On Gender and the Bible: Thoughts of a Theologian and a Therapist on the Transgender Debate (Part 11)
*Editor’s Note: The previous articles in our series “On Gender and the Bible” have asked what the Bible says about God’s purposes for creating men and women and how those purposes can be lived out in the church and home. This is Part 11 in our series exploring what the Bible says about gender. Here are Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. This article takes a step back and examines the concept of gender itself. Part of LGBTQ+ orthodoxy is the belief that gender is a fluid, socially constructed concept, and, as such, gender can be separated from a person’s birth sex. Hence, the LGBTQ+ claim that, whatever a transgender person identifies as is that person’s fullest identity. How should Christians respond to transgenderism and transgender activism? How should Christians relate to transgender people? To help us navigate this cultural moment, we talked with both a theologian and a therapist. Darren Williamson (BA, MA, MS, PhD) is a theologian and historian who has ministered for several churches and taught at multiple Christian universities over the last 30 years. He has spent significant time researching this topic, and he now serves as the director of the Northwest School of Discipleship, a church-based educational initiative focused on equipping disciples for service and ministry in the unchurched Pacific Northwest. The therapist is Ellen Radcliff, a provisionally licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHCA) and a provisionally licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFTA), who also serves as part of the Executive Staff of Strength in Weakness.
Q: Ellen, can you tell us your story?
Ellen: I grew up in a Christian home with God at the center of my household and with unconditionally loving parents. Even still, my heart was fraught with insecurity growing up—mostly about my femininity. I grew up in a home where my dad was sort of the traditional stereotype for what a man is: rough, tough, gruff. And my mom is the opposite. She’s the traditional epitome of what a woman is: gentle, quiet, and nurturing. I was—and am—a lot more like my dad in personality and in character, which is something I’m very proud of now, but I wasn’t always.
As a young girl with a tender heart and lots of insecurities—and assumptions based on those insecurities—I concluded that I was broken as a woman. I felt that something was wrong with me because I didn’t match up to this bar of femininity that I had set for myself. That bar was my mom’s example of femininity, which I could not naturally emulate. I didn’t realize at the time that there are multiple ways to be feminine or masculine.
So I walked around with this incredible shame that I unknowingly masked as anger and hardness and superiority, especially directed toward my mom because deep down I resented her example of femininity and the inadequacy that it bred in my heart. Eventually, I went looking for validation that I was woman enough.
So, when I got into high school after harboring this insecurity and shame my whole life, I very innocently befriended a girl that I just simply admired. She was a bit more like me. She was opinionated, strong-willed, and outspoken, but she seemed okay with those parts of her—whereas I had grown up so ashamed of those parts of me. As our friendship developed, so did my infatuation with her. She eventually became my idol. It got to the point where my entire identity and sense of self-worth was wrapped up in her and in our friendship. The relationship became emotionally enmeshed very quickly. For me, it bordered on obsessive.
Honestly, when this level of emotional attachment and idolatry in a friendship is reached, especially among women, it’s easy for a physical relationship to follow. And that’s exactly what happened. This experience sort of spring-boarded me into a life of homosexuality. I lived as a lesbian for a time before I eventually surrendered my heart to God.
Long story short, I became a Christian, and I’m now happily married. My husband and son and I live in Eastern North Carolina. I’m also a provisionally licensed marriage and family therapist, and a mental health counselor here in North Carolina. I help individuals and families who are wrestling through sexual and or gender identity, whether in their own lives or the lives of a loved one.
Q: Sounds like having too rigid of gender stereotypes can cause confusion?
Ellen: Yes, and the Bible itself challenges rigid gender stereotypes. There are many men and women in the Bible that God lifts up as righteous examples that may not have lived up to our culturally constructed gender stereotypes: Deborah led the men into war. The story of Jael is incredibly violent. Ruth provided for her mother-in-law the way that a son would, sweating and toiling in the fields. The Proverbs 31 woman provided for her family and bought properties. David the warrior king wrote poetry which exuded tremendous emotion and vulnerability. Jesus himself showed strong emotion. He even likened himself to a hen gathering her chicks.
If we aren’t careful, too rigid of stereotypes can feel so oppressive to kids like me throughout their childhood. What I’ve found is that they’re not typically able to communicate it until their teenage years. When they say, “Mom and dad, I’m transgender,” what we don’t see in that teenage proclamation is the decade or more of confusion, isolation, and shame—even perceived failure to meet the cultural and societal stereotype of their gender.
I believe that we need to be confronting these gender stereotypes in our own hearts and homes so that the people living outside of the norm in this way don’t feel that they’re inherently sinful, just because they lack stereotypical masculine or feminine traits that the world has implemented.
Although I grew up very insecure in my femininity, I never actually experienced a strong desire to live as a man. I did really like wearing baggy clothes and playing basketball, and I hated dresses and being soft-spoken, but, given the time that I grew up in, for me these thoughts didn’t lead me to the conclusion that I should live as a man. But if I had grown up as a teenager today, I wonder if I would have applied the term transgender to my experience of simply rebelling against the socially constructed gender stereotypes that I felt were very oppressive to me.
Q: Even though we ought to challenge rigid gender stereotypes, should Christians follow the trend of opposing the gender binary altogether?
Ellen: It seems clear to me that there is an explicitly stated male-female binary in the Bible. Genesis 1:27 talks about the creation and humans, and it says that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NIV). There’s the binary. And whenever humanity is referred to in the rest of the Bible, it’s in binary categories. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. And when the Bible mentions crossing gender boundaries, it speaks only in the negative (1 Corinthians 6:9; Deuteronomy 22:5).
Darren: Yes, this foundational text that Ellen mentioned—Genesis 1:27—teaches that God’s good creation of humanity comes from its resemblance of him, giving humans dignity and existential value. It also teaches there are two kinds of man: male and female. More than that, the text continues by describing God’s command to humans to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (1:28, ESV). The first, archetypal human beings are made to complete one another sexually and together become procreators who imitate God’s creative nature. Maleness and femaleness are part of God’s good creation and are inextricably related to the physiological ability to reproduce.
Humanity is referred to in the Bible in binary categories: husbands and wives, brothers and sisters.
Q: Let’s talk about some important terms. What is “transgenderism” and “gender fluidity”?
Darren: Christians trying to understand the phenomenon of transgenderism will first need to develop a new vocabulary, for the discussion involves a whole cadre of words, expressions, and neologisms that have been largely a foreign language to those outside the world of gender studies.
The word transgenderism is an umbrella term that encapsulates a whole set of concepts pertaining to how individuals perceive their gender identity, particularly when that identity does not correspond to their biological sex. At its core is the belief that gender identity is viewed as a social construct that one embraces rather than an immutable fact. Elements that can contribute to one’s gender identity include persistent feelings and desires associated with a particular gender, sexual and emotional attraction, and biological sex.
Fundamental to transgenderism is the principle of gender fluidity, meaning that one’s gender identity is not fixed but a subjective state of mind that falls on a spectrum similar to that of feelings. According to one influential transgender group, gender identity is “One’s internal sense of being male, female, neither of these, both, or other gender(s)” and “For transgender people, their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity are not necessarily the same.”
Q: What is “gender dysphoria”?
Darren: Gender dysphoria is a designation adopted recently by the American Psychiatric Association to replace another phrase—Gender Identity Disorder—previously used in the field of psychiatry to describe the psychosis of incongruence between one’s biological sex and one’s gender. As the transgender movement began to gain acceptance, however, this term became problematic because it suggested that an “internal sense of gender” that was incongruent with one’s biological sex was itself a disorder. Thus, the term dysphoria emerged to describe a condition where one experiences deep psychological distress and discomfort over the incongruence between biological sex and gender identity.
The APA’s definition of gender dysphoria removes the stigma of disorder from transgender identity and bolsters the idea that gender is something assigned and not an objective reality. With this definition, gender dysphoria (not gender non-congruence) is a problem to be remedied, and that remedy often will be to present as the opposite sex or undergo medical treatments or ultimately to have sex reassignment surgery.
Q: What other terms do we need to know? Transsexual? Intersex?
Darren: A few other technical terms deserve attention, as they take on a specific meaning within the context of transgenderism. Importantly, the term gender no longer is taken as the equivalent to biological sex, but in the discussion of transgenderism mainly refers to the psychological, social, and cultural signals related to maleness and femaleness. A transgender person is one whose gender identity is something other than their biological sex, regardless of whether they represent as the opposite sex or have undergone any sex reassignment treatments. A transgender woman is a biological male that identifies as a woman (MTF), and vice versa.
A transsexual is a person who has undergone medical interventions to attempt to replicate the sex characteristics of their intended identity. Non-binary is a person who rejects all labels for themselves relating to gender, such as male, female, or man or woman, often seeking to be referenced with the plural pronouns “they, them, their.” Intersex condition is an extremely rare genetic anomaly in a developing baby’s sexual anatomy which makes the sex unclear at birth, even though genetically they are male or female. The scientific discussion of the intersex condition is separate from the transgender debate.
Gaining clarity about the terminology is important, but we must realize that all language carries values and norms, which is one of the reasons transgender activists are so insistent on the language used. Misgendering someone—addressing them according to biological sex—is considered a grave offense against a transgender person’s dignity. Yet, blindly incorporating all the language of the transgender community into our vocabulary is not wise, especially when it conveys a false notion about gender, so we must be careful even as we seek to use accepted terminology in the discussion.
Q: Transgenderism has become an incredibly polarizing issue. Why does it seem that the LGBTQ+ community and Bible-believing Christians live on separate planets when it comes to the transgender discussion?
Ellen: Well, I think we live by different standards. When it comes to Christianity, God’s capital-T Truth, as laid out in the Bible, is our compass for knowing how He calls us to live as Christians. The Bible makes it clear that our emotions are not good moral compasses (Jeremiah 17:9). No matter how we feel, we are to live for God. If we love him, we will obey him (John 14:23).
Following God instead of our hearts is a really difficult concept for our society to understand. In our modern, morally relativistic society, nothing currently trumps love of self. This concept of striving to love God more than self is becoming a foreign concept, especially among the youth of today. Instead, we hear these phrases multiple times a day: “I have to be true to me.” “I have to be unapologetically me.”
There is a sense in which I agree with these affirmations! I just do not see how they make sense outside of God. Who else knows my true self more than my Creator, who carefully knit me together and knows every hair on my head? Being true to me is living for God. Only out of an overflowing love for God, resulting in obedience to the standards that He calls me to live by, can I become fully who I am meant to be by my Creator.
Who else knows my true self more than my Creator?
Q: Darren, you have put together a list of five clear biblical truths which we should teach and confess in the face of transgender ideology today. What’s the first of these five truths?
Darren: The first truth is that God made us male and female, so we embrace the gender binary. Jesus affirmed the gender binary by referring to the creation of humans as male and female. When asked about the legitimate causes for divorce, he alluded to Genesis 1 and 2, drawing attention to God’s original design for human sexual flourishing. Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Matt. 19:4-5, ESV).
Jesus’ teaching about our original design as man and woman speaks directly to the underlying issue of transgenderism. Just as we are designed to couple with a member of the opposite sex for a life-long union of marriage, so are we designed to live out our lives as men and women, as signified by the physiological and procreative design of our Creator. The simple biblical teaching is heresy to transgender ideologues, representing a simplistic gender binary that oppresses people and does not allow them to express their true selves based on their internal sense of identity. Yet, the biblical truth remains: Male and female he made them.
Q: So, first, God made us male and female, so we embrace the gender binary. What’s the second truth?
Darren: Gender identity is anchored to biological sex. We embrace the body as a good gift of God. Determining a person’s sex in the biblical world was relatively simple and based on the observable and objective reality of male and female anatomy. Yet, transgender theory argues that the body is ultimately irrelevant. Instead, the inner sense of gender trumps biology.
The ideology behind transgenderism is new, but the philosophical underpinnings are nothing more than a revival of a form of ancient Gnosticism that diminished the importance of the body in preference for the soul, or the inner self. For Gnostics, “the material or bodily is inferior—if not a prison to escape, certainly a mere instrument to be manipulated to serve the goals of the ‘person,’ understood as the spirit or mind or psyche. The self is a spiritual or mental substance; the body, its merely material vehicle.” It is easy to see this view as essential to transgenderism, with its insistence that the “real me” is and can be something different than what one’s body indicates.
Nancy Pearcey labels this approach to the individual as “personhood theory,” a view that entails a dualistic view of the human being that sets the body against the soul (or inner self), demeans the value of the body, and views it as an inferior part of the human person that can be used for “purely pragmatic purposes.” This anthropology runs through all of transgender theory but also lies at the heart of every major moral issue facing North Americans today, and amounts in her view to a “hatred of the body.”
Directly opposed to personhood theory, or the “real me” notion, is the unified witness of Scripture that humans are embodied souls with an inner and outer existence, integrated into one person. To be sure, the Bible envisions a difference between the soul and body, but the sharp dualism of Platonic thought and later Gnostic permutations is rejected from the beginning to the end of Scripture.
The very fact that the material creation, including man made from dust, is repeatedly pronounced “good” in the creation narrative underscores this unity (Gen. 1:3–31); the wisdom literature poetically speaks of one’s “soul and flesh” yearning for God as working together in the life of faith (Ps. 63:1); the incarnation of God in Christ, the confession of which is a test of orthodoxy, confirms the value of the body (John 1:1, 14; 1 John 4:2); the bodily resurrection of Christ undercuts any kind of dualism that diminishes the importance of the body (Luke 24:39, 43); finally the essential teaching of the bodily resurrection of the dead rejects the view that the body is something to be scorned or dismissed (1 Cor. 15:1–58).
Closer to the topic at hand, Paul’s explicit moral instruction rests on the critical insight that the body really does matter. Writing in opposition to sexual immorality, Paul asks, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19–20, ESV).
In the current transgender climate, we must hold fast to the biblical view that the body and soul together create the person, and that we must work toward unity of the two. Our bodies are good gifts from God, even with the brokenness we experience in a fallen world; respecting the reliable and objective cues the body sends us regarding our gender is absolutely necessary for mental, personal, and spiritual health. The realities of our bodies allow us to live out the fundamental creation mandate and function as the preeminent determining factor for our gender identity.
