Foundations: No.74 Spring 2018

Book Reviews

God and the Transgender Debate

Andrew T. Walker, The Good Book Company, 2017, 174pp, £8.00

Do we need to bother with the transgender debate? A recent BBC “Question Time” programme, featuring the lesbian novelist Val McDermid and Christian MP Tim Farron, raised the issue of supporting children and teens claiming gender dysphoria. There was no dissenting voice, leading the chairman, David Dimbleby, to express surprise at such unanimity. Ironically, it was Ms McDermid who added the qualification that surgical or chemical change should be resisted for that age group. I came away from that discussion looking for something that would enable me to engage in a more informed way, as well as more biblically, in this debate. Andrew Walker has done us such a service in his book, “God and the transgender debate”. The subtitle indicates its purpose: “What does the bible actually say about gender identity?”

The importance of the subject is indicated in the foreword by Al Mohler (President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). He regards the transgender issue to be on a level with past Christological controversies and the Reformation. In his view, transgenderism is at odds with “thousands of years of consensus regarding gender and human identity” (10).

The author is modest in his aims; the book is “a start not a finish”. Nevertheless, if all you have previously read is Vaughan Roberts’ excellent little book you will find this is a comprehensive, brilliant and more detailed contribution. There are thirteen chapters covering 171 pages. It is a great example of clear, flowing writing. Whilst not claiming to be a technical book there are helpful footnotes to sources of statistical information along with further reading for those wanting to dig deeper.

The content and direction of the book are helpfully laid out in the opening chapter. Chapters two to four explain both how society has arrived at a general acceptance of transgenderism and helpfully defines the vocabulary used. What is it to be transgender? It is to be born biologically of one sex but feel you belong to the opposite. Tensions therefore arise, including a feeling of being trapped in your own body. For the first time in history there is both a cultural acceptance of making the physical changes necessary and the medical wherewithal to bring this about.  Chapters five to seven are devoted to a biblical view of the subject, reminding us of God’s design of male and female, the beauty of which was marred by sin. Chapters eight to ten deal with the practical realities of loving, both as individuals and churches, those struggling with transgender issues. They are not freaks. Chapters eleven and twelve are outstandingly helpful in counselling parents whose children raise questions on this issue, as well as parents whose children feel they are transgender. The penultimate chapter covers important questions and answers. There is a closing appendix comprising a useful dictionary of terms.

The book begins with a helpful explanation of the secular thinking that has opened the door to a widespread acceptance of transgenderism. The reader will then find a faithful exposition of the Bible: The teaching of Genesis 2 is unpacked and applied – God is our Creator and as such has the right to dictate the pattern of our sexuality. It is a pattern perfectly designed for the good of society. Heterosexuality is, therefore, not the result of a cultural consensus but the decision of an all-wise, creator God. To reject this truth is to also reject the teaching of Jesus Christ (i.e. Mt 19:4-6).

Strong emphasis is placed on displaying Christian compassion for those struggling with gender issues. For them this is not a mere academic subject but intensely practical and goes to the core of their mental health and well-being.  The author describes an occasion when he debated with those of the LGBT community and the lessons he learnt. He calls on Christians to repent if they have been harsh, fearful or negative towards this segment of society. He does so via a brief application of James 2:1-10.

The author is both sensitive and biblically faithful; we are to speak the truth in love. “If we accept the authority of the Bible, we must understand that affirming people in a path that is contrary to what the scripture teaches is never loving. If I affirm transgenderism, I am actually doing an unloving thing” (99).

The author reveals some of the flaws in the transgender arguments. For example, if you make yourself the final authority in decision making, you face the dilemma that a decision made at 18 (maybe to undergo hormone treatment or surgical intervention), may well be one that you regret at age 30.

There is also reference to eminent practitioners in this field who, in the past, have assisted those requesting physical change, but now after long observation and reflection, disassociate themselves from their former practise and mainstream thinking. One such individual is Dr Paul R. McHugh, a now retired but highly esteemed American professor of psychiatry from Johns Hopkins (University) Medical School. A practising Catholic, he states,

In fact gender dysphoria – the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be the opposite sex – belongs in the family of similarly-disordered assumptions about the body, such as Anorexia Nervosa… Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it (75).

In counselling young children, the same writer is helpfully quoted:

Even if a pre-pubescent child really does feel they are the opposite gender, statistically the vast majority of individuals outgrow these feelings. This is why the phenomena of children being given medical intervention that blocks hormones during puberty is so troubling (139).

The footnotes helpfully direct the reader to further research.

Finally, the book is worth its price for chapters 11 & 12 alone: “Speaking to children” and “Tough questions”. It is not a matter of if my children or grandchildren ask me how to deal with a biological girl, whom the school now accepts can use the boys toilets, but when such questions will come. This, then, is not a book just for pastors but for all Christians, especially those with young children. The author does not want us to be caught on the back foot on these issues. Armed with this material Christians can enter the lion’s den of debate with secular liberal humanism and stand their ground. The book succeeds in its aim to equip all thoughtful Christians to engage more biblically, intelligently, pastorally and compassionately with those struggling with the transgender agenda.

Steve Carter
Retired pastor, now living happily in the South Wales valleys

 

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