The Truth Shall Set You Free
A story in Axios last June claimed religious adults would be comfortable learning that a friend uses gender-neutral pronouns–such as they or them rather than he or she. This even as most evangelicals hold that only two genders exist (i.e., the traditional gender binary).
Some evangelical leaders, like J.D. Greear, have suggested that these two data points are reconcilable. That is, that, for more or less evangelistic purposes, the new array of alternative pronouns can be used by Christians to mitigate offense to the claimants of such pronouns. Otherwise, offense might be given that would erect a barrier between a transgender, non-binary, etc. person and the Gospel.
Christians should reject this.
In short, Christians should not use so-called preferred pronouns because perpetuates and participates in a lie against God’s created order, namely, that gender or sex is negotiable and malleable. Moreover, capitulating to preferred pronoun usage participates in a delusion and encourages literally unrealistic lives, lives dedicated in the extreme to the idolatry of the self.
Contrary to what some assume, the real barrier to the Gospel in this context would be play acting in the linguistic tricks enacted by the latest wave of the sexual revolution. The best thing for those who falsely believe that they can transcend God’s world is to tell them the truth. This is not an excuse for rudeness or haughtiness, but neither is evangelism an excuse for dishonesty. And that is fundamentally what is at stake.
The Use of Pronouns
Preston Sprinkle, in his book Embodied, suggests that Christians should use pronouns that trans-identified people embrace because of how they define themselves. “Pronoun hospitality,” as he calls it, means that if a woman claims to be a trans man, we should use he/him or they/them. If a man claims to be a trans woman, we should use she/her or they/them.
Sprinkle considers this a simple matter of respect and “common courtesy” which is necessary to establish personal relationships unto conversion. He also makes clear that it is not dishonest for a transgender person to claim alternative pronouns and, presumably, to demand others use them. Here already we have validation of the transgender delusion not only on a (misguided) prudential basis but in principle. Through all this, Sprinkle ascribes to Christianity, its scriptural and creedal doctrine, but is willing to simultaneously entertain falsehood as, at best, a provisional evangelistic strategy. Whatever his motives, Sprinkle violates his own alleged priors by denying himself and other Christians the Biblical duty and privilege to speak truth in love. Compassion and love do not necessitate dishonesty and obfuscation. Neither does the Holy Spirit require culture-sensitive concessions.
In his book, God and the Transgender Debate, Andrew Walker rightly argues that as Christians, we should be willing to speak truthfully to our transgender neighbors and understand that truth-telling is loving our neighbor, even if it is not received that way. Indeed, telling the truth is the most loving thing a Christian can do especially when it has to do with naming sin, attesting to reality, and proclaiming the Gospel. Indulging, frankly, fake pronouns which contradict given, created sex and corresponding gendered identification, as Sprinkle advocates, creates a tension, says Walker, between created reality and the example of Christ. It is not possible for a Christian, one who believes in the divinity of Christ and his unity with the Father to operate in such a tension. To pretend such a contradiction did exist would amount to participation in yet another lie.
It is God who has established the means and ends of human nature and flourishing and providentially correlated our speech thereto, reflecting it in his own textual revelation to us. The elevation of the narcissistic, psychological self over this establishment is nothing short of idolatry.
In some sense, our sex, our gender is a reflection of God. The male-female binary presented in Genesis 1 makes this clear. The body-soul duality exists in real, unified human beings. Its dissolution occurs only at death. In some senses too, then, the soul is sexed just as the body is sexed. We are created either male or female; the soul cannot disagree with the body on this point and vice versa.
The cultural mandate given to Adam and Eve also reflects this reality. Here, God told them to “be fruitful and multiply.” In Genesis 2:18, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” This proclamation was the first time God had called a portion of his creation “not good.” After causing a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, God created Eve. When God presented Eve to Adam, he proclaimed, “This, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man. Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:23-24). At the beginning of the Gospel of John (John 1:1-4), the writer says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him, nothing was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Everything was made with and through Jesus, meaning if we use pronouns, they must correspond to a person’s biological sex.
The creation story makes clear that God created a distinction between man and woman to complement one another rather than one trying to masquerade as the other. The significance of these passages indicates not only a marital bond between a man and a woman but also “becoming one flesh,” which signifies a marital covenant that man, woman, and God work together to create children, the original intent and end of that institution. Abnormal, technological alterations under our cyborg theocracy, as Mary Harrington calls it, represent only feeble and grotesque defiance against this created order.
Cultural Constructs and Consequences
Of course, pronouns are a linguistic construct, but the point is that, in our context, they correspond to something real. An attack on them, like other cultural testaments to created reality, is an attack on reality itself and, by extension, God’s declaration of and supremacy over creation. This reality extends into public life and social interaction. It cannot be checked at the prayer closet door. And Christians are called to honesty in public, not only about the Gospel but creation too, include the unequivocal sex binary presented in Genesis. But there are social-linguistic functions to all this that we must consider as well. Just as there are modes of physical appearance that correspond to natural sex. That their expression is culturally determined does not make them illegitimate (Deuteronomy 22:5; 1 Corinthians 11:14-15).
As John Piper has clarified regarding 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 (i.e., the passage about long hair), “Paul is saying that nature — that is, natural, built-in, God-given, intrinsic maleness — inclines a man to feel repulsed and shameful by wearing the culturally defined symbols of womanhood.” This is natural and good. Sexed cultural markers are not fluid and should not be shared. They are there for a reason and it is natural that people as social beings develop external and linguistic designations for male and female differences.
Such was the case for the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 22:5, Moses tells the Israelites, “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination.” In Hebrew, it says, roughly, “There shall not be an article (keli– that which pertains unto a man; apparel) of a man upon a woman, and a man shall not put on a wrapper of (simlat–a woman’s garment or dress) a woman, because everyone doing (who does) these (things) is an abomination of (unto) the Lord your God.” God does not define or describe there the contours of a woman’s garment. The injunction assumes its existence and is focused on maintaining external designators of the male-female binary over and against androgyny.
At this most basic level, cross-dressing introduces social confusion, not to mention moral anarchy. We have seen this in our own day with conflicts over private, previously sex-segregated spaces like bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms. Similar issues are now cropping up in our prisons. Intentional male-female confusion will complicate young people’s ability to date and marry—not to mention find a roommate—if it hasn’t already. Christians, when confronted with pro-pronoun arguments, should consider the social suffering and disorder inaugurated by an allegedly innocuous shift in language. This is serious stuff.
Returning to the linguistic issue, language coercively regulates people’s behavior. This is by design and inescapable. People who “misgender” others by not using the correct pronouns chosen by the transgender individual risk social exclusion or repudiation from the sector of society—the cultural elite trend setters—that has morally elevated such linguistic conformity. Noncompliance risks “cancelation” for political incorrectness, or rather, religious dissent. Such a move often invites public pressure, shaming, and even unemployment. John S. Grabowski’s Unraveling Gender recounts these effects, and we can all think of illustrative, real life examples. What is important to remember is that the introduction of transgender pronouns is coercive and surrounding enforcement mechanisms have teeth. Participation in the new, ever-expanding language regime strengthens said mechanisms and, thereby, the state of affairs behind them. When Christians entertain pronouns they, through a compound cultural effect, make it more difficult and costly for others to opt out and dissent. This is, perhaps, an externality that most pronoun-sympathetic Christians like Sprinkle have not considered but it is nevertheless predictable and should inform Christians taken by Sprinkle’s seemingly compassionate position—it is not compassionate to fellow Christians, their livelihoods, reputations, and families.
But the canceled are not the only casualties of new pronoun customs. Giving credence to the mental and moral framework behind un-gendered identifiers also validates human attempts at un-creation and, then, re-creation. Not only is this an affront to God, as mentioned already. The favored means for re-creation are evidently brutal, the subjects of re-creation often innocent and unwitting, i.e., children. Even the adults involved are not thinking clearly; we should consider them captive to mass delusion—the body as blank slate. Self-mutilation and chemical disruption of natural bodily function yields no other rational conclusion.
The gender ideology that propagates alternative pronouns does not reflect God’s created order or the embedded morality of that order.
As Christians, when we use pronouns, we lie to transgender-identified people because it capitulates to the gender-denying sex traits of the person we are talking to. If we call a transman “he” or a transwoman a “she,” we are not being truthful and are misinterpreting who these people are.
Despite transgender people choosing pronouns, the confusion represented by that choice and the usual consequences of buying into the transgender delusion harms them. Playing along is the opposite of love of neighbor (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:30-31), and hurts others who do not want to play along as well. One way Christians can truly help transgender-identifying people is to represent the reality of God’s created order to them through the linguistic and cultural conventions that reflect that order. Endorsement of rebellion is not loving. Far from erecting a barrier between these people and the Gospel, testifying, even in this small way, to reality implicitly calls them to submission to God and his word. In this way, it leads them to the Gospel. If Christians want those caught up in the sexual revolution to repent and recognize Christ as Lord, they must first recognize that they are not lord over creation or themselves, and that their rebellion against the givenness of their bodies is sinful. We must preach both the law and the Gospel, in season and out of season. “Hospitality” cannot override this ultimate Christian duty.
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