While theologians Dr. Denny Burk, Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon, Dr. John Piper, and Pastor Douglas Wilson say Christians should not use incorrect pronouns when referring to people who pretend to be the sex they aren’t, increasing numbers of purportedly theologically orthodox Christians believe Christians should use them. They believe that refusing to use “preferred pronouns” will result in “trans”-identifying persons severing relationships. And to “woke” theologians and pastors, maintaining relationships supersedes truth.
Christian capitulation to sin will always be accompanied by theological rationalizations that will sound superficially reasonable. In a recent episode of his “Ask Me Anything” podcast, JD Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, proffered such rationalizations as he revealed that he uses incorrect pronouns when referring to “trans”-identifying persons. He argued that his complicity with the false and destructive “trans” ideology constitutes “generosity of spirit,” which he contrasts with “truth-telling.” Greear also claimed that Preston Sprinkle, president of the Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender, does likewise.
Before going further, I want to note that several of the quotes cited by Greear and to which I will be responding appear to be wrongly attributed by Greear to Sprinkle. These incorrectly attributed quotes come instead from a paper by Gregory Coles who identifies as a “celibate, gay Christian” and is part of the celibate, “gay” Christian movement criticized by many, including Denny Burk who wrote this about Coles’ memoir:
Coles seems to equate differences about homosexual immorality with differences that Christians have about second order doctrines. But how can homosexual immorality be treated in this way when the Bible says that those who commit such deeds do not inherit the kingdom of God.
Coles doesn’t merely say Christians may use incorrect pronouns. In his paper titled, “What Pronouns Should Christians Use for Transgender People,” which is littered with PC language created by the “LGBTQ” community to advance its ideology, Coles argues Christians should use incorrect pronouns:
… [T]he most biblical response to transgender people’s pronouns is a posture of unequivocal pronoun hospitality. That is, I believe that all Christians can and should use pronouns that reflect the expressed gender identities of transgender people, regardless of our views about gender identity ethics. If a person identifies herself to you as “she,” I hope you will consider it an act of Christ-like love to call her “she” out of respect, whether or not you believe that the way she expresses her gender identity is honoring to God.
Astonishingly, Coles grounds his defense of appeasement “Christ-like pronoun hospitality” in this passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Coles applies this passage to the current pronoun mandates, appealing also to “respect” to justify appeasement:
When we apply Paul’s linguistic approach to the pronouns we use about transgender people, I believe we arrive at a posture of pronoun hospitality: a willingness to accommodate the pronouns of our transgender neighbors regardless of our own views about the Christian ethics of gender identity. That is, when we order our language toward making sure that the truth of the gospel can be heard in an understandable way by those around us, we are compelled to use pronouns in a way that effectively communicates our respect for transgender people, even if we still believe that followers of Jesus are called to express their gender identity in accordance with their appointed sex.
If, instead of referring to “our own views about the Christian ethics of gender identity,” Coles had referred to “the truth of Christian ethics regarding gender identity,” the problem with his worldview would become clearer. Imagine a Christian saying, “We should be willing to use the pronouns of our transgender neighbors regardless of the truth of Christian ethics regarding gender identity.”
Does the anger of “trans”-cultists toward Christians who refuse to mis-sex people signify lack of understanding or does it signal rebellion? Is it an act of respect to concede to demands to call someone something that is an integral part of an ideology that denies reality, affirms sin as good, and grievously harms both individuals and society? Can true respect—like true biblical love—ever entail denial or even the appearance of denial of another person’s embodiment as male or female?
Coles’ interpretation of the passage in Corinthians is at odds with that of theologian Thomas Schreiner:
Cultural flexibility, however, is not infinitely elastic. For instance, Paul does not compromise on moral norms or on fundamental truths of the gospel.
Theologian Paul E. Garland shares a similar understanding:
[Paul] does not think that fundamental and distinctive Christian demands are negotiable depending on the circumstances. He did not eat idol food in order to become “as one without the law to those without the law.” He did not tone down his assault on idolatry to avoid offending idolaters or curry favor with them. His accommodation has nothing to do with watering down the gospel message, soft-pedaling its ethical demands.
