Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Romans 8:22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
God created human beings in His image, male and female. The perfection of that created order was deeply broken by Adam’s sin. Sin’s entrance into the world damaged everything, even including the maleness and femaleness of human beings. In this article, I hope to engage a controversial topic with compassion, truth, and most of all, a focus upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as our only hope for healing that brokenness.
With the debate in our culture regarding same sex marriage virtually over, a new debate is quickly growing. It touches on the core of what it means to be male and female. Confusion over what it means to be male and female is the new hot topic. Is gender a trait that exists along a continuum? Is gender defined by what the individual feels? What does the Bible mean when it says that God made human beings male and female?
Two Circumstances: Intersex and Transgender
There are two circumstances here which require careful and compassionate consideration. The first is that there are people born with intersex characteristics. That is, there are chromosomal and/or genital characteristics that create ambiguity of the male/female distinction. I believe that this is partly what Jesus had in mind when He said that some people are eunuchs from birth (see Matthew 19:12). In the US, enough ambiguity exists to consult a specialist in these matters in 1 in 1500-2000 births.[i] The challenging difficulties of the Fall create a variety of harmful effects on the human race. All disease and genetic defects can be traced to Adam and Eve’s sin the Garden of Eden. This effect of the Fall extends in some cases to the biological nature of gender. In this, we must have great compassion for those who are born with these challenges and for their families. As Mark Chalemin of Probe Ministries notes, “The fact that some individuals are born with evidence of mutations in their sex-determining genes doesn't change their value in God's eyes any more than someone born with the mutation that causes cystic fibrosis or sickle-cell anemia.” [ii] Indeed, it appears that God has a special determination to set everything right for people in this circumstance. See Isaiah 56:3b-5: Let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”4 For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant,5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
The second and more significant (at least in terms of cultural debate) circumstance is that today the very notion of gender is being challenged. This is the issue of transgender, that is, a person’s gender is whatever they themselves want it to be regardless of the biological determination of their body. Rather than a biological ambiguity of gender, the transgender movement is about a psychological ambiguity of gender. The transgendered person feels that their gender identity is at variance with the physical reality of their biological birth sex. Former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins University, Paul McHugh, noted in a June 12 article in the Wall Street Journal, “On May 30, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services review board ruled that Medicare can pay for the ‘reassignment’ surgery sought by the transgendered—those who say that they don't identify with their biological sex. Earlier last month Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that he was ‘open’ to lifting a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. Time magazine, seeing the trend, ran a cover story for its June 9 issue called ‘The Transgender Tipping Point: America's next civil rights frontier.’[iii] According to a 2011 survey, about 700,000 Americans identify as transgender.[iv] The speed with which this topic has captivated cultural attention is breathtaking. It was only in 2013 that the American Psychiatric Association removed this condition from its list of disorders, now calling it “gender dysphoria” instead of “gender identity disorder.”[v]
Defining the Problem of Transgender
There is, of course, a political agenda surrounding the topic of transgender. There is a movement to normalize trangender experience and to redefine gender according to individual self-perception rather than biological anatomy. This inevitably leads to debate about access to public restrooms, what children are taught in public schools about gender, and public funding of gender reassignment surgeries.[vi]
My primary concern for this article, however, is not the politics of transgender. Rather, it is the hope of the Gospel to meet EVERY human brokenness. The person who identifies as transgendered believes that there is a problem and that it requires a solution. Where the disagreement lies is on what the problem is and what the solution is.
Let’s think about the problem first. If indeed authoritative truth comes from individual autonomy, then the transgendered person would be correct—he was born with the “wrong” body, or at least he identifies psychologically about gender in a different way than his biology suggests. As John Piper notes, “If there is no God telling me what is wise and good, then my own preference will assume that role. It will seem ‘ridiculous’ to say ‘biology is destiny.’”[vii] Is the individual the best authority for what is best for him? Is it possible for the individual to be wrong?
The Christian worldview tells us that none of us should trust our own autonomy. We are, by virtue of our sin, broken in how our minds work (They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. Ephesians 4:18). We are broken in how our hearts deceive us (The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9). We are broken, enslaved to our passions (For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. Titus 3:3). Does it then make sense that we should trust ourselves? By all means, no! Instead, it makes sense to look to our Creator and what He reveals to us. First, we should consider that the Creator has made each of us, fearfully and wonderfully (Psalm 139) and that His creation reveals His character (Romans 1) so that we can trust His work even more than we can trust ourselves. Secondly, we should consider that God has spoken to us in the Bible, and its authority is greater than human individual autonomy (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is only when we accept this authority that we can embrace the biblical solution to human brokenness, including the plight of the transgendered person.
Solutions of Transgender
Let’s now think about solutions. If the view of individual autonomy is held, the transgendered person would be correct in attempting to circumvent his biological gender by both medical means and by demanding that others accept his own gender designation. This indeed has been the approach of many. Surgical sex “reassignment” surgeries are thought by many to bring a solution. However, there is strong data pointing out that recipients of sex reassignment surgery are more prone to suicide, suicide attempts, and psychiatric inpatient care.[viii] This solution seems as challenging as the problem.
