02 Mar 2017 Transgenderism, Free Expression and the Gospel
Sharing the truth with compassion doesn’t guarantee you won’t be despised
by Andre Schutten
Transgenderism is the latest political cause du jour, dominating media headlines, saturating academic deliberation, the subject of new laws and radical educational policies across the country. People who believe they were born with the wrong body are encouraged by media, politicians and academia to embrace that notion and run with it. That might mean they start identifying as the other gender or possibly undergoing surgery to try to resemble the other gender.
We must oppose this. Why? We know it will hurt people! As I heard a pastor say at a recent political rally, these new policies require us to love less. They silence genuine concern for “transgendered” kids (those experiencing gender identity disorder), while advocating a celebration of an ideology that, by any measure of science and common sense, will do irreparable harm.
The Bible on gender
We know from the creation story (see Gen. 1:27 and 2:18) that God created humankind in his image (imago dei) and that the wonderful mystery of that design includes the binary reality of the sexes: we are made either male and female. That means that both a woman’s femaleness and a man’s maleness reflect something of the image of God. The binary nature of humanity is implicitly confirmed in the words of Jesus in his discussions on marriage (see Matt. 19:4 and Mark 10:6) and in Paul’s directions to the new Christians in Corinth and Ephesus and to Timothy on the distinct responsibilities and natures of men and women (see, for example, 1 Cor. 11:7-9; Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Tim. 2:12-14).
To mar or diminish the masculine and feminine diminishes our God-given identity as males or females. Both reflect the glory of God. This is why God forbade cross-dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5. The point is not the article of clothing per se (men’s clothing in Moses’ day might appear somewhat feminine today), but the intentional presentation of being the opposite sex, which is to reject the way that God designed you.
The sciences confirm our binary nature. Except for a few simple organisms, all creatures (including humans) are marked by a fundamental binary sexual differentiation: male or female markers are imprinted on every one of their trillions of cells. The testimony of biology, DNA, psychology, and social-scientific evidence all confirm the essential binary nature of the sexes.
Language and (trans)gender wars
In the past year, some high-profile wars of words have broken out in Canada on the issue of transgenderism, the most notable being that of Dr. Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Professor Peterson has famously refused to use “preferred pronouns”, even if politely requested to do so. Peterson does so for historic, professional, and practical reasons, without citing any religious texts. For example, he argues that the imposition of artificially constructed pronouns is authoritarian and is “at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology… frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people”. He writes, “I am therefore not going to mouth Marxist words. That would make me a puppet of the radical left, and that is not going to happen. Period.”
From a professional and scientific perspective, he rejects the extremism of the transgender movement because it “is predicated on absolute nonsense: sex is a biological fact that is determined by anatomy and chromosomes.” And practically, “it is absurd to insist that each person should have the right to, or could practically, choose their own pronouns.” For his position, Peterson has been lambasted by activists and even received two letters of reprimand and warning from the University of Toronto. In public debates and on television, he has been vilified by professorial colleagues and other academics. Some argue that requiring him to use students’ preferred pronouns is necessary to protect students’ dignity and health.
All of which raises questions for Christians: Does “love your neighbour as yourself” mean accommodating them at all costs, or at least accommodating “preferred pronouns”? Or should we, like Professor Peterson, speak the truth boldly?
In many of my presentations and tours, I have repeated the mantra that communication is not about what is said; communication is about what is heard. In other words, just because I mean what I say, doesn’t mean that the person hearing what I’m saying and how I’m saying it will interpret it the way I want them to. Effective communication requires care to ensure that the receiver, as much as possible, internalizes what I meant to share. For a Christian, the “how” of communication is just as important as the “what”.
Truth with grace
The Bible not only speaks to the issue of gender confusion, it also speaks to how we should communicate on this issue. The Bible reminds us that gentle answers turn away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger (Prov. 15:1) and that “gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov. 16:24). Jesus Christ fulfills this in his ministry and example. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1,14). Randy Alcorn calls this pairing of grace with truth a paradox and one Christians must emulate: our speaking and relating and communing on this issue of transgenderism must be characterized by grace and truth.
Where truth is conveyed without love, it is nothing but noise (1 Cor. 13:1). The truth needs love and the truth communicated in love will be kind, patient, and not rude, irritable, or boastful (1 Cor. 13:4,5). But love also “rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 1:6), meaning that we cannot let our instinctive compassion run unfettered because that will end up hurting, not helping.
However, the Dr. Peterson fiasco teaches a certain lesson. We know that some gospel truths, even if communicated with all the grace in the world, will still come across as hateful, insincere, or intolerant to some. This should not be surprising; the gospel is offensive to many. Christians cannot and must not be compelled to speak a lie. Third (and fourth and 52nd) genders are falsehoods. So, it is not gracious to use them because it’s promoting a lie. But in our refusal to use those pronouns, we should still be gracious. (For the record, I believe that Peterson, understandably frustrated by the incoherent opposition to his position, was quite gracious, all things considered.)
Gender matters because people matter. Maleness is a reality that is distinct from and complimentary to femaleness and vice versa. Maleness and femaleness correspond to our biological selves and go to the core of what it means to be human. When people refuse to hear each other out on these fundamental debates, we only harm ourselves. Good, open, even frank debate (properly balancing grace and truth) will hopefully lead to good public policy (though Romans 1 does say that some will be blinded to the truth). By advocating for sound public policy, we can help our “transgendered” neighbors as they navigate these troubled waters in times of social upheaval. Out of compassion for our neighbors, inspired by our duty to love them as ourselves, we need to speak out against an ideology that harms them, regardless of whether those hearing our words love us back.
It won’t be easy, but the right thing to do rarely is.