Monthly Archives: June 2015
In a discussion from the article I posted yesterday, it was noted that I used Jenner’s name Bruce and now he goes by Caitlyn and also I used masculine pronouns when most are using feminine. How do we deal with this confusion? Denny Burk who is a professor at Boyce College gives a good answer that follows the line of thinking of my previous article and will be helpful when we face someone (and you will) who makes such a claim of being transgender.
Bruce or Caitlyn? He or she? Should Christians accommodate transgender naming?
By Denny Burk
How should Christians respond to transgenderism in general and Bruce Jenner’s “transition” in particular? I think Christians are at their best when they recognize a need for both compassion and truth-telling. Compassion for those who experience painful alienation from their own bodies and truth-telling in the face of fictional accounts of gender identity.
As I have written before, transgenderism is a denial of God-ordained differences between male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). It is an untruthful suppression of the sexual binary that God has encoded into every cell of our bodies. When a person feels their gender identity to be out of sync with their sexual identity, the problem is not with the body but with the mind. To steal a phrase from Sam Allberry, the conflict is evidence of how sin distorts us not of how God made us. Thus, it is unloving and contrary to human flourishing to deny or obscure these truths.
I have seen one issue popping-up in the commentary this week that appears to be unresolved among Christians writing and commenting about transgenderism. How do we refer to people who have adopted a transgender identity? Transgender ideology says that we must refer to transgender persons by their assumed name, not by their given name. It also requires using pronouns that match their transgender identity and not those that match the sex they were assigned at birth. Should Christians go along with this or not?
Just yesterday I saw Christians coming at this question from opposite directions. On the one hand, Marty Duren writing in The Washington Post refers to Jenner with the name Caitlyn and with feminine pronouns. Duren explains, “How does insistence on calling Caitlyn by her birth name help me reach Lisa who now goes by ‘Fred,’ or Tom’s kid who remains confused?” Duren believes that we close-off opportunities for evangelism if we don’t go along with the way transgender people want to be named.
On the other hand, Doug Wilson refuses to go along with transgender naming, saying, “I am afraid that I am not going to be addressing him as Caitlyn — the most accommodation I will offer is that of calling him Jenner.” Thus Wilson rejects both feminine pronouns and the name Caitlyn.
(I could perhaps mention a third way. I have heard arguments from people I respect that take a somewhat divided approach. They agree to use a person’s legal name, whatever that may be, but refuse to adopt pronouns that contradict a person’s birth sex.)
These are just a couple examples that I read yesterday. I could marshall many more. The questions is, however, which one is right? I am still thinking through these things myself, so consider the following a first draft of my thinking on this. Above all, I aim to be biblical in coming at this question. So here are the principles that have guided my thinking thus far.
- Avoid unnecessary provocation.
Paul writes, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). That means that offensiveness doesn’t necessarily equal faithfulness. Offensiveness might be an evidence of fidelity to the gospel. Or it might be an evidence that we are pugnacious. And we don’t get brownie points for being angry jerks. The fool is the one who “speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword” (Prov. 12:18), but the wise “ponders how to answer” (Prov. 15:28). In short, the foolish person offends people with his words because he’s self-absorbed and thoughtless. The wise person is persuasive because he’s constantly strategizing how to use his words to bring healing and life (Prov. 16:24).
When it comes to gospel witness, we need to build bridges wherever we can. And of course that includes how we speak to and address sinners with our words. Paul modeled this for us at Mars Hill in Acts 17 and broke it down for us in simple terms in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.”
The practical upshot of this principle is that Christians should not adopt the posture of a scold. If you can avoid conflict over this point and still speak truthfully, then do so. Wilson’s “Jenner” accomodation seems reasonable to me under this principle. Under this principle, one might also avoid certain pronouns in order to postpone a confrontation that is better left for a later time.
- Embrace necessary provocation.
Truth-telling is always necessary for the Christian (Eph. 4:15). We are not allowed speak in ways that are fundamentally dishonest and that undermine the truth of God’s word about how he made us and the world. Transgender ideology is fundamentally a revolt against God’s truth. It encourages people–sometimes very disturbed and hurting people–to deny who God made them to be. It traps them in a way of thinking and living that is harmful to them and that alienates them from God’s truth. We do not serve them or love them well by speaking as if transgender fictions are true.
We are called not to participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead to “expose them” (Eph. 5:11). That means we must always “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 5:18). We must realize that real love always, always, always “rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). So loving our neighbor means telling them the truth, even when that truth brings an unpleasant confrontation.
The doctor does his patient no favors by speaking in ways that conceal an unpleasant diagnosis. Likewise, we do our neighbors and loved ones no favors by speaking in ways that conceal the truth of God. The proverb says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6). That means that an enemy will tell you what you want to hear, but a real friend will tell you what you need to hear. Sometimes saying the right thing is hard, but we won’t shrink back from the confrontation if we really love our neighbor.
The practical upshot of this principle means that I must never encourage or accomodate transgender fictions with my words. In fact, I have an obligation to expose them. For me, that means that I may never refer to a biological male with pronouns that encourage him to think of himself as a female. Likewise, I may never refer to a biological female with pronouns that encourage her to think of herself as a male. In other words, I have to speak truthfully. And that includes the choice of pronouns that I use.
It seems to me that the use of a legal name may present a special case. What if the only name you know is the assumed legal name and not the birth name? Aren’t some names ambiguous with respect to gender? It may be that a consistent application of the principles above would allow the use of the assummed name in some situations and not allow it in others. I can only say that the principle of truth-telling in love always has to determine whatever choice you make.
There may be scenarios that are not covered by the principles as I have articulated them here. I’m open to being persuaded from the Bible that another approach is better or that I need to consider another angle. So I invite any feedback aimed at helping us to think and speak with greater biblical faithfulness.
