One of the big topics that many people are thinking about is transgenderism. This is a very complex and difficult discussion because it is about real people, many of whom have been hurt. Transgenderism is part of a bigger narrative that involves gender identity, sexuality and in general the LGBTQ movement. One of the reasons that it is a difficult topic is because it goes beyond the realm of science (except of course for inter-sex people) and it revolves around a person’s feelings.
Recently I posted a blog ‘Gender and Transgender, how should Christians respond?‘ I posted this blog on twitter and received numerous comments accusing me of being one sided and not considering those who say that you can be both a Christian and transgender. In that Twitter feed three people pointed me in the direction of the book ‘Transforming; The Bible and the lives of Transgender Christians“. So, to be fair and to engage with arguments from a different perspective I bought a copy of the book to review.
I am writing this review for 2 reasons; 1) because it was recommended to me publicly, and 2) because I wanted to see how the author argues that the Bible supports transgenderism.
As I read this book I was saddened. Saddened because of how damaging and hurtful Christians have been towards many people in this book who tell their story. Moreover, I was saddened because of the illogical arguments from Scripture. This book twists Scripture to fit the author’s worldview.
I am not writing this blog to start an argument, nor to attack or judge Austen; I am writing this blog because I want Christians to be equipped and to feel that they are able to engage with the arguments that Austen brings. The gender and transgender discussion is on the rise and Christian will be confronted with it more and more. Therefore, we need to be prepared.
This book is evidence that people can twist Scripture in anyway they want, to justify their own ideas and desires. This book is an example of the heart of mankind that sets oneself up as the main authority and not God. The introduction asks a very good question ‘Did God make a mistake?’ If people believe and feel, as many testimonies in this book explain, that they were assigned the wrong gender at birth, surely that is a valid question. It is also the logical conclusion. If people believe that they were assigned the ‘wrong gender’ at birth then God must have made a mistake, right? But the answer that is given time and time again in the book is a resounding ‘no! God did not make a mistake’ and yet people are undergoing surgery to change what God created.
Here are some of the arguments that Austen uses to conclude that Christianity and transgenderism can go together.
Austen argues that Genesis 1:27 (“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”) does not describe the only sexes that exist in the world, but that this verse mentions two of the numerous sexes that exist. Austen argues that
“this verse does not discredit other sexes or genders, any more than the verses about the separation of day and night rejects the existence of dawn and dusk.”
This is an illogical argument that is inconsistent with the rest of Scripture. The Bible speaks about people by using the categories of male and female; two distinct groups with different roles that compliment each other. It is evident that Austen’s conclusions were drawn outside of Scripture and then squeezed into the Bible to suit this particular worldview. However, it does not consider the rest of Scripture.
Austen continues and uses two other people mentioned in the Bible as ‘evidence’ for the understanding that transgender and the Bible are compatible; Joseph and eunuchs.
Joseph was gifted a robe by his father in Genesis 37:3, we do not know what that robe looked like or exactly what it was; it could have been a tunic, a flowing coat or a robe that distinguished Joseph as the favoured child. But Austen argues that Joseph was wearing a garment that was fit and made for a woman to wear.
“As a person assigned male at birth but who dresses in clothes associated with women, Joseph fails to measure up to expected gender expressions”
The word used to describe this robe in Genesis 37 is only used a handful of times in the Bible. 3 times it is used in connection with Joseph’s robe and twice it is used in 2 Samuel regarding a garment that Tamar wore. The problem is that we don’t know how best to translate the original Hebrew word that describes the tunic or garment that Joseph wore. But to use that lack of understanding to conclude that Joseph was acting outside of the ‘expected gender expressions’ is a stretch. Again, it seems that Austen is clutching at straws to fit the transgender agenda into the narrative of Scripture as opposed to allowing Scripture speak. There are no academic sources referenced that support this argument that Joseph’s robe was a coat of sorts made for women to wear.
Austen moves on from the Old Testament and turns to the New Testament with a focus on eunuchs. Austen argues that Jesus’ word in Matthew 19:11-12 prove that Jesus is supportive of transgenderism. The book argues that Jesus is using eunuchs as a positive example in those verses and therefore…
“It means that Jesus knew about people who fell outside the boundaries of sex and gender, and that he did not see them as broken or as morally corrupt. He saw them as people with a variety of experiences and as people with something important to teach the word about God’s kingdom”
However, this does not take into consideration that Jesus was the best storyteller in the world, who often took things or concepts that people knew and used them to teach a particular point. In Matthew 19:11-12, Jesus is using eunuchs as a relevant example to the people of that time to teach them about celibacy. Contrary to what Austen argues, eunuchs were not seen as a different sex or gender. Again, this is another ‘fact’ that is used as evidence for the argument but it is not backed up or supported by any kind of academic resources.
Austen continues and take the reader to the example of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 . Here Austen argues that conversion of the eunuch means that God wholeheartedly accepts people who ‘don’t conform to sexual norms’. Does this show God’s great grace to the world that the gospel has reached a non-Jew? Absolutely! Should this make us rejoice that God goes to the outcast and calls them to repentance? Absolutely! But this does not mean that God has no interest in the life, sexuality and sinful desires of the person in question. Eunuchs were not seen as a separate sex, to argue that they were is eisegesis (meaning to read into the text of Scripture something that is not there).
This book does not explore what Scripture has to say, instead it squeezes Austen’s worldview into its pages. A person must let their understanding of of culture and the world be shaped by Scripture, not let the world shape how they read Scripture. To come to the conclusion that the Bible supports the transgender agenda requires a person who change what the Bible teaches about sex, identity, marriage and so on. The Bible is clear, reliable and unchanging but the world is not. Christians are to be changed by the Bible not by the world.
The cry of this book is that the Church should create a space and environment for the trans-community to feel safe and loved, and I wholeheartedly agree with this. But to create this space and to love people in this way does not mean that the Church needs to embrace their understanding of sexuality and gender. I understand that people are hurting and yes we should absolutely care for them, but that does not mean that we need to affirm their choices regarding their gender and sexuality.
One of the key doctrines of Christianity that this book, and those who are in accord with this book, seem to neglect is a robust doctrine of original sin and the fall. Original sin means that all of humanity has been plunged into the depths of sin because of Adam, the first man, who fell into sin and so cursed the whole of humanity that would follow (Romans 5:12-21). This means that as fallen human beings our hearts, our thoughts, our feelings, our desires, our natural instinct is contrary to God’s desire for humanity.
Being part of the LGBTQ community seems to have been elevated to the most heinous thing in Christendom, which is not right! However, it is also not right to allow the desires of the flesh to take control and to be more authoritative in our minds than the Bible.
Christians are not called to live as they please; Jesus called his followers saying “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). This self-denial is born out of a desire to live faithfully and obediently to the Word and Will of God, and it should be in every area of our lives. We are all sexual sinners.
I cannot recommend this book because it does not teach what Scripture does but it distorts Scripture to fit into the worldview of the author and the #faithfullyLGBT movement. As Christians we must pray for people who are struggling and care for those who are in pain, do not use this as an opportunity to insult others but instead to pray for them. Not one of us is perfect, we are all sexual sinners.