Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash
President Trump’s tweets last week, which promised to ban transgender Americans from serving in the armed forces, added to the long list of his polarizing antics. Many condemned the action as discriminatory. Others lauded him for his decision based on practical considerations like cost and the inaccessibility of transition medications on the front lines. Others praised the President out of hatred for transgender people.
I want to address that final response, the response born out of hatred.
It is sub-Christian.
It is anti-Christian.
It is anti-Christ.
Any response to any issue that stems from a hatred of people is anathema to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And that’s what I want to talk about today. Because the Gospel must be the starting point for every conversation regarding the transgender community and transgender rights.
The Gospel does not begin with what Jesus did for us because the Gospel is not first about us. It’s about God. In the beginning, God created everything seen and unseen. Everything that exists is created by him.
But not all things are created equal. When God created humankind, he created the first man and woman in his image, an image that is passed down from generation to generation. To be made in God’s image is not to say that the image is a part of us or that it was added onto us.
No, to say that man and woman are made in the image of God is to say that to be human is to be image. You can no more separate the image of God from a human being than you can remove liquidity from water. One constitutes and defines the other.
The image was not lost when Adam sinned. The image was marred, yes. Twisted, perverted, and even damaged, yes. But still the image remains (Gen 9:6).
If the image can survive such a cataclysmic evil like the fall of humanity, then we must also hold that the image can survive all our sins, no matter how great or small. No matter what one does to body or soul, the image of God requires that every human person be treated with respect, dignity, and love because we reflect our Creator who is due those things and more.
And so the first Gospel truth we encounter is that transgender men and women are made in the image of God and due respect and love. We must treat them with the dignity afforded them by God.
Universal Guilt before God
The rebellion of Adam against his Creator placed all of humankind on a path to destruction. No longer were we in communion with the God who lovingly created us, but we were oath-breakers, rebels, and sinners. Our innocence was gone and we were no longer fit to be in the presence of the glory of God. So we were cast from the garden, separated from the glory of God and condemned to live out our days guilty and ashamed.
This is true of every person ever born. When Adam sinned, he didn’t rebel just as one person but as the representative of every human being born after him. His rebellion is our rebellion. His guilt is our guilt.
We are guilty and stand condemned. Regardless of any good or evil we have done in our lives. Regardless of gender, race, or class. Regardless of gender identity.
We need to remember this in discussions with and about the transgender community. Because of Adam’s sin we all stand in the same place: spiritually dead, separated from Christ, alienated from the covenant of promise.
And so, but for the grace of Christ, my transgender neighbor and I aren’t all that different. Yes, my neighbor has sinned. Yes, my neighbor has rebelled against her Creator God. And so have I.
Salvation as Gift
We have rebelled, but God has not abandoned us. Even in our sin, he loves us. He loves us so much that he sent his Son Jesus Christ to live among us. Jesus accomplished what Adam couldn’t. Jesus obeyed where Adam rebelled. Jesus saves where Adam damns.
Jesus didn’t only live for us, he died for us. He took on himself the sins of every person who trusts in him and was crushed under God’s wrath against sin. He paid for our sins, an atonement unlike any that came before and canceling out the need for any that would come after.
He died for my sins. They are many and they are evil. All sin is. If you want your sins covered, you need only repent of them and turn to Christ in faith. No matter what you have done, no matter who you are, God loves you and proved his love in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
God loves our transgender neighbors as well. Yes, they are sinners in need of grace like the rest of us. But transitioning between genders is not the unpardonable sin. God can save anyone who turns to him no matter the sins committed. If we forget this, if we view our transgender neighbors as “worse” than us, as somehow beyond the saving grace of Jesus Christ, then we don’t understand the depth of our own depravity and we blaspheme the power of God.
Jesus lived. He died. And he lives again. He was raised from the grave, justified for his perfect life and able to justify all who come to him. His righteousness is gifted to unrighteous people, his worthiness makes the unworthy worthy. So how can we condemn the other? Call sin what it is, yes. But not triumphantly. Not with hate. With love, compassion, and a broken heart.
Come to Jesus, all you who are weary, for his yoke is light.
A Life of Neighbor-Love
The beautiful Gospel I’ve been describing leads us to love our neighbor. Why? Because, first, it’s commanded. From the Law of Moses (Leviticus 19:18) to the words of Jesus (Luke 10:27) and later the writings of Paul (Galatians 5:14), the command to love neighbor is central to the Christian ethic. It is the modus operandi of our lives.
Transgender men and women are our neighbors. And we are to love them. Not just because it’s commanded, but because our love for neighbor reflects God’s love.
Even more, God’s love for our neighbor pours out of us from the indwelling Holy Spirit. And as the Spirit transforms and sanctifies us, our sinful responses of hatred and fear will also transform into love.
Some may object that love for neighbor doesn’t include blindness to sin. Of course this is true. But recognition of sin doesn’t somehow cancel out the love we should feel for our neighbor.
Others may object that all Christians agree with the things I’ve written here. That this is just adding to the noise.
But there’s a difference between agreeing with propositions and actually being transformed into a person marked by neighbor-love.
When you see a picture of a transgender person, what’s the first thing you feel? Is it love for neighbor? Or disgust? Anger? Frustration? Sure, you may be angered at the effects of sin. Are you angered even more by the sin in your own heart? By your own rebellion against God?
Brothers and sisters, anger and disgust shouldn’t be the first thing we feel. The first thing should be love.
Many seem to hate that this conversation is happening at all. Why? Because of how much you love your neighbor? Or because the conversation makes you uncomfortable? Because you don’t want to consider “those people” as the same as you?
The Gospel that demands neighbor-love must be the starting point of all Christian conversation about the transgender community and transgender rights. If we don’t begin here we will find ourselves entangled in all sorts of error and actually working against the Gospel we claim to be upholding.
Take a moment and consider your heart. Are you motivated in your comments, posts, social media debates by neighbor love? Or is it something else? Something unworthy of the Christian?
I leave you with thoughts from John Calvin, some of which I just borrowed:
“Our Savior having shown, in the parable of the Samaritan (Luke 10:36), that the term neighbor comprehends the most remote stranger, there is no reason for limiting the precept of love to our own connections…I say that the whole human race, without exception, are to be embraced with one feeling of charity: that here there is no distinction of Greek or Barbarian, worthy or unworthy, friend or foe, since all are to be viewed not in themselves, but in God. If we turn aside from this view, there is no wonder that we entangle ourselves in error. Wherefore, if we would hold the true course of love, our first step must be to turn our eyes not to man, the sight of whom might oftener produce hatred than love, but to God, who requires that the love which we bear to him be diffused among all mankind, so that our fundamental principle must ever be, Let a man be what he may, he is still to be loved, because God is loved.” (Institutes II.viii.55)