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.
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?
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).