30 Jan 2017
Identity. What makes it up? It is no easy thing to decide, and we need help. I am writing this article having just learned today that a young man close to our family has decided that he is really a woman. He is taking a new name to assume what he thinks is his true identity.
People today have done a great switcheroo on the matter. Nowadays, a man’s desires are considered a deep part of who he is, at the core of his being. But his body is simply happenstance, a house of the soul that may be changed, or exchanged, without damage to his identity. We must grieve this change in the culture because it is exactly opposite of what the Bible says about us.
According to the Book, we are chock full of desires, some lofty, some destructive, many mostly contradictory. While some tell us about ourselves, others lie to us about who we are. To root our identity in a particular one is superficial and likely to mislead us. For a person to identify herself by the direction of her sexual desires (as in, “I am a lesbian”) is incredibly dehumanizing and limiting to the psyche. To demand, as our society now does, that people who experience same-sex attraction must identify with those desires, must consider them an inalienable and unchangeable part of who they are, must, in other words, call themselves “gay,” is one of the great harms of our day. It means that many who would like to determine themselves differently cannot get help with unwanted same-sex attractions. Even if they are aware that help exists, they will be persuaded against seeking it out.
At the same time, under the influence of Plato, Gnosticism, and, more recently Rene Descartes, our culture has decided that our bodies are not an important component of our identities. The body is considered a cage of our real selves, and sometimes a hindrance to our spirituality. But, in the beginning, God declares that He gives us bodies to reflect His image. In the first chapter of Genesis, He makes us masculine and feminine, giving us physical characteristics to guide us into our identities. That integration is maintained throughout the Biblical witness (spend some time, for example, meditating on James 2:26). Our bodies teach us how to be in relationship, and being in relationship is deeply who we are.
Transgenderism is a predictable result of rejecting the Bible’s counsel. We all commonly dislike parts of ourselves. If we switch what does not really compose our identities (our sometimes wrongful sexual desire) for what should compose our identities (our body), then when we experience severe distress with who we are, it makes sad sense to try changing our bodies. But, as the suicide statistics of those who transition show, that modification is not the answer. We are wrecking part of our true identities.
Our gender is a great gift from God, an immense privilege in reflecting His image, and, as expressed through our bodies, an indispensable key to understanding our inner selves. As I’ve said, it is no easy thing to understand our identities and our bodies are given to guide us in that understanding, to help us know how we should love. Why would people reject this great gift?
There are many reasons we could give, but two very important ones stand out. The reasons are false ideas that deceive many people today.
A first reason for believing that one is trapped in the wrong body is misunderstanding what gender is. According to the Bible, gender matters in relationship, and this part of who we are comes out in how we love one another (1 Corinthians 11:11). Again, rejecting this counsel, people come to think of their gender in isolation and rely on societal norms to define manhood and womanliness. They think that being a real man means using power tools, or being a real woman means wearing perfume. If you are a man who does not fit in with the norms around you, or who identifies more with the opposite norms, then—of course, that’s it!—you must really be a woman.
But your gender was never meant to be understood that way. Young people today need more than ever to see the Bible’s beautiful vision of manhood and womanliness so that they can be encouraged that they can do it as they grow. Yes, if I am a girl, I can be a woman in the Lord’s eyes. Yes, if I am a boy, I really can do the things that God calls men to do, I really can reach manhood. Maybe I cannot achieve the culture’s definition, but I can answer God’s call.
Our gender is a great gift from God, an immense privilege in reflecting His image, and, as expressed through our bodies, an indispensable key to understanding our inner selves.
A second reason people are apt to opt for transitioning is mistaking capacity for sympathy for identity. Our secondary sexual traits often overlap. Boys are usually better at math but not always. Girls often do better at languages but not every time. Many more men sleepwalk than women, but that doesn’t mean that no woman ever sleepwalks. God makes this overlap on purpose so that we can relate to one another. Men and women need points of connection. So if a guy feels certain affinities with women, he should understand that he is God’s gift to the church to help the men around him relate to the mysterious others in their midst. Pastorally, we can help this man by helping him to understand how he is uniquely created and how God loves many of these things about him, even things that he himself may hate. This man is given to us to understand women better, but he is not a woman.
