God and the Transgender Debate: What does the Bible actually say about gender identity? by Andrew T. Walker. The Good Book Company. 145 pages. 2017
In the Foreword, Albert Mohler writes that the transgender revolution represents one of the most difficult pastoral challenges that churches in this generation will face. He states that the sexual revolution poses challenges that are not simply going to disappear. The church must be ready to meet these challenges with biblical fidelity and Christ-like compassion.
The author states that all of us need an answer to questions such as: Can a man become a woman? Can a woman become a man? How and when should children be confronted with the debates about gender? What are we to do with children who are a member of one biological sex but feel as though they were born in the wrong body? What do we say to someone experiencing these feelings and desires? How do we love and help those who are deeply hurting? This short, but helpful, book is intended to help with those questions.
Making sure we understand the terms involved is important. The author defines gender identity as a person’s self-perception of whether they are male or female, masculine or feminine. He states that when someone experiences distress, inner anguish, or discomfort from sensing a conflict between their gender identity and their biological sex, that person is experiencing gender dysphoria—a mismatch between the gender that matches their biological sex and the gender that they feel themselves to be. He writes that it is crucial to understand that this is a genuine and unchosen experience. It is never something that someone should just “get over”.
Is gender dysphoria sinful? He writes that to feel that your body is one sex and your self is a different gender is not sinful. However, deciding to let that feeling rule—to feed that feeling so that it becomes the way you see yourself and the way you identify yourself and the way you act—is sinful, because it is deciding that your feelings will have authority over you, and will define what is right and what is wrong. He states that experiencing gender dysphoria does not mean you are not a Christian. Someone can embrace a transgender identity, or find their identity in Christ, but not both.
He writes that people who identify as transgender report disproportionately higher rates of mental-health problems than the rest of the general population, including depression, suicide, and thoughts of suicide.
Transgender is an umbrella term for the state or condition of identifying or expressing a gender identity that does not match a person’s genetic sex. He cites Williams Institute at the University of California estimate that 0.3% of the US population—or about 700,000 people—is transgender.
The author addresses the important issues of authority. He states that the biggest issue that drives a wedge between an increasingly secularized culture and the Christian worldview is the question of where we locate authority, knowledge, and trustworthiness. The Christian answer is to locate authority, knowledge, and trust where it can find a firm, stable, fulfilling foundation—in the crucified Creator.
He states that being creatures means that we cannot re-create ourselves in any fashion or form that we desire by a simple act of the will or the complex work of a surgeon. He tells us that maleness and femaleness, according to the Bible, aren’t artificial categories. The differences between men and women reflect the creative intention of being made in God’s image. Christianity doesn’t sever gender from sex, because according to the Bible, the unique ways that God made our bodies are tied to our gender roles. He states that there is actually no such thing as “transgender,” because you cannot change your gender. The word exists, but not the reality that it seeks to describe.
The author states that a biblical response to transgender people is to see them as our neighbors; and then to love them, because they are our neighbors. Extending empathy does not mean that you accept or affirm or encourage someone to embrace the desire to live contrary to their created gender; it does mean, however, that instead of rejecting a person outright, you take time and make the effort to listen and seek to understand. He tells us that perhaps the most delicate aspect of loving our transgender neighbor is how can we love our transgender neighbor while not sending signals that we approve of someone living in a gender opposite of their sex, or no gender at all.
He addresses what it means to follow Jesus while you experience gender dysphoria. He states that the Christian life is a life of cross-carrying, and gender dysphoria is the cross that some are called to bear. The Bible neither explicitly nor implicitly promises that the Spirit will change or lessen someone’s experience of gender dysphoria.
The church’s response to those who identify as transgender, and to those who struggle with gender dysphoria but who are not actively identifying as transgender, must be—immediately and with integrity, “You are welcome here. You are loved here.” If our churches are marked by one thing, let it be grace. We have to make sure that as individuals and churches we are welcoming, listening, and compassionate.
He addresses help for parents about their children. He stresses that you should let your pastor or church’s elders know of your situation, and to let them be the pastors and shepherds that God has called them to be.
A final chapter includes answers to important questions that the previous chapters haven’t dealt with. It is followed by a helpful Appendix that defines terms that you’ll likely come across and what they mean, courtesy of Joe Carter.
This book is a grace-filled introduction to an issue that church leaders need to be informed about so that they can meet these challenges with biblical fidelity and Christ-like compassion.
- Christianaudio’s Free Audiobook. Christianaudio’s free audiobook of the month for October is a gem. It is The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson, one of my top books for 2016. Read my review here.
- The Satisfied Soul. This newly released book of 120 of John Piper devotional readings are selected from Piper’s previously published works Pierced by the Word, Life as a Vapor, and A Godward Heart. “They celebrate God’s sovereignty in every aspect of our world, from how to feed our souls, the danger of hero worship, and loving our enemies, to suffering, having a passion for purity, and ways we can be a refuge for our children. This collection offers a daily feast of truth and wisdom that places God right where he belongs — at the center of our lives.”
- The Mainliner Who Made Me More Evangelical. Russell Moore writes about the impact of Frederick Buechner on his life and ministry, as well as two new volumes of Buechner’s writings (The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life, contains mostly unpublished lectures from the late 1980s and early 1990s, and A Crazy, Holy Grace, a collection of essays on the healing power of pain and memory.
- Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids.Tim Challies reviews David Murray’s new book Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids. He writes “I gave all three of my children Exploring the Bible as their very first experience of personal devotions. All three used it, all three enjoyed it, and all three benefited tremendously from using it. I wholeheartedly recommend it for your children, too.”
- For Christians, This is a Time of Confidence.Richard Doster interviews Stephen Nichols about his new book A Time For Confidence.
- Free Study Guide for 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. I recently read Tony Reinke’s excellent book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. (Read my review here). Check out this family discussion guide for the book, written by pastor Chip Cowsert.
BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?
The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch. Baker Books. 224 pages. 2017
In this important new book, Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making, draws on in-depth original research from the Barna Group, and shows readers that the choices we make about technology have consequences we may never have considered. He takes readers beyond the typical questions of what, where, and when and instead challenges them to answer provocative questions like, Who do we want to be as a family? and How does our use of a particular technology move us closer or farther away from that goal? Anyone who has felt their family relationships suffer or their time slip away amid technology’s distractions will find in this book a path forward to reclaiming their real life in a world of devices. This week we look at Chapter 3 ~ Structuring Time:
- We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So, one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.
- As technology has filled our lives with more and more easy everywhere, we do less and less of the two things human beings were made to do. We are supposed to work, and we are supposed to rest.
- Technology, which promised to make work easier and rest more enjoyable, often has exactly the opposite effect.
- If toil is fruitless labor, you could think of leisure as fruitless escape from labor. It’s a kind of rest that doesn’t really restore our souls, doesn’t restore our relationships with others or God. And crucially, it is the kind of rest that doesn’t give others the chance to rest.
- There is one thing most of us can do—and all of us are meant to do. It is to rediscover rest: real rest, in harmony with one another, our Creator, and all of creation. The biblical word for this kind of rest is Sabbath.
- Many of the Ten Commandments, the “thou shalt nots,” address the distortions of fallen humanity—our tendency to make idols, betray and lie, murder and covet, all rooted in our persistent human desire to have other gods before the true God. But keeping Sabbath, along with honoring our father and mother, is one of the “thou shalts”—one of the positive things we would have been called to do even if we had never fallen into sin. Like family itself, Sabbath is rooted in the loving and creative purposes that brought the world into being. Alas, of all the commandments, the Sabbath command may be the most persistently and casually broken.
- And just as work (or toil) follows us into our day of rest, so does leisure.
- There is a silver lining in the way technology has clouded our lives with nonstop toil and leisure—it gives us an amazingly simple way to bring everything to a beautiful halt. We can turn our devices off.
- Just as the Sabbath commandment expands to include not just parents and children but servants and immigrant neighbors, find ways to invite others along for the joy of refreshment and rest.
- Sabbathless toil is a violation of God’s intention for our lives and our whole economy. When we find ourselves in its grip, it means that we are slaves to a system of injustice.