By now, it should be apparent to all that a cultural shift has occurred in the West. On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the Obergefell decision to change the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex unions. Days later, Vanity Fair released the now famous July issue of their magazine, displaying former Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner wearing provocative women’s clothing, long hair, make-up, and breast-implants, declaring, “Call Me Caitlyn.”
The message to all was loud and clear: men can become women, and women can become men. To further confirm this new orthodoxy, Glamour magazine went on to award Jenner with their “Woman of the Year” award. Today, as the number of acclaimed movies and shows about transgenderism continues to grow, it appears that any semblance of the Christian sexual ethic laid forth in the Scripture—one the West previously held closely—has clearly been expunged.
In God and the Transgender Debate, Andrew T. Walker analyzes this shift from a Christian perspective, seeking to understand what lies behind these developments in our culture and what the Bible has to say regarding transgenderism. With a gentle, pastoral tone, Walker navigates through these tough issues, pointing the reader to Scripture as the final authority. His hope to those on both sides of this debate is to offer “a compassionate way forward” (18) as we tackle this difficult topic. Above all, though, his book is a heartfelt, practical word to the church about our call to love and receive sinners, particularly those struggling with gender dysphoria.
Defining Our Terms
As with any subject we will inevitably speak past one another if we are not careful to define our terms. Thus, Walker takes time to explain the five most commonly used words in reference to this topic: sex (biological composition making one male or female – XY, XX), gender (behaviors and cultural norms associated with biological sex), gender identity (one’s self-perception of their gender), gender dysphoria (the feeling that one’s gender identity does not match one’s biological sex), and transgender (one who identifies or expresses a gender identity that does not match their biological sex). The question becomes, then, what does the Bible have to say about gender issues?
In addressing this question, Walker first establishes God’s right as the Creator to speak to us on this matter. He says, “we are creatures with a Creator…We have neither the authority nor the ability to rewrite or reconfigure how God made his world…And, since our bodies are part of his world, made by him, his authority extends to us” (51). As God is the Creator of all things, there is no area in this universe that is not under His purview, no realm of our life to which He has not spoken, and no fact in existence that is not brimming with purposeful design. This includes the question of how gender relates to sex.
God’s Purpose in Creation
Walker establishes what God says about the nature and purpose of His creation by taking the reader through the first two chapters of Genesis. In the first chapter of Genesis, as a preamble to creating mankind, God says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over…all the earth” (Gen 1:26). Here we have God’s declaration of His purposeful intent for mankind. The man and woman were not mere happenstance or the final development in a long line of accidents, but handmade by God to be His image-bearers and representatives on earth through dominion and flourishing. Therefore, “God created man in His own image…male and female He created them” (v. 27). It is with this holy purpose in place that God then declares His creation to be “very good” (v. 31).
Walker insightfully notes that God’s image is not demonstrated in their mere humanness, but in their being male and female humans. His image-bearing is diversified between the two genders such that their maleness and femaleness is essential to their existence. We see this further developed in Genesis 2: man is created out of the dust of the ground, but woman is not created in the same fashion—she is formed from Adam’s rib. And God declares that what was taken out of man will, in the act of marriage and sexual union, “become one flesh” again (v. 24). This is their governing principle, and the foundation of life.
What is a man? Genesis tells us that a man is a human who can be united to a woman, a wife, with whom he can physically become “one flesh”…A person with male anatomy is reflecting physically the fact that they are created a man. A person with female anatomy is reflecting that she is a woman. Maleness isn’t only anatomy, but anatomy shows that there is maleness. And femaleness isn’t only anatomy, but anatomy shows that there is femaleness. Men and women are more than just their anatomy, but they are not less.God and the Transgender Debate, 54.
The confusion of gender dysphoria is when one deeply feels that their biological sex does not match their gender identity. Walker explains that the ultimate cause of this is the fall of mankind in Genesis 3, when sin entered the world. Ever since that moment, all people have been born disordered in every imaginable way. Feelings of gender dysphoria (along with every other disordered feeling or passion) were not present in God’s original “very good” creation; they are intruders.
However sincerely we may feel something to be true, God’s created intention and purpose cannot be removed or changed as a result of the Fall. It stands firm. Walker makes it clear, though, that this is not some austere restriction God has set in place, but the good, joyful, blessed reality in which we get to participate. As those who know what God has said, we are therefore not just solemn harbingers, warning people about what they can’t do, but joyful messengers proclaiming the good purpose of our Creator, and the blessings found therein. This brings us to what is really at the heart of the book.
The Call for Compassion
Throughout his writing, Walker has sought to lay upon the heart of the church a reminder to love those who struggle with gender dysphoria. He tells us that “at its heart, this debate isn’t about a debate. It’s about people: precious people made in the image of God” (14). This should challenge us to consider whether or not we have been compassionate towards those in the church whose struggle is unlike our own, or if we have looked down on them and been dismissive. Paul exhorts us, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).
In helping us to remedy any deficiencies in Christian charity, Walker provides real stories and hypothetical scenarios for us to consider so that we may be ready to minister when given the opportunity. We cannot hope to be effective when the time comes if we are negligent to prepare. Not only must we be able and ready to speak the truth about what God says about gender; we must be prepared to do so with gentleness, compassion, and love to all. This is the high call of the Christian.
There is certainly much to laud in Walker’s work from his clear upholding of the biblical foundation of gender and sexuality to his challenge to the church to excel in being compassionate toward broken people. This book will surely provide insight in these areas to those who are uninformed or confused by this debate. Regrettably, there are two critical deficiencies in Walker’s work. I will categorize them as (1) an error of commission; and (2) an error of omission.
Walker’s Error of Commission
The error of commission is that Walker maintains the position that gender dysphoria is not a sin or choice. He says, “To feel that your body is one sex and your self is a different gender is not sinful” (68). He categorizes the experience as simply the result of living in a fallen world, similar to having cancer. This, along with the issue of whether same-sex attraction or temptation in general is sinful, is admittedly a point of much disagreement in the church, so we must return to the Scripture for clarification. In Scripture, temptation is spoken of primarily as external to the subject—e.g., being tempted by the devil. This kind of external temptation we can safely rule out as not sinful for a person to encounter, so long as it remains external.
James, however, gives us great insight into the kind of temptation that arises internally from our hearts. He says, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (1:14-15). It’s important to note that the three-stage progression here is not suggesting that sin has not been committed until stage two. In his commentary on the book of James, John Calvin notes, “As the inclination and excitement to sin are inward, in vain does the sinner seek an [sic] cause from an external impulse. At the same time these two effects of lust ought to be noticed—that it ensnares us by its allurements, and that it does us away; each of which is sufficient to render us guilty.” Gender dysphoria is not a temptation external to the subject, but arises within from one’s disordered heart. Therefore, like any other temptation of this kind, it is sinful.
It is true to a certain extent that we do not choose those things to which we are particularly enticed. We can’t, for instance, by an act of will decide that we will not be tempted to smash our thumb with a hammer. However, the types of sinful proclivities with which we each struggle with are organic outgrowths of our corrupt hearts, and develop and change as we do. Being contrary to the character of God, they remain sinful.
Walker’s Error of Omission
Walker’s error of omission can best be described as simply only telling half of the story. He paints all those who experience gender dysphoria and transgenderism with the same broad brush, as victims of their psychology—broken, hurting people in need of a listening ear. Confusing the matter further, Walker fails to make clear whether he is speaking about believers or unbelievers. This is misleading. Yes, to a degree we are all hurting and broken. But more importantly, apart from Christ we are all vile, wicked, rebellious enemies of God and thoroughly contemptuous of His law. Transgendered people do not hold a protected status, but are sinners just like the rest of us.
As I mentioned before, Walker writes with a gentle tone, but this he does to a fault, failing to tell the unbelievers everything they need to hear. In seeking to emulate Christ’s tenderness, he fails to mention that the Lord unequivocally calls all men to repent and spoke often of the eternal consequences of their sins–something Walker fails to do. Christ demonstrated that gentleness is not contrary to rebuke, and that love requires speaking hard truths. His methodology at this point is simply insufficient to truly minister to transgender people with biblical love. As Jude tells us, “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (1:22-23).
So who would I recommend this book to? If you are just starting to think about transgender issues, and maybe confused as to what the Bible really says, this book will help you grasp the biblical foundations of gender and sexuality. Maybe you’re someone who has never met a transgender person, and feel you would be very uncomfortable if you did. In that case, this book may provide you some insight into their pain and struggles, and help you develop greater empathy and courage to speak to them. Ultimately, at 174 pages, this book is really just a primer, and not exhaustive in its scope. So, as with all books, read with a discerning eye, examine all things through the lens of Scripture, and mine the gold where you find it.