God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew T. Walker. – a book review by Richard Wilson
On opening this book for the first time, one little question immediately sprang to my mind – why?
Not why do some people feel unhappy being male or female? That’s a topic covered at great length elsewhere, and one that is clearly understood in a kind and sympathetic way by this author. But why is there even a debate over the Bible’s position on gender identity? Why is this such a hot topic in 2018? Why do we as Christians need to concern ourselves with such an issue? And why can’t we just ‘live and let live’?
Throughout history, Christianity has faced many challenges. These have come from political systems such as communism, challenges from within to reinterpret doctrine and challenges from alternative systems of belief via other religions or those with no religion at all.
It could be argued that ‘the transgender debate’ is actually a manifestation of all three of these challenges and that it’s coming to a church near you, such is the pace with which this change is being advanced in western societies. Will we see a day when two people, both born as males, demand that the church to marry them because one of them has assumed a female identity? Are we then to disregard the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 19 v4, “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female?”. Or do we stick to our guns and face the inevitable flack that 21st century Britain is ever more eager to throw at the church?
Of course, we’ve been here before with other issues such as divorce or abortion, and over time the church has remained intact, but sometimes disunited and often changed. The contemporary climate of individualism can often accompany a departure from biblical standards, and where this is challenged, individuals or groups are often now portrayed as victims. It might seem ironic that those proclaiming the gospel’s good news are seen as the bad cops here, yet that’s the environment we now find ourselves in. This book navigates the way out of this particular maze without compromising the Bible’s core message.
Well, here’s the outlook – if the church does nothing to stand up to such challenges, it will emerge weakened and diluted by a wishy-washy secularism that sacrifices God’s word on the alter of political correctness. Indeed, it might well be argued that the Church of England is itself already morphing into an unrecognisable institution, as its attempts to remain relevant in the 21st century pay more heed to matters of the flesh than to matters of God. The topic of this book is very much at the heart of this change, and will remain so as the Christian church embraces the challenges that lie ahead.
So how should Christians meet this particular challenge? Andrew Walker’s book sets out a gospel-driven approach that fully understands the issues some people face, but which holds firm on the authority of the Bible’s teaching. We are reminded in the opening chapter that Jesus was a man of compassion, and this is a theme that runs throughout the book, effectively serving as a constant warning to avoid letting our prejudices shape our actions.
Walker reminds us frequently throughout this book, for today’s society often steers our thinking away from the Bible’s truths, of the very basic blueprint for life that God set in motion from the beginning. As television, newspapers, social media and governments continually erode this blueprint, even we as Christians can subconsciously begin to overlook it and believe man’s version of it is a better way forward. The result of this is illustrated in the bewildering list of gender identity terms that fill almost seven pages of the book’s appendix.
But let’s get back to the main thrust of the text. As society becomes ever more accepting of gender dysphoria and diversity of sexuality, Walker urges us to show the same level of compassion, but with one important difference. Rather than urging people to live out these feelings and “be themselves”, we are reminded of the Christian calling to point people towards God. As God designed us male or female, that is how we all enter the world. So denying these basic physical facts is effectively denying God.
We read an excellent example in chapter six, entitled “Beauty and Brokenness” of how some people now prefer to accept and celebrate the way others might label themselves rather than risk making a challenge in case they upset their feelings. In the example given, a video shows an American, Caucasian man telling a group of students first of all that he’s a woman. It’s greeted with acceptance. He then tells them he’s Chinese, and then that he’s 10” taller than he really is. Finally he tells them he’s seven years old. For each description he actually receives some affirmation because the students would rather do that than hurt his feelings. But then comes the more sobering reality – would it be right to agree with an anorexic who tells you they’re overweight? Or should we agree with someone who feels their life is worthless? Walker postulates that affirming every feeling about self-identity is in fact a blind alley that leads to absurdity.
So how do we steer people away from this blind alley, particularly in the face of hostility from those who do not accept the Christian message? As Christians we are called not only to share the good news, but also to stand up to those who challenge our message, even if it brings us into conflict. And the other thing to look out for is the church itself. Compromise can lead to weakness, and ultimately to destruction. But being uncompromising can itself be counterproductive. Instead we are reminded throughout this book that a caring, understanding approach is needed to help turn people towards Jesus, as that ultimately is the only way to salvation.
In concluding, Walker reiterates that we cannot tamper with God’s design. Whilst we all try to hide parts of our existence (both physical and emotional), it’s a fact that we’ve been hiding since the Garden of Eden. And he provides the perfect example of how Jesus held out his scarred hand to ‘doubting’ Thomas and in so doing, offered us all a way out of hiding.
So why read this book? Well, apart from being written in a clear and straightforward style, it’s very much a contemporary issue, and it’s one that presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the church, as it is implicitly involved as a defender of the faith.