The issue of transgenderism has hit the media news so rapidly that many Christians find it hard to locate any good information on how to think about it, and also how to walk alongside someone who is struggling with their sense of gender.
We’re going to list a few resources that we think provide both a biblical worldview assessment of the issue, as well as talk about some ways the church and friends can help someone. We’ll list these resources by date so that you can come back to see if we’ve found anything new (in addition to the resources we are developing as well).
Getting some good resources for understanding and help
Becoming better informed about the transgender struggle
An important point to recognize is that this struggle is very real and difficult. It’s very hard for those who comfortably fit with their biological gender to understand the distress that some feel about this. Compassion is called for as a first response (not a quick worldview position that shows that someone has not taken the time to first listen and learn: see James 1: 19).
As of June 20, 2016:
“Mascots and Manipulators,” from World Magazine, May 27, 2016.
Marvin Olasky has written a thoughtful column on distinguishing those who are genuinely confused and struggling from those who are pushing a cultural agenda. He’s right that we need to give to both the love of Christ in presenting our position, but it’s very important to be aware that there is genuinely deep suffering going on for those who struggle here. Key quote: “When Christians enter into bathroom-use debates, we should distinguish between those building careers as transgender activists by deliberately rebelling against God’s order, and those who resent mascot treatment and merely want to find a way to minimize their soul-tearing misery. Strugglers should be shown the love of Christ. Agitators for whom “equality” is not an end-state but an industry—and, sadly, perhaps even a religion—also need compassion, in the form of truth delivered in love.”
“Understanding the Transgender Phenomenon,” by Mark Yarhouse, from Christianity Today, June 8, 2015
Just prior to the release of his book, Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture (IVP Academic), Yarhouse summarized some of what he wrote for a more layman-oriented audience. While the staff at Harvest USA appreciates Yarhouse’s sensitivity to strugglers and his considerable depth in explaining the issues (particularly his segmentation of three frameworks to look at the struggle: Integrity, Disability and Diversity), we disagree with his approach to allow the individual to move along a transition spectrum in order to manage or alleviate his or her gender distress. We hold much more to the positon articulated by Robert Gagnon in his response to Yarhouse (see below).
“Talking to my Boys after the Transgender Talk at Their Public School,” by Brad Hambrick.
Brad Hambrick, a pastor of counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, NC, and an Adjunct Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a simple and elegant post about how to talk with your children about transgenderism. Great quote: “This was not our first conversation about sex and sexuality. If, as parents, we only talk about the subject of sex and ethics reactively, it will distort the message our children hear. Jesus will come across as a defensive guy.”
“Making Sense of Transgenderism,” byFaith Magazine Online, by Megan Fowler
This is a good overview of the issues facing the church today, and our own Tim Geiger, President of Harvest USA, is quoted in the article
Bringing a biblical perspective on what to do or say
Understanding and gaining insight is important, but at some point the church needs to respond with biblical wisdom and practical help. What do we say, and how should the church respond to individuals with a transgender identity and who might be thinking of transitioning? Here’s a few article resources that give some practical helps.
As of August 23, 2016:
“The Tragedy of transgenderism,” by Sam Andreades, World Magazine Online
Sam Andreades, author of Engendered: God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship, asks the question that the media won’t ask: “The most important question remains unasked. It is an obvious question, when you think about it, but it’s one Diane Sawyer—or any media correspondent praising the courage of those undergoing sex-change operations—will never ask Bruce/Caitlin Jenner. It is the elephant in the room that everyone has tacitly agreed to ignore. It is this: “What is a man, Bruce? How do you know you aren’t one? Or, alternatively, what is a woman supposed to feel like? If you cannot answer that question, how can you know you have ‘felt like one all your life’?”
Sam then raises important observations about the nature of gender, the difficulty of exactly saying what it is, and the importance of not rushing to fix what God has given to each of us.
“Transgenderism: A Biblical Truth and Mercy Response: Part 1,” Tim Geiger, Harvest USA online
Tim writes a brief overview of the cultural message today of extreme individualism: that truth about oneself is based on one’s feelings, inner perceptions and life experiences. That’s a critical piece of knowledge to know when thinking about the conflicting perspectives on transgenderism.
“Transgenderism: A Biblical Truth and Mercy Response: Part II,” Tim Geiger, Harvest USA online
What does Scripture say about gender? That’s the focus of this blog post, where Tim points out that Scripture talks about God creating gender generally in creation (male and female) but also that God particularly gives to us the gender we were born with. This truth is foundational to understanding transgenderism, along with a clear recognition that we live in a fallen, broken creation where things do not work as they were intended. But brokenness displays brokenness, a deviation from what was intended in the original creation; it does not establish a merely a different normal.
“Transgenderism: A Biblical Truth and Mercy Response: Part III,” Nicholas Black, Harvest USA online
What do you say to someone who wants to transition? This blog addresses a few key points that can help someone (a friend or a pastor, for example) communicate that there are other ways of thinking about gender confusion, and that learning to live within one’s biological sex is possible for those who struggle.
