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Why Christians need to respond to gender confusion

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In this piece, Christian Concern's Communications Officer, Camilla Olim, discusses the growing issue of gender confusion, and the need for Christians to engage with and respond to it. Referring to the Christian Legal Centre case of 14-year-old 'Bethany' and her family, she emphasises that both an apologetic and a pastoral response are required, and offers some thoughts on what these responses may look like.

The Christian Legal Centre is currently dealing with four separate cases of parents challenging decisions made by schools and social workers, to let children transition to the opposite gender to which they were born.

This is unprecedented and, without wanting to sound alarmist or sensationalist, it indicates the growing normalisation of an issue that was barely on the radar even a few years ago.  

In September I wrote an article on this issue, in which I discussed stories of two young children who were influenced by their parents into believing they were the opposite gender. It received a mixed response, ranging from reacting with anger or sadness towards the cases I discussed, to anger directed at me for suggesting that had the parents not encouraged the children, their confusion would have disappeared in time. This was not mere conjecture, but based on statistics. Evidence suggests that around 80% of gender dysphoria cases in children resolve themselves by late adolescence. 

Writing about gender confusion is difficult because it is sensitive and poses several ethical challenges. And as with all matters to do with sexuality and gender, it is sensitive precisely because it deals with one of the attributes of our humanity that most defines us. But as incidences increase in number and the subject is talked about more in the mainstream media, we as Christians need not only to understand the issue, but to respond – if we truly wish to model Christ. We could of course refuse to engage, but this was not Christ’s way. 

Cultural engagement is about daring to speak biblical truth, with wisdom and love, into the issues of the day that are the most contentious. Speaking truth is in fact a form of love, even if a person doesn’t receive it as such initially. And if we do not wrestle for the truth, who will? God calls us to be bold. 2 Timothy 1:7 says: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."

Believing that one’s psychological gender should take precedence over one’s biological gender is a dangerous ideology, and must be challenged, even as we deeply love and care for those who are experiencing gender confusion. 

Andrew Symes of Anglican Mainstream eloquently explained the need for both an apologetic and a pastoral response, in his article on the subject a couple of weeks ago:

"In today’s environment Christians are finding it harder to hold together the personal and the philosophical, the evangelistic and the prophetic. Is a transgendered person just an individual going through psychological anguish? Or is he/she also a symptom of a wider problem, what Isaiah describes in 59:14: ‘Justice is driven back…truth has stumbled in the streets. Honesty cannot enter.’ When the fear of hurting the feelings of an individual prevent the church from warning about a lie which is changing the basic understanding of reality of more and more people, is that ‘compassion’, or avoidance of spiritual conflict with contemporary ‘strongholds’? It may be that some Christians have a particular calling to focus on evangelism and pastoral care within churches, but this cannot be seen as the only valid Christian response to Transgender, as if the stumbling of truth in the streets is not our concern."

Indeed, Symes could have gone further here and said that speaking biblical truth to non (or not-yet) believers, with compassion, is itself evangelism. 

At the Christian Legal Centre we are currently supporting Christian parents, who fear their 14-year-old daughter will be taken into foster care if they do not bow to pressure from social services, and allow her to identify as a boy. The case received press coverage in the Sunday Times, the Mail on Sunday and on national television.

The parents home schooled all their children until December 2015, when they placed their three younger children in local schools because they both returned to full time work. 

Within a few months, 'Bethany' (name changed to protect her anonymity) decided that she wanted to be called 'Gary' and started to dress as a boy. The parents became deeply concerned and sought professional help for Bethany because they had concerns about her mental health, as she had also started self-harming. When she tried to run away, social services and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) became involved. They are now facing pressure to allow 'Bethany' to use the name Gary in school, and to be allowed to receive therapy at the Tavistock Institute in Leeds for its 'Gender Identity Development Service'. This 'therapy' will involve preparation to undergo hormone treatment. It is concerning that these parents do not have the final say in this matter, particularly as Bethany is only 14 and under the age of consent for sexual activity. It is concerning that the parents must bow to the wishes of the child, who is a minor, and guided by the local authorities. This case is concerning not only on an individual level - it also raises serious questions about parental freedoms in the UK.

Bethany’s case requires a response. Bethany and her parents need legal support, to resist pressure to allow her to take this harmful route at this young age. They also need compassion, understanding and insight into how Bethany can find healing and wholeness. 

How the latter may be done is complex and will take time. There will also be no answer that will suit every individual case. But there are some fundamentals that we as Christians can be aware of.

Firstly, we cannot simply say that transgenderism is 'wrong'. We need to understand this biblically and scientifically. We know from Genesis 1:27 that God created mankind "in His own image", and that He created man and woman as distinct from one another. If we believe this, then we have to accept that regardless of how real the individual’s feelings may be, it is not possible to be "trapped in the wrong body"

The American College of Paediatricians, a policy organisation of paediatricians and other healthcare professionals, issued a statement in August this year, which cited some compelling evidence against the idea that one is 'born' transgender. 

"The largest study of twin transsexual adults found that only 20 percent of identical twins were both trans-identified. Since identical twins contain 100 percent of the same DNA from conception, and develop in exactly the same prenatal environment where they are exposed to the same prenatal hormones, if genes and/or prenatal hormones contributed significantly to transgenderism, the concordance rates would be close to 100 percent. Instead, 80 percent of identical twin pairs were discordant. This means that at least 80 percent of what contributes to transgenderism in one adult co-twin consists of one or more non-shared post-natal experiences including but not limited to non-shared family experiences. This is consistent with the dramatic rates of resolution of gender dysphoria documented among children when they are not encouraged to impersonate the opposite sex. These results also support the theory that persistent [gender dysphoria] is due predominately to the impact of non-shared environmental influences upon certain biologically vulnerable children. To be clear, twin studies alone establish that the 'alternate perspective' of an 'innate gender identity' arising from prenatally 'feminized' or 'masculinized' brains trapped in the wrong body is in fact an ideological belief that has no basis in rigorous science."

