“You will be expelled from the [places of worship], and … those who kill you will think that by doing this they are serving God.”

–Jesus to his disciples (John 16:2)

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Does a person sin when the person’s gender identity or gender expression does not conform to their birth sex?  Yes, say the vast majority of pronouncements on the subject emanating from Churches of Christ, Southern Baptist churches, and other conservative churches.

Put a stop-watch and critical ear to a typical sermon or article on transgender persons from them, though, and you will find almost no effort asking if such non-conformance is a sin in the first place.  Instead, you will find assumptions that it is a sin, superficial scriptural analysis, fearmongering, culture-war descriptions, truisms, and assertions about homosexuality.  And you will find a failure to tell the audience that gender and sex are not the same thing in this context and a failure to evaluate what scripture actually means with respect to gender.

Scriptural analysis reveals this “Yes” answer is man-made doctrine.  Worse, such sermons and articles and the reactions they stoke are harmful to transgender persons and contrary to Christ’s commands.

This article outlines a scriptural response to transgender persons.

First, this article provides some basics regarding sex, gender, transgender, and related terms.  Then it explains that scripture does not say it is a sin to have transgender thoughts or behaviors.  Finally, it considers application of Christ’s commands to transgender persons and encourages Christians to speak the truth.

I.  Swift to Hear

Many Christians do not understand the difference between sex and gender or between homosexual and transgender.

Part of the reason is that many religious leaders do understand the difference but willfully refuse to acknowledge that sex and gender in this context are not the same thing, choosing instead to mislead their audience.  It happens again and again and again.  Maybe they think it is too difficult to explain or that they are doing the right thing by not distracting their audience with the difference.

Love, to which we Christians are called, though, requires honesty and honest effort to understand others.  As James writes, “be swift to hear, slow to speak ….” (James 1:19).

Some Basics:  Sex and Gender (Biological)

“Sex” is a biological status associated with physical attributes, such as reproductive organs.  It is normally assigned at birth as either male or female.

“Gender” can have a biological meaning, one based on physical attributes.

“Gender,” in the biological sense, refers to physical attributes and is used synonymously with “sex.”  Categories of gender in this sense are male and female (primarily).

Gender in this Context (Behavior and Thoughts)

“Gender” has a meaning besides a biological one, one many religious leaders do not tell you about in their sermons or articles.  Yet it is a meaning commonly used, provided by dictionaries, and used by doctors all over the world.

“Gender,” in this other meaning, refers to “social or cultural distinctions and differences, rather than biological ones.”[1]  This is the meaning used for gender when discussing transgender persons and is the meaning used in this article.

“Gender,” in this other sense, refers to traits—for example, thoughts and behaviors—society expects of a person of a particular sex.  Some traits might be considered masculine—those expected of the male sex.  Other traits might be considered feminine by society—those expected of the female sex.  Categories of gender in this sense are typically referred to as male, female, or other description.

A person’s gender in this other sense usually corresponds to their sex—their thoughts and behaviors corresponding to what society expects of their sex.

In some instances, though, a person’s thoughts and behaviors correspond to what society expects of the opposite sex.  A person of the female sex whose thoughts and behaviors consistently are those society expects of the male sex, for example, can be considered of the male gender.

Male and Female

Confusion arises because “male” and “female” are category names in both the biological sense of “gender” and this other sense of “gender.”  “Male” and “female” in the biological sense typically refer to a person’s physical characteristics (their reproductive organs, for example).

“Male” and “female” in this other sense typically consider whether a person’s traits—thoughts and behaviors—are considered masculine or feminine by the person’s society.  As people can have a mix of such traits, for example, gender categories besides male and female are used.

Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Transgender, Transsexual

“Gender identity” includes a person’s thoughts regarding what traits and gender are appropriate for themselves.

“Gender expression” is a person’s communication of their gender identity (by clothing, personal pronouns, etc.).  A person of the female sex might communicate their self-identification with the male gender by referring to themselves as “he” and wearing clothes typically worn by the male sex.

Transgender persons are persons whose gender identity or gender expression do not correspond to their birth sex.