“The Gospel of Jesus on Sexual Binaries,” by Robert Gagnon, in First Things
Dr. Gagnon addresses the mistaken exegetical interpretative view (based on Jesus’ comments to both the Pharisees and his own followers in Matthew 19: 3-12) that Jesus was not concerned about sexual binaries (male and female), and thus, like the unbiblical argument about homosexuality, would have been OK with transgenderism.
“Conservative Christianity and the Transgender Question,” by Russell Moore, on his webpage
Russell Moore’s blog, now three years old, is still a good one in helping Scripturally-grounded believers approach this issue with truth and mercy. Here’s a great quote:
“As conservative Christians, we do not see transgendered persons as “freaks” to be despised or ridiculed. We acknowledge that there are some persons who feel alienated from their identities as men or as women. Of course that would be the case in a fallen universe in which all of us are alienated, in some way, from how God created us to be.
But we don’t believe this alienation can be solved by pretending as though we have Pharaoh-like dominion over our maleness or femaleness. These categories we believe (along with every civilization before us) are about more than just self-construction, and they can’t be eradicated by a change of clothes or chemical tinkering or a surgeon’s knife, much less by an arbitrary announcement in the high school gym.”
“How Should Christians Respond to the Transgender Phenomenon?” by Robert A. J. Gagnon
Dr. Gagnon responds to Mark A. Yarhouse’s Christianity Today article on transgenderism (see that article listed in the previous section) and how the church should respond. Gagnon agrees with Yarhouse for the need to be compassionate and sensitive to those with gender dysphoria, but stresses the need for the church to not be involved in an individual’s pursuit of thinking they should be transformed into the gender they are not. Good quote: “ Incremental choices made in response to impulses may strengthen the same impulses.”
Resources from individuals and family members impacted by transgender issues
Testimonies from those who transitioned and then realized that it wasn’t the cure-all they were looking for brings powerful stories to help strugglers. Stories from family members deeply affected by a parent who transitioned are also important to read. The culture today emphasizes a narcissistic importance of the individual pursuing self-directed choices, but what is missing is the deep impact such self-centeredness does to family members.
As of June 20, 2016:
Two websites in particular (one Christian) are filled with information, stories, links to articles and other resources.
Help 4 Families is a Christian ministry that provides resources for strugglers and their families.
Denise Shick, whose father transitioned when she was young, speaks of the impact it had on her growing up as a woman. Her testimony, published on the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse website, “When My Father Told Me He Wanted to Be a Woman,” reveals a side of the transgender experience that is rarely told. Denise is the founder of Help 4 Families. http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/03/14661/
Sex Change Regret is a website from Walt Heyer, a former transgendered woman who after many years returned to his biological male gender. The site contains a wealth of articles and web links. He also blogs at WaltHeyer.com.
Walt’s testimony is found here: “I Was a Transgender Woman.” http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/04/14688/
“50 years of Sex Changes, Mental Disorders, and Too Many Suicides,” by Walt Heyer in The Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse website.
Walt Heyer’s blog post here has several important links that give more evidence that transitioning surgery does not give the benefits that this cultural phenomena says it does.
Additional perspectives (such as medical/psychological) that inform
It’s important that those who are considering adopting a transgender identity, or are moving in the direction of transitioning, listen to informed professionals that give information that is not in agreement with the current media positions. Here are a few good resources that you can share with someone:
As of August 23, 2016:
“Surgical Sex: Why We Stopped Doing Sex Change Operations,” by Paul McHugh in First Things
Paul McHugh was the chief psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital when SRS (sexual reassignment surgeries) were performed. Under his leadership, McHugh reviewed the outcomes of those who went through the surgeries, and concluded that it did more harm than good. His last paragraph is both provocative and compelling:
“I have witnessed a great deal of damage from sex-reassignment. The children transformed from their male constitution into female roles suffered prolonged distress and misery as they sensed their natural attitudes. . . As for the adults who came to us claiming to have discovered their “true” sexual identity and to have heard about sex-change operations, we psychiatrists have been distracted from studying the causes and natures of their mental misdirection by preparing them for surgery and for a life in the other sex. We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it.”
CMDA Transgender Identification Ethics Statement,” from Christian Medical & Dental Associations website
This one-page web statement from medical professionals from the Christian Medical & Dental Associations gives a good summary of a biblical view of gender and reasons for the transgender phenomena, medical evidence against sex reassignment surgery, and some ethical positions. Key quote: “The purpose of medicine is to heal the sick, not to collaborate with psychosocial disorders. Whereas treatment of anatomically anomalous sexual phenotypes is restorative, interventions to alter normal sexual anatomy to conform to transgender desires are disruptive to health.”
The American College of Pediatricians has issued the following position regarding children and gender identity.
“Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme,” by Dr. Paul McHugh, in The Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse website.
Dr. McHugh was the chief psychiatrist of Johns Hopkins Hospital, an institution that early on provided transition surgery and then stopped it because the patient outcomes remained problematic. He provides his informed perspective on the cultural trend that is harming and not helping strugglers. Good quote: “The grim fact is that most of these youngsters do not find therapists willing to assess and guide them in ways that permit them to work out their conflicts and correct their assumptions. Rather, they and their families find only ‘gender counselors’ who encourage them in their sexual misassumptions.”