This article by Paul Yeulett, Pastor of Grove Chapel London and member of the Affinity Council, first appeared on his personal blog on 29 January 2017, and is based on a sermon he preached earlier that day.
Back at the end of 2014, not long after I had started as Pastor at Grove Chapel, I did a brief sermon series which I entitled ‘What is man?’ What I covered then was very central, very important, and it could well bear repeating, but in the two-and-a-bit years from the end of 2014 to the beginning of 2017, times have actually moved on a bit.
What do I mean? Here are the words of Genesis 1:27: ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’ And the emphasis falls especially on the last few words because these have become hugely controversial, especially in the last year or two.
Back in 2014, the urgent news, the ‘new news’, was about same-sex marriage. In the US Democratic Presidential Candidate Nominations of 2008, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton insisted that marriage was for one man and one woman. Same-sex marriage lay some years in the future. But less than a decade later and it’s already become old news. The ‘new news’ now, though it’s not so new even now, is transgender, the idea that the two categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’ need to be extended much further.
I want to come to that a little bit later, but in order to see how I’m going to navigate my way through the subject, let me explain that I will cover it under the titles (1) Creation, (2) Crisis and (3) Comment.
There are three great truths taught in a classic Bible verse on creation, Hebrews 11:3, which says:
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
But the greatest work of creation is his final work of creation, the creation of man. All living creatures are incredibly complex and sophisticated beings, far beyond anything that people have ever made in the factory, in the science laboratory, or in Silicon Valley. But man is the greatest of all God’s works of creation.
There is a break between Genesis 1:25 and 1:26; the sense of a pause and a sharp intake of breath, a kind of drum-roll before the creation of man is announced. It is only when man is made that God’s creation is finished and he can pronounce that it is all ‘very good’.
And the great lesson of verse 27 in particular is that man is God’s image-bearer. We are made in the image and likeness of God. What does this mean? Does it mean that we look like God? It doesn’t mean that because God doesn’t have a physical body. The best way to understand God’s image in man is to ask, ‘how is man different from the rest of creation, especially the animals?’
Man is different in various ways:
He has intelligence and reason.
He has the ability to make decisions and to plan.
He has the ability to speak.
He has the ability to approve what is good, to love what is right.
He has the ability to worship God, and is destined for eternity so that he can enjoy God for ever.
Animals may sometimes do things that look like human activities - to make noises, make homes, show affection and so on - but in the case of animals they are governed by instinct, not by reason or wisdom.
But also, right at the beginning, where the Bible first begins to talk about the creation of man in God’s image, it says that God created man ‘male and female’. Let’s hold it there, and come back to that subject later.
Let’s change scenes completely and come right up to the present day. We are living in the Transgender World. All I want to do at this stage is to be descriptive, before trying to make sense of all this, as I hope to do at the end.
If you have to fill out an application form of any kind, it may well ask you to identify whether you are ‘Male’ or ‘Female’. But increasingly, there may well be a box marked ‘Other’. You will see something similar with toilets in public places, especially in university buildings. Not only ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gents’ and ‘Disabled’, but other categories, ‘Transgender’ categories.
It’s in the current news. The recent Women’s March on London was advertised by the following words: ‘We, the organisers of the London march, called on people of all genders to march in London as part of an international day of action in solidarity.’ A women’s March for ‘all genders’. So men can come too? Yes, perhaps. But it is ‘all genders’, not ‘both genders’. This is not bad English, this is a novel definition of gender.
What is the meaning of ‘transgender’? Is it now a case of ‘male’, ‘female’ and ‘transgender’? Are there now three sexes rather than two? No, it is much more complicated than that. For starters, the word ‘gender’ now means something different to ‘sex’. You may be biologically male or female - that is your sex - but your ‘gender’ could be something quite different; in fact it can be anything you want it to be.
And there are thirty, fifty, perhaps even seventy ‘genders’ that you can choose from. Here is a small selection of them: Agender, Bigender, Cisgender, Neutrosis, Pangender, Two-spirit, Other, Neither. In fact, no one can say how many there are because new ones are always being redefined, and there is nothing stopping anyone choosing their own gender identity. Basically, you decide what you want to be.
What is more, all this is mixed up with the whole area of sexual attraction. The issue is not simply your own gender, but the gender of the people you are attracted to. So the LGBT abbreviation - Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender - interacts with all the gender descriptions I gave just now, making it all much more complex.
And it gets more complicated. For example, for a long time people who identify themselves as ‘gay’ have said that they are gay because they were born that way; it wasn’t their choice but that’s how they feel and so they act accordingly.
But then there are others who say that they are ‘queer’ and they resent the idea that they were born that way. No, they say - our sexuality and our gender is a matter of choice. It’s what we choose to be. We’re not governed by our genes, our environment or anything else - we’re free and choose to be queer.
