How the Church Can Engage Our Transgender Neighbors
Real people. Real circumstances. Real prayers.
That’s what I see more and more as I read the Scriptures.
Real people struggling to understand and trust a holy God.
Real circumstances in which people try to navigate a broken and sin-soaked world.
Real prayers of those turning to God for truth and hope.
Imagine a person gathered each week with your church family. They are experiencing thoughts and feelings they don’t know what to do with. They don’t see themselves fitting the general gender stereotypes placed before them. They are confused and praying to God. Would they know how to engage you or your church family?
Imagine a person walking through your church’s doors for the first time. They’ve been invited by a friend, but aren’t sure what to expect. They have walls built up and have heard that Christians don’t like people like them. They’ve heard God doesn’t like people like them. They are afraid; perhaps defensive. Would they know how to engage you or your church family?
The transgender movement has been one of the most volatile social movements of recent decades. The church can easily feel ill-equipped, unprepared and unsure about how to handle our society’s broad acceptance of, and encouragement toward, a genderless or gender-fluid world.
This is the second article in a short series about transgenderism and the church. In the first article, “The Church and the Transgender Moment,” I attempted to provide definitions. Simply knowing what our transgender neighbors are thinking, experiencing and saying can hopefully help us enter the conversation with the mind of Christ.
In this article, I ask us as the church to evaluate how we can best love and walk in the Gospel with our neighbors outside and inside the church who may be struggling with transgenderism.
What Our Transgender Neighbors Need
What our transgender neighbors need is the same thing the pastor, the liar, the small group leader, the addict and the suburban soccer mom need: The Gospel of Jesus Christ. Transgender people don’t need a different gospel. Like all of us in a broken and fallen world, they need to turn from the kingdom of self, surrender to Christ as King and trust Him daily in new resurrected life.
The good news for the church is that we know the Gospel. We have the Bible. We may not have a lot of training or a gender-studies degree from Harvard, but we can introduce people to Jesus. Could it be difficult walking through the Bible, wrestling with big questions and sharing the love of Jesus with a transgender neighbor? Absolutely. Frankly, it’s hard for me to walk through the Bible, wrestle with big questions and share the love of Jesus with myself! Ease is not our Gospel paradigm.
A hopefully helpful paradigm for our churches to adopt in engaging our transgender neighbors is simply this: be clear about the whole Gospel. As many have done before, we can attempt to explain the Gospel clearly as Creation, Fall and Restoration.
When we speak of creation, it’s important we talk not only about God as Creator, but also what He has created. In speaking of His creation, it is vital we not only address the “no” or boundaries, but the “yes” and what protection, provision and flourishing those boundaries provide.
Statistically, 80-85 percent of children or youth who identify as transgender will ultimately end up identifying with their birth sex. Gender confusion at this stage often can result from one not relating to gender molds placed before them. To engage a sexually questioning culture, we must affirm and uphold God’s design of male and female, but also ensure we are providing biblical definitions—not re-applying cultural definitions. It is true a lot of men like sports, the outdoors and the combination of meat with fire. There is nothing wrong with that. However, that is not biblical manhood.
We must be willing to ask: does our church have room for the man who doesn’t like sports or the woman who does? Do we clearly define, emphasize and celebrate the biblical man who faithfully takes the initiative in leading his home toward Christ, yet prefers an art brush to a rifle? Do our youth understand that what they enjoy does not define their gender, but can be used within their gender to create a wonderful spectrum of people God calls and uses in obedience to Him?
Are we a church that affirms and celebrates the single adult the way Paul celebrates them in his first letter to the Corinthians? The church must be the champion of God’s gender definitions and uphold the roles of biblical manhood and womanhood, but not first filter them through cultural ideologies. We must teach on difficult passages and champion those who follow Christ well in marriage as well as singleness.
While this is reductionistic, we could say the God of Genesis 1 created the genders of Genesis 2, and they were broken in Genesis 3 where we live today. It is important that we emphasize all three aspects of this narrative. We live in a world of distortion—particularly sexual distortion. Even some of the most instrumentally recognized people in Scripture displayed sexual brokenness—David committed adultery and let his eyes go where they shouldn’t. Rahab was a prostitute. Judah slept with his daughter-in-law whom he thought was a prostitute (not to mention Noah, Solomon, and others).
One of the biggest questions for people with gender dysphoria in our midst is, “Why would God make me this way if it is wrong?” Upholding what God created in Genesis 1-2 reminds us how we are created, but pointing to Genesis 3 helps us remember how we are broken. As the church, we must be those who embrace, sympathize and empathize with all who are broken and come together under the cross of Christ. The phrase, “It’s okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay to stay that way” must be the church’s refrain as we all come to grips with our condition.
While we are all broken images—holding innate distortions of what we are meant to be—we must continually remind each other that the story doesn’t end at Genesis 3, but calls us forward to Revelation 21-22, when all things are restored and made new for those in Christ.
In the meantime, just as Paul exhorted the Corinthians in relation to their sin, sexual brokenness and dysphoria, we must also exclaim, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). God may never change those desires, but God certainly is in the business of changing lives to be used for His glory and our good in the church.
Our transgender neighbors need to know we are all tempted by innate desires that run contrary to truth. It is not those desires, but what we do with them that makes us who we are. The Bible invites us to cast off our old way of life, lay down our desires at the feet of Jesus and walk in resurrected obedience to Him. When one comes to Christ, God doesn’t remove them from the sinful world. He does enable them, however, to recognize this world is not our home. One day, God will restore us and make all things new. We can all look forward to that day together.
Acts chapter 8 records one of the first conversions to Christianity. Interestingly, this man was a eunuch—one who had been physically altered to embrace a dis-gendered existence—someone who might be referred to today by the transgender definition, “Gender Queer.” The Holy Spirit led Philip directly to him. What was of interest was not his sexual status or capabilities, but his question—“What does this Scripture mean, and who is the Messiah?” He was a real person in real circumstances with real prayers.
Let those of us in Christ remember that we share the same baptismal waters that called to that eunuch. We share the same confession of Christ’s lordship and look forward to a renewed day, secured by the resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel extends hope, joy, family and redemption beyond what often fits the definitions we are used to. Let us do the same.