BreakPoint: What’s in a (Transgender) Pronoun?

Speaking Truth in Love

If a transgender person asks you to use a pronoun or name in line with his or her preferred gender, what do you do? It’s no longer a hypothetical question.

In “Romeo and Juliet,” we remember Shakespeare asking, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” A rose is still a rose no matter what we call it. But what’s in a pronoun? Specifically, if a neighbor who identifies as transgender asks us to use ze rather than he or she, does it really matter? What should we do to honor the relationship and the gospel?

It’s a sticky issue for Christians, and it’s becoming stickier by the day. That’s why I’m glad to tell you about a very helpful perspective, an article by Andrew Walker entitled, “He, She, Ze, Zir? Navigating pronouns while loving your transgender neighbor.” Walker, who wrote the great book “God and the Transgender Debate,” is Director of Policy Studies at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In the article, Walker exhibits the truth and grace so necessary for believers to navigate these choppy waters in our homes, at work, and in church. Regarding the truth, he forthrightly points out, “Pronouns are not an insignificant issue. … The question we as Christians have to consider is whether the reality we are being asked to affirm is objective and corresponds to biblical truth, or whether the reality we are being asked to acknowledge is subjective and false. Nothing less than the truth and authority of God’s revelation over created reality is up for grabs in something as seemingly innocent as pronoun usage.”

Andrew adds, “Because, at root, the transgender debate is a metaphysical debate about whose version of reality we live in, and only one account—Jesus Christ’s—can lead us into truth about reality and human flourishing.”

The Bible reminds us, as well, to speak the truth in love—that is, with grace. While God’s Word unequivocally says that we’re created male and female, it also makes clear that each of us has been made in God’s image and therefore deserves to be treated with dignity and compassion. So while Andrew never backs down from our mandate to obey God’s Word as we see it and follow our consciences, he counsels godly wisdom in how we respond to people, depending on things like the social context and the depth of the relationship.

Surprisingly, Andrew first counsels avoiding the pronoun dilemma whenever possible. Rarely do we have to use the third person when speaking to someone. Second, generally, we can use the person’s preferred first name, since names are gendered culturally. Third, don’t lie! “Those with writing or speaking platforms,” Andrew writes, “have an obligation to speak and write truthfully and not kowtow to political correctness or excuse falsehood. … I will call Bruce Jenner ‘he,’ or if I do say ‘Caitlyn,’ I will still say, ‘him.’”

Then Andrew covers what he calls some “tricky situations.” When it comes to a close family member who is transgender, Andrew says he would not honor the pronoun or first name request. “I know this person intimately,” Andrew explains, “and in all likelihood I possess the relational capital to understand this person’s story and speak truthfully.”

He acknowledges this decision may be deemed offensive even when done kindly, but sometimes this is unavoidable.

Same thing with the workplace. If you know the other person well, you should tell him or her the truth. Andrew acknowledges this might mean you will run afoul of company HR policies. “None of this is easy,” he acknowledges, “but Jesus never promised that following him would be without great personal cost.” Indeed not.

I’d tell you what he says about church encounters, but it’s nuanced, and we’re almost out of time. Just come to BreakPoint.org and we’ll link you to the article. Because, while it may not matter what you call a rose, it matters very much what you call a fellow human being.

 

What’s in a (Transgender) Pronoun? Speaking Truth in Love

For more on this very controversial topic, read Andrew Walker’s book, “God and the Transgender Debate.” It’s available at the online bookstore.

Resources

God and the Transgender Debate
  • Andrew T. Walker | The Good Book Company | August 2017

Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • Jordan Smith

    I believe the most compelling part of the article was the necessity of Christians to pay the price required of serving Christ and the Truth. It is a reality we often don’t want to hear…
    It is also sobering that Christians might find themselves more and more excluded from areas where we have been historically active (education, healthcare, social work, etc…) due to legislation.

  • Beth Johnson

    I would like to know if Andrew has a child who has identified as transgender, and how would he then handle the situation? I would appreciate that point of view on a Jesus level… because personally I am loving the heck out of my kid, witnessing to her as much as I can, and praying for her in battle form. I handed her over to God, and He assured me… “I got her” . I think there are some ways that we need to be careful with how we deal with mental illness and the supplication of it by the enemy. This is a real battle we are in, the issue is not even gender, really, but soul and unconditional love. You can let someone know that they are unconditionally loved without condoning their way… but also we do not want to lose them to death (of life, or spirit) Keep Praying. Keep Battling.

  • gary hild

    Better dead than transgender? I realize transgender is a choice. I do not believe it is a choice made lightly. I cannot imagine who would do this to themselves for fun. There is something telling them they are not a man or woman as they were born. And for many, the first choice is present themseleves as transgender or commit suicide. They know something is wrong, and they need our help not our condemnation. I should take the log out of my eye before I condemn my neighbor and child. The sovereign God allowed this trial in their life and in our lives and how God judges transgender and us I will leave to God. I will read the Bible and encourage and help others to find God and understand his love and his plan for us. As they go through trials from God or attacks by Satan, I believe God wants me to show them the truth of his love. I don’t want to be like the friends of Job explaining God’s judgement on the condemned.

    • Georgianna

      Thank you for your words Gary. They have helped me today. My son was saved as a youth. He was then beat “because God would want me to do it” by his father. He was forced to thank his father for his beatings. I was unaware of this for many years and left my husband when I found out. My son was just turning 12. We did not return to church but I kept my faith. My son had refused to go. The church body we worshipped with condemned me for leaving my spouse. The father continued to condemn the son and has had no contact with him. My son was masculine and unforgivable of gay men. He also served in the military. He went to “counseling” at a VA facility. He then proceeded to cut off all contact with me. His FB photos have demonstrated a gradual change to female. He has now changed his profile from he to she. This has taken place over a two 1/2 year time frame. He is one of six sons from the father. He was the oldest. The others are straight…I’m beside myself. I’ve given him up to God since birth but I feel I’m a failure. Society pressures to accept this change. I’m so confused.

  • David Carlson

    A reminder that comments that employ name calling will be deleted.

  • Charles W Bush

    As a believer, if I truly accept the logos as the earthly rendition of God’s Word, there is only one choice concerning transgenderism. That choice is to accept that the condition is completely outside of God’s view] since He Hates abomination .

    Since the scripture clearly reveals all such sexual orientation (homosexuality, lesbianism, pedophilia, bi-sexuality, sodomy, adultery and fornication) to be abomination, God simply turns his back upon (denies) the person and refuses to move upon him/her to draw them unto Himself; therefore, were the person to come to Him they would of necessity do so of their own volition which is virtually impossible, barring extreme pain and turmoil in their lives.

    All of that is not to say that they cannot be saved. That is up to them and God; however, we were instructed to take them outside the gates of the city and stone them to death along with their entire clan, animals and possessions.

    Since God does not change, I cannot conceive that He treats the matter any differently today than He has from the beginning. I am reminded of the day preceding the flood; and, His instruction concerning Sodom and Gomorrah. ( We are still fighting that battle because of our refusal to obey His instruction.)

    God said it, I believe it and I trust Him to fulfil it, In Jesus Holy Name
    Wes Bush

    • Scott

      “All of that is not to say that they cannot be saved. That is up to them and God; however, we were instructed to take them outside the gates of the city and stone them to death along with their entire clan, animals and possessions.”

      John 8:1-11.

      Jesus made it clear that He is big enough to cover everyone’s sins. As long as a person repents, they can find forgiveness through the cross.