Heath: One significant difficulty that we face in our contemporary culture is a problem that actually would have boggled the minds of most people throughout church history. And it’s the problem of transgenderism. We live in a day and in an age where individuals can decide that their gender is something other than what is indicated in their biological sex and they can then receive actual surgery to alter their own physical appearance. This creates a massive number of ethical and pastoral questions that the church needs to be faithful to respond to. To help us to respond to some of these questions is Dr. Jim Hamilton, who is the professor of Biblical Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is the author of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment and he is also a pastor of Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.
I wanted Dr. Hamilton to join us on this edition of the podcast because he’s a faithful biblical scholar and also because he is a local church pastor. Dr. Hamilton, I want to begin by asking what we say to the close relatives of these people who have decided to have gender reassignment surgery or who have decided to go through a gender transition. Everyone in our culture is emphasizing acceptance of these decisions that people make. But that leaves family members in the wake of confusion, wondering what to do. Wives, kids, and parents who have always known this person to be their son, daughter, husband, wife, or parent are being asked to accept a massive change in their loved one’s life. What do we say to family members who are being asked to do that?
Jim: I think one of the most important things we can communicate to them is that they’re not crazy and that the Bible is true – and the bible’s story of the creation of the world is true. So God made man and woman, and God made every individual in the world either a man or a woman. And I would want to reassure people that it’s not their responsibility to rejoice in someone’s rejection of what God has created them to be. And then perhaps from there I might want to pursue some analogies that would help them to think about or to feel better about the way that I’m counseling them to respond, which is to embrace the Bible’s teaching and not feel that they have to be pressured by the culture to conform to the world.
So by analogy, I wouldn’t feel the need to encourage, let’s say, a child to rejoice that his dad was divorcing his mother. And I wouldn’t feel the need to encourage the wife that her husband was committing adultery against her. And so, by these analogies, I don’t think we’re under any compulsion to encourage people to feel gladness when someone is wanting to reconstitute reality.
Heath: That’s good. It’s very helpful as we consider how to help people think through these decisions of their loved ones. But what about when it comes to actual communication? I’ve been surprised in the last few months by the number of people who have come to me and have said, “My cousin, friend, aunt, uncle, dad, is going through this gender transition and they are asking that I no longer call them by their masculine name, but they want to be called by their feminine name that they’ve adopted.” And again, just by way of example, the person transitioning is saying, “I don’t want you to use masculine pronouns to refer to me. I don’t want you to say him or his, I want you to say hers.” How do we help people know how to speak to transgendered people who are asking to be called names and pronouns that are different than those who have known them have ever called them?
Jim: This is a really difficult question, and I think it’s one that we’re trying to find our way to good answers, too. So I think the first two things that we want to communicate is a desire to love all people and a desire to communicate the love of Christ to people. If a person in our church came to me with this kind of question about, say a man who has transitioned to a woman, my inclination would be to say to them that God created your relative as a man. And that is built into his biology at every level. And the fact that he can change something superficial about his appearance doesn’t reconstitute him as a female, nor does it somehow go back in time to the point of God’s imagination of this person and then desire to bring him into the world and make it so that God sees him, intends him, as a female.
So I think that my gut reaction is to call things what God calls them. Let’s say, if the Lord has defined what adultery is, an adulterer comes to me and says, “Well I want to have these extramarital liaisons, and I would like for you to talk about them as though they are expressions of my love for all women.” I’m going to say, “I’m sorry; the Lord has identified that as adultery, so that’s what I’m going to call it. So along those lines, I’m going to say, God made you a man and you asking me to call you a woman is asking me to call something other than what it is. So you’re asking me to participate with you in your rebellion. You’re asking me to bear false witness about who you are and I don’t think that I could do that.” Other people, maybe, could do that. There may be people with stronger consciences than mine that would somehow be able to embrace this person and accept this person in a way that would allow them to communicate in the way that person wants to be communicated about. But as I’m thinking about that now, I just don’t think I could do that.
Heath: I think that is a very valuable and helpful response. It helps us to know that we need to stand on truth, which is the only thing that we can stand on. When we are ministering to people we also need to help them understand that such a stand on truth is going to come at a very significant relational cost. What could we say to people from a pastoral perspective to help them try to preserve as much of a relationship as possible with someone who’s behaving in this way.
Jim: I would want to urge them to try to call this person to repentance and to communicate to them that the person pursuing this alteration in their identity is removing themselves from the realm that is safe and the realm in which we can gladly interact with one another. So in other words, this is not me choosing to go away from you, and this is not me rejecting you. This is you taking yourself away from our relationship and you ending the normalcy that has existed between us. So that’s the way I would want to come at it, even though I know that it’s not the way the wider culture is going to see it. I would try to help the person see this reality.
Heath: I want to switch gears a little bit and stop talking about the family members of people who are going through these transitions and begin talking about the people themselves. Even as our culture is embracing this as acceptable and normal, we are aware of reports that gender reassignment does not make good on its promises. And we’re aware of reports of people who have gone through with these procedures and now regret the permanent changes they have made in their body. As a local church pastor, as a careful biblical thinker, what would you say to someone who comes to you and says, “I’ve had this procedure done and I regret it. I want to repent.” What does repentance look like?
Jim: So let’s say it was a man who had been reassigned as a female. I think that in his deportment of himself, he needs to begin to conduct himself in a masculine way, and in his clothing choices he needs to dress as a man. Anything that is being put into his body to make him seem more feminine he needs to stop: hormone treatment, pills, whatever it may be. All of that needs to come to an end. I think that anything beyond those kinds of changes (behavior, dress, stopping any ongoing medication) is going to require input from medical professionals (perhaps that is not necessary; I’m not sure what is possible on those fronts.) But at least I think at the levels of dress and behavior, and then stopping the ongoing treatments, those would be necessary for repentance.
For more information about this issue and ministering to a person who identifies as transgender, you can check out this complete conference card: Transgender Confusion and Transformational Christianity.