Transgender persons, like non-transgender persons, may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or asexual.

Some transgender persons are transsexual—which includes a desire or action to assume physical characteristics of the other sex, typically with hormones or surgery—and some are not.[2]

II.  Speak Where the Bible is Silent?

Scripture does not say it is a sin to have transgender thoughts or behaviors.

Genesis 1:27 and Matthew 19:4-6

Some argue because verse 27 of Genesis 1 states God created humankind “male and female,” there are only two genders.  The next sentence of Genesis, verse 28, however, indicates “male and female” in verse 27 refers to two sexes (biological), not to two genders in the behavioral sense.  God refers in verse 28 to biological reproduction when God tells them to “’Be fruitful, and multiply.’”

Also, verse 28 directs “male and female” to the same behavior: “’replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion ….’”  Directing male and female to the same behavior further suggests “male and female” there does not refer to two genders in the behavioral sense (which involves, for example, distinguishing between different behavior).

Some argue Jesus quoting Genesis 1:27 in Matthew 19:4-6 means there are only two genders.  But Jesus makes a physical, biological reference in Matthew 19:4-6, saying husbands and wives are “no more twain, but one flesh.”  This physical, biological reference also suggests “male and female” there refers to two sexes and not two genders in the behavioral sense.

Deuteronomy 22:5

Similarly, some argue Deuteronomy 22:5–“woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God”—means it is a sin today for a person of the female sex to wear clothing associated with the male sex (or vice versa).

A few sentences later, in verses 11 and 12, God gives the Israelites more commands about clothing:  “Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together” and “Make tassels on the four corners of the cloak you wear.”

These commands were to the Israelites, not everyone.  And they are part of the Law of Moses, within the Old Covenant, which is not generally binding on us today.[3]

Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses.  (Matthew 5:17-18)  The Apostle Paul taught that “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)  And he said to “stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,” referring to the Law of Moses. (5:1; 4:24; see also Ephesians 2:14-18) 

Those that insist that the command in Deuteronomy 22:5 must be followed today contradict the Apostle Paul.  It is wrong to try to bind people today to that command.  (Galatians 5:1-6)

Also, one should not read too much into “abomination,” a word commonly used in the Old Testament to refer to things off-limits to the Israelites then, including incense, oysters, shrimp, and eagles.[4]

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Some quote 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 from the King James Version (KJV), in which the Apostle Paul says the “effeminate” will not “inherit the kingdom of God” to argue transgender behavior is a sin.  Doing so is deceptive because, while the word “effeminate” today invokes thoughts of males displaying feminine traits, it is widely recognized that malakos, the Greek word translated in 1611 in the KJV as “effeminate,” has a meaning like “male prostitutes” (NLT) and not the meaning of males displaying feminine traits.

Psalm 139:14

Finally, some argue that because Psalm 139:14 states “… for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well,” God does not create transgender persons.  They assert “God does not make mistakes” and claim that transgender people are simply choosing to go against how God made them.  Such an argument ignores that transgender persons are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made” and are made in God’s image just like everyone else.

At bottom, their argument applies a human standard (society’s expectations) as God’s standard—ironically doing what many of those who cite Psalm 139:14 purport to oppose.  They try to use society’s expectations for behavior and thought to measure whether transgender persons are conducting themselves consistent with how God made them.

Perhaps the transgender person was “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God not to conform to society’s expectations.  The Bible is filled with examples of people— heroes!— not conforming to society’s expectations.

These passages are the main ones accompanying sermons and articles declaring transgender persons’ thoughts and behaviors sin.  As can be seen, they do not establish that such thoughts or behaviors are considered sin God’s eyes.

III.  Scriptural Response to Transgender Persons 

Christ directed a Christian’s proper response to others in unequivocal terms: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”  (John 13:34).  This is supposed to set us Christians apart: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)

What does such love entail?  Jesus told us: “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15)

Jesus’s example involved serving the needs of outcasts that some called sinners, accepting criticism for being their friend, and sacrificing for them, including dying for them.  (e.g., John 13:1-17; Matthew 9:10-13; Luke 7:34; Luke 23:26-43)

The Apostle Paul told us, too: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

Applied to Transgender Persons

What does loving a transgender person and bearing their burdens include?

