Christians shouldn’t be forced to lie using trans pronouns
Should Christians use transgender pronouns?
Some people think so, including some Christians whom I admire in other ways. My goal is not to argue with them, but to reframe the question in a simpler form that gets to the heart of the problem for many Christians.
The real question is: should Christians lie?
Those who defend transgender pronouns generally don’t believe they are lying. They may believe that trans women are women and should share pronouns with biological women. Or they may believe that when they refer to a trans woman as “her,” they are not judging whether it is true or not; they simply convey the preferences of the trans woman.
It’s also true that anyone can use transgender pronouns without knowing it – someone we know or meet can “pass” successfully enough that we accidentally use trans pronouns.
All of this is irrelevant when discussing the case of Dr. David Mackereth because, like many Christians, he believes that to knowingly use transgender pronouns is to lie about reality.
We should reflect reality in our speech
It is not difficult to understand why. Although our postmodern world speaks of “my pronouns” as those that each individual chooses for themselves, pronouns, like all speech, really belong to the people who are speaking, not to those being spoken about. When we speak, each of us describes the world as we understand it. Although our words can be powerful, they do not turn men into women or women into men. In discourse, Christians should reflect the reality that God Himself has expressed, which includes the reality of our natal (i.e. real) sex.
David Mackereth believes from the biblical accounts of creation that God created men and women. He’s also a doctor who knows anatomy well enough to know that it’s backed up by basic science. Intersex conditions exist, of course, but they are not taken into account when we talk about transgenderism, where anyone can supposedly state their “true” gender or pronouns and demand that others honor it.
You will find Christians willing to defend transgender pronouns. But I haven’t heard of Christians who will defend themselves from lying systematically. The ninth commandment prohibits “false witness” which has been understood by Christians throughout the ages to include lying. “Lying lips” are regularly criticized in the Psalms, and the apostle Paul exhorts Christians to reject lies and speak the truth (Ephesians 4:25).
I believe there are very rare exceptions to this where the protection of life is at stake (eg Rahab in Joshua 2). Some Christians are more absolutist and argue that this is never acceptable. Either way, lying for our own convenience is clearly not justified.
lie in the name of love
But what about lying in the name of love? What if we know trans pronouns are wrong, but we just use them out of love for the trans person, believing it’s nice or that not following their favorite pronouns is a hindrance to the gospel?
The problem with this is that it assumes that truth and love can be in opposition. This is not the Christian view. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. God is love. Truth and love can no more be opposed than God and Christ. This is why the famous chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, says that love “rejoices with the truth.”
It may seem harsh at times, but it’s just not nice to deliberately accept pronouns and identities that we know are wrong. Each affirmation of a transgender identity reinforces an identity that clashes with the reality of how God created someone. It is these micro-affirmations that are truly “misgendered” people and that raise further obstacles to the gospel.
Are preferred pronouns reasonable?
It is only because the Church has become so transgender insensitive that a request to use preferred pronouns can be construed as reasonable. It’s just not reasonable for me to insist that someone else refer to me as anything other than who I really am, whether with preferred pronouns or any other descriptive language.
As a teenager, I sent a joke to the FA about becoming England’s next football manager, describing my successes managing teams on computer games and further describing myself as an internationally acclaimed rock star . Should I have been offended that a football news website at the time published an article noting my candidacy but questioning my rock star credentials? It is very unlikely that I will become a rock star, but it is impossible for me to become a woman. Why is it reasonable for someone to control how others describe it?
Should we soften the truth in the name of evangelism?
I am convinced that Christians are making a bad miscalculation if they believe that the only, if not the best, evangelistic strategy is to minimize any possible offense by concealing the truth. Gender identity is an idol for many; an idol they will inevitably miss. Trans people who eventually detransition will remember and appreciate Christians who spoke with love and clarity against this idol.
More than that, there is also a world to consider. Does using preferred pronouns help us reach parents of teenagers who are concerned about their child’s transition? What about gender-sensitive Christians? Or Muslims? Or someone else who didn’t align with gender ideology? We should decide our behavior based on principles and truths, not our idea of what is strategic, but I would question any strategy that ignores these people.
Avoidance should be an option – being coerced is not
This does not mean that Christians should always use correct pronouns. There may well be wisdom in avoidance tactics, using nouns rather than pronouns whenever possible. Nouns are certainly used more flexibly in the Bible than pronouns and don’t really include a statement of truth.
When the truth was under attack in totalitarian Soviet Russia, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote an essay titled “Don’t Live by Lies.” A recent book by Rod Dreher borrowed this title, the author encouraging Christians: “You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe, but you can at least refuse to say what you don’t believe.
This freedom is under threat.
Whatever you personally think about the wisdom of using transgender pronouns, it’s a fact that many Christians believe using preferred pronouns is a lie. Do you want to live in a society where Christians can be forced to lie?
Paul Huxley is Communications Manager at Christian Concern.