Transgenderism and Gender Identity
Updated: Mar 29, 2021
Beta document. This document / blog is a continuing discussion around which we want clarity and compassion. If you have any questions, please forward them to info @ divergentchurch.com
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-2
Introduction It must be clear from the start of this paper that we anchor our perspectives in the authority of the Christian scriptures as revealed through the Holy Spirit. Whilst some breadth of opinion in the Christian community has always existed, the stunning reality is the general consistency of the Church historically regarding most major issues including the topic at hand, sexuality and gender identity. Our posture. Grace. Mercy and Truth It must also be recognized and affirmed we follow the path Jesus gave in engaging those marginalized, confused and outcast in society. Jesus always loved people, however, he never shied away from engaging issues and speaking truth within such. Jesus constantly sought out those on the fringes of society and made room for them. He invited confused, broken people of all walks of life to follow him, people you like and I. Our brokenness may be expressed differently however his love and offer is always consistent. He takes us from where he finds us and takes us on a journey of conforming to his image through the power of the Spirit (Rom 8:29) In attempting to be fairly brief there is always a possibility of losing nuance. If you have questions or clarifications please ask. Assuming the best intentions of those different from us is one of the greatest gifts we can give in public discourse.
The danger in this discussion Social discussion has unfortunately become a context in which those that engage seem to be easily triggered in explosive reaction to different positions. Conceptions of who is ‘in’, who is now ‘out’ and who is ‘on the right side of history’ frames social discussion more as a position of communal acceptance rather than discussions about what is true. This is unfortunately common across the spectrum of Political and Social perspective. It is even possible in this environment that what is true can land on the wrong side of community sentiment and possibly government legislation. We are aware of these things and yet seek to follow Jesus and his word in everything as our final authority. Gender and social expectation Societies have long recognized individuals that have not conformed well to cultural expectation, recognizing that expectations may or may not be absolute. Rarely, however, have societies attempted to entirely disconnect the idea of social sexual identity (male and female) from their biological root. Historically, the prevailing view of gender was largely very direct, two biological genders normally correlated with certain societal expectations.
Gender identity itself and societal expectations upon gender are not the same discussion.
In this paper, we will address these separately.
Additionally, how then should we respond to this pastorally and communally?
What is gender? As previously noted, historically, whether medically, psychologically, socially or biblically global societies have overwhelming recognized two genders, male and female. These genders were indistinguishable from the biological expression seen in genitalia and chromosomal expression at a deeper level. In very rare instances, there has been a recognition of complexities due to genetic malformation through additional chromosomal information, however, in the vast majority of these cases, those affected still express a single gender identity. The modern social discussion about transgenderism is largely disconnected from intersex discussion and is more a discussion about the affirmation of a person’s subjective feeling about their gender identity. Medically, this has been called “Gender Identity Disorder” “Gender identity disorder, a disturbance of gender identification in which the affected person has an overwhelming desire to change their anatomic sex or insists that they are of the opposite sex, with persistent discomfort about their assigned sex or about filling its usual gender role; the disorder may become apparent in childhood or not appear until adolescence or adulthood. Individuals may attempt to live as members of the opposite sex and may seek hormonal and surgical treatment to bring their anatomy into conformity with their belief” (Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.)
The difficulty in this discussion is that it has become far less a biological or even psychological discussion and more an ideological debate about free volition in terms of self-identification and forcing such definition or distinction upon others. WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
The creation narrative speaks of two clear compatible biological genders. This compatibility has purpose, centrally reproduction. This is the creative order God has set and the scriptures recognize such. Confusion of such sets one against the perfect created mandate ultimately impacting on a vast array of biblical mandates that extend from this order.
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27).
‘Male’ and ‘female’ are a clear creation binary. In Genesis 1 this is developed into the nouns ‘man’ (’ish) and ‘woman’ (’ishshah), and used again of Adam and Even in Genesis 2:23. Throughout the scriptures, biological sex is binary. Biological sex and gender are integrated realities in God’s order. It is false to say that gender is merely socially constructed, it is part of God’s plan. However, central to the Christian Theological perspective and worldview is the understanding that God’s perfect order has been broken. We live in a fallen world that affects every dimension of our lives. More often than not, elements of our identity and behaviour do not conform to God’s perfect plan. These broken instincts are neither choice nor ‘good’ due to being instinctive. Gender dysphoria or Gender Identity Disorder is part of this brokenness. Despite flimsy assertions, God does not ‘make us’ like we are. We are broadly made in the image of God in terms of creation mandate but individually we are now born in the context and effect of sin. This brokenness is then impacted by multiple environmental factors. There is not a single person that is the way God wishes them to be, that is why his desire is that we be transformed continually and ultimately (1 Cor 15:52) Gender confusion is not a choice and as such, compassion is crucial. However, we all still have a choice in how we outwork our instincts. We must continue to submit this to God and his word.
