Transgender issues have increasingly become part of our cultural conversation. And they’re not about to disappear. This means Christians need to work hard at engaging thoughtfully and lovingly on this topic – but that’s easier said than done. Many Christians have fallen into two opposite errors.
On one extreme, many have forsaken the truth of the Bible and let go of God’s good design of humanity as male and female, affirming things that we ought not to affirm. On the other extreme, many Christians have forsaken the grace we find in the Bible, and have affirmed biblical truths but done so in a way that is unloving and out of line with the gospel of grace.
Both of these extremes are dangerous because real love requires both truth and grace. It requires that we speak truth, even when that truth may be hard to hear. But it also requires that we speak it with grace and compassion, with kindness and genuine love for others.
So when it comes to conversations around transgender issues, how can we engage with both truth and grace?
One really helpful place to start is a book called God and the Transgender Debate, by Andrew T. Walker. In this book, Walker shows us that it is possible to steer clear of both extremes, helping us to hold firmly to the truth of the Bible and what it has to say about gender, but doing so in a way that exudes compassion, love, and an understanding of how difficult struggles with gender dysphoria can be.
Compassion Without Compromise
One of the most striking and praiseworthy features of this book is that it is saturated with grace.
Sharing about how writing this book was a transformational and eye-opening experience for him personally, Walker reflects, “I think Jesus’s compassion and gentleness are especially needed when addressing a topic like this, because the testimonies of people who experience these conflicts demonstrate real distress… While I’m not afraid to share a strong opinion, if it can’t be mediated through a tone of compassion, mercy, and gentleness, it may not be an opinion worth sharing.”
This perfectly sums the approach of this book. The opening page (and whole opening chapter) sets the tone for the whole book by pointing us to Jesus, who invites us to come to Him and find rest (Matthew 11:28-30).
When it comes to conversations around transgender issues, he asks, “What would Jesus do? He would listen to us, and he would love us, and when he disagreed with us, it would always and only be out of compassion.” (p15)
This book demonstrates it’s possible to have compassion without compromise. It demonstrates that loving others doesn’t mean letting go of the truth of the Bible, even when those truths can sometimes be hard to hear.
The Bigger Picture
Walker spends a good chunk of the book looking at what the Bible has to say, helping to place transgender issues within the bigger picture of God’s redemptive story. He not only looks at individual verses that speak to issues of gender, but also helps us see the importance of the broad sweep of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation.
Creation shows us that God’s design of humanity as male and female is deeply good. The Fall reminds us that our experience of this good design is marred and imperfect. Redemption shows us that Jesus has saved us and paved the way for the world to be made right again – though in the meantime we continue to struggle as we take up our cross and follow our Saviour. The New Creation shows us that we can have hope, because one day we will be freed from the effects of the fall and everything will be made right.
Walker argues that experiencing gender dysphoria is not something people choose, but rather a result of the fallen world we live in. At the same time, he points out that we do sin if we act on those feelings in such a way that rejects God’s good design of gender.
These are truths that are no doubt very difficult for many people to hear. But time and time again Walker points us back to the hope that we find in Jesus, even amidst the struggles and pain that this life may bring.
Another reason to commend God and the Transgender Debate is that it is intensely practical. It has a chapter devoted to ‘Tough Questions’: How should we think about pronouns? What about people who are intersex? Is taking hormones to manage dysphoria ever appropriate? Can someone be transgender and Christian? Walker provides helpful answers to all these questions (and others) with love and wisdom.
He’s also got a whole chapter on ‘Speaking to Children’, helping us think through in very practical ways how we have conversations with the next generation about transgender issues.
Rather than keeping the discussion in the realm of theory, Walker does a great job at bringing things down to earth. He has lots to say in challenging the church about how we respond to transgender issues, and what we can do to engage more lovingly. He has a whole chapter on what it might look like for someone who struggles with gender dysphoria to follow Jesus.
So if you’re looking for a practical guide on responding to transgender issues as a Christian, you can’t do better than this book.
As Christians, we need to work hard at engaging with the transgender conversation in a way that is saturated with truth and grace. And if you want to be equipped to do that better, God and the Transgender Debate is a great place to start.