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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One thought on “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Other Transgender Objections

  1. Paul, thank you for tackling these common objections and providing lucid, logical, and (most importantly) Biblical answers.

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