These are two of the gross misconceptions, really deceptions, that cloud judgment and pave the road to the adoption of the opposite gender and alteration of the body. They block off finding one’s true identity in Christ.
We can expect the transgender phenomena to increase because when you lose gender in relationship, you lose gender. Our society has, and will. If you do not already, you will soon know someone like our family friend, who is taking a new name as a woman. His parents have written me, in a letter I just opened, urging me to support this decision. While I want relationship with this friend to continue in my life, I do so with great sadness for him. I must grieve at what is, to me, a great case of mistaken identity.
By Dr. Sam A. Andreades
Dr. Sam A. Andreades is a PCA pastor in Pennsylvania and author of the book, enGendered: God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship, published by Weaver Book Company. enGendered won World Magazine’s Theology Book of the Year for 2015. Sam is a friend of, and partner with, Harvest USA in ministry to sexual strugglers.
Ever since I was a kid, eons ago, I have been a long-time reader of the National Geographic magazine. So I was both intrigued and concerned when the January 2017 issue, “Gender Revolution,” arrived. How would the story on gender and transgender be told: with an objective analysis or a subjective slant? The front picture gave more than a hint: on the cover was an elementary-aged transgender girl, with the caption reading, “The best thing about being a girl is, now I don’t have to pretend to be a boy,”
I got my answer. I found myself looking at that picture and feeling much sadness. I couldn’t help but think that this young child is still “pretending,” but is now being encouraged to exchange reality for fantasy.
I don’t want to criticize National Geographic for producing this issue. After all, gender and transgender issues are in the forefront of our news and culture. National Geographic writes about all sorts of people and culture groups, and this is a story that fits in their purview. Christians should not ignore these stories of children and adults who feel out of sorts with their own gendered bodies. There is something to be learned in all this.
But the information presented in the magazine, from the main article to the sympathetic photos and stories of transgendered youth, seems designed to leave the reader with the conclusion that almost every news story today proclaims: that biology has no essential connection to what gender is, and we can be whatever we want to be regardless of the anatomy with which we are born.
That’s a deeply mistaken notion. But what’s most tragic is seeing where this has led—that we let even the youngest children make life-altering decisions that will lead them to steadily transform and even mutilate their bodies, with parents and other adults encouraging them onward. Our hearts should feel for how these children struggle with their sense of self, but we should grieve even more for the kind of help they are being offered.
The National Geographic main article, “Rethinking Gender” by Robin Marantz Henig, is the one to read carefully. It is well-written and presents itself in a measured tone, and that is what makes it all the more uncomfortable, if not disturbing. Unless you carefully read what it is saying and what is subtlety not being said, you might walk away thinking, yes, science is indeed showing us that what we believed about the connection between gender and biology—the normative gender binary—has been all wrong.
But that is not what the article proves at all. And you’ve got to read it carefully to know that.
Here is just one example:
The first part of the article describes the complexities of being born intersex. There isn’t anything new written here, but the brief summary is excellent in describing how very complicated this is for the child, their family, and their social unit. These are difficult situations for parents, doctors, and the children involved to sort through, and we should give wide leeway to acknowledge the tough decisions that have to be made here.
Intersex conditions have long been seen by the medical establishment as disorders of sex development. In other words, something has gone wrong in the fetal development of the child. A Christian worldview sees intersex conditions in the same light, placing it within the biblical story of the Fall, where the introduction of sin brought about brokenness in all things, including our bodies.
But in a post-Christian culture, energized by an increasingly aggressive LGBT agenda, intersex conditions are now being seen as evidence of multiple genders, as normative as the binary view of gender once was.
Henig then makes a leap from intersex to transgender, slipping in a paragraph that mentions Caitlyn Jenner becoming a trans woman. Here’s the paragraph:
As transgender issues become the fare of the daily news—Caitlyn Jenner’s announcement that she is a trans woman, legislators across the United States arguing about who gets to use which bathroom—scientists are making their own strides, applying a variety of perspectives to investigate what being transgender is all about.
