Editor’s note: The following essay appears in the Fall 2021 issue of Eikon.
In recent months, a certain church body made headlines after electing and installing Meghan Rohrer as bishop of their Sierra Pacific Synod. “Evangelical Lutheran Church elects first transgender bishop,” declared NBC News’s headline. Not to be outdone in the vaguery department, CNN declared, “The Lutheran Church elected its first transgender bishop.”
These headlines paint with far too broad an ecclesiastical brush. It is true that a church body calling itself “the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America” (ELCA) recently installed Rohrer as a bishop, the first election for someone identifying as transgender in that particular church body. But it is misleading to refer to the ELCA as either the Evangelical Lutheran Church or, simply, the Lutheran Church, as neither of these terms is associated with a specific church body.
While there may be only one ecclesial organization that can properly be called the Roman Catholic Church, the same cannot be said of the Lutheran Church, which has never had a pope or a unified governing body. What makes Lutherans Lutheran is not holding membership in one specific church body, but belonging to a congregation that holds to a certain confession of faith rooted in a series of writings known as the Lutheran Confessions. To be Lutheran, in a historical and theological sense, is to confess these Confessions.
Likewise, referring to the ELCA as either the Evangelical Lutheran Church or the Lutheran Church is misleading because the ELCA’s positions on numerous issues, including transgenderism, are irreconcilable with the doctrine espoused by the Lutheran Confessions. While citizens of the United States certainly have the right to form a church body and call it whatever they desire, merely calling oneself Lutheran does not actually make one Lutheran. And while new stories lauding the LGBTrailblazing of the ELCA may successfully warm the hearts of progressive readers, they do a poor job of informing those readers as to what a genuine Lutheran view on transgenderism is.
What, then, is the Lutheran position? What do the Lutheran Confessions say about the issue that has so deeply absorbed our culture in such a short period of time? The best place to look is in the words of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.
Luther’s Small Catechism
Written in 1529, Luther viewed his Small Catechism as a work condensing the essential doctrines of the Christian faith into an easily memorized series of statements. In Luther’s view, the Catechism was aimed primarily at children, but was also beneficial for adults. The Catechism covers the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. It also features a section on prayer and a series of Bible verses aiding Christians in leading God-pleasing lives according to their vocations known as the Table of Duties.
While Luther’s Small Catechism was written long before the concept of human gender, let alone transgenderism, was invented, he makes numerous assertions throughout the document that apply to the issue, and thus are binding upon those who can properly be called Lutherans.
First, let’s consider Luther’s take on the Apostles’ Creed, in particular the first two articles. What does it mean for us to say “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth?” Luther writes:
I believe that God has made me and all creatures. He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them. In addition, He has given me clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods. He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life. He protects me from all danger and guards me and preserves me from all evil. He does all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this I ought to thank Him, praise Him, serve Him, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
Likewise, what do we mean when we confess faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God? Luther writes:
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. He did this not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so that I may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
Second, let’s consider what Luther writes about the Commandments, namely the first, fifth, sixth, and eighth commandments.
What does it mean to have no other gods? Luther writes, “we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
What is God telling us when he commands us not to murder? “We should fear and love God so that we may not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need.”
What is God requiring of us when he tells us not to commit adultery? “We should fear and love God so that we may lead a pure and decent life in words and deeds, and each love and honor his spouse.”
What is God demanding when he tells us not to bear false witness against our neighbor? “We should fear and love God so that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”
Having considered the words of the Small Catechism, let us then consider what, precisely, transgenderism is.
What Exactly Is Transgenderism?
First, at its core, transgenderism is a kind of gnosticism. Consider these glossary-style definitions from Laurel Wamsley’s “A Guide to Gender Identity Terms”:
Sex refers to a person’s biological status and is typically assigned at birth, usually on the basis of external anatomy. Sex is typically categorized as male, female or intersex.
