is true, we can point our neighbor to this design in the confidence that they will see just how foundational sexual distinctiveness is to humanity.

Transgender rules confuse these embodied truths, but we have the chance to untangle the madness for people.

Second, we can take action when we see wisdom violated and truth overturned. It is not right for a young man with a boy’s body to enter the girl’s restroom. It is not fair for a girl who takes hormones to compete against boys in sports, or for a boy who has body parts altered to compete against girls. In these and other real-life examples, we are witnessing offenses committed against justice and reason. We should act to oppose such works, tell our children the truth from the Bible about these hard issues, and stand against them to the full with humility and love.

There are a stunning number of wrongs carried out today in the language of fairness, tolerance, and equity. We are told as believers that we are unfair if we oppose the mingling of the sexes in public bathrooms. We are labeled intolerant for failing to celebrate individuals who undergo physically risky surgery to alter their bodies. We hear that we are creating an unequal society by refusing to remake law to support sinful behaviors. In truth, it is the side that wishes to normalize what is abnormal and affirm what is evil that acts in an unjust, unfair, and hostile way.

Transgender rules work only in a make-believe world. We should no more support their passage than we should encourage people to identify as “felisgender.” This term refers—I am not making this up—to a person who feels they are inherently a cat. I suppose we all have our days when we’d like to curl up on the couch, but all joking aside, there is no such reality. To use the language of my grandparents’ generation, this is nonsense, plain and simple. Ordering society to support felisgender-identified individuals would ruin it.

The same is true for “transgender rules.” People who suffer from gender dysphoria (a physical disorder where people feel their gender is different from their anatomical sex) have a real challenge, and this physical disorder necessitates deep spiritual care. But it does not call for a new human identity, nor for the overhaul of society—not now, and not ever. We cannot compromise on this point.

Resisting our culture’s call to madness begins in the home. For too long, Christians have assumed that their children will simply figure out the realities of sexuality on their own. Fathers have little to say about sex and sexuality, and do not plug in with their kids to lead them spiritually; the Scripture is not referenced on these essential matters. Some believers even seem to think that they can trust TV shows and public educators to train their kids in the basic issues of sexuality and gender.

This is all deeply problematic. We cannot trust our secular, design-denying culture to train our children. We cannot assume that they will turn out normally just because we’re raising our youth in a Christian home. All around us, young men and women are rejecting the biblical witness on homosexuality, for example. It increasingly looks like we are in a crisis at least partly of our own making.

Fathers and mothers must teach their children the beauty and sensible logic of manhood and womanhood as designed by God.

There is an antidote for this sorry situation, however. Fathers and mothers must teach their children the beauty and sensible logic of manhood and womanhood as designed by God. Fathers and mothers must take full responsibility for educating their children in biblical sexuality. We cannot make our kids embrace the Christian worldview and the Christian faith. But we can work very, very hard to ensure that our offspring hear the truth from day one, and that we are their primary influencers, not a celebrity, not a well-meaning teacher, certainly not a peer.

We are not simply advisors to our children; we do not offer lifestyle consultancy to them in addition to 18 years of free room and board. We are God-constituted authorities in their lives who train them in grace and truth so that they may, by divine working, taste the goodness of faith-driven obedience in the name of Jesus Christ.

Our engagement goes well beyond the home, to be sure. But let us mark this: it starts there. It is the central place of formation (and transformation) for our children. Let us not lose our children. Let us love them, train them, and protect them as much as we possibly can. If we begin that conversation when they are toddlers around the house, it is much more likely they will consider and even accept our loving input when they are teens, struggling against cultural norms as they move into adulthood.

Third, the church has the call of speaking gospel sanity in a terribly confused culture. Our cultural approach matters, but it is secondary to our theological witness.

Embracing transgenderism, whether individually or societally, is first and foremost an offense to our Creator, God. Men and women of any age who flirt with such temptations, who listen to the serpent’s whisper, are in mortal danger. They face hell for their sin. We must tell them the truth about their rebellion against a holy and righteous God. We must tell them about the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. In Jesus’ shed blood, we find forgiveness. In the risen Savior, we find power over the grave. It is this news, and no elaborate gender theory from a college classroom, that sinners just like us desperately need.

We do not share this message in isolation, of course. Every local church that loves Christ together manifests the love and wisdom of God. We do not only want struggling sinners to hear our message; we want them to come to church, hear the Word preached, and observe how the Spirit is transforming the broken into the brand-new.

That is good news—spectacular news. You could almost say, in fact, that it’s more worthy of a headline than all those “transitioned” stories we now see everywhere.

Dr. Owen Strachan is associate professor of Christian theology and director of the Center for Public Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Risky Gospel, and coeditor of Designed for Joy (Crossway).

Answers Magazine

July–August 2017

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