A Pastoral Approach to the Transgender Debate

The recent gender and sexuality sea change that has played out before our eyes is head-spinning

“What’s the church to do? Do we take up arms to fight a culture war, even though we have rarely waged such wars in a faithful or loving way? How do we proclaim the gospel of Christ while simultaneously affirming the lordship of Christ over human design and the nature of truth?”

 

The recent gender and sexuality sea change that has played out before our eyes is head-spinning. I’ve taught pastoral ethics at an evangelical seminary for almost 15 years, and when I began teaching, questions about limiting bathroom use to people of the same biological sex weren’t exactly on the radar screen.

Today, no one disputes that transgenderism is a contested issue.

What’s the church to do? Do we take up arms to fight a culture war, even though we have rarely waged such wars in a faithful or loving way? How do we proclaim the gospel of Christ while simultaneously affirming the lordship of Christ over human design and the nature of truth? More to the point, how must we behave in order to welcome sinners of any sort to hear the good news of salvation in Christ? If churches aren’t thinking about such things, they aren’t paying attention to the missional needs of the hour.

To address these questions, Andrew Walker—director of policy studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission—has served the church well with his new book, God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? (See Walker’s recent reflections in “How Writing on Transgenderism Changed Me.”)

God and the Transgender Debate is a book aimed at pastors and congregants. It issues a clear call to be a welcoming, loving, and faithful community of Jesus followers: “A transgender person ought to feel more loved and safe visiting a Bible-believing church than any other place in the world” (122). The church ought to be a safe place for any who struggle with gender dysphoria, the distress experienced by those who sense “a conflict between their gender identity and their biological sex” (32).

Organization and Summary

The book’s trajectory and pastoral tone is established in the first chapter. Walker reminds us how Jesus loved people and, ultimately, that the “transgender debate isn’t about a debate. It’s about people” (14). Chapters 2 to 4 survey the worldview landscape of the post-Christian Western world, explain the use of language in the gender debate, and examine how people make decisions in such a world, arguing that the biblical storyline teaches God is the ultimate authority and his demands are trustworthy (ch. 4).

Most of the biblical heavy lifting is done in chapters 5 to 7. Walking through the creation account of Genesis, Walker argues that being created in the image of God (which includes the physical body) grants a fundamental dignity to all people. The design of humanity as male and female is authoritative and purposeful. Walker raises the stakes by rightfully showing that those who reject God’s blueprint and design are rejecting Jesus Christ’s authority (ch. 5).

Essential to the biblical storyline is humanity’s fall, which reminds us that we’re all broken people living in a broken world. Walker is adamant that people aren’t necessarily sinning by experiencing gender dysphoria: such feelings are a result of the fall. Sin does occur, however, when people act on the dysphoria by embracing a transgender identity, which rejects God’s good design (ch. 6). Walker concludes the scriptural survey by working through both the gospel and the consummation of all things in Christ, pointing out that in the new heavens and new earth all feelings of gender dysphoria will be eliminated. Until then, the work of sanctification might be painful and slow (ch. 7).  Continue reading,,,