The Nashville Statement, a position document issued last month by about 150 well-known evangelical (mostly fundamentalist) Christians, addresses the wide variety of often-delicate situations of transgender persons with a cold screed that condemns such persons’ thoughts as sinful. It also condemns their medical doctors, family, and friends.
This post details the Statement’s assertions about transgender people and identifies scriptural problems with those assertions.
This post also calls on signers of The Nashville Statement to withdraw their signatures because it makes unsupported assertions that can damage the physical and mental health of transgender individuals.
The Medical Professionals on Transgender Persons:
The American Psychological Association explains that a transgender person is one “whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.”
“There is no single explanation for why some people are transgender,” per the APA. “Many experts believe that biological factors such as genetic influences and prenatal hormone levels, early experiences, and experiences later in adolescence or adulthood may all contribute to the development of transgender identities.”
“Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder,” the APA states. Some “who experience intense, persistent gender incongruence” with significant distress may be given the diagnosis of “gender dysphoria,” but there is disagreement over its appropriateness.
The APA goes on to explain that transgender people face multiple obstacles, including “finding affordable resources, such as counseling, hormone therapy, medical procedures and the social support necessary to freely express their gender identity and minimize discrimination.”
These obstacles and others “may lead to distress, including a lack of acceptance within society, direct or indirect experiences with discrimination, or assault. These experiences may lead many transgender people to suffer with anxiety, depression or related disorders at higher rates than nontransgender persons.”
Compare That With The Nashville Statement on Transgender Persons:
Everyone must think of themselves as one of two genders, male or female, and a person’s gender must match their biological sex at birth. Any thought that varies from this rule violates God’s will and is a sin in God’s eyes.
Such a thought is a sin regardless of the genetic influences, prenatal hormone levels, or relevant adolescent or other influences experienced by the person having the thought. It is a sin regardless of their physical, psychological, or other state.
And no one—no doctor, no friend, no family member, … no one—is to approve of the transgender person’s thoughts on gender or to aid them in furthering their conception of their gender. Such approval and aid are sins, too.
That is how The Nashville Statement describes God’s commands on gender.
How Do They Know?
How do the Statement’s signers know these are God’s commands for all 7.5 billion people on Earth, no exceptions?
The signers say they want to “witness publicly” to God’s will “revealed in Christian Scripture.”
Often, a good way to witness publicly to what is revealed in Christian Scripture is to quote Christian Scripture. Citing or analyzing scripture sometimes works, too.
Yet, the Statement does not do so in relation to gender.
The Rest of this Post
Sections I and II of this post summarize what the Nashville Statement tells us God says about the thoughts of transgender persons and about the actions of those who support them.
Section III provides my reaction, including identifying five scriptural problems with what the Statement says about transgender people.
And this post calls on the signers of The Nashville Statement to withdraw their signatures.
I. What God Says About Gender, Per The Nashville Statement:
The Nashville Statement’s linchpin on gender is —
- There is a “God-ordained” and “God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.”
In other words, gender is binary (male or female) and God has ordered a permanent link between (1) a proper self-conception of one’s gender and (2) one’s biological sex at birth.
The Statement does not define “biological sex,” but the Statement infers it is governed by one’s reproductive system—genitalia and internal systems—at birth (and, in some situations, chromosomal information).
Transgender thoughts are sins, per the Statement—
- Adopting a “transgender self-conception is [not] consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”
That is, if a person thinks of themselves as a gender besides the one that corresponds to the person’s reproductive organs at birth, then that thought is a sin.
Grace of God is Limited for Transgender Persons
The Statement goes on to explain how the grace of God works relative to gender-thought:
- The grace of God “enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept” the link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female; and
- The grace of God, however, does not sanction “self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.”
This means the grace of God allows a person to change their mind to conform to their body, but does not allow a person to change their body or outward expression to conform to their mind, per The Nashville Statement.
What about situations in which a person has a physical anomaly associated with their reproductive systems at birth or a psychological condition? The Statement says,
- Neither “physical anomalies [n]or psychological conditions nullify” this God-ordered link between one’s self-conception as male or female and one’s biological sex; and
- As to physical anomalies, “those born with a physical disorder of sex development” were “acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about ‘eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.’ … [T]hey … should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.”
Thus, per the Statement, transgender self-conception is a sin in all cases, even when physical or psychological conditions might suggest otherwise.
Even if a person is born with a physical disorder impacting their sexual development, that person should have a self-conception of gender consistent with their biological sex to the extent it can be known (presumably via chromosomes or otherwise, if necessary), according to the Statement.
