He? She? They?—How Should Christian Media Handle Transgender Issue?

By Julie Roys
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How should Christian media refer to people who identify as transgender? Should we refer to someone who’s biologically female, but identifies as male, as a man? And which pronouns should we use when referring to a trans man or woman? He? She? They?

This issue recently surfaced when multiple Christian news outlets and I reported a story about John Ortberg, which included a reference to one of his children, Daniel M. Lavery.

The Christian Post wrote that Lavery is “a trans-identified man who is Ortberg’s estranged daughter.” CP didn’t use any pronouns to refer to Lavery, but instead used Lavery’s last name for subsequent references.

However, Christianity Today said in an article it published from Religion News Service that Lavery was “Ortberg’s estranged son,” but also included that “Lavery and his wife are transgender.” 

The fact that Lavery was born female, but now identifies as male, was relevant to the story. Lavery had reported that Ortberg had dismissed Lavery’s input about a volunteer who was attracted to children because of Lavery and Lavery’s partner’s “transitions.” Without context, this statement would not make sense.

In my story, I referred to Lavery as the “daughter of John Ortberg—who was born Mallory Ortberg, but now identifies as a man called Daniel M. Lavery.” On subsequent references, I referred to Lavery with masculine pronouns to avoid confusion. 

This offended people on both sides of the LGBT issue.

People who are LGBTQ affirming confronted me for “deadnaming” Lavery, a term for using the birth name of someone who has changed their name. They also said I was discourteous and even cruel for referring to Lavery as Ortberg’s daughter, instead of son.

Yet non-affirming people confronted me for using masculine pronouns for Lavery. They said doing so simply affirms a “dangerous fiction.”

I didn’t mean to hurt anyone with my use of pronouns or nouns. I was simply trying to truthfully tell a story. But the entire situation has made me realize that I need a well thought-out policy on reporting on people who identify as transgender–one that’s loving, yet consistent with reality as described in Scripture.

Believing that there’s wisdom in many counselors (Prov. 15:22), I reached out to the editors of several Christian publications.

When I asked the editors of Christian Post (CP) about their policy, they responded:

The Christian Post’s policy is to be respectful of the individual as we adhere to biblical truths and biological realities. In doing so, we use an individual’s last name and state their biological sex while noting that an individual self-identifies as transgender. We also use the term trans-identifying.

In cases where we can’t avoid the usage of pronouns, we use the pronoun that matches their biological sex to be consistent with biological realities.

Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of WORLD Magazine, said about his publication’s policy: “We refer to (transgender individuals) by name, not pronoun. If unavoidable, we’d go by DNA, but that would require some extra verbiage.”

However, Christianity Today CEO Tim Dalrymple said CT generally follows the AP stylebook, while “leaving room for discernment in particular cases.”

The AP stylebook instructs reporters to “call people transgender only if relevant; give the name they use publicly; avoid references to being born a boy or girl.” In other words, treat the person who identifies as a transgender man as you would any other man, regardless of the person’s biological sex. The same goes for those who identify as women. 

I asked Dalrymple  how the magazine could embrace AP style, which affirms trans-identity as a fact, while also embracing historic Christian views on human sexuality, which do not affirm trans-identity. He responded that CT is still wrestling with the issue with other thoughtful Christians while trying to bring the “fullness of grace and truth” into the conversation.

I can appreciate the delicate balance CT is trying to strike. Certainly, this topic is so polarized and emotionally charged that no matter what stand a publication takes, it’s likely to provoke backlash. 

Yet the more I’ve thought about this topic, I don’t see that taking a middle ground is theologically consistent or helpful. It may temporarily pacify both sides. But that’s not what we’re called to do as Christians. We’re called to speak the truth in love. 

So, after prayerful consideration, and consultation with my board, I’ve crafted a transgender policy that reflects my theological convictions, along with an explanation for that policy. (I’ve also edited my piece on Ortberg to reflect this policy.) Rather than quietly implementing this policy, I’m publishing it here because I value transparency. 

*CORRECTION: My original post reported that the article by CT/RNS did not mention that Lavery was transgender. That was incorrect and I have corrected the copy accordingly. 

Transgender Policy Explained:

TRR Transgender Policy Explained

 

 

I explain a biblical understanding of gender and sexuality in more detail in my book, “Redeeming the Feminine Soul: God’s Surprising Vision for Womanhood.”

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36 thoughts on “He? She? They?—How Should Christian Media Handle Transgender Issue?”

  1. We should never pretend that someone can change genders, as that would be a vicious lie. Therefore, we should never refer to them by a pronoun that doesn’t match their real gender.

    Don’t try to please everyone on this topic. If the men of Sodom persisted even after being literally blinded by God, then today’s LGBTQX lobby — including the “Christian” Left – will never stop. Do not cater to them under any circumstances. It will never be enough.

    1. Agreed! What a mockery to God. God was not confused when he made creation! God creates and the devil steals kills & destroy. Let’s talk about what’s really going on…identity theft. We are now living in a Godless world and identity is being stolen right in front of us. God will not be mocked. The rainbow was temporarily stolen. Just remember God’s rainbow has 7 colors not 6 COLORS like mans. The rainbow is important to God it’s mentioned in the beginning and in the end of the Bible. Because He is the Alpha and the Omega. Ephesians tells us 3 things, sit, walk & stand. In that order. Stand firm, God’s word is UNFAILING.

  2. I read that the automatic face identity devices thought about for airports and other places will usually, maybe always, identify a person by their biological sex. We need to use the word sex more often that the undefined word, gender.

  3. There are literally humans that are born with both sexual identifiers. People who are born with DNA anomalies, People who have issues that need to be corrected as they get older. God does indeed create us in His own image in a human body. However, He doesn’t correct all anomalies before birth. He walks us through these during our life and some of these anomalies are corrected physically by medical intervention. It doesn’t make a person less perfect to correct these issues. A person who has been born misgendered should be able to correct this without the Christian body telling them they are amoral, un-Christian, and wrong. And so much more. Are you going to tell a human born with a congenital issue that they are “identifying” with this congenital problem? It is not our job to tell someone that they are not congenitally misgendered. Strictly speaking this is a medical issue, but more importantly, it is an issue that deals with the mind. Which we know so little about. It is simply not possible for anyone to tell whether another person is not presenting as their biological self mentally. You can not tell by their genitals, as some humans are born with genitals that are ambiguous. You are right; we should not refer to them by the pronoun that doesn’t match their gender. The problem is you don’t get to choose for them. They get to choose for themselves. We can argue whether same sex attraction is a sin or is wrong or should be condemned or celebrated. You cannot argue whether a physical and mental anomaly falls in the same category. It is different. If a person tells you they are male, or female, is it really such a hard thing to honor that for them? I find it hard to believe that this is Biblically a sin to correct an gender anomaly. I respectfully and sadly disagree with this decision.

    1. By definition, transgender refers to someone who is born one biological sex but chooses to identify as the opposite sex because they believe they are more or less “in the wrong body.” Individuals who are both with underdeveloped/maldeveloped sexual identifiers are intersex. As you say, that’s a congenital condition. By my read, it’s not what Julie is speaking to in this policy.

      Typically, people born with intersex conditions identify or present themselves as either male or female, or as an intersex individual. My guess is that if Julie were writing about an intersex individual whose condition at birth were relevant to the story, she would identify the person in the clearest, most honest, most respectful way possible.

      1. I appreciate you writing the policy, Julie. Honest, concise, Biblical and clear.

        On one hand I suppose it is a matter then of discernment of what pronouns to use in relationships with transgender people. But even then we, as believers, must we must be clear with God’s truth that He chose our biological sex, it is not a mistake. We must communicate that with respect and kindness. That will offend some people, but how we each navigate that is a matter of discernment too.

        Re Intersex:
        Thanks for clarifying that, Jessica Hockett. To be intersex is different than gender dysphoria/transgender Even there, I believe God has chosen a male or female sex for that person, but since all creation was corrupted by The Fall, that includes genetics.
        Yet our skeletons reveal that we are male or female, as males and females have different hip bones. Does being intersex affect that?

        And I have faith that our Father can help intersex believers discover their full identity in Him, even the sex He lovingly chose for them, uncorrupted by the fall.

    2. As progressives regularly do, you have introduced intersex conditions into a discussion having nothing to do with intersex conditions. As the Intersex Society of North America makes clear, intersex conditions–which are objective disorders of sexual development–have no relevance to the subjective internal and fluid experience of gender dysphoria–which is not a physical condition but a metaphysical condition with many causes including abuse and trauma.

      The solution to a subjective, internal and often mutable metaphysical condition is not cross-sex hormone-doping or elective amputations of health body parts. We don’t amputate the limbs or sever the spinal cords of those who experience a mismatch between their subjective internal identification as amputees or paraplegics (i.e., Body Integrity Identity Disorder) and their whole bodies. Sound medicine doesn’t intentionally destroy healthy body parts.

      “Misgendering” is sophistical language used to advance an incoherent ideology that harms people. No one is “misgendered” at birth. “Gender,” in the increasingly irrational, science-denying world of “trans”-alchemy, is the aggregate of arbitrary, socially constructed conventions associated with maleness and femaleness. Obstetricians do not “gender” or “misgender” babies at birth. They do not at birth assign to newborns arbitrary, socially constructed conventions associated with either maleness or femaleness. They identify the objective, immutable biological sex of babies at birth, and in the vast majority of cases that identification is correct. And biological sex never changes. Intersex conditions are objective, diagnosable, immutable disorders–often genetic disorders and often accompanied by infertility.

      A healthy, properly functioning human body is NOT an anatomical anomaly, and amputating healthy parts is not correcting anything. Your analogy is deeply flawed. There are no points of correspondence between healthy, properly functioning parts of sexual anatomy and birth defects like, for example, cleft palate.

      “Not presenting as their biological self mentally” is ideological tripe. It is a nonsensical statement. What you are essentially saying is either that someone wishes he or she weren’t the sex they are and always will be, or that someone (falsely) believes he or she is the sex they aren’t, which is also known as a delusion.

      Ms. Roys did not say we “should not refer to them by the pronoun that doesn’t match their gender.” She said we should not refer to people by pronouns that doesn’t match their biological sex. Our sex is not something we have or wear. Our sex is what we are. We are not constituted by separable elements. Mind and body are a unitary whole. People can attempt to conceal their sex through various artificial means, but they can’t change their sex–not even through elaborate chemically and surgically constructed skin costumes.

      It is a dishonor both to those who seek to sexually pass and to the God of creation to bear false witness by pretending they are what they are not and never can be.

      1. Laurie Higgins. You are referring to the comment by Andrea L Romine, correct?

        Because I and I believe, Ms. Hockett would be in agreement with you.

  4. I agree with Eternity Matters:
    some things are unavoidable when “people” wear their “last feeling” on their shoulder. Besides that, we’re required to”understand fully” their position, we get NO understanding for ours. Jesus tells me to love everyone, forgive everyone, point people to Jesus/the Gospel. No where does it say I have to believe lies, or misinformation.
    Ms Roys, YOU ROCK! Just tell the truth, as I know you will!

  5. Truth-speaking demands above all fidelity to God’s Word and works. When God works to create a human being either male or female that constitutes the statement of His will regarding that person’s identity. It is contrary to truth to identify that person differently to what God has decreed and accomplished. But it is not only contrary to truth, it is also contrary to the good of the individual in question. Whatever we as individuals may wish to be true concerning us, our real good comes only through the submission of our wills to God’s. He is not our friend who takes the side of our self-will against the plain expression of God’s will concerning us.

    You are to be commended for taking God’s side against those who, to their own hurt, oppose God’s will.

  6. In a world culture that is pressuring everyone to kneel at the altar of individual truths, it is encouraging to know that there are those waging the battle for The TRUTH, unwilling to take that knee regardless of the cost, speaking up and out with love.

  7. I’d like to hear more about this thing you reference, Julie Roys: “historic Christian views on human sexuality”. Specifically what do they have to say about marital rape?

    1. @BENJAMIN ADY – I don’t see how this is connected to this topic. But I can state categorically from Scripture, that God is opposed any kind of abuse in marriage – verbal, physical, sexual, etc. God created marriage to be a place where there is love and companionship. Open a Bible and check it out. Take a look at Genesis 2. God declares that the union in marriage is so deep that it is two people becoming one. So any kind of abuse against a spouse is abuse against the oneness. I don’t know which spouse you are referring to as committing marital rape, but the husband is to treat his wife with tenderness (1 Peter 3:7). He is to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5) which includes a “sacrificial love” so there is no place for violence against one’s spouse. God has included much instruction about marriage in the Bible – the “Owner’s Manual” that came with the world. Open it up and read it. Go to primary source material. Hope that helps.

  8. My former pastor, Dr. Ray Pritchard said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” but between the truth and being set free, the truth will first hurt you.” If folks can bear that hurt truth so often brings with it, anyone can change—or we make God a liar.

  9. Genesis is very clear when it says that God created male and female. With the transgender movement, Satan is alive and well. He is the Father of Lies. Male and female is WHAT you are. The transgender movement focuses on who you THINK you are. One is the truth and one is a lie. What you THINK you are is a mental issue. It is a tragedy in our world today. So many young people lead astray and it is heart breaking. We must be in prayer over this issue.

    1. What about, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he”?
      I’m not arguing with you; I have a child who identifies as trans-gender and am legitimately trying to sort this out. This is what brought me to this article.
      Thank you, MustCrochet. (Love your name, by the way!)

  10. This is a simple matter of respect. I have coworkers who have nicknames, go by middle names, initials (J. L.) , or a suffix (“Junior” or “Trey”) . It is how they introduce themselves and they repeatedly say it is what they prefer to be called. For me to start pontificating about how their parents gave them a birth name and THAT is the truth so THAT is what I’m going to call them is a disrespectful way of condescendingly preaching at them rather than respectfully honoring their preference. Yes, once a relationship was built I was able to have another conversation to learn about their preference, where it comes from, and TALK.
    Likewise I have a family nickname. My coworkers heard my dad refer to me by it, and I told them it is a family nickname only so please don’t call me by that. No lectures, no preaching, no asking why, no giving their opinion on MY preference. Just simple respect and we all moved on. Five years into my work relationships, I have shared more on the nickname and why it’s personal. But no one came lecturing me right out of the gate. That was respectful.
    Not everything warrants stating your views on the spot. When you have a relationship and can sit, talk, and evangelize? Sure. But when you have no relationship with someone, responding to their simple “please call me…” request with your preaching is NOT going to come off well.

    1. MH, your 100% right in my book…why confront the demise of the Biblical view of men and women or the Family for that matter, it’s way to tough, let’s not bicker and argue over things like truth. Let’s just tell people what their itching ears want to hear, we will make way more friends that way, who wants to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus???You might be persecuted , and who needs that…just compromise that’s my moto.

      1. If Elizabeth tells you to call her by her nickname Beth or Betty, but you insist on calling her Elizabeth because it’s her birth name, go for it.
        If Michael tells you to call him Junior, but you keep calling him Michael, go for it.
        If Dale tells you to call him by his middle name John, but you insist “John is your birth name!”, ok. Smile with pride and be “right.”
        Know that you’re not loving at all, and your insistence on being right will not draw them to the gospel. You’ll just be another arrogant Christian.
        I stand by my approach to lovingly honor and get to know someone’s story before you arrogantly preach at them.

        1. M H ,I love it, you and I are on the same page, I lovingly Honor sinful behavior too….it also works great with Homosexuality and open marriage. Keep up the good work.

          1. Yes, you clearly honor trolling, bad grammar, poor punctuation, and errant spelling.
            You can take that elsewhere.

  11. Your policy, with its references to Gnosticism and personhood theory, demonstrates ignorance on this issue. I think you need to educate yourself — perhaps by reading and listening to some trans writers and thinkers.

  12. Part 1

    This is a matter of significant personal importance to me. I left a church that I had attended for 17 years over this issue. There was a man who started to come to church dressed as a woman who requested everyone call him a her named Roberta. I was never comfortable with it but assumed the leadership would handle it in a biblically sound manner. They did not. Rob disappeared for a couple of months for what I would later figure out was time spent recovering from “the surgery.” This biological man was obviously mentally ill in other ways even if he was not wearing a dress. I can spot this easily because there has been a lot of that in my immediate family and I work with a ministry to the mentally ill. After this man decided to do the damage to his own parts God gave him I challenged my pastor on this. He agreed the man was mentally ill outside of the whole “gender” issue, but was too much of a coward to risk offending his new friend. His son-in-law took the same position. I left for they loved being “nice” in a worldly sense over the tough love required. I do not know if they knew of the surgery beforehand, but if they did and they did not try to stop him from doing this to himself, well there is nothing truly “pastoral” about that.

    I agree with Julie’s position plus I note that this was called “Gender Dysphoria” before their was a gay rights movement. Even secular experts recognized this as an illness in the old DSM manual and not something to be encouraged! Then they got a bunch of pressure from a very small group of people who shamed them into pretending that wanting to be something that you are not, and never can be, is actually good for your mental health! From the secular point of view this is an illness and from God’s point of view this is a pure rejection of the sex that He gave to you in the first point. Encouraging people to mutilate their own genitals is not a loving thing to do from any reasonable point of view. But there is more to this story so this is only part 1.

  13. Seed (male) and egg (female) = procreation (the purpose of sexual organs).

    The above is marriage, a life long commitment for the purpose of raising offspring.

    Offspring cannot survive at all without care in or out of the mother and need loving commitment for life to survive and thrive.

    Any distortion of this defies the obvious design and will have no excuse.

    The word debate is just a distraction from the above facts and an attempt to redefine meaning and purpose from the Creator’s intent.

    I pray you are found in Christ on the day the word incarnate our Lord Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead.

  14. Part II

    There is more to that story with another mentally ill man that was closer than my own brother to me. The man was ill with many problems from the age of five. He was diagnosed with extreme OCD and other disorders. He was hospitalized multiple times for these disorders. I met him shortly after an 18 month spell where he had a phobia and could not leave the smallest travel trailer that you have ever seen in your life. This began a relationship with him and was the most stable time of his life for he managed to stay out of mental hospitals for over 12 years. During this time he confessed many things to me but not that he liked to cross-dress on occasion. He was in the closet on that one, but had he told me it would not have affected our relationship.

    Over those years he gradually got better in some ways. We worked together for a time and spent a significant amount of time together. He started telling me about what went on in his head with the OCD. He said he told me things that he had told no one else, including his various therapists. He went deep on many things and I came to understand him in ways no one else could including his wife. I tried my best to point him towards Jesus who is the answer for his problems. This eventually led to many conversations about the demonic influences on his life inside of his head. His pastor and I explained many times about how Jesus has the power to deliver us and how He went around delivering people from demons. We also warned about Jesus statement in Matt. 12 about a demon who has been cast out of a person: (44) “Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ On its return, it finds the house vacant, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” We told him that he needed to be prepared and do what is necessary afterwards to make sure he did not let them back in.

    The short of the story is that he did receive a deliverance. He was a totally different person for a couple of weeks. The change was remarkable, and for the better in every way, however he did not do everything he needed to in order to keep his personal demons outside of his head. Soon enough they returned and what Jesus said quickly came true. He cut off relationship with me and the other Christians in his life. He became paranoid worse than ever. His marriage with another believer fell apart after he decided that he was going to now publicly identify as a she. Within a short period of time he went back into the hospital a couple of times. And I learned that his daughter started identifying as a he also. So the relationship between this subject and mental health disorders and demons became crystal clear to me. So any talk about this sexual identity dysphoria being “good” is just a pure and outrageous lie. Just look at the suicide rates among these people. It is higher than most any other group. And that is supposed to be good? It is pure b.s.! My friend did have frequent suicidal ideations for many reasons. He once even got a gun and was playing with it during a particularly down time.

    There is nothing good about Gender Dysphoria and mutilating yourself to try to be something you cannot be is evil. How many people find out after the surgery that they still are not the opposite sex? What is left for them but to kill themselves? No wonder God said that He hates cross-dressing in the Old Testament.

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