10 March 2020

Gender Ideology: What do Christians need to know?

The latest issue of Affinity’s Social Issues Bulletin is out now. It is free to download (as are all previous editions). In one of the current articles Norman Wells looks at a recent work by Sharon James on one of the hot topics of our time:

Gender Ideology: What do Christians need to know? Sharon James,
Christian Focus Publications, 131pp, (2019), £7.99

The idea that we have a “gender identity” that is independent of our biological sex is now being promoted by activists within the World Health Organisation, the United Nations and European institutions, and increasingly features in Relationships and Sex Education classes in schools and even in children’s television programmes. In extreme cases, parents who have attempted to protect their children from this theory have had them removed from their care.

The speed with which this new ideology has gained traction and taken hold has understandably left parents and others perplexed, bemused and confused. Sharon James has therefore written this slim and accessible volume to explain in simple terms what is going on, to give parents confidence in the biological fact that each of us is born either male or female, and to better equip us all “to protect the next generation from believing lies that lead to lasting physical and emotional harm” (p.16).

The importance of the issue

Dr James writes out of the firm conviction that if we ignore this issue and remain silent, the number of people who suffer as victims of gender ideology will only increase. While most adults instinctively know that the “binary” division of humanity into male and female is objective reality, children are more impressionable and therefore vulnerable to being taken in by myths that may be presented to them as facts in the classroom. It is therefore vital that parents are aware of what their children are being taught and understand why the new gender ideology is dangerous and wrong.

A chapter titled “Can we Really Change Sex?” and other FAQs succinctly addresses ten of the most frequently asked questions:

·       What’s the difference between “sex” and “gender”?

·       What does “transgender” mean?

·       What about trans people, or transsexuals?

·       What is “gender dysphoria”?

·       Can gender dysphoria be treated?

·       What causes gender dysphoria?

·       How common is this condition?

·       What about “intersex” people?

·       What about those who refuse to identify as either sex?

·       Can you change sex?

Dr James then proceeds to devote an entire chapter to a critique of “gender theory”, beginning with the formulation of the Yogyakarta Principles by a gathering of self-styled “human rights experts” in 2007. By committing themselves to implementing this radical LGBT charter, the UN, the EU and several national governments have effectively pledged to embed gender theory into law and education.

While relatively few will have heard of the Yogyakarta Principles, the Genderbread Person is much more familiar to teachers and pupils. The cartoon figure is a popular tool for presenting the false claims of gender theory: (i) Binary is bad; (ii) Gender is a spectrum; (iii) Boy/girl; man/woman are just social constructs; (iv) We all have a “gender identity” which may be different from our biological sex. Dr James briefly dismantles each of these myths, before going on to warn against some of the misleading vocabulary employed by gender activists and exposing some of the contradictions in gender theory.

She quotes from a comprehensive survey of the scientific evidence which took account of over 200 peer-reviewed studies from the spheres of biology, psychology and social science and concluded:

The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex – that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body” – is not supported by scientific evidence. (p.43)

Having weighed gender theory and found it wanting, Dr James traces its origins and briefly introduces us to eight pioneers of the sexual revolution, some of whom are better known than others: Karl Ulrichs, Sigmund Freud, Magnus Hirschfeld, Alfred Kinsey, Harry Benjamin, Wilhelm Reich, John Mooney and Robert Stoller. She follows this by a short discussion of the contribution of two pioneers of cultural revolution: Antonio Gramsci and Herbert Marcuse, and the convergence of identity politics, radical feminism and Queer Theory.

Biblical foundations

After four chapters devoted to an ideology at odds with nature, Chapter 5 comes as a breath of fresh air. Here, we are taken way beyond the relatively recent origins of gender ideology to the origin of the human race as designed by the Creator. Sexual difference and complementarity are firmly rooted in the created order. Dr James writes: “To disparage the physical human body is to disparage the God in whose image we are made. To downplay the male-female distinction is to reject God’s design.” (p.76)

The notion that our subjective feelings are more important than our physical bodies amounts to a new form of Gnosticism. “Gnosticism divides what God has united. He made us whole people. Our body, our mind, and our spirit or soul are not to be divided or played off against each other.” (p.78) Dr James demonstrates the serious and far-reaching consequences of the new Gnosticism:

It is common today to make a false distinction between biological life (the physical body) and “personhood”. This false distinction is used to justify abortion (the embryo is clearly human, but is denied “personhood” as it can’t yet communicate/relate, etc). This false distinction can be used to justify killing people who have “lost capacity” due to accident, illness, or old age (the argument is that they are no longer “persons” if they can’t communicate, etc). Those with “personhood” are protected, but “bodies” have no inherent rights or dignity. They can be killed, used for “spare parts”, or experimented on. (p.78)

It would be easy for us as evangelicals to imagine that we are immune from gender ideology and that it does not present any threat to us. However, Sharon James warns that many sections of the church have embraced “excessive individualism” and are inclined to exalt individual human experience above Scripture: “If the Bible contradicts what ‘I sincerely and deeply feel’, then my ‘sincere and deep feelings’ win” (p.83). She writes: “For some Christian leaders, the worst crime is to make people feel guilt or shame”, and many believe that “it is abusive to make anyone feel shame or guilt” (p.84). While such sentiments have historically been more associated with theological liberals, there are indications that the pursuit of “seeker-sensitivity” and the practice of “relational evangelism” among erstwhile theological conservatives is rendering evangelical churches vulnerable to the same error. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls.” (1 Cor 10:12)

Standing firm with compassion

In the face of pressure to conform to contemporary mores, Dr James urges us to stand firm on the foundation of the unchanging truth of God’s Word. In a therapeutic culture in which it is viewed as hateful to challenge any individual’s claim to his or her own unique “identity” or “orientation”, we must not be intimidated. But this does not mean that we should be pastorally insensitive:

We need to distinguish between people who are caught up in this confusion and suffering greatly, from activists who are lobbying for transgender rights. Those who are suffering must be treated with respect and compassion. Christians often stop there, and fail to challenge the false teaching that is causing confusion. We must not be naive. Activists for trans rights are not only wanting toleration for a small minority of troubled people. They want to enforce a false ideology on everyone else. They want to change the way we speak, and change the way we think. This is a unique form of intolerance. We are told to address men as if they are women, women as men, or people who demand it as “non-binary”. A new faith is being imposed by force. (p.86)

The penultimate chapter focuses particularly on the “transgendering” of children. It draws a distinction between child-onset gender dysphoria and rapid-onset gender dysphoria, before proceeding to discuss some of the cultural influences leading to gender confusion among children and young people and the pressure to promote gender theory to children through schools. The chapter concludes with some wise, practical counsel for Christian parents and quotes the finding of the editors of a recent symposium of essays on the topic that: “transgendering children is not progressive, but politically reactionary, medically dangerous, and abusive of children” (p.114).

In the concluding chapter Dr James highlights the profound disrespect inherent in gender ideology: disrespect for the human body, for the consciences of medical professionals, for the vulnerability of children, for the rights of parents, for privacy and safety, for the testimony of people who subsequently regret their transition, and for God himself. In response, she issues a tenfold call to respect.

Sharon James has placed us in her debt for a providing a surefooted guide to one of the most complex and perplexing issues of our time. Her analysis is clear, succinct, pastorally sensitive and doctrinally uncompromising, with suggestions for further reading at end of each chapter for those who wish to study the topic in greater depth. She concludes with an appeal to “hold on to the truth and to do so in a way that is informed, compassionate and which communicates the goodness of God’s truth for everyone”. Her book will prove an invaluable tool to that end.

Norman Wells is a graduate of the London Seminary and has served as director of the Family Education Trust since 2004. He is also a director of the Coalition for Marriage.

(This article was originally published in the Affinity Social Issues Bulletin for February 2020. The whole edition can be found at www.affinity.org.uk)



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