USA Today reports 41% of transgender persons attempt suicide.[5]  Leelah Alcorn, a transgender 17-year-old girl who attended a Church of Christ, recalled in her suicide note that her mom told her that “God doesn’t make mistakes” and her note pleaded “[e]ven if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self.”[6]

Doctors today do not consider a transgender person to have a mental disorder unless the person feels clinically significant distress or impairment in an important area of functioning.  In many instances, it is not the state of being transgender that causes distress or impairment.  Instead, it is other people’s reactions towards and treatment of the transgender person that is the source of distress.[7]  This includes reactions and treatments by family, friends, and society—it includes your reaction towards and treatment of transgender persons.

Christians’ treatment of transgender persons often includes shunning, rejection, and condemnation.  The Nashville Statement, a declaration by religious leaders, for example, insists any gender-thought not matching a person’s sex at birth is a sin and insists anyone—doctor, friend, or family—who approves of another’s transgender thoughts sins, too.

Much of this treatment—adding  to the burden of transgender persons—comes from fundamentalist religious leaders declaring transgender persons non-Christian, painting them as “the other,” engaging in fearmongering, casting them as characters and enemies in a culture war, asserting that transgender persons are acting selfishly, encouraging Christians to oppose the transgender person’s need for affirmation, and adding to their distress in other ways.  This kind of treatment comes from preachers and others through articles, sermons, and other delivery mechanisms.[8]

Unable to find scripture that says transgender thought or behavior is sin, they gloss over that question and go right to telling Christians to treat such thought and behavior as sin and to treat transgender persons and those that affirm them as sinners and worse.  They insist that the transgender person act and think like we, as a society, expect them to act and think.  Otherwise, the transgender person is rejecting God.  This is man-made doctrine 101.

Such treatment is neither bearing the burden of transgender persons nor following Christ’s example.  Just the opposite.

How to Save a Life

The New England Journal of Medicine explains, “[g]ender affirmation — having one’s gender identity acknowledged and accepted in social, legal, and other settings — can greatly enhance overall psychological health.”[9]  Christians can choose to be a source of distress for transgender persons or can “greatly enhance” their health.

Affirming a transgender person’s gender identity might save their life.

There are some Christians who try to help bear transgender person’s burdens, but they are often viewed skeptically by other Christians and face opposition and scorn. [10]

Conclusion:  The Truth is …

A common reply is that Christians ought to tell others the truth and ought not to affirm sin.

The truth is that scripture does not say a person sins merely because the person’s gender identity or gender expression does not conform to their sex.  Calling it sin is a man-made doctrine and is far from staying silent where the Bible is silent.

The truth is that the burden borne by transgender persons is heavy and many Christians add to it by withholding affirmation and promoting denunciation at the behest of some religious leaders or their own fear.

The truth is we all depend on the grace and mercy of God and we all have a job to do, given to us by Christ:  love and bear the burdens of transgender persons.

 


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Sources & Notes

See generally these five articles and the sources cited therein:  Steve Gardner, “Transgender in the Christian Conversation:  Mental Disorders and Gender Dysphoria,” AuthenticTheology.com (February 8, 2018); Steve Gardner, “U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Should Withdraw Harmful & Offensive Letter on Transgender Persons,” AuthenticTheology.com (January 19, 2018); Steve Gardner, “Sex, Gender, Transgender, and Transsexual:  Definitions Explained Briefly and Clearly,” AuthenticTheology.com (January 17, 2018); Steve Gardner, “The Nashville Statement on Transgender People & Their Friends: Initial Scripture Review,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 10, 2017); Steve Gardner, “The Nashville Statement on Transgender Persons and Their Friends: A Call for Signers to Withdraw Their Signatures,” AuthenticTheology.com (September 22, 2017).

[1] “gender, n.3b,” Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Online, June 2018, Oxford University Press, http://www.oed.com/.

[2] American Psychological Association, “Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression,” http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.aspx.

