Should Christians use the preferred gender pronouns for transgendered individuals? This is a question which has a variety of answers in the Christian community. Some individuals, like Preston Sprinkle or JD Greear have espoused an approach called Pronoun Hospitality, where the Christian refers to the transgendered individual by their preferred gender pronouns in an effort to show love and kindness. Others have argued Christians ought to use pronouns that match with God’s created intent. How should a Christian think through this issue biblically?
At the outset, it should be noted that this is not just a theoretical question. Many individuals have already suffered consequences for deciding they cannot in good conscience use preferred gender pronouns and thus call a female a male or vice versa. There are many examples of this, whether it be a Christian doctor in the UK who was fired for refusing to call a male “madam”, or a Virginia school teacher who was fired for refusing to call a female student a male.
The following biblical principles should be kept in mind when thinking through the issue of Christians and preferred gender pronouns.
1. God has created each individual and determined their sex
As believers we recognize that God has created male and female (Gen 1:27). This is not an element of the debate. It is a presupposed foundation of theology. As Creator, God has the right to determine who His creatures are. He is intimately involved in the creation process (Ps 139:13-16; cf. Exod 4:11). When one acknowledges God’s role as Creator, it is a simple next step to acknowledge His authority to determine the order of things. This is why those who hold to evolution are more inclined to be accepting of the idea of transgenderism.
Some have argued that the intersex condition proves sex is not binary, being fluid. However, the complications of intersex does not prove sex is malleable or nonbinary anymore than someone being born with six fingers proves six fingers is a normal condition (or alternatively, that having five fingers is NOT normal). We acknowledge that we live in a fallen and broken world, and thus there will be physical problems and complications which arise from the brokenness of the world. But the created design of the world is that there is one human race, male and female.
2. Human beings are obligated to submit to God’s created design
Because of the previous point, the fact that God has instilled order into creation, human beings must submit themselves to that design because that is God’s command. The Creator has the absolute right to expect obedience from His creation. God gave insight into His design for acting in correspondence with your sex when He revealed, “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deut 22:5). In other words, there is an expectation that one is to live within the expectations of their sex (thus implying there is a difference between the sexes as well).
It is very important at this point to note that submission and obedience to God has never been a subjective issue. In other words, how one feels does not dictate the rightness or wrongness of an action. In other words, right and wrong are objective, not subjective issues. One may feel they have a more feminine disposition, but that does not give them license to act as a female if they are a male. As creatures, we live in the domain and created design of God. We are bound by those restraints.
3. Christians are not to confirm sinners in their rebellion against God
One of the tell-tale signs of those who rebel against God as Creator is that they “exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25). This leads to Romans 1:26, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.” In context those dishonorable passions are perverted sexual expressions. Nowhere is a perverted sexual expression viewed as honorable or noble, and nowhere are Christians told to affirm such behavior.
By contrast, believers are to be known as truthful and to avoid lying (Eph 4:15; 4:25; Col 3:9). Paul himself took radical steps of confrontation when he saw Peter’s own actions were not in line with the “truth of the Gospel” (Gal 2:14). Paul describes God as desiring all people to “come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). It is difficult to see how affirming someone in a lie which will cause them significant harm is beneficial for that person, or in line with our calling as believers. When we intentionally try to support someone in their rebellion against God, how are we helping that person? Would we be okay pretending a mother didn’t have kids (so she could ignore them)? Would we be okay pretending a husband did not have a wife? Why would we try to validate someone in these kinds of identity rebellions?
4. Christians should interact with others in wisdom
At this point, it is obvious that I do not think it is justifiable for a Christian to intentionally refer to someone who is a male as a female to support them in their rebellion. However, there are some caveats that should be noted so as to proceed with wisdom.
First, ignorance is not bad in some cases. There are occasions and places where you may think, “That man sure looks a lot like a woman.” The incorrect thing to do would be to storm up to that individual and demand he tell you whether he is a biological male or not! Such is not helpful, and it also leads to an unbearable burden for us as Christians. If you are not sure if someone you met is a male or female, it is fine to give the benefit of the doubt and proceed, “without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (1 Cor 10:25—adapting the principle of keeping a clean conscience).
Second, Christians should be judicious when and how they talk about these things. Proverbs 15:23 talks about making a word in season. There is also a season for silence, or abbreviated discussion, just as there is season for prolonged debate. For example, if meeting someone who is transgender for the first time, my opening line is usually not, “I will not use your preferred gender pronouns.” There is a difference between not fostering rebellion and flaunting your convictions in someone’s face in an obstinate manner.
Third, I think using personal names or nicknames is a fine way to refer to someone in the third person. Rather than saying “he” or “she” in some contexts, it could be quite appropriate to simply refer to the individual by their legal name or nickname, since that is a commonly accepted practice. Further, that is not an affirmation of maleness or femaleness in most (if not all) cases.
Why does this matter anyway? Well, to put it simply, language has meaning. The words we use communicate something about reality. That is true in every situation, including whether or not we use preferred gender pronouns.
This is why the Bible speaks constantly about being careful how we speak. I do think it is a big deal to cater in using preferred gender pronouns because we are then using language that affirms someone in their rebellion against God. As Christians we lovingly have the opportunity to point people away from their delusion and rebellion as God gives us opportunity.
If interested, I’ve recorded a podcast on the issue of using transgender pronouns, and I’ve also given a longer presentation on the issue of transgenderism as a whole.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash