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Published: 18 August 2020 (GMT+10)

A new resource to help Christians answer transgenderism

A review of Affirming God’s Image: Addressing the Transgender Question with Science and Scripture by J. Allen Branch
Lexham Press, 2019

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The conversation about sex, gender, and morality is changing so rapidly that Christians today need to be able to explain and defend ideas that would have been a given not even ten years ago. For a point of reference, in 2008, former US President Barack Obama was elected as a ‘liberal’ being against gay marriage. Yet before the end of his tenure as president we saw the White House decorated in rainbow lights celebrating ‘gay marriage’. In 2016, Donald Trump, his ‘conservative’ successor, was openly pro-gay marriage! This is indicative of a rapid cultural shift, and we can no longer take for granted a broad cultural consensus of cultural Christianity.

Affirming God’s Image is a book to help Christians become informed and think about transgenderism from a sound medical, scientific, and theological basis. Branch states:

Since the vast majority of us have never experienced gender dysphoria, it can be challenging to understand someone’s subjective experience of this condition. We are called to show the love of Jesus Christ to the world, but how do we accomplish this when the culture is upending fundamental categories of gender? Love for the lost certainly means we should speak with mercy and kindness, but fidelity to God also means we must speak the truth, even if it is painful or unpopular (p. 4).

Helpful background to the topic

Branch begins by explaining the origins of transgenderism. While ancient cults sometimes mutilated men and engaged in cross-dressing for religious purposes in ways that are transgender-like, the idea that a man could be a woman and vice versa is more modern. Branch traces the beginning of modern transgenderism to German physician Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935) and German-American endocrinologist Harry Benjamin (1885–1986), but shows how the sexual revolution of the 1960s set the stage for broader acceptance of transgender ideology.

Transgenderism, like many ideological movements, uses a set of terms that may be confusing for people unfamiliar with the debate, and new terms seem to be created every day. Branch explains terms like ‘cisgender’, ‘bigender’, ‘genderqueer’, and more.

The biblical answer to transgenderism starts in Genesis!

It should not surprise anyone familiar with CMI’s materials that to answer transgender arguments from the Bible, we have to start in Genesis. While the Bible does not address transgenderism as such because the idea did not exist in biblical times, the Bible gives us principles that allow us to answer transgenderism and any other form of sexual confusion. Branch begins with the biblical teaching that humans are created in the image of God, that humans are created as “a body-soul unity, the body and soul being connected at all points” (p. 41), and that God created human beings as male and female. Distortions of this very good design are the result of sin in the world.

Branch shows how Scripture responds to attempts to blur gender distinctions. “Deuteronomy 22:5 affirms that men and women should participate in gender-appropriate behavior and abstain from behavior that intends to deceive others concerning one’s gender” (p. 44). While men would mutilate themselves to participate in ancient goddess cults, men who were mutilated were barred from temple worship (Deuteronomy 23:1). The New Testament also affirms clear distinction between male and female (Mark 10:6, Ephesians 5:21–33, Colossians 3:18–21, 1 Peter 3:1–7).

Genetics, neurology, and medicine

There are a lot of claims made about genetic and neurological arguments for transgenderism, and Christians should do our best to be informed. Branch examines the most cited genetic and neurological bases for transgenderism and helps Christians to understand and respond to these arguments. He concludes that no one really knows what causes transgenderism, and we should show compassion to struggling people who clearly did not choose to feel this way, without compromising biblical truth.

Transgender ‘treatments’

The most difficult to read chapters are those that cover the hormonal and surgical ‘treatments’ for people experiencing gender dysphoria. Children experiencing gender dysphoria are often put on puberty blockers. These drugs were developed to treat children who start puberty far too early, to delay it until a more typical age. However, these are often a precursor to cross-sex hormone therapy in children. The idea is that if a child changes his or her mind, stopping the hormone blockers will allow normal puberty to resume. However, taking hormone blockers permanently stunts a child’s growth, affects his or her future fertility, and may have an impact on brain development. So much is unknown about the effects of using hormone blockers to prevent normal puberty that it is effectively human experimentation.

