The church I grew up in went through a major conflict over the topic of “social drinking.” Not social studies or social media. The question was if a Christian could have an occasional glass of wine or beer. It wasn’t about getting drunk – that answer was obvious.
Other churches drew the boundaries over whether a Christian could play cards, go to the movies, or wear shorts at a church-sponsored event.
In fact, for one brief moment in 1991, I actually interviewed for a youth pastor position in Nashville. I was asked about my “policy” for letting kids wear shorts. I found out that my answer — “Well, if it’s hot” – was the wrong answer!
There are two truths every generation must face:
- Every generation thinks things are worse than used to be.
- Every generation has its own set of issues that it must wrestle with.
In 1951, Richard Niebuhr (Yale University) wrote Christ and Culture, trying to develop a framework for how the church interacts with culture.
In 1989, then-Duke professors Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon wrote Resident Aliens on the same topic.
Here’s our challenge: since time of Constantine until a few years ago, Christianity and Western culture have been pretty much the same thing.
Christianity enjoyed the support of the state; in turn, Christianity supported the state. But that is changing – and it’s not all bad. When you look at the New Testament, you’ll find that the church has always been called to live as resident aliens – as people for whom this world is not our final destination.
How do we live as resident aliens? When it comes to cultural issues, Christians are often tempted to either condemn everything or condone everything.
Neither would be the response of Jesus.
The purpose of our new series at Mountainview is to delve into issues that church often avoids. Not to condemn or to condone – but to hear what Jesus would say about …
- Caitlyn Jenner (transgender issues)
- The Next President (responsibilities of governing)
- Planned Parenthood (abortion and the sanctity of life)
- Miley Cyrus (modesty and sensuality)
- Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg (responsibilities of wealth)
Each week we will be addressing the issue at hand and not the individual. So let’s just dive right in … what would Jesus say to the transgendered community?
Let’s start by defining a few terms.
Gender identity: How people experience themselves as male or female, including how masculine or feminine they feel.
Gender dysphoria: A deep and abiding discomfort over the incongruence between one’s biological sex and one’s psychological and emotional experience of gender.
Transgender: An umbrella term for the many ways in which people might experience and/or express their gender identities differently from people whose sense of gender identity is congruent with their biological sex.
Transsexual: A person who believes he or she was born in the “wrong” body (of the other sex) and wishes to transition (or has transitioned) through hormonal treatment and sex reassignment surgery.
Enough definitions. Does Jesus have anything to say about gender issues? To answer that requires a little context.
God’s design for sexuality begins in Genesis 1:26-27 …
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
The very first chapter of the Bible claims that God made people in his image; male and female he created them. This distinction is foundational to the Christian conception of humanity.
Fast-forward to the Gospels. Jesus Christ himself appeals to this text and its explanation of distinct genders when explaining his view of divorce:
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” — Matthew 19:3-6
Pope John Paul II explained it as Jesus appealing to “the beginning” as evidence of a created pattern of sexuality. In Pope John Paul’s words, we were created with “spousal” bodies designed for reproduction.
What does this mean?
Let’s put it another way: Is gender or sexual identity set by the personal preference of the individual or by the providence of God?
If I heard Jesus correctly, he would say it is set by the providence of God – that God made you and me as either male and female.
But is sexual identity simply a matter of biology? If it were just a matter of a few different body parts here and there, then changing your gender identity would be similar to having a kidney transplant.
But God didn’t create us out of generic human stuff. He made two different kinds of persons.
That explains a bit of the biblical background on gender identity.
But how would Jesus have his followers respond to the transgender issue? Specifically, how should we respond to transgender people? Here are my five suggestions:
- We should call all people to place their trust in Jesus.
- We should love our transgender neighbors and seek their good.
- We should condemn acts of abuse and bullying done towards transgendered people.
- We should oppose efforts to refashion one’s gender identity using means such as gender reassignment surgery.
- We should remember that the church is a community of broken people who have been saved by grace.
In short, we want to respond like Jesus would respond.
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” — Matthew 9:35-38