It’s hard to believe, but it was just a very short time ago that nobody believed in gender identity. At least, nobody believed in what the term has come to encompass today. As with so many social phenomena, it came slowly and then all at once. Suddenly it became an accepted “fact” that sex and gender can no longer be used interchangeably but instead refer to completely different realities so that a woman can have the body of a man and a man the body of a woman. Suddenly it became an accepted “fact” that the way to approach gender dysphoria is not to provide therapy to the mind but to provide surgery for the body. Suddenly it became an act of violence to fail to use another person’s preferred pronouns and an act of hate speech to use another person’s “deadname.”
It is difficult to keep up with such a swift and irrational transformation. It can be difficult to sort through the new terminology and to think through the new distinctions. Thankfully, Christians are being well-resourced with books that can help. Now on store shelves is Does God Care About Gender Identity? by Samuel Ferguson, a short book that forms part of a new series from The Gospel Coalition called “TGC Hard Questions.”
“This booklet is written for those interested in or concerned by today’s evolving views on sex and gender,” Ferguson says in his introduction. “It’s grown out of occasions I’ve had as a pastor to walk with individuals who experience gender dysphoria and their families. Whether you’re a Christian, a parent, or just someone curious about gender, identity, and our shared longings for transformation, I’ve written this book for you. I hope you’ll find here compassion, clarity, and some guidance around this complex and sensitive topic.”
He focuses on two themes: deeper understanding and compassionate engagement. Under the banner of deeper understanding, he wants to inform his readers about today’s transgender movement—its practices and key beliefs—and he wants to compare these to the Bible. He looks at three big questions: (1) Is the body integral or incidental to gender identity? (2) What is the transformative path out of dysphoria and toward wholeness? (3) Does God assign our biological sex and gender…? If so, how can we tell, and how does this affect the way we live out our maleness and femaleness?
Under the banner of compassionate engagement, he asks what biblical compassion and leadership might look like when caring for someone who has declared themselves transgender. How can the church help parents whose children say they are trans? How can the church relate to people who have changed their gender identity? And how can Christians see gender identity not as a threat but as an opportunity for discipleship?
Because this is just a brief book, Ferguson needs to move quickly, but that doesn’t stop him from offering helpful explanations. For example, he outlines the three core beliefs of the transgender movement and explains each one: my identity is self-determined; my feelings, not my body, determine my gender; and we find wholeness through external, not internal, change. All three of these beliefs are novel and all three are opposed to Scripture. Together they lead to this: change the body to heal the mind.
But what does Scripture say? Our human identity is a gift from our Creator; human beings are embodied, so gender is never less than our biology; and God’s pathway for change is transformation, not transition. According to God, then, what we have to offer those with gender dysphoria is not medical transition but spiritual transformation that begins with the mind, culminates in the future resurrection, and is carried out in the meantime by the Spirit in the context of the local church.
The transgender movement’s agent of transition is the scalpel; Christianity’s agent of transformation is the Spirit. The transgender movement sees change as primarily cosmetic, on the surface; Christians understand change to be inner and deep—it begins in the soul, moves through our character, and culminates in a perfected, imperishable, embodied existence (1 Cor. 15:42–49). A transition takes place in a clinic or on an operating table, but transformation is lived out in the context of the church, with God’s people, the family of faith.
Those who are confused by all the talk of gender identity will appreciate this book as a helpful explainer and guide. Those who are attempting to help or lead others through struggles will appreciate it as a trusted, albeit basic, resource. It’s the kind of book churches may wish to keep on hand and distribute liberally. I expect many Christians will benefit from reading it and thus I highly recommend it.
(Does God Care About Gender Identity? is one of three volumes that are launching the new series TGC Hard Questions. I also recommend Is Christianity Good for the World? by Sharon James and Why Do We Feel Lonely at Church? by Jeremy Linneman.)Buy from Amazon