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.


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.”


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?


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).

Hacking Abortion to Pieces

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-9-09-43-amThe US President recently decided America would no longer fund Africans to kill their babies. With so many Marie Stopes clinics around the continent, it’s not surprising many have cried foul.

An article in a South African newspaper this week contends this will only cause more unsafe abortions and death. They imply the serene and safe confines of abortion clinics will now give way to abortions with clothes hangers in back alleys.

Christians must take these old, tired arguments, drag them into the light and—like Samuel did to Agag—cut them to pieces. If this is what abortion doctors do to the unborn, Pro-lifers should do the same toward such paltry reasoning.

So here are a couple of brief ways to answer. First, this argument only stands if babies in the womb are blobs of tissue. The central issue of the abortion debate is this: are the unborn human beings? Pro-Life and Pro-Choice sit on each side of the seesaw that rests on this Great Fulcrum. If the answer is yes, the unborn are humans, then every argument for abortion falls away. What about abortion due to incest? No, because we don’t kill 10 year-olds born from incest. What about rape? No, because we don’t kill senior citizens born from rape. What about personally Pro-Life but politically Pro-Choice? This was the argument of Pontius Pilate, but no one is politically pro-murder. We don’t kill humans, period.

Second, it is illogical to legalize a wicked procedure just to make it safer. Armed robbery is dangerous, but we don’t remove the security guards so thieves can take the money unarmed. We don’t legalize rape to make it less dangerous.

Abortion is a terror. Making it legal doesn’t change that.

South Africa and the Insanity of Abortion

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-5-21-55-pmThe words of Job’s friend millennia ago are just as relevant for today’s South Africa.

A stupid man will get understanding when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man! (Job 11:12)

This statement was an ancient absurdity—akin to our modern-day “that’ll happen when hell freezes over.” A dimwit won’t become wise any more than a wild donkey can bear a human child. Donkeys are lowly beasts. Humans are image-bearers. Only a cretin could miss that, right? Continue reading

A Call for Biracial Banquets

thumb_image-10-20-16-at-5-25-pm_1024The wall of animosity between South African whites and blacks has shrunk since the formal fall of apartheid in 1994. Government has tried to mandate equality, but only the gospel of Christ can bring true unity.

My experience in Africa has taught me that among the last dominoes to fall in unifying Christians of different races is not church membership but table fellowship. In the pews, the votes may count the same, but around the dinner table, we are more like Joseph’s court:

They served him by himself…because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians”(Gn. 43:32).

For many white believers, it is a bridge too far to have blacks equally, joyfully, and freely join them at table. We coddle our conscience: “But the foods, manners, tastes are too different.” Maybe. Maybe not. But even if we grant the former, is not a change in menu or method but a small price for unity? As John Flavel said, “If you take away union, there can be no communion.” And if there is no communion outside the church walls, can we really argue for unity within them? Continue reading

Carnage in South Africa

* A column I wrote in last week’s Zoutpansberger newspaper in Makhado, South Africa.

The greatness of a culture is determined by what it loves and hates most. If the sordid abortion advertisements that litter our town are any indication, our culture isn’t worth much.

The newspapers this past week spoke of the carnage on the road due to Easter weekend. We mourn the dozens who passed away. But what of the carnage in today’s abortion mills, where hundreds and thousands of children in South Africa are killed each year? Where is the public outrage on behalf of the unborn from a town where the majority claims to be Christian and Muslim?

What is worse, such killings are advertised in bright colors—papers by the thousands slapped on every stop sign and light post. Sleazy advertising for a sleazy profession.

The promise is that the procedure will be “pain free”, but being pain free doesn’t change the fact that abortion kills children. We don’t admire a man who chooses not to torture his wife, but instead kills her painlessly in her sleep. The tragedy remains.

These young girls are guaranteed “body cleaning”, as though what is vacuumed out is just tissue. She’s told she has the right to do this because the blob is only a part of her body, as though a loaf of bread is a part of the oven since it is baked inside.

I respect the doctors in this town who refuse to perform abortions, who swear by the Hippocratic Oath, and who refuse to hide behind aliases like “Dr. Vicky” and “Dr. Eddie.”

We ease our conscious by calling it a fetus, for the B-word (baby) would make us cringe. But the child inside is a baby no matter what we call it. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, the poet said. A baby by any other name is still a baby. Everyone knows that to break a chicken egg before it hatches is to kill the chick. What is it, then, to perform an abortion?

Some may argue: “It is the law of the land, get over it.” But I challenge you to think differently.

(1) Unjust laws should be overturned. We learned this with apartheid. Or did we?

(2) Speak compassionately with those considering an abortion. There are alternatives.

(3) When you see such an advertisement, throw it in the trash, and let your children see you do it.

(4) For the pastors and community leaders among us, you must not hold back the truth on this matter, regardless if there is not consensus in your assembly. Teach in such a way to create a consensus.

The Magisterium of Catholics, Muslims, and Presbyterians

I recently heard a debate between two Catholics on the topic: “The Only Good Muslim is a Bad Muslim.” Peter Kreeft argues that Protestants and Muslims are the same in the sense that neither has a central magisterium as Catholics do.
I beg to differ.
I have found in my studies of Islam that Hadith literature is very similar in its breadth and authority over the Muslim as the pope and papal bulls have authority over the Catholic. And my formal studies at a Reformed seminary has made me wonder once or twice if Presbyterians view Calvin as Catholics view John Paul. I admit, there is slight tongue in cheek here, but just a little. To really substantiate a point, a quote from Calvin will always do.
Here’s an example. In a book I read recently on four views of the Lord’s Supper, the Reformed chapter quotes Calvin at least 36 times, only references Scripture twice and doesn’t quote a single word of Scripture until the very last sentence.
I love the doctrines of grace. I also love the Protestant’s historic embrace of sola scriptura, in which an authoritative tradition and an authoritative passage of God’s Word have as much in common as rhapsody and rap. But if Catholics like to quote the Vatican and Protestants the Bible, why so much Calvin from Presbyterians?
Don’t say I’m hatin’, I’m just debatin’,
If peeps at home, like popes in Rome
See Calvin’s dogma, like ex cathedra.
I say all of this because I’ve just finished reading the first couple chapters of To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy and have wondered if this will be another Praise Fest of John Calvin. The author paints him as a universally maligned man, like the Protestant version of George Zimmerman, but I’m not so sure that Calvin isn’t more chided these days as he is lauded. As one writer recently said, if you’re not a Calvinist these days, you’re inconsequential. Haykin’s grudge against Calvin’s bad press sounds like the athlete who received one comment of negativity and proceeded on his “no one respects me, it’s me against the world’ rant.
I’m not saying Calvin these days is yoga pants. But he’s not bell bottoms either.