Dr Sharon James, Policy Analyst for The Christian Institute
This autumn the BBC came under fire for airing ‘Just A Girl’ on the CBBC website, in which an eleven year-old boy identified as a girl. Children as young as six were being presented with a normalised and glamorised impression of gender transition. Seemingly overnight, the ‘right’ to ‘change sex’ is being promoted in schools and the media.
In this cultural context, Vaughan Roberts, minister of a large church attended by many students, saw the urgent need of an accessible book outlining a biblical response. He is engagingly honest about the fact that this little (75 page) book is only a ‘starting point’. He is also up-front about its limitations. The purpose is pastoral. It does not address wider political and cultural challenges.
Vaughan Roberts begins with an overview of current thinking on gender identity. He moves on to describe our current individualistic culture. Without belief in a Creator God, we are ‘free’ to define our own identity. He contrasts this with the biblical worldview. This biblical framework explains that we are created by God, and are not free to construct our own identity. We are fallen, which helps explain struggles to ‘line up’ our experience of gender identity and our biological sex. But in Christ we are offered redemption and restoration. In the new Creation we will be restored to manhood and womanhood as God originally designed us to be.
Pastorally, we are warned against the extremes of utter disgust (which drives those presenting with gender confusion away from Christ) and bland acceptance (which fails them as it does not present them with truth). The author urges us to remember that every individual has dignity and worth because they are made in the image of God. But we must hold on to the truth, that God has created us as male or female. True identity is rooted in God’s creation and calling, rather than our perceived experience. God has created us as ‘whole people’, mind and body. Where there is gender incongruence, we are to aim to move our minds towards our biological identity, rather than ‘fixing’ our bodies to line up with our subjective feelings.
There is a very short chapter on answers to pastoral questions. Roberts suggests that in speaking to transgender people, ‘respect will mean calling someone by the name they choose to be called by’ (p. 71). But on this point, I would prefer to recommend ‘Transgender Confusion: A Biblical Based Q and A for Families’ (Help 4 Families, 2016). The author, Denise Shick, was brought up by a transgender father, and now has a ministry to families who are grappling with this issue. From her wide experience of offering biblical counsel to individuals and families, she argues that it is not in reality helpful to either the person or their family to use their assumed name (Shick pp. 32-36). Of course there are complexities. What is certain, as Al Mohler helpfully points out, is that in this troubled generation we are going to have to work hard together as a church to find ways of affirming the ‘compassion of truth’. (‘We Cannot be Silent’, pp. 137-9).
Vaughan Roberts does not set out to deal with the wider challenges of the transgender movement. A must-read on this is ‘The Global Sexual Revolution’ by the Roman Catholic writer Gabriel Kuby (LifeSite, 2015) which fills in the intellectual, political, historical and international context. And since Vaughan Robert’s book came out, the FIEC has produced volume 3 of PRIMER, ‘True to Form’, dealing with this issue in more depth.
I was aware at points that this book was written in haste; but I can only applaud the author’s courage in putting this out quickly, given the speed at which claims about gender fluidity are impacting so many people. And as a starting point, it is admirable in covering the issue with brevity and faithfulness.
First published in Evangelicals Now, January 2017
For more from Dr Sharon James on the issue of transsexualism, read her article Are we all ‘omnigender’ now?
‘Transgender’, Vaughan Roberts, The Good Book Company, 75 pages, £2.99, ISBN 9781784981952
Dr Sharon James MA (Cantab), MDiv, PGCE studied History at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and went on to teach in the UK and Malawi. She subsequently gained an MDiv in Theology and a PhD in Government Family Policy. She has been married to Bill for 30 years and they have two grown up children. Sharon is a member of Emmanuel Church in Leamington Spa where Bill has been pastor for 25 years. She is the author of six books including ‘God’s Design for Women’ and ‘Gentle Rain on Tender Grass’ – daily devotions on the first five books of the Bible.
Vaughan Roberts came to faith as he read through Matthew’s Gospel for himself as a teenager. After studying law at Cambridge University and a brief spell doing student ministry in South Africa, he moved to Oxford to study Theology at Wycliffe Hall and has lived in the city ever since. In 1991 he joined the staff of St Ebbe’s Church to lead the student ministry and since 1998 he has been Rector. In addition to ‘Transgender’, he has written a number of other books including ‘True Spirituality’ and ‘Missing the Point? Finding Our Place in the Turning Points of History’.