Let me start out by saying that I get it. The idea that a trans person can legitimately be in the wrong body, so to speak, is one that can take a while to wrap your head around. The same goes for the idea that they are not crazy for feeling that way. If that’s not something you’ve ever thought about much it can take a while to process it and try to understand who these people are. Hopefully along the way you’ll get to know at least some of them. Speaking from my own experience if you skip that part then you really have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. The whole “trans debate” is so much more than just a debate. There are real people involved here. So yeah, I understand that it can take a while, even as a Christian, to wrap your head around this but, that being said, it’s no excuse for not treating fellow human beings like, well, human beings.
Case in point is this article I came across yesterday on Twitter, “Transgender and children: Responding in the local church,” which is an adapted excerpt from Andrew T. Walker’s book God and the Transgender Debate. The “response” in question here is whether or not a local church should accommodate a parent’s request that their child be referred to by pronouns that do not line up with their biological sex. While Walker does acknowledge that “each situation is unique because each child is unique,” his conclusion is ultimately that “whatever the situation in the home may be, pastors and elders should say they’ll be unable to comply with this parent’s request, or to ask anyone else in the church to do this, because it goes against what the Bible teaches about who this child is.” Furthermore, “If the parent is opposed to the Bible’s teaching (rather than in agreement with it, but struggling to know how best to love their suffering child), and refuses to change their mind, I’d see this as an issue of church discipline, because the parent is publicly living in rejection of God’s Word.” This conclusion, coming from someone relatively senior in the Southern Baptist Convention, carries a great deal of weight but that does little to deflect from the issues inherent in it.
Setting aside that the Bible’s teaching on this is not as clear as Walker believes it to be, his conclusion here is problematic for two main reasons. First of all, it asserts that the leadership of a congregation are better placed to know who a child is than the parents of that child are. I’ve been in churches where the leadership was lucky to know a child’s first name. I’ve also been in one church in particular where the best interests of the children were sacrificed in the best interests of the direction the pastor wanted to take the congregation. Finally as Ephesians 6:1-4 shows, how children turn out is not the church’s responsibility. It is, rather, the responsibility of the parents. Walker is encouraging the local church to take on a responsibility it has no right to take on and that sets a very dangerous precedent.
Walker’s conclusion is also problematic in how it treats trans children. From my own experience I have learned that trans youth of all ages struggle not only with accepting themselves but also with being accepted by those around them. They are, in a word, vulnerable because of that. In making the issue of trans youth a matter of “church discipline” Walker is in essence telling those who likely already feel rejected by the world around them that God rejects them, too, and they are not welcome in God’s house the way that they are. It should go without saying that you will do far more harm to these young people with that response than you ever will through simply using whatever pronouns they prefer. In Matthew 19:13-14, we are told, “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.'” The church is supposed to be representing Jesus to the world but Walker does the exact opposite here.
As I said at the beginning, I understand that this issue can be a tough one to wrap your head around. (Please hear me when I say that I don’t make that observation with a negative view towards trans people. I know trans people can get frustrated as hell with cis people. That being said, some cis people have a hard time with this and pretending otherwise doesn’t really help.) As I illustrated above there are a number of healthy responses towards trans people even while you’re trying to understand who they are. Mr. Walker’s response is not one of them and the evangelical church as a whole can do far better. It needs to do better for the sake of these people who I have come to love very much.