I haven’t posted a News of the Week for a couple of weeks, mostly because it’s been so busy.
And my half a dozen regular readers have no doubt been disappointed.
While busyness is the main reason, it’s not the only one. I confess that I find sorting and thinking through the various events and stories in the news to be a little overwhelming. Every day we can be inundated with multiple news items that can elicit all sorts of emotions. Even a single story can be so multi-layered as to require a great deal of reflection to understand it from a Christian point of view. Not only that, but so much of what we’re seeing in the news also requires us to examine what are often conflicting worldviews.
Take, for example, all stories that are ostensibly related to LGBTQ+ issues: churches dividing over same-sex marriage, the NHL and Pride events, drag queen story hours, transgender people and the controversy over “gender-affirming” healthcare, and recent battles between concerned parents and various school boards.
And that’s just to name a few.
I suppose some might wonder why some Christians make such a big deal about these issues. They are certainly not the only things happening in our world — they definitely are not the only areas of concern. Isn’t the concern about these issues of sexuality and human identity more about a bunch of stuffy and oppressive religious people who are intolerant and behind the times?
Well, I don’t think so. So let me tell why I think some Christians at least are very concerned about these issues. Or at least where I am coming from as a Christian, as a pastor, and as someone who has been a Bible and theology student for roughly 30 years.
What these stories and issues bring to the fore are some profound, fundamental questions about the nature of human identity and purpose. They raise deep questions as to the very nature of truth and how we determine what is or isn’t true. For someone who has a deep concern for what is and isn’t true about life and the world, these issues are not simply about differences of opinion.
Moreover, many of these issues touch on the most intimate aspects of our lives and relationships. Add to this the feeling that many have that outside forces — be it government, the media, or various advocacy groups — are intruding ever more significantly into our personal spaces. Is it any wonder that there is not only confusion but an increasing level of anger amongst people caught in the middle of some of these controversies?
Underneath all of this also is a profound collision between competing visions of what gives life meaning and allows life to flourish.
Let’s take one example: gender-affirming healthcare. Sounds innocuous on one level, but you have to ask what is meant by “gender-affirming” healthcare. Because what it refers to are medical interventions, surgery and/or medications, that allow an individual to alter their biological identity so it more closely conforms to their chosen gender identity.
Far from affirming the actual physical gender of a given person, therefore, “gender-affirming” healthcare concedes that gender is a matter of psychology rather than biology. Gender is no longer acknowledged at birth but “assigned.” You are the gender you believe or feel yourself to be. And these days large parts of our medical establishment proceeds on the assumption that such subjective conclusions ought to be accepted without serious questions.
Now, there was a time when someone who believed or felt that they were somehow trapped in the body of the wrong gender would be described as having gender dysphoria. It would fall under the category of mental health.
No longer. Instead, like same-sex marriage, the notion that a man can transition to being a woman or vice-versa is being increasingly normalized. Even asking questions which would have been reasonable five minutes ago is now anathema. Simply having an opposing viewpoint is thought by many to be intolerant. Not wanting your young children to be taught that we can choose our gender constitutes parental malpractice. Indeed, in some public school systems, parents can be shut out of their own child’s decision to transition to another gender.
As a father of three, let’s just say I am grateful my kids are already teenagers and that they are not in the public school system.
But when we consider all of this stuff about gender-identity, what are some of the things we can and should say from a Christian worldview?
First, before we speak we should take a breath and listen. Because these are sensitive subjects. They’re complicated. Not necessarily because what the Scriptures say about gender is unclear but because we cannot separate our discussion about these matters from actual flesh and blood human beings. People are messy. Dealing with this stuff in the context of our everyday relationships with friends, family, co-workers, and neighbours will often be difficult. Such conversations will not be straightforward.
In other words, arguing for our point of view or getting defensive when we’re talking to someone who is either transgender or is affirming of transgender persons, by quoting the Bible or speaking in “Christianese,” will probably not be helpful. It might even make things worse. We have to learn how to relate to people, to listen to their stories, and be willing to engage over the long term. Our concern should be to win the person not the argument. To that end, I think we have to exercise patience and humility. The Bible has much to say about how followers of Jesus are to conduct themselves in conversations with those who do not share their beliefs or their faith.
This doesn’t mean never saying what we believe or what we think specifically about this particular issue. But are we speaking so we can say we spoke the truth or because we want to lovingly convey the truth? Depending on the context of the conversation, we may have gauge our approach differently. Perhaps think about how to speak the truth in a way that moves the conversation forward rather than stopping it in its tracks. We don’t have to say everything we believe all at once. Now, I get that how the conversation goes depends in part on the person with whom we are speaking. For our part, our goal is to be gracious.
Second, this means remembering that every human being without exception has been created in the imago Dei, in the image of God. This means that every human being has intrinsic value and dignity. We may disagree profoundly with the choices someone makes — especially with an extreme choice regarding “gender-affirming” healthcare — but this person is still someone God loves. I may cringe when I see video clips of a trans-identifying person like Dylan Mulvaney, but I have to remind myself that he is made in God’s image and that God loves him. This is also true of anyone who identifies as trans. Given this is so, if I were to have a conversation with a trans person, I hope that this theological perspective would guide my attitude and how I speak (both what I say and how I say it).
