Simply saying that being transgender or transitioning genders is wrong is a 2 cent answer to a million (billion) dollar question.
Like many issues, a person who has no personal experience with the struggle should not go around making cavalier, black and white statements about those who do. This doesn’t mean the Bible doesn’t apply, but it’s hypocritical and judgmental to conclude that your experience with a specific struggle is the same as someone else’s and thus, their response to it should come as simply and easily as yours does.
It is incorrect and unhelpful to assume that a transgender person has chosen to feel the way they do about their gender identity or that they can simply choose to identify in line with their biological body parts.
I was recently talking to a Christian parent whose child transitioned genders. Their child was developing bad body odor and they couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t take showers. Their child explained to them that they were so disturbed with seeing their own genitalia, feeling so much that it didn’t belong there, that they would rather smell bad than have to see this and be reminded of it.
If you are a man, imagine you step in the shower tomorrow morning and see you have breasts and a vagina.
If you are a woman, imagine stepping in the shower tomorrow morning and seeing you have a penis.
(And then being mocked, bullied and shamed for it)
That’s a small taste of how it feels to be transgender.
To think someone is choosing these feelings is not only erroneous, it’s almost hateful. I don’t mean because you think this you are intentionally hating someone who is transgender, but how else are they to interpret it when their struggle is this real and you simply dismiss it by saying it’s their fault?
Things worsen in the Church when we act as if a transgender person just prays harder or has more faith, that they’ll be able to choose to be straight and choose to identify with the gender they have the genitalia for. This only makes transgender people feel like God must hate them (causing them to hate themselves even more).
The Battle Creek Enquirer recently ran an article about 15-year-old Elijah Cross and how it feels to be a transgender student in Battle Creek. Elijah underscores the experience many LGBT students face: bullying, depression and suicidal thoughts.
One point that really stands out from this article is how hurtful it is to a transgender person if you call them by their birth name rather than the name they have chosen that corresponds with the gender they identify with (And the same point regarding the pronoun you use). This is something a cisgender person simply cannot relate to and is probably one of the biggest points of confusion for us, probably much more so for Christians. Since we see homosexual behavior as sinful, it does not seem right to identify a person with their sin. We might equate calling a girl born as Susie, “Bill” the same as calling someone “Thief” or “Liar” as their name. We need to get past this, or the door will only be sealed tighter for transgender people to find Jesus. Here’s what I mean:
You think that by calling Susie/Bill “Susie,” you are modeling what you feel is God’s design for him/her. You don’t want him/her to think you agree with an active homosexual lifestyle. You ultimately want him/her to know Jesus is the answer, so you want your language to reflect that, not that it’s okay for them to live the way they are living.
But what Susie/Bill hears is, “I reject you and God rejects you.” You can say it with whatever great intentions you have, but this is what they will hear every single time. I don’t fully grasp this, and I don’t expect you to either, but it’s as true as the sky is blue.
More often than not, the Church builds up insurmountable walls against transgender individuals rather than opening pathways for them to find Jesus. This isn’t done on purpose, but it is done endlessly.
It’s not enough for Christians to just say “oh just love them.” Yes, that’s important, but it gets me off the hook as an author and pastor too easily. That’s doable in a brief interaction with someone at a store, but things become much more complicated when you’re talking about how to operate within a local church community. It avoids the thick, murky mud (quicksand?) of trying to reconcile the Bible with loving someone just the way they are, but knowing the Holy Spirit refuses to leave any of us that way. The murky mud of grace and truth joined together.
What’s the ultimate goal in ministering to a transgender person? “Ultimate goal” is probably the wrong way to ask that. With anyone and everyone, they need to meet Jesus and fall in love with Jesus. This is first and foremost. Behavior does not come before meeting Jesus.
Whether homosexual or heterosexual, transgender or cisgender, married or single, finding our validation, worth, approval and acceptance in who Jesus says we are is not only the thirst quencher our souls long for, but is where we must be in order to submit to God’s design for sex. But we have to stop acting like it’s an even playing field, because it isn’t. This is going to be much easier for some than others. And we have to stop acting like we are the Holy Spirit, the one who literally changes a person’s soul to be able to submit to these things. And we have to stop kicking people out of church (or building the insurmountable wall) because they are not at a point in their faith to submit to these things. As if a person must be fully mature in all areas to be allowed a seat at church (as if we are!). To be allowed to be exposed to the truth of Scripture, the love of Jesus, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Rather than doing all we can to keep transgender people away from the One who gives life, what if we allowed them in and loved them, befriended them, hugged them, worshiped with them, have them over to our houses, and read the Bible with them just like we do heterosexual people who are looking at pornography, sleeping with their boyfriends or girlfriends, lusting over a shapely man or woman or those who’ve been divorced. Let alone treating them like we do those who are greedy, materialistic, prideful, arrogant, et al. Why don’t we do our jobs and let the Holy Spirit do his?
Yes, somewhere on the path of discipleship for a transgender person is the point where they’ll hopefully see Jesus as so worth their everything that they will painfully embrace God’s sovereignty in creating them as a biological man or woman. The point where they will choose a single, celibate life (assuming their attraction to the same sex is not changeable, which usually it isn’t, an attraction that is not a sin according to the Bible by the way–only the behavior is a sin according to the Bible–do not add to the Bible). But who knows when that point will come? If it will ever come? It isn’t our job to determine that. Our job is to keep the gates open so a transgender person can find the path in the first place! And our job is to ensure that they can stay on the path once they find it so the power of the love of God can do its work.
Calling them by the name they choose is just one way to do that.
“It’s God’s job to judge, the Spirit’s job to convict, and our job to love. And we dare not mix those up.” -Billy Graham