March 23, 2016
The media’s rush last spring to make Caitlyn Jenner a transgender hero underscored the radical moral shift in Western culture. As our society celebrates each new form of “liberation,” every one of us will probably interact with a Caitlyn sooner or later—whether at work or even at home. How should we respond? Consider one simple example. Can a Christian call transgender friends and acquaintances by their “new” names without encouraging their sin, or should we insist on their birth names to emphasize God’s plan for gender? My answer is simply yes.
First, we must recognize that calling someone by a given name does not necessarily imply agreement with what the name is intended to signify. For example, if an environmentalist names his or her son “Forrest” and you call the child by name, this is not necessarily an endorsement of the parents’ environmental views. Therefore, when a Christian interacts with a transgender person and refers to him or her by a given name, it does not necessarily imply agreement with the transgender movement. The Bible states, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). One way that Christians can live peaceably in a world of gender confusion is to greet members of the transgender community by their “new” names, especially in cases where no previous relationship exists. Our primary aim in speaking with transgender individuals is not to win an argument on sexuality, but to win them to Jesus through a clear presentation of the gospel. If referring to a transgender persons by their birth names places a stumbling block in front of them that prevents a hearing of the gospel, we should avoid such references and strive to live peaceably in order to gain a hearing.
Second, we must apply wisdom to every relationship, and not every relationship will allow for references to a “new” transgender name. This is especially true in situations where a previous relationship exists. For example, if you have a close family member, friend, or coworker who undergoes sex-reassignment surgery, it may be very difficult to call him or her by a “new” name and maintain a strong Christian witness concerning biblical sexuality. The key distinction is whether or not the transgender person will view your reference to his or her name as a tacit endorsement of a sinful lifestyle. In cases where a previous relationship or friendship exists, we should do everything we can to lovingly but firmly convince a transgender person that his or her actions are detrimental, and many times this will include a refusal to call a person by his or her “new” name. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” The Bible teaches that we must speak the truth in love, using our influence to emphasize the beauty and blessing of God’s design, and ultimately the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christians cannot honor God’s design for sexuality and simultaneously encourage or accommodate transgender behavior. When it comes to the calling of an individual name, however, we must evaluate whether or not our reference to a “new” name will imply accommodation or acceptance. In cases where it does, typically the result of a previous relationship, we should refuse to call a transgender person by the “new” name. In cases where it does not, typically the result of no previous relationship, we may greet a transgender person with his or her “new” name in order to open the door to gospel conversations. Regardless of what you call a transgender friend, however, remember that his or her greatest need is not a new name, but a new heart.