Originally published at ERLC.com on January 22, 2021
On Tuesday of this week it was announced that Dr. Rachel Levine would be nominated by the Biden administration to serve as assistant secretary of health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The announcement immediately garnered attention because Dr. Levine, the current secretary of health for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, “would become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.” And following the inauguration on Wednesday, it was also announced that President Biden had signed an executive order “on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.”
News of this sort was unsettling to many evangelicals. The progressive policies favored by the new administration concerning human sexuality are distressing to us. And they should be. As Christians we believe that God, at creation, established a pattern for human life. That pattern is clear and easily discerned. He made us male and female, which is to say that he made each person male orfemale (Gen. 1:27). For Christians, the Bible’s anthropology correlates directly with our lived experience in the world in terms of sex and gender. Sex is tied to biology; gender is tied to sex. And none of these things are fungible.
Even so, it is apparent that the world is changing around us. Christians can no longer take for granted the fact that our neighbors (and our culture) share our beliefs about human sexuality. And in a sense this isn’t shocking at all. In the moments after the Obergefell decision was handed down in June of 2015, ERLC President Russell Moore said, “We need to be the people who know how to articulate a Christian vision of sexuality that will be increasingly counter-cultural from this point on.” This is even more true today. Over the next several years, and potentially decades, the Christian vision of human sexuality will stand in even starker contrast from the ever-shifting view of sexuality in our culture—and now promulgated by our government.
A Christian response
But how should Christians respond to this? The first answer is to remember our mission. Jesus has called his people to live as missionaries in a world that is lost in darkness. Some of these conversations are still shocking to us, confusion about basic elements of biology and identity, but if anything they remind us that this world is under a curse. Admittedly the sexual revolution has brought us further and faster than I once believed it would, but even these developments give us an incredible opportunity to talk about why the Christian church holds the views we hold on the goodness of sex and gender as creation categories.
There is no need to feel afraid. It’s not only still true that Jesus is King and sovereign over everything that happens in our lives and in our world. It is also the case that he has equipped the church with everything it needs to meet the challenges of this moment. It would be a mistake for Christians to respond, for instance, to the announcement of Dr. Levine’s nomination out of fear or revulsion. Yes, transgenderism is deeply discordant with the pattern of God’s design. And while we are right to lament the idea that such is being normalized in our culture—and likely doing further harm to others struggling with their sexual identities—the appropriate response is to speak words of truth and compassion instead of words marked by anger or fear or cruelty.
More than that, with the world embracing false beliefs about what it means to be male or female, it is all the more critical for Christians to heed Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5. In that passage, Christians are instructed to pay careful attention to the conduct and sins within the church itself, rather than the outside world. Paul’s point, of course, is not that the world will not be judged for its sins (it will), but that it is God who judges the world. As Christians, we must hold fast to sound teaching about sex and gender and pass these things along to our children and the generations that follow them. We may not, at this time, be able to reverse the world’s thinking about the goodness of God’s design. But we must still bear witness to these things, demonstrating the joys and benefitsof living according to this creational paradigm, and be prepared to minister to those who are left reeling as the sexual revolution fails to keep its promises.
Serious policy concerns
At the same time, none of this means that we simply acquiesce to these changes in our world, even if they seem inevitable. The concerns Christians and others have raised about the inequity of biological men competing in women’s sports are no less valid today than they were the day before President Biden signed that executive order. Neither are the very serious concerns previously raised about personal privacy and safety in restrooms and changing facilities. These Day-1 efforts to erase the distinctions between males and females through an executive order are critical errors. Such missteps will only be further exacerbated if the administration throws its support behind the so-called Equality Act, which would not only codify these errors into law but threaten the religious and conscience freedom of those who dissent. Whatever laudable actions the administration may take on any number of other issues, Christians should have the courage to say that these efforts concerning gender and sexuality are wrong, and that executive orders cannot countermand biological realities.
Politics is increasingly driven by outrage. But as Christians we need not engage in that game. As we consider these issues, we should remember that the men and women, especially the young boys and girls, who are struggling with issues related to sex and gender are suffering. The shockingly high suicide rate among transgender youth should be both alarming and devastating to us. And rather than judgment, we must offer compassion to those experiencing gender dysphoria and related issues. But that will never happen if the main thing a watching world sees from Christians is outrage or disgust. If anything, thinking through our response to these issues should remind us of Jesus who intentionally spent his time ministering to those most frequently marginalized by society.
Do not despair. Neither Dr. Levine’s nomination nor the administration’s actions on issues of sex and gender portend the end of our republic, and certainly not the church (Matt 16:18). But they do provide further evidence that Christians can no longer assume the world agrees with us about sexual ethics. As frustrating as any of this may be, we should actually recognize this as a call back to our mission field. And instead of acting as cultural critics screaming into the void of social media, we should see ourselves as missionaries, with a people to love and a gospel to share.