I have been praying about this review/thought piece for some time. In the United States, the Equality Act has long been working its way through the government. This act has erupted in debate on both sides of the aisle. It is the cause of arguments about women’s sports, bathrooms, how to treat young children, and everything in between.
My prayer is not that this article will answer the questions that I am sure you have. Rather, my prayer is that this will help open up respectful discussion between people. Transgender identity is a complex issue, and every story of a transgender person is different. I once heard a quote that disciples are “hand crafted.” If we are going to live the great commission, we need to discuss this tough topic thoughtfully and take time to walk with people as individuals, not just acting as though this is an impersonal political issue.
Preston Sprinkle’s book entitled Embodied is a great resource for any church to have for its members to learn more information about transgender identity.
The first few chapters deal with what it means to be transgendered. The second half of the book lays out the issues of being transgendered and gives advice on how to think through and navigate these difficult actions. The book is both educationally rigorous and pastorally helpful.
I want to get the tough question out of the way first. Is it biblical for a person to identify as or transition to a different gender? Dr. Sprinkle, author of Embodied, says no and I agree. Sprinkle explains, “From my vantage point, the ontological lens suggest that we should help people accept their sexed bodies as part of their God-given identity.” Consider what Paul has to say about our bodies:
“Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
There are two very important aspects of Christianity going on here.
First, when Jesus died on the cross, something very important happened. The veil of the inner temple was ripped in half down the middle, and the temple was no longer necessary to worship God. As Paul explains, we have become the temple. The Holy Spirit lives inside us.
Second, as Paul states, we have been bought. A ransom was paid for us. The blood of Jesus saved us from the wrath of God, so we need to glorify God in all aspects of our life. This includes what we do with our bodies. If I, created, as a man, were to identify or express myself as a female, then I am taking God’s place over my life. Whereas Paul says, “You are not your own,” I am rejecting how God created me (Gen. 1:26) and am declaring that I am most certainly my own possession, not God’s.
Another important Scripture which fleshes out how we are to live as God’s temples is Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
As disciples of Jesus, we don’t separate our faith from our bodies. As Galatians 2:20 put it, “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God.” No, it is not going to be popular to say that people should not identify or express themselves as something other than their biological sex, but for those of us who take the Bible as our standard for life and morality, we cannot separate our faith in God as our Creator from how we live in the body. For us, the two were never meant to be separated.
As disciples of Jesus, we don’t separate our faith from our bodies.
Against that backdrop, the next area of the book that I would like to discuss that really opened my eyes was stereotypes.
Gender stereotypes may describe how many men and women behave, but I am convinced that rigid gender stereotypes are doing us a major disservice in our churches. I know I have been guilty before of falling into using these stereotypes. As just one example, I know I have told my son, “You hit like a girl” before when he was younger. I wasn’t aware of the dangers, but rigid gender stereotypes can indeed be hurtful. Especially for our youth pastors, we should be more accepting of people where they are instead of trying to get people to conform to stereotypes. Rigid gender stereotypes can add fuel to the fire when people don’t feel like they fit into their own gender. However, who are we to say how a man or woman should act?
Another stereotype I have fallen for before: Real men don’t cry. I can think of three times in my adult life when I have cried. I cried when my grandfather went to heaven, cried with my wife once, and finally cried when I finished a marathon. Why don’t I cry? In my mind and in a lot of people’s minds, men simply don’t cry. This has been a stereotype in my family for as long as I can remember.
When people don’t fit the mold, these stereotypes cause them to question their gender identity. The fundamental change that should be happening within all of us is to be more like Jesus—not to try to better resemble what culture says is masculine or feminine. Even some of our heroes from the Bible broke rigid gender stereotypes, and that’s a good thing. For example, yes, King David was a great warrior and defeated a lot of people in battle. But there was also another side to King David: he wrote poems and played music.
The final area that I want to discuss from the book are the practical issues that are going to fuel debates in your own church even between disciples of Jesus who hold to the Bible’s authority.
I’m referring to issues such as pronouns, bathrooms, and sleeping spaces. Dr. Sprinkle believes that using someone’s preferred pronouns is an act of hospitality to that person. As Christians, we are called to be welcoming to people, and there are Christian voices who are renewing the call to hospitality to people outside the church.
And while I do see the point that using someone’s preferred pronouns would be an act of hospitality, I am going to disagree with Mr. Sprinkle on this point, because using preferred pronouns will likely be perceived as a way of affirming that person’s choice to live in reaction against their Creator. It ought to be pointed out that even within the Renew.org Network, people have differences of opinions on the issue of transgender pronouns (see “On Gender and the Bible: Thoughts of a Theologian and a Therapist on the Transgender Debate” here). Although I don’t agree with every conclusion, Sprinkle guides the reader in thinking through tough scenarios.
This issue of proper pronouns is a hot button issue across the country. Recently in my own backyard in Loudoun County, VA , a teacher was suspended for not using a student’s chosen pronouns. The teacher did use the student’s chosen name. The teacher needed to go to court to be reinstated and his reason for not using the chosen pronouns was his Christian faith. Whether you choose to use a person’s chosen pronouns or not, bringing your faith into this topic will meet resistance. It is crucial to be well-grounded in the Christian faith and be ready to be bold when there is pushback against your convictions.
I think the two biggest learning takeaways from the book are that we need to give space for conversations and that we need to speak truth in a loving manner.
We need to be willing to listen to a transgender person and let them come to God and submit to his authority in their own time. This is not something that can be forced but something in which the Holy Spirit needs to work on their heart. It is easy to get caught up in policies and doctrine but in the end there is a broken, hurting person that needs your help. So, please listen to their story and then point them to Jesus.