Pastor John, what would you say to a man or to a woman who is considering a sex change operation? These are not amorphous folks, they are clearly and obviously genetically and physically a man or a woman, and he or she wants a gender change. What would you say to someone considering a transgender option?
The first thing I want to say is that anybody listening to this who is about to switch this off saying, “Good night. Transgender. That is so irrelevant to me. I don’t need to listen to this today.” Give me a minute before you turn this off. Consider this: The cover of Time magazine for June 9, if you haven’t seen it, has Laverne Cox, born a boy, now living with a different sexual identification, acting on TV in “Orange is the New Black” as a woman. He is featured as an admirable person and pictured as a woman with a painful story in the hope that we, the readers, would all affirm this way of life. The article and the interview with Laverne are all about transgender experience. Like it or not—this is what I am saying to me and to us—like it or not it is following right behind homosexual behavior in our culture in its aim to be mainstream and celebrated. Not to do so will be, as the interview makes crystal clear, to be seen as hung up with our own sexual insecurities and, at worst, as hateful. So it is relevant — really front-burner relevant.
Let me give you another couple of scenarios. What will you do, what will you say — either clergy or layman — if a family visits your church whose fifteen year old son attends your youth group wearing a dress, long, curly hair, painted fingernails, shaved legs, and lipstick, and claims to be a girl? Are your young people ready for that? Have they been taught anything about that? That will come. And by, Are they ready? I mean, Do they have a biblical understanding of sexuality that may help them form a sound judgment about that? And do they have a good grasp of grace and truth so that they can have conviction and compassion in those relationships?
One more situation that I think we are all going to face sooner or later: What will your counsel be to a forty year old man or woman who comes to you, has just received Christ as Savior, Lord, and Treasure of their life and had a sex change surgery twenty years ago and they are now living as a man, born a woman or as a woman, born a man? What will repentance look like in that situation? Those are the questions that are right in front of us and if people feel like, “It is not going to happen to me, I am not going to have to deal with this”, that is probably naïve. If not you, your children probably will. So let me try to help a little bit here.
Here is the main question we are facing: Is gender or sexual identity set by a preference of the individual or by a providence of God? Or to put it in another way: Is my sex determined by my decision in my mind or by God’s design in my nature? That is the key question. We live in a day when individual autonomy — personal preference or choice — is considered by many to have priority over God’s design. That may be because they don’t believe in God or more often because they don’t believe God has spoken with any kind of governing clarity on an issue. Either way, individual preference outweighs God. The reality of my desires has weight. Most people feel they have weight in their own life. God, he doesn’t have any weight. For all practical purposes he is inconsequential for our culture whether he exists or not. Very few people today in our culture are trembling before God even though the Creator told us the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10). In other words, we can’t even get to first base, we can’t even begin to be wise in sexual identity where there is no trembling before the living God.
An example of this amazing elevation of personal individual autonomy over God’s designs in nature is the choice that parents are making — yes, this is happening — that parents are making today to use drugs to postpone puberty in their children so that their sons and daughters can make their own decisions about whether they want to grow up to be a man or a woman. So my question is: Then how shall we think biblically about these things?
Now I am just going to go to one place in the Bible to begin to lay a foundation that I think is absolutely essential. It is Romans 1:19–28. And the main thing to notice here is that the Bible draws a parallel between the way nature teaches truth about God and the way nature teaches truth about male and female sexuality. The point is this: nature is one of God’s methods of revealing what we should prefer, what our choices should be. Preference or choice is guided by God’s design in nature. It is not independent as though you can simply choose your own essence. Whom we should worship is not left to our preferences and who we are sexually is not left to our preferences. Both are dictated by God’s revelation in nature.
“We live in a day when individual autonomy — personal preference or choice — is considered by many to have priority over God’s design.”
So look at verse 19, for example: “What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived… in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:19–20). So God’s divine nature is revealed in physical, material things in the universe, so much so that verse 20 says: “They are without excuse” if they exchange the glory of God for the glory of the creature. In other words, it is clear in God’s mind that what the universe — what the material, physical universe — teaches about God is clear enough about who he is and whom we should worship that we are without excuse if we don’t.
Then — and this is the key thing for the transgender issue — then the text draws the parallel with human sexuality. Just as physical nature reveals the truth about God, so physical nature reveals truth about sexuality identity. Verse 26 goes like this: “Their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (Romans 1:26–27).
So the one thing that I am focusing on here is Paul’s understanding of the role of nature — the material, physical reality of the universe and of our bodies. And what he is saying is that the role nature has in revealing truth about God’s identity as powerful and divine, it also has in revealing our identity as male and female. That is the basic gist of everything I am saying from Romans 9; namely, that the role nature has is to reveal truth about God’s identity as powerful and divine and truth about our identity as male and female. And it is so clear that we are without excuse if we don’t see it.
So if a human looks at the world and chooses to worship a creature rather than the Creator, he is without excuse. And if a man looks at his own body and chooses to play the part of a woman, or a woman looks at her own body and chooses to play the part of a man, they are without excuse, because in both cases — in divine worship and in human sexuality — God has given cosmological and biological nature as the revelation of his will. Humans should worship God. Males should act like men. Females should act like women.
Now back to Laverne Cox for just a moment. He was born a boy and is now trying to live as a woman. He would feel totally opposite from what I just said. In fact, he would be angry with me for using the word “he”.
“The issue is not what nature says inherently, but what it says as God’s revelation of his design for male and female.”
Here is the quote: “Folks want to believe that genitals and biology are like destiny. All these designations are based on a penis and then vagina and that this supposed to say all these different things about who people are. When you think about it, it is kind of ridiculous. People need to be willing to let go of what they think they know about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman, because that doesn’t necessarily mean anything inherently.”
To which I respond: Well, right. Right. That is not my argument or Paul’s argument. The issue is not what nature says inherently, but what it says as God’s revelation of his design for male and female. God is the wise, loving, purposeful Creator and Designer of human life and, as such, he is missing totally from Cox’s interview and, as far as I can tell, from his life. And that will make all the difference.
So this is the foundation that I would lay from Romans 1.
But I really haven’t even gotten to the question, have I? You asked, What would I say to the person who totally agrees with what I am saying here and is caught in a strong sense of identity and desire that is contrary to their anatomy? We can take that up in our next episode. I just wanted to lay a foundation here exegetically in Romans 1 and set the cultural stage for folks.