Step back and notice what has happened here. Henig has linked here the complex issues about intersex conditions to someone being transgender. The reality is, these are two very different things. Jenner’s transformation has nothing to do with being born intersex. The phenomenon of transgenderism is quite distinct from intersex complications. This unwarranted (and virtually unnoticeable connection), if not challenged, will leave the casual reader thinking the two are related, and that science is finally coming to understand, through its research, a new understanding of gender.
As we at Harvest USA said in our recent magazine, Transgenderism: The Reshaping of Reality, we do not see this issue as discovering new things about gender. This isn’t enlightened thinking at all, but rather it is “nothing short of an assault against God, and God’s authority to create people in his image, ‘male and female.’” Transgenderism is a radical redefinition of what it means to be human, and the implications are likely to bring tragic results.
How did we go from ongoing generational discussions about gender expression (or roles) to encouraging children to alter and even mutilate their bodies to fit into those roles?
Henig casually drops hints that, indeed, something more than science is driving this phenomenon. At the beginning of the article, she writes about a 14-year old girl questioning her gendered body: “She’s questioning her gender identity, rather than just accepting her hobbies and wardrobe choices as those of a tomboy, because we’re talking so much about transgender issues these days” (emphasis added). Did you catch what is being said here? So much of what children are struggling with is how to fit into cultural roles of gender, many of which change from one generation to another. How did we go from an ongoing generational discussion about gender expression (or roles) to encouraging children to alter and even mutilate their bodies to fit into those roles?
What is driving the issue of transgenderism and its acceptance is not scientific research (note: let’s not as Christians oppose legitimate scientific inquiry into this issue), but a dominant culture which has persistently deconstructed and disassembled gender and gender roles for more than half a century. In a materialistic worldview that refuses to see, much less accept, a divine plan for how we should live, we now arrive at truth by means of our own individual stories and experience. This personal-truth-for-me culture is seen in a photo of a six-year-old boy who describes himself as “gender creative” and who, the caption says about him, “is very sure of who he is.”
A six-year-old who knows with certainty who he is? Childhood has always been observed as the journey in which young boys and girls wrestle with who they are, and eventually emerge into adulthood with a clearer understanding of themselves and the world in which they will live. Now we think children are wise enough to short-circuit that process by more than a decade.
The real difficulties these children experience will not be fixed by encouraging them to pretend to be what they are not, and especially to put their bodies at the mercy of hormone-altering drugs and surgical knives. Walt Heyer, a former transsexual, says in his recent commentary of National Geographic’s issue on gender, “Like others who elect to live the transgender life, I painfully discovered it was only a temporary fix to deeper pain… if National Geographic truly wanted to explore the complexities of gender change, they would have included stories of people who discovered that living the transgender life was an empty promise.”
Of course they didn’t, Walt. It’s not the cultural stream the world is swimming in right now. It’s all further evidence that the world we now live in is a modern version of ancient Israel: no truth, no design, no shared meaning or purpose. We’re left with conflicting opinions on how to live that give us no clear path forward. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).
“What’s wrong with changing your gender if your body is sick—if your body is wrong for you?”
How’s that for a question to answer? The question’s larger context was this: If you’re sick, you go to the doctor and get help. If you lose your leg, you get a prosthesis. If you’re depressed, you take medication. So what’s wrong with changing your gender if your body is sick, if something is wrong with it?
Ellen Dykas and I went to a coffeehouse talk for young adults at Calvary Church in Souderton. Calvary has a terrific discussion event called Living Room Tuesdays, where, according to their website, “these meetings are meant to be a safe place for young adults to discuss issues, ask questions, and learn how the Bible directs us to respond to these issues.” As John McCants, the Pastor of Young Adult Ministries (who, BTW, is totally in sync with this age group!) said to us, “We’ve got to get Christians thinking well on these subjects. We don’t want to be stupid!”
So, yes, it was a safe place to open up and talk about transgenderism. But what came through was the fact that this is, indeed, a very hot topic. And one rife with confusion, courtesy of our culture’s pervasive post-Christian views of gender and sexuality.
