The apostle Paul was a divider. This is not to say he was against unity per se. In fact, in a very real way, you could say that the unity of the Church was one of Paul’s hallmarks (Eph 4:1-7). But the unity Paul was after was thick. Much thicker than “politeness” or a shallow sense of getting along. Which is why he had no problem dividing the world up into two kinds of people: those who are in Christ, and those who are in Adam (Rom 5:12-21). Those who are dead in their trespasses (Eph 2:1-3), and those who are alive together with Christ (Eph 2:4-10). Those who view Christ according to the flesh, and those who view him thus no longer because they are “a new creation, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:16-17).
And Paul’s division doesn’t stop there. Not only does he divide humanity in half, he also divides the universe’s systemic order in half: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). This is a stark distinction: there is a “domain of darkness,” and there is a “kingdom of God’s beloved Son.” Every individual on planet earth is a part of one of these two cosmic orders. We’re all born into the former, and some of us are born again into the latter.
Where Ideas Come from
And, just like how cultures and subcultures have their own distinct concepts and agendas and ideologies, so too do these respective domains. Just like how the citizens of Christ’s kingdom enjoy “the bread” and “cup of blessing,” which is our “participation in the body and blood of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16-17), the domain of darkness has a litany of its own demonic sacraments. Paul has to tell the Corinthians that the idolatrous rituals of their neighbors weren’t neutral. They were “communion meals” for those in the domain of darkness: “I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not what you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Cor 10:20-21).
How interesting. Paul is telling Christians that they ought not “be participants with demons” by blindly participating in the social conventions of their neighbors. In this, he annihilates the myth of neutrality. The agendas that are pushed around in our culture are all coming from somewhere. Their genesis is either in the domain of darkness, or the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. The many ideas whizzing by us have either been “taken captive to obey Christ,” or are “raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:5).
Who’s In Charge Around Here?
Ok, so do we have that straight? There is no such thing as neutrality, yeah? Concepts and ideas and agendas are either in submission to Christ or are in rebellion to him. Great. Now that we have the principle sorted out in our own minds, let’s apply it to one particular area. Transgenderism: is it an idea arising from the domain of darkness or the kingdom of God’s beloved Son? Is it an argument in submission to Christ or is it raised in rebellion against the knowledge of God?
To ask the question is to answer it. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). No distinction between “gender” and “biological sex” here. God is not silent. “I know my biological sex,” I say,“but what is my gender?”And God has spoken: “XY.” Clear as day, he has answered my question.
Now, up until this point, very few professing evangelicals would object to anything I have said. In fact, some may be getting impatient. Yeah yeah, that’s the easy question, but what about the more difficult one? What about the question that baited us into clicking on this article? But this is actually quite important, because we are constructing an argument. And the baseline of this argument is to establish what is real. If God has spoken “XX” or “XY,” then our professed gender is either in submission to his authority, or it is in rejection to it. The adage “he who defines, wins” rings (terrifyingly) true.
So let me answer the question directly, and then, for those who care to read on, let me explain why I believe Christians must answer the question this way.
Question: Should I use my trans neighbor’s preferred personal pronoun?
Christians should not refer to their transgender neighbors by their preferred gender pronouns. And no, I do not think this is a small issue that Christians can simply agree to disagree on. The way you answer this question determines if you have any integral and distinctly Christian thing to say about this topic.
What concerns us is not merely what a preferred gender pronoun is, but also what it means. “XY and her, please and thank you,” means rebellion against God. It means that man, not God, is the measure of all things. It means that man is man’s own God, and reality bends to his wishes (or her or zim or sie or em or ver or ter).
God speaks. And in his speech, reality is constituted. He names things as they are, because he is authoritative. Defining reality, in other words, is a divine responsibility. Redefining reality is therefore creaturely insurrection (Gen 11:4). “I am XY and her” means “God is not God: I am.” Further, for us to call an “XY” a “her” also means something. “Sure,” it means, “I will reinforce your rebellious delusion. Gender actually is something in your control, and is not a prerogative of God alone. You may subvert God’s created order and be fine.”
“But What About…?”
Now, the reality is that the domain of darkness is a complex society. Not all those who belong to such a domain are equally influential or knowledgeable. Some people in the domain of darkness are captains for worldliness, and some are foot soldiers. What’s more, some are non-combatants who are captive to the oppressors of a dark regime. This awareness has led some Christians to mistakenly assume that under the right conditions (say when dealing with a non-combatant), it is acceptable for Christians to acquiesce to their transgender neighbors and call them by their preferred gender pronouns. The argument goes something like this: “some transgender people are not in open, conscious rebellion against God; they are rather confused and deceived by worldly agendas. We should have compassion on them and not unnecessarily offend them.” To which I offer my hearty “Amen.” But that word “unnecessarily” is important in this instance. If refusing to bear false witness with and for our trans neighbors offends them, it is necessary to offend them, for three reasons.
First, Christians are ministers of reality. Our world thinks up is down and down is up. It calls evil good and good evil. The Christian worldview reorients our conception of reality. The good news of the gospel brings other good news as well: “Good news, we know why you keep shooting up into the air and crashing into the ceiling. It’s because you’re trying to walk upside down. That’s not the ceiling, that’s the floor. You didn’t shoot up, you fell down. Here’s how it actually works.” This doesn’t mean that Christians must be saying everything true about every sin at every moment. But it does mean that they must not lie. So first and foremost, Christians cannot call they “XY” neighbor by any pronoun but “him” because they “XY”neighbor is “him” and is no other pronoun.
Second, Christians are not to be propagators of godless ideologies. Just like how it was possible for the Corinthians to unwittingly “participate with demons,” it is possible for Christians to unwittingly capitulate to godless ideologies. Whenever this happens, it happens little by little, with slight linguistic compromises. Our godless society knows this better than we Christians do. This is why “no-fault divorce” was downstream from changing the language of “adultery” to “an affair.” And why abortion on demand was downstream from changing “murder” to “pro-choice (or pro-women’s health).” And why same-sex “marriage” was downstream from redefining marriage. No longer is it a “sacred institution ordained by God,” it is a legal status granted by the state.
On this note, in some regions of society, parents are being urged to stay away from the titles of “mother” and “father.” They insist we use, instead, “parent A” and “parent B.” (This is particularly big in my wife’s field: doula services. Every vestige of “mother” in the literature is being scrubbed and replaced with “pregnant person.”) I would venture to guess that most conservative Christians who are fine with adopting alternative gender pronouns for the sake of being “hospitable” will say, “Ok, that’s crazy. I’d never shy away from addressing fathers and mothers as such. We draw the line here.” But I’d venture a guess that those same conservative Christians would have said the same thing about calling a “him” a “her” ten years ago, and yet here we are. Capitulation is a slow-bleed; by it the Christian mission dies the death of a thousand tiny cuts (or tiny linguistic adjustments).
Third, Christians are to be generous and hospitable and evangelistic, and this is why they must not call their transgender neighbors by alternative pronouns. This may seem backward, but it makes perfect (gospel) sense if we pause to think about it. The message of the “kingdom of God’s beloved Son” and the message of “the domain of darkness” come into necessary conflict. The message of Christianity is peace for the world, but it is not peace with worldliness. This message is offensive by nature. This does not mean that we should labor to be offensive people, but it does mean that we should not be afraid to allow our offensive message to offend, because our offensive message is lovingly offensive (may God damn to hell the lie that calls this an oxymoron). This means that the choice of being a “truth-teller” or “generous and hospitable” on this question is a false choice. No, we may not choose between the two.
Think back on the category distinction I made between “captains of worldliness” on one end, and “non-combatant citizens under an oppressive worldly regime” on the other. Our strategic treatment of an individual will obviously depend on what category they fit into. Sometimes our hands should have boxing gloves on them, and sometimes they should have warm bread in them. Sometimes we cut with prophetic edge, and other times we bind with tender care. So yes, we should be “generous” and “hospitable.” But, pray tell, is it “generous” or “hospitable” (to either the captain or the non-combatant) for us to signal to them they are right in their opposition to God? Surely not. If we are dealing with a captain, we are passing along ammunition. And if we are dealing with a non-combatant, we are aiding and abetting their oppressors. Which is not generous. They ought to be liberated from their oppressors.
The confused teenage boy who comes to your church asking to be called “her” is be co-opted. He’s being taken advantage of. He doesn’t know that he is being used by forces above his head, for an agenda about which he knows nothing. The ideologues who tell him, “You need to call yourself a women, that will heal what ales you” do not care a lick about him. And you do. So how do you express your love for him? Do you say, “Yes, I agree with your oppressors: I’ll play by their rules and call you a women”? That is not love. That sinks the poor lad deeper into the clutches of that dark domain.
Instead, you ought to say, “I can’t call you her because I actually think it would be unloving for me to do so. You see, you have been told that you are responsible to create your own identity, and to fashion yourself into a gender different from the one God made for you, but that identity is actually much more shallow than the one God has for you. You are so much more than that. You have been made in the image of God to be a man, who doesn’t live for himself but for God. So instead of reinforcing an identity that I actually think is harmful, can I offer you one that is way better? Way deeper? Way more sacred?”
Orthodox and Unpopular
Here’s the painful irony in this whole discussion: we somehow believe that if we simply go along for a time with alternative pronouns, we can somehow lessen the blow of what we actually think about our neighbor’s gender. If we tell ourselves that our neighbor’s gender is their biological sex, while we refer to them by their preferred pronoun, we are speaking out of both sides of our mouths. We are being dishonest. And that is not even pragmatic. The opposite is in fact the case. Not only will the offensive message of the gospel still feel just as offensive three months into the relationship, it will feel worse. “Wait, you think I’m sinning by calling myself a woman? Then why have you been calling me one our entire friendship?!”
We will remain in utter confusion as to what we are supposed to do until we come to grips with the fact that our message is offensive. Until we make peace with the fact that there is no way to make our message non-insulting, we will constantly be wringing our hands, trying to figure out the polite way to say, “You are a sinner by nature and choice. The identity you’ve embraced is in opposition to God, and its trajectory is toward hell. Repent of your sinful ways and believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.” There is no polite way of saying that, if by “polite” we mean “non-offensive.” But there is always a loving way of saying it. And we ought to say it that way.
When we bring our message to the world, “repent and believe the gospel,” and our trans neighbor asks in response, “repent of what?” Why on earth would we not answer, “well, in part, repent of that sin that you have made central to your very identity”? Some believers ask, “Do we really want to make this issue central to our gospel presentation?” The answer is no. We don’t want to make it central to our gospel presentation. But our new-pagan culture has made that decision for us. Central to our gospel presentation is the solution to the problem of sin, and if this sin is central to our hearer’s identity, we haven’t actually presented the gospel to them until we’ve brought it to bear right… there.