Does scripture speak about transgenderism? When addressing this topic scripturally, it is important to note that the term ‘Transgender’, in reference to persons whose sense of personal identity does not correspond with their anatomical sex is only a recent word (1974) and thus not used in the text of scripture. Nonetheless, associated behaviours and parallels in culture are addressed. For instance, Deuteronomy 22:5 and 1 Cor 6:9 speak to those who cross-dress effeminately to make themselves attractive to other men. What motivates these actions is not specifically noted.
Whatever the motivation or source to do so, the act of changing to express the opposite gender is considered wrong.
After framing the marriage relationship clearly around binary created order (Matt 19:4 – 6) Jesus talks about three types of eunuchs (Matt 19:11 - 12). Those that are born that way (possibly intersex or due to malformation unable to engage in common marital expectation), those made that way (usually through castration) and those celibate for the kingdom.
It is important to emphasise the context within which this is raised, Jesus, who fits the description of a Eunuch 'for the Kingdoms sake', reminds those questioning that God has made us male and female, in the image of God.
This divine design is God’s pattern and we are called to conform to such even when everything does not easily fit. Those noted as Eunuchs are not thought to be without gender, simply unable to reproduce or marry for differing reasons. Neither, for Jesus, are these places of shame, merely a different position that can be embraced through the grace of Christ. We also see this with Paul, the Apostle. The first and second type of Eunuch can sanctify their position through dedicating it to Christ. Such should be honoured by all.
Historically, in the Church, as in society we have sometimes rejected those who have not easily fit, those who through no fault of their own or kingdom dedication are unable to marry.
Philips encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26 – 40) is a key example of opening up our arms as a community to those possibly marginalized. It is quite likely that due to his castration, he would not be fully welcome in the Jewish Temple worship yet through the text the Ethiopian was reading (Isaiah 56:4 – 5) and the preaching of Philip he was able to find acceptance in Jesus.
Biblical and Cultural Norms
Biblically there is a clear distinction so far as gender with certain broad expectation. This is especially true concerning reproduction, sexual activity and marriage however socially we have often created common expectations that are not biblical. The expectation of boys ‘rough housing’, girls ‘playing dolls etc. may extend to a limited degree from common biological realities however they are significantly social as well. We must be nuanced yet clear with the differences, being a ‘man’ does not mean loving physical contact sport (for instance) and being a woman does not mean being softly spoken and kitchen loving.
What hope is there?
The central problem expressed in the Gospel message is that not only have we all sinned (Romans 6:23) but we are broken by sin, everything, including our very bodies themselves including the instincts that may extend from such.
For Christians, our ultimate hope is found in the resurrection.
The Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor 15:42 “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” Again, in Romans 8:22 – 23 “ We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” The redemption of our bodies, the raising of what has been broken, dishonoured will be raised in glory, in power, imperishable.
The Apostle continues in verse 24 “For in this hope we were saved.” This is our ultimate hope but what about the ‘meantime’.
In the meantime - Following Jesus. Body Soul and Spirit In our society, individualism is the highest value, expressing one’s desire is everything, yet that is not the scriptural goal. Submitting oneself to Christ in everything is the goal (Matt 16;24 - 26, James 4:7, Rom 12:1 – 2). Our body, its instincts and identity are also part of this submission. Historically the idea that there was a separation between the material ‘me’ (or world) and the ‘real me’ (or real-world) was seen in Gnosticism. Paul addressed this as it logically causes a disconnect between submitting to God or being saved spiritually and being saved and submitting physically. This disconnect leads to licence and sin in many ways. Not only are our Spirit’s the Lords but our bodies. The body is the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19) and so we should “honour God with [our] body” (1 Cor 6:20) laying aside all instinct that is defined and driven by the natural. As believers, “Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the flesh, but by the Spirit…” (Romans 8:8 – 9)
Any time we disconnect or devalue our bodies and their submission to Christ through the Spirit, we are living below what we are called to in Christ. We are not just intelligent animals. Although broken through sin, we are made in the image of God.
Pastoral and Community Response.
It is important to make a distinction firstly between those that are believers and those that are not. Our primary message to the unbelieving world is the grace and mercy of Jesus through his death and resurrection. We must fully understand our job is not to judge those who are outside the community of believers (1 Cor 5:12). Such does not mean actively participating in a person's broken perspective of themselves but it does mean refraining from holding unbelievers to a standard and pursuit of the image of Christ that we do seek to encourage in those that are believers (1 Cor 5:12b) Wisdom also must be applied specifically for those that are young, either in faith or in age. Like all wisdom regarding raising children, we all understand there are different expectations at different stages of maturity. Jesus is our primary model
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Luke 4:18 – 19 We must understand that those listening to this were expecting a ministry focused on themselves yet Jesus shifts the focus to those ‘outside’, the broken, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed. In saying this we must all acknowledge this means Jesus sees not only oppressed but rather blind and broken. Jesus’ intent, at least ultimately in all of this is healing, is ultimate freedom from those things that ail us.
Jesus loves people where they are at then proceeds to lead them on a life long journey of submission and transformation.
Principles of ministry
These are general but keep these in mind as approaching this specific issue. Love
The Church is supposed to be a safe place to be broken. That does not mean we ‘affirm’ brokenness itself nor encourage people to ‘embrace’ it as central to their identity but rather we seek to be like Christ, meeting people in their place of brokenness and lovingly calling them to a life of submission to devotion to Christ in every way. Humility
We are all broken, as such, we approach all people with a posture of humility. We are not seeking to lord it over people nor act like we have it ‘all together’ in every way. Our hope, our goal, our desire is our ultimate conformity to the image of Christ.
As God is the only perfect one, it is his truth that stands. This humble posture before God leads us to the next principle. Truth We will not ever promise what God has not. Scripture is clear that often we will carry our brokenness in our body till the resurrection. Our goal is never to manipulate people but rather lead them in submitting all things to Christ. God is king, as such his word is final. We have no place in trying to manipulate that truth to anything else.
When our feelings and thoughts contradict God’s word we “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5, NIV).
Mercy People make mistakes in living for Christ. We always seek to extend mercy (Luke 6:36, Matt 5:7).
It is crucial to discern the difference between mistakes and rebellion. When someone appears to be rebelling against God’s will, even though calling themselves a believer, our first step is always pastoral. Our goal is to always ‘win a brother’ (Matt 18:15)
Grace We believe God can walk people through their challenging circumstance even if he does not answer their prayers in the way they hope. It is in this journey through brokenness we can discover that Christ’ grace is sufficient (2 Cor 12:8 – 10) Short questions – Short Answers What about people that are not believers and are walking through this issue?
We do not expect unbelievers to live as believers (1 Cor 5:12 – 13). Love the unbeliever, speak truth with compassion, mercy and wisdom as led by the Spirit. Our goal must always be that they first encounter the one who is both judge (1 Cor 5:12 – 13) and the one who has paid the price for their sin (1 John 2:2)
Should I address a person using their preferred gender pronouns? Allow me(Josh Reading) to specifically speak to this personally. I cannot affirm or use something I believe to be objectively false. As such I would never recommend calling a person that is a male by female pronouns.
That said, I am, for mercy's sake, very much willing to avoid gender-related pronouns as much as is practical.
Should I address them by their chosen name? Names as not strictly gendered from a biblical perspective, they are cultural, as such, though awkward I would be willing to use someone’s chosen name.
Keeping compassion in mind, no one should go against their conscience. What about Transgenderism and Children It is our conviction that parents have primary responsibility in a child’s life. This means that decisions regarding a child’s perspective of themselves in this regard or of a child’s perspective of this issue generally need to be left in the authority of parents. Any engagement of a minor about this issue must be by or with the explicit permission of parents/guardians. What about government legislation and its possible implications in this area?
This is an area that is very much in development. We respect and pray for those in authority (1 Tim 2:1 – 4). If we are ultimately in a position where our convictions, as drawn from scripture find themselves in opposition to legislative requirements we will always follow scripture.
 transgender | Origin and meaning of transgender by Online Etymology Dictionary (etymonline.com)