The transgender issue has found itself in the cultural spotlight this week.
Time Magazine’s bold cover of Laverne Cox—a transgendered woman—brings this issue directly onto center stage. This is a colossal milestones in the Public Square.
It’s as if the Time Magazine cover piece is the “door blown open acceptance” of this subject in American culture. And as more and more legislation comes to pass concerning gender, sexuality, and marriage, it is crucial that we, as conservative Evangelical Christians, think through these issues theologically, philosophically, and pastorally with Lady Wisdom as our guide and the Holy Spirit as our illuminating compass.
I want to give a few reflections on this affair under the vein of “how the church should respond” to this growing issue. A quick note, though: this is not a theological dispute or philosophical analysis of this lifestyle. It is, however, a pastoral reconnoissance. It is a fragment to be added to the already existing Evangelical conversation.
From a pastor’s heart, as it were.
FIRST: We must be winsome and courageous pastor-theologians.
It’s not enough today for pastors to simply be pastors. The job title must change. We must be pastor-theologians who can be both theologically vigorous and pastorally rapturous.
Pastors must be able to teach the intricacies of God to their people, while also being bold and competent enough to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3), whether they find themselves in the Public Square or in their office for a counseling session.
What is more, pastors must understand and teach what it means to be human, created and designed in the image of God, flawed, confused, and separated from God because of sin, and rescued and renewed because of Jesus. Winsomely, we must put forth great pastoral effort to serve those struggling with gender confusion and the transgender question.
Dr. Russell D. Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee, says this about this question, “The transgender question means that conservative Christian congregations such as mine must teach what’s been handed down to us, that our maleness and femaleness points us to an even deeper reality, to the unity and complementarity of Christ and the church. A rejection of the goodness of those creational realities then is a revolt against God’s lordship, and against the picture of the gospel that God had embedded in the creation” (1).
SECOND: We must be unshakable in our convictions.
There is no question that Evangelicals are the minority in this debate. There is no question that Christians who believe that God created humans as “male and female” (Gen. 1:27), to flourish in Christ as “male and female,” will be attacked, ridiculed, belittled, and publicly harassed. There is no question that Christians who believe in the authority, infallibility, and inherency of Scripture will be mocked and viewed as ignorant by scientists, counselors, and therapists.
We must not view scientific or psychosocial research as our enemy, however.
As we often experience, faith and science are portrayed as being at odds with each other, especially in discussions like this. Advocates of the transgendered lifestyle will say things like the transsexual condition is a medical, physiological condition that is present from birth. They will compare this to other other conditions. Advocates will say things like transgendered people are born with brains that do not comport with their anatomy. They alter their bodies to make their anatomy comport with their brains, which is known as gender dysphoria. As pastor-theologians, we must not be afraid of this research. If God has created all things, then he also has created truth. Truth for knowing him. Truth about the laws of the universe. Truth about gender orientation. In this light, science is our friend. It will continue to give us greater glimpses into the awesomeness of God. If God is the Creator of all Truth, then science will never contradict God’s design for the universe, including humans. After all, the scientific method is just a method; it can’t prove itself to be true.
Furthermore, there is no question that pastors who preach the entire canon of Scripture will be criticized by some who hear their sermons and sit in their churches. There is no question that young Christians will be silenced in their public schools concerning their biblically inclined worldview.
But there is absolutely no question that we must remain unshakable in our convictions concerning the flourishment of men and women. We must be anchored to the deepest parts of the ocean concerning the truth of the gospel and what that means for maleness and femaleness.
The world will call it embracing tradition. We know it to be embracing truth.
The world will call it the losing side of history. We know it to already be the grave-crushed victorious side of history.
For the believer, death is powerless. It has been defeated. God reigns. Jesus sits exalted at the Father’s right hand. We stand with the one who entered history and shattered it. That’s where we stand. And we must stand there unshakable.
THIRD: We must avoid labels.
Obviously we should avoid labeling transgendered people as “freaks,” “weirdos,” and the like, but I think we should avoid labeling them all together. There is such divide between the LGBTQ* community and the Evangelical church (as to which the ideology logically leads) that those who struggle with same-sex attraction (SSA) often automatically distance themselves from the believing community, paradoxically thinking that since they struggle with SSA then they obviously can’t ever be a Christian.
Pastorally, we must avoid labeling those who struggle with SSA as any of the LGBTQ* adjectives. The gospel beckons us to labels such as “in Christ” or “in Adam” (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:22), both struggling with the effects of the curse of sin.
Believers. Unbelievers. Period.
Both struggling with the realities of sin and its heal-striking effects.
The believer, though, stands beneath the shadows of the cross that bore the weight of their sin on the supreme King of the universe. Sin, then, becomes the enemy which the believer seeks to continually put to death. The unbeliever—in Adam—is merely in need of a head-crushing Savior.
Labels lead to false identities and premature conclusions. The gospel leads to repentance and a warrior-akin identity rooted in the iron newness of Christ’s imputed righteousness.
FOURTH: We must be willing to embrace the mess.
When it comes to this subject, we must be willing to walk with and counsel people currently in this lifestyle. We must be willing to embrace what might make us uncomfortable. We must be willing to be vilified by those who disagree with us. We must be willing to—like Jesus—embrace those who were considered the outcast, the degenerate, and the sinner.
There is no one too far from the grace of God in salvation through Christ. When we begin to think so, we become like the Pharisees. It becomes “us verse them.” The good verse the bad.
The reality, however, is that we are all messy. We are all broken. We all need a Savior. God embraced us as mess. Jesus walked into crowds of messiness. He took the verbal nuclear bombs from the religious folk. We might take those bombs from culture, but we must be willing—and able—to contend.
One thing God has been constantly teaching me, though, is that embracing the mess leads to life change. I pray that God would continue to mold hearts as a blacksmith molds a sword—both believer’s hearts to embrace the mess and the unbeliever’s hearts to be pierced with the sword of Truth.
One day, may Jesus be so famous in our world that something, or someone, of redemptive Christ-exalting reflection bear-hug the cover of Time Magazine. Until then, God speed.
ABOUT GREG: Greg serves as an elder and family ministries pastor at Foothills Church and as the assistant editor of Manual for CBMW. He and his lovely wife, Grace, live in Knoxville, TN with their 2 children–Cora and Iver.
(1) Russell D. Moore. “Conservative Christianity and the Transgender Question,” On Faith. 15 Aug 2013. http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2013/08/15/conservative-christianity-and-the-transgender-question/10610
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