Amid polarizing debates, there is a better way to think about relationships with people identifying as transgender

Written by Laura Gobbels

As I talk to many different pastors and church leaders about sexuality, the issue of gender pronouns repeatedly comes up. Many youth pastors have youth who identify differently from their biological sex, lots of young adults are wrestling with gender identity, and there are many families currently navigating through this issue.

And it doesn’t seem like something that is going away in the near future. According to 2021 Statistics Canada data, one in 300 Canadians identify as either non-binary or transgender. Among people aged 20-24, that statistic jumps to one in 100 Canadians. These numbers indicate that younger generations are much more likely to identify as transgender or non-binary than older generations, reflecting a change in Canadian culture.

How should Christians faithfully respond? I am continuing to learn about this topic myself, but as I study, talk to people from various backgrounds, and prayerfully consider a Christian’s role, it has only become clearer that we must approach this issue with hearts of love and curiosity and the desire to honour God in all things.

Most Christians affirm that our male and female bodies were made by God and called good, and thus view identifying as the opposite gender (or as non-binary) as a form of denying the goodness of who God made us to be.

However, even within this perspective, there are different viewpoints about how this works out in relationships with people wanting to be referred to as the opposite gender. Some Christians argue we should use someone’s chosen pronouns as a way of honouring relationships; other Christians say we shouldn’t use such pronouns because they aren’t reflective of the truth.

Both of these viewpoints are held by Christians who love God and desire to love others. This issue is important for Christians to think deeply about for a few reasons. One, it has often been a point of contention, hurt, and misunderstanding in individual relationships. And two, because not using someone’s chosen pronouns is often perceived as unkind or impolite, Christians need wisdom in knowing how to proceed with both conviction and grace.

Christians who accept a person’s chosen pronouns often argue that using them can help build or maintain relationships. They also see it as a gesture of courtesy or respect. For example, when meeting someone new, refusing to use their pronouns because they appear to be transgender could be off-putting or rude. Christians who use another person’s chosen pronouns believe their courtesy toward others shows the respect and kindness all people deserve.

Kindness and respect make relationships possible, and safe relationships are needed for conversations about faith, God, and the Bible. This approach makes sure there are no extra obstacles preventing Christians from walking alongside transgender individuals, helping them pursue God above all else—as we’re called to do with all our friends.

Kindness and respect make relationships possible, and safe relationships are needed for conversations about faith, God, and the Bible.

Christians who disagree with using someone’s chosen pronouns do so for a few different reasons. Many believe using chosen pronouns means affirming and agreeing with a person’s belief that they are a different gender than their biological sex. If Christians believe that biological sex determines gender, then saying otherwise means not living within God’s design for humanity. Thus, they argue that using someone’s altered pronouns harms a person instead of helping them.

Although much more could be said about these viewpoints, what is most important here is understanding that how we approach this conversation is crucial. It is important to witness in all our relationships (including with people seeking to follow Jesus and nonbelievers who are asking questions) that we are trying to follow how the Bible tells Christians to live. In practice, this calls for a balance between grace and truth that is difficult to manage!

Each person will interpret the use of or refusal to use their personal pronouns in different ways depending on their relationship with you and where they are currently at in their journey.  Here is a question I find helpful when approaching this issue. What does my use of pronouns or refusal to use someone’s pronouns communicate in this situation—considering my current relationship with them?

Approaching this conversation, no matter your viewpoint, with a heart full of humility and love can deepen relationships rather than hurt them. This issue is complex, but kindness, a desire to understand another person’s life, and a heart to see others love God more, can make all the difference.

Above all, we must remember our God-given goal and mission to call people to Christ and to disciple them as we grow and learn about God together. God invites people into a relationship with him no matter their past or current life. My hope and prayer is that we can invite others into this relationship with an almighty God who came down to earth, served, died, and rose again and is the only one who can change any of our hearts. May we all rely on God’s life-changing power as we seek to represent him well.

Laura Gobbels speaks and writes about embracing biblical sexuality. She has a bachelor of theology from Heritage Bible College and will begin her master of divinity in the fall of 2024.