Our bodies are good gifts from God, even with the brokenness we experience in a fallen world.
Q: First, God made us male and female. Second, gender identity is anchored to biological sex. What’s the third truth?
Darren: The third truth is that gender cannot actually be changed. Because it cannot be changed, we embrace our birth/natal sex. The entire Bible assumes throughout that individuals are either male or female, with Deuteronomy 22:5 (“A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God,” ESV) explicitly forbidding the confusion of the sexes. On the face of it, the prohibition is clear: men must present themselves as men and women should comport themselves as women.
Not only that, but the strong language describing the practice (“abomination”) indicates this is not a small matter of cultural taboos. While cross-dressing does not encapsulate all of transgenderism, its prohibition does speak to the issue. The passage does not simply apply to “gender expression,” but, as one author put it, “at a deeper level, however, the law assumes a more fundamental rule—that there are only two biological sexes—male and female—and that what is gender normative in God’s world is that one’s biological sex should govern both one’s gender identity and expression.” Far from being irrelevant to the discussion, the “text provides a kind of corrective to gender confusion and transgender identity.”
In addressing the dismissal of Deuteronomy 22:5 as only condemning “cross-dressing,” Robert Gagnon quips that, “in the ancient Near East, this is a distinction without much of a difference.” The biblical text does not parlay with relativistic alternative realities about gender but simply labels any such gender confused behavior as an abomination to the Lord.
Throughout the biblical text, sex is assumed to be an unchangeable feature of one’s identity directly related to biological capacity to reproduce, and something to be celebrated and lived out rather than rejected or changed. To be sure, different cultures will form distinct norms for male and female expression, but until recently each culture maintained a clear distinction between how men and women express themselves. Scripture assumes and confirms that people who embrace their gender will honor God by expressing themselves according to the gender norms in that culture.
Medical science confirms the unchangeability of one’s biological sex.
It must be stated firmly and repeatedly that it is a physical impossibility to change one’s sex, as maleness and femaleness is embedded into every cell of the human body from conception: females have an XX chromosomal structure whereas males have an XY. This differentiation continues throughout the life of a man or woman, with the major changes occurring at puberty as reproductive capability is finally operational.
So, when individuals desire to change their sex, they are unfortunately engaging in a fantasy world of physical impossibilities that will lead to disillusionment and depression. Undergoing hormone blockers and suppressors and, ultimately, surgery does not change one’s sex, but it does mutilate God’s good creation and prevents one from fully embracing one’s manhood or womanhood, as sterility is often the result of the procedures. Realizing that some things cannot be changed is simply part of living in a finite world, but it is also a key component to inner peace and wisdom.
The Serenity Prayer has helped millions deal with difficulties in their lives stemming from substance abuse, largely because it expresses classic wisdom and biblical truth: “God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Sex—and the gender identity that flows from it—is something that cannot be changed, and attempts to do so will not produce peace and satisfaction but rather delay the acceptance of reality and keep people from making the kinds of changes that are actually within their grasp.
Paul McHugh, one of the leading scientific researchers on sex change surgery, pulls no punches when he accuses the psychiatric and medical profession of misconduct by suggesting to people that they can really change their sex through surgery. In his words, “We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it.”
Q: First, God made us male and female. Second, gender identity is anchored to biological sex. Third, gender cannot actually be changed. And the fourth truth?
Darren: It’s that internal sense about our gender identity cannot be trusted. Therefore, we embrace facts over feelings. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (ESV). One of the most dangerous things about the new gender theory is that inner thoughts and feelings about gender are given absolute primacy when determining gender identity. The enthronement of thought patterns and feelings is the ultimate expression of hyper-individualism, that is, the ultimate authority of the autonomous self.
Normally, when evaluating important matters, humans consider various sources of authority, such as societal expectations, reason, religion, material facts, and personal desires, and come to wise conclusions. In the case of transgender identity, however, external factors are made subservient to the inner sense of gender identity. More than that, society, family, schools, social norms, businesses, medical providers, and the law must bow to that subjective inner sense in action and speech, without question, or face the charge of bigotry, transphobia, and even abetting suicide.
The most obvious problem with our subjective and inner sense being given authority over our identity is that Scripture consistently labels the thoughts and feelings of the heart as unreliable guides to wisdom. Proverbs represents the overall biblical view, reminding readers not to “lean on your own understanding” nor “be wise in your own eyes” (Prov. 3:3-7), but instead to trust in the objective reality of God’s Word and teachings passed down by faithful people.
