Several weeks ago I posted some thoughts regarding the Christian view of human nature in light of the current transgender movement and our culture’s increasingly confused approach to gender, sexuality, and identity. You can find that post here. There I focused on Genesis 1:27 and the foundational truth it reveals about human beings: namely, that we are created in the image of God and that we are created male and female. Having been created by God, of course, means that we receive and do not manufacture our identity as human beings. There is a fundamental sense in which we do not get to choose what we are. Having been created male and female means that there is a binary reality to gender and human identity, contrary to what many are presently trying to assert. Given that the debate surrounding the questions of gender identity and sexuality permeates our culture, those of who are Christians, who hold to what we might call a traditional view of human sexuality, have an obligation to think through these questions as thoughtfully and as sensitively as we are able. This means having a robustly biblical understanding of what it means to be a human being.
I have no doubt that there are people who experience a sense of who they are that does not conform to the biblical understanding of sexuality, gender, and personhood. Furthermore, I have no doubt, for example, that people who experience same-sex attraction are genuinely attracted to those of the same biological sex and that such feelings are not under their control any more than my attraction is to those of the opposite sex. As it is, I don’t decide to experience an attraction to my wife (or other women I find attractive); I simply experience it. For this reason, it is understandable to ask: If someone’s inner-sense of self doesn’t conform to their biological sex or if someone is attracted to a person of the same biological sex, doesn’t this mean that God made them this way? And if that’s so, doesn’t that mean we simply ought to affirm without question any given individual’s inner-sense of self? If someone is created in the image of God, doesn’t this include the inner-sense of self experienced by those, for instance, who describe themselves as transgender? Were such persons not, as the song says, born this way? Didn’t God intend some people to live out their lives as transgendered? If someone is born with same-sex attraction, doesn’t that mean God intends them to pursue relationships with people of the same biological sex?
It is at this point that many might expect me to quote the various passages in Scripture that refer to sexual activity between two people of the same biological sex as sinful. But those passages, while important, are often weaponized or simply quoted without placing them within the larger biblical understanding of human nature and personhood. Because even though I do think Scripture forbids same-sex sexual intimacy, this is not the only kind of sexual activity the Bible forbids as out of step with God’s created intent for his human creatures. In point of fact, the only biblically rightful place for sexual intimacy is in the marriage covenant between one man and one woman. Sexual activity with someone other than your spouse is sin. Sex outside of marriage, even with someone of the opposite biological sex, is also sin. Whatever what someone believes about sexuality and gender identity, it is within this biblical horizon that I approach the questions about them.
Within this biblical horizon not only is it true that human beings are created in the imago Dei and as male and female but God, having created human beings, pronounces them very good. And this very good concerns not only their initial creation but the purpose for which God made them: to be his stewards in the world, his representatives to the rest of creation. To the degree humanity fulfills its telos, humanity is very good. Living in right relationship with God, creation, and one another is what it means to live according to God’s purposes for us. And if there is a right way to live in relation to God and one another, there is also a wrong way. Not every available way for human beings to live in relationship to one another in this world conforms to the way we were made.
For this reason human beings are also portrayed as having strayed from the purposes with which they have been designed by the Creator. The primordial sin is not sexual but it does have consequences for our sexuality (and every other aspect of our humanity). In Genesis 3 the character of the serpent–described as crafty or shrewd–plants the seeds of doubt about God’s trustworthiness first in the mind of the woman. Referring to God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the serpent deceitfully intones, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” It is the first half of the question that carries the weight of the whole: Did God really say? In other words, the serpent cunningly asks, “Are you sure God can be trusted? Maybe you’re better off making decisions about your life without regard to this God who seems so intent on putting obstacles in the way of your self-fulfillment.” Alas, both the man and the woman agree. So, sin enters creation.
