Somewhat against my better judgement, I’d like to wade into the transgender discussion. Actually, I wouldn’t like to at all. Instead of writing this, I’d rather have spent the last hour reading my Bible, or chatting to my wife, or watching ‘The Chase’, or shaving my head with a cheese grater, or doing a thousand other things. But I think this might be worth the effort. I hope it helps someone.
Last week, I wrote a (now-deleted) Facebook post about Ellen Page declaring herself to be Elliot Page. I asked questions like ‘If gender is just a social construct, then why the need to change genders? Why not just be the kind of woman who breaks stereotypes? How can gender be everything and also nothing at the same time?’ I added that it was sad to see so many people dealing with the delusion and pain of gender dysphoria, and hinted that it would be wonderful to see more people finding the genuine answers that Jesus Christ offers.
A good number of Christian friends said they liked the post; a few commented, some critically. One argued that it was more important to be “loving, kind and respectful” than to be “technically correct”. [He also asked how I’d feel if everyone started calling me ‘Mrs Robson’, arguing that it would hurt my feelings so much that surely I should be able to understand why Page wants the world to call her ‘he/they’ from now on. Okay, here’s an interesting thought experiment: If everyone started calling me ‘Mrs Robson’, would that make me Mrs Robson? Or is there some objective reality which tells us that I am, in fact, Mr Robson, whether or not everyone realises it? “Let God be true, and every human being a liar.” What about if I started calling myself ‘Mrs Robson’—would reality bend to my will?]
Another friend chided me (‘unhelpful’ was the word, I think) for describing Ellen Page (and other transgender folk) as experiencing a ‘delusion’, even as he said that sometimes people identify as “a gender other than their own”, which sounds to me like a gentler way of saying ‘delusion’. (By the way, this is why I deleted the original post: my friends didn’t ask to be dragged into an argument of this length. This way, they can remain anonymous.)
This all makes me wonder: are some Christians in danger of being badly confused by the transgender moment? I’m certain that the answer is yes. Comments from two friends on Facebook is one thing, but it goes much further. I’ve seen this same dynamic at play in many conversations, and just through simple observation of the world around me.
Of course, almost all Christian people desire to be loving toward their neighbour (in fact, that’s pretty darn close to a non-negotiable—a mark of whether or not someone is really a follower of Christ). But some Christians seem to have been badly misled on what it means to actually be loving in these situations.
The truth is that Ellen Page—a woman who now believes herself to be a man—is wrong. There, I said it. Saying “I am a spectacled caiman” does not make me a spectacled caiman. It makes me a confused, deluded man. Saying “I am a woman” does not make me a woman (and if you think it does, you’re going to have a very hard time offering a meaningful definition of the word ‘woman’).
Therefore, I would not be loving to reinforce Page’s delusion. It’s one thing to be thoughtful and sensitive about how and when I address the delusion, but surely I couldn’t go along with the delusion and also claim to be loving.
Practically every Christian talk or workshop I have heard on these issues starts out by saying something like: “these issues are complex”. And they are. People’s real, messy lives are involved. Whatever you think of Ellen Page’s lifestyle or worldview, she is a human being made in the image of God, and—by her own admission—she’s fearful about what happens next. Moreover, the way Bible-believing Christians see the world is radically different from the way Progressives (like Page, a self-confessed atheist) see the world. That makes for some very complicated conversations.
BUT for all the complexity, the Bible is not at all unclear. In fact, the Bible’s teaching on this issue is disarmingly simple. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) The reality of two genders, male and female, is a central part of the human race that God created. And from there, book after book after book of the Bible shows, in a thousand different ways, that men and women are equal before God but also, wonderfully, different. To pick but one example, Titus 2 addresses men as men; it addresses women as women. That’s not to say that there’s one way to be a man or one way to be a woman; nor is it to say that the distinction between men and women is the defining thing about us (Galatians 3:28, anyone?). But it is to say that we aren’t just human beings; we are men and women. That’s how God designed us.
In our good desire to acknowledge complex emotions and to grapple with the complex clash of worldviews, I worry that we’re starting to see complexity where the Bible actually offers wonderful, life-giving simplicity. (I haven’t even mentioned science, but I hope we know where the science takes us on this one.)
Moreover, the Bible enjoins Christians to be those who are constantly “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). There is simply no verse—no way of thinking, no worldview—anywhere in Scripture that invites us to consider “speaking lies in love”. It’s an absurd idea. It’s a logical and pastoral impossibility. If “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), how can we ever separate the truth from love? (This bizarre division, it seems, is championed by AOC, the current darling of American political Progressives: “There’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.”)
Please note that this piece is absolutely NOT meant to be a comprehensive outline of everything I want to say to people facing gender dysphoria (not by a long shot!), nor is it my full recommendation for how other Christians should talk to such people. Wisdom and pastoral sensitivity are indispensable. So much more must be said (see, for example, the resources recommended below). I’m just making one point: whatever else we want to say or do, and however else we say or do it, Christians have to realise that genuine love can never be separated from the truth. We can never claim to be loving by telling or reinforcing lies, or by failing to stand on the side of truth. You don’t always have to say everything that’s true, but you should never say something that is untrue.
In what universe could a Christian separate being “correct” from being “loving, kind and respectful”? (Notice that I removed the loaded word ‘technically’ that was part of my friend’s criticism. Being “correct” is one thing; being “technically correct” seems to suggest that you’re a clinical, cold-hearted SOB, right?) In what universe can a Christian conclude that love requires us to affirm something that God denies, or to deny something that God affirms?
And here’s the answer: in THIS universe! In this cultural universe at this cultural moment, in which we live with radical skepticism about the very notion of truth, and in which the transgender movement—and the cultural revolution to which it belongs—is sweeping up so much of what lies in its path. I get it. I really do. We want to love people, and love is hard. But that’s precisely why we need to think hard about these issues. That’s precisely why Christians need to press pause and ponder what, exactly, it looks like to love.
These are, indeed, incredibly complex emotional issues for the people dealing with them, not to mention that it takes great wisdom and insight to deconstruct the worldviews behind the transgender moment. But for all the complexity, the Bible offers some wonderful simplicity and clarity. Please, in our desire to love broken people and play our part in a complex world, let’s not sacrifice the Bible’s wonderful, life-giving simplicity. Do not sacrifice the truth.
Speak the truth in love.
Speak THE TRUTH in love.
Speak the truth IN LOVE.
Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally
Don Carson, Love in Hard Places
Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body
Vaughan Roberts, Transgender
Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self