The ultimate judge in this whole area is the individual person - it’s what you choose to be, what makes you happy. And if a child, even a child as young as seven, or six, or five, believes that although she has the body of a girl she wants to be a boy, or vice versa, then this needs to be taken very seriously. There are a growing number of cases in both secondary and primary schools of a pupil changing their gender with the support of parents, medical staff, social agencies and head teachers.
And it even goes beyond the question of gender. One woman identifies as a cat, another as a dragon; one middle-aged man identifies as a little girl. No matter what they appear to be, what they ‘really are’ inside, they say, is something totally different.
So much for description. Now, what are we to make of all this? The first thing I will say is that this is an area of life which needs to be taught and explained very urgently in churches. And in particular, Christian parents and anyone dealing with children and young people need to grasp the enormity of the situation.
What should be the message of the church? ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:31). But there is a great deal that needs to be explained before people - especially young people, including university students - understand why we need to be saved, and what we need to be saved from.
We need to dig very deep, get to the foundations, understand what it means for God to be God, and for man to be made in the image of God as male and female. Even two or three years ago the things that I have said this morning would not need to have been said – but they do now.
Let’s go back to the beginning. God created man in the image and likeness of God himself. This was established from the start as something precious, something noble, something that is of the very essence of humanity. So when man rebels against that image and deliberately seeks to deface it, he is guilty of the most terrible act of violence, abuse and sabotage imaginable.
And this is what is happening when people say that they are free to define their own gender. In what is called the ‘transgender community’ there is a rejection of what is called the ‘binary’ nature of male and female. ‘Binary’ is a word that is very uncool; it is scorned and ridiculed. It’s so restrictive, so limiting, so conservative! Why should we be stuck with only two genders when we can fifty, seventy, a hundred or as many as we like!
But ‘male and female’ it is. It says so here. It is repeated in Genesis 5:2. It is repeated by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 19:4. It is the most basic, fundamental thing about human nature. There are only two categories. You are one or the other. You have no right to say that you’re going to choose to be what you want to be. If you’re human, you can’t say that you’re a donkey or a jellyfish. If you’re male, you can’t say that you’re female.
Only a few years ago, if a girl liked climbing trees, wearing fatigues or playing football, she was called a tom-boy, but she was a girl and no one ever suggested she was anything but a girl. If a boy enjoyed staying inside and playing with dolls, people said that he had a gentle and sensitive temperament, but they didn’t wonder whether there was really a girl inside, trying to climb out of a male body. This used to be plain, decent, common sense, but the world is going mad.
And this subversive, anti-God way of thinking is becoming the norm in so many public spheres. People will smile and talk about equality, toleration, opportunity and the freedom of choice, but their agenda is driven by a fierce hatred of God and what he has revealed.
Young Christian people in particular need to stand firm, to know what is true, to know that there are some things that are true and others which are false. They need to face up to battles that their parents and grandparents never had to face.
Christian people, more than ever, need to be sane and strong-minded. We mustn’t lose our nerve. We mustn’t lose our tempers and use immoderate language. But we mustn’t beat about the bush either. We need to speak the truth plainly. Because what the attitude which underlies ‘transgenderism’ is a sinful, rebellious attitude. It is not the only form of sin. It is not even the worst expression of sin. But it is sin, that must be repented of.
At the same time, we need to be totally convinced and convincing that God’s ways are always best at all time in all cultures for all people. We obey God because he’s God but we know he is good so his law must be good. Therefore, it must be good to recognise and embrace gender distinctions. It is good to know who we are. We are most blessed and happy when we are fulfilling the roles God intended. It’s good for families and for children. It’s safer where roles are recognised and boundaries are understood. It’s good because it’s real. It’s the truth that we are either male or female and living a lie can never be a good healthy or happy thing. That is not to underestimate the emotional hurt and trauma some people go through in feeling different to their birth gender and sexuality. Nor is it denying there are some very difficult medical cases. In this area especially we need to show compassion and understanding and recognise our own tendency to lack sympathy for something we are not personally going through. We need to be like Jesus. Totally just and right but exceptionally loving and welcoming us with all our hurts and misunderstandings.
The great news is that Jesus Christ specialises in saving repentant sinners. Ask Matthew the tax-collector. Ask the thief on the cross. Ask Saul of Tarsus. Ask Rosaria Butterfield. Left to itself, Western society will go the way of that once great Western society, the Roman Empire, in which sexual debauchery contributed significantly to its destruction. But if God visits these nations in the twenty-first century, what kind of blessings might we see?
This first appeared in the Truth Post blog and is adapted and used with permission.
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