This topic is adapted from PursueGod Video YouTube channel.
Transgenderism is becoming more common in public life. But as Christians, we don’t always do very well at how we treat people who are different from us. We often react out of fear or with misunderstanding. Christian scholar Mark Yarhouse offers three main ways (“lenses”) that people think about transgenderism, and in particular, gender dysphoria. These categories provide a framework that can help us evaluate how Christians should think about these issues.
Gender identity has to do with how people experience themselves as either male or female (or something else). It is a person’s sense of who they are when it comes to their gender. This is not about sexual orientation, which is a separate issue. Sexual orientation is about who you go to bed with. Gender identity is about who you go to bed as.
Transgender is a broad term referring to persons who identify with the opposite gender than their biological sex. For example, a person born biologically male may feel more like they are actually a woman – and vice versa.
Gender dysphoria is a deep, abiding discomfort over the incongruence between one’s biological sex and one’s psychological and emotional experience of gender. Not all transgender people experience gender dysphoria. But many adopt some level of transgender expression to ease the incongruence, from dressing as the opposite sex, to hormone treatments, to sex reassignment surgery.
The Integrity Approach
One “lens” through which to view transgender issues is the Integrity lens. This approach emphasizes the created distinction between male and female. Sex and gender are integrated, meaning that gender and biological sex should be aligned. Male-female bodily distinctions are sacred and should be preserved. This is the Genesis 1-2 perspective, since this is the order of creation. God made the world a certain way, so this is the norm. God made people as male or female, so gender is fixed. Transgenderism is viewed as a violation of that original design. Men and women should conform to, and live according to, their biological sex. Those who do not are sinning against God’s design.
The Integrity approach takes the Bible at face value and reflects the authority of scripture over how we think and live. Unfortunately, this approach can lend itself to certain pitfalls:
- It can foster a condemning or judgmental attitude.
- It may confuse gender stereotypes and cultural norms with universal biblical truth.
- It may lead to minimizing or dismissing the real struggles of persons with gender dysphoria.
- It may fail to acknowledge the mental health element of gender dysphoria.
- It can give Christians permission to write off people who are different.
- Many who represent this framework have adopted a very combative stance.
The Disability Approach
The second “lens” through which many people view transgender issues is the Disability perspective. This focuses on the mental health dimensions of gender dysphoria. It posits that transgenderism is not a moral choice. It can be compared to other mental health issues like anorexia, postpartum depression, anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder. This is the Genesis 3 approach. Sin has entered into God’s perfect creation, so the original design is broken. There are many human conditions that are out of step with the original created order, and which thus cause distress. Gender dysphoria is one of these. A person makes choices in response to that condition, and those choices have moral dimensions. But the person is not sinning just because they have this condition. With therapy, the dysphoria can be managed and relieved to some extent.
The Disability approach is compassionate and takes individuals at face value. But it has certain weaknesses:
- It may focus mainly on psychological solutions versus spiritual solutions.
- It may allow compassion to, in response to personal stories, take precedence over the Bible.
- It may minimize the moral dimensions of the issue.
- It may fail to acknowledge the complicated interactions between an unchosen condition and the choices we make in response to that condition.
The Diversity Approach
More and more people are seeing transgender issues through the Diversity lens. This approach argues that transgender persons should be celebrated and honored as a positive part of human diversity. There is no single norm for gender identity, and transgendered persons should be affirmed and welcomed. This approach recognizes the lived experience of transgendered persons as they seek answers to questions of identity and community: Who am I? Where do I belong?
The greatest objection to the Diversity approach is that it doesn’t line up with the biblical perspective about gender.
Learning from the Approaches
Is it possible to integrate these 3 approaches? Probably not, as each starts with different assumptions. But we can learn from all. The Christian response is rooted in the Integrity approach. Our starting point is a biblical understanding of sex and gender. That starting point doesn’t have to result in hostility or condemnation. We also have much to learn from the Disability approach, by acknowledging the mental health aspects of gender dysphoria. This approach prompts us to help people in ways that don’t condemn. We can also learn from the Diversity approach. Even though we don’t accept the counter-biblical view of gender, we certainly can learn that people are longing for inclusion and community.
Transgender issues will continue to challenge the traditional biblical understanding of human beings. If we are open, we can continue to learn how to make sense of these issues from a biblical perspective. Being aware of these three “lenses” is a start.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- How would you define gender identity?
- How is gender identity different from sexual orientation?
- How would you define gender dysphoria?
- Describe the Integrity Approach to transgenderism in your own words.
- What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the Integrity Approach?
- Describe the Disability Approach in your own words.
- What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the Disability Approach?
- Describe the Diversity Approach in your own words,
- What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the Diversity Approach?
- Do you find this “three approach” analysis helpful to discussing transgender issues? Why or why not?
- What is the number one question you would have for a transgender person? Explain.
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.