Until very recently gender and sex were synonymous with each other. Man and Male or Woman and Female could be used interchangeably in virtually every situation. If you parent(s) didn’t already know by the time you were born the doctor likely announced to them in the delivery room, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” based on your genitalia. These days this is referred to as an assignment of gender and it is frowned upon in many areas of the culture. The trouble with the status quo is that a new understanding of gender has arisen within the culture. This understanding says that there is a difference between your biological sex (your genitalia/ your genetics) and your gender (your sense of self/ identity). This mismatch of biology versus identity results in an enormous amount of confusion around what identities are valid and what the identities mean. Prior to discussing that, however, we have to address confusion about how the split between biology and identity occurs. The split itself may be biological, it may be mental, it may be influenced by the environment a person is born into or it may be something a person is born with. There is no definitive scientific consensus that points to one conclusion. Yet the cultural changes march on without waiting for the input of science, philosophy, religion, or the academy. And so these strongholds of political and cultural influence have made decisions on the fly in many cases and pronounced them to the world in terms that often only cause greater conflict and confusion. Let it not be so with us.
The bottom line of what is being presented to you in the culture and the media is that, as the title implies, either transgender identity is morally good or it is a mental illness. On the one side the transgender person is to be celebrated and accommodated, accepted and validated. On the other they are to be reprogrammed, counselled, and set straight (no pun intended). These are the extremes that rule the discussion at the moment. If you stop reading this and turn on Fox News or CNN or your local network news or talk radio you’ll likely hear either one of those views or both in relation to bathrooms, or birth certificates, or any number of other specific battle ground issues of the moment and at all points it will be obvious that each side is simply trying to out talk the other, regardless of how deeply they may hold their belief. We have the opportunity right now, before it’s too late, to step back and think before we wade in and throw punches. Let’s not be like Br’er Rabbit getting more and more stuck in the confusion of the day the harder we fight on the specific issues.
If the transgender identity were morally good, what would we have to come to believe as thinking Christians? We would have to believe that when God made Adam and Eve male and female in the beginning and gave them different roles that this was largely an arbitrary assignment of gender and role. We’d have to believe that He intended to show us, not the ideal relationship of sex to gender and of male to female in the marriage relationship, but that He was just showing us one of a virtually uncountable number of configurations all of which would warrant a pronouncement of goodness from Our Lord. I think it is likely obvious to thinkers on both sides of the issue that the Bible does not allow this view. Assuming I’m right what must we conclude?
I think it’s obvious that identifying as a gender that doesn’t match your biology is counter to the intention of the created order of God. What we can not conclude however is that this means that the transgender person is somehow deluded in their thinking and not having a genuine experience. In fact having a desire or feeling that doesn’t match the created order of God is a decent working definition of sin. When we take sin and make a lifestyle out of it, declare that others should accept and validate us in it, and demand that the world change to accommodate it we do not make it good.
If it were true that the transgender person were simply mentally ill what would we have to believe? We would, presumably have to believe that the behaviors that attend the identity are not completely within the person’s control. We’d have to believe that attempts to control the attending behaviors could cause more harm in many cases. We’d have to believe that professional treatment was not just recommended but necessary. We’d have to believe that biology can cause sin, not just action. Think carefully about that. That’s a pretty heavy burden to put on certain segments of society. That’s tantamount to saying that you could be unavoidably and irrevocably unworthy, in your essential nature. Are we prepared to tell people that? It hurts my heart to say this, but I think we need to be prepared to say exactly that, but not because transgender identity is a mental illness.
Just like with nearly every other sin that confronts us we should not be surprised that the behaviors that define the sin are linked inextricably to our biology and our mental state. What we do, right or wrong, is affected by how we’re made and how we feel. We also should not be surprised, as thinking Christians, that the most controversial subjects to pronounce Biblical morality upon in the current culture are related, even tangentially, to sex and sexuality. We are quite late to the game of trying to stand firm on these issues. We’ve been giving ground seemingly forever.
We have been derelict in another sacred duty as well. We have always been bound to a commitment to teach the doctrine of sin the way Jesus did. Too often we teach that sin is when a person’s actions don’t match the moral law. Jesus taught us that intent is prior to content. In other words, sin begins in the mind and in the heart. Sin exists even where wrong actions do not.
I started writing this article thinking that the hard part would be deciding if transgender identity was a sin and declaring it to be so, but the hard thing I have to say is this, if the voices of the cultural revolution have their way, if it continues to be thought that a person’s biology releases them from the burden of their sin, the blame is on us and several generations before us. If we continue to cower within the walls of our homes and our churches and talk about the transgender person as someone who is wholly “other” than us, it is not God who damns them to Hell it is us, and I can’t imagine there’s not a price to pay for that.
For well or ill this is not the only article we’ll publish here on the subject of transgender identity. We will continue to look at the moral dimension of the subject while also looking at more specific areas within the debate such as the bathroom controversies that are cropping up around the nation, the number of possible gender identities, and who I believe is at the heart of the confusion around every aspect of the issue. The next article will be in two weeks, but in the mean time I’ll share articles I feel are relevant and helpful on the Facebook page, here. Please go there and like the page for all the updates, it’s the easiest way to keep up with what we’re doing.