So what hope is there? How do we have a better story to tell?
It’s vital that we help people to see that the gospel of Jesus, especially the resurrection, tells us that our bodies matter. They are important. They are not trash to be thrown away or altered. Jesus comes to make us new in him. He comes, the incarnate creator, clothing Himself in creation to enable us to find our true identity in Him. That is as true for someone with gender dysphoria as it is for the porn addict, the victim of abuse, or the person who makes an idol of their work or their ministry. The point is: no one is beyond the power of Christ’s redeeming grace.
Jesus, in the Gospels, constantly and compassionately welcomes people who have put their identity in the wrong thing and helps them find their true identity in Him, taking their place in his kingdom.
That is the good news we have to tell, and it is an infinitely better story than the world tells. In Jesus, there is redemption. In Jesus, there is reconciliation. In Jesus, there is hope and love and community and grace. In Jesus, there us an eternal future without any dysphoria.
And for the follower of Jesus, He promises that one day our body and mind will align. Perfectly. In the new creation we will finally experience fully that rest which we now only experience partially and some seem to struggle for throughout their lives. Finally, our identity will fully align with the identity we were given and for which we’ve been redeemed, children of God.
As believers we know this, we have this hope, we fight daily to live in light of it and so we are to show compassion to those struggling in this area, just as we do to anyone impacted by sin. The church should be as welcoming of families and individuals where this is a struggle as Jesus would be. As compassionate and gracious and full of truth as He was.
There is no promise that the struggle will go away—every Christian battles to live out their identity in Christ. This area of gender is no different. But if you are in Christ, then gender dysphoria does not define you. What does define you is your status as a child of God.
And the church must become their family. It must welcome, love, involve, listen, pray and apply the gospel again and again and again, not just to those struggling with their gender identity but to every believer struggling to live out their identity in whatever area of life that manifests itself.
‘Yuk’ or ‘Yes’ are common reactions, but they are wrong reactions. They are sub-gospel, sub-hope, sub-Jesus. We mustn’t stigmatize; we must compassionately love, welcome and walk with those suffering this horrendous result of the Fall, whilst also compassionately holding on to the clarity and hope of the Bible’s story of identity given, abandoned, redeemed and restored and our place in it. As the church, we must enfold sufferers into the families they long for, provide the community they seek, and the welcome and love they have been missing.
But we must think through what this looks like for various categories of people struggling in this area, as well as the pastoral implications of this. The church, its leaders, and we as Christians must also compassionately raise concerns about current trends in society and the potential damages being done to those at the sharp end of these practices. Our churches must be places of support for social workers, health care professionals, teachers and parents as they do that.
However, we need to recognize that we will not be popular as we do so. That we won’t be seen as the good guys but as the bad guys. We must be careful in our language and compassionate in our actions. We must confess our failings and our sins, asking for forgiveness for when we’ve reacted wrongly, either without love or withholding truth. We must humbly raise our concerns, acknowledging the deep hurt and wounds that are present and the confusion that abounds. And we must listen. But we do so recognizing it may cost us.
As pastors, and elders and other leaders, we must be aware of and talking about and supporting those in our congregations struggling in this area. But also talking these things through with those who face it on the front line and feel the conflict—teachers, medical staff, social workers, children, parents. We must be teaching them, answering questions, providing support, care and prayer.
We also need to be ready to speak to young people about these issues. My experience would be that there are often so many complex issues tangled up with these issues. Searching for longing, love, acceptance, issues to do with parenting and loss, fears concerning sexualisation and abuse, cultural trends, societal pressures and fear of rejection, to name but a few. In some cases, a search for where they fit in because they don’t fit stereotypes. In others, a sense of just not wanting to be what they are without a longing to specifically be something else.
Christians have a better story to tell and we must stand and advocate for the flourishing of society and the glory of God. As pastors, we must teach our congregations, wrestle with the implications for the church and compassionately and pastorally hold out the hope of the gospel even as it may cost us.