God and the Transgender Debate (Book Review)

This one matters.  A lot.

When it comes to discussing explosively controversial topics, people with settled convictions sometimes have a hard time separating the issue from the person.  It is vitally important to make this distinction.  Because it’s one thing to get in a friendly argument with an activist.  But it’s an entirely different thing when you have to deal with an issue when the face of it is a person you really care about.

I tend to be a person with strong opinions, but I work hard to not base my positions on mere feelings.  So reading, studying, and dialoguing with others of various persuasions is my modus operandi.  As a Christian, I am committed to all this thinking with my knee bowed at the throne of Jesus—the cross.  For some, allegiance to Christ and the Bible doom me hopelessly to an outdated worldview.  At least that’s what many believe.  But for the believer who has seen how God’s Spirit and his Word, time and again, prove timeless in their presentation, illustration, and application of truth with a capital “T”, approaching every question as a servant of Christ is the way of faith, hope, love, and freedom.

Just in the last few years the LGBT movement has been pushing the T into the forefront of our culture.  The Transgender Debate is no longer theoretical or on the backburner.  It has arrived, arrested our attention, and in some cases, taken quite a few people captive to its attractive ideology and lifestyle.  I say “captive” because transgenderism is a deeply problematic, contradictory, and religious movement.  The “T” in LGBT is turning out to be the battering ram to the fortress of traditional natural sexuality.  If LGB laid siege around the city, T is doing its very best to break the doors down to overthrow those who respectfully refuse to join their ranks as participants or allies.

That’s why this one matters.  It matters a lot because a growing number of people are rejecting their God-given sex in order to rebel against the one who designed them and gives them life, and the ones who named and raised them.  Transgenderism is about exerting absolute, no-exceptions autonomy regarding one’s personal identity.  The irony is that no one can know or discover who he or she is apart from community on the human level, and apart from his or her Creator on the transcendent level.  This is obvious to many, but goes against the zeitgeist.

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” ~ Oscar Wilde

“I belong to the people I love, and they belong to me—they, and the love and loyalty I give them, form my identity far more than any word or group ever could.” ~ Veronica Roth

“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” ~ Pascal Mercier

“The deeper I go into myself the more I realize that I am my own enemy.” ~ Floriano Martins

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” ~ Brennan Manning

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.” ~ George MacDonald

Now, I concede some of these observers, famous or otherwise, push this idea that community shapes who we are to the extreme.  And not all of them are celebrating the fact that our identity is unknowable unless someone tells us who we are.  Still, they all have one thing in common.  They are butting up against the fixed reality of personal identity.  But we don’t have to go over the edge to see there is truth in what they see.  The Lord our maker knows us, and we must find ourselves in who he says we are.  Because if we seek our personal identity within, we will get lost in the labyrinth of subjectivity.  There is no anchor in there.  Thanks be to God there is an anchor.  In the Bible, God reveals himself as our anchor of identity.  In his light do we see all light, even the light about ourselves.

Isaiah 43:1-3a  But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Psalm 139:1-18  O LORD, you have searched me and known me!  2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.  5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.  6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.  7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?  8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,  10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.  11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”  12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.  13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.  17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!  18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

1 Corinthians 3:18-23  Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.  19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”  20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”  21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours,  22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours,  23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

John 8:31-36  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,  32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”  34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

All this is introduction to the subject of transgenderism from God’s objective perspective.  In one sense, the Bible doesn’t say much specifically about this.  Yes, there are a few verses.  In the OT, Deuteronomy 22:5 addresses cross-dressing.  In the NT, 1 Corinthians 11:14-16 seems to deal with the topic of a man presenting his hair in such a way that confuses the community about his biological sex.  That’s not much at the level of proof-texting.  But at the macro level, God has much to say in the Bible about transgenderism.  Andrew Walker, an ethicist and theologian on staff at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is the author of God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? (GTD).  In this honest, humble, gentle, forthright book, Walker seeks to take those who find themselves enraptured or engulfed in the transgender moment on a tour of healing and hope.  The gospel is the message, and the anchor is Christ the Redeemer who died for and saves broken, hurting, confused people who are caught in the depressing trap of transgender identity.

The Table of Contents demonstrates where the author leads the reader on his tour.

  1. He Had Compassion
  2. How We Got to Where We Are
  3. The Language
  4. On Making a Decision
  5. Well-Designed
  6. Beauty and Brokenness
  7. A Better Future
  8. Love Your Neighbor
  9. No Easy Paths
  10. Challenging the Church
  11. Speaking to Children
  12. Tough Questions
  13. Open Hands

A helpful Appendix of LGBT terminology is included for those who struggle with vocabulary that can be daunting, a little unnerving, strange, and sometimes not for the innocently squeamish.

