We love the title so much that we forget the scandal behind it. When people called Jesus a “friend of sinners,” they really didn’t mean that as a compliment. They meant it to discredit Him, to shame Him, to rebuke those who followed Him. Mainly, the title was meant as a point of separation.
And that’s just what happened—but not like they wanted. They meant to say they were better than Jesus. But what it really showed was the mud-caked, stony heart stuck inside their puffed-out chests. They looked holy but had no love; Jesus looked reckless (to them) but had both holiness and love.
Jesus built friendships with some very shady characters, and according to Dr. Denny Burk, His example is exactly what we need when it comes to transgender people in our society. With more and more public examples of transgender individuals, such as actor Bruce Jenner, the need for Christlike wisdom has never been higher:
“How should Christians respond to this latest phase of the LGBT revolution? The short answer is that we have to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Contrary to editorialists at The New York Times, we must insist that truth and love are not enemies but friends (Ps. 85:10). That means that we can dissent from the sexual revolution and love our transgender neighbors. No matter how much we may be slandered otherwise, we can do both (1 Pet. 2:12). Indeed we must do both (Matt. 22:39; John 13:34-35; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14).”
So, how can we both speak the truth, but also love our transgender neighbors in practical ways? Burk offers 10 suggestions on how to live this out day to day:
1. Be a friend.
Just as Jesus invested in the lives of sinners, we can also love our transgender neighbors as friends—without demanding that they change first.
Your faith in Christ is secure. You know the truth of His Word. But those struggling with their identity don’t have that certainty. Listen to their stories without jumping in to “fix” their misunderstandings. Often, listening to their story opens them up to listen to yours.
3. Feel compassion.
Transgender individuals usually feel conflicted about their biological sex and gender identity. Even though society is more accepting, that doesn’t mean their family and friends are. We’re all broken and in need of compassion.
4. Share the gospel.
Every sinner needs the gospel—that means all of us. When we’ve established a true friendship, love compels us to share the good news whenever we can.
5. Speak the truth.
Speaking the truth doesn’t mean to condemn or be angry. But if we truly love someone, we want them to know when they’re in error. We are made in God’s image, and we are not our own. Our true identity as a man or woman comes from Him.
6. Be candid about differences.
Sometimes, the fear of confrontation keeps us from speaking up. But God’s Word will bring us into opposition with the world at times. We can’t hide that.
7. Oppose bullying.
Not only should we not bully, Christians should be at the front of the fight against bullying. Confront those who abuse your transgender neighbor—even if it means losing a friend.
8. Receive brothers and sisters.
Some transgender individuals will repent of their sins and turn to Jesus. When they do, welcome them into the family of Christ with open arms.
9. Strengthen your brothers and sisters.
Someone who was formerly transgender will likely have a different type of identity crisis as they adjust to their new life in Christ. Walk with them through the ups and downs and help them when they struggle.
Ask for God to change hearts. That’s something only He can do.
It’s important to remember that research on men and women has shown a strong correlation between gender and biological sex—even when boys were raised as girls. Dr. James Emery White explains:
“From this, researchers at Johns Hopkins felt they should go back and study other children who had undergone similar operations; boys who, for whatever reason, were born without full male organs, had then been fully castrated, and raised as girls. Of the twenty-five they were able to locate, ranging in age from five to 16, every single one exhibited the rough-and-tumble play more characteristic of boys than girls.
“Every single one.
“Even at their early age, fourteen of them had already declared themselves to be, in fact, boys—against everything in how they had been raised.”
Your turn. How do you think Christians should respond to the culture’s growing acceptance of “changing sex” and transgender identity? How should we approach those who struggle with this?