Church Plays Catch-Up
“The cultural issues swirling around the American and Western church require Christians and church leaders to have a new level of theological perception. If we believe our faith has a firm grasp on the truth about who God is and how he created humanity, it is important for us to take a serious look at the culture around us through the lens of our theology. And so it is with one of the most sensitive and volatile issues today – the transgender debate. Andrew T. Walker is the Director of Policy Studies with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and he has written a book designed to give the Christian a solid biblical theology of the human person and ways in which we can think through this issue. I agree with Walker as he writes early in the book, “There’s one more reason I’ve written this book: I’d love for the church not to be constantly playing catch-up in the culture” (pg. 17). It seems as if the evangelical church is always engaging these issues after being rocked back on their heels, and it is wise for us to tackle them head-on with biblical clarity, truth, and love. The first few chapters of the book lay a worldview groundwork for the issue. How did we get to this point? What kinds of assumptions and questions brought us to a point where our culture is taking a one-sided view on a complicated issue? Here, Walker defines some common terms and begins to point the reader toward answers found in Christian theology. In the second section, chapters 5-8, he builds a theology of the human person made in the image of God, with all the relevant consequences. While the author does a good job of maintaining an irenic and compassionate tone throughout, he is also clear where Scripture is clear. God made us male and female, and to flourish as people made in the image of God we need to learn to live as created. Freedom and flourishing are not found in capitulating to feelings of gender dysphoria, but by living in Christ. This means some difficult decisions for some. And it will be a long journey for those who desire to follow Christ and deny what feels natural to them, or what may be overwhelmingly confusing to them. In the third part of the book, Walker applies his theological reflection to several specific issues. This may be the most challenging part of the book as Walker develops a theology the cross (Matt. 16:24-25). He argues that those who struggle with gender dysphoria need to deny that to faithfully follow Christ. Consequently, he drives home the point that all of us need to deny ourselves – the things that feel or seem right or natural but are dishonoring to Christ – in order to follow Jesus. And finally, Walker answers several pressing questions such as, “Can someone be transgender and Christian?” and “What should church elders/leaders do if a congregation member asks for their child to be identified as the opposite gender (or neither gender)?” All in all, we need books like this one. It is an easy read, but that makes it valuable as an introduction to an orthodox Christian view on this issue, and useful to a church, a board, a small group, or any individual who wants to faithfully think through this contentious issue.”
- Phillip S.
Great, Pastorally Focused Book
“A helpful book focusing on the pastoral and practical aspects of dealing with the transgender issue. Chapters 5 and 6 contain the core argument for why transgenderism is contrary to Biblical teaching and, hence, wrong. The earlier chapters provide the background for that argument and the following chapters focus on practical issues: the "What now?" aspect. I will try to summarize Walker's argument in chapters five: 1. God designed humans as male and female. 2. God's design establishes authoritative boundaries for our sex. 3. If God has designed us with a male body, we have a duty to live according to our maleness (and vice versa fore being designed with a female body). Chapter six addresses the issue of the results of sin upon our psychology. Gender dysphoria is a non-sinful result of the fall. Transgenderism (choosing to live according to one's disordered desires or feelings) is a sinful response to gender dysphoria. One obvious response to this argument that Walker never really addresses is this: just as our psychology can be disordered as a result of the fall, so too can our bodies be disordered. So maybe it's not my psychology that is disordered, but my body. Walker does touch on this, or on a related point, briefly in chapter six. He addresses the "brain-sex theory" (the idea that people with gender dysphoria have a "female" brain or a brain that has female characteristics) by saying that (1) there is no good evidence for this theory and (2) our bodies are broken. Point (1) is good, but point (2) doesn't really address the issue that the person's body is wrong rather than their brain. Nevertheless, Walker does give us the seeds for how we might respond. At one point in the same chapter Walker quotes psychiatrist Paul McHugh, who notes that gender dysphoria is similar to other "disordered assumptions about the body" like anorexia or body dysmorphic disorder. We could apply a sort of reductio ad absurdum to the person who takes this line of argument: if your