The prophet Jeremiah bluntly states that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9, ESV). The reason for this deep, biblical skepticism about following one’s feelings is that human minds and hearts have been habituated by sin and rebellion. Paul says, “You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:17–18, ESV). Paul continues, “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Eph. 4:22–23, ESV).
The idea that we should trust our hearts and desires to teach us the truth about our gender identity is a Disney fantasy, an unstable principle upon which to base one’s identity.
Also problematic is that transgender ideology is marked throughout by a full-scale rejection of God’s authority over his creation in favor of the supremacy of the individual. David Cloutier put it this way: “What I suspect is that the subjective sense of one’s own gender and sexual identity has become so important in our society that we are willing to sacrifice the body to it. In other words, the sense of gender identity being invoked here is construed as sacred. And the particular sense of the sacred has to do with a kind of radical self-determination.” The goddess of self-determination reigns in transgender ideology, requiring everyone to bow to the internal and fluctuating feelings of the individual person, regardless of physical realities and common sense.
Even if its original setting is not related to sexual identity, it is appropriate to invoke the biblical image of the potter and the clay. “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?” (Is. 45:9, ESV). Transgender ideology represents a striving against the creator, for embracing our maleness or femaleness is a basic part of submitting to God’s good creation and his authority over our lives. Rejecting the obvious and trying to manipulate one’s body to be something fundamentally other than what God made us to be is an expression of rebellion. The common phrase, “God put me in the wrong body,” is an affront to God’s authority—the clay rebuking the potter.
Finally, trusting our inner self as a reliable guide to our gender identity is problematic for adults with fully formed brains, but it is even more dangerous when this ideology is applied to young children whose experience of reality is still being shaped and their brains still developing. Yet, our society is rapidly embracing transgender ideology and applying it to minor children at skyrocketing rates, some states even making it illegal to encourage children to “desist” from transitioning. Christians must reject the premise that one’s feelings and internal sense are authoritative for determining gender identity.
Transgender ideology is marked throughout by a full-scale rejection of God’s authority over his creation in favor of the supremacy of the individual.
Q: The fourth truth is that internal sense about our gender identity cannot be trusted. What’s the fifth truth?
Darren: It’s that Christians tell the truth in love. Ephesians 4:14 says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him, who is the head, into Christ” (ESV). Paul’s moral exhortation to the Ephesian Christians centers around the importance of truth-telling to the Christian ethic. The essence of being a Christian is a rejection of false narratives about God, ourselves, and our world, and recognition of the “truth that is in Jesus.” Having “put away falsehood,” we are urged to “speak the truth” to one another, but to do it in a way that is loving and that seeks the good of the other person.
In the context of transgenderism, our message must be clear and unwavering, even when the rest of society is going along with delusion. Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” is worth considering as a rhetorical device to counter trans ideology. In that story, swindlers convinced the vain Emperor and his administrators that they had fashioned an amazing set of invisible clothes that were very beautiful. Furthermore, they asserted that the only people who could not appreciate their beauty were the dull and unsophisticated.
Similarly, trans activists have quickly convinced a large portion of our society that gender is merely a social construct, that people can change their sex, and that people will be much better off if their bodies were medically altered to match an internal sense of gender. But, as in the fairy tale, one little child has enough courage to declare the actual reality, that the Emperor is not wearing anything at all and that the whole thing is a great lie. Christians should play the same role as the child in the story and keep pointing out the fallacy of transgenderism, joining ranks with a growing number of concerned groups who are beginning to see the truth as well.
Q: Could you summarize the five truths for us?
Darren: Yes, here’s the list of five simple biblical truths which we should teach and confess in the face of transgender ideology today:
- God made us male and female.
- Gender identity is anchored to biological sex.
- Gender cannot be changed.
- Internal sense about our gender identity cannot be trusted.
- Christians tell the truth in love.
Q: Let’s talk about personal relationships within a church setting. As a Christian, when you know somebody who has come out as transgender, how do you approach the relationship within the church?
Ellen: Let me mention first of all that I think our churches need to be really clear about what the Bible teaches on this issue. Some of the most heartbreaking stories are of trans people coming to a church for several months, even years. And then, after developing deep relationships and establishing a feeling of belonging, then they end up learning that the church holds to a historically Christian perspective of gender identity and sexual ethics. I think we need to be really clear about our beliefs and lead with conviction. We never want anyone to feel duped by us or by God. Of course, once you’ve been clear with a person about your convictions, restating it unsolicited over and over may only serve to fuel isolation and shame in the other person and ultimately create a barrier between you and them.
That said, we need to create safety within our churches to allow people to talk about their struggles with gender identity incongruence. Shame multiplies in silence. And when it comes to personal relationships, we’re first and foremost dealing with people, not issues. We want to see these people through the eyes of God. These are people whom God sees as his beloved creation. Just because these are people who struggle with something we don’t struggle with doesn’t mean that God somehow doesn’t want them in his kingdom.