[3] See, e.g., Deut. 5:1-3, 6:1.  For discussions on why Old Testament law is not binding today from a conservative perspective, see, e.g., Christian CourierTruth Magazine, and False Doctrines of Man.  Alexander Campbell, a progenitor of the Churches of Christ, also urged this view.  For a discussion of moral law, civil law, the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant, see Steve Gardner, “Same-Sex Marriage and Homosexuality in the Bible: Both Sides of the Debate (Part 3, Old-Testament Law Today),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 1, 2017); see also https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/485-did-christ-abolish-the-law-of-moses.

[4]  See, e.g., Lev. 11, 20; Isaiah 1:13.

[5] Laura Ungar, “Transgender people face alarmingly high risk of suicide” (August 16, 2015), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/08/16/transgender-individuals-face-high-rates–suicide-attempts/31626633/.

[6] Leelah Alcorn, “Suicide Note” (December 28, 2014), https://web.archive.org/web/20150101052635/http://lazerprincess.tumblr.com/post/106447705738/suicide-note ; see also Peter Foster, “US teenager refused permission to change sex by Christian parents commits suicide,” The Telegraph (January 1, 2015); Sarah Malm, “Transgender Teenager …,” DailyMail (December 30, 2014).

[7] “Gender Dysphoria,” American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Section II, Arlington, Virginia:  American Psychiatric Publishing (2013).

[8] See, e.g,

Brad Harrub, “7 ways Christians must handle transgenderism,” Focus Press (September 12, 2018) (accessed September 19, 2018) (“those who are transgender … are rejecting Jesus”; “they are rejecting and offending Jesus Christ”; “battle”; “those who believe no desire should ever be starved, however ask them how they would feel if someone else’s desire was to rape them or molest their children”; “In this cultural debate Christians must realize that the two sides start at a different place when thinking about sex/gender. … realize the other side is coming at things from a totally different worldview. Their worldview has nothing to do with God. Therefore, they base all of their decisions on themselves.”; “If God created a little boy, … God made him a male. And for me to call that boy a “she” is actually going against God’s creation. … to verbally change part of His creation is pitting us against God. God’s Word does not sever sex from gender.”; “will Christians sit back quietly as our culture redefines male and female”).

Denny Burk et al., “The Nashville Statement,” CBMW.org (August 29, 2017) (accessed August 26, 2018).

Joseph C. Bambera et al., “Created Male and Female: An Open Letter from Religious Leaders,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, usccb.org (December 15, 2017) (accessed August 26, 2018).

Andrew T. Walker, “What’s in a Name? Why Christians Should be Wary of the Word ‘Transgender,’” The Witherspoon Institute, thepublicdiscourse.com (May 30, 2017) (accessed August 26, 2018) (“So the label “transgender” not only denotes the positive affirmation of a mental illness, it communicates a metaphysical fiction seeking acceptance and adoption throughout all channels of the culture.”).

Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, The Good Book Company (2017), page 146.

Ron Fournier, “The Counterproductive Politicization of Transgender Rights,” The Atlantic, theatlantic.com (May 18, 2016) (accessed August 26, 2018).

“Making sense of the culture war over transgender identity,” The Economist, economist.com (November 16, 2017).

For sermons in this category in the Churches of Christ tradition, see, e.g.,

Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, “A Biblical View of Gender Identity” (October 31, 2016) (lots of truisms and then (~11:25) “What does the Bible say about gender identity?  I believe that God’s word could not be any more clear on this issue,” citing Matthew 19:4; Gen. 1:27; “Concerning gender identity … there are only two options. … They are confirmed through chromosomes and physiology”; not differentiating between gender and sex; quotes Southern Baptist leader Robert Jeffress regarding medical questions; Obama; fearmongering).

South Seminole church of Christ, “What does the Bible say about being transgender?” (December 6, 2015) (Deut 22:5; 1 Cor 11 (men’s hair and women’s hair); Psalm 139:13-16; there are birth defects, but we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and to think transgender is to say God made a mistake and God doesn’t make mistakes; must have Biblical authority to have the surgery, implying it is a sin otherwise).