This story doesn’t fit our current secular cultural narrative. Sin is very nearly an extinct term. Bringing it up rudely interrupts the ongoing liberal project of progress towards some kind of human utopia. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that to many it is a term of disparagement. After all, people are intrinsically good. With enough proper, government-approved education and technological advancements, we can engineer people and therefore society to fit the mold of our best intentions. Raising the spectre of sin casts doubt on how people in our world either see themselves or are told to see themselves. Not to mention that it raises the undesirable possibility that our questions and predicaments demand answers from a transcendent source. And we can’t have that.
Contrary to the narrative much of the world wants to assert as true, the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testament boldly assert that all human beings are lost, broken, and sinful. We enter the world already in need of rescue and repair. And what we’re talking about here is how each of us has in effect listened to the serpent and is therefore inclined to pursue a sense of identity and meaning apart from reference to a divine Creator and Redeemer. And this includes the way in which we understand and live out what it means to be sexual, gendered creatures. If someone experiences an inner-sense of self where they feel like a man trapped in a woman’s body, this doesn’t mean they ought to identify as a man and live accordingly. Put simply, to be born this way doesn’t mean we ought to live that way.
So when we speak of sin, we’re not only talking about particular actions or examples of behaviours. We’re talking about a disposition or moral orientation that all human beings share. Obedience to and faith in God is not our natural inclination. This means that even if someone by all appearances is a good person, this doesn’t mean they are not sinful. An individual can exhibit positive character traits, be a good neighbour and citizen, for reasons other than a genuine desire to love. We can act virtuously for selfish reasons. Of course, even if we act virtuously for good reasons, our motivations are never entirely pure or unselfish. It is this sinful inclination of our hearts that manifests in various actions and attitudes that betray our underlying lack of faith in or contempt for God and his purposes for us. Not only do we sin, we are sinful; and the latter precedes the former.
We see this in Romans 1. There, speaking first of God, the apostle Paul says that his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened. . . .Therefore God delivered them over in the desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen. A rejection of God and his purposes for us leads to idolatry, disordered loves, and thinking unanchored in the purposes embedded in the fabric of creation.
It is after Paul says this he goes one to say that God delivered them over to disgraceful passions. Their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The men in the same way also left natural relations with women and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error. And lest we think that Paul only refers to sexual sin, he goes on: And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Although they know God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die—they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them. Much can be said about these verses from Romans 1, but what’s clear is that rejecting God leads to a proliferation of sin among human beings. Such sin includes but isn’t limited to sin that involves our sexuality. All this to say that even if someone is born with (or comes to experience) an inner-sense of self that doesn’t match their biological sex, this does not mean that God designed them to be a transgendered person. It doesn’t mean that it is God’s will for a man to transition, with or without medical intervention, to being a woman or vice-versa.
I understand that what I’ve said will be rejected by some. Others will find it hard to hear. And I should also point out that I am not a scientist, doctor, or any kind of medical expert, so I cannot pretend to understand fully the complexities of transgenderism or other gender identity issues. I also want to make clear that I think it is absolutely possible and crucial for those with a traditional biblical understanding of personhood and gender to demonstrate love and compassion to those who identify as transgender or as a gender other than male or female. Not everyone will agree. Instead, the current thinking leans towards seeing the wholesale acceptance of any and every gender expression as essential to what it means to love and have compassion. According to this perspective, seeing such gender expressions as manifestations of our broken and sinful human nature is, therefore, intolerant and hateful. Is it any wonder, then, that public discourse around these sensitive subjects are often so polarizing? What we have here is one example of the clash of worldviews that is at play between Christianity (or even religious theism in general) and a culture that is unmoored from any discernible ethical foundation.
According to Scripture, human beings are created in the image of God with value and purpose. And human beings are created either male or female. Each of us also has a sinful human nature, one which inclines us to pursue lives out of step with God’s telos (or ultimate purpose) for us. So we each need forgiveness. We need God’s healing power in the midst of our brokenness. The God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is actively at work seeking to redeem each of us out of the mess into which we have gotten ourselves. And while we each experience this mess in different ways, it is into our collective mess that Christ comes to effect the spiritual transformation that will enable us to become the human beings we were always created to be. When time permits, it is to this spiritual transformation and what it means that we will turn next.