We need to remember that each person has an individual story that needs to be unpacked. We can get to know them and their unique experience, which requires listening and loving. I think sometimes we are hesitant to ask questions; maybe we’re afraid that engaging in dialogue will appear as though we are affirming their decision. This is not the example Jesus set for us. Seeking to understand someone’s experience does not negate our convictions. Also, every trans person I’ve ever met has been more than happy to answer any of my questions when I’ve approached them respectfully and lovingly. So, when you ask questions, ask open-ended questions that help you to understand their experience and draw out their story.
Darren: To effectively minister to people who come out as trans, we must be communities of compassion who realize the deep pain and brokenness that many are feeling regarding their gender identity and who sincerely listen to their genuine struggles. Churches should be convictional communities who steadfastly hold out the biblical view of gender identity, but who are also gracious toward those who struggle and fail as they try to live faithful lives.
We must be willing to walk alongside Christians whose struggle with gender identity leads them to wrong conclusions that may have long lasting effects on their physical health. Loving people with gender identity confusion will be a long haul and require long-suffering and genuine care, a kind of love and compassion that goes far beyond anything our culture knows as kindness.
Being the compassionate, convictional, steadfast, and gracious communities God calls us to be will require Spirit-led biblical discernment for many practical questions facing congregations, such as how to welcome gender confused people in church without compromising the integrity of the biblical witness.
Q: Sounds like it’s crucial to distinguish between the person and the issue.
Darren: Yes, we must distinguish between the ideology of transgenderism and its activists, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the individual struggling with gender confusion or dysphoria. When dealing with an activist perpetuating a false ideology, we should firmly challenge and contradict the false teaching, understanding that the activist may think they are only protecting the rights of a minority group, when, in reality, they are trying to enforce a false ideology on the rest of society, including our churches, children, and laws.
On the other hand, when ministering to people genuinely suffering with gender identity confusion and gender dysphoria, we must employ all the compassion, respect, and understanding that we can have for someone dealing with a genuine mental illness.
As with all things, we must find tactful and gentle ways to deal personally with gender confused people, but we must never become complicit in promoting a false ideology.
We must find tactful and gentle ways to deal personally with gender confused people, but we must never become complicit in promoting a false ideology.
Q: Ellen, what is one thing that would have helped you as a child struggling with gender questions?
Ellen: First, I think the most important thing we can do, especially with our young children, is just talk about this and other uncomfortable things. Our kids are learning about sex, sexuality, gender, and other complex constructs from their misguided peers, social media, and television. We do not want our kids to get their foundational understanding about these complicated topics from these sources. As parents, we must create open, honest, loving dialogue surrounding some of these complex issues so that our kids are hearing it from us first. This reduces shame, creates connection and belonging, and gives our kids a much better foundation for understanding some of these complex topics.
Also, it would have helped if, when I was growing up, my parents had said to me, “Wow, Ellen, you are so passionate like Jesus! Sometimes, you remind me of Jesus in the temple flipping over the tables!” Or, “You can be so direct! Like, when Jesus called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs? Of course, maybe you can incorporate more of Jesus’ love next time….But we love seeing you be an image bearer of Christ in your passion, your zeal, your desire for justice. Way to go!” If this were the sentiment for me growing up, then perhaps I would not have convinced myself that these were good traits for a man to have, but shameful for me to have.
So I think we need to be really mindful and confrontational in our own hearts of what exactly is a biblical representation of masculinity and femininity—and what has been distorted by rigid gender stereotypes.
Q: Among Bible-believing Christians, one area of disagreement that I have observed is with regard to pronouns. If I call a biological male a “she” or a biological female a “he,” am I building bridges—or am I giving into a false ideology?
Ellen: I would say that this really is a matter of conscience before God. I think you have to determine what you feel comfortable with in this. I would never suggest to anyone that they transgress upon their conscience or what they feel the Spirit prompting them to do or not to do. I personally refer to a non-Christian however they wish to identify; I have found this to be a powerful gesture that helps to keep a bridge of communication open with a lot of people that might have otherwise written me off simply because of my faith. My conscience allows this because they have not yet agreed to live under God’s law, and it is not breaking the earthly law that they live under.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 5 that we are not called to judge those outside of God’s Kingdom, we are only called to hold those within God’s Kingdom to His standards. Therefore, if a non-Christian does not abide by the same Biblical ethics that I do, I’m not surprised or offended. If, however, a Christian wishes to identify as a sex different than their natal sex, then I believe we have a biblical duty to exhort that brother or sister toward obedience and righteousness.
Darren: I will just caution that, as important as it is to build bridges, words really do matter, and truth telling is fundamental to the Christian worldview and discipleship. So, however a Christian decides to build bridges, it will be important to acknowledge that it is unwise to let the transgender community tell us what we can and cannot say—and what terms mean and don’t mean. If we adopt all of the same language and definitions of the transgender community, we will find biblical convictions eroding away.
For example, one of the big moves right now in academic circles is to have everyone self-identify their pronouns when introducing themselves or as part of their email signature or at the top of the page when they turn in a school assignment. All of this is an attempt to “normalize” radical and novel transgender ideology and communicate to people that gender is fluid and self-determined. As noted in my earlier comments, Christians should not participate in this false ideology but resist it by repeating and embracing the truths stated in my comments above (a non-changeable, biologically based, gender binary).
That’s a lot easier when dealing with an email signature, a medical form, or a class assignment, but it gets more difficult when communicating directly with a person who has adopted a transgender identity. Often, these precious souls are fragile and have experienced emotional and physical trauma and are in need of love and compassion. But they are also in need of truth.
In my view, referring to someone by a gender pronoun not in keeping with their biological sex is to affirm gender confusion, so I cannot do that. Instead, as a minister and loving disciple, I work to find creative and compassionate ways to refer to someone in a way that is consistent with biblical truth but that also avoids pouring salt on an open wound. God will give us wisdom in the moment and grace as we make mistakes along the way. This is all very new territory for all of us.
Q: For people curious about learning more about how to respond to transgenderism and relate to transgender people, what are some helpful resources?
Darren: Fortunately, an increasing body of research directly challenges the claims of transgender ideology.
First, the most significant review of the scientific literature is Sexuality and Gender, which was performed by Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh and provides balanced and definitive data about what can be said regarding the scientific research on gender and sexuality. Ministers and teachers should obtain a copy of this readable study and be prepared to pass along important facts to church members who are struggling to understand the phenomenon. People need to hear certain truths. For example, more than 80% of gender confusion resolves naturally by puberty (107); no definitive research supports the oft-touted “brain sex” theory (102–3); people who undergo sex-change surgery are no better off mentally after they have made the transition and 19 times more likely to commit suicide (111); half of transgender children have a mother with a mental illness (SGComp, 60).
Second, a practical and succinct resource is the Parent Resource Guide, which is especially helpful for parents whose children are being inundated with transgender ideology in the public school system. Its extremely accessible format includes a section on terminology, FAQs, personal testimonials from parents dealing with gender confused children, and it provides direct answers on how to counter local school systems trying to implement transgender ideology. While not from a Christian point of view, the Parent Resource Guide is a great guide for helping parents talk to their children and their school boards, which are under extreme pressure to conform.
Third, a handy Christian resource that incorporates recent research on transgenderism is Gender Ideology: What Do Christians Need to Know?, by Sharon James. This short book is a powerful Christian analysis of the transgender movement. Writing from the United Kingdom gives the author a perspective that will be helpful for American Christians, for it provides a sense of where things will go in the United States if the phenomenon is left unchecked. The book is up to date and filled with useful citations and true stories that illustrate the extent to which radical gender ideology undermines common sense and basic biblical principles and harms society.
A fourth resource, one which combines a robust amount of biblical clarity and integrity with compassionate and pastoral sensitivity for churches is Andrew Walker’s God and the Transgender Debate. Having laid a strong biblical and ethical foundation for countering transgender ideology, Walker moves effectively toward providing a challenge to the church to be a kind of community that provides help to hurting individuals and families navigating gender confused feelings and other sexual identity issues.
We must compassionately help people realize that affirming the false gender ideology has major consequences not only for society, but also the individuals who accept it and act upon it with irreversible procedures. Almost daily, sympathetic stories are told of young people who have transitioned and “live happily ever after.” The reality is much more complex and much darker. Many young people with gender confusion successfully manage their feelings until they become comfortable in their bodies, and many have regretted their transition and have sought to return to their biological sex. These stories are conveniently left out of the accepted transgender narrative but need to be told to eliminate the false choice between suicide or transition. Christians should supplement the biblical witness of truth with the available research that is selectively neglected in the public dialogue.
We need to create safety within our churches to allow people to talk about their struggles with gender identity incongruence.
 Although the term “transgenderism” has been seen by some as polarizing because it emphasizes the ideological roots of the transgender movement (I.e., instead of emphasizing it merely as personal identity), we are not meaning any offense by the term; rather, we find this to be the most fitting term to describe the philosophy behind the movement.
 See “Definitions,” at http://www.transstudent.org/definitions.
 “Gender Dysphoria,” at https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/gender-dysphoria.
 See Mark A. Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture (Downers Grove: IVP, 2015), 16–21, for an extended introduction to the relevant terminology, including a longer list of key terms, such as genderqueer, transvestitism, genderfluid. Note: some terms are constantly changing and subject to debate within the transgender community (e.g., transsexual).
