Should Christians use transgender pronouns?
Some people think so, including some Christians that in other ways, I admire. My goal is not to argue with them, but to reframe the question in a more simple form which gets to the heart of the issue for many Christians.
The real question is: should Christians lie?
Those who defend transgender pronouns don't usually believe they're lying. They may believe that trans women are women and should share pronouns with biological women. Or they may believe that when they refer to a trans woman as 'she', they are not passing judgment on whether it's true or not; they are simply passing on the trans woman's preferences.
It's also true that anyone could use transgender pronouns without knowing – someone we know or bump into may 'pass' successfully enough that we use trans pronouns accidentally.
All of this is irrelevant when discussing the case of Dr David Mackereth because he, like many Christians, believes that to knowingly use transgender pronouns is to lie about reality.
We should reflect reality in our speech
It's not hard to see why. Although our postmodern world talks about 'my pronouns' as the ones that each individual chooses for themselves, pronouns like all speech really belong to the people who are speaking, not those who are spoken about. When we speak, each of us describes the world as they understand it. Although our words can be powerful, they do not turn men into women or women into men. In speech, Christians should reflect the reality that God himself has spoken into being, which includes the reality of our natal (i.e. real) sex.
David Mackereth believes from biblical creation accounts that God made men and women. He is also a medical doctor who knows anatomy well enough to know this is borne out by basic science. Intersex conditions exist, of course, but these are not in view when we talk about transgenderism, where anyone can supposedly state their 'true' gender or pronouns and demand that others honour it.
You will find Christians who are ready to defend transgender pronouns. But I've not heard Christians who will defend routinely lying. The ninth commandment forbids 'false testimony' which has been understood by Christians throughout the ages to include lying. 'Lying lips' are routinely critiqued in the Psalms and the apostle Paul urges Christians to put away falsehood and speak the truth (Ephesians 4:25).
I believe that there are very rare exceptions to this, where the protection of life is at stake (e.g. Rahab in Joshua 2). Some Christians are more absolutist and argue that it's never acceptable. Either way, lying for our own convenience is clearly not justified.
Lying in the name of love
What about lying in the name of love though? What if we know that trans pronouns are wrong, but we use them simply out of love for the trans person, believing that it is kind or that not to go along with their preferred pronouns is an obstacle to the gospel?
The problem with this is that it assumes that truth and love can be in opposition. This is not the Christian view. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. God is love. Truth and love can no more be opposed than God and Christ can. That's why the famous chapter about love, 1 Corinthians 13, says that love "rejoices with the truth".
It may feel harsh at times, but it simply is not kind to deliberately go along with pronouns and identities we know to be false. Every affirmation of a transgender identity bolsters an identity that is in opposition to the reality of how God made someone. It is these micro-affirmations that are truly 'misgendering' people and that put up further obstacles for the gospel.
Are preferred pronouns reasonable?
It is only because the Church has become so desensitised to transgenderism that a request to use preferred pronouns can be construed as reasonable. It is simply not reasonable for me to insist that anyone else refers to me as anything other than what I truly am, whether that's with preferred pronouns or any other descriptive language.
In my teens, I sent a joke application to the FA to become England's next football manager, outlining my successes managing teams on computer games and additionally describing myself as an internationally renowned rock star. Should I have been offended that a football news website at the time published an article noting my application but questioning my rock star credentials? I'm very unlikely to ever be a rock star but it is impossible for me to ever become a woman. Why is it reasonable for anyone to control other people's description of them?
Should we soften truth for the sake of evangelism?
I'm convinced that Christians are making a bad miscalculation if they believe that the only, or even the best, evangelistic strategy is to minimise all possible offence, by glossing over the truth. Gender identity is an idol for many; an idol that will inevitably fail them. Trans people who eventually detransition will remember and value Christians who spoke with both love and clarity against this idol.
More than that, there is also an onlooking world to consider. Does using preferred pronouns help us reach parents of teenagers who are concerned about their child's transition? What about gender critical Christians? Or Muslims? Or anyone else who hasn't fallen in line with gender ideology? We should decide our behaviour based on principles and truths, not our idea of what's strategic, but I would question any strategy that ignores these people.
Avoidance should be an option – being compelled is not
That is not to say that Christians must at every opportunity use correct pronouns. There may well be wisdom in avoidance tactics, using names rather than pronouns whenever possible. Names are certainly used more flexibly in the Bible than pronouns and don't really include a truth claim.
When truth was under attack in totalitarian Soviet Russia, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote an essay entitled 'Live not by Lies'. A recent book by Rod Dreher borrowed this title, with the author encouraging Christians: "You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe, but you can at least refuse to say what you do not believe."
This freedom is under attack.
Whatever you personally believe about the wisdom of using transgender pronouns, it is a matter of fact that many Christians believe that using preferred pronouns is lying. Do you want to live in a society where Christians can be compelled to lie?
Paul Huxley is Communications Manager at Christian Concern.