Editor’s Note: This blog is the second installment of a three-blog series adapted from James Emery White’s latest weekend series, “Gender.” To read the first installment, click here.
I know that some of you reading this blog would consider yourself transgender. Others of you have members of your family who would self-identify as transgender.
I want you to know three things: God loves you, God cares about you, and so do I.
Members of the trans community don’t often hear that, much less feel it, and for that I am so sorry. According to a study of more than 6,000 trans adults, 57% have family members who refuse to speak to them, 50% have experienced harassment at school, 65% have suffered physical or sexual violence, and 69% have experienced homelessness.
I’m sorry for that.
Just know that what follows is going to be as faithful as possible to what I believe is transcendent truth, and as sensitive as possible toward you and your situation.
Fair? Let’s jump in.
When there is true gender dysphoria, someone really does look in the mirror and see a man’s body that they simply don’t identify with or a woman’s body they don’t identify with. Their internal sense of self doesn’t match with their biological sex.
In 1980 the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association called this “transsexualism” and listed it as a mental disorder. That entry was later replaced by what psychiatrists called “gender identity disorder.” In 2013, it was later modified to mere “gender dysphoria,” which is simply discomfort with the gender a person is living in.
So how many transgender people are there?
Not many. Right at around 0.5% of the population. But if you’re in that category, the small size of co-sympathizers doesn’t matter. It’s very real to you.
And what you are feeling is real. You didn’t choose your dysphoria. If you were to tell me that you were trans, I wouldn’t bat an eye. What I would want to explore is how you are going to live in light of that dysphoria.
In a way that honors Christ or dishonors Christ?
That’s the question.
Because while there is acceptance of you as a person and the very real challenges you face, that does not mean there is a blanket affirmation of the various ways you can respond to your orientation or dysphoria.
Here’s what Jesus wants for all of us: He wants to heal anything and everything that is broken. And we’re all sexually broken in one way or another, and we all need Christ brought to bear on that brokenness. We’re all spiritually disabled and have aspects of our life that are not as they were meant to be.
If you have true gender dysphoria, you didn’t choose it. You’re not culpable for your condition. Having dysphoria is not a moral issue. But while gender dysphoria is a real psychological condition that causes someone to think and feel like a different sex, it doesn’t mean that you are a different sex. Our brokenness isn’t immoral, but there are moral choices that flow from how we respond to our brokenness.
Christ’s call on your life is to get the help you need to manage your gender dysphoria in light of a relationship with Christ, and to surround yourself with people who will serve you, helping you live in accordance with your sex. In a healthy psychology, there is unity between your biological sex and your sense of self.
Jesus wants to bring you to that unity.
And even if there never is that full union on this side of heaven, the goal is for you to live in submission to how God made you. And how He made you is hardwired in your biology, not your psyche. So, when it comes to living out a trans life in terms of dressing opposite your biological sex or medically transitioning to the opposite of your biological sex, Jesus would say, “Please, don’t do that,” but rather, He would invite you on the journey toward living in acceptance of your biological sex.
The call of Christ is oriented toward living out the divine image that God created you to be. Sexed bodies are part of that image. Transitioning would be moving you further away from who you are, not bringing you closer to it.
If you come to Christ and enter into Christian community, the goal is to return you to God’s creational intent. To help you find congruence of gender identity with biological sex. To accept your sexed body as part of your God-given identity. I know, that is going to take a journey.
But it’s the journey you’re called to begin. And you can begin it!
Dr. Preston Sprinkle, President of the Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender (to whom I am indebted throughout this blog), tells the story of a young man named Alan.
Alan grew up as a pastor’s kid but couldn’t wait to leave the church after he graduated high school. For as long as he could remember, Alan had an unchosen desire to dress, act and behave like a woman. He had no one to talk to, no one to guide him. And seeing the church’s attitude toward LGTBQ people made him feel even more isolated and ashamed. He also grew tired of the hypocrisy in the church: talking up grace but not putting it into practice.
After high school, Alan left the church. But he couldn’t get away from Christians. One day, a Christian friend asked to hear Alan’s story, so Alan told him everything: his desire to be a woman, his sexual attraction to men, his failures in trying to follow his own convictions about sexual ethics.
Alan expected to be condemned. To his surprise, he was loved. Instead of the shaming and condemnation he expected, he was told that despite his past and present desires, God didn’t hate him, and he was loved by others and by God.
Those simple words pierced his soul. Alan gave his life to Christ, all because he had the courage to share his story with a Christian friend who received him graciously. Reflecting on it, here’s what Alan had to say:
“If I had never learned about pure, undistilled grace, I would have transitioned to a female and left the church. The thing that brought me to an acceptance of Biblical masculinity was not a poignantly laid-out exegetical argument against transsexuality nor a fire and brimstone diatribe against homosexuality but a man who gave me the space to speak about my desires openly and let me know he and God loved me nevertheless.”
James Emery White
Preston Sprinkle, Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church and What the Bible Has to Say.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.