The first chapter of Scripture is brimming with good words. Not only is the phrase “it was good” repeated five times, with the qualifier “very” added for a sixth (“God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good”), but these good words teach us what God considers good, a good that continues to teach us today. Understanding what is good will prove helpful as we navigate the prickly questions of our age, specifically questions pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity.
To address these questions we begin, not with man’s words, as many tend to do today, but with God’s words. Scripture teaches:
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).
And God blessed this creation of male and female with procreative potential even as He united them in an exclusive, one-flesh, monogamous, life-long union we call marriage. And God saw it, and everything He had made, and He called it very good. These good words define what is good still today. Further, these good words teach us how to accurately understand reality.
This will prove helpful as we consider sexual orientation and gender identity. We begin with the latter.
Pop culture insists gender is non-binary, that it isn’t limited to male or female. People are free to choose their gender identity from a spectrum ranging from male to female with options like agender, bigender, cisgender, gender fluid, trans male, trans female, and many, many more in between.
So, we see Facebook offering over 50 gender options, the dating app Tinder offering over 35, multiple U.S. states offering a gender-neutral option on state IDs, and some cities (New York, for instance) passing laws forcing employers and landlords to use an individual’s preferred pronouns (such as they, them, their, ze, hir, xe, xyr, ve, vir, vis – yes, these are a small sample of potential preferred pronouns that people are forced to use by law!).
Where do we turn for guidance? Scripture’s good words. Scripture makes clear that we are male or female. There may be many different ways of being male or female, but there are only two sexes. So, we might speak of gender expression, that is, how I live as a man or a woman (whether I prefer sports or the arts, physical activity or music, etc.), but we cannot speak of dozens of different gender identities. God created male and female. These biological realities are fixed and unchangeable.
There may be many different ways of being male or female, but there are only two sexes.
Consider a few parallel examples. I am 40 years old. I do not have a range of ages from which to choose. I am not 21, no matter how much I might identify with that age. I can act like 21 (against my wife’s counsel!), but I cannot be 21. I am Caucasian. I do not have a spectrum of ethnicities from which to choose. I simply cannot be Asian or African, no matter how much I might identify with those ethnicities or enjoy dressing in their ethnic attire. I am six feet tall (on a good day). There is not a spectrum of heights from which I can choose. I might imagine myself taller, but reality demonstrates otherwise. My sincerely held beliefs simply don’t and can’t change reality.
The same holds for my gender identity. I am a male (and God calls this good). This is reality and this informs my identity. I may find that my desires don’t align with my body, but desires don’t nullify reality. Further, Scripture teaches that our desires are fallen. We might say that our desires are bent or twisted. They’re out of line with reality, which is defined by God’s creation. No matter our internal desires or beliefs, we are either a male or a female.
No matter our internal desires or beliefs, we are either a male or a female.
Male and female are God’s good words. They are how He fixed reality and how He describes it. So, it’s how we describe reality. We define people in line with their created nature, not their preferred gender identity. To be more direct, we do not believe it is good to recast reality with words out of line with God’s words. We do not believe it is good to live out of line with reality. Instead, we believe it is good to use God’s words even as we help people to see the goodness of their creation as male or female and to live in line with reality.
Because we believe God’s good words define reality, we refrain from labeling a person transgender (or any other non-binary label). Instead, if a person struggles with his or her gender identity, we would describe him or her as a male or female who struggles with gender identity. The person is a male or a female. Their being is defined by their created identity, not by their desires.
An important note is in order here. Many men and women who struggle with gender identity have experienced some form of trauma, abuse, or rejection as a male or female. In other words, they didn’t feel accepted or valued as a male or female or they felt specifically rejected as a male or female. In order to cope, many began fantasizing about escaping their gender to gain the acceptance they so desperately desire; they dissociated from their biology. This is why the Church has not endorsed transitioning from male to female or vice versa.
First, true transition is illusory. We are male or female all the way down to our cells. Hormones and operations don’t change that. Changing a man’s appearance doesn’t make him into a woman; it just makes him look like a woman, and vice versa. Second, it doesn’t truly provide the help strugglers need. If their deep desire is acceptance as a male or female, it should be offered to them in the place they experienced the trauma, abuse, or rejection: their birth sex. They should be affirmed in line with what God has called good. They should be helped to see the goodness of their created nature and loved and valued in line with reality. Further, we should guard against hardened stereotypes for male and female. There are thousands of ways to be male or female, but there are only two genders.
When it comes to sexual orientation, we again use God’s good words. So, we don’t label people with sexualized terms such as homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual. These are the world’s words, not God’s words. These words define people by their sexual behavior not by the good words God uses. People are male or female. These realities speak to God’s good design for our bodies.
Some may find that their desires are at odds with their bodies (for many who battle same-sex attraction, these desires came about as deep desires for acceptance from their same sex were sexualized during puberty). Truly, this is a difficult cross to bear, but this is precisely what the Church is called to do – help bear one another’s burdens, extend love and acceptance to men and women who are struggling with sin. What we don’t do, though, is replace God’s good words. We don’t celebrate what opposes God’s good words, God’s good creation, because it not only opposes God, but it ultimately inhibits human flourishing. Living at odds with God’s good is bad for us.
The truth of the matter, though, is that we all have desires at odds with what God calls good. None of us is better than another. All lack the glory of God. All need a Savior. All need the good words of the Gospel. A world bent on erasing God’s good words, however, robs sin-broken people from these good words. Here’s how: if we are kept from seeing what God has called good, if what God calls good is removed from the Church’s teaching – which is precisely what is happening in many churches today (as evidenced in the ELCA, PC USA, UCC, and more) – we are prevented from seeing our misalignment with that good. We’re deceived into believing that our desires are the good that should be celebrated over against the created body which is increasingly seen as a shell for the true you.
And the Gospel, instead of being the good words of Christ’s death for lost sinners, is converted into God’s love for and affirmation of man’s desires. God is no longer seen as one who forgives in Christ, but as one who affirms human desires in Christ. God is no longer a Savior; He has become a cheerleader.
God is no longer a Savior; He has become a cheerleader.
At first blush this seems okay, but it is an endeavor doomed to fail because sinful man will never know peace without the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ. Having his sinful desires affirmed and living in contradiction with our created nature will not bring peace no matter how much sinful man insists that it will.
The hard, but necessary, truth is that we are sinners all. And every last one of us is wracked by desires opposed to what God has called good. We are fallen. Our desires are bent. They war against the good. Affirming our bent desires will not help. Confessing them and receiving forgiveness in Christ will. This doesn’t necessarily mean the desires will go away (prolonged behaviors and thoughts wire the brain, making change difficult). It does mean, however, that the good words of God will be seen for the good they are and the good words of the Gospel will be received as the good gift they are. God’s words are good, good for human flourishing and good for forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ.
So what’s the take away? Use God’s good words to describe reality. Don’t get sucked into the world’s words. God created male and female. This is reality, and it is good – very good. Want to visit more on this? Give me a call, an email, or stop in. – Pastor Conner