How should Christians think about gender? 

How should Christians think about gender?

How should Christians think about gender?

How should Christians think about gender? This is an important and controversial topic. This is merely one post but hopefully the beginning of a grace-filled, loving, and humble pursuit of the truth. We won’t be able to cover everything here but I hope this will be a good first step on a productive journey.

As we begin, I want to read a quote from Andrew T. Walker, he was one of my professors and he has written a book on this topic and I just love this quote from him. He asks: How would Jesus talk to us about this topic?

“He would listen to us, and he would love us, and when he disagreed with us, it would always and only be out of compassion, never oppression. There is no hurting person he would mock, or shun, or insult, or sneer at. He is so determined to pursue what is best for all of us that he died—excluded, mocked and rejected—to secure it.”[1]

That is the heart we want to have as we approach this subject. We want the best for others. And when we disagree we still want to love. Jesus modeled this and He calls us to imitate Him.

What is gender dysphoria and what does it feel like?

Dysphoria means “a state of dissatisfaction/anxiety.” So, gender dysphoria means “a state of dissatisfaction or anxiety having to do with one’s gender.”

“Gender dysphoria is the medical term for the experience that one’s gender identity and sex, or how one was biologically identified at birth, do not match, resulting in conflict.”[2]

People with gender dysphoria feel like the body they were born with doesn’t match the way they feel. They don’t feel comfortable with their gender. They feel like something is not right. And so, people with gender dysphoria may not dress in a way that is typical. They may also take medicine or have surgeries to look different.[3]

Have you ever been in a setting or in clothing that you didn’t feel comfortable in? I remember singing a song from The Sound of Music in front of a bunch of people at the fair with my sisters. If you know much about me, you know I can’t sing. So, me singing in front of a bunch of people was not comfortable (for anyone!). But, perhaps the worst part was the silly outfit I had to wear. I felt and looked so goofy.

I had to do that quite a while ago and thankfully it only lasted a few minutes. But, I remember it. And not fondly.

Imagine feeling out of place in your own body. Actually, I think a lot of people can relate to that to some degree. But, imagine you felt so uncomfortable that you felt like your body was not the right gender. That’s how some people feel. One person expressed it like this: “Dysphoria feels like being unable to get warm, no matter how many layers you put on. It feels like hunger without appetite…. It feels like grieving. It feels like having nothing to grieve.”[4]

Greg Eilers says it this way: “I was crushed with gender dysphoria. I had grown to hate myself. I could not look at myself in a mirror. I despised being a male and loathed wearing men’s clothes. I longed to live as and be recognized as a woman.”[5]

This, I hope, stirs our compassion and empathy for those suffering and struggling. Jesus, Scripture says, sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15);[6] we too should sympathize with the struggles of others.

With our desire for the good of others in mind, are you familiar with pica, the eating disorder?… It is a compulsive eating disorder in which people eat nonfood items; things like dirt, clay, flaking paint, and even bedding from hamster cages and metal; things that clearly are not good for you and can be very harmful.[7]

In this example, we see that our desires are not the litmus test for what is right or good for us… Some things are harmful even if we have a desire for them…[8]

Where then can we go to know what is good for us? Where is our guide for life? This is the issue, this is really what it comes down to when we consider gender… Where do we locate authority, knowledge, and trustworthiness?[9] Our feelings and desires? Society? Or from somewhere or someone else?

How do we know what is good for us? How do we know what will lead to our health and thriving?

If Christianity is true, and God created the world and loves the world, then we want to hear what He has to teach us on this subject.[10]

Christians find their direction, bearings in the world, and authority on the firm foundation of the crucified Creator. “He may not always agree with out feelings or our reason—but he can be trusted, and he knows what he’s talking about, and he has the right to tell us how to live.”[11]

1) God’s Creation and Gender

God tells us what the blueprint is for us to function to our fullest in the book of Genesis (Gen. 1:26-27) and Jesus reiterates that same truth (Matt. 19:4).[12]

God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’
   So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).

