Advice for Churches on How to Respond to a Transgender Child
How would you respond if your child told you that he believed himself to be a different gender than his biological sex? Virtually unthinkable just a few years ago, that's a question facing many parents today. In that scenario, a better response is needed than responding in anger and pain to the flood of emotions many Christian parents would experience. A response is also needed for those parents who are confused about the issue and want to demonstrate to their child that they love and support him. To help parents, those in church leadership need to begin praying and thinking through their response when confronted with a transgender child in their congregation.
This is one of the topics that Andrew Walker tackles in his new book God and the Transgender Debate. Quoting his bio, "Andrew T. Walker serves as Director of Policy Studies with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and writes regularly about ethics, public policy, and the church's social witness." Walker is also a doctoral student in Christian ethics at Southern Seminary, located in Louisville, Kentucky.
In the book, Walker explores the rising acceptance of gender dysphoria, what gender means, what Jesus says about gender, and a way forward out of our society's current sinful malaise. He is a knowledgeable and engaging writer whose love for Jesus is evident in his thoughtful treatment of a sensitive issue (I encourage you to buy the book linked to above). One area in which Andrew Walker offers helpful, Biblically sound advice is for church leaders who are facing (or will face) a transgender child. Or, more specifically, how church leaders should respond when parents ask that their child be referred to as his or her pronoun of choice when that pronoun contradicts the sex they were born as.
In the discussion, Walker breaks it down between two types of parents, those who deny the Bible's teaching on the matter and who steer into their child's transgenderism, and the other type:
[Those who] may hold to the Bible’s teaching but be trying to shepherd wisely a teenager who is feeling suicidal, so their request is based on a desire to enable their child to feel able to keep coming to church without it increasing their temptation to self-harm, while the parent seeks to model and teach loving biblical standards in the home.
When dealing with the first set of parents, Walker encourages honesty about what the Bible teaches. If the parents dig in and refuse to acknowledge God's authority over this area, Walker sees it as a church discipline issue.
The second set of parents create a more difficult challenge in some ways. The desire to protect their child from self-harm is understandable, but that doesn't mean that truth can be ignored. Or the parent may be afraid that the child will shut them and the church off completely if things like the pronoun request are not complied with. In an excerpt from his book quoted on Southern Seminary's website, Walker writes:
That parent requires very different help than one who is wanting to ignore and deny God’s Word because they think that is in their child’s best interest. But whatever the situation in the home may be, pastors and elders should say they’ll be unable to comply with this parent’s request, or to ask anyone else in the church to do this, because it goes against what the Bible teaches about who this child is.
No doubt, unless God intervenes, the problem of how to discuss and interact with transgender children in our churches is going to grow. Thankfully, men like Andrew Walker have prayerfully researched the issue and put into words helpful advice rooted in God's Word. God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew Walker is a resource that all Christians, and especially church leaders, should read and prayerfully take to heart.