Gender is often defined as a social construct of norms, behaviors and roles that varies between societies and over time. Gender is often categorized as male, female or nonbinary.
Gender identity is one’s own internal sense of self and their gender, whether that is man, woman, neither or both. Unlike gender expression, gender identity is not outwardly visible to others. For most people, gender identity aligns with the sex assigned at birth, the American Psychological Association notes. For transgender people, gender identity differs in varying degrees from the sex assigned at birth.
Gender expression is how a person presents gender outwardly, through behavior, clothing, voice or other perceived characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine or feminine, although what is considered masculine or feminine changes over time and varies by culture.
Cisgender, or simply cis, is an adjective that describes a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Transgender, or simply trans, is an adjective used to describe someone whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth. A transgender man, for example, is someone who was listed as female at birth but whose gender identity is male.
In other words, the essence of maleness and femaleness is not found in one’s sex, but one’s gender identity. Chromosomes don’t matter in determining what is truly male and female. DNA doesn’t define us as either man or woman. Rather, being male, female, or any other gender expression is determined by looking within and accessing a kind of inner knowledge, a gnosis, that informs us of our gender identity. For “non-cis” people, our flesh is essentially a prison that forces us to be perceived as something other than what we are. In such cases, the flesh must be transcended to find truth and peace.
Second, transgenderism is creative in a literal sense. When a biological female declares that she is male, she creates a new identity, a new sense of being. When a biological male declares that he is female, he speaks this new reality into existence.
That new reality can even scrub a previous one from existence, as we see in the example of actress Ellen Page. In 2020, Page declared herself a transgender male named Elliot. Shortly afterward, Saturday Night Live edited a YouTube description of an old skit featuring Page to reflect this new moniker. It doesn’t matter if the person who hosted SNL in 2008 was a woman named Ellen. There is no more woman. There is no more Ellen. Elliot Page’s words declaring “his” new identity reached back through time and created a new reality.
Third, transgenderism is conscriptive. It requires that others speak in accordance with its philosophical principles, even if they do not share those philosophical principles. Refusing to use a trans person’s preferred pronouns is a de facto act of hatred and bigotry. The practice of deadnaming, using a trans person’s discarded name, is considered an act of violence. You must preserve the reality a trans person has spoken into reality by affirming it with your speech, lest you drive that person to suicide.
This is not merely the case in private conversation, but in official documents. The American Medical Association, for example, recently suggested that biological sex should be removed as a legal designation on birth certificates. Likewise, many states allow people to change the designation on their birth certificates to “X” if they no longer identify as either male or female.
The rationalization for these decisions is straightforward, as Willie Underwood III of the AMA explained. As Marcia Frellick of Web MD reports:
“Assigning sex using binary variables in the public portion of the birth certificate fails to recognize the medical spectrum of gender identity,” Underwood said, and can be used to discriminate.
Jeremy Toler, MD, a delegate from GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality said transgender, gender nonbinary, and individuals with differences in sex development can be placed at a disadvantage by the sex label on the birth certificate.
“We unfortunately still live in a world where it is unsafe in many cases for one’s gender to vary from the sex assigned at birth,” Toler said.
Here, we see that many in the medical community are casting aside biological definitions of male and female and embracing the metaphysical claims of transgenderism in order to build a safer world for those who identify as trans.
Fourth, transgenderism is mutilative. In a strange rejection of its first gnostic principle, transgenderism asserts that altering one’s body in order to conform it to one’s gender identity is often a necessary step to achieving a sense of fullness and truth. Sure, sometimes the prison that is our body needs to be transcended in order for a trans person to find his true self. This is why we must, for example, assert that some men menstruate and get pregnant. But other times, in order for a trans person to find truth, his body must be chopped up and altered in order to imitate the biological understanding of male and female. Men who want their genitals removed in order to be more fully female must be able to do so. Prepubescent children must have access to hormone blockers, lest they begin developing the “wrong” physical features.