“He [Jesus] answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female’” (Matt. 19:4).

Scripture shows us that “men and women are different. Our differences extend to the deepest levels of our being: chromosomes, brains, voices, body shapes, body strengths, and reproductive systems. What our bodies are designed and destined for are different. How our bodies are designed bear witness to the difference that reflects God’s creative will for humanity.”[13]

I think it’s helpful to make a few observations from this passage. (1) We see we are created people. (2) We are created male and female. And amazingly I’ve read that scientists are able to tell if a person is male or female by looking at a single cell from anywhere in their body. (3) And so, I think it follows that what God the Creator does, people should not seek to undo.[14] He, as the Creator, knows how His creation is supposed to function.

God’s good intention for humans when He created them is that they be male and female. In this way, human unity and diversity images Him (notice, however, that it’s not unity in chaos).

God made man first so as to emphasize something: man’s need for woman. The Bible says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” That’s not how it’s supposed to be. How it’s supposed to be is there is to be a “helper” fit for him (Gen. 2:18).

That’s God’s good plan for humanity: male and female; “equal, and different; intended, not interchangeable.[15] That, of course, does not mean that women are one ounce less important than men because they are called to be a “helper.” In the Bible God Himself is described as a helper (Ps. 54:4; 118:7). Women are certainly not less important![16] God’s a helper but He’s not less important![17]

God could have designed things differently. But, He didn’t. And after God made Adam and Eve, as male and female, He said that it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Therefore, we see God has a particular good purpose for His binary—male and female—creation.

If it is true that God exists then it’s true that He knows what He’s doing.

If God doesn’t exist or He doesn’t know what He is doing then we are left in a big mess. That would mean we have no guidance in how we are to function. It means we are in the forest without a compass. We are traveling through complex roadways with no GPS. It means there is no guidance whatsoever. That not only do we not have guidance about gender; it means we don’t have guidance regarding any moral issue.

It means we make our own way. We make our own meaning. No one has the authority to tell me or anyone what to do. I have no basis to tell you not to be a jerk…

If, however, God exists then we have guidance. We have reason to think there are ways that are good to live and treat people and ways that are not good to live and treat people. It means we are more than evolved animals with animal impulses.

And if God knows what He is doing then it would make sense to listen to Him. He is the Creator. He knows how we are supposed to function.

Back when God originally made humans, when everything was still very good (Gen. 1:31), Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed (Gen. 2:25). “Imagine that: a world where everyone is at ease with who they are and how they’re made; and feels good about how they look, rather than embarrassed or awkward or deeply disturbed about it; where people are able to completely trust those around them, so that they are able to be open with them. That is a wonderful world.”[18]

So, the first thing we’ve seen that Christians believe is that there is a good God that actually exists that has a good plan for His people. God knows the best way for people to live and because He loves us He wants us to live in that way (Kind of like how parents don’t want their kids to just eat cotton candy all the time. It’s not because they don’t love them. It’s because they do love them. In the same way, God wants what’s best for us and He knows what’s best for us).

2) Rebellion and Ruin and Gender

God wanted the world to be a certain way. He wanted us to live and thrive. But, we know that life is not always that way. We all have struggles and temptations. Why is that?

The Bible tells us that something tragic happened with humanity. Humanity disobeyed God. Humans failed to function according to the “Owners Manuel,” so to speak.

I had a friend that was having some trouble with his car. It just didn’t have the power it used to have and should’ve had. My friend couldn’t figure it out so after a few weeks he took it to someone who knew what they were doing, a professional mechanic, to have it looked at and the mechanic right away knew the problem.

The car was not supposed to be driven for miles and miles, day after day, week after week, with the parking brake on. That was not the intention of the car creators. And when the car is operated in that way it cannot fulfill its purpose to the best of its abilities.