After an hour of interactive discussion with John McCants, we took questions. Lots of questions. Questions that really couldn’t be answered with a simple yes or no, do this or don’t do that. Wisdom questions and conscience questions, particularly about how to intersect faith with living our Christian lives “out there” in the marketplace.
Then, near the end of our time, came the question at the top. Upon hearing it, I recognized the cultural mindset behind it. If someone feels this way, then why do Christians find fault with it, especially if, for them, it might be a life or death issue? There are lots of things we fix or change in life, so why shouldn’t transgenderism just be another one?
Our churches need to get these cultural issues on the table for discussion, to air them out, and to help people see the wisdom of God’s design in making men and women his image bearers.
Lurking behind this individualistic framework is our culture’s insistence that truth and reality are arrived at from my own personal experience. And if there is no God, then who I am (identity) and what I do (purpose) are entirely up to me.
Tragically, it’s a mindset that has infiltrated the church. While Christians should respect people’s life experiences, we must also be a people who believe that who we are and what we are here for is determined by God, who has put into place both design and boundary lines so that we might live well.
I couldn’t go too deep into a cultural worldview discussion at that point (we were wrapping things up after two long hours!), but this is what came to my mind. I acknowledged the deep struggle someone might have with aligning their biological sex with their sense of gender, but more foundational than someone’s distress is this issue: Does God have a primary claim on who we are, or are we in charge of choosing whatever seems right for us?
Then I said: Since when is being male a disease to be cured? Since when is being female a medical condition that needs intervention? If there are no biological complexities involved like intersex complications, why would you do this to an otherwise healthy, normal body? Why do we intervene in other “body dysmorphic” issues like anorexia but not this one?
With someone who is literally starving but believes she is overweight, we properly locate where the struggle is: The person’s mind and heart, which has become influenced by self-destructive impulses, erroneous beliefs, and cultural distortions of what a body should look like.
Why would we not do the same with a gender-confused person? We need to help that individual live well within his or her “assigned gender,” to learn that being male or female reflects the image of God and his purposes for our lives.
There’s more to be said about the issue of transgenderism, but Calvary Church in Souderton, PA is on the right track. Our churches need to get these cultural issues on the table for discussion, to air them out, and to help people see the wisdom of God’s design in making men and women his image bearers.
Go to this link to see the videos on this discussion, as well as follow-up videos from the second time we had a similar discussion at Calvary.
30 Nov 2016
On May 13, 2016, many were surprised to learn that the federal government issued a directive, concerning transgenderism, to schools receiving federal Title IX grants. The directive said that schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room that match their gender identity. A confusing issue on a personal level became even more confusing as it developed into a public policy issue.
The emergence of public scrutiny over gender raises questions in the minds of many Christians: Why would someone identify as transgender? What do we mean by gender? Is it possible that there are more than two genders, male and female? How does Scripture call Christians to interact with transgender individuals?
These questions and the various answers given have sparked tremendous confusion and even, from some, hostility over what many see as another example of society going off the rails. It has become crucial for Christians to know how to reason through these issues on gender. With opinions on gender coming at us from all directions, we must find clarity to both understand and respond—intelligently, and with Christ-like compassion.
How do we understand what gender is?
What is a traditional understanding of gender? To understand what is revolutionary about current gender politics, a quick look at how gender has been viewed historically, across all cultures, is necessary. For the whole of human existence, society, with few exceptions, has affirmed a male-female binary regarding gender. In other words, an individual’s [given] physical sex at birth revealed and determined which gender the person was, however those gender roles of being a man or woman were expressed in one’s given cultural time period.
In the twin areas of sexuality—sexual behavior and gender identity the church is experiencing tremendous pressure to change its understanding of what Scripture says about personhood and identity—and to subsume its authority to that of the individual.
This view of gender understood that for a very few number of individuals (about one in every 1,500 births, or .007% of the population), this binary classification was not clear at birth. A condition known as intersex, formerly known as hermaphroditism, occurs when an individual is born either with genitalia of both sexes or with ambiguous genitalia. This poses tremendous challenges for these children and their parents regarding what gender they will live out. We ought to give much understanding and compassion for these difficult situations. However, intersex conditions have not been viewed historically as evidence of multiple genders, but rather as disorders of sexual development. Like someone born without the ability to use their legs to stand or walk, such a condition does not argue that there are multiple views about what legs are for.
