‘”Transgenderism” has been in the news constantly. Though many of us had just barely heard about the “T” of LGBT prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of same sex marriage, the developments since then have proven beyond all doubt that same sex marriage was simply one more goal checked off in the ongoing agenda that seeks to transform completely our culture’s views about sexuality. Almost immediately, the push for transgender “rights” began as activists focused on one of the last places in society where the absolute distinction between male and female was maintained: the bathroom.
Our culture now says that gender is not the same as sex. Biologically we may identify an individual as male or female, but what really matters is their gender and this is not determined by biology. Instead, a person is whatever gender he decides he is (for the purpose of simplicity I will use the male example in this post, but obviously all of the same things are true for females). So if a biological male decides that he is in fact a woman, then that is his gender and no one can question this. All people who interact with that individual must acknowledge and operate on the basis of this self-identification.
This cultural influence directly impacts the Church. There are members in our congregations who adopt the culture’s thought about transgenderism. There are individuals outside our congregations and fellowship who identity in these ways and come to us in the hopes of being received as members. What are Lutherans (and Christians in general) who believe and confess the truth and authority of God’s revelation in Scripture to think about this? How are we to respond to these individuals?
Naturally, the place to begin is with God’s Word. We read in Genesis 1:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28 ESV)We learn here that God created man to be male and female. He then commanded them to reproduce and have children.
Next in Genesis we read:
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18-24 ESV)We learn in this text that God created woman from the man in order to be the helper corresponding to him. He created them to be different from one another, yet complementary. This fact is bodily demonstrated in sexual intercourse as they become one flesh – a union with profound implications for how God now views the couple. This one flesh union also produces the children that God commanded in Genesis 1.
Finally, Jesus expresses this very same view:
He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”These texts describe how God has ordered his creation. One does not need to know these texts in order to recognize this ordering. Thus all through history people have recognized that there are men and there are women, and that they are different. They are distinguished by obvious differences in anatomy. They have different genitalia. Only a woman can carry a developing baby and give birth to the child. It is necessary for a man and a woman to have sexual intercourse in order to conceive a child. Two men cannot achieve this, nor can two women. When a baby is born, it is either a boy or a girl and this basic fact can never change. Scientific advances have revealed that the difference between male and female extends all the way down to our chromosomes. A person is either XY or XX and this determines whether the individual is male or female.
(Matthew 19:4-6 ESV)
The claims about transgenderism exist because there are individuals who have feelings and thoughts that lead them to question whether they really are the sex that their anatomy and chromosomes so clearly declare them to be. A man may feel that he is “really” a woman, even though his body is that of a male. When the mind tells the individual something that contradicts the reality of his body to such an extent that the individual decides his body is “wrong,” the mind is profoundly disordered. This is a clear case of mental illness.
When a man tells you that he is really a woman, something is obviously very wrong with the person. In the past this was always the common assessment of society. Formerly, this condition was known as gender identity disorder. Today it is called gender dysphoria. The change in terms removed the word “disorder” and this has been prompted by the new ideology that has arisen in our culture. Rather than saying the person is mentally ill, the world now says that the person is expressing what he really is. A biological man who claims that he is a woman defines reality for himself and all those around him. They must accept and embrace his self-identification.
When considering transgenderism, we need to start with the biblical view about the human body. A basic presupposition of the biblical worldview is the fundamental goodness of God’s material creation. As God makes the material creation in Genesis 1, six times we hear the refrain that it was “good” (1:4, 10, 12,18, 21, 25). This reaches its crescendo on the sixth day when we hear in 1:31, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good”. God thinks his material creation is “good stuff.”
A second presupposition of the biblical worldview that we meet in Genesis 1-2 is related to this. God’s creation of Adam in Genesis 2:7 prepares us to understand that in the biblical worldview, a human being is comprised of a body and a soul joined together in a unity. We hear in this verse, "then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7 ESV). We learn that human beings are a dichotomy of body and soul, for as Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 ESV).
The important thing to note is not simply that we are a dichotomy of a body and soul. It is instead the fact that a living human being as created and intended by God is the unity of a body and a soul. Human existence apart from a material body does not match God’s original creation and divine intention. That is why the ultimate goal of the Christian faith is the return of Jesus Christ on the Last Day when he will raise and transform our bodies to be like his resurrected body (Phil 3:20-21; Rom 8:22-23; 1 Cor 15:51-52).
Human life cannot be lived apart from the body that God has given to each one of us. It is his gift. In the Small Catechism’s explanation of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther wrote: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that he has given me my body and soul eyes, ears, and all my members….” God has made each one of us as male or female. If he made us male, then our body has chromosomes that are XY and male genitalia. If he made us female, then our body has chromosomes that are XX, female genitalia, breasts, ovaries, fallopian tubes, a uterus and a vagina.
The creature does not get to tell the Creator that he was given the wrong body. To do so is to reject the gift God has given and to try to be one’s own god. The creature does not get to mutilate the body God has given in the attempt to refashion it according to his own thoughts and will. For this reason, transgenderism is a sinful rejection of God and his will for the individual.
This is not to deny that people experience mental illness in which their thoughts and feelings may tell them that they have the wrong body. Sadly, in a small percentage of people the condition of gender dysphoria is all too real. I can say this on the basis of my own pastoral experience. Such an individual knows that he was born as a male and has a male body. However, persistent feelings and thoughts tell him that he is really a woman and that his male body “doesn’t match” what he really is.
As Christians, what are we to make of this condition and how do we minister to these individuals? The first thing to recognize is that gender dysphoria finds it source in the same cause as depression, addiction, homosexuality, Down syndrome, cancer, diabetes, and the flu. They all have been caused by the sin that entered the world in the Fall. Sin brought sickness and death to God’s creation. We are now warped and twisted by sin all the way down to our genes and this fact manifests itself in different ways in our lives (this includes those who experience the different and rare condition where they have a mix of male and female identifying features or a chromosomal abnormality).
We minister to people experiencing gender dysphoria with love and compassion. They are suffering and they need to hear about the God’s love in Christ for them which promises forgiveness and support in the present, and final victory in the resurrection on the Last Day. At the same time, we also speak the truth of God’s Word to them. God has created the man as male, and that body is God’s gift. He cannot ignore or reject this basic fact. It is a reality of his existence before God, and nothing that he may think or feel can change this.
God’s Word about his creation of the individual as a male and the ordering of his creation is more real than the individual’s thoughts about his own body to the contrary. We tell the person that when those thoughts and feelings arise, the Christian needs to reject them as false. They come from the father of lies who told the first lie to Eve, “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5). Their source is sin and what the Fall has done to the individual – something for which Christ by his death and resurrection has already provided the answer, even as the individual awaits the final arrival of God’s kingdom on the Last Day. As we live in the “not yet” and look for Jesus’ return it is necessary to struggle against these feeling and thoughts, and to reject them as false just as we struggle against other ways that sin manifests itself in our experience (see Gal 5:24; Rom 8:12-13).
The issue with a person experiencing gender dysphoria is not whether he has these thoughts and feelings. All people experience thoughts and feelings that find their source in sin and our fallenness. What matters is how a person chooses to view those thoughts/feelings and to deal with them.
A man suffering from gender dysphoria experiences thoughts and feeling that he is really a woman and that he has the wrong body. A Christian will struggle against these thoughts/feelings and reject them as false because they contradict God’s Word and the body which God has given to him. He will recognize that he experiences such thoughts because he is a fallen sinner and will confess his sinful condition. He will pray for God’s help against these thoughts/feelings, and receive the Means of Grace for forgiveness and strength for the struggle. He will seek encouragement and support from fellow believers who are part of the Body of Christ – the Church.
What he will not do is to embrace and accept these thoughts/feelings because he considers them to be true. He will not listen to the world which tells him that these thoughts/feelings are true, and that in fact they determine what he really is. He will not decide that he really does have the “wrong body.” He will not seek to act on these thoughts/feelings by declaring publicly that this is his reality – that he is a woman – as he changes his name to that of a woman and dresses as a woman. And finally, he won’t take medical actions to transform his body into the partial imitation of a woman (for he never can actually be a woman).
Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32 ESV). Christians are sinners who repent and receive forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Those who do not repent and confess sin, cannot be received into Christ’s Church or remain in her. This description includes the individual who accepts the thoughts/feelings of gender dysphoria as being true and chooses to act upon them while persistently ignoring God’s truth that is spoken to him. Instead, all who listen to God’s Word and allow it to determine what is true find forgiveness and fellowship in the Church as they live in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.