Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Other Transgender Objections

The reason biblical, clear-headed ministers of the gospel have so badly erred on the homosexual and transgender issues of today is because the world has increased the heat on the sexual revolution without the church realizing it has come to a boil.

How could so many Presbyterians and Baptists of the previous century—men who would have gone to the gallows to protect the inerrancy of Scripture—support slavery? How could those with down-the-line orthodoxy reinforce Jim Crow laws? It is because these were the socially acceptable sins of the day and they were too timid to stand against the tide of popular sentiment. So too is homosexuality and transgenderism in our modern world. What was needed most then is what is needed now. Courage.

Nonetheless, there are some valid logical and exegetical objections that one must answer. The willingness to call Sally Steve could be due to cowardice or it could be due to muddled thinking. Not only are there some faithful followers of Jesus who believe there are times to adopt transgender vocabulary. They base this position on Scripture. Then what? Here are answers to four popular objections.

Objection 1: Changed Names

The first objection goes something like this: Lew Alcindor changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Because no one insists on using his old name, we too should be willing to use the name of the person’s new gender identity.

This argument appears valid at first glance, but a closer look proves the scenarios not only have insurmountable differences but dangerous ramifications.

Alcindor’s transition to Jabbar is both true and possible; Steve’s transition to Sally is both untrue and impossible. Because a person can legitimately convert to Islam, we use the name that accurately represents that change. But it is impossible to change one’s sex because gender is an inherent design of God. Similarly, women can never have wives and men can never have husbands because this is impossible. A same-sex union is a mirage, not a marriage.

Moreover, we refer to Miss Jones as Mrs. Smith because she made a legitimate transition to her new married name. Thus, we recognize this change. But this last scenario needs further clarification, which leads to our second objection.

Objection 2: Married Names

The second objection is thus: everyone recognizes a remarried person’s new last name, even if he or she had been illegitimately divorced. Suppose Sally Jones dumps Steve for no good reason, remarries, and is now Sally Smith. Should we insist on calling her Sally Jones? Of course not. Then why not recognize the new gender, even if illegitimate? There are at least three answers for this.

First, Scripture and even Jesus himself recognizes subsequent marriages (legitimate or not) as real marriages. The Bible uses names like husband and wife to describe ensuing spouses (Dt. 24:1-4). Jesus referred to the adulterous woman’s five previous partners as “husbands” (Jn. 4:18). A bad marriage between a man and a woman is still marriage (Mt. 5:32).

Second, marriage is not inherent to a person’s being as is gender. Gender is innate at birth. Marriage status isn’t. Steve moves from single to married at 22, single again by divorce at 30, remarried at 40, single at 50 due to spousal death, remarried at 60 and at death, finally back to single (Mt. 22:30). And through this entire process, his gender remains the same. Marriage status changes, gender doesn’t.

Third, repentance looks differently for Sally who inappropriately married Steve and Sally who wants to become Steve. Should Sally have a heart of repentance, she must do so within her new legitimate marriage. In fact Scripture implores her not to go back to the first husband (Dt. 24:1-4). But Sally who wants to become Steve repents by running full speed back to the gender in which she was created. Likewise, those in homosexual partnerships show legitimate repentance by confessing and forsaking their homosexuality (Pr. 28:13).

Objection 3: Evangelism

But, one might ask, what about the lost opportunity for evangelism to the transgender due to the unnecessary offense of refusing to acknowledge their transgender name? Why be combative when Jesus urged love?

There is a difference between “unnecessarily offensive” and offensive. We’re not urging the Christian to shout “dude” or “buddy” or “mister” across his row of cubicles to the man who thinks he is a woman. No one is promoting the silent treatment, sarcastic jokes, or cold shoulders. Love is not rude (1Co. 13:4). In fact, the Christian position often invites the transgender out for lunch. Love is patient and always informed by truth. But squishy evangelicalism is wrong when they claim their caving to social pressure is “for love”. In fact, it is faux love.

Why? First, evangelism is by nature offensive. If you can’t bring yourself to use “Steve” for someone who wants to be called “Sally”, why would you call him a sinner when he wants to be known as righteous? Why would you call him a child of Satan (Jn. 8:44) or a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3) when he wants to be known as good? Why would you tell him he is on the fast track to hell when he wants to be told his church affiliation is escorting him to heaven? This is why the transgender debate is so important. The one who in the name of love bails on gender categories will eventually in the name of love bail on theological categories.