Compared to Ryan Anderson’s more scholarly study When Harry Became Sally, Walker’s GTD is written at a popular level and intentionally for an evangelical Christian audience.  Thus the gospel of Christ is the foundation and framework in everything he says.  The reader will not hear a presentation of God’s law that declares certain sins an abomination in the sight of the Lord.  That message has been declared in the past by mostly well-meaning Christians and the Church, and the transgender community got the message loud and clear.  As an Christian ethicist in the evangelical tradition, the author is not soft on biblical law, but in this book he wants to major on the grace God offers to those who struggle with gender identity disorder (recently renamed gender dysphoria).

Beginning with a collection of quotations illustrating the world-famous compassion of Jesus, Walker reminds his audience that Jesus loves us and wants the best for us.  And that’s good news for those personally touched in one way or another by the transgender moment.  From the first chapter:

So if you’re reading this close to your breaking point, if you’re feeling that your spark is very, very dim or that you’re too broken to stand—or if you know someone who is in that situation—Jesus says, I get that.  I see that.  I love you, and I want to help.  I may not always agree with you, but I will only disagree with you because I want the best for you.  I’ve come to stiffen you, not to snap you.  I don’t snuff out flickering candles.  I want to fan them into flames…If this isn’t the Jesus you have heard of, then I’m sorry.  It is the Jesus who I seek to live with and for.  And it is the Jesus whose words you’ll hear in this book as we take a careful look at what the Bible really says about gender identity, and what that means for people who experience uncertainty or struggles with their gender identity; for those who love those who experience those struggles; and for churches who are (or should be) seeking to support those who experience gender-identity conflicts.”[pp. 14-15]

GTD is not just a survey of Bible passages strung together to support an argument.  The author deals with practical matters too.  Chapter 12 is a collection of infrequently asked questions—an iFAQ if you will—that are not addressed in previous chapters.  Without offering any of his suggested answers as spoilers, here are the questions he tackles.

  1. Can someone be transgender and Christians
  2. Should parents keep kids in a state-run school if those schools promote transgenderism?
  3. What should church elders/leaders do if a congregation member asks for their child to be identified as the opposite gender (or neither gender)?
  4. Should I mind if people who are biologically the other sex are in my restroom?  What if it’s my kids in the restroom?
  5. If a church is told to provide restrooms for transgendered people in its buildings, should it do so in submission to the authorities, or should it refuse to do so?
  6. Is taking hormones to manage dysphoria ever appropriate?
  7. Shouldn’t we just focus on sins that are actually harming people (murder, adultery, etc.)?  Transgenderism is harmless, isn’t it?
  8. Is it true that Christian teaching is harmful because not affirming a person’s transgender identity leads to depression and higher rates of suicide?
  9. How should we think about pronouns?
  10. What about people who are born intersex?

Questions 9 and 10 are especially important.  Number 9 from a practical perspective—how do I speak to and about people who adopt a transgender identity?  Number 10 from a clear thinking perspective—the vast majority of people suffering from gender identity disorder and who subsequently choose a transgender lifestyle are not intersex (ambiguous genitals and/or sexual biology).  Transgenderism is almost always in the head, not the body.

Perhaps the transgender moment has touched you in an oh-so personal way.  Way to close to home.  It’s no longer something other people face and you can support them but think to yourself, “Wow, I’m glad I not in their shoes!”  More and more people are harmed nowadays by either (1) gender dysphoria leading to immersion in the dark world that is transgenderism, or (2) loving someone who struggles with it.  Make no mistake.  The lie of transgenderism, which can be so attractive at first that it feels better news that the gospel, does cause harm.  To the one trapped.  To his or her friends and family.  To the church family.  Even to society as the lines of demarcation are redrawn in schools, workplaces, politics, prisons, even in intimate spaces like public restrooms and locker rooms.  GTD is a great book to get or give for those who struggle, who want to help, and who want to be prepared to love with grace, mercy, and truth.

Resources

Read the book’s forward and chapter 1

About the author

Andrew Walker’s blog

5 things every Christian must know about the transgender debate. By Andrew Walker

Why culture’s reaction to the “Transgender Memo” demonstrates deep confusion. By Andrew Walker

Interview with the author about the book:

Andrew Walker’s articles at The Gospel Coalition

Andrew Walker’s articles at the ERLC

Andrew Walker’s articles at Public Discourse

Andrew Walker’s articles at National Review

Andrew Walker’s articles at The Daily Signal

Sex Matters: Why Our Bodies Matter To God. Video of talk by Andrew Walker

In Whose Image?: The Scandal of Christian Sexual Ethics in a Post-Christian Age.  Video of talk by Andrew Walker

Video playlist of The Good Book Company’s short answers to common questions about God and the Transgender Debate

Reviews

Amazon

Be Thinking

Canyonwalker Connections. Negative

Christian Concern

Creation Ministries International

Cross Examined

Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion

Goodreads

The Gospel Coalition

Intersect Project

Primer HQ

Prince on Preaching

The Public Discourse

Redeemed Reader

Reformation 21

Themelios

Think Progress. Maliciously negative

Thomas Creedy

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