Last week I managed to grab a quiet 20 minutes and decided to watch the news. One of the stories they were covering was about a couple who have recently resigned from the Tavistock clinic in England. The wife was a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and her husband was the governor. He quit after being in the job for only six months.
This clinic is well known in the UK for being the place that young people go to get gender reassignment surgery. The couple quit because they feared that the clinic have been irresponsible in their treatment of young people. They want to find out if this clinic is breaking NHS rules by giving out hormone blocking drugs to people under the age of 18. This obviously hit the headlines because of the prevalence of gender and sexuality in our culture today. It seems like you can’t escape it—it’s in loads of movies, TV shows, books, songs, and more. Popular culture has bowed the knee to the god of gender and sexuality.
It has even permeated something as innocuous as the British TV show called Dancing on Ice. For the uneducated out there, this is basically like Strictly Come Dancing, but on ice! Celebrities get paired up with a professional ice skater and they have to perform a routine every week, which is then judged by the panel. As goes with most of these kinds of shows today, one pair gets kicked off each week. What’s noteworthy about the current season is that it’s the first time there’s been a same sex couple on the show. Of course, the presenters, the panel, and the audience think this is the best thing ever. After this pair had skated, some of the panel members were crying and saying how beautiful it was to finally to able to see this sort of thing. After all, it’s so ‘normal.’
A New ‘Normal’?
As Christians, we should ask ourselves: How are we meant to respond to things like this? Is it ‘normal’? Should young people get the chance to change their bodies because they feel like they are in the wrong one? How would we respond if one of our own children asked us about this? What should we say if one of the young people in our churches says they are struggling with their sexuality or think they are in the wrong body? Young people today are getting battered by these sorts of questions, and the cultural mantra ‘be true to yourself’ is like fuel for the fire.
The media would have us believe that every person struggles with their gender identity or sexuality. Just think about how people are labelled ‘brave’ or ‘courageous’ when they reveal some inner struggle with this issue. Despite popular conceptions, the reality is that only a tiny portion of our population have gender/sexuality issues (I’m not saying that we’re not all sexual sinners, because we are). When I asked my 16-year-old daughter about how many kids in her school would say they struggled with these things, she said about 10. Her school has 1,200 pupils! So that is a pretty small percentage.
So as Christians, how do we navigate our culture when dealing with this highly emotive and sensitive issue? Well, firstly, we need to look at how God created and ordered things in the first place. As the Creator of the human race, there’s no one better to look to for answers when it comes to what it means to be human.
God created the world and everything in it (Gen. 1–2). We all know this. He created men and women to be part of this world. He designed it that way in His infinite wisdom. He created two genders, and the Bible tells us that “it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). Now, if God had wanted to, He could have created more than two genders. But He didn’t. This didn’t change after the Fall either; Genesis 5 confirms this. In the Gospels, Jesus Himself confirms this (see Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6). Jesus doesn’t seem to have a problem with the fact of there being male and female.
It is important for us to remember that none of the problems people have with gender happened until after the Fall. God didn’t write gender confusion into his “very good” creation. Now, there are very rare exceptions to this, like when a person is born intersexed, but this too is a result of the Fall. The Fall affected everything, including physical and psychological development. Romans 8:20–23 spells this out for us with utmost clarity. In an article about responding to the transgender revolution, Rob Smith wrote: “Not only have our hearts and minds become corrupt, but our bodies, like the rest of the created order, have been ‘subjected to frustration’ and are in ‘bondage to decay.’”
One of the ways the Bible talks about the physical effects of sin is by addressing ‘eunuchs’. Jesus talks about them in Matthew 19 when he answers the question about divorce. He says there are three types of eunuchs: those who are born that way, those who have been made like that by others, and those who have done it to themselves. But Jesus isn’t calling them a third sex. When the Bible talks about eunuchs, it always uses masculine verbs and male pronouns. So even here, the Scriptures are clear about there only being male and female. That’s how God made it. Our starting point needs to be the clear biblical fact of God creating male and female only. If we lose clarity on that, the whole tapestry of the beautiful, biblical ethic of gender and sexuality begins to unravel.
‘Man’ and ‘Woman’
In Genesis 2, we see the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ used. These flesh out the meaning of the words ‘male’ and ‘female’. These words say something about gender, both what we are born as but also the gender roles that will be taken up as we grow and mature. This means that males will grow up to be men, and possibly husbands and fathers. Females will grow up to be women, and possibly wives and mothers. These binary connections make human marriage possible. Jesus confirms this as well when He says, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mark 10:6–8).
A direct result of this union is that we are to procreate, which can only happen between a man and a woman. A person’s biological sex determines their gender and their gender roles. When I say gender roles, I’m not talking about the stereotypes that we think of, like types of jobs or household chores. I’m saying only a man can truly be a son and father, while only a woman can be a daughter and mother.
What do we say to those who think they have been born in the wrong body? Can a male body be the home of a female soul? Or vice versa? When thinking about this, we need to see what the Bible says about the relationship between the physical and nonphysical aspects of being human. Throughout the Bible, God addresses both our physical bodies and also our souls.
One example of this can be seen in Matthew 10:28, “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Having said that, the Bible also sees us as holistic, meaning that we can’t separate certain functions as being purely physical and other things as being purely spiritual. We have to hold these things in tension—it’s a both-and situation. Yes, we have a distinct body and soul, but they make up the whole person. We have to be careful not to downplay the psychological distress that some people experience as they battle with these issues.
We can’t adopt the mindset that somehow the wrong body and soul have been put together. David is clear that the Lord knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13–16). The sex of the body reveals the gender of the person. Smith says, “So, while all kinds of things can and do go wrong with us—both physiologically and psychologically—the Bible offers no support to the idea that one can actually be a man trapped in a woman’s body or a woman trapped in a man’s body. That may well be a person’s subjective feeling, but not an objective fact.”
Watch for part 2 next week.