Cross-sex hormones come with their own risks; as one might imagine, there are risks to men taking massive doses of female hormones, and vice versa. These hormones have permanent effects on the appearance of the individual, such as breast growth in men taking female hormones, and the growth of facial hair and possible balding in women taking male hormones. These changes in appearance are permanent, which is unfortunate for people who later regret the ‘treatments’.

After hormones, ‘top’ surgery is common, and involves breast implants for men wanting to appear more like women, and double mastectomies for women wanting a more masculine appearance. “Bottom” surgery is less common and more risky, and involves removing the healthy organs of the man or woman and fashioning what is meant to look like the organs of the opposite sex. These surgeries are complicated, have risks, and the resultant structures created by surgery do not always look like and never function like the actual organs of a biological male or female. The removal of the person’s organs is, of course, permanent.

While “gender reassignment surgery” (GRS) can make someone look more like the opposite sex, actually changing sex is impossible. The castrated man with breast implants still has XY chromosomes throughout his body, and if he went through male puberty (i.e. if it wasn’t suppressed with blockers), he retains many masculine traits. The woman who gets a double mastectomy and grows a beard because of testosterone still retains her genetic female identity (XX chromosomes in every cell), and some ‘trans-men’ are even able to conceive and carry children, bearing witness that they are still truly women.

Most transgender people hope that gender reassignment surgery will resolve their problems by making them look more like the sex they want to be. However, sadly, “the most important and robust research regarding GRS strongly indicates that GRS [gender reassignment surgery] in fact does not resolve underlying issues for many people and the surgery does not bring the hoped-for peace” (p. 105).

Transgenderism, the family, and the church

We would like to think of issues like transgenderism as something that is “out there” that affects other people’s families and churches. However, we should want to be prepared in case it affects our own family or church.

Branch reassures parents that most children who have transgender thoughts will ‘grow out of it’ by adolescence or adulthood. He says, “First and foremost, love your child while affirming biblical parameters. Never underestimate the power of a parent’s unconditional love to help a child navigate the most difficult moral waters” (p. 117). He also encourages parents to “teach and affirm the biblical worldview about gender from a young age” to counteract the messages from the wider culture (p. 118). He also notes the sad reality that transgender teens have a much higher suicide rate, so he counsels that parents should make it especially clear that they value and love their gender-dysphoric child unconditionally while gently affirming their biological sex.

Branch suggests that if we are faithful to the Great Commission to share the Gospel with all people, we very well may see transgender people converted in our churches. Helping someone who has mutilated themselves in an attempt to resemble the opposite sex as they grow in holiness and conformity to Christ is a unique pastoral challenge, and Branch advises Christians to distinguish between people who experience unwanted gender dysphoria and people who embrace a transgender identity, often along with a particular anti-Christian worldview. He also encourages us: “Christians can trust God to show them the best way to interact with transgender coworkers and friends” (p. 144).

A great resource on a challenging topic

Affirming God’s Image is a thoroughly biblical resource that will help anyone with questions about transgenderism or how to respond to current transgender arguments. It is thoroughly loving and pastoral without compromising on essential biblical truths about sex and gender.

Readers should be aware that medical procedures and various realities of sex and gender are discussed in a frank, but not prurient, way. This means it is not appropriate for children, but parents may want to study this book with their more mature teens to help them be ready to ‘give an answer’ to a topic they are sure to be challenged with.