 Robert A. J. Gagnon, “The Gospel of Jesus on Sexual Binaries,” First Things (April 4, 2016), at https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/04/the-gospel-of-jesus-on-sexual-binaries.
 Robert P. George, “Gnostic Liberalism,” First Things (December 2016), https://www.firsthings.com/article/2016/12/gnostic–liberalism, accessed 10/17/2019.
 Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018), 21. This book is a must read for Christian teachers and ministers who want to grasp our culture’s view of the body.
 Jason S. DeRouchie, “Confronting the Transgender Storm: New Covenant Reflections on Deuteronomy 22:5,” Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 21 (Spring 2016): 58–68, here 62.
 Robert Gagnon, “Memo to the Washington Post: The Bible Does Reject ‘Transgender’ Behavior,” The Stream (September 16, 2016), at https://stream.org/memo-to-the-washington-post-the-bible-does-reject-transgenderbehavior/.
 For an insightful essay on the way in which American culture has become more and more androgynous since the sexual revolution, see Mary Eberstadt, “The Lure of Androgyny,” Commentary Magazine, at https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-lure-of-androgyny/.
 While the passage is fraught with notorious exegetical difficulties, what seems clear about 1 Cor 11:2–16 is that Paul expects men and women to dress differently as an expression of their gender identity. See Kevin DeYoung, “How are Men and Women Different?” 9Marks Journal (December 2019): 71–76.
 See Anderson, When Harry Became Sally, 77–92, for an excellent review of basic biological facts that are ignored by trans activists and their enablers.
 Paul McHugh, “Surgical Sex” First Things (Nov 2004): 34–38, here 38. This fascinating essay summarizes McHugh’s decades of research on why people seek sex change surgery rather than accept their biological sex. He cites the Serenity Prayer at the beginning of his essay.
 David Cloutier and Luke Timothy Johnson, “The Church and Transgender Identity: Some Cautions, Some Possibilities,” at https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/church-transgender-identity. Johnson’s contribution to this article represents the “possibilities” inherent in accepting transgenderism, an approach I consider extremely untenable and concerning.
 Parent Resource Guide: Responding to the Transgender Issue (Minnesota Family Council, 2019), 19–30. The guide notes the rapid rise (up to 2000% increase in gender identity referrals) of sexual identity confusion in a seven-year period. The guide is available for a free download at www.GenderResourceGuide.com.
 See Paul McHugh, “Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme,” Public Discourse (June 10, 2015), at https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/06/15145/, who uses the analogy of Andersen’s fairy tale to illustrate his own research on sex change procedures.
 Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 121–31. See pages 145–59 for the kinds of very practical questions congregations will need to answer as they minister to a growing number of gender confused people.
 Sharon James, Gender Ideology: What Do Christians Need to Know? (UK: Christian Focus Publishers, 2019), 86.
 Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh, “Sexuality and Gender Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences,” Special Report, New Atlantis 50 (Fall 2016): 1–143, especially 86–113 on Gender Identity. The Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture produced a companion to the New Atlantis report that presents the data into accessible charts and graphs to be used in helping non-specialists. See Sexuality and Gender: A Companion to The New Atlantis Special Report (Austin: Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, 2017), cited as SGComp. The American Academy of Pediatricians website is making much of this material available with straightforward guides and resources. See https://acpeds.org/topics/sexuality-issues-of-youth/gender-confusion-and-transgender-identity.
 Parent Resource Guide: Responding to the Transgender Issue (Minnesota Family Council, 2019), at www.GenderResourceGuide.com.
 Sharon James, Gender Ideology: What Do Christians Need to Know? (UK: Christian Focus Publishers, 2019).
 For example, see Natalie Pate, “Advocates, families and transgender students push for progress in Oregon schools,” Statesman Journal (February 19, 2020), at https://www.statesmanjournal.com/indepth/news/education/2020/02/19/lgbtq-transgender-students-oregon-education-salem-keizer-publicschools/3848012002/, accessed February 19, 2020. The article contains multiple false statements and completely ignores the documented challenges and dangers of medical transitioning.
 See Randall Otto, “Science, Sex, and Suicide,” Public Discourse (February 13, 2020), https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2020/02/60178/, who highlights the ignored negative effects of transitioning for mental health. See Andersen, When Harry Became Sally, 49–76 who recounts the experiences of people who regret their transition. De-transitioners are often treated like traitors. See the account of James Shupe, the first legally non-binary person who now regrets it all and labels it a fraud. James Shupe, “I Was America’s First ‘Nonbinary’ Person. It Was All a Sham” (March 10, 2019), at https://www.dailysignal.com/2019/03/10/i-was-americas-first-non-binary-person-it-was-all-a-sham/. For another resource telling the story of de-transitioners and those questioning the validity of medical transitioning, see https://4thwavenow.com.