Mountain Creek Church of Christ, “What Does the Bible Say About ‘Transgender’ Issues?” (April 26, 2015) (highly superficial; “An issue this extreme”; “the crash of our society”; “This is not a difficult question”; Gen 1:27, 31; Psalm 139 (inward parts …); lots of man-made assertions).

Lexington Church of Christ, “Is Gender Confusion the New Normal? (1 Corinthians 11:1-13)” (July 6, 2018) (people are confused about male and female “because they haven’t read the Bible”; Genesis 1:26-27; Deut. 22:5; not recognizing non-biological meaning of gender; “we aren’t going to bind certain clothing”–woman can wear pants and men can wear pink shirts; but men need to “look like a man” and people need to look at us and know whether we are a man or a woman;  1 Cor 11 gives “order of authority”; 1 Cor 11:14-15, on hair, means are you are supposed to be able to just look at a person and know if they are a man or woman women have long hair; you are supposed to act like your sex; Titus 2 tells how to act like a man and a woman; stop letting media tell us how to act like a man or women; do you want boys on your girl’s sports teams and to shower together?; 1 Tim 2; men and women have different roles that God gives them; indoctrination of us by media; transgender movement is rotten fruit; Romans 9; God determines gender; we need to be content with our gender; “transgender mindset is learned behavior”).

Mountain Creek Church of Christ, “How Do You Repent of Gender Reassignment?” (October 8, 2017).

Fishers Church of Christ, “Gender Confusion: An Attack on Reality” (March 26, 2017) (Genesis 1, 2 “teaches us there are only two genders … it is the word of God”; ignoring non-biological sense of “gender”; spends most of the time on issues besides transgender persons; people say two dads or two moms can make a family; “no brainer”; transgender issue “plagues our society”; “fantasy”; “entertainment industry,” “public schools,” “political system,” and “legal system” indoctrinating us on this and exerting pressure on us; culture war and “persecution will grow” lots on homosexuality and marriage; truisms; no one is born gay, it is a choice; transgenderism is about “feelings,” not reality; 1 Sam 16:7 (God looks at the heart) is true but God does not like hearts that reject his truth; gender is not a birth defect but rarely about birth defect; “transgender movement”; Deut 22:5; “perverse thrill”; how can we not accept and be forced to accept bestiality and pedophilia if we accept transgender people?).

Don Gelles, Porterville Church of Christ, “The Battle Over Bathrooms: Transgenderism” (May 1, 2016) (bathrooms;  “it’s not that we don’t love these individuals” but “we hope they conform to how the Bible says to live”; says Bible mentions transgender 20 times; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, says the current interpretations are not right and that the “original Greek” is “effeminate” and refers to man living like a woman (!); Gen. 1:27; Psalm 139:14 (fearfully and wonderfully made); Deut. 22 (this is discussing man who wants to act and live like a woman, doesn’t mention Old/New Covenant; emphasizes “abomination”); 1 Samuel 24; truisms; not acknowledging non-biological sense of gender; transgender “denies God is the creator”; says he read lots of websites on transgender people and related scripture, but still does not articulate the gender/sex difference, what transgender people actually  say about these scriptures, etc., to the audience; transgenderism is sinful because it promotes homosexuality; spends most all the time on homosexuality rather than transgender issues; transgender calls evil good; God has spoken on this issue; transgenderism is always going to be wrong).

[9] Mark A. Schuster, et al., “Beyond Bathrooms — Meeting the Health Needs of Transgender People,” New England Journal of Medicine (July 14, 2016).

[10]  See, e.g.,

For more in-depth discussion on religious and related matters relative to transgender persons, see (I have not read these):

  • David Weekley, Retreating Forward: A Spiritual Practice with Transgender Persons
  • Virginia Mollenkott, Omnigender
  • Justin Tanis, Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith (Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry)
  • Linda Herzer, The Bible and the Transgender Experience: How Scripture Supports Gender Variance
  • James V. Brownson, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships

Opposition and scorn:  See, e.g., The Nashville Statement and other sources cited in endnote 8.

All scripture quoted is from the King  James Version, the Good News Translation, or the New  International Version.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels.