Experts estimate that roughly 700,000 Americans identify as transgender. Based upon that number, it is reasonable to believe that most Christians will interact, and perhaps become well-acquainted with, several transgender persons over the course of their lives. In the course of our interactions and acquaintance, what should be our aim?
To start with the obvious, our primary aim is to love them. When Jesus instructed his disciples to love their neighbors, he broadened their understanding of “neighbor” to imply that they should direct genuine love toward persons outside of their normal ethnic, religious, social, and cultural circles.
Jesus made clear that Christians should be characterized primarily by our love and that this—our love for each other—is the sign that we are actually Christians. The apostle John made it crystal clear when he wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
As Christian ethicist Andrew Walker notes in his book, The Transgender Debate, loving a transgender person involves dignity, empathy, compassion, and patience. We recognize the God-given dignity of a transgender person who is created in God’s image, possesses great worth, and is deserving of honor and respect. We work hard to empathize with them, trying to see life from their perspective. We have compassion on them, befriending them and walking with them through their life experiences and struggles. And we have patience, entering into their lives to love them for the long-haul. Love is hard work, but we Christians should be known for it, particularly among those who disagree with us.
But love for a transgender person also entails telling the truth. We cannot afford to send signals that we approve of them living with a gender identity different from their God-given sex. This isn’t unique to transgenderism, either. Loving a person doesn’t mean that we necessarily approve of their life goals or actions. In fact, the most loving thing we can for people who are pursuing sinful decisions is to warn them about the truth. In relation to persons experiencing gender dysphoria or identifying as transgender, that means telling them the truth about God’s design for gender. We don’t shout them down by calling them freaks, but we lift them up by showing them that they are made in God’s image, that their sin doesn’t need to define them, and that God has a glorious future for them.
One of Christianity’s most compelling teachers is Vaughan Roberts, a prominent Anglican pastor who has experienced same-sex attraction as long as he can remember. Contrary to the narrative of the LGBT community, which would encourage him to “be true to himself,” Roberts has chosen to be celibate because he wishes to live according to God’s design. He knows what it is, from experience, to live according to a pattern that doesn’t “feel” right. But Roberts urges us to take a different view of our lives, which he calls “art restoration.” He explains:
If you see a work of art and you’re asked to restore it, you don’t look at it
and say, “Well, I think he would look much nicer with a pair of spectacles.”
Or, “this scene would look better with a car instead of a hay cart.” To do
that is to break the code of the art restorer.
Art restorers respect the work, and know that their job is to bring out the artist’s original intention.
If we truly want to help people who suffer from gender dysphoria, we’ll help them endure suffering and resist sin as it relates to their bodies. We’ll also help them walk the path of discipleship in thousands of ways unrelated to their gender dysphoria. God doesn’t save people from homosexuality or transgenderism; he saves us from sin, and that’s universal.
Persons with gender dysphoria are like the rest of us—they need hope. As we introduce them to Christ, who alone can transform their hearts and eventually restore their bodies, we give them hope. As they seek their identity in Christ (1 Cor. 6:17), they will be able to find healing for their brokenness. Even though the Lord doesn’t promise to take away our sinful desires or heal us from our present suffering, he does promise to transform our hearts and, later, transform our broken bodies.
[Note: The current post is the fourth installment in a five-part series, “Evangelical Guide to Transgenderism,” including an introduction, a brief explanation of significant terms, a biblical evaluation of gender identity and gender dysphoria, a reflection on relating to individuals with gender dysphoria, and a response to transgenderism as an ideology and a movement.]