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Compassion and Truth for the Pronoun Debate

Updated: Feb 6




by Jennifer M. Kvamme

 

A friend of mine posted on social media recently that anyone who tries to tell you what gender you can be clearly doesn’t believe in freedom. Her mindset is reflective of our culture’s. Be whoever you want to be, right? Can’t we just leave people to choose whatever they want, if they’re not hurting anyone?

 

As Christians we would say: No, not exactly. We believe in a Creator God whose plans and designs we must not ignore. We believe in a Shepherd whose guidance is good, and who has things to say about our sexuality and how it’s best used.

 

But we live in a culture that believes that freedom and joy come from doing whatever you want sexually. What’s more, those who are questioning their gender are often full of pain and real confusion. In that context, it can seem impossible to communicate God’s love and the goodness of His design. It can seem impossible to know what’s right.

 

In particular, what do we do about pronouns? Should we go along with the chosen pronoun of the person who says they are a different gender now? Or should we stick with their “birth” pronouns? How do we love such people well? What does God really think about all of this?


Good But Broken

Let’s try starting at the beginning.

 

God created us as integrated people, male and female (Genesis 1:27). Our gender is part of God’s good creation of us as human. It is not (contrary to what some would say) primarily about feelings and expectations; it’s about created design. God created the two sexes as distinct, complementary, and purposeful, and He wants us to live out our manhood or womanhood in a way that images our Creator and contributes to the world around us.

 

It’s one thing, though, to read the creation story and see God’s goodness in His design. It’s quite another to think about the world we know, where stereotypes lead to pressure and bullying, where bodies are treated as sex objects, where gender-based oppression still exists. Most of us have experienced some expectation to be different than we are. And some of us have dealt with this on a more intense level.

 

Scripture doesn’t discount any of this messiness. If anything, it offers understanding. Jesus Himself both taught that God created two sexes and seems to have acknowledged that some people were born with sexual abnormalities that didn’t quite fit the categories (Matthew 19:12). Adam and Eve’s fall brought a curse that affected everything, including our minds and bodies.

 

Compassionate Friends

Christians, with this knowledge, ought to sympathize best with those who struggle, to show the greatest compassion to the hurting, and to break down hostility and injustice wherever it shows up. We should be the first to love those who disagree, and the best at creating a community where all are valued. We should be quick to affirm that all people are made in God’s image, deserving of love and dignity and incredibly valuable. But we can also affirm, like Jesus, that God’s created design of male and female is good (Genesis 1:26-31, 2:18-25; Matthew 19:4). It’s not redefined by the messiness we experience in gender.

 

It’s one thing to have an abstract theological conversation about issues. But each trans person is made in the image of God, is deeply loved by Him, and should be honored and loved by us as well. And most likely, someone embracing a trans identity is also dealing with significant emotional pain. Trans students have a significantly higher risk of suicide than their peers,1 which just shows how important it is for them to have caring friends who stick by them, even if we don’t understand or agree with all their decisions. I’ve heard too many stories of trans teens who felt abandoned by their church friends once they “came out.” Whatever we think about pronouns, clothing, and surgeries, let’s be loving people who stick around!

 

Truth in Love    

There are differing views about pronouns among Christian leaders. Some people2 think it’s an act of hospitality to use the pronouns by which someone wants to be referred to. If we’re not willing to show trans people the basic respect of calling them what they want to be called, we’re probably closing the door to any real further relationship.

 

Others say it would violate their conscience to use a pronoun that doesn’t align with someone’s birth sex because it feels like a lie.3 It risks undermining the importance of God’s creation of our sexed bodies and of us as integrated people, body and spirit. And sometimes the most loving thing is to tell someone the truth.

 

There are people I respect who land on both sides of the pronoun debate.

 

Still others acknowledge that different situations may require different answers.4 If someone comes to church dressed as a boy and says their name is Tom, it might be best to refer to them as “he” and welcome them, rather than questioning them about their sex organs. That’s very different from your best friend telling you she wants to go by male pronouns now, right?

 

While the Bible doesn’t directly address pronoun usage, what’s clear is that we need to be able to speak in truth and love (Ephesians 4:15). We want to welcome and love people just as they are (Romans 15:7) but be willing to boldly call them to follow Christ, which involves obedience whatever the cost (Luke 9:23). Before you jump to reasserting whatever opinion you had previously, I hope you think through the weighty implications on both sides and ask yourself questions like these:

 

  • If you refer to your friend by their preferred pronouns, will it signal that you’re affirming their decisions or just caring for them as a person? Will others who overhear understand or be misled? Will using these pronouns tempt you to embrace the world’s perspective, or will you stay strong in your convictions as you show love?

  • If you refer to your friend by the pronouns of their birth sex, will it signal a rejection of their friendship? Since they’re likely to think so, how can you find ways to show increased care and love to them while holding to your beliefs?

 

As followers of Jesus, let’s commit to being good friends to those who are wrestling through gender issues! Let’s love them—unconditionally and joyfully—while ultimately pointing them to the goodness of Jesus and His ways.

 

1. Russell B. Toomey, Amy K. Syvertsen, and Maura Shramko, “Transgender Adolescent Suicide Behavior,” Pediatrics, volume 2, issue 4 (October 2018): publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/142/4/e20174218/76767/Transgender-Adolescent-Suicide-Behavior (accessed March 10, 2023).

2. For example: J. D. Greear, “When talking with a transgender person, which pronoun should you use?” (November 18, 2019): jdgreear.com/podcasts/when-talking-with-a-transgender-person-which-pronoun-should-you-use (accessed March 10, 2022).

Preston Sprinkle, Embodied (David C Cook, 2021), p 212.

Mark Yarhouse, “Understanding the Transgender Phenomenon,” Christianity Today (June 8, 2015): www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/july-august/understanding-transgender-gender-dysphoria.html (accessed March 10, 2022).

3. For example: John Piper, “He or She? How Should I Refer to Transgender Friends?” (July 16, 2015): www.desiringgod.org/interviews/he-or-she-how-should-i-refer-to-transgender-friends (accessed March 10, 2022).

Andrew Walker, “He, She, Ze, Zir? Navigating pronouns while loving your transgender neighbour” (August 31, 2018): www.thegoodbook.co.uk/blog/interestingthoughts/2018/08/31/he-she-ze-zir-navigating-pronouns-while-loving-you (accessed March 10, 2022).

Denny Burk, “Bruce or Caitlyn? He or she? Should Christians accommodate transgender naming?” (June 4, 2015): www.dennyburk.com/bruce-or-caitlyn-he-or-she-should-christians-accomodate-transgender-naming (accessed March 10, 2022).

4. For example, Sam Allberry, "Should I Call Someone by Their Preferred Pronouns?" (April 10, 2019): www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ur-lfYF4dc (accessed March 10, 2022).

 


Jennifer M. Kvamme is passionate about helping teenagers see the beauty of the gospel and apply it to all of life. She has been in youth ministry at Centennial Church in Forest Lake, MN, for 20 years and is the author of More to the Story: Deep Answers to Real Questions on Attraction, Identity, and Relationships. She and her husband, Greg, have three children.

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