Article by Andrew T. Walker
Professor, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Pastors have no shortage of issues that they are called up to address in their ministries. The pressure to be an expert on every new issue can be daunting when thinking about everything else on the pastor’s plate. Most pastors need fewer burdens, not more. But when issues of what it means to be human surface — and this is at the center of the debate over transgenderism — it’s important that pastors seek to bring the full counsel of God’s word to bear on the issue at hand.
Having written a book on transgenderism, my purpose here is to simplify for pastors what I think are the absolute essentials for them to consider when addressing their congregations and counselees on the challenge of transgenderism.
Necessity of Nature
What is a man? What is a woman? Until just a few years ago, these questions would have hardly been controversial. But now one cannot answer them without fear of offending someone who identifies as transgender. But this is where ground zero of the debate really is: whether the category of maleness and femaleness means anything concrete at all. In theological terms, we call this ontology, which is the study of being.
When a male claims to be a female, that is not only a psychological claim, but also a philosophical and biological claim about one’s being. From Genesis 1 onward, Scripture teaches that males and females are biological and embodied beings with immutable natures. We cannot change who we are. To speak of nature is to say that there exists an ideal form and function of what something ought to be. The nature of a family, for example, is to care for and raise offspring. To say that something has a nature is to insist upon the existence of concrete purposes to that thing’s being, which supplies our understanding of what the thing in question truly is.
This is where the true debate resides. Christianity views reality through the lens of Scripture, which speaks of male and female as beings defined by their anatomical and reproductive organization (Genesis 1:26–28). Hormones or surgery cannot override the underlying realities of our genetic structure. If culture tries to define male and female apart from anatomy and reproductive organization, male and female become fluid, absurd categories. Hence where we are as a culture.
The transgender worldview is an active thwarting of one’s nature. It is akin to defying limits or swimming upstream against a current: you might try, but eventually limitations and the strength of the current are going to sweep you up against your will.
This reality of nature leads to one of the most important truths: actual transgenderism does not exist. Sure, there are people who may have genuine confusion over their “gender identity” (a concept itself riddled with problems), but the idea that there are persons truly “trapped” in the wrong body is false. Scripture does not allow for such a dualism between the body and the “self.”
Reality of Flourishing
Flowing downstream from the reality of our nature as male and female is the idea that males and females should flourish in accordance with their being. Flourish is a term that describes the fullness of a thing’s being. A flourishing family is a family with no disruptions or privations undermining its operations. A thing experiences its fullness of being or excellence when it lives according to what it is and what it is designed to do.
The issue of flourishing connects to transgenderism because, from a scriptural worldview, we understand that a person can never thrive or flourish apart from living in harmony with God’s design in creation. A person might claim to flourish according to how he or she defines flourishing, but flourishing is not a term left to the eye of the beholder.
Drug addicts might see their intoxication as a form of flourishing, but this we understand as a cheapened form of flourishing that will, over time, result not in the fullness of their being but, rather, in their undoing. Defined biblically, flourishing understands and welcomes the idea of limitations and boundaries (Psalm 119:45). We are not purely autonomous beings who can create and re-create our nature and our paradigms for flourishing. Flourishing is a pathway we are called to live in line with, not against.
To love our transgender-identifying neighbors is to seek their good. We cannot teach or imply that any form of transition will actually achieve what they desire: the joy of flourishing. When one reads in-depth about the scourge of depression, anxiety, and suicidality even among persons who have undergone some degree of transition, we realize something essential to this discussion: true flourishing cannot come at the expense of rejecting our nature and our embodiment. It simply cannot happen.
As time goes on, I expect to see an explosion in the number of people who experimented with transgender identities, or who even transitioned to some degree, who are living testaments to the falseness of transgender ideology. Indeed, we see these testimonies online already. Called “de-transitioners” and silenced by mainstream sources, a growing chorus of voices is warning others of the contagion-like consequences of embracing a transgender worldview.
Central to our ethics as Christians is the command to love our neighbor. This means seeking their flourishing (Matthew 7:12). Undoubtedly, activists will disagree with our motives of love. In fact, they will see our definition of love as opposite their own. To that, we must simply accept the cost of biblical conviction and do whatever we can to convey that we’re not interested in anything less than their relationship with God and their flourishing as human beings.
On one final note, I want to caution readers from thinking that every transgender-identifying person is an angry activist. That is not the case. There are activists whose identities are wrapped up in ideological warring, but there are also many people, I’m convinced, who are vulnerable and volatile persons, with deeply unresolved personal and psychological issues, who need counseling and love, not scorn or mockery.
Call for Courage
To be a Christian in our day requires courage. Whether in the form of licensure denial, a lost job, suppressed speech, or the threat of coercion, Christians are going to find themselves on the wrong side of elite culture. But take heart. Jesus has overcome the world, and to be persecuted for his sake is to be blessed (Matthew 5:10–12; John 16:33).
As of this writing, however, there are glimmers of optimism that the secular foundation upon which the transgender worldview is built is beginning to crack. There are a growing number of people, some of them quite prominent, who are not Christians, who are raising concerns about the unsustainability of the transgender worldview. From privacy issues, safety issues, and equality and fairness issues, the world may be slowly coming to grips with the truth that its commitment to transgender ideology has outpaced its commitment to reality, sound thinking, and true human flourishing.
Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a Fellow in the Evangelical in Civics Life Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and serves as the Managing Editor of WORLD Opinions.