Yet, being made in the image of God includes being made either male or female. Gender is binary. The incredibly small number of cases of people being born with ambiguous genitalia doesn’t change this. Because the fact is that we are created by God. Male and female he created them, Genesis says. There are givens or boundaries when it comes to who we are. We can’t legitimately re-create ourselves into whatever gender we wish or even deeply feel ourselves to be. And there are examples of those who have tried through surgery or hormone blockers to do just this, and afterwards have regretted it and chosen to de-transition. The stories of people who have had “gender-affirming” surgery and regretted it (and in some case are suing doctors and hospitals) are becoming more and more publicly known.
So, therefore, loving someone who is transgender doesn’t mean supporting or agreeing with their decisions about “gender-affirming” healthcare. Biblically, loving someone means wanting for that person what God wants for them. God is the one who defines love, not us. Indeed, God created us in his image so that we would love him and one another. If we want to know what love is, then we need to turn to what God has revealed about love (in saying this I realize full well that there are plenty of people who do not accept the Bible as the authoritative text for understanding God’s character and his will for our lives, but that is a very different conversation).
But how we understand what it means to love other people is especially important (but still difficult) if we have a close family member or friend who is transgender (or identifies anywhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum). So often we think of love in these relationships as wanting to maintain a positive relationship at all costs. But if we are followers of Jesus, love and truth should always go together — they can be in tension, yes, but not in outright contradiction with one another.
Third, the conversation or conflict around transgender-identifying persons and “gender-affirming” healthcare raises the question of how we arrive at true conclusions about ourselves, life, as well as meaning and purpose. When supreme court justices and politicians cannot answer (or are unwilling to answer) the basic question, “What is a woman?”, we see how truth has become more and more individualized, internalized, and how truth is more and more a matter of how a person feels. That is, people are increasingly treating truth as subjective. Hence, the phrase “speak your truth.”
Living as though truth were primarily a matter of one’s internal sense of self (as in the case of trans persons) or simply a matter of how one feels about this or that renders truth incoherent. For instance, using a word such as “woman” is meaningless without some sort of common definition as to what we are referring to when we use the word “woman.” I would recommend the documentary What is a Woman? if you want to get a clearer picture. If you don’t want to subscribe to The Daily Wire to view this documentary, there are clips on YouTube. Here’s the trailer.
In the Christian worldview, truth is not subjective. There is truth external to us as human subjects that impinges upon us, to which we are subject whether we like it or not. I may not feel like obeying the law of gravity, but if I choose to ignore it then I will pay the consequences. As it happens, there are also truths about who we are as human beings. Perhaps this is a core reason why there are trans-persons who are choosing to de-transition. They are discovering that surgery and hormone blockers are not the solution to the emotional and mental struggles they are having.
Psalm 100:3 says this: Acknowledge that the Lord is God. He made us, and we are his. Add to this these words to Genesis 1:27-28:
So God created man
in his own image;
he created him in the image of God;
he created them male and female.
So if we are Christians, then this is where we begin when we’re thinking about gender identity and who we are as human beings. However we engage in conversations about gender and sexuality, we need to begin with the reality that God has created us male and female and that we can only truly find our meaning and purpose through him. Our Christian worldview is the framework within which we have conversations about these complex and difficult cultural issues.
But if we’re talking with people who do not share our worldview, there are ways of having such conversations about these issues that might be helpful.
Here are some questions worth asking someone who is trans-affirming or who approves of “gender-affirming” healthcare:
What relationship does our biology have to who we are as persons? To be blunt, is having female or male genitalia incidental to who who are? Why or why not?
At what age should a person be able to make medical choices that will permanently affect their lives? At what age is it appropriate for a child or young person to make such a decision without the knowledge of their parents? Are we comfortable with schools withholding such information from parents?
Aren’t the examples of several de-transitioners a cautionary tale? Why aren’t these stories more prominent in mainstream media coverage?
There is, apparently, a good deal of money in “gender-affirming” healthcare for medical institutions that offer it. Isn’t this an alarm bell similar to the vested interest pharmaceutical companies have in getting more people taking multiple doses of COVID vaccines? Where do medical ethics go when large profits are involved?
No doubt you can add to this list of questions. I won’t.
This is already a very long post. At times I wasn’t sure about even posting it. While writing it I was aware of how inadequate I am when it comes to articulating all that needs to be said. But you can easily see what I meant about such topics being complicated and multilayered. There are many more aspects to this subject that I either don’t mention or only mention in passing. But for those of us who are Christians, who have a worldview that differs so significantly from those who support “gender-affirming” healthcare, we need to talk about these things and to reflect on them well. This is especially true of pastors and leaders of churches. Though it’s hard (or so it seems to me) to know how to address such topics in the context of preaching, we need to take into account that people in our churches, and the people they see day in and day out, are trying to figure out how to think about these things.
Living as broken human beings in this world is messy and hard. Living as followers of Jesus is becoming messier than it used to be. But that doesn’t mean foregoing our responsibility to be discerning and loving, to speak the truth but to do so in love and grace. In the end, each of us lives with our own brokenness. For those of us who follow Jesus, the only difference is that we have found in him the source of truth and love, and for that reason the possibility of hope and healing. Ultimately, that’s what we want for others too. Because that is what it means to show them the love we have come to know in Christ.