When someone experiences a dissonance between their biological sex and the gender they feel they identify with, this can cause deep distress, inner anguish, and no small amount of conflict from without and within. It is a genuine – often unchosen – experience which needs to be met with love and unwavering support; these are real people. In his 2017 book God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? Andrew Walker has crafted a compassionate guidebook for a complex condition. Stripping away unhelpful arguments from both sides Walker delivers the truth in love, and in a way which is profoundly helpful to both those who are struggling with gender dysphoria, and those who would seek to walk alongside them.
Beginning with a quick history of how we got where we find ourselves today (thanks to events like the Sexual Revolution, and relativism), Walker moves quickly to lay out a helpful definition of terms (sex, gender, gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgender) highlighting that they’re not the same thing, and that someone struggling with one of these things is not necessarily struggling with one or more of the others. Chapter 5 provides the foundation for any discussion around these terms; it’s God’s sovereignty, his design for humankind as their Creator, and therefore his right to speak (and the words of Jesus) that are the ultimate issue behind the issue. Regarding the fact that gender dysphoria is not sinful, he writes:
It is vital to pause here to make a very clear distinction between experiencing a feeling and acting on a feeling. Come back to Eve in Eden at the start of Genesis 3. Eve was not sinning when Satan spoke to her to tempt her, when she saw the fruit’s beauty, or when she felt it was to be desired. She sinned when she went beyond observing the fruit’s beauty, followed her reason and feelings in opposition to God’s word, and took and ate it.
Walker also unravels the “I was born this way” argument through highlighting that we are all born with broken bodies affected by the fall, with all sorts of tendencies that do not lead to our ultimate joy and wholeness. The way I was born needs constant evaluation against scripture to determine if this propensity or that should be pursued or rejected, for my good. When it comes to modern medicine – hormone replacement therapy and body-modifying surgeries – the reality is that we can grasp at being men instead of women, but God does not allow it. We are unable to do it and though we can try to change our form, we cannot change our genetic formatting. In truth, Walker says, there is no such thing as transgender. But support for this position is by no means limited to the Christian-worldview. Paul McHugh is one of the most esteemed psychiatrists alive today. He serves as the University Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School, and is the former Psychiatrist-in-chief at their Hospital. He states:
In fact, gender dysphoria – the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex – belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychological conflicts provoking it.
God and the Transgender Debate would not be complete if it merely defined the terms, stated the issues, and didn’t provide the answers. And so, in the back 7 chapters of his book Walker tackles the tough questions, provides pages of real-world examples of conversations he (as a parent) would have with children of different ages, and discusses at length how the church should best seek to equip itself to compassionately engage with sons, daughters, and friends who experience various sexuality-related struggles in loving community. I’m glad he highlights the blacks and the whites, but I’m more grateful that he explores the grays; every person is different, and there are no easy paths. Love requires listening, and transformation requires truth. While Walker’s words are not intended to be the final word on any of the many critical questions he seeks to provide answers to, they are profoundly helpful, practical, and offer invaluable insight into this complex and challenging debate.