December 14, 2023

Preferred Pronouns: Responding with Faithfulness and Humility

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Bill stared, speechless, across the coffee table at his wife. Their 14-year-old daughter, Rebecca, had just laughed at them as she left the room.

“I know you don’t like calling me ‘Beck,’ but the least you could do is use my right pronouns! Besides, if I tell my school counselor that you won’t, you could be in a lot of trouble.”

Because of his long-time employment with the city, Bill was well aware of the guidelines for all municipal employees regarding respecting gender and related speech. He had read the list of possible discipline and penalties. He felt his chest tighten as he surveyed all the potential consequences of the situation.

Jenny slowly got to her feet and collected her husband’s half empty coffee mug. “Bill,” she sighed, “it’s such a small thing; just tiny words that bother her right now. She’ll probably outgrow it all anyhow. I really don’t see why you’re making so much out of it. Isn’t it a small price for keeping the peace? Do you want to lose your daughter, your job—everything?”

This scenario, scary as it is, is playing out right now in many homes today. Families, friends, coworkers, and most of us are facing the challenge of faithfully loving Christ and people as the LGBTQ+ revolution rolls on. How do we remain steadfast both to God’s Word and the call to humbly engage those who oppose a biblical worldview?

This Is Our Creator’s World

God’s people are called to a global mission of discipling and loving the lost, that he may be loved and worshiped among all nations (see Ps. 67, Matt. 28:18–20, Phil. 2:9–10). Regardless of society’s sway, we can only be truly loving and offer authentic relationships by living faithfully for Jesus (1 John 5:2–3). And faithfulness to Christ compels us to speak truthfully in his name regarding all things—including pronouns.

Two truths are foundational when others demand that we use pronouns contrary to biological sex. First, God creates and identifies us as male or female image-bearers (Gen. 1:26–27). Science and human anatomy testify to two sexes. Second, faithfulness is fueled by compassion. Suffering is often in the backstory of the gender dysphoric and those enraged by resistance to preferred pronouns. None of us are just sinners or obeyers; we’re sufferers too. Our Savior came to free us from sin and heal broken hearts, to expose darkness and comfort the distressed (Isa. 61:1–4; Matt. 9:36; John 10:11, 14:6). Jesus came for people, not merely to address “issues.”

Faithfulness to Christ compels us to speak truthfully in his name regarding all things—including pronouns.

This article won’t give answers for every faith-stretching situation you’ll face. (Our blog covers a wide range of topics.) However, consider it a pathway for remaining steadfast to God’s Word, fueled by humble love for image-bearers questioning their biological sex.

Surrender to the Loving Creator and Lord

For by [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Col. 1:16)

All means all. ALL aspects of creation were made by and for Jesus. The triune God determined how our bodies, minds, and hearts are to function, including language, identity, maleness, femaleness, sexuality, and the way Christ-followers are to love. Though people try to recreate themselves, redefining gender and sculpting a self-determined identity, God remains the only Creator and Lord. Yielding to Christ is crucial as we consider our response to the current pronoun controversy and all things LGBTQ+.

It is right to expose false teaching, through which the enemy schemes and deceives (see John 8:44; 2 Cor. 11:1–3; 1 Pet. 5:8–9). But we must strive to view no one from a worldly point of view, including those ensnared in unbiblical gender ideology. Seeing others through the lens of the gospel is crucial when image-bearers demand we embrace preferred pronouns which don’t sync with reality. Christians: the gospel of Christ commands that we not only say and do the right things, but that we do so as Jesus would himself.

We’re called to use words to build others up and reflect Christ, not to make a point or win an argument to say, “I’m right!” There is no God-blessed way to proclaim Christ’s excellencies while allowing malicious communication to spew from our hearts. Our words—even those that must be confrontational—are to be life-giving and healing (Eph. 4:29; Prov. 12:18) as they point to Jesus. We love as we speak God’s truth, and we communicate truth truthfully through loving motivations and attitudes.

Understand the Entanglement of Deceit

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. (James 1:14–16)

James locates temptation in our desires. When someone insists on pronouns not grounded in their biological sex, enticed desires are at play—to feel or be unique, to numb internal distress, to refuse to be controlled by anyone else’s truth, to not be forced into a view of personhood that trounces personal preference, and so on. But beliefs and decisions born from sinful desires lead to more distress and confusion, not life.[1]

Though people try to recreate themselves, redefining gender and sculpting a self-determined identity, God remains the only Creator and Lord.

Deception is at work when a man believes he is a woman or a female is convinced that having a double mastectomy and taking hormones will make her male, supposedly aligning her body with her internal compass. Deception convinces boys and girls that re-sculpted bodies can produce self-actualization and peace and alleviate their internal distress. These are lies rooted in Satan, the father of lies, himself. Deception is “a pushing down of the truth, a narcotic we inject so as to avoid painful realities as if they aren’t true” and “a way we numb pain and survive suffering.”[2]

We’ve all been deceived and have deceived others to get what we want or avoid pain. Understanding these things about human beings isn’t condescending, shaming, transphobic, or unloving; it’s truthful wisdom, anchoring us in our Savior’s mission to heal broken hearts and bring comforting, rescuing light to the disorienting darkness of deception.

Love People and Keep Pronouns in Their Proper Place

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. (Col. 3:9–10)

Some ministry leaders advocate for the idea of “pronoun hospitality,” saying it’s right to respect someone’s gender affiliations and the language they use to self-identify. Their reasoning is that this avoids pushing someone away from Jesus and creates opportunities for friendship and discipleship.

While I respect the desire to build relational bridges, I offer humble pushback on those ideas. Why? Because God’s Word calls us to speak truth—with wise compassion, for sure, but never sending mixed messages. Imagine the confusion of beginning a relationship for the sake of Christ by using dishonest pronouns, only to repent yourself when that person understands God’s freeing truth that gender always syncs with biological sex?! Additionally, Scripture doesn’t encourage us to show hospitality through deception but as a way to love people—image bearers. Pronouns must be kept in their proper place.

What About . . . ?

Relationships shouldn’t be based on falsehood, yet we must discern nuances in specific circumstances. When Christ is in his proper place in our lives as Creator and Lord, pronouns will be in theirs. Pronouns matter, and our words are significant; we will be held accountable for them. So how do we hold to God’s truth and wisely navigate varying circumstances?

  • A parent is threatened by an LGBTQ+-affirming mental health facility that, by law, has the authority to refuse a 14-year-old daughter’s release without parental written commitment to use male pronouns.
  • Ultimatums are given by a family member: If you don’t use my preferred pronouns, I may kill myself.
  • A single woman refusing to use dishonest pronouns in her workplace is threatened with loss of employment, thereby endangering the adoption of her infant foster daughter.

In all these scenarios, there are nuances and clear commands to obey. How do we respond when it seems that using or refusing to use personal pronouns results in breaking God’s commands (speaking what isn’t true, or abandoning parental oversight of a child, for example)? Here are three ways to pray and think through faithful responses.

Humbly acknowledge your motivational desires.

It’s scary to be threatened with loss of relationships, employment, or reputation because of pronouns. Be honest about which desires have primary motivation in your life: fear, unrighteous anger, avoidance of relational stress, humble faithfulness to Christ, something else?

The gospel can divide families, friendships, neighbors, and businesses (Matt. 10:34–39). Our motivation must be faithfulness to Christ and his Word. Protecting relationships, even with family, isn’t something a faithful believer does at all costs. No, we remain faithful to Jesus at all costs, refusing to be swayed, spin Scripture, or take steps toward falling away in response to the “hard sayings” of the gospel (see John 6:60–66). Cry out to God and friends for help to remain loyal to God and his Word. None of us can do this in our own power—we need the Spirit! Ask God to give you courageous humility to speak truthfully and have nothing to do with deceptive, self-serving words (Phil. 2:3).

When in doubt, don’t disobey clear commands in God’s Word.

Parents may feel they must choose between the lesser of two evils, such as giving up parental authority or agreeing to use preferred pronouns. It’s terrifying to hear a suicidal inclination or threat; your Father knows this and will guide you to protect both spiritual and physical life. Seek to honor him and be motivated by a desire to be faithful. It’s a serious matter to move against your conscience. If your conscience won’t let you do something, don’t (see Rom. 14:23).

When Christ is in his proper place in our lives as Creator and Lord, pronouns will be in theirs.

How can you be clear with your convictions and communicate the mercy of Christ? How can you display a humble posture of loyalty to him and show dignity and relational care to a fellow image bearer? Can you avoid pronouns altogether? “In most cases, pronouns are third person references used to indicate people not present, so their feelings are not at stake…don’t yield to pressure to adopt pronoun use that reflects a peculiar, controversial, and divisive political view that you do not hold. That’s lying.”[3]

Some of you have faced circumstances (or will soon) that make it seem impossible to be faithful to all your responsibilities. Your Shepherd will cause his voice to be clear. But even if—when—you get it wrong, you’re still safe in the Lord’s embrace because our hope rests in Christ’s victorious, merciful faithfulness.

Trust God with the consequences of your obedience.

We can trust ourselves or God (Jer. 17:5–10). Either way, a harvest always comes in (Rom. 8:5–8; Gal. 6:7–9). Christ-followers honor him by daily investment in the kingdom of God through street-level obedience and faith, trusting him with the consequences.

Decisions regarding using or refusing pronouns will have an impact. Always. In the short term, you may suffer the painful loss of relationships or employment. You may be mocked for your loyalty to Jesus. Maybe you’ll be called an oppressor, hater, or transphobic. Jesus is sympathetic; he, too, was maligned and misrepresented. However, when he is in his proper place as Lord in our hearts, we can rest knowing all aspects of our lives are under his loving, strong protection. That doesn’t mean pain-free living, but it does lead to the “perfect peace” that steadies you in this life (Isa. 26:3–4).

We All Need Christ

You, me, and the person insisting on falsehood surrounding pronouns all need the same thing. We need to remember that our hope is not in this life, and our identity is not something we create or maintain for ourselves. No! We are given hope, identity, and healing only in Christ.

How is God calling you to be steadfast, immovable, and abounding in faithfulness to him? Is he inviting you to trust him with scary circumstances and decisions which seem to have no positive outcome?

Look to Christ and obey him. Keep him in his rightful place, remembering he protects and provides for you, no matter what. Before we know it, our earthly lives will be over. Then, all these present circumstances will be a source of praise to our King, who strengthened us to faithfully and humbly count the cost and empowered us, in Christ, to be steadfast under trial.

This article first appeared in the 2023 Harvest USA magazine. You can download the full magazine (for free!) here.

[1] Check out this website for one young woman’s courageous walk of faith, https://www.rainbowredemptionproject.com/

[2] Diane Langberg, “Self-Deception: A Supporting Column of Addiction,” https://www.ccef.org/podcast/self-deception-supporting-column-addiction, accessed June 2, 2023.

[3] Greg Koukl, “Why Pronouns Matter…a Lot,” https://www.str.org/w/why-pronouns-matter%E2%80%A6a-lot, accessed June 8, 2023.

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Ellen Mary Dykas

Director of Equipping for Ministry to Women

Ellen joined Harvest USA in 2007 as our first full-time women’s ministry staff. Ellen received her MA from Covenant Theological Seminary and a graduate certificate in biblical counseling from Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF).

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