If gender dysphoria is rooted in environmental factors, then we should be expending our energy into identifying these roots and providing therapy to heal them. The pain experienced by those with gender confusion goes deep, and altering the outward appearance is not a sufficient solution. Some studies indicate that in the long term, those who have ‘transitioned’ to the opposite gender are at greater risk of mental health problems, including a higher risk of suicide. 

The New Atlantis journal published a report earlier this year, collating evidence from several studies on individuals who had undergone gender reassignment surgery. The report highlights one particular study: 

"In 2011, Cecilia Dhejne and colleagues from the Karolinska Institute and Gothenburg University in Sweden published one of the more robust and well-designed studies to examine outcomes for persons who underwent sex-reassignment surgery. Focusing on mortality, morbidity, and criminality rates, the matched cohort study compared a total of 324 transsexual persons (191 MtFs, 133 FtMs) who underwent sex reassignment between 1973 and 2003 to two age-matched controls: people of the same sex as the transsexual person at birth, and people of the sex to which the individual had been reassigned….

"…Dhejne and colleagues found statistically significant differences between the two cohorts on several of the studied rates. For example, the postoperative transsexual individuals had an approximately three times higher risk for psychiatric hospitalization than the control groups, even after adjusting for prior psychiatric treatment. (However, the risk of being hospitalized for substance abuse was not significantly higher after adjusting for prior psychiatric treatment, as well as other covariates.) Sex-reassigned individuals had nearly a three times higher risk of all-cause mortality after adjusting for covariates, although the elevated risk was significant only for the time period of 1973–1988. Those undergoing surgery during this period were also at increased risk of being convicted of a crime. Most alarmingly, sex-reassigned individuals were 4.9 times more likely to attempt suicide and 19.1 times more likely to die by suicide compared to controls. "Mortality from suicide was strikingly high among sex-reassigned persons, including after adjustment for prior psychiatric morbidity."

As Christians, we need to be aware of these facts. We cannot rely solely on emotions when it comes to addressing this issue. 

Secondly, as Andrew Symes reminds us in his article, this is a spiritual issue. Our war is not against flesh and blood -  it is not against individuals who are experiencing the pain and confusion of gender dysphoria. It is not against social workers or teachers, who are most likely convinced that they are doing the right thing for the child. We must not fall into the trap of demonizing these people or making them the enemy. 

At its core, gender confusion is another method that Satan – the first to reject the identity God gave him and choose another for himself - is using to blind people to their identity. In doing so, he takes out individuals, he fractures families, and he disrupts the very fabric of our society. The enemy of our souls comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), and he distorts truth just enough so that it sounds attractive, but it is deeply deceptive. We need to see this as a spiritual battle if we are to make any headway, and recognise that the battle is the Lord’s. 2 Corinthians 10:4 says: "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds."

The world tries to tell us that encouraging children to make their own choices about their gender identity is the kind and loving thing to do. But that is not true. The true loving thing is to point the hurting to Jesus – to tell them that He accepts them in whatever state they are in, and that in Him they will find the only answer. Only Jesus can fix inner brokenness and confusion about identity, because we are made in the image of God. 

The question is whether we as believers fully believe that this kind of healing is available, and that we can pray for this healing with authority. Isaiah 61:1 says: "The Spirit of the Sovereign God is on me; for the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners."

When Jesus sent out the Twelve, he told them to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leper and drive out demons (Matthew 10:8). And he prefaced this command with instructing the disciples to proclaim that "the kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Matthew 10:7). 

As carriers of the Spirit of Christ, we are called to minister to those who are hurting by introducing them to the reality of the kingdom of God. The kingdom is "not a matter of talk but of power" (1 Corinthians 4:20); talking about the issue is not enough. 

Simply pointing out the problem and withholding the solution – or even offering the partial but not the whole solution - is dangerous for the body of Christ. It is where judgementalism and condemnation creeps in, and when this happens, we become like a "resounding gong" (1 Corinthians 13:1), and those who experience gender confusion want nothing to do with us or our message. Throughout out interactions, we must therefore extend the love of Christ to all those who are experiencing any level of confusion about their gender, loving them with deeds (such as hospitality) as well as words. We should remember that they are made in God’s image, and need his grace just as much as we do. This is the only way in which we can respect their human dignity. 

As we challenge the ideology we must also proclaim that Jesus heals, that he loves to redeem and restore sin-broken people, and that the life He brings is full and abundant (John 10:10). This is what we need to tell those who are hurting. This is the message that we need to be proclaiming, even as we fight our legal battles for the bathrooms, the classrooms, and the family home.  

To help facilitate greater understanding of issues surrounding gender confusion, Christian Concern is pleased to be hosting The New Normal conference, on 11 and 12 November. 

The 3-part conference includes a play, Sunlight, and will take place over 2 days. It will help explain some of the roots of transgenderism and other issues surrounding sexuality – and to give practical steps to help those in need. 

You are invited to attend as much as you are able. 

Visit the Eventbrite page for more information.

Related links: 
Transgender: The New Normal?
Christian family fear 'gender-confused' daughter will be taken away
Book review: 'Transgender' by Vaugha Roberts
Times columnist complains to BBC about promoting transgender ideology

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