Evidently, Coles doesn’t view Genesis 1:27 (“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”) or Deuteronomy 22:5 (“A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.) as fundamental, distinctive, and non-negotiable.
It should trouble Coles, Greear, and Sprinkle that they are participants in what New Testament scholar N.T. Wright describes as a new and damaging incarnation of the heresy of Gnosticism:
The confusion about gender identity is a modern, and now internet-fueled, form of the ancient philosophy of Gnosticism. The Gnostic, one who “knows”, has discovered the secret of “who I really am”, behind the deceptive outward appearance. … This involves denying the goodness, or even the ultimate reality, of the natural world. Nature, however, tends to strike back, with the likely victims in this case being vulnerable and impressionable youngsters who, as confused adults, will pay the price for their elders’ fashionable fantasies.
To bolster his position, Coles points to Christianity Today (CT), which has now regrettably adopted secular journalistic practices, using incorrect pronouns for cross-sex passers.
A 2015 article by Dr. Mark Yarhouse in CT provides evidence that both CT and Yarhouse have capitulated to the wicked and deceitful “trans” ideology. Yarhouse writes,
I still recall one of my first meetings with Sara. Sara is a Christian who was born male and named Sawyer by her [sic] parents. As an adult, Sawyer transitioned to female.
Sara would say transitioning—adopting a cross-gender identity—took 25 years. It began with facing the conflict she [sic] experienced between her [sic] biology and anatomy as male, and her [sic] inward experience as female.
With absolute certainty, Sprinkle offers this dire warning about refusal to participate in the “trans” lie:
“If you want to immediately cut off a relationship with somebody, which is ending all opportunity to embody and share Jesus with the person, then don’t use the pronouns they want you to use. It is an immediate relational killer.”
He is saying that if unbelievers lost in spiritual darkness will become so angry at the refusal of Christians to participate in their reality-denying, body- and soul-destroying fiction that they sever relationships, Christians should capitulate. This position will result in an enfeebled relinquishment of culture-making to sinners lost in darkness.
The homosexual and “trans” communities use language as a tool to transform culture. They redefine words, emptying them of their former meanings, and invent new words that embody subversive and false assumptions. They become enraged at anyone who refuses to yield to their language diktats, and then some faith leaders say, “If we refuse to use their language, we kill relationships thereby killing our ability to witness.” What a diminished view of God’s sovereignty such a position reveals.
Moreover, enraged responses to encounters with truth sometimes signify the pricking of a conscience. Sometimes a respectful demurral from participating in serious sin is a seed planted. The ethics of speech are not determined by the subjective response of hearers of that speech. The ethics are determined by the content (i.e., is it true) and the delivery (i.e., is it civil).
Coles repeatedly appeals to the feelings of “trans”-identifying persons as determinative of the terms Christians should use. If, Coles argues, “trans”-identifying persons feel—or claim to feel—“shamed, invisible, sidelined, defiled, invalidated, microaggressed, disappeared, or leprous,” Christians should use whatever pronouns these people prefer, or we destroy our witness.
Is there any evidence that Jesus engaged in such “relational/missional” evangelism or fretted about how sinners would feel if he refused to affirm the sin they engaged in or placed at the center of their identities? When he encountered the rich, young ruler; the woman caught in adultery; or Zacchaeus, the tax collector, how long did Jesus dally in relationships before he told them to repent of their sins?
If refusing to concede through our language that a biological man is a woman makes such a man feel “defiled” or “microaggressed,” imagine if he had been part of the multitude that John the Baptist called a brood of vipers.
Dr. Gagnon, author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Text and Hermeneutics, makes clear what Greear’s, Coles’, and Sprinkle’s purported hospitality and respect signify:
It is not an act of “hospitality” or “respect” to the offender to use fake pronouns and proper names but rather (1) a scandal to the “weak” and young in the church and a rightful violation of conscience for many that will lead many to stumble to their ruin; (2) an accommodation to sin that God finds utterly abhorrent, to say nothing of the fact that it is an egregious lie; and (3) a complicity in the offender’s self-dishonoring, self-degrading, and self-demeaning behavior that does him or her (and the grieving ex-spouse and children, if there are any) no favor because it can get the person in question excluded from the kingdom of God.