Fifth, transgenderism is soteriological. It offers a kind of salvation promise to all who embrace it, something we see in the broader category of critical theory.
While critical theory is often referred to as a social philosophy, it could better be described as a religious system that divides the world, sheep and goat style, into oppressors and the oppressed. Oppressors are threatened with condemnation if they do not dismantle the power structures that hinder marginalized people from achieving economic, social, and cultural equality. Righteousness is promised to anyone who defends the cause of the marginalized. Those who belong to one or more marginalized classes also have the promise of righteousness, but get a bonus reward thrown in for good measure: social invulnerability. No one is allowed to mock or criticize you for fear of being labeled a bigot or oppressor.
This is most certainly true of transgenderism which, post-Obergefell, became the favored marginalized group of critical-theory-embracing progressives. Those who come out as trans are showered in praise. They are lauded for their bravery and declared to be good people for being true to themselves. It would have been unrighteous to live a lie. But having mustered the courage to speak their new gender into existence, they have now found righteousness. God, however one conceives of him, will surely be pleased with such a person and would never cast him out. By embracing your trans identity, you have made yourself worthy of salvation.
This becomes clear when one considers the drastic rise in teen girls identifying as some form of gender non-conforming in recent years. As Abigail Shrier noted for the New York Post, “between 2016 and 2017, the number of gender surgeries for natal females in the US quadrupled; in the UK, the rates of gender dysphoria for teenage girls are up 4,400 percent over the previous decade.”
Watch a few viral videos of young women “coming out” as trans and it becomes quite clear what is happening: Awkward young women with low social credit cannot resist the promise of adoration, reinvention, and protection that comes from identifying as a member of the non-binary class, a protected species. Free-agent “weirdos” can be mocked and ridiculed by their fellow students. They can be dismissed by their teachers and parents. Mock a transgender student, however, and you might find yourself expelled. Teachers who refuse to acknowledge a student’s self-chosen identity could find themselves out of a job. Parents who do likewise might find themselves staring down a visit from the department of child services. Just as other religions promise their faithful some form of divine honor and protection from evil, so the transgender religion assures its followers that they can find relief from the evil foes of judgment and rejection by embracing its tenants.
Likewise, transgenderism offers that same salvation promise to their allies in the “cis” community. By using their pronouns, by embracing their definition of male and female, by praising them for living their truth, one has succeeded at defending the marginalized and thus acquired the righteousness necessary to withstand the judgment of whomever that divine judge might be.
When we compare these five pillars of transgenderism with Luther’s assertions in the Small Catechism, it’s easy to see how incompatible transgenderism is with a Lutheran view of male and female.
The Incompatibility of Transgenderism and Lutheranism
With regard to its gnostic assumptions, transgenderism cannot be reconciled with Luther’s explanation of the first article of the Creed. When Lutherans confess that God has made us and all creatures, that he’s made our bodies and souls, and that it is our duty to thank and praise him for this, we are not merely confessing God as our creator. We’re also confessing him as our Lord, the one who is both responsible for making the universe and who has divine ownership over every atom of his creation, including our flesh.
Our bodies do not really belong to us. They belong to God and are to be used according to their maker’s will. Our bodies, likewise, are gifts from God to cherish, not prisons to transcend. Our bodies do not hinder us from being what we want to be. They tell us who God has made us to be.
When confronted by the Pharisees concerning divorce, Jesus returns them to the words of Genesis 1 and 2, “have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,” (Matt. 19:4). This is the doctrine of male and female that Lutherans confess when we acknowledge God as our creator. Humans do not have a gender. We have a sex, which is determined by the chromosomes God gave us and used to knit our flesh together. The real you is found in the body God gave you, not in the identity created by a mind that can easily be deceived by the devil whose lies dragged the first man and woman into sin.
