Sexuality and Gender

Navigating the Transgender Discussion

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 09/01/2017

It’s more common today to meet people who identify as transgender. That creates unique challenges for young believers who want to know how to relate to transgender people at school, work, or social gatherings. Many wonder whether they should keep these relationships and, if they do, how not to compromise their biblical convictions.

Fortunately, the ancient words of Scripture provide principles that can guide our modern relationships and their unique challenges. While these five principles may not apply in every situation, they are intended to be general guidelines that can help believers navigate their relationships with people who identify as transgender.

#1: Make your friendship a high priority. If your friend identifies as transgender, move towards him, not away from him. Relationships are bridges that allow us to show love, tell the truth, express compassion, or share the Gospel. Too often, transgender people feel alienated from Christians. By pursuing your friendship with them, you’ll communicate you love them, something discussed in the next principle.

#2: Love them. Transgender people desperately need our love. Startling data suggests that 41% of transgender people attempt to commit suicide. That’s much higher than the 1.6% of the rest of the population who attempt suicide. Our transgender friends are hurting inside. Knowing this truth should motivate us towards compassion.

Loving them should seem like obvious advice, but it’s often forgotten. When Christians remember to “love,” they often express it by telling their transgender friends, “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.” The only word they hear, though, is “hate.” They think you hate them and God hates them too. Although you use this cliché with the intention of communicating love, it produces the opposite effect. If you want your transgender friends to know you (and God) love them, don’t say something; do something. Love them. Show them you love them by your actions. Treat them the same way you treat your other friends. That will show you love them and, since you’re a Christian, that God loves them too.

Remember, it’s Christians—more than secular culture—who should show love to transgender friends. It’s our worldview that teaches that everyone—including people who identify as transgender—are made in God’s image, intrinsically valuable and deserving of dignity and respect.

#3: Be wise with names and pronouns. Should you call your transgender friends by the names/pronouns they give themselves (assuming those names/pronouns are gendered opposite of their biology)? This is probably the most complex and controversial question. My answer is: It depends. Ask yourself, Am I a trusted influence and a loving friend to them? If the answer is no, then you are not the one who should try to correct them. Call them by whatever name they ask you to call them. This would apply to most acquaintances, whether at school, work, or a social gathering.

If, however, you are in a close friendship with someone who now claims he is transgender, then I would say it’s fair to discuss your feelings about the matter with each other.

This principle is similar to one we follow at church. You, as a believer, are not called to speak into every other Christian’s life. You may know of a sin committed by a Christian, but that doesn’t mean you’re the person who should admonish him. We reserve accountability or loving criticism for close friendships, family, our pastor/leader, or accountability partner.

We even follow this principle with non-Christians. If you hear a stranger at the gas station swear, you don’t rebuke him. Likewise, you don’t rebuke an acquaintance at school, a co-worker, or someone you meet at a party. We reserve such correction for relationships with people we’re close to, people who trust us because they know we care for them. I’m suggesting we apply a similar approach to transgender people.

#4: Don’t put family rules on those outside the family.* We can’t expect non-Christians to act like Christians (1 Cor. 5:9–13). We might long for our non-believing friends and family to live by biblical standards, but we shouldn’t try to make that the focus of our relationship. Believers are called to hold other believers—those inside the church—to biblical standards. God is responsible for judging those outside the church (1 Cor. 5:13). Instead of trying to manage your transgender friend’s behavior, focus on a higher purpose, the next principle.

#5: Make Jesus the issue. Instead of trying to make your transgender friends follow biblical guidelines, make it your goal to invite them to follow Jesus of Nazareth. After all, being transgender should not be your ultimate focus. Even if your transgender friends return to the gender of their biology, their eternal destiny is still in jeopardy. Your hope for your transgender friends should not be to change their gender identity, but their spiritual identity. We want them to accept the Gospel. Once the Holy Spirit indwells them, He will transform them from the inside out. That transformation, by the way, will not merely be a change in their body, but a change in their soul.

*I owe the expression of this principle to Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church.