One reason why this might be true is that sex “reassignment” is really a fiction. As Paul McHugh, the former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins University notes, “'Sex change' is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is a civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder." McHugh also notes his considerable history in addressing the challenges of transgender, “We at Johns Hopkins University—which in the 1960s was the first American medical center to venture into ‘sex-reassignment surgery’—launched a study in the 1970s comparing the outcomes of transgendered people who had the surgery with the outcomes of those who did not. Most of the surgically treated patients described themselves as ‘satisfied’ by the results, but their subsequent psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn't have the surgery. And so at Hopkins we stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, since producing a ‘satisfied’ but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.”[ix]
The second solution by transgender advocates has been a demand that others accept the individual’s psychological designation of gender rather than their biological one. While that might seem loving to do, it is built on the foundation of human autonomy; it demands that we accept what a person thinks in their head over what nature has given. For a person who believes in a Creator, it is a demand to deny that Creator’s work. And if indeed there is a Creator, to “accept” a gender designation contrary to biological gender is to support a person in believing a lie about themselves at a most fundamental level.
The biblical solution is quite a bit more nuanced than “trust Jesus and your problems will be over.” In fact, in one sense, embracing the Bible’s solution creates more problems! Jesus, after all, said, “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” That is the opposite of individual autonomy, of living as one’s own authority. Jesus calls us to go the opposite direction of human autonomy and live under His Lordship. So, while becoming a Christian is simple in some ways, it is not easy to be a Christian.
This means that we must be patient with people identifying as transgendered. They must know that we do not regard them as “freaks,” that we will not bully them or accept others doing so, that God their Creator made them wonderfully and loves them. They must know that Jesus died on the cross to undo the curse of Adam which includes the brokenness of gender confusion. The denial of self and taking up one’s cross does not mean that one earns his salvation. Rather, God receives us because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our slow, plodding, even painful obedience in taking up our own cross (including the cross of gender confusion) is part of a long road of learning, learning the steps of our Master, Jesus.[x]
Applications for the Church
Several applications for the life of our church emerge simply from a consideration of these issues. First, the issues of what is male and what is female will continue to grow confusing in our culture. “Equal access” legislation, particularly as it relates to the public school and workplace, will trumpet the idea of individual autonomy over that of the authority of a Creator. This points to the importance of having an intact family where maleness and femaleness is modeled. More importantly, it points to the importance of holding up the scriptures as an authority greater than ourselves.
Second, the church needs to develop a compassionate, biblical approach for ministry to people with gender confusion. As our culture abandons God for the individual as god, we cannot simply ignore people, no matter how the effects of the fall have harmed them. Trying to avoid people who are affected by the fall is both impossible and disobedient to the Great Commission. However, we also must love people enough even to the point of kindly disagreeing with the solutions that they propose for their own peace.
Third, we must believe in the power of the Gospel. Is the Gospel such good news that it is for people who have congenital ambiguities? Is the Gospel such good news that it is for people who wrongly think that real peace and joy will come if they can determine their own gender and everyone else just accepts that? Do we believe the Gospel enough to welcome transgendered persons to our church? Anything less than an affirmative answer to these questions is a denial of Christ and His power to save.
Fourth, if we never face a circumstance on this topic, it is not a good sign. It is a sign that our Gospel outreach has not extended to some people. So, if you are thinking, “Boy, I hope that we never have to deal with transgendered people,” you should repent. Repent that you do not want to extend the Gospel to the ends of the earth. You see, “the ends of the earth” does not just mean geographically; it also means philosophically. We take the Gospel to everyone and love everyone in Jesus’ name.
Fifth, repentance means to acknowledge the authority of our Creator. A transgendered person might not “feel” right in repenting of feelings that run counter to one’s biology. But the Christian Gospel is not about how one feels. It is about faith in Jesus Christ Who saves, indeed, saves us from our own confused, deceitful thoughts. Any spiritual transformation, especially on a topic as intimate as one’s own gender, likely will not be immediate. The patience of God and His people are great for those who earnestly seek the will of God. I love what Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah, “He does not bend a broken reed; he does not snuff out a smoldering wick.” (Isaiah 42:3) Despite the incredible pain and anguish that any transgendered person faces, there is hope in Christ and the Gospel! Jesus did not come to bend the broken reed. He did not come to snuff out the smoldering wick. He came to seek and save the lost.
[vi] “When children who reported transgender feelings were tracked without medical or surgical treatment at both Vanderbilt University and London's Portman Clinic, 70-80 percent of them spontaneously lost those feelings. Some 25 percent did have persisting feelings, notes Dr. McHugh, but what differentiates those individuals remains to be discerned. Despite such studies several states—including California, New Jersey and Massachusetts—have passed laws barring psychiatrists, even with parental permission, from striving to restore natural gender feelings to a transgender minor.” See: http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-you-should-know-about-transgenderism
[x] See Russell Moore’s helpful article: http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2013/08/15/conservative-christianity-and-the-transgender-question/10610