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Spotlight Interview with Andrew Walker: God and the Transgender Debate: What does the Bible actually say about gender identity

August 9, 2017

Andrew Walker is the director of policy studies for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. We are talking with him about his latest book: God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewtwalk.

Listen to the interview:

Carmen: Andrew, welcome to The Reconnect.

Andrew: Carmen, it’s great to be with you.

Carmen: Okay, so you say that the Bible supplies the framework for understanding the transgender revolution. How so?

Andrew: When I say a framework I’m talking about how we understand the issue from beginning to end. By that, how individuals who experience this incongruence between their gender identity and their biological sex, why they experience that, so we can look at a good creation that has gone awry as a result of sin. We have an understanding for why people would experience psychological states of mind that are problematic. Much in the same way as someone who has anxiety disorder or depression or an eating disorder.

What we also know is that when you come to Christ and when you lay these burdens before the cross, we believe that the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of the cross has the ability to redeem suffering, it has the ability to redeem hardship in this life so that we can make sense of why we’re having these perceptions and what to do with them.

Then ultimately the Christian basis for hope is pointing towards new creation and resurrection so that ultimately we say to someone who has gender dysphoria in this age that you may live in a world where your gender dysphoria does not completely abate because we live in a fallen world but what we have to offer individuals is this hope that some day in the grand scheme of time Christ is going to redeem creation, he’s going to redeem our bodies, and we’re not going to be afflicted by these desires. The Christian framework helps us to understand the way the world is is not the way it once was nor how it will be some day in the future.

Carmen: Okay. Even just in that part of the conversation you acknowledge this is a perception or an incongruence. You use the term “affliction”. You talk about gender dysphoria. Those would not be the affirming ways that folks who want to celebrate transgenderism, that’s just not the language that they use to describe this.

Andrew: Correct.

Carmen: Help us engage with the concept of transgenderism as a moral category, as a moral issue. Maybe do the same with gender fluidity.

Andrew: Wonderful, wonderful question. In this debate, we want to be sure we separate the individuals who have this sense of incongruence between their gender identity and their biological sex, which then presents in what we call gender dysphoria, which is what we would call this stress or anxiety that results from having that incongruence.

There are people who experience that. It’s a medically diagnosable, verifiable disorder that people have. It’s grouped in the same disorders of anxiety, eating disorders, depression but we want to separate that out from what I would call the more politicized element of the transgender movement. The transgender movement at large culturally is what I’m calling it. It’s a cultural political movement that is trying to get society to affirm the notion that men who identify as women can be women and vice versa.

It’s really important to remember that not everyone who has gender dysphoria is necessarily identifying as transgender. In fact, I just read a piece last week about a young woman in Oklahoma who was identifying as transgender, had gender dysphoria, but came to Christ and through her relationship with Christ was able to walk away from that lifestyle. Now I don’t know if that person had their gender dysphoria decrease or not.

What we do know is that person is no longer identifying as transgender because transgender remember is a cultural and political identity that has chock full a lot of philosophical and metaphysical assumptions. Mostly that men can become women and women can become men, which as Christians we would fundamentally reject because we have this understanding of humanity being created in male and female forms down to the level of our chromosomes, down to the level of our reproductive systems, to the level of how our bodies are composed.

We cannot simply rewrite the script of our biology. We cannot reengineer our chromosomes. We want to be the type of people who are sensitive and compassionate but also convictional to recognize that the transgender movement is incompatible to Biblical Christianity, but gender dysphoria flows downstream from living in a broken creation.

Carmen: Folks, we’re talking with Andrew Walker about his new book God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? Andrew, I’m so glad that you brought up the term identity and the term script.

I think that the narrative in our culture is very much sought to be rewritten and identity is a huge part of that. This conversation about sexual identity or gender identity this is new language. Even the concept of sexual orientation, gender identity, SOGI, replacing LGBTQ because LGBT wasn’t enough, because gay and lesbian wasn’t enough. Like on and on and on. The script in our culture is being rewritten.