What’s next? Treating as a married couple an incestuous union involving a man and his mother, allegedly as a show of hospitality and respect? Is that what Paul would have done at Corinth? Addressing the man and his stepmother as “husband” and “wife” so as to extend “hospitality” and “respect”? What kind of revisionist lunacy is this? Paul would not have taken this approach even for those who don’t profess to be believers.
Attorney, journalist, senior editor at the recently launched political website The Dispatch, and Christian, David French exposes the error in manipulative tactics used to shame Christians into rhetorical concessions to the destructive “trans” ideology:
When I use a male pronoun to describe Chelsea Manning, I’m not trolling. I’m not being a jerk. I’m not trying to make anyone angry. I’m simply telling the truth. I’m reflecting biological reality, and I’m referring to the created order as outlined in Genesis 1 — “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Nor is this a matter of “manners.” I’ve encountered many well-meaning people who’ve told me that I should acquiesce to new pronouns because it’s the polite thing to do. I want to avoid hurting feelings, don’t I? I want to treat someone the way I’d like to be treated, right? What’s the harm in a little white lie?
But when your definition of manners requires that I verbally consent to a fundamentally false and important premise, then I dissent. You cannot use my manners to win your culture war. I will speak respectfully, I will never use a pronoun with the intent of causing harm, and if I encounter a person in obvious emotional distress I will choose my words very carefully. But I will not say what I do not believe.
Coles asserts there are two assumptions “about the nature of language” on which Christians who reject “trans” language diktats rely:
Assumption #1: Pronoun gender always and only refers to an individual’s appointed sex.
Assumption #2: When our definitions of words differ from other people’s definitions, “telling the truth” means using our own definitions.
Assumption #2 implicitly rejects the Christian view that objective truth exists. Christians have no obligation to treat assumption #2 as if it’s true. It’s passing strange that a Christian would treat his own definitions of words like “he,” “she,” and “they” as just other assumptions. Coles seems to hold the view that Peter Kreeft disdains when he says the phrase “your truth” is both oxymoronic and moronic.
Burk reveals the sullied underbelly of Coles’ expectation that Christians treat their biblically informed definitions—not as true—but as merely one set of assumptions in the diverse universe of competing assumptions:
So much of the evangelical conversation on these issues has been colonized by secular identity theories. Those theories are premised on an unbiblical anthropology which defines human identity as “what I feel myself to be” rather than “what God designed me to be.” If there is to be a recovery and renewal of Christian conscience on sexuality issues, secular identity theories must give way to God’s design as revealed in nature and scripture.
Coles justifies the redefinition of pronouns by the “trans” cult by arguing—accurately—that language changes, but the reality of linguistic shifts doesn’t mean that Christians should acquiesce to politically driven changes that embody lies and which are increasingly imposed by force.
Greear also quoted conservative theologian Andrew T. Walker’s book God and the Transgender Debate in which Walker says,
“My own position is that if a transgender person comes to your church, it is fine to refer to them by their preferred pronoun.”
Greear failed to include what Walker said in an article published four months after publication of his book:
“Though it is politically incorrect to do so, I will not refer to someone with their desired pronoun in a public venue such as a talk. Those with writing or speaking platforms have an obligation to speak and write truthfully and not kowtow to political correctness or excuse falsehood.”
The abandonment of theological orthodoxy always happens incrementally, as it’s happening today. C. S. Lewis warned of this in The Screwtape Letters in which the senior demon Screwtape writes this to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter:
My dear Wormwood,
Obviously, you are making excellent progress. My only fear is lest in attempting to hurry the patient you awaken him to a sense of his real position. For you and I, who see that position as it really is, must never forget how totally different it ought to appear to him. We know that we have introduced a change of direction in his course which is already carrying him out of his orbit around the Enemy; but he must be made to imagine that all the choices which have effected this change of course are trivial and revocable. He must not be allowed to suspect that he is now, however slowly, heading right away from the sun on a line which will carry him into the cold and dark of utmost space.
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