Second, the greatest evangelists in Scripture did not ignore hot button social sins by short-cutting to the gospel. What do you suppose John the Baptist did when Herod gave him an opportunity to evangelize? He went right after the sin that would keep this ruler from the kingdom of God. The problem with evangelicals today is not their willingness to officiate the wedding of Herod and his niece Herodias. They aren’t. It is their unwillingness to address their audience’s politically correct sins on the way to the gospel. John did this “repeatedly” (Mt. 14:4). Those who argue “but my boss holds my health insurance in his hands”, must not forget Herod held John’s life in his hands—and eventually his head (v. 11).

Third, way down deep, unbelievers don’t respect Christians who are not willing to stand and suffer for their beliefs. Let’s just for a moment pretend that using female pronouns for Steve would open doors for evangelism. Do you really think Steve is going to take up his cross—willingly forsaking family, friends and his own life—if the man giving him the gospel can’t even stand firm on one of the first truths he learned in Sunday School?

The late, eminent atheist Christopher Hitchens loved to show respect for his Christian opponents that “actually believe what they say.” But he skewered with scorn those Christians who answered today’s politically incorrect sins with uncertainty and hand wringing.

Objection 4: All Things to All Men

Finally, what about St. Paul’s willingness to be all things to all men in order to save some (1Cor. 9:22)? Wouldn’t Paul have taken on transgender vocabulary with transgenders just like he became a Gentile while with Gentiles (v. 21)? Wouldn’t Paul have contextualized?

The answer is no. Paul’s message was unpalatable to the unconverted (Gal. 1:10). The only time the apostle “contextualized” with his audience is when he made life more difficult for himself. Paul never employed the principle of “all things to all men” to make it easier to be a follower of Jesus Christ. John MacArthur has written about this passage:

[Paul] was not advocating a marketing plan. He was not making a plea for ‘contextualization.’ He was not suggesting that the message be made more acceptable….He was calling for self-denial and sacrifice for the sake of proclaiming the unadulterated truth to those who do not know Christ.

As a missionary, I can see the homosexual and transgender issues in the Western world as very much like the Insider Movements in the Muslim world that blur the theological lines between Islam and Christianity for the sake of evangelism.

Conclusion

I would urge my brothers and sisters in Christ to think carefully and courageously about these matters. The X-factor in the transgender debate is primarily that of courage. Do we have the boldness to act upon what we really believe? This is an issue primarily of execution, not interpretation, bravery, not brains, intrepidity, not intellect.

This is why we need Christ’s example of courage tattooed to our eyeballs. Samuel Rutherford said, “I desire not to go on the lee-side or sunny side of religion, or to put truth betwixt me and the storm. My Savior, in his suffering, took the windy side of the hill.”

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The Not-So-Difficult Transgender Debate

Recently I spoke with a military chaplain who has a transgender soldier in his unit who identifies as a woman. The serviceman has gone through the hormonal and surgical procedures. Should the chaplain use the male or female name? What is the loving thing to do?

My purpose here is not to argue men are made men and women, women. Scripture is unmistakable and even in our crazy modern world, most evangelicals still agree. The confusion seems to rest on how Christians should address the transgender. In fact, many pastors in the chaplain’s conservative denomination were split on what to do.

Some Straw Men

Before we begin, let me give a few disclaimers. First, we’re not talking about scenarios of ignorance. If Mrs. Smith asks for the cereal and I say “in aisle three, ma’am”, I’m not complicit in the lie when I learn later it was actually Mr. Smith to whom I was talking. Because Scripture considers motive in moral acts, the scenario in paragraph one does not fit this description.

Second, the relative ease of this ethical dilemma is in reference to the concept not the operation. The transgender issue is not difficult to comprehend but it is difficult to carry out. That is, it is not hard to understand that God created Bruce as Bruce and he will never for all of eternity cease to be Bruce and somehow morph into Caitlyn. But holding firm in this conviction—come what may—is an uphill trek. Jobs, income, friendships, and promotions are on the line. Courage is the order of the day.

Third, transgenders are not the enemy. They are the mission field. We grieve over sad cases like Miss Beggs, for example, who wants to be called a boy wrestler. The many like her battling this sin should hear a robust gospel message with love in our hearts. But truth and love are never at odds.

But as far as the objective response to the military issue above, the transgender debate really belongs in the beginner level of ethical dilemmas. Insinuating any less is to belie just how much the spirit of the age has fashioned us. Here are five reasons this is a not-so-difficult matter.