I think one of the things that I really appreciate about what you’ve done here in this book is that you are helping Christians recognize there is a script that God has been writing from the beginning of time. That script has characters who are male and female, made in his image, and that there is a goodness to creation and a goodness to sexuality and a goodness to mother and father images. Talk with us a little bit about how this transgenderism movement is actually seeking to rewrite the script or destroy the script even of the way God has created human existence.

Andrew: When we look at those first two chapters of Genesis we see the biggest fundamental truth that God created humanity in male and female forms. He created male and female for one another. There’s several implications that flow downstream from that.

First, is that our bodies are created on purpose and by design so there’s a plan for why our bodies are made the way they are. Secondly, it also means that we are creations and God is the creator. Part of living in line with how God has made us is accepting the truth of what our body is revealing about us.

Now again that isn’t to say that some individuals are going to experience these bouts of gender dysphoria. What’s really at stake in this debate is this understanding of creation theology. Whether or not we can in good conscience say that there is such a thing as a man and there is such a thing as a woman.

Around Mother’s Day this past year I saw a commercial from Dove Soap. It was a YouTube commercial. There was a woman who was obviously a man wearing makeup and in women’s clothing ostensibly identifying as transgender calling himself a mother. Now the commercial was cloaked in a lot of sentimentality and motherly affection.

There’s something really, really pernicious about commercials like that because if we are willing to accept the idea that men can become women we’re really negating the fact that there is anything such as objective womanhood or femininity and that there’s anything objective about motherhood. If a man can become a mother then there’s really nothing about motherhood that’s real. It’s just a matter of cultural stereotype.

When we talk about this script what we’re talking about is this blueprint for how God made humanity. You think about this that in making us male and female and making us to relate one another in a complimentary structure it’s kind of that blueprint that informs the foundation for society because men and women have babies together, the family then becomes the foundation of society, and society is nothing but the aggregate of all the families.

What makes sense of that aggregate is the fact that there is continuity between the generations and that continuity is found in the fact that we are made male and female and that being made male and female carries with it this kind of divine obligation to accept what God has made true about our bodies and what he calls us to in how we relate to one another as male and female.

Carmen: Andrew, I think there’s no question that when we start down the path that you just described and we’ve seen the Time magazine cover of a person who looks like a man but is nursing a baby and we now read that this pregnant transgender man in the northwest has had her baby. The language is confusing. It produces chaos.

Even when I would just describe it this way. We have a mother, a woman, who has given birth to a baby but understands herself to be a man and therefore wants to be regarded as the child’s what? What is the term for that? What kind of confusion does that create for the child and for other children and for families in the community and for the church?

What do I do as a mother with kids the same age as the kids being raised by a person who is so confused about their own identity that that child doesn’t even know how to recognize a real mom or a real dad because what they have is a person who is utterly confused about identity. Then what do we do when those folks show up at church? Can you walk us through some of those conversations in the culture?

Andrew: When we have someone who is identifying as transgender and in the trans community, so to speak, the first thing we want to do is not treat them any differently than we would treat any other visitor. I think it’s likely that in conservative evangelical circles if we saw, for example, a man dressed as a woman or a woman who was very obviously really a man, it would probably cause us to do a double take and express a little confusion at first. Maybe some awkward stares.

I really want us to be aware of that and to realize that part of being in the church is to be a refuge for society. Pope Francis uses this illustration that the church is a field hospital so that it’s the job of the church to come behind the wounded of society and to be that refuge. I honestly think that the more the transgender movement goes on in society we’re going to realize there’s an unsustainability behind this because we cannot in good conscience as a society tell people that if you’re born male you can become a female without there being long-term harm. That might be 50 years, it might be 200 years.

What that means is that the church needs to stand and be ready and to know what it believes about being made male and female and the goodness of that. It needs to stand ready to be that compassionate community that’s welcoming people in with experiences that are completely unlike our own. Also, recognizing that as the body of Christ what makes us that witness of being that Christ-centered love in the world is that at the cross everyone’s sins make us equal. We’re all equal at the foot of the cross.

If someone walks in your community who is obviously transgender, love that person. We don’t know what brought that person to a church. We want to be compassionate, we want to be patient is one of the big words here as well. We don’t know what God is going to do with that person in our midst. We just want to be the type of people that are willing to endure long suffering and to be that family for people who if they are leaving the trans community will … It will be like leaving a family. We have to ask the question, “Are we going to step in and step into the breach and be that family for people who are forsaking the world to follow Christ?”

The biggest thing we want to keep in mind is we really want to be sensitive and compassionate. Not be the type of people who raise our eyebrows at other people’s problems when we are all too likely to suppress or play nice with our own sins and our own struggles. We just want to be consistent and compassionate.

Carmen: I think that learning how to disagree in terms of holding convictions relating to what God reveals to be true in scripture and how physical reality lines up. Disagreeing with those who would deny what scripture says and would deny reality in terms of their own biology I think that what you’re saying is we need to learn to disagree without denying the pain of that other person.

We need to recognize the pain for what it is. Even if they don’t. We need to recognize the brokenness and maybe the enslavement that they don’t even recognize themselves. How do I relate to a person who is in spiritual bondage who doesn’t even know it? I think that when you use the word compassion that’s what I hear you describing. Am I hearing you right?

Andrew: Yeah. This is where the church has to really ask the question of how nitty and gritty are we going to be in our willingness to love people? So few people experience this phenomenon of gender dysphoria. It’s such a sensation radically unlike our own that most of us won’t have a category for it.

I don’t struggle with this. I never have. I’ve talked to individuals who have. These individuals are sincere and expressing hurt in the fact that this is involuntary and unchosen but it is what it is and they’re trying to grapple with that faithfully as followers of Christ.

The big thing is just again being patient. It’s loving that individual. Being willing to really listen. A lot of times we’re quick to give answers. In this situation where we are not really familiar with a person’s particular type of struggle and pain it’s going to require a lot more listening than we would typically want to do if it’s a problem or a pain that we’re more familiar with. What you’re saying about balancing compassion is exactly right.

Carmen: I know that one of the things that you just said is going to strike some listeners and they’re going to want me to probe deeper so I’m going to do that. I believe you just described a Christian who is struggling with gender dysphoria. You did not say there is a transgender Christian. Can you distinguish those two things?

Andrew: Yes. I’m really glad that you caught onto that. It comes back to what I said earlier. We want to distinguish between gender dysphoric individuals and transgender individuals. I want to be very forthright and very clear and respectful when I say this but I think identifying as transgender whereby you are rejecting the category of your biological sex and choosing to live as a member of the opposite sex-I think that is incompatible with following Christ because it’s casting off what God has said about the truth of our bodies. That our maleness and femaleness again is linked to our chromosomes, it’s linked to our reproductive systems, and that our bodies bear the marks of our maleness or our femaleness. Casting that off, telling God that I am my own sovereign creator, is to reject God’s creation. It’s to reject his blueprint for how he made humans.

At the same time, we again want to say that there are individuals who are going to experience gender dysphoria, who don’t see that as an identity, who see this as something that they want relief from, but they may never get this side of the eschaton before the creation and resurrection. What that means is there are going to be individuals who experience their dysphoria possibly the rest of their life.

It means they’re rejecting the category of being transgender, it means that they’re identifying with their biological sex, but they still grapple with this internal battle in their mind. It’s a battle for the mind, so to speak. I have no problem extending the label of Christian to someone who struggles with gender dysphoria in the same way that I have no problem extending the label of Christian to someone who struggles with depression or another issue related to mental health.

It’s an issue of how are you grappling with this? Are you finding your identity in this or are you trying to wrestle with this in obedience to Christ? Do you see this as something that is a cross to bear, that you’re leaning on Christ for him to be your all sufficient grace? Or are you throwing off the categories of Biblical Christianity and saying that you’re identifying with a political community that’s based on an anthropological falsehood.

We want to be the type of people that even in compassion we want to say, “Listen, we know you might experience these sensations but that does not make you authentically a man or a woman.” We want to live in line with what God says about our biological sex because the ultimate truth is that our bodies do not lie to us but our minds very well can.

Carmen: Andrew Walker, thank you for helping us speak truth on this very real issue in the very real times which we live. Again, folks, the book is God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? The author is Andrew Walker. You can check it all out at AndrewTWalker.com. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewtwalk. Andrew, thank you for joining us today on The Reconnect.

Andrew: Carmen, great to be with you.

 


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