With regard to transgenderism’s creative aspects, these are incompatible with Luther’s explanation of the first article of the Creed. To have no other gods above the one true God is to fear, love, and trust in him above all things. We cannot do this while coveting the creative power of his speech. The God who created light by declaring light to exist can speak reality into existence. We cannot. To claim that we have the power to declare maleness or femaleness into existence is an act of idolatry, no matter the motivation.
When people embrace transgenderism because they see it as offering them an escape from a lonely, upside-down world that has made no place for them, they have made an idol of this world by fearing it more than the God who can “destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matt. 10:28). When people embrace transgenderism because they feel trapped by the identity God gave them and wish to discard it for a new identity of their own creation, this too is an act of idolatry. It is loving oneself more than God and trusting that one knows better than God how to cure one’s sense of disjointedness.
As to transgenderism’s conscriptive aspects, these run afoul of a Lutheran understanding concerning the eighth commandment. When God tells us not to give false testimony against our neighbor, Luther asserts, he is telling us that we have a duty to protect the reputation of our neighbor, especially when our neighbor is being unfairly maligned. This duty is not abrogated when our neighbor is the one maligning his own reputation.
If a friend stumbles into the pit of despair and tells us, “I am worthless, irredeemable, and someone God could never possibly love,” we have a responsibility to reject that man’s self-perception and to replace it with the truth. He is not what he imagines himself to be. He is someone made in the image of God, someone declared worthy of God’s love by the dying words of Jesus upon Calvary. We would not surrender such a despairing man to the lies that he has directed at himself.
So it is with transgenderism. When a man stumbles into this form of deception and essentially tells us, “I cannot be what God has made me to be,” we have an obligation to speak truthfully to him as well. When those who embrace transgenderism assert that they are essentially defective, and in need of surgery or social affirmation of a falsehood in order to be “fixed,” we cannot participate in their self-slander. Acknowledging the legitimacy of a transgender identity by embracing a person’s self-selected pronouns or by referring to biological males and females and vice versa is not in keeping with a Lutheran understanding of the eighth commandment. We cannot love our neighbor by repeating back to him the lies he has told himself, lies that pull him away from the God who loves him.
This is also true concerning the fifth commandment and transgenderism’s mutilative aspects. When God commands us not to murder, Lutherans believe, he is commanding us to preserve our neighbor’s body and health to the best of our ability. In the same way that Lutherans see physical abuse as a sin against this commandment, we see medically unnecessary surgical and hormonal treatments as a violation of God’s will.
Certainly, when a surgeon removes a woman’s breasts in order to save her from cancer, Lutherans can support such life-saving body carving. But when a surgeon removes a woman’s breasts in order to aid in her delusion that she is truly a man, we cannot support such barbarism. When a surgeon removes a man’s genitals in service of a godless view of what it means to be male and female, we must call that what it is — an act of violence and hatred, even if the one on the receiving end of that violence and hatred consents to it. The same goes for children who cannot rightly consent to hormone blocking treatments.
We cannot faithfully serve the God who made us male and female while also telling our neighbors that the path to true maleness, femaleness, or nonbinariness must be carved with a scalpel or injected with a needle. We cannot help and support our neighbor in every physical need by assenting to the lie that his physical body must be sliced and diced for him to find his true self.
Finally, the soteriological claims of transgenderism cannot coexist with the understanding of salvation expressed by Luther in his explanation of the second article of the Creed.
How does man acquire righteousness? Man does not become righteous by keeping the commandments of God (Rom. 3:28). And man certainly does not become righteous by keeping his own commandments, by dismantling self-imagined power structures or by inventing forms of oppression against supposedly marginalized people or by claiming for himself the status of a victim. Rather, man becomes righteous by trusting in the one who became a victim for us upon the cross.
As Luther says in the Catechism of Christ’s salvific work, “[Jesus] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. He did this not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so that I may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”
These beautiful words most certainly highlight how irreconcilable Lutheranism is with transgenderism. But perhaps more importantly, these words highlight how much greater the gospel is than the empty promises of transgenderism.
For those who feel out of place in their own bodies, transgenderism challenges them to discover righteousness. It says to those who trust in it, “see if you can find your true self. See if you can find the right gender expression to cure your loneliness. Look, search, and try to discover the righteousness and divine protection you can’t seem to find. See if you can locate it by tearing off bits of your flesh or by injecting yourself with foreign hormones.” Likewise, transgenderism makes salvation contingent on the consent of others. It insists to its adherents that they cannot possess the peace they desire until they convert the world and acquire the affirmation of all.
The gospel does no such things. It does not send its believers on a wild metaphysical goose chase. It does not make salvation contingent upon anyone but the God who willed it. The gospel does not challenge you to find salvation.
The gospel gives you salvation. It gives those who believe the eternal life Christ won for them through his death and resurrection. It does not demand that believers invent a new identity that will save them. It bestows upon them a new nature that has been coated in the saving blood of Christ. The gospel does not tell its adherents that they cannot escape their loneliness, sorrow, and confusion until they have conquered the enemies who oppress and dehumanize them. The gospel gives its adherents Christ’s victory over their loneliness, sorrow, and confusion when it tells them, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“This is most certainly true” is a phrase that Martin Luther repeatedly uses in his Small Catechism. In keeping with that language, let us conclude thusly:
It is most certainly true that the metaphysical, spiritual, and moral assumptions of transgenderism are irreconcilable with the doctrine espoused by the Holy Scriptures, by the Small Catechism, and thus the Lutheran Church. It is also most certainly true that the church body known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has rejected Lutheranism by embracing transgenderism, just as it has already done by embracing other tenants of the overarching critical theory religion. But more importantly, it is most certainly true that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has failed to love people like Meghan Rohrer by surrendering them to a godless understanding of human identity and salvation. May the God of mercy bless those who have been bewitched by this false gospel to hear the true gospel and to know true peace.
Rev. Hans Fiene is the pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Crestwood, Missouri and the creator of Lutheran Satire, a series of comical videos intended to teach the Lutheran faith.
 Dan Avery, “Evangelical Lutheran Church Elects First Transgender Bishop,” NBC News (May 12, 2021), accessed September 26, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/nbc-out/out-news/evangelical-lutheran-church-elects-first-transgender-bishop-rcna902
 Scott Andrew, “The Lutheran Church Elected Its First Transgender Bishop, Who Will Lead 200 Congregations.” CNN, May 12, 2021, accessed September 26, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/12/us/first-transgender-lutheran-bishop-megan-rohrer-trnd/index.html.
 Paul McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 328.
 McCain, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 329.
 The Lutheran Confessions use the Augustinian numbering of the Commandments.
 McCain, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 317
 McCain, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 321
 McCain, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 322
 McCain, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 324
 Laurel Wamsley, “A Guide to Gender Identity Terms,” NPR, June 2, 2021, accessed September 29, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/06/02/996319297/gender-identity-pronouns-expression-guide-lgbtq.
 Marcia Frellick, “Remove Sex from Public Birth Certificates, AMA Says,” Web MD, June 16, 2021, accessed September 27, 2021, https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/news/20210616/remove-sex-from-public-birth-certificates-ama-says.
 Reuters Staff, “Nonbinary? Intersex? 11 U.S. States Issuing Third Gender IDs,” Reuters, January 31, 2019, accessed September 27, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-us-lgbt-lawmaking/nonbinary-intersex-11-u-s-states-issuing-third-gender-ids-idUSKCN1PP2N7.
 Abigail Shrier, “How ‘Peer Contagion’ May Play a Role Into the Rise of Teen Girls Transition,” New York Post, June 27, 2020, accessed September 30, 2021, https://nypost.com/2020/06/27/how-peer-contagion-plays-into-the-rise-of-teens-transitioning.
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