Helpful Resources

Affirming God’s Image
by J. Alan Branch
US $17.00
Soft Cover
Gay Marriage: right or wrong?
by Gary Bates, Lita Cosner
US $3.50
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Kim B.
Thanks Lita. Just a quick one regarding your opening statement. I always thought that the only legacy of Barack Obama's presidency was the legalisation of same sex marriage (without putting the issue to the people like they did in Australia). It's interesting because I don't think Donald Trump would have legalised it (atleast I hope not).
Lita Cosner
Kim, the significance is that public opinion changed that quickly--most people forgot that as recently as 2008, it would have been impossible for even a 'liberal' candidate to be elected as pro-gay marriage.
Dale B.
Hi, thanks for this review. I was a little surprised that there doesn't appear to be any reference to the spiritual battle in which we are all involved. One of the enemy's biggest battle grounds is in the mind and if christian's don't recognise this and don't wage spiritual warfare as Jesus did Matt 16:23 'Get behind me Satan' & Matt 4 'It is written...' then we too run the risk of being swayed by ungodly thoughts and emotions without realising that the enemy is behind them. James 4:7 :Resist the devil and he will flee from you'. Resisting is proactive and not just passive intellectual reasoning. For non-believers, they first need to come under a conviction of sin, get born again and then be taught to wage the spiritual battle.
Daniel T.
Good morning, CMI. Interesting and informative article. Now, I had a question about what I read about the report from "The New Atlantis" where they compared 500 scientific studies for sexuality and gender. The study concluded that there is no [compelling or conclusive] evidence for homosexuals to say that they were "born that way." I mean, there is no biological basis that tells us that homosexuality is generated. But on the other hand, the study says the opposite. However, we cannot know for sure a biological basis for heterosexuality. Could you help me on this? I would like to know if there really is a human anatomical predisposition in heterosexuality, or if the genes are made for heterosexuality. John Hartnett told me that in reality (not in reference to this case) there are studies that are incorrect, and that as praised as the one who promulgated it, the conclusions may be wrong. I had that question, is there a biological basis for heterosexuality? Since I believe from what I have seen, that there is no biological basis for homosexuality (nor for the transgender from what I understood). God bless you
Lita Cosner
The biological basis for heterosexuality is literally coded into our genes and our capacity to reproduce ourselves as a species. Heterosexuality is plainly the 'default', and anything deviation from that norm is what needs an explanation, whether biological, sociological, or psychological.
Heather S.
I tried, once, to talk with somebody about this - how no matter what you were either male (with a Y chromosome) or female (without one). They brought up something I'd never heard of... androgen insensitivity syndrome, where a person can be XY (male) but the Y chromosome is inactive or something - I'm not an expert! - meaning that they physically develop as a female. It's rare - 2 to 5 people per 100,000 - but it does happen. So hypothetically... if someone thought they were a female but were actually male without knowing it, how does this work?
Lita Cosner
AIS is one of the more common intersex conditions. A person with AIS is born looking female, feeling female, treated female--in all respects female, except that her genes say XY and instead of a uterus and overies, she has testes, which normally need to be removed to avoid cancer. She sometimes only finds out about her condition when she fails to begin menstruation, and the revelation is often devastating. You will notice I use the female pronoun--this is an individual who is female, albeit with a genetic condition which renders her infertile.