Transgender Persons’ Thoughts = Sin
In sum, the Nashville Statement says God’s view on gender-thought is this:
- If a person thinks of themselves as a gender besides the one that corresponds to the person’s reproductive organs at birth, then that thought is a sin;
- If a person has a physical condition at birth that makes their biological sex ambiguous, then to the extent that person’s biological sex can be known some other way (through chromosome testing or the like, presumably), that person’s thinking of themselves as a gender besides the one revealed is a sin;
- No allowance is made for psychological conditions impacting gender; and
- The grace of God allows a person with such a thought to stop thinking that way, but it does not allow the person to continue thinking that way.
II. Approval by Doctors, Family, and Friends of Transgender People = Sin, Per the Nashville Statement
Not satisfied with condemning just the thoughts of the transgender person, the Nashville Statement also condemns the words and deeds of many of their doctors, friends, and family. The Statement condemns those who find acceptable, agree to, bless, support, or otherwise approve of transgender thought or of a transgender person’s actions furthering such thought.
The Statement says,
- “[I]t is sinful to approve of … transgenderism and … such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness”; and
- “[T]he approval of … transgenderism is [not] a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”
In other words, your support of a transgender person or of a person who is questioning their gender can go too far. If your support of a transgender person constitutes approval of their (a) self-conception as a gender that does not match their biological sex at birth or (b) action based on their transgender thought, then your support is a sin, per the Statement.
Presumably, this means that if you are a faithful Christian doctor, you will not advise a person with transgender thoughts that their thoughts are OK.
If you are a faithful Christian parent, you will not bless your child’s decision to live as a transgender person. If you are a faithful Christian friend, you will not approve of a friend’s decision to transition to a gender that is different from what you previously thought.
Instead of supporting a transgender person in this manner, faithful Christians must take steps not to “agree to disagree” with the transgender person about their thoughts and actions, per the Statement.
“Agreeing to disagree” involves disagreeing with someone and tolerating the disagreement while remaining on amicable terms with them.
Thus, under the Statement’s guidance, a faithful Christian must not only disagree with the transgender person—their family member, their friend, their patient, their neighbor, their classmate, …. —a faithful Christian must not tolerate the transgender person’s view and cannot remain on amicable terms with them.
A faithful Christian must also maintain the argument against others with whom they disagree about gender issues and must not tolerate or remain on amicable terms with them, either, under such guidance.
III. Analysis of The Nashville Statement on Transgender Persons
My visceral reaction to the Statement’s condemnation of all transgender people for their thoughts and of all their friends, family, and doctors for aiding them in a difficult and sometimes-heart-wrenching situation is hostility towards the signers.
The signers chose to pick on some of the most vulnerable people in societies across the world. How is that consistent with Christ’s command that Christians love others and follow Christ’s example of how to treat people?
My reasoned reaction is not much different. I do not have a thoroughly worked-out theology of transgender persons, but five scriptural problems with the Statement leap out.
(1) Burden Not Met
People who insist that a particular component of God’s will for others is “revealed in Christian Scripture”—as the signers of The Nashville Statement do—have the burden of (a) clearly pointing out where in Christian Scripture such will is located and (b) showing that such scripture unambigiously means what they say.
The Nashville Statement signers, though, neither quote nor cite scripture in making their assertions about gender. The closest they come is an oblique reference to something Jesus said about eunuchs. They offer no quotes, no cites, and no analysis.
This raises the presumption that they are simply making up their own rules and attributing them to God.
Until the signers meet this burden, their Statement deserves to be ignored.
(2) They Made It Up?
Key premises of the Statement regarding gender appear for the first time in the Statement itself. In other words, although the signers say they are expressing God’s will “revealed in Christian Scripture,” the phrases they use to express this alleged will appear to be newly made up, never or virtually never seen before The Nashville Statement.
The key premises of the Statement on gender:
1 There is a God-ordained, permanent link between a person’s biological sex at birth and the person’s required self-conception of themselves as male or female;
2 Even if a person has a psychological, physical, or other condition that causes them to think of themselves as a gender different from the one associated with their biological sex at birth, it is still a sin for that person to think of themselves that way; and
3 The grace of God is limited such that it does not allow self-conceptions that are at odds with one’s biological sex at birth.
Here is a list of key phrases used in the Statement to reflect these premises, followed by the number of Google hits for each phrase’s appearance before The Nashville Statement was published:
- “God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female” (0)
- “link between biological sex and self-conception” (0)
- “biological sex and self-conception as male or female” (0)
- “God-ordained link” (7, none of which relate to gender)
- “God-appointed link” (3, none of which relate to gender)
- “transgender self-conception” (0)
- “consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption” (0)
- “inconsistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption” (0)
- “self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will” (0)
- “sanctions self-conceptions” (0)
Thus, this search indicates that nearly all the phrases used by the Statement to express its key premises likely had never been used before and the two that had been used were rare and had not been used in this context.
Did the signers make it all up a few months ago?
Proverbs 30:6 tells us “Do not add to [God’s] words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”
(3) Nashville Statement, Meet Grace
The declaration by the signers of the Statement regarding the limits of God’s grace is especially presumptuous. They say—
- The grace of God does not “sanction self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.”
The grace of God, however, is the unmerited favor of God. R.C. Sproul—a signer of the Statement—defines it as “unmerit.”
But the signers of the Statement tell us instead that the grace of God is concerned with merit after all. The grace of God approves and disapproves, they tell us. The grace of God decides whether an action (in this case, certain self-conceptions) merits approval or disapproval, per the signers.
This seems contrary to the very concept of grace. Paul tells us,
- “[S]ince all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.” (Romans 3:23)
(4) Remind You of Anything?
The Apostle Paul also tells us,
- “Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” (Gal. 3:25-26)
The King James Version’s translation of verse 25 puts a memorable imprint on these verses: “But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”
Do the Nashville Statement’s assertions sound like a disciplinarian or a schoolmaster to you?
(5) If They Got This Wrong, …
Finally, there are assertions in the Statement that are plainly incorrect that cause me to question the credibility of the entire Statement. For example, as I described in a previous post, scripture shows that the Statement’s denial “that God has designed marriage to be a … polygamous … relationship” is contradicted by scripture. For example, scripture explains that,
(A) God commanded the Israelites as follows:
“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” (Deuteronomy 25:5)
(B) God gave King David multiple wives and said he would have given him more, saying,
“I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.” (2 Samuel 12:8)
(C) David took multiple wives, and 1 Kings 15:5 explains,
“David did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.”
As can be seen in scripture—contrary to the Statement’s words—God designed marriage, at least at one time, to include polygamous marriages.
What else did the signers put into The Nashville Statement that is not found in scripture or that is contradicted by scripture?
Could it be its statements about gender that use phrases never seen before?
There are many reasons why a signer of the Statement ought to withdraw the signer’s signature.
One is that the Statement harms already-at-risk people. The Statement is an attempt to suppress some of the most vulnerable people in many societies around the world. USA Today reported alarmingly high rates of suicide among transgender persons, describing a 2014 survey showing that “41% try to kill themselves at some point in their lives, compared with 4.6% of the general public. … More than a dozen other surveys of transgender people worldwide since 2001 have found similarly high rates ….”
A 2015 Harvard study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health explained that “[t]ransgender youth are more at risk for mental illness, including depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and attempts, and self-harm than their non-transgender peers.”
Now, the Statement’s signers step up to tell these at-risk individuals that their thoughts—their very thoughts—violate God’s commands … and to tell their Christian friends and family and those that simply “agree to disagree” with them that their actions of affirmation are sins, too.
One other reason to withdraw one’s signature is that, for the five reasons outline above, many of the Statement’s assertions on gender appear to be unscriptural. By their signature, anyone who signed the statement asserted that all the statements in the Statement are true. Maybe, on further reflection, one can see that some of the statements in it are not true.
Declaring that something is “God-ordained,” as the Statement does in relation to its anti-transgender assertions, is something to be taken very seriously, particularly when dealing with individuals who are already some of the most vulnerable people in many societies around the world. Adding to God’s word is serious business, particularly when it harms vulnerable people.
There are other reasons, too, but just one of these two should be enough for anyone.
I encourage each signer of the Statement to reconsider and withdraw their signature.
(The picture is one I took last week of a sign outside Wait Chapel at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC.)
Sources and Notes
The Nashville Statement: https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement/.
The APA: http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.aspx.
“Agree to disagree” definition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agree_to_disagree
The Google searches were all done on September 21 and 22, 2017, as follows: Go to http://www.google.com; search the phrase of interest in the “All” database; click on “Tools” and then “Any Time”; change the “Any Time” setting by clicking on “Custom Range,” leaving the “From” field blank and changing the “To” field to August 27, 2017; initiate search.
Sproul on grace: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/what-grace/
USA Today: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/08/16/transgender-individuals-face-high-rates–suicide-attempts/31626633/
Harvard study: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/transgender-youth-at-risk-for-depression-suicide/
An earlier version of this article was published in The Tablet, a publication of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity.