Bruce or Caitlyn . . . What’s in a Name?

Biblical Authority

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The media’s rush last spring to make Caitlyn Jenner a transgender hero underscored the radical moral shift in Western culture. As our society celebrates each new form of “liberation,” every one of us will probably interact with a Caitlyn sooner or later—whether at work or even at home. How should we respond?

Consider one simple example. Can a Christian call transgender friends and acquaintances by their “new” names without encouraging their sin, or should we insist on their birth names to emphasize God’s plan for gender? My answer is simply yes.

First, it helps to remember that using a given name does not necessarily imply agreement with the name’s intended meaning. If environmentalists name their son “Forrest,” calling the child by name is not necessarily an endorsement of his parents’ environmental views.

Similarly, using a transgender person’s chosen name does not necessarily imply agreement with the transgender movement. Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” One way to do that is to greet members of the transgender community by their new names, especially in cases where no previous relationship exists.

A believer’s primary aim is not to win an argument on sexuality, but to win others to Jesus. If using their birth names places a stumbling block in the way of the gospel, we should avoid such offense in order to gain a hearing.

Nevertheless, using a new transgender name is not always wise. This is especially true in situations where a previous relationship exists. If a family member, friend, or coworker undergoes sex-reassignment surgery, it may be very difficult to call him or her by a new name and maintain a strong Christian witness. The key distinction is whether the transgender person will view our use of the new name as a tacit endorsement of a sinful lifestyle.

In such cases we should do everything we can to lovingly but firmly convince a transgender person that his or her actions are ultimately self-destructive and harmful. Many times this may mean refusing to use a new name. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” When we speak the truth in love, our goal is to emphasize the beauty and blessing of God’s design, and ultimately the gospel.

So we have a choice to make. No matter which way we decide, however, we must remember that our friend’s greatest need is not a new name, but a new heart.

Helpful Resources

We Cannot Be Silent

We Cannot Be Silent

by R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Dr. Mohler helps Christians understand the underlying issues of this cultural shift and how to face the challenge of believing faithfully, living faithfully, and engaging the culture faithfully in light of this massive change.

Transforming Homosexuality

Transforming Homosexuality

by Denny Burk and Heath Lambert

The authors challenge misconceptions on all sides as they unpack the concepts of same-sex orientation, temptation, and desire. They show that ultimately a biblical view gives hope for profound personal change, with patterns remolded and rethought in faithfulness to Christ.

Dr. Corey Abney is pastor of Florence Baptist Church in Florence, Kentucky. He is a graduate of Cedarville University, where he serves on the board of trustees, and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD), where he teaches as an adjunct professor.

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