What is the new cultural understanding of gender? In simple terms, it’s this: Instead of possessing one of two fixed genders for life, the new understanding is that gender is fluid. Gender exists not as two permanent, fixed points, but rather on a continuum ranging from male to female. One’s experience of gender is no longer one gender or the other; instead, it can be entirely opposite from one’s biological sex, or one can switch back and forth between two genders. The goal of this cultural redefinition of gender is to ultimately do away with even the categories of male and female. Gender doesn’t matter in understanding what it means to be human.
A second element of this new cultural understanding is that gender is not innate, but acquired. While a child is born with male or female genitalia, that child does not develop his or her sense of gender identity until well after birth, according to psychologists. In most individuals, psychological gender is congruent with physical sex. However, in some cases, this is not so. Hence, it is possible to have an individual born with genitalia associated with one gender, but to have a psychological conception of one’s gender that is incongruent with one’s physical sex.
Transgender is a blanket term applied to a person whose subjective experience of gender is incongruent with his or her physical sex. Because of this perceived discrepancy, a transgender individual may elect to live out his or her gender in any number of ways. One might choose to identify as a particular gender different from his or her physical sex but never take measures to surgically or pharmacologically alter his or her physical sex. Someone might go through a process of using certain drugs to alter brain chemistry and hormone levels to develop physical characteristics of his or her preferred gender. Or one might elect to undergo gender reassignment surgery. These last two processes are known colloquially as transitioning.
Gender matters to God, and as his image bearers, it should matter to us as well.
This particular cultural concept of gender is new and itself in a state of evolution. In 2012, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association categorized the aforementioned types of gender incongruence as a psychiatric condition: Gender Identity Disorder (GID). Just four years ago, the psychiatric community would have counseled the GID-presenting patient to accept his or her physical sex.
When the DSM-IV was updated in 2013 (DSM-V), the diagnostic criteria for GID changed, so that most people who were previously diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder are now diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria—a perceptual problem, as opposed to a disorder. Now the goal of the therapist is to help patients accept their perceived or preferred psychological gender.
What is the problem with transgender? Essentially, this view of sex and gender makes the individual’s experience and feelings primary about what it means to be a person. Who I am and what I am are grounded in what I feel or believe about myself. Everything else—whether Scripture, or physical reality, or millennia-old social understanding—becomes secondary to my understanding of personhood. So if I feel as though I am another gender—whether male, female, or something in-between—that is who I actually am.
This radical view of personhood and identity comes out of the movement toward deconstructing gender and sex (as they have been traditionally and historically understood), which is the fruit of the sexual revolution that began more than half a century ago. Sexual boundaries and gender understanding are seen as social constructs, imposed by tradition (religious and civil) and by those in power. Viewing the issue from that worldview, the individual is elevated above society and is now seen as self-determinative and authoritative, able to choose what best fits their own perception of reality. The result of this worldview disallows any kind of objective truth from God—that the world he created has a particular design and a particular purpose within which people find God’s plan, his purposes, and themselves.
In the twin areas of sexuality—sexual behavior and gender identity—the church is experiencing tremendous pressure to change its understanding of what Scripture says about personhood and identity—and to subsume its authority to that of the individual. While the world sees this process as freedom and finding authenticity of self, Scripture views it as the outworking of sin and rebellion that is the result of the brokenness of life. The last line in the book of Judges, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” aptly describes our world of increasing chaos and brokenness.
What is God’s view of gender?
Understanding the narrative of Scripture when it discusses human beings, made in the image of God, as either male or female, will give us a critical starting point for entering into this discussion.
Scripture is the starting point for how Christians ought to think and live. God’s Word has much to say regarding gender and makes the following especially clear:
- It identifies two (and only two) genders in creation, with no distinction between biological sex (male and female) and gender (being a man or a woman)
- It describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, from which gender confusion results
Scripture identifies two (and only two) genders in creation
We see this plainly when God establishes two genders—male and female—by decree in 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.