Five Reasons 

First, this ethical conundrum is relatively easy because of the early emphasis Scripture gives to manhood and womanhood. True. Some doctrines in Scripture are “hard to understand” (2Pt. 3:16), but gender identify isn’t one of them. The transgender debate isn’t on par with issues like just war or removal of life support. Gender identity is on page one of our Bibles. Scripture is clear that God made his image bearers as male and female (Gn. 1:27). Transgenderism is the refusal to accept the God-ordained differences between the sexes. “From the beginning” (Mt. 19:4) God created humans as “male and female” (Gn. 5:2).

Second, only a twisted definition of biblical love is able to accommodate transgender vocabulary. He who defines the words, defeats in war. The world has stolen the term “love” and the church doesn’t seem to mind. But the Bible defines love clearly. “Love rejoices in the truth” (1Co. 13:6)—even if it hurts. Love never tells a lie. Love often hurts people’s feelings (Pr. 27:6). John Piper is on point:

We live in an emotionally fragile age. People are easily offended and describe their response to being criticized as being hurt. In fact, we live in a time when emotional offense, or woundedness, often becomes a criterion for deciding if love has been shown. If a person can claim to have been hurt by what you say, it is assumed by many that you did not act in love. In other words, love is not defined by the quality of the act and its motives, but by the subjective response of others. In this way of relating, the wounded one has absolute authority. If he says you hurt him, then you cannot have acted lovingly. You are guilty.

Third, Scripture commands Christians to “expose”, not gloss over, the worthless deeds of darkness (Eph. 5:11). Do this lovingly (v. 18), even though the response will often be offense. The Pharisees were often “offended” by Jesus’ words (Mt. 15:12). The cross—the greatest act of love ever—was met with fury (Mt. 27:41-42). His inner circle was not exempt. Jesus called his disciples “evil” (Mt. 7:11), “of little faith” (Mt. 6:30), and “faithless” (Mt. 17:17). Offensive? Yes. Loving? Yes.

Fourth, it will not due to say Scripture is largely silent on the matter of transgenderism. This is a ploy to sneak vice through the back door. Scripture doesn’t say anything about hijacking airplanes either, but no one is arguing for this. Wise students of the Bible must learn how to take general biblical statements and apply them to specific situations. For example: (1) Stealing is sinful (Ex. 20:15). (2) Hijacking an airplane is stealing. (Conclusion) Hijacking an airplane is sinful. Or, (1) Lying is sinful (Ex. 20:16) (2) Deliberately calling a man a woman is lying. (Conclusion): Calling a man a woman is sinful.

Fifth, if “love”, evangelism, and kindness are the criteria for calling Bill “Jane”, then we have removed the guard rails for similar scenarios. The Catholic cardinal in your town and the Jehovah’s Witness next door consider themselves “Christian”, even though they are both headed to hell. Refusing to call them Christian will offend them but is the loving thing to do. Then why change the rules in the transgender debate?

Conclusion

It is not enough for Christians to merely accept this truth of gender identity. Christians should love it. It is not just true the soldier is a man. It is good and glorious. So why dodge the transgender issue by using linguistic gymnastics like “I’ll use a feminine pronoun to show love” or “I’ll just use his last name” or “I’ll use generic terms”? God’s works are never embarrassing. To be sure, we shouldn’t look for a fight, but we shouldn’t avoid one either. We love truth because we love Christ. To deny any truth—at least for that moment—is to deny Christ (Jn. 14:6).

Review: Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad, Penguin Books, 1899/2007, 115 pages, 2 of 5 stars

This is a book about the darkness of the human heart. And while the book explores the depravity of specific social evils like colonialism and the African slave trade, this is really a work about man’s soul—the heart of darkness.

Marlow is the narrator who while resting on his steamboat in England tells his friends of his experience in “one of the dark places of the earth.” It appears he was given a job along the Congo River searching for ivory. His real task, however, was to track down an eccentric but savvy ivory trader named Kurtz.

While Marlow repairs his boat, he begins to learn the mysteries surrounding the man who dominates everyone he meets. He is powerful, influential … and evil. The suspense builds as Marlow labors to find the European genius forgotten in Africa, a man apparently near death.

Marlow discovers that it was Kurtz who ordered the natives to sabotage his steamboat. At first the reader is made to believe that Kurtz was “shamefully abandoned” (76), but soon discovers he attacked Marlow in an effort to remain in the heart of darkness as a god to the natives. Perhaps he played this game to obtain more ivory. Maybe he began to believe it. Witchcraft was involved (“it had horns—antelope horns, I think—on its head… some sorcerer, some witch-man, no doubt”).

