What would Jesus do about transgender?
It's that moment you always know will arrive. You're in the midst of an online discussion in which you are going against the general zeitgeist on a social issue (in this case transgender) and then it happens: someone comes up with what they think is a devastating riposte - 'WWJD?'. The implication being that your response is not 'Christlike'. Now apart from being pleased that non-Christians and atheists are so concerned about what Jesus thinks, how does one respond to this?
The first thing is that we need to understand where the question is coming from. It's a kind of passive-aggressive intimidation – which in the current hysteria about transgender is far too frequently used. The argument is quite simple. Transgender people are being bullied; many are mentally ill and attempt suicide. We should want to prevent such bullying and help people be what they are. WWJD? Surely he would do the 'nice' thing and go with the flow?
It's a tactic that is frequently used and its one that many individual Christians and Christian organisations don't know how to handle. Some become aggressive and act like the bullies they are accused of being. But most just cave in and do the 'nice' thing. That's why the Church of England issued its guidelines last week about boys being allowed to wear tutus and so on. Most of what was said was uncontroversial and common sense – but boys wearing tutus was never the issue anyway. This was in reality the Church of England mimicking the Tory party, by trying to avoid being called the 'nasty religion'. The Church was in effect going along with the new Establishment thinking and being its spiritual echo.
So lets return to the question, 'What would Jesus do about transgender?'
Some might say he would do or say nothing. After all he says nothing in the Bible on the subject – it has to be said that it is not particularly clear that this was a burning issue in 1st Century Judea (although Monty Python were decades ahead of the culture in suggesting that there might have been in this famous sketch from Life of Brian)! Monty Python not withstanding there is of course a danger that the Church gets distracted from the Gospel and gets obsessed with what the culture is obsessing about. Whilst we must not do that, nevertheless we do need to speak into that culture, and we do need to speak truth to power, so...WWJD? Let me offer five principles.
1. Jesus would treat people with respect and kindness.Yes he got angry (at the money changers and the religious hypocrites), but 'the bruised reed he would not break'. For that reason the church, and all Christians, must be totally opposed to any bullying or unkindness for any reason. We must never demonise or denigrate any person or group of people – even or perhaps especially when we fundamentally disagree with them. Of course Jesus is concerned about bullying. But it is precisely because he loves people that he wouldn't just accept that brokenness and depression amongst trans people is because of bullying. Maybe it is because for some people being trans itself causes so much unhappiness? So in that case we need to ask, is it loving to encourage something which leads to so much unhappiness? Maybe doing the 'nice' and easy thing in this case, avoiding the hard and complex questions, is not actually the kind and good thing to do?
2. Jesus would treat all people fairly. There is a basic biblical principle of equality. Our society talks about equality but has no real basis for it. But as Christians we know that all human beings are made in the image of God.
As Genesis 1:27 says: 'So God created mankind in his own image,in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.'
Therein lies the basis of all human equality. We are all equally made in the image of God.
3. Jesus would reaffirm his Father's teaching – Because therein lies the rub. He told us that we can't just pick 'n' mix the bits we like out of the Bible. The very verse that establishes the whole basis of human equality is the verse that tells us that human beings were created male and female. There are two genders – not 57. And human beings are not 'assigned a gender at birth' by society. We are born that way. And yes I recognize that life isn't always that simple and that there are those who feel as though they were born in the 'wrong body' and that there are a tiny percentage of people who are intersex and who need help because of that – but what we are talking about here is the ideology that says we can pick and choose and change our gender. Gender is not a societal construct but a God-given fundamental of humanity. Jesus, as the one through whom all things were made, is not going to go along with the idea that humanity can now re-make itself, without the plans and designs that God gave. What was wrong with the Church of England 'guidance' was not so much what it said, but what it didn't say. The Catholic Church on the other hand has, as is often the case on social issues, been much more robust. Several years ago Pope Benedict made it very clear how important the issues at stake were – he rightly saw the current fad as a real threat to the future of humanity. 'The words of the creation account: "male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist.'
4. Jesus would be especially hard on those who bring harm to children. He warned that the lowest place in hell was reserved for them. That's why child sexual abuse within the church is such a hellish abomination. Its also why the Christian Church must stand up against the current fanatical ideology of the trans theorists who deny that biology and gender are connected and who think that we can just tell little children that they can choose their own gender. Many people have pointed out already (including those who have been involved in this field for many years) that what is now happening is in danger of becoming state sponsored child abuse. I have so many examples of the harm that this is now doing to so many.
5. Jesus would speak the truth. In love. Real love. Sacrificial love. He wouldn't just go along with the culture so that people wouldn't think he was nasty. He wouldn't be concerned about preserving his 'position' in society. He wouldn't be afraid of speaking the truth just because people would accuse him of evil. But neither would he speak with bitterness, frustration and fear. Having entrusted himself wholly to his heavenly Father, he would get on with proclaiming his word and seeking and saving those who are lost.
WWJD? I don't think he would issue minority reports, panic or despair. I don't think he would begin political campaigns. But neither do I think he would compromise at all on the truth of his word. Heaven and earth would pass away before that happens! He would continue his prophetic, priestly and kingly role. And we must do the same. We announce the word like prophets to our culture – whether they like it or not. We intercede with fervent prayers for the confused, hurt and broken people in our society, recognising that we are they. And we proclaim the kingship of Christ above all that the political leaders and opinion formers of our culture tell us is now the absolute truth. It is his will that will be done, not theirs. They are on the wrong side of His-Story. We work on – against the odds – but with the joy and peace that comes from knowing that in the end the Judge of all the earth will do right and that the creation will be renewed, not destroyed.
David Robertson is Associate Director of Solas CPC in Dundee and minister at St Peter's Free Church. Follow him on Twitter @TheWeeFlea.