Since the fall of humanity in Genesis 3, humans have struggled with following the “Owners Manuel.” We often do what we think is best. We often don’t notice that it causes a lot of problems.

We all have brokenness. I, for example, struggle with anger. We all have struggles.

God says love people and treat them with respect. I sometimes want to yell at people, or worse.

We all struggle in various ways (James 3:2). Some people, like me, struggle with anger issues. Some people struggle with same-sex attraction, some people have gender identity struggles.

The Bible explains the fact that we have struggles. And God understands that we have struggles.

But, the cold hard reality is “we have neither the authority nor the ability to rewrite or reconfigure how God made his world. It’s his creation; we’re just living in it.”[19] The truth is “when we as creatures reject the Creators blueprint, we are both rebelling against the natural order of how things objectively are, and (though it may not seem like it) we are rejecting the life that is going to be the highest good for us.”[20]

I do think it’s important for us to realize that even after the fall of humanity we are still “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). So, there’s a lot of ruin, but we are not ruined. Your body is still good.

“The Fall of Adam has led to disorder in all aspects of human existence, including in how humans form in the womb. Recognizing that we are all subject to the brokenness of sin can help us have compassion toward those whose physiology falls outside the norm.”[21]

Rebellion leads to all sorts of ruin. But, thankfully God doesn’t leave us there.

3) Jesus’ Rescue and Gender

As I’ve said, I struggle with anger. I’ve acted out in anger before and hurt people. That’s not God’s intention. God takes sin seriously because it’s damaging. Because of sin, I deserve punishment but Jesus offers peace. Look at Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Therefore, through Christ, there’s no condemnation. I’m even a new creation (2 Cor. 5:21)! That, however, doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I do. I will, I’m sure, until I die.

But there will be a day when my struggle will be gone! Look at Philippians 3:20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”

Sometimes when we have a particular sin, temptation, or struggle we can identify ourselves in that way. But, the reality is, who we are in Jesus is our truest self. Our deepest identity as Christians is to be found in Christ.

Jesus is the most important thing that any of us have in common. Jesus is the most crucial aspect of our identity. He is more important than where we’re from, our race, status, or sex. Listen to what Galatians 3:28 says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t differences. It’s saying the biggest most important thing is that all Christians—no matter who we are or our background—are all “one in Christ Jesus.” But, differences when carried out in holiness are beautiful. The Christian Church is to be like a beautiful mosaic rather than a drab old musty basement wall.

So, even with male or female we shouldn’t push unbiblical stereotypes, partly because stereotypes are often just based on the changing cultural climate and not in the objective truth of Scripture. Consider, for example, that pink has not always been considered a “girly” color[22] or consider that men in the 14th century were basically the first to wear yoga pants (i.e. hoses that were sometimes quite colorful).

By this, I’m not saying that we should disrespect societal norms (cf. Deut. 22:5). I’m saying that the stereotype that men aren’t supposed to cry is wrong. Jesus Himself cried.[23] What about dancing and poetry? Is dancing and poetry more feminine than masculine? Well, King David who killed wild beasts, slew a giant, and was one of the most elite soldiers that walked the earth also danced and composed poetry. So, just because someone is different from society’s stereotypes does not mean that that person should rightly be a different gender.[24] God, not the ever-changing culture, should be our guide.[25]

How should Christians think about gender? As we consider the rescue of Jesus and the topic of gender there are a few helpful observations for us to make.

1. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.

Sometimes people say something like this: “If you’ve met one Steelers fan, you’ve met them all.” What people mean by that is that all Steelers fans are the same. I love what Preston Sprinkle says in his book, Embodied. He says, “If you’ve met one transgender person, you’ve met one transgender person.” The reality is, every transgender person is different. Even every Steelers fan is different. It’s important that we understand that every single person has a different story and has different struggles.