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20 Gems on Preaching from Joel Beeke

Dr. Joel Beeke is president at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan and editor of Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth.

He’s written many books, including his magnum opus A Puritan Theology, an overview of the Puritans called Meet the Puritans and an invaluable guide for family devotions, Family Worship Bible Guide

Recently I sat with this godly man for two days as he lectured on Experiential Preaching, which he defines as preaching from the heart of the minister to the heart of the people through the Word. Here are 20 insights:

  1. “If there is one book on the ministry you must read, let it be Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry.
  2. “A Puritan was like Jesus—common people heard him gladly.”
  3. “Of the 75,000 books in our library, we determined the text the Puritans preached about the most was John 17:3.” (This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.)
  4. “If I go into an old bookstore and find an antique book in good condition, I know the author is Anglican. No one has read it. Puritan books are tattered from being passed around.”
  5. “I started reading the Puritans when I was 9 years old at the advice of my father.”
  6. “The best compliment as a pastor I ever received was from a young, unbelieving girl in my catechism class. She told her mother, ‘The new minister has more concern for my soul than I do.’”
  7. “I’d often rather work with Hyper-Calvinism than Easy-believism. It is more difficult to evangelize the latter group.”
  8. “When I travel, I do lots of reading and writing in airports and planes. Stuart Olyott, a great preacher and friend, does no reading. He only studies people. This is why he preaches so well.”
  9. “My wife calls me her BMW—Best Man in the World.”
  10. “It drives me crazy when pastors release the children to children’s church. Sometimes those as old as 8-9 are leaving the sermon I have prepared for them.”
  11. “Most ministers don’t pray immediately after the sermon because they are more concerned about how they are viewed in their sermon. If you are more concerned about how the Lord fares, you will pray afterward that Satan doesn’t steal the seed away.”
  12. “The average Puritan home had 9 children.”
  13. “For families that don’t yet do Family Worship, I encourage the father to get started by reading to his family a few verses from a Gospel, then using Expository Thoughts by JC Ryle to guide them with warm, biblical insight.” (Get Ryle’s Mark for $.99)
  14. “My pet-peeve is when pastors begin their preaching with humor to lighten up people. Never use humor just to use humor.”
  15. “If people’s natural tendency is to talk about how great a preacher you are, you haven’t preached correctly. After a 19th century pastor preached, people said: “Wow, what a preacher.” After Spurgeon preached, they said: “Wow, what a Christ!”
  16. “Regarding what to look for in a prospective pastor, look at how he treats the children.”
  17. “On Saturday Family Worship, I get the children excited for the Lord’s Day. On Sunday morning, I go to each child’s room and say: ‘Time to wake up; it’s the Lord’s Day!’”
  18. “It’s very important I write. If I don’t write for two weeks, I feel far from God. I am called to this.”
  19. “I always try to be reading one Puritan book at a time because they are so full of godliness and Christ. I have received more from this spiritual discipline than any other in my life.”
  20. “The absence of chastening in the ministry should be a disturbing sign.”

If Polygamy Prevents a Childless Marriage, is it Good?

Some in African culture believe that barrenness is a curse and that procreation is the primary purpose of marriage. A barren marriage is a marriage that did not achieve its goal. Samuel Kunhiyop gives a practical example:

Among the Bajju of Nigeria, [a barren woman] is referred to as anakwu, meaning “one who is distressed for a child.” The word is closely related to the word dukwu, meaning “death”, and indicates that she is as good as dead. When she does die, a priest steps between the legs of the corpse and says, “go away, you worthless woman.”

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Does Polygamy Help Alleviate Poverty?

The thinking in some cultures is that because labor is difficult, having multiple wives (and thus more helping hands and more children) will help alleviate some of the work responsibility for one family.

John Mbiti writes of African culture: “Within the context of life, polygamy is not only acceptable and workable, but is a great social and economic asset.”

Here are several objections:  Continue reading

Is Polygamy a Valid Restraint to Immorality?

Because infidelity is relatively common among married men who work far from home, John Mbiti suggests polygamy is the best solution.

For [men who work a long distance from home] the most practical way of leading faithful lives, is to have one wife looking after the family on the land, while the other is with him in the distant town or city where he works. This to me seems like a very plausible, practical and understandable way of facing the situation of life honestly and fairly. It is more sensible and moral than chasing after prostitutes.

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