Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Target, Transgenderism, and Beyond: Some Conservative Proposals

As I survey the current conversation on gender identity, Target bathrooms, etc., I want to share a few thoughts. Transgender bathrooms aren't really the issue. For me as a Christian minister, the problem is with trying to break down God's design for gender as our individual reflection of Him. Note, the thoughts that follow are largely inspired by conservative evangelical thinkers, for example Dr. Albert Mohler, whose clear thinking and engagement with the news of the days through the lens of the Christian worldview, has shaped my own thoughts as of late. Those who know me will not be surprised at my conservatism.

For some time now, it has been increasingly clear that every congregation in this nation, and engaged Christian, will be forced to declare itself openly on a host of issues related to biology, sexuality, and gender, whether it is homosexuality, LGBT issues, or specifically transgenderism. 

That this moment of decision and public declaration will come to every Christian believer, individually, should be clear by now. For me, the issue is a binary. A Christian (or a church) will recognize transgenderism (or same-sex relationships, etc.), or he/she (they) will not. 

In other words, a congregation will teach a biblical position on the sinfulness of same-sex acts, or it will affirm same-sex behaviors as morally acceptable. Ministers will perform same-sex ceremonies, or they will not. 

Transgender rights is but the next phase of a gay rights revolution which has been underway for some time. Transgender is the “T” in LGBT, but it is not a sexual orientation. It describes those whose perception of their gender identity does not match their biological sex.

Whereas transgender used to be considered a condition to be remedied, advocates are telling us that is no longer the case. Recently, the American Psychiatric Association removed it from its list of disorders with the expressed purpose to remove the stigma from the condition. Indeed, as Time magazine has argued, we seem to be at a “tipping point.” Just as homosexuality has been mainstreamed, so advocates seek to mainstream transgender rights as well.

The public consequences of normalizing transgenderism are upon us. School systems across the country are beginning to allow boys who identify as transgender to make use of girls’s restrooms and locker rooms. 

The state of New Jersey, where I live, has made it illegal for licensed counselors to help a child embrace a gender identity that matches his sex. Medical professionals recommend sex-change surgeries for some transgender persons, and some parents are pursuing surgeries for minor children who experience conflict between their gender and bodily identity. Medicare has lifted its ban on sex reassignment surgeries. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has at different times seen majority support in both houses of Congress and would make it illegal for employers to make personnel decisions based on gender identity—a measure that would restrict the religious liberty of Christian employers.

The transgender revolution presents us with a moment of ministerial urgency. 

As Christians, we have the privilege and responsibility to love our transgender neighbors and to minister the gospel to them. We also need to come alongside brothers and sisters who are trying to walk faithfully with Christ while feeling deep conflicts over their gender identity.

The severing of gender identity from biological sex has implications beyond those who identify as transgender. The gender revisionists are telling us that it is wrong to raise our little boys to be little boys and our little girls to be little girls. Instead, we are told, gender norms should be treated as fluid and unfixed. To teach otherwise is to trade in oppressive gender roles that have little relevance to the modern world.

For all of these reasons and more, Christians are going to have to meet the transgender challenge as a matter of great pastoral and missional urgency. We must be clear about what the Bible teaches and be faithful to live that message out in a culture that is increasingly out of step with biblical norms. 

First, we must recognize that all persons are created in God’s image and are made to glorify Him (Gen. 1:27; Isa. 43:7). However, we note that the Fall of humanity into sin and God’s subsequent curse have introduced brokenness and futility into God’s good creation (Gen. 3:1-24; Rom. 8:20). For that reason, there are those whose experience of this brokenness includes a perceived conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity (Rom. 8:22-23).

God’s good design for gender identity should be determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception—a perception which is often influenced by fallen human nature in ways contrary to God’s design (Eph. 4:17-18). We must affirm God’s original design to create two distinct and complementary sexes, male and female (Gen. 1:27; Matt. 19:4; Mk. 10:6) which designate the fundamental distinction that God has embedded in the very biology of the human race. These are the  distinctions in masculine and feminine roles as ordained by God as part of the created order, and these distinctions should find an echo in every human heart (Gen 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor 11:7-9; Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Tim 2:12-14).

As Christians, we should invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel (1 Tim. 1:15-16); and we should love our transgender neighbors, seek their good always, welcome them into our congregations as they repent and believe in Christ, and spur them on to love and good deeds in the name of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-20; Gal. 5:14; Heb. 10:24). We should regard our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of almighty God and condemn acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.

But we should also condemn efforts to alter one’s bodily identity (e.g., cross-sex hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery, etc.) to bring it into line with one’s perceived gender identity. As Christians, we should oppose steadfastly all efforts by any court or state legislature to validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy (Isa. 5:20).

Notably, some Christians will want to exercise their freedom to advocate politically on this issue. For those Christians who are comfortable with such advocacy, they should commit themselves to pray for and support legislative and legal efforts against transgender advocacy and normalization.

Other Christians, sharing a conviction against political involvement, should commit themselves to praying for our nation and the moral confusion of our times.

In the mean time, we should call on our churches to commit to guard our religious liberty to teach and preach the Bible’s message about sex and gender; and we should teach and model for our own children the Bible’s message about manhood and womanhood.  

Our love for the gospel and urgency for the Great Commission must include declaring the whole counsel of God, including what God’s word teaches about God’s design for us as male and female persons created in His image and for His glory (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 20:27; Rom. 11:36).

Soli Deo Gloria.