A.

The full question submitted was, “What is the most loving way for Christians to address someone identifying as transgender? Should we use the pronoun they are most comfortable with even if we disagree with their choice to describe themselves that way?”

Let me approach answering this question from two angles. Angle #1 concerns my approach to entering a relationship with someone openly identifying as transgender. Upon introduction, I am comfortable using whatever name or pronouns the person gives me. My comfort level springs from two primary sources: 1) the gospel of reconciliation and 2) the name-changing grace of God.

First, let’s consider the gospel of reconciliation.

Sin has left all people alienated from God, from others, and from their true selves. This is true for everyone, not just members of the LGBTQ community. I believe gender dysphoria is a manifestation of a person’s alienation from their true selves. It is one that God seeks to remedy through reconciliation not necessarily affirm through an invasive and, often, psychologically harmful sex reassignment surgery.[1]

The gospel says that God in Christ meets us in the midst of our alienation. In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself. In so doing, He entrusted the ministry of reconciliation to those who are reconciled–making disciples of Christ ambassadors for Christ. God now makes His appeal to the world through us. We implore people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-20).  As God in Christ met us in the midst of our alienation, we meet others in the midst of theirs. We step into their lives and walk with them towards a new life made possible through the gospel of reconciliation. Together, we grow into the holy and healthy divine image bearers God reconciles us to be.

Second, let’s consider the name-changing grace of God.

Names in Scripture often reflect a person’s character and purpose. For example, Jesus’s name means salvation. On several occasions God calls a person one name with the intention of soon changing it (i.e. Abram to Abraham, Simon to Peter). The name change reflects the transformation being wrought in their lives by God’s grace. Abraham means “father of many nations,” which is who God blessed him to be. Peter means “rock.” The Peter who wrote the epistles of 1 and 2 Peter was far more stable and secure than the Simon we first meet in the gospels.

The most notable example of this dynamic is found in God’s dealing with Jacob, a man whose name meant “he takes by the heal,” which was a euphemism for “he cheats, schemes, and struggles.” He lived much of his life cheating others. Most notably, he cheated his brother, Esau, out of his inheritance. His name reflected his alienation from God, from his family, and from his true self.

One night, Jacob found himself alone just outside the borders of his family’s homeland when something strange occurred. In Genesis 32:24, we are told that “a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.” In the dead of night, a strange male figure assaulted Jacob. Most theologians interpret what took place as a theophany—meaning, an appearance of God in the Old Testament. After all, Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning “the face of God.” He said, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Gn. 32:30).

In Genesis 32:25, we find that “when the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.” Clearly, God could have beaten Jacob if that was His intention. But by allowing Jacob to prevail temporarily against him, God exposed what He intended to change about Jacob.

In many ways, Jacob was a self-made man. His deepest trust rested in himself. Yet, in the very moment when Jacob felt victorious, God dislocated his hip with a simple touch. God assailed Jacob not to beat him but to bless him, not to crush him but to change him.

God took Jacob’s self-reliance and taught him that God’s blessings cannot be obtained through self-assertion but only through self-submission. God dislocated the very thing Jacob thought made him strong—namely, his cunning and conniving self.

After dislocating Jacob’s hip, the divine figure tried to leave Jacob only Jacob refused to let him. Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And [God] said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’” (32:26-27). By giving God his name, Jacob cried, “Uncle!”

By saying, “I am Jacob,” he confessed, “I am cheater, schemer, and deceiver. I have lived my life obtaining blessings through manipulative means.” Such submission opened Jacob up to experiencing the name-changing grace of God. The Lord said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel” (32:28). God changed his name to Israel, which means “God preserves.” God preserved Jacob from self-destruction.

Like Jacob, a transgender person may have tried to acquire a form of blessing through self-assertion rather than self-submission. By reassigning organs or by adopting the other gender, they are seeking to overcome their felt sense of their alienation. However, the gospel  says that we cannot overcome any aspect of our alienation through asserting themselves but only through submitting themselves to name-changing grace of God.

As we meet people in the midst of their alienation, we share with them the message of reconciliation and invite them to experience the God’s grace. In such cases, their life change can literally result in a name change. We meet Jacobs as Jacobs and hope God turns them into Israels.

Angle #2 concerns an already established friendship. If a friend discloses a struggle with gender dysphoria and decides to transition from the gender associated with their biological sex, I believe the most loving way for me to respond is by refusing to affirm their decision. I would not use their adopted pronouns or address them with a newly selected name. Doing so would violate the integrity of my conscience, the calling of my discipleship, and the saliency of my love for my friend.

Of course, this approach is difficult because it may be interpreted as unloving, unkind, or insensitive. It may even result in the sad and sudden loss of a friendship. Nevertheless, in the gospel, God’s love is fundamentally marked by redemption not affirmation. Ultimately, God never affirms anyone in any facet of their alienation and neither should we. 

[1] For a helpful article see http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/number-50-fall-2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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