God created men and women specifically for a particular kind of relationship with one another: The covenant of marriage, where the creation of children, leading to the development of both family and society, is a major reason for our sexuality. Sexual activity is connected to humanity’s purpose in life—a purpose that God mentions in Genesis 1:28 to manage the earth and make it a place of bounty and beauty. Creating life is an essential part of this.
But the Genesis story, as the anchor for our understanding of sexuality and gender, doesn’t limit gender differences only to reproduction. Male and female reflect God’s image to the world, and particularly so when a husband and wife join together in marriage. The narrative in Genesis hints at how gender differences profoundly shape humanity and our relationships. When Adam first sees Eve, he speaks of both similarity and difference, and between them a relationship develops where intimacy, transparency, mutual love, and unity grow in a way unlike any other human relationship (Gen 2: 21-25). Eve’s designation as Adam’s “helper” speaks of a relationship of unity and shared purpose (and not, as some erroneously think, that woman is inferior to man).
The importance of gender is not relegated only to marriage, either. A single man or woman also lives out their unique identities and personalities in the context of their malenesss or femaleness. All relationships are structured and enhanced through how we relate to one another as gendered beings.
So, God has established two genders—male and female—generally, in creation. But, we must note that he has also established these genders particularly in the lives of each individual. That is to say, God has assigned one of the two genders to each person at his or her birth. Scripture declares that God has planned out our unique identities, which includes the biological sex with which we were born.
The Psalmist in Psalm 139 says clearly that God designed each person before he or she existed:
- “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)
- “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:15)
- “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 139:16)
God both declares and foreknows the gender he has given to us. Examples of this are found throughout Scripture: Hagar is told she will bear a son who is to be named Ishmael (Genesis 16:11); Abraham and Sarah are told that Sarah will bear a son, and they are to name him Isaac (Genesis 17:19); the angel of the Lord tells Manoah that his barren wife will soon bear a son (Judges 13:3); and Mary receives the startling news, as an unmarried woman, that she would bear a son, Jesus, who would be the Messiah (Luke 1:31).
These key redemptive-historical acts, while they only mention the birth of sons, nevertheless establish the fact that it is God who ordains who we are as either male or female, as either sons or daughters.
Scripture describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, from which gender confusion results
Christians do not live in a perfect, transcendent world; they share in the extensive brokenness of all creation. In the area of sexual behavior, the numerous prohibitions in the Old Testament regarding particular sexual acts is telling. The reason why God had to spell out one sexual prohibition after another was not because he views sex as intrinsically evil (as some think Christian doctrine teaches), but because our fallen, sinful hearts are capable of doing evil even with the good things God has created.
Though God’s order for creation exists in fractured form, it still remains. It still matters that we live according to it. Regarding gender confusion or fluidity, in Deuteronomy 22:5, the Lord tells his people that to live as if you are someone of the opposite gender is sin. For many years, Deuteronomy 22:5 was used as a proof text against transvestitism, but its meaning goes far beyond simply wearing the clothes of the other gender. The verb-object clause used in the verse means to “put on the mantle” of the opposite gender—in other words, to live as though you were of the other gender.
The entire narrative of Scripture, including this passage, proclaims that God created all individuals to be either male or female, and to live as a man or woman in harmony with their physical sex. (As mentioned earlier, special consideration should be given to those who are born with intersex conditions, for they will require difficult decisions that are made for the benefit of the child; but these rare non-binary situations, which some proclaim as evidence of a “third” gender or sex, are evidence that God’s original design is broken and not that he intended multiple forms of gender.)
Gender matters to God, and as his image bearers, it should matter to us as well. To alter one’s birth gender or to live as a member of the other gender is therefore sin—as it is a repudiation of God’s will and intent for the particular creature.
One is reminded of the Lord’s words to his rebellious people in Isaiah 29:16:
You who turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?
To live outside of his design and purpose is to engage in rebellion against him, even if that rebellion is the result of confusion and personal pain. The confusion about gender is the result of our world moving away from an acceptance of God as both creator and ruler. The implications for the individual in distress, and for society as a whole, are enormous. It is right and good and necessary that we proclaim a true view of human personhood and the benefits that come from embracing it.