How can Christians best love their transgender friends, family members, and co-workers? How should Christians think about transgender ideology? In this discussion, Sean and Scott review the recent book, In The Margins: A Transgender Man's Journey with Scripture. They discuss gender stereotypes, preferred pronouns, and more.

Episode Transcript

>> How should Christians think about transgender ideology? And more importantly, how can we best love our transgender family members, friends, and coworkers? Today we're gonna review a book called, "In the Margins: A Transgender Man's Journey with Scripture" by Shannon Kearns. [lively instrumental music] I'm your host, Sean McDowell. This is my co-host, Scott Rae. This is "Think Biblically," a podcast brought to you by Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. Scott, you ready to go?

>> Let's get to it.

>> Sean: All right.

>> So, Sean, you know, as I look around the market for books on this, I don't see many books like this where there's a transgender person who takes his faith seriously and attempts to take the Bible seriously, too. So, I think to start with, tell our listeners, what is this book about? Give us a summary of it.

>> Yeah, so this book is the story of Shannon growing up in a conservative, and I also get the feeling it's more of a fundamentalist evangelical household and church.

>> Sounded a bit rigid to me.

>> Yeah, I think it's minimally pretty rigid, much more than we would be here at Biola as a whole. And as a young person experiencing certain kind of gender expectations, a kind of gender dysphoria, wrestling with what it meant to have faith, go on mission trips, read the Bible, but not fit certain gender expectations from the church and from the culture. Eventually, Shannon comes out as a lesbian and shares the story of just some of the pain of how that was received in a certain community, gets married, and then transitions to a transgender male, goes through a divorce that is shared openly in the book. Kind of hits a rock bottom, and then just kind of rediscovers oneself, you might say. And then talks about how Scripture informs this journey. And then in the back, it says Shannon's an ordained priest, playwright, and theologian, and what that means for ministry moving forward. So it's essentially a personal journey and how faith intersects that personal journey.

>> So when you first heard about the book and then picked it up and started to read it, what did you expect to find?

>> Well, before I read any book, and I teach my students to do this, I look at the cover. I look at the endorsements. I skim through it to just kind of get a feel, and I've read tons on queer theory. I've also read dozens and dozens of books that are LGBTQ affirming, and so I expected a few things. Number one is I expected there would be some pain that was shared in this book. And by the way, I think the cover is actually brilliant. Whoever designed this, it shows clearly, you know, we're dealing with the church and faith, but someone who feels invisible, doesn't feel seen. Well, no matter your background, where you're from, if anybody feels that way, there's gonna be a lot of pain. And here's just some lines to give our audience a sense. Shannon talks about carrying the shame and feeling like I was failing to measure up. On page 124, Shannon says, "I was destined to a lifetime of loneliness because I was gay. It felt like a cruel trick, like some kind of sick joke. God seemed capricious and nasty." So you hear a lot about shame, about rejection, alienation. There's just a pain that goes through this so I expected it. And certainly Shannon is a good writer where this pain comes through. So, by the way, that should inform the way you and I talk about this and inform the way Christians approach this topic. Because we're professors we can default to start saying, "Here's where we disagree, here's theology," but we're talking about human beings who have experienced pain. We need to approach this with a certain kindness.

>> And I think, yeah, that's a good insight. And part of what caught my attention particularly was the pain that he felt, how disappointed Shannon, or how disappointed his mom felt with Shannon 'cause that, I mean, that's a really deep, significant relationship. And Shannon's mom was, I think, the one who was most insistent on transmitting this sort of rigid, what we would call a more fundamentalist Christian faith. And so for Shannon to feel like, wow, I'm letting my mom down, I'm disappointing my mom, that's a big pain that I think Shannon felt for a really long time. And it's not clear by the end of the book that-

>> Sean: If that's been reconciled.

>> And I don't think that had ever been resolved.

>> Yeah, I think you're right. But that's some of the deepest yearning we all have for love and acceptance. In many ways, it's a book about wanting to be accepted. And when your own mother responds a certain fashion, that's deep and that's painful. So I expected that, found it-

>> So put on your professor hat now. What else did you expect?

>> Okay, good, so one other thing is it said, "A Transgender Man's Journey with Scripture." Right away, as I'm looking at this, I'm thinking, "Okay, this is not going to be systematic theology. This is not going to start with a premise that the Bible is authoritative and I need to conform my experience to the Scriptures. Rather, this is going to be somebody's story and talk about how the Scriptures fit in to someone's story." That was my expectation going on.

>> And that's exactly how it was written.

>> That's exactly how it plays out, 100%. So I would say a couple things. That's a powerful way to communicate because we relate to somebody's stories. Look, Jesus told stories and He asked questions 'cause that's how people are persuaded. So that's an effective way to communicate but it also, for me, in the back of my mind is saying, "Okay, how is Scripture handled? What's the argument here?" Because those books can affect us. Even if we agree with it, we can be affected by somebody's story in a powerful fashion.

>> Well, not only does his story, you know, Shannon's story is front and center, but the Scripture that's appealed to is mostly stories.

>> Sean: That's right.

>> As well. It's not the didactic parts, it's not this, you know, it's not the epistles, you know, it's not the proverbs, it's the narrative account. So it's sort of story meets story as the whole thing unfolds.

>> Yeah, I think that's right. When it's all said and done, we're gonna see a very different view of the authority of the Bible, how to handle the Bible, how to interpret the Bible. That's really the core issue at play we'll get to.

>> All right, yeah, we'll get to that in more detail in just a minute. Now, Shannon also says, I think, something pretty provocative here at the beginning of the book. Shannon says, "Transgender people have something to teach the Church and the world if only they would listen." First of all, do you think that's true? And second, if so, what is it that we have to learn?

>> I do think that's true, and I'm guessing that there's some people listening or watching this, they're gonna take issue with me for saying that. But if you look at my bookshelf, I have books full of people of different political views, different religious views, different cultural, ethical views. I think there's something we can learn from pretty much everybody if we're willing to listen. So I pick up a book like this and partly I'm asking myself, "How do I better love transgender individuals?" I wanna start by understanding their experience on their terms. Now with that said, I can't remember who first said it, but I heard somebody say, "If you've met somebody who's transgender, you've met one person who's transgender." Shannon's not claiming to speak for all people who are transgender.

>> Scott: Right.

>> Of course. But as I'm reading this, I'm thinking, "I wanna understand how this person sees the world, their experiences, their insights. Maybe I have some blind spots." So for example, obviously being somebody who's transgender, there's going to be a real wrestling with the body. How does the body play into my identity? There's going to be a discomfort, there's going to be... That's gonna be a part of the story. I haven't really wrestled with that in my life so I haven't really taken the time to think through, what's it like just to be in public and have relationships and be uncomfortable in my own skin? So reading this book was like, wow, I think I at least have a better understanding of the worldview of somebody from this perspective. Now what I'm not saying here, let me be clear, is in critical theory, there's kind of this sense that says, if you are the oppressed person and marginalized, you have a favored position that is right and cannot be questioned, some would call it standpoint epistemology, because of where you sit. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying we all have certain blind spots. We see the world from our experience. I pick up a book like this and I'm happy to say there's probably a lot of blind spots that I have. And as long as I bring it back to Scripture and I try to see what is true, I enjoy reading books sometimes more by people that disagree with me than those who agree with me.

>> Well, I think our notion of general revelation suggests that we have things to learn from virtually everyone. And even, you know, someone like Karl Marx was not wrong about everything.

>> Sean: I agree.

>> Now, he was wrong about a lot of important, foundational things, but not wrong about everything. I think you can say the same thing about, you know, other people who have been, you know, spent most of their professional lives very hostile to Christian faith. So just because, you know, we don't dismiss someone's contribution just because of their worldview or their source.

>> Sean: Exactly.

>> But I think that I'd also wanna suggest that, you know, the transgender person is my neighbor. And I think it is true that the Gospel accounts, the life of Jesus, the prophets in the Old Testament had a lot to say about groups of people who were on the margins of the culture for a variety of different reasons. Now, they, I don't think they'd wrestle with transgender-type stuff in the first century.

>> Sean: Agreed.

>> But there were lots of other people who found themselves on the margin. Jesus, I think, found Himself almost magnetically attracted to those folks and spent the vast majority of His discretionary time, apart from his disciples, around those folks. So there's something that I think we need to read from the prophets and the gospels that would suggest that these folks who are on the margins of culture, you know, are our neighbors and deserving of our love and compassion. Now, it doesn't mean they're deserving that we agree with them on everything.

>> Sean: Right.

>> But they're deserving of our respect and our treatment of them as consistent with human beings made in the image of God.

>> I agree. Now, whether or not trans is on the margin of culture now or not is a separate conversation.

>> I think that's a separate question.

>> We could go into, but somebody who's felt that way, that life experience, Jesus resonates, so agreed.

>> Yeah, I think most trans people I think would refer to themselves as still being on the margin.

>> For sure, I agree.

>> Whether it's the culture season that way or not, I think that's a different...

>> Yep.

>> A different question. Now let's move into some of the theological claims that are being made. And this is, I think, sort of the blanket claim that Shannon makes about the way the Bible is viewed. So Shannon puts it like this. "One of the primary critiques," I'm quoting here, "One of the primary critiques of queer and trans theology is that we are making God in our own image." All right, "This critique ignores an uncomfortable fact that all theology comes from a specific context. There is no theology that is generated from a purely objective place." And now my question is, is this a false dichotomy that's being created? Are these the only two options or are there options in the middle between those? I suspect you're gonna suggest something that might be more in the middle here.

>> Sean: Yeah.

>> And I think in general, help our listeners and our viewers here, how should we approach just the task of developing an ethic from our theology that we derive from Scripture?

>> So this is towards the introduction in the beginning of the book. And I think Shannon rightly anticipates that readers are going to say, "Wait a minute, you're beginning with a certain ideology and forcing the facts and the theology into that pre-given ideology." And the response is, as you said, well, and calls it an uncomfortable fact that all theology comes from a specific context. Therefore it's almost like saying, well, we're guilty 'cause we have a view, but everybody else does. And like you said, I would say-

>> So we're all on a level playing field.

>> That's the way I read this. So in a sense, I would say it's not, this is a false dichotomy. I'm gonna split the bull by the horns, so to speak. It's not either we're totally biased, that we can't know truth, or we completely own our bias. I think there's a way of saying, yeah, we come from a certain perspective, and we have to work hard culturally, linguistically, personally to minimize those biases and make sure we're not reading our biases into the text. So the mere fact that we come from a certain place doesn't necessarily determine the outcome if we are very intentional about the kinds of biases that shape us and make those public. So I thought that was kind of a way of dismissing this, saying, "Well maybe I'm guilty, everybody else is." And I wanna say, okay, wait a minute, let's put our biases on the table. Let's put it forward for peer review. Let's work to minimize our biases. Just because we don't have absolute 100% clarity doesn't mean we can't confidently arrive at some kind of objective truth.

>> Right, and the fact that we all have biases and a perspective doesn't relativize them all to begin with.

>> Sean: Exactly, yep.

>> So what do we make of the charge that the queer and trans theologies are making God in their own image? Is that a valid criticism or should we think twice about that?

>> I'm not certain if I would use that phrase or not. I think what I would say is certain LGBTQ-affirming theology begins with a certain view of what it means to be human, a certain view of the nature of love, and then uses the Scripture to support a pre-given narrative that is adopted elsewhere. That's how I would frame it. Now, that has implications for how we understand sin, implications for how we understand the character of God, but I think there's a beginning understanding that's, I would argue, taken from experience, taken from culture. And I don't question anybody's motivation. That's not my point. But then if you approach the Scriptures through that fashion, you can pick and choose certain theologies and stories and statements that support and ignore the rest. Now, when I say this, I'm well aware of my own faults and proclivity to do this and the log in my own eye. And I still find I read Scripture like, man, I was wrong on this point. Gotta change, it's developing. But as a whole, some of the key thinkers, people like William Loader who studied the ancient cultures, like, if you just start with the Bible, you don't end with an affirming position if you take it on its own merits. You're gonna have to get there with a different view of biblical authority, et cetera.

>> Yeah, now, he also says that Paul was wrong.

>> Yeah, so that's how he gets there in a different fashion-

>> That's right.

>> Than you and I would, and I just appreciate his candor.

>> Right, yeah, so I mean, it's one thing to think about, you know, where are we starting and how are we approaching Scripture with that starting place in mind? And I think to be careful, to be aware that we do start from a worldview, we start from an experience ourselves. We start from a handful of biases that we already have. What I found is, one of the best ways to identify those just no extra charge for this for our viewers on this, is to read the Scripture from somebody who grew up in another culture.

>> Sean: There you go.

>> Who grew up in another part of the world who may see some of the things that we take for granted about things like greed and materialism and see it really differently approaching that from their cultural perspective and the biases that they have given the way they grew up. And so that dynamic of reading the Scripture from somebody who's come from an entirely different cultural context can be very illuminating.

>> Sean: Sure.

>> If you're willing to open your eyes to see what some of your own biases might be as well.

>> Yep, and as long as the assumption is, we're gonna follow the text where it leads as best we can.

>> Right, and I think, you know, I think we can... Let's put it this way. That when it comes to understanding the meaning of the text, there's really, there's only one culture that matters, and that's the culture of the original author and the original audience. When it comes to the application of the text or the questions that we want the text to answer, that's where I think our background, our culture, our biases actually have a lot more of a bearing 'cause I think if we do our hermeneutics correctly and faithfully, we allow the first century culture to speak loudest when determining the meaning of the text. What did that author intend for that original audience to know and to do, but when it comes to application, that opens up a whole vista of possibilities that chances are, you know, you and I have never thought about some of the questions that somebody from another culture or a transgender person might ask of the biblical text that it would never occur to us to ask of the text-

>> Agreed.

>> In the first place.

>> I'm with you. Now, that brings us to the question of what Scripture teaches and says about gender. What does it specifically teach and say in its context? Now, this is a huge question that we would need to unpack. You sound like there's something you wanna add in here.

>> Well, I think there is.

>> Sean: Okay.

>> And I think we need to be clear that we distinguish between what the Bible teaches about gender and our cultural stereotypes about gender.

>> Got it, that's where we're headed. I agree.

>> That may or may not be biblically consistent. And I think that's just a place where we've gotta be brutally honest with some of the cultural stereotypes that we have about masculinity and femininity that may not have anything to do with what the Bible fundamentally teaches. So first things first-

>> Sean: Yeah, I agree.

>> First things first, how would you summarize the Bible's teaching on gender?

>> So going back to Genesis, the Bible teaches that we are essentially sexed beings. God made us male and female. So my height, my income, where I live, these are secondary things to who I am. But God made us not asexual beings, not three sexes. God made us sexed beings. That's number one. Number two, you see this flow throughout Scripture, the Old Testament, New Testament, that we are to live in a way where our gender identity matches up with our biological sex. Now, that language is not in the Bible itself. And of course gender identity would be how somebody lives out their biological sex and expresses it which as you said can vary across culture. But just a couple quick examples, and these would raise a million counter examples, but even Deuteronomy there's the passage like, "A man should not wear a woman's cloak. A woman should not wear a man's garment." Marriage in Matthew 19 is male and female, a sexed institution that goes back to creation. So there's this sense where our gender identity is to be in line with our biological sex. But third, and this is what you're pointing out, the Bible gives little specificity of exactly what that looks like. There's a lot of flexibility there. So as I'm reading this book, here's one of the key insights, and I wrote down just some pages I think our viewers really need to hear this is what Shannon is wrestling with is these cultural stereotypes about gender. And it might be the case that more men like to wrestle, more men wanna ride four-wheelers, that play football. That might be the case, but does that mean if you don't do those things, you're not a man or a woman can't do those things? Of course not. So Shannon says, "There were occasional moments where gender would confine me, wanting to cut my hair short and not being allowed." So in other words, the length of hair. Now, we do see Paul talk about this in that culture at that time, but I don't think that was meant to be transcultural. "Quitting tee-ball and not signing up for team for years 'cause I wanted to play real baseball, not softball. Continually asking if I could wear pants to church just this once, being told to put on a skirt. Questions like, 'Why do you wear that baseball cap all the time?' These are the kinds of statements that come up." Let me read a couple more. Shannon writes, "Men did manly things like lead and preach and build stuff. Women did womanly things like dress modestly and care for children and work in the church kitchen. Men went off for their men's weekends hunting and doing whatever else men did when they got together. Women stayed or threw showers for weddings and babies. I didn't get to go on hunting weekends. I hated the showers 'cause they were unbearably boring to me, the wedding showers." So you see this sense of just, and there's a couple more here I'll read. I think we really need to hammer this home where Shannon says, "What if they were a boy but want to play with dolls?" And says, "We live in a hyper-gendered society where blue and pink represent specific genders." Now, also phrases like, "It affects mental health." And I agree with that. Things we say like, "Real men don't cry." A part of this story is somebody growing up that doesn't fit these gender expectations, felt free just playing baseball and wearing a cap backwards, going outside was stuffed in this box and it caused, according to Shannon, just some harm and dissonance and fear and shame, et cetera. So again, the Bible says we are sexed beings. We're called to live in congruence with this, but we add all these rules and all these stereotypes that I think can do genuine harm to boys and girls who don't fit those stereotypes when the Bible gives us a lot more flexibility.

>> And I suspect you'd agree with me on this. I think we need to call that for what it is, which is legalism.

>> Sean: I do agree.

>> Because those are creating external standards that govern whether somebody is actually acceptable as a man or a woman, ultimately, I think, acceptable to God as a man or a woman that are entirely outside of the biblical account. And I think, again, and I think if you wrestle with this and read the Scripture with somebody from another culture who say, who grew up somewhere like in sub-Saharan Africa or something, you would see that what the culture says about masculinity and femininity might be completely different than what we see in the West.

>> That's right. Blue is not inherently masculine. In fact, some studies have said in the past, pink was considered masculine and blue feminine. So I mean, I'll ask my students, I'm like, "Can you wear a skirt?" And they'll be like, "Well, you can wear a kilt in Scotland." I went to Fiji on a trip and you wear a dress. It literally looks like a dress, but it's a wrap and it's a very masculine thing so we have to be careful with these. And by the way, it's really interesting when I'll say to audiences, I'll say, Christian audiences, "Give me an example of a manly man." First two that are always mentioned, David and Samson. Almost never does somebody say Jesus, by the way. Almost never.

>> Very, very interesting.

>> Maybe two or three times out of dozens. And David, of course, is acting manly when he goes to war, but David also played a harp and he danced.

>> Scott: Wrote poetry.

>> And he wrote poetry that's in the Bible.

>> Scott: Like, a lot of it.

>> I mean, look at the story of Jacob and Esau. I'll ask people, I'll say, "Who's more masculine?" They'll say, "Well, Esau was a hairy hunter and Jacob was a mama's boy." That's the phrase that we would use. Well, the text doesn't make that distinction.

>> Scott: No.

>> And God chooses Jacob. So Jesus is the quintessential human being. And since He took on male flesh, you might say the quintessential man who's coming with a sword to judge, but He also wept over Jerusalem. So you're right, it's legalism, and these stereotypes in our culture and in the Church, I think damage a lot of people who don't fit in that box. Now, current solution is just to completely get rid of the box. And I wanna say, let's have a box. But what Scripture teaches with flexibility is how I would approach it.

>> Yeah, and maybe the box is not quite so tight.

>> Exactly.

>> As what our culture says, but not quite as loose as what Shannon wants to say.

>> Agreed. Well said.

>> So let's go back more to Shannon's wrestling with Scripture here for just a minute. Shannon makes the point that eunuchs in the Scripture are the closest parallel to transgender people. In fact, I think Shannon calls them a third gender. Eunuchs are a third gender in the Scripture. What do you make of that analogy? You know, does it fit? Is there room for that to help us understand what the transgender experience could be, or has Shannon just missed the mark here?

>> I think it's helpful in the sense of somebody who, obviously a eunuch is somebody who could be born that way. It could be somebody who was forcefully castrated or somebody who chooses either with the physical castration or not to not be married or not be sexually active. So there's very different kinds of eunuchs, but especially those who are forced to do this and viewed by society in a certain fashion. I think there is an intersection with a transgender kind of experience. I don't think it goes as far as LGBTQ-affirming scholars would like it to go. In one sense-

>> Why not?

>> Well, the idea that we would define ourselves by our sexuality is a modern idea. I mean, the word homosexual appears late 1800s. Before then, that wasn't rooted, and you see the same thing with race. The Bible intersects with the idea of skin color, but doesn't divide us up by race so I think that's a little bit of reading into the case with the eunuch, and there's other differences, too. But the example that's used, I think, is fascinating is, I wrote this down. Kearns says, "The message of Isaiah 56 and from the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 says, there's space for them in the kingdom of God, too. There's nothing to prevent them from being baptized. There's nothing to prevent them from worshiping. They don't need to change to be worthy. They're made worthy by wanting to be included. Anyone who desires is welcome." That's the conclusion that's drawn from it. But if you go back and read the passage, I think it's really interesting in Isaiah 56. It says, "The Lord says to the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, 'choose what I desire and remain loyal to my covenant. In my temple in courts, I will give them a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give to them an enduring name that won't be removed.'" That was amazing news in Isaiah because eunuchs were kept out of the temple and looked down spiritually because of their physical state. So now the message Isaiah prophesied and we see come to fruition with the eunuch in Acts 8 is, everybody's welcome. If you have been damaged sexually like a eunuch, you are welcome to the table as much as anybody else. We see this level of what you might say inclusion, but notice what Isaiah 56 says. It says, "To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, choose what I desire and remain loyal to my covenant." In other words, even though there's this expansion on those who are included in the kingdom of God, there's still a continuing truth from the Old Testament in some fashion tied to the sabbath, tied to covenant, to remaining loyal. And I think we see this with Jesus when He says, "If you love me, you will follow my commandments." And even Jesus points back in Matthew 19 to the original creation account. So everybody is welcome including eunuchs, but to do so requires a kind of acknowledgement of Jesus's worldview, an acknowledgement that I'm entering into a certain belief system that asks me to be obedient in a certain fashion. It's not, anybody come on any terms and just be baptized. That's going a little too far.

>> Yeah, and I think what's important to recognize is that the demand to be faithful to the covenant is applicable regardless of where you come from at your entrance to the kingdom. So it's, you know, once you enter the kingdom, then you are bound by the same kind of moral demands that are part and parcel of faithfully following Jesus.

>> Sean: Exactly.

>> Which as I read, Shannon when coming out as lesbian committed to being celibate out of a desire to continue to be pleasing to God. Now, that all changed with step two on this, which involved the transgender part. The way I see the eunuch is more somebody who is infertile rather than an in-between gender. I don't think that-

>> Sean: I agree with that.

>> 'Cause eunuchs were still definitely masculine. I think most of them had been forcibly castrated either as a result of being a part of being a prisoner of war or serving a master who did not want to have any kind of threat sexually to his wife or wives plural or concubines or whoever else was in the household. So that was a part of the condition that was necessary to be a servant in the household of a master. And that was actually not uncommon in the ancient world because, you know, servants, I think unfortunately, were regarded as property with which the master could do as they chose. So I mean, I think it sort of, it backs the question up a bit. Was it morally right to, you know, forcibly do this to someone in the first place? And clearly the answer to that is no. But I think it was assumed that a eunuch was someone who was, and the ones born that way, I think were very rare. I'm not sure that is the same thing as the intersex person. That's the only thing I can think of that would be analogous to that. They wouldn't have categories for that in the first century. But mostly they were people who were disfigured and forcibly castrated either as a condition of service or as a result of being a captive in war. People who I think were eunuchs for the kingdom of God, I think were those that simply chose to remain unmarried and celibate because as Paul said pretty clearly in 1 Corinthians 7 if you are married, you have a divided heart and divided time, but someone who's not married and remains single and celibate has undivided time and attention to give to the Lord. And I think that's what's meant by being a eunuch for the kingdom. I think Paul spells that out in that teaching in 1 Corinthians 7.

>> Yeah, I think that's really well said. And the intersex analogy where it might be similar to the eunuch is intersex is a physical condition.

>> Right.

>> Being castrated as a eunuch is a physical condition. Transgender is a psychological condition that can play itself out physically. That's where the analogy might break down, but I think your point is really well said.

>> Okay, now let's do something that is really controversial here.

>> Sean: Okay.

>> And you and I might just actually disagree about this. And you know, Shannon makes the point, he's pretty straightforward about it. He says, "What does it cost to use the name and pronoun that are correct? What does our lack of honoring cost us?" I think he's speaking to the rest of the Church on this. So what about Christians who believe the way we do about gender using somebody's preferred pronoun?

>> So I think there's some things that are black and white in Scripture. Marriage is a sexed institution, male and female. Humans are body and soul, and we're designed to live in congruence with them together. Whether you go to a wedding, whether you use pronouns is less black and white to me. More a question of conscience and a question of wisdom. So on one side, those who would not use it would say, "You are forcing me." And by the way, even the way this is framed by Shannon is, if you don't do this, it's not respect. So it's been aligned a certain fashion that somebody would say, you are forcing me into a certain world view and ideology I don't agree with, and some would say, you're actually asking me to lie. Not so much a first name. Even Shannon, I've known men and women named Shannon. That's not the issue people are gonna wrestle with. Or Kelly, I knew a girl named Sean, interestingly enough. The question is the pronouns themselves. To use he or she in a way that doesn't match up with biological sex that side would say, you're asking me to lie and misrepresent. The other side would say, I'm trying to just meet somebody where they are at for the sake of conversation and if that's what it takes for me to be in relationship with you. I'm willing to use this language to meet you because ultimately they'd say, I can't really fix somebody's identity about themselves until they have Jesus in their heart and the Holy Spirit begins to change from the inside out. I did a video on this where I just said, "I personally would have a really difficult time in the vast majority of contexts." Not that I'd say all contexts, but using a preferred pronoun that doesn't match up with one's biological sex. I've thought about this