By Brian Sandifer
President Trump is no stranger to controversy. This was true long before he became our nation’s 45th president. And now, President Trump has once again stepped into the firestorm. In three successive tweets on July 26, POTUS wrote,
“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow . . . . . .
“. . . . Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming . . . . .
“victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you”
The political and media firestorm that has erupted from these tweets was to be expected. While the firestorm on this issue has since died down, a church member asked me how Christians should think about transgender individuals in general and about the proposed transgender ban in the U.S. military in particular.
First, it may be helpful to clarify what is meant by transgender. Here is a commonly accepted definition. A transgender person is someone whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. According to this system of thought, gender and birth sex are not the same. Indeed, according to this system of thought, gender is not even binary. Gender is fluid, and it exists along a continuum.
A related, and some say, synonymous concept is gender dysphoria. By definition, gender dysphoria is the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be different than one’s biological sex. This dysphoria would manifest itself with an “intense desire” to have a physical body that corresponds to one’s perceived gender identity. According to medical experts, this dysphoria would also be accompanied by feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and restlessness, so much so as to interfere with a person’s normal life.
As Christians, we should have compassion for those who struggle with gender dysphoria. We should acknowledge that these individuals did not choose this struggle for themselves. They are often deeply torn, and they are men and women created in the image of God. They deserve to be treated with love and compassion.
Furthermore, we acknowledge that mankind’s fall into sin has affected all of creation. This does not mean that every person struggles with gender dysphoria, but the fall has manifested itself in the lives of some people in this way. We may or may not struggle with gender dysphoria, but we have all been born into this world under the burden sin, and as Christians, we recognize that the gospel is the only answer for our sin (see Romans 6–8). So, we dare not cast stones, rather we show love and compassion and proclaim the gospel.
But also as Christians, we should not accept the current cultural thinking regarding gender identity. We recognize the inherent sinfulness in rejecting God’s good gift of gender and pursuing our own gender identity. We must not encourage people to be their “true selves.” We must acknowledge that God made us in the beginning male and female (Genesis 1:27). Gender was created by God, and God called his created order “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
Now, what are we to make of the military ban? Let’s rehearse a bit of recent U.S. history.
The ban on transgender individuals openly serving in the U.S. military was lifted in the waning months of the previous administration’s term (specifically, June 20, 2016) so the practice of allowing transgender individuals to openly serve in the U.S. military has not been in place for a long time. This fact, in and of itself, does not argue for the “rightness” or “wrongness” of any policy decisions. This is mentioned only because some on the “progressive left” portray those on the “conservative right” as intellectual Neanderthals for disagreeing with the “new sexual norm,” when, in reality, this “new sexual norm” is a brand new development and even most of those who identity with the progressive left did not believe the things they are now saying just a matter of months ago.
As for a Christian response to transgender individuals openly serving in the U.S. military, arguments can be made on both sides of the issue.
Perhaps the strongest argument to allow transgender individuals to serve is the anti-discrimination standard. Our country is not a theocracy. While Christians desire men and women to live holy lives that honor God, we recognize that the only way to make this happen is through gospel-transformation. We do not keep people from serving in our nation’s armed forces just because they are sinning. For example, while adultery is a sin, we do not forbid adulterers from serving in the U.S. military. Since this is obviously true, why should we ban transgendered individuals from serving their country in the military?
If, however, the “sin” keeps the individual from properly carrying out his duties, then individuals could be banned from service in the military. It could be argued that by the very definition of gender dysphoria that transgender individuals are not suited for service in the U.S. military. Would it be prudent, for example, to give weapons to individuals (who by current medical definition) have strong psychological desires that include anxiety and depression?
There is a second argument that is often put forward against transgender military service. This second argument is a fiscal argument. The medical treatment (e.g., hormonal treatment and gender-reassignment surgery) and psychological treatment (e.g., counseling) for transgender individuals is often extreme. Two questions arise as a result. First, is it right to spend an inordinate amount of our limited defense budget to care for such a small population of individuals? And second, is it right to use taxpayer funds to pay for things that many find morally questionable?
These are questions that must be carefully thought through before reaching to a conclusion. May Christians allow the gospel to shape our hearts and minds, and may we have the wisdom to navigate these questions with clarity and compassion.
*** Albert Mohler posted an audio podcast discussing the current administration’s military transgender policy on August 25. See here to listen.
Brian Sandifer, Ph.D., is Lead Pastor of Potomac Height Baptist Church and member of the BCM/D’s Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee. This post first appeared August 23, 2017 on Sandifer’s blog, http://www.briansandifer.com.