"God and the Transgender Debate" by Andrew Walker. A Book Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's a touchy subject, full of societal pitfalls and skittish passions. But Andrew T. Walker, Director of Policy Studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is not afraid of either in his 176 page paperback, "God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Dysphoria?" Truly he's not afraid, but neither is he mean-spirited or uncaring. In fact this volume is awash with sympathy and solicitude. The aim of the book is "that God's voice is heard in this debate." And it is written "for you if you want to learn more, love better, and are open to consider what God has to say about sex and gender in his word" (16).
The volume unfolds quite simply. The first three chapters tackle how we got to this point in Western society, following the trends of post-Christendom, radical individualism, the sexual revolution, Gnosticism, the confusion of sex and gender in modern discussions, and the elevation of autonomy (being a law unto oneself). I was delighted that the author recognized the place of Gnosticism in our present situation. I wrote about this in my book, "Gnostic Trends in the Local Church," and have warned others of it since then.
Next Walker takes up the Biblical paradigm that humankind was made beautifully by God to reflect his image, and that means humans were designed to be one of two sexes. Thus there is an innate, God-given dignity; "No one - not the state, not any philosophy, not any social movement - can give humanity more dignity and worth than God can. Our value and worth does not come from ourselves; it is God-given" (50). Which further affirms the value of our bodies and biological sex. Though we are more than our bodies, yet we are not less than our bodies. Though males are more than male, they are not less than male. And though females are more than female, they are not less than female.
Yet, as the author rightly notes, something has gone wrong with the original blueprint, and it is the cosmic consequence of the fall of humanity into sin. That fall has affected us - body and soul - as well as all creation. Therefore all creation - including humans - groan under the curse of the fall. And its here that Walker places gender dysphoria. Just like cancer, mental illness, and bad eyesight are not necessarily moral failures but a result of the brokenness of fallen creation, so it is with gender dysphoria: "The Bible nowhere categorizes unwanted psychological distress as sinful in itself. This experience is a sign that all of our selves are as broken by sin as creation around us is" (68). Therefore, "how should we think about gender fluidity and transgenderism? The feeling or experience of it is not sinful, but it is broken; and acting upon one's dysphoria is sinful" (74). The real hope for the dysphoria is found in Christ, who may not take the cross of our groaning from us just yet, but he does make us children of God and will one day heal all creation, including us.
The remainder of the book addresses how we as Christians should respond to gender dysphoria and someone who is transgender or even goes the length of gender reassignment. The author is clear about God's standard that someone "can embrace a transgender identity or find their identity in Christ, but not both" (146). Yet Walker coaches Christians to not be reactive or repulsed. Rather, "we need to listen to what it's like to struggle in this area. And we need to be willing to hear hard truths about how we in the church have - either through lack of thought, or lack of love, or just with the best intentions - hurt people who encounter gender-identity issues" (125).
"God and the Trangender Debate" is an important book on multiple levels. It even includes a chapter on how to talk with your children when they are exposed to the subject at school or other places. Walker is not squishy on the topic, nor is he sadistic and spiteful toward those he disagrees with. Pastors, counselors, parents, and even people who are experiencing gender-identity issues will be encouraged and assisted by this book. The hope of restoration, redemption, and renovation found in Jesus Christ is the heart of the volume, and flows throughout the pages. I highly recommend the book.
The book can be obtained here.
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