Christians Volunteering Pronouns?

Capitulation to Falsehood is not Christian Kindness

A few years ago, I was invited to a meeting that brought together individuals from across the political spectrum to dialogue with one another on ways to restore civility and find common ground in a growing national divide. Important luminaries were in the room.

One individual in particular (who I will not name since the meeting was off the record) was a well-known gay rights advocate. At some point a side conversation began when groups had split up to do group exercises. The topic of pronoun usage was discussed. My ears perked up because although I had written on the topic, I am rarely exposed to people in close proximity who have the ability to give the type of perspective that really tells me where our nation is going.

I overheard this person and another person from the activist community in Washington D.C. talk about how the practice of stating pronouns in meetings was becoming ever more routine. In activist settings and left-wing think tanks, I was told that before meetings would start, participants would all go around and share their name and pronouns. Then something interesting happened. Rather than celebrate this practice as the next frontier of tolerance and inclusion, these two otherwise progressive activists surprised me with their next comments.

With eye-rolling cynicism, both commented on how the practice of stating pronouns was becoming oppressive and absurd. Both saw the exercise as a sort of silly progressive do-goodism. But they confessed to going along with the practice because that’s what progressivism seems to do: constantly move the goalposts on what counts as appropriately tolerant among woke activists.

These two from the activist set were embarrassed by what they saw in their respective communities. Even well-credentialed progressives such as these two side-eyed the weirdness of it all. Mind you, this was now several years ago, and I now recall looking back on this conversation thinking how the absurdity of stating one’s pronouns in a public setting would never catch on because it sounds, well, positively stupid. It is the sort of practice that conservatives like me wish-cast onto their imagined progressive caricature just hoping it will be true. Well, it is.

Fast forward a few years and now I’m routinely confronted with the question not only of how Christians should think about using the preferred pronouns of others (you shouldn’t, but that’s a different essay for a different day), but what to do if asked to state their own pronouns in a meeting or in a classroom. I get it. Most people want to be accommodating, kind, and non-confrontational. Needless provocation can be off-putting. But this issue isn’t going anywhere so we need to confront it with a biblical perspective on the matter. Yet, there isn’t a “Thou Shall Not State Your Pronoun” verse, so what’s at stake, biblically and theologically, in the issue of stating one’s pronouns?

I’ve had friends talk to me about what to do with their email signatures, what to say in professional meetings, and stunned college freshmen educated in Christian schools aghast that their public university professors began the semester with everyone stating their preferred pronouns.

As a Christian ethicist and an author of a book about transgenderism, it’s probably time for me to give my advice on what I would counsel individuals to do if asked to state their pronouns in a particular context.

Here’s what I would say in an imagined scenario where individuals are going around the room making introductions and asked to state their pronouns: “Hi, my name is Andrew, it’s really nice to meet everyone today. Out of respect for my own conscience and views on the matter, I’m going to refrain from stating my pronouns. But I’m otherwise very excited to be here today and look forward to our meeting.”

That’s it. I don’t think I need to give a belabored explanation (but I would, if asked) in that setting in the interest of time. Of course, I’m sure such a response would be met with no small amount of awkwardness. So what. Politeness does not mean paving over your convictions and one can refrain from stating their pronoun without being bellicose. It is possible to be respectful yet firm in one’s views. Accommodation works in both directions, doesn’t it? If a polite statement of conscience cannot be expressed, we’re in much deeper trouble than just pronouns are concerned. Mouthing ideology one believes is false is totalitarian. As one of my intellectual heroes Robert P. George once commented, “Ordinary authoritarians are content to forbid people from speaking truths. Totalitarians insist on forcing people to speak untruths.” You may not be lying by voicing a pronoun that aligns with your biology, but you are nonetheless being swept up in an ideology premised on lies about human nature.

Perhaps you think my reply is overly simplistic. To which I would reply to that, “Yes, this is quite simple. Don’t engage in a language game built upon false ideology.” If all of this sounds potentially brisk, let me remind you that we shouldn’t confuse what is fraught and controversial with what is actually quite simple. Christian ethics obsesses over ethical dilemmas, where there’s an apparent conflict of goods. But there’s not a conflict here. There only appears to be a conflict between truth and secular appeasement. The only tension, if there is one, is being truthful without discomforting others. But others’ discomfort or your discomfort is not, in itself, sinful. While Christians are commanded to let their speech be gracious (Col. 4:6), decorum über alles is not a sacrosanct principle that serves itself or allows one to vacate other moral norms, such as truthfulness. Decorum must be biblically prescribed. And there are some norms of decorum that do need questioned and dislodged from their place of privilege. Inanity in service to false ideology is one of them.

Perhaps a dose of discomfort would positively help Christians in this age adopt the mindset that their convictions will place them increasingly at odds with the culture. I know many do not like to hear that. But apart from a generational revival, the future for the Christian is going to be more awkward, not less. So settle in.

Again, the call is not to be needlessly provocative, rude, or combative. But there is a need to exercise a modicum of courage and be ready to pay the price to do so. And not giving lip-service to a delusional ideology harming the general population is not a hard decision.

But let me give just a little bit of background to my explanation.

We should name the pronoun issue for what it is: A language game. Language is about naming reality. Pronouns of any sort are instruments that individuals use to wield power. Pronouns possess power only because the culture we live in deems one’s chosen individual identity  to be absolutely central to who one is. Pronouns serve the subjective self, so if one rejects another’s chosen pronouns, it is doubtlessly interpreted as rejecting the person’s attempt at self-description and self-autonomy. That’s what this is all fundamentally about—creating a private field of reality defined by the wishes and fantasies of individuals who know they can provoke submission for fear of cancellation. We should be clear-eyed about this and refuse to go along with it. Once we know what’s really going on, it’s easier to recognize how important rejecting it is.

Aside from refusing to play by the rules in a game one objects to from the start, the biggest issue in offering one’s pronoun is that it signals that the individual has been drafted into the transgender movement. One may not even identity as transgender, but it does not take personally identifying as transgender to get caught up in the transgender worldview. The reason I object to stating pronouns is the same reason I refuse to use the term “cisgender.” “Cisgender” is the term for individuals whose “gender identity” aligns with their biological sex. In other words, what we used to call a “man” or “woman” has a new term employed to pacify activists and ideologues.

But the moment I accede to the term “cisgender,” I’m unwittingly validating the construct that allows for others to consider themselves “transgender.” So, what we have yet again is language being used in service to false ideology. In the transgender debate, Christians must be vigilant to avoid using language that serves falsehood. We should not allow our language to be drafted into a cause that is fundamentally false on the one hand, and positively harmful on the other. Not yielding on this point might be cumbersome at times, but one must really understand the insidious subterranean elements at work in something as putatively routine as pronouns.

I’m not denying that individuals experience gender identity conflicts. What I’m denying is that individuals who experience such conflicts are, ontologically speaking, transgender. Transgender people do not exist. There are not men trapped in women’s bodies and vice versa. If we cannot agree to this, in time, you will find yourself not only calling others by their preferred pronouns but stating yours as well. Transgender as a category is a metaphysical description about a given state of affairs. Language is then employed to codify the philosophical. While transgender people do not exist as a metaphysical category, there are people made in God’s image who have psychological confusion about their bodies. These individuals deserve our care, respect, and compassion because even in their confused state, they bear the marks of dignity given to them by their Creator. They are also owed the truth, especially when no one outside of the church is willing to state it.

I understand the person reading this might find my answer lacking in compassion. But that all depends on what one’s definition of compassion means from the start. The world’s definition of compassion is unquestioned affirmation and inoffensiveness. The problem with this sort of thinking is that, at best, it’s sub-Christian, and, at worst, deeply non-Christian. Biblical compassion is the application of Christ-like mercy to individuals who are caught in situations of duress. Rather than celebrate or affirm duress, true compassion and true love rejoice in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). Perpetuating falsehood under a false rubric of compassion is how the Enemy would have us hate our neighbor.

I want to end this essay by coming back to the progressive individuals who I mentioned at the beginning. Even years back, they saw the practice of stating one’s pronouns as bizarrely absurd. They were right. It is. But our insane culture has the tendency to mainstream and normalize absurdity and we should refuse to go along with it. Christians are not the weird ones for believing that sycophantic language in service to false, harmful ideology is something we must avoid.

*Image Credit: Unsplash

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Andrew T. Walker

Andrew T. Walker Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Managing Editor of WORLD Opinions. He is also a Fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center.