assumption is that the body is wrong rather than the psychology, then on what basis do we decide that the anorexic's psychology is wrong rather than the body having the wrong weight? Our answer to the anorexic is that it is a matter of empirical fact that the body is a perfectly healthy and normal weight (sans the effects of anorexia). Likewise, it's a matter of empirical fact that the body of the transgender person is perfectly healthy and normal in regards to its sex. We already know that humans sometimes suffer from psychological disorders in which they believe their body is somehow wrong (either having the wrong limb, the wrong weight, the wrong color (Rachel Dolezal) or the wrong species (Dennis Avner)). It seems much more plausible, given the health or normalcy of the body, that gender dysphoria is just another one of these types of psychological problems. Furthermore, the claims of the transgender person (that it is their body that is wrong, not their psychology) has no empirical parallel. Some people are born with bodily defects (a missing or deformed hand, for instance). But in these cases it's obvious that the limb is not healthy or whole. It's never been the case that a person was born with a perfectly healthy and functioning hand that wasn't his hand. A transgender person's body is perfectly healthy and whole. The question of people who are intersex often comes up at this point. Walker addresses this on pp. 157-159. He correctly points out that the narrative (my term) of transgenderism is not analogous to cases of intersex. In the case of people who are intersex, the sex of their body is unclear. In the case of transgender people, the sex of their body is clear. As Walker notes: "Transgender identities are built on the assumption that biological sex is known and clear--and then rejected" (p. 158). Intersex people have an empirically verifiable ambiguity in their sex, transgenders do not. Another area that Walker could have fleshed out more is the relationship between gender and sex. According to Walker, gender is the culturally appropriate expression of our sex. He acknowledges the cultural subjectivity here but he also maintains that gender should follow sex. Thus, there are boundaries. But what are those boundaries? Walker doesn't really touch on these except to say that leadership and protection are appropriate for men and nurturing and mothering are appropriate for women. But we should probably cut Walker some slack for a difficult issue. There are clear physical differences between men and women, but for any specific man and woman the differences will not match up the same as for a different pair. Likewise, the gender boundaries are going to be somewhat fuzzy. Regarding the rest of the book: The pastoral advice hits all the points one would expect (don't make fun of transgender people, be loving, humble, etc.). But the fact that most people could already guess all the main points that Walker is going to hit here doesn't make it worthless. His framing of the issue is impactful and he moves beyond generalities to give concrete particulars of, say, what it should look like to love our transgender neighbors. I thought I might have a lot to say in disagreement with what he writes in chapter 11, regarding children and public schooling. The chapter makes it sound as though he is characterizing the decision to not put your child in public school as "panic." What he says on page 134 sounds as though we should let transgender activists (and others) dictate when we have a conversation with our kids about issues which they surely can't understand. For instance, after saying "Will you panic, withdraw your child from school, and then aim to shield them from this--and everything else that is wrong 'out there' in the world? ... You can't avoid your child having this conversation, sooner or later. ... The temptation to shield our children from such topics is understandable, but it is not acceptable." These paragraphs had me vigorously scribbling notes of disagreement: Withdrawing your kids isn't "panic" but the reasonable response to schools seeking to train up our children in counter-biblical worldviews. Sure, we should eventually discuss gender issues with our kids. But why should we be forced to have this conversation with our five year olds just because trans activists have infiltrated my kids kindergarten class? Why do they get to dictate the time-table? Why does my kid have to be in public school to broach these issues? etc. But reading into chapter 12 assuaged my concern here. Perhaps what Walker is trying to critique in this section could be more clearly written, because what he states regarding schooling in chapter 12 falls in line with everything I was thinking as I read this section in chapter 11. Over all this is a great book. I would be interested in seeing a more robust case against the transgender narrative situated in our contemporary political and legal context (hopefully Ryan Anderson's forthcoming book will address that). As I stated, the focus of this book is on the pastoral side. That's a needed perspective that if we neglect can easily lead to adopting unloving and adversarial attitudes towards our transgender neighbors.”
- J. R. B.