Intersex is completely different from transgender--intersex people have complex medical conditions and should be treated with compassion and pastoral sensitivity. Just as it is wrong when people hijack intersex issues to promote transgender ideology, it would be inappropriate for us to force overly simplistic explanations on intersex conditions in order to argue against transgenderism.
Wanda G.
I recently posted something, an opinion, really, about how it is possible that the current feminization of society is having a negative effect on men and boys. It was a response to the #femboy movement on TikTok, something that Vice magazine took up. This movement is about boys normalizing wearing feminine attire (be they straight or gay). I argued that as much as clothing tends to vary in different civilizations and society (the Scottish kilt and Masaii dress for example), the current understanding and distinctions between the masculine and feminine were what men and women chose for themselves, mostly. The Vice article talked about how most of the responders to the movement were appalled, disgusted or upset because they were "bigots" or "traditionalists" but I argued that it was likely that men were tired of having what they defined as masculine demonized in an increasingly feministic society. Be it how they related to each other (physical contests and banter) or how they dressed and what they defined as masculine. Granted, femboys are still boys, and one could argue that they also have the right to define masculinity, except that they aren't doing it when using the term "femboy." Feminine boy. It doesn't look like redefining the masculine, but emasculating males and boys. I could go further into my speculations concerning how feminism has negatively affected young men, to the point where to be accepted and acknowledged they feel that they have to conform to feminine behavior. Anyways, this post of mine got quite a heated response (predictably from females) about how gender isn't that simple, and how what I was saying was wrong. And how the moment I tried to define masculinity or femininity, I was playing God. Clarity is dearly needed on such matters.
TOM G.
There isn't a single Scripture that supports transgenderism or becoming something other than God biologically created. The same is true of sexual dysfunctions. What and how a person thinks subjectively doesn't change biology. Yet we must definitely love all people. That does not mean we should condone aberrant behaviors not accepted by Scripture. We should love people out of their sin and lovingly avoid condoning or being interpreted as promoting behaviors that go against how God has biologically created them. Unfortunately there are very rarely some that are born biologically contorted. That is a difficult issue and needs to be carefully and Scripturally dealt with. However, most of what happens today isn't biology it is what a person thinks and the influences that cause that thinking. Confused thinking is the basis for all sin and it is natural in unregenerated mankind. Christ came to address forgiveness of mankind's sin, but He never condoned sin of any kind. It is difficult to counsel those with confused sexual or gender orientation. This problem is made much harder to Scripturally counsel people with these issues by society authorizing and promoting that it is OK. Jesus also had a lot to say about the ways and wisdom of the world and society. Just as our Lord changed our heart from one of sin and insensitivity to it to one that abhors and has repented from our past sins, He can also change the confusion of peoples thinking regarding transgenderism and sexual dysfunction. The challenge is for confessing Christians to rightly use Scripture in all circumstances and let the Holy Spirit do His work as He wills in human hearts. Scripture must guide us, not the flesh, not what is popular, not the government, not the world, Only God has the answers for the needy heart.
Alister H.
Tom G says "Confused thinking is the basis for all sin." That idea is certainly attractive in this context, but I think it is neither true nor helpful. Fallen man has wicked desires God has given him a conscience so he knows they are wicked. Cain didn't kill Abel believing it was the morally right thing to do. If we look at pornography or something we're not all doing it believing it is morally OK.
Alister H.
Responding to the question "if someone thought they were a female but were actually male without knowing it, how does this work?", Lita effectively says in the case of AIS this isn't how it works - they actually are a female in spite of the XY chromosomes. "You will notice I use the female pronoun--this is an individual who is female, albeit with a genetic condition which renders her infertile."
Saying they are a female would make sense to someone who didn't know about XY chromosomes, but might be surprising to most people these days. And I can certainly see why the alphabet movement are so keen to include the i for "intersex" - so they can extrapolate from that to "trans" people (perhaps bringing up a questionable study on brain structure or function, and then they can authoritatively claim a man who feels like a woman is a woman). How should we define male and female?
Lita Cosner
In the vast majority of cases, it is easy to identify male and female. The physical appearance aligns with the genetics of the individual. Intersex individuals are the 'exception that proves the rule'. An AIS female is someone who outwardly looks female. She has developed as a female, and often the first indication that something isn't right is when she fails to begin menstruation, and upon examination it is found that instead of female organs, she has internal testes. This is a very rare instance where someone's apparent sex does not align with their genetics, and it is completely different from transgenderism.

We define males and females the same way people have throughout all of history--in nearly all cases it is clearly evident. For the tiny minority of intersex people, we should respond to their medical condition with compassion, understanding, and they should receive the appropriate pastoral care to work through any issues regarding how to present themselves and live a Christ-honoring life.

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