Like you, I have been reading much about Bruce Jenner the past few weeks and seen the pictures. So how do we think of this and the doors it opens through the lens of the gospel? Jon Bloom of DesiringGod ministries has put together one of the best articles I have read thus far so I share it with you so that you can consider this first for yourself. Then this must be talked about to your children for they will be exposed to this and it soon will be a “common” event. Jon wrote:
Former Olympic champion, and current pop celebrity, Bruce Jenner, revealed in a recent interview his lifelong struggle with gender confusion. This week he announced that he is changing his public identity from male to female, his given name from Bruce to Caitlyn, and celebrating his gender transition by being featured in a photo shoot and cover article for the July edition of Vanity Fair.
Jenner has suddenly become the most well-known transgender person in the world and has brought transgender issues into the headlines and cultural conversation.
So how should we, as Christians, respond to Jenner’s transition?
In 1976, Bruce Jenner won the Olympic gold medal in the decathlon. Instantly, he became a global mega-star. But when making public appearances afterwards, no one knew that sometimes under his suit, this handsome, muscular, charismatic epitome of masculine virility and success was wearing a bra and pantyhose.
Jenner was nine years old when he first secretly tried on his sister’s dress because he felt like he wanted to be a girl. He didn’t understand his strange desires and had never heard of anyone else who felt this way. He had no one to talk to. He was a little boy carrying a secret shame that made him feel isolated from everyone else. He always felt like a fake — like he was constantly pretending to be a boy, even though he was one.
A gifted athlete, Jenner excelled in every sport he played throughout his teens, eventually becoming world-class in track and field in his twenties. But no one knew that part of what fueled his fierce competitive drive was a desperate effort to prove he really was a man. Always present in his consciousness, sometimes screaming at him, sometimes whispering to him from the shadows, was an inner voice telling him that he was female.
Adding to his confusion, his gender and sexual-orientation voices were dissonant: He had a heterosexual attraction to women. The inner conflict of his disordered desires, though not the sole cause, contributed significantly to the break up of three marriages.
None of this means that Jenner’s decision to self-identify as a female is okay. There are important reasons why it’s not okay (see the links below). Compassion does not mean compromising biblical truth. But sexual identity must be for us more than an abstract social issue. Real souls have endured real anguish over it. We must seek to understand their painful stories before we speak into their struggles. The more we know, the more compassionate will be our truthful response.
“Sexual identity must be for us more than an abstract social issue. Real souls have endured real anguish over it.”
Christians are equipped to respond with real compassion for such struggles. We all understand from experience the distressing disorder of the inner man that occurs because of indwelling sin and the brokenness of the fall:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:15, 21–24)
Bruce Jenner, and every person who deals with gender or sexual-orientation disorders, bears the image of God and has a priceless soul. The first compassionate impulse we should have is to pray for them. Jenner professes to be a Christian. Whatever that means, he at least may have potential openness to biblical truth. Let us pray that the truth of the gospel will set him free (John 8:32), knowing how much Jesus loves to redeem and restore sin-broken people.
With Greater Understanding
Growing in our understanding of the nature of transgender and sexual-orientation disorders is necessary so that we don’t hold ignorant assumptions and say erroneous and insensitive things to people. And it would be wise for us to anticipate the possibility of discovering someday that our child, grandchild, cousin, nephew, niece, friend, co-worker, or possibly a parent is enduring such a struggle. If that should happen, we want to be safe people for them to talk to.
“Jenner, and every person who deals with gender disorder, bears the image of God and has a priceless soul.”
Beyond that, gender issues are only going to grow in prominence in our society. The nations of the West have fully legitimized many of them and are working them into the legal codes. The past cultural restraints are gone. We will increasingly be called upon to explain and defend the biblical position. We need to know what the Bible actually says about transgender and sexual orientation and why the church throughout history has held its positions. Greater understanding will make us both more compassionate and more articulate. (I’ve prepared a list of places to begin at the end of this article.)
With Truthful Love
If we are compassionate, prayerful people who reasonably understand transgender and sexual-orientation issues and what the Bible says about them, we are in a good position to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Speaking truth is itself a form of love, even if a person doesn’t receive it as such initially. But “in love” also means speaking with great respect, empathy, and appropriate humility. And it means a willingness to love strugglers with deeds (such as hospitality), not just words (1 John 3:18).
Regarding Jenner’s transition, it probably means being slow to speak, especially on social media. And if you do speak something truthful, seek to be an unusually respectful, gracious voice. Jenner is not likely to read your remarks, but maybe someone you know who is guarding a tender, shameful secret will. Speak as you would to a friend.
But pray for Jenner, that God will send to him one or two who will speak the truth of the gospel with Christ-like love and that he will have ears to hear. Jenner’s hope is that “as soon as the Vanity Fair cover comes out, I’m free.” But we know he will not be free. After some period of euphoric relief, he will find that he is still a “wretched man” who needs to be delivered from his body of death (Romans 7:24).
That is precisely why Jesus came: to deliver people like Bruce Jenner and us from our domains of sinful darkness (Colossians 1:13) and our failing, disordered bodies, and give us glorious, powerful, disorder-free resurrection bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42–44). “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” there is a greater hope than gender identity can provide (Romans 7:25).
It is Jesus’s truth that sets all of us free (John 8:32).
- Is It Okay to Be a Christian and Transgendered?
- Is Sexuality Identity My Choice?
- Counsel for Those Considering Transgender
- Genitalia Are Not Destiny, But They Are Design
- List of Articles from The Gospel Coalition on Transgender
- List of Desiring God Articles on Sexual Orientation