“The legal/cultural battle over whether biological males who have a female gender identity (or vice versa) can use the public bathroom, spa facility, or school showers reserved for the opposite sex is consuming the attention of the national media and the national conscience. Christians find themselves caught in an awkward situation, facing another obstacle they need to navigate with grace and wisdom. How should we respond as good ambassadors who follow Christ?” — Greg Koukl, speaker, author, and president of Stand to Reason
As Koukl says in the opening quote, this is indeed a difficult time, where finding a balance between bold “witnessing” and sensitive diplomacy is often fraught with legal and social landmines. Unfortunately, Christians as a group in America (and elsewhere) have not always had a reputation for handling such situations well. (This, of course, contributes to accusations of xxxxphobia and bigotry, among others.) There are many reasons for this — e.g., fear, ignorance, lack of biblical education, inconsistency in biblical worldview, our own sin issues, etc. — but no excuses. We need to do better.
In a recently published book, A New Kind of Apologist (edited by Sean McDowell), STR’s Alan Shlemon contributed an essay/chapter on this very issue. In “Transgender: Truth and Compassion”, which was excerpted in the Sep/Oct 2016 issue of STR’s “Solid Ground” newsletter, Shlemon educates the reader on both the relevant science and relevant biblical principles, as well as providing a little insight into the transgender mindset. He ends by offering sound counsel, proposing a few guidelines for engaging the transgenderism issue — with transgenders and those who support their “gender choice” and lifestyle — without compromising either truth or compassion.
The following are a few excerpts from the “Solid Ground” version….
“Imagine a woman telling you, “I’m transgender. Please call me Michael.” It’s obvious she’s female, but she’s asking you to call her by a man’s name. What do you do?
Many people today reject the notion that gender is a fixed trait based on biology. Rather, they believe gender is a flexible trait based on society. As feminist and social theorist Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.” Anatomy, therefore, is not destiny. One can choose what gender one wants to be.
Though this sounds counterintuitive, the culture is buying it. They are sympathetic to the plight of transgender people. They believe “Michael” is a man trapped in a woman’s body and they’re willing to accommodate the transgender perception.
Recently, a woman complained to the management of a fitness gym after she was startled to see a man in the women’s locker room. The public relations department responded by saying, “Guests may use all gym facilities based on their sincere self-reported gender identity.” In other words, if you’re a man but believe you’re a woman, you can use the women’s locker room. Concerned by the gym’s policy, the woman warned other women at the gym about the transgender person. Management asked her to stop. When she refused, the gym cancelled her membership.
It’s not surprising, then, that Time Magazine called transgender the next civil rights movement. They predict a cultural shift as significant as that toward African-Americans and (though not parallel) homosexuals.
Christians, then, face another great challenge. The culture thinks they’re backward-thinking on moral issues, bigoted about homosexuality, and probably biased against transgender people. How do we respond?
We need to move forward with truth and grace, the way Jesus did. This requires becoming a new kind of apologist. We can’t simply quote what Scripture says because most of our culture rejects biblical authority. Instead, science is king in today’s world. Apologists need to be savvy enough to know the truth revealed in Scripture (special revelation) and in science (general revelation). Both sources of knowledge come from God and, as a result, conform to each other.
As you learn the truth about transgender people from both Scripture and science, it will help you have compassion for them. Jesus knew that those around Him were lost and hurting. That’s what led Him to act with kindness and good will towards them.
Following in the footsteps of Christ, the new kind of apologist integrates both truth and compassion in his response. Knowing truth requires knowing what Scripture says, what science says, and understanding the experience of transgender people. If we are steeped in this truth, it will change the way we feel about transgender people and it will change the way we treat them.
Know the Truth
Although Scripture is largely silent about transgender, it does speak directly to the broader question of the created order, gender, and sexual behavior. It turns out we have a biblical grounding for the gender roles we intuitively know to be true….”
Shlemon then briefly discusses the gender complementarity clearly taught in Scripture, which is then backed up by science and intuition. From there, he launches into a very helpful section that talks about the relationship between biology and gender identity, what it means to be “transgender”, the psychological and emotional distress involved (which does not go away after sex reassignment surgery), considerations of public policy, etc….
“It is possible, though, for a person to develop a gender identity that is different from his or her biological sex. Male homosexuals have a conscious gender identity that’s male, but most (though not all) have a subconscious gender identity that’s female.
A transgender man has a female subconscious gender identity too, similar to a homosexual, but also consciously thinks of himself as female. That’s why (unlike a homosexual man) he might say he feels like a woman trapped in a man’s body. The converse would be true with a female transgender person. The reality is more nuanced than this, but these charts [see link below] summarize this concept.
Transgender people feel like they are trapped inside a body that is the opposite of their perceived gender. As you can imagine, this leads to a tremendous amount of psychological and emotional distress. Many of them are also stigmatized by society. Sadly, 41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide (compared to 1.6 percent of the general population).
They are deeply hurting inside. That’s why many of them attempt to change their bodies with hormones, drugs, and sex-change surgery. Instead of working to change their gender identity to match their biology, they want to change their biology to match their gender identity. An obvious concern with the latter approach is that while it’s not possible to mistake your biological sex, it is possible to mistake your perceived gender….”
This is a very informative section, and Shlemon references such sources as the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Archives of General Psychiatry, First Things, and The Federalist. He concludes this section with some advice for dealing with the reality of current cultural demands that result in transgenders having access to areas of privacy traditionally preserved for those who self-identify with their own biological sex.
Here is an excerpt from the final section…
“Treat Them with Compassion
The new kind of apologist who is aware of the transgender person’s brokenness finds that this knowledge changes the way he responds….
The truth we’ve learned about transgender people is a sober reminder that we live in a fallen world. These people have been hurt. The culture has lied to them and medical professionals have been complicit in their gender-identity confusion. We need to speak truth to them, but it must be motivated by compassion.”
At this point, Shlemon recommends a 3-pronged approach, which I’ll summarize:
1) Build friendships first. Communication, especially on difficult issues, comes easier with those we know and (hopefully) trust.
2) Remember that we are not to have the same expectations of those outside the Christian community/family as we do for professed Christ-followers. Therefore, while we hold all those in the latter group to the same Christ-like standard, we must handle those in the former group differently. (I Cor. 5:9-13)
3) Focus on the Gospel.
“That’s the approach I take with everyone: a Muslim, an atheist, a homosexual, or a transgender. In most cases where a nonbeliever has changed how he lived, it was because he first committed his life to Christ. Then the Holy Spirit transformed him from the inside out. The Spirit changed his heart and his desires, and then changed his life. As the saying goes, God catches His fish first, and then He cleans them. We want our transgender friend or family member to turn to God first. Then, the other changes come more easily over time.”
As far as I know, I haven’t encountered any transgenders, let alone gotten into any serious conversations regarding these issues. (Of course, I don’t get out much.) When I do, as I’m sure is inevitable, I pray that I remember Shlemon’s advice and am prepared to respond with equal parts truth and compassion.
I urge my readers to read Shlemon’s entire article online, which contains much more supporting data, discussion, and footnotes.