As society encourages people more and more to question their gender identity, understandably more boys and girls will experience “gender confusion”. It is crucial that Christians be aware of the times in which we are living and know how to compassionately care for people struggling to find answers.
The fundamental disconnect between the transgender movement and historic Christianity is that one side says gender is of purely human origin, while the other side says male and female both have their origin in God. How do we navigate this volatile controversy?
In response to saying God made people male and female, some people object that there are seemingly exceptions to this norm. It’s true that there are cases when infants are born with anatomical or chromosomal abnormalities that make it genuinely difficult to tell whether it’s a newborn boy or girl. Not being a medical professional, it’s hard to weigh in on such complex scenarios. The transgender movement, however, by and large is not concerned with addressing such abnormalities. Rather, the focus is on overhauling society’s understanding of gender itself, construing gender roles and gender boundaries as being of purely human origin. In other words, it’s not a debate about science; it’s a worldview debate.
Some have argued that the apostle Paul himself taught that Christianity abolishes gender distinctions when in Galatians 3:28 he said “in Christ there is neither male, nor female.” Does this mean that there literally is no distinction between the sexes?
A hallmark of historic Presbyterian Biblical interpretation is the Reformation principle of “letting Scripture interpret Scripture”. In other words, Galatians 3:28 must be interpreted in light of what the entire Bible says about gender. The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s ultimate author, will never contradict himself.
In the words of the late Dr. Wynn Kenyon, philosophy chair at Belhaven University, Scripture as a whole unambiguously teaches that there are “morally relevant differences” between the sexes. If there really was no difference between male and female—as the transgender movement argues—then Scripture’s prohibition of cross-dressing, its prohibition of homosexual activity, and its assigning certain roles to men and women in church would all be meaningless. According to Paul, pastors are to be men, and while women are instructed to teach other women, they are not to teach men (1 Timothy 2:12-13, Titus 2:3-5). Husband and wife are to reflect Christ and the Church, with husbands laying down their lives for their brides, as Christ was slain for his (Ephesians 5). If gender was more of a state of mind, something subjective that could be changed at will, such gender-specific Scriptural teachings would be irrelevant.
When weighing what all of Scripture says about gender roles, we see that in Galatians 3, Paul simply meant that there is no difference in status between male and female—both are equal recipients of the salvation found in Christ. Women aren’t second-class citizens of God’s kingdom.
Perhaps the biggest misconception that the media likes to fuel is that Christians “hate” transgender people, or that the Bible itself contains “hate speech” about them. A passage that may prompt such suspicions is Deuteronomy 22:5, which says, “A woman must not put on men’s clothing, and a man must not wear women’s clothing. Anyone who does this is detestable in the sight of the LORD your God,” (New Living Translation).
Does this verse mean that God “hates” transgender people? Again, let’s allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. When Christ told his disciples that, compared to their love for him, they must “hate” their own families, C.S. Lewis clarified he wasn’t urging them to bear vindictive malice towards them. Rather, he was telling them to be prepared to “reject” them, if ever forced to choose between showing allegiance to family and showing allegiance to Christ. In saying God “hated” Esau, the Bible means that God “rejected” him.
The Bible teaches that God “rejects” all unrepentant sinners. They will not inherit his kingdom. “Unrepentant” is the key word. God certainly doesn’t reject sinners; Christ came to seek and save the lost, after all. People who live in unrepentant sin—regardless of what that looks like specifically—incur God’s anger.
When the world slanders Christians as being “anti-LGBT” because of their opposition to certain lifestyles, Christians must reply that though they are opposed to behaviors that God himself opposes, they are not prejudiced towards a group of people. Christ shed his blood for transgender people. Does God love them? Of course he does. The reason the gospel is so mind blowing is that it tells us God, who hates sin so emphatically, actually took upon himself the penalty of our sins. Those who’d done that which God detests, thereby making themselves his enemies—these were the very ones Christ died for (Romans 5:8). The gospel is good news to people, including people who are transgender, because it tells us that although we’ve sinned, God offers pardon to us. The world, however, puts a negative spin on this, saying that if Christians so much as imply that transgender people have sins from which they need to be rescued, they are being “hateful”.
Deuteronomy 22 outlines that men should dress as men are expected to dress in their culture, and women should dress as women are expected to dress in their culture. There should be no deliberate attempt made to blur the line. When people over-specify beyond Scripture’s general principle, it can lead to legalism, though. For example, 1 Corinthians 11 speaks of long hair as something “glorious” for a woman to have, though shameful for a man. By 1950s American standards, Jesus’ hair was quite long, as was every 1st century Jewish man’s.
What is God’s heart behind the instruction we read in Deuteronomy? The lie behind every temptation is that God is withholding something really good from us. It’s crucial to remember two facts: A. God is good and B. God desires what is ultimately good for us. Anything God prohibits, he does so for our good. Blurring the line between the genders, therefore, must not be good for us. When God sets boundaries, he does so out of love.
Genesis 1:27 says that created humans in his own image, male and female. Men and women both bear God’s image, but they do so in different ways. Each sex, in God’s unique design, reflects some different aspect of God’s image in a way that the other sex cannot do. That is why God is so passionate about the beautiful distinction between male and female not being blurred. Because both maleness and femaleness reflect God’s image, neither is expendable.