2. Jesus cares more deeply than we can imagine.

Christ cares deeply. And calls Christians to too. “How Christians treat transgender persons matters. Christ is not served when we simply spout Biblical bullet points rather than delve deep to understand the crushing condition that is gender dysphoria and help ease the pain of those suffering it.”[26]

3. Jesus, as the Creator, knows what’s best for us (John 1:3).

4. Jesus calls us to welcome, love, and listen as He Himself does.

I agree with Andrew T. Walker:

“A church should be the safest place to talk about, be open about, and struggle with gender dysphoria.”[27]

“A transgender person ought to feel more loved and safe visiting a Bible-believing church than in any other place in the world!”[28]

5. Jesus calls us to a life of sacrificial discipleship.

We’re all called to suffer and sacrifice for our Savior.

“Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’” (Matt. 16:24–25).

This will look different for all of Jesus’ disciples but will also be worth it for all of Jesus’ disciples. Further, Jesus promised that the Helper would be with us to help us.

What about…

How do we go about in the real world with this? What are some practical ways we need to navigate this issue in real life?

   Bigotry

“Unless you celebrate then you are bigoted and unloving.’ But, is this true?

It’s not bigotry to believe that biology determines one’s sex/gender. Throughout at least the vast majority of history humans have understood there to be just two sexes/genders. Does it not instead seem potentially more prejudiced to hold to potentially innumerable sexes/genders when the world over, throughout most of history, disagrees? Should that at least cause one to be respectful of those who see it differently since, after all, they hold the majority position by a long shot? Not that the majority is necessarily correct but the person that screams the loudest is not necessarily correct either.

   Pronouns

Preston Sprinkle gives a very helpful overview of the arguments in his book Embodied but he advocates for “pronoun hospitality.”[29] I agree with Andrew T. Walker though, when he says “The best solution is to avoid pronouns altogether if possible. Calling a person by their legal name or preferred name is more acceptable because names are not objectively gendered, but change from culture to culture.”[30]

   Intersex

What about intersex?

“’Intersex’ describes someone born with atypical features of their sexual anatomy or sex chromosomes. Depending on which conditions are counted, estimates of the proportion of people who are born intersex vary greatly, from 1.7 percent to 0.018 percent. The higher estimates include people with any kind of disorder or difference of sexual development (who may not even be aware of it), while the lower estimates restrict intersex to describe people whose sex organs are not classifiable as either male or female or whose chromosomal sex does not match their anatomy.”[31]

It should be understood that intersex people

“exist and will most often go through significant hardship as a result. The presence of intersex people represents a biological aberration rather than a biological norm or additional third biological sex. But there is much more to be said. As we have already seen, all of us, irrespective of any biological challenges we may face, of any kind, have been fearfully and wonderfully made. There are no exceptions… our bodies are all fallen; we all encounter a measure of bodily brokenness. But that does not take away from the care with which God has made us.”[32]

There are different intersex conditions but people can serve, love, and glorify God with those conditions. In Acts 8, an Ethiopian eunuch saw the good news of Jesus for the first time and was baptized as a disciple (v. 35-38). We don’t know the specifics of what it meant for him to be a eunuch. Was he intersex, castrated, or something else? We just don’t know.

What we do know is that his identity could rest securely in Christ. Christ got at the core of who he was. And he went from not being able to go into the inner courts of the temple because of his condition, to being able to go boldly (through Christ) to God His Father (cf. Is. 56:3-5).

Jesus welcomes all people at great cost to Himself (Rom. 15:7) and He calls those same people to walk in holiness, whatever their particular struggles, and to be on mission to share His love with others.

Notes

[1] Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 15.

[2] Greg Eilers, Ministering to Transgender Christians: A Resource for the Christian Church, 42.

[3] “A person with gender dysphoria has intense and persistent feelings of identification with another gender, and a strong discomfort with one’s own assigned gender. Gender dysphoric individuals might experience distress with their body, with being perceived and treated as their assigned gender, and with the expected role of their assigned gender” (Greg Eilers, Ministering to Transgender Christians, 42).

[4] Rebecca McLaughlin, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims, 96.

[5] Eilers, Ministering to Transgender Christians, 16.

[6]“To those whose biological reality is painful and confusing, Jesus gets it… The biological complexity some might have to face is… part of the bodily brokenness that all of us have to reckon with in one way or another. For every single one of us, our body is imperfect and causes us some amount of suffering. Such suffering varies hugely from person to person, but no one should feel somehow in a category of their own. Your experience may be very different from that of other people. It may seem that no one else, however much they try, truly gets it. That may be true. But Jesus sees all and knows all. He has lived as a human on this earth and suffered the extremities of physical pain. He is not “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses… (Heb. 4:15)” (Sam Allberry, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies, 53-54).

[7] “Would it be kind to tell someone suffering from anorexia that their self-perception of being overweight is correct simply because that is how they perceive themselves?” (Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 72).

[8] “An (imperfect) analogy might help. Color-blind people find it either hard or impossible to distinguish between green and red. Color-blindness is not uncommon—you may in fact experience it. And, thankfully, there are lots of work-arounds to keep it from being too much of a hindrance to daily life. But it is nevertheless a reality for many. But just because some struggle to distinguish red from green doesn’t mean that the colors red and green do not actually exist. They clearly do. They are objective realities. That some confuse one for the other does not change that. In fact, when we drive, our lives depend on the fact that these two colors really do exist and are not subjectively determined. Yet the fact that these colors exist doesn’t mean that there is no confusion or difficulty for anyone. There is” (Allberry, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies, 53).

[9] Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 45.

[10] Rebecca McLaughlin, 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity, 136.

[11] Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 45-46.

[12] “Jesus affirms both the binary of male and female in creation and the binding of male to female in marriage” (Rebecca McLaughlin, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims, 103).

[13] Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 56.

[14] Cf. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 59.

[15] Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 57.

[16] “According to many ancient philosophies, men were more important than women. But the Bible tells a different story. God made humans—“male and female”—“in his own image” (Genesis 1:26–28). Men and women are equally important. But they are also importantly different” (McLaughlin, 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity, 136).

[17] In some ways, I think this implies the vast importance of women! Men need women. Men cannot do the work God’s called them to on their own!

[18] Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 60.

[19] Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 51.

[20] Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 52.

[21] Eilers, Ministering to Transgender Christians, 58.

[22] https://www.britannica.com/story/has-pink-always-been-a-girly-color

[23] “Jesus was the perfect man. But he was no gender stereotype… No follower of Jesus need hold to rigid gender stereotypes, in which men make skyscrapers and women decorate their walls. Instead, we must cling to our Savior. He is the one who knows us to our core and loves us to death and beyond. He made our bodies, and he holds our hearts. Our deepest identity lies in him” (McLaughlin, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims,109).

[24] See McLaughlin, 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity, 150-51.

[25] “Some people think real men don’t cry. But Jesus cried. Some people think real men sleep with lots of women. But Jesus never even had a girlfriend. Some people think real men don’t stand for insults. But Jesus took insults all day long. He defended the weak, but he wouldn’t fight back to defend himself. Some people think real men don’t cook or care for kids. But Jesus did both these things. If we want to know what it means to be a perfect man, we must look at Jesus.

Women are called to copy Jesus too. He is the perfect human, so all Christians—male or female—are called to imitate him. But the ways in which Jesus used his strength and power for others, not himself, is a particular model for men, who often have more physical strength and have traditionally had more power (Philippians 2:1–11)” (McLaughlin, 10 Questions, 138).

[26] Eilers, Ministering to Transgender Christians, 124.

[27] Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 121.

[28] Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 122.

[29] Preston Sprinkle, Embodied, 205.

[30] Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 157.

[31] McLaughlin, The Secular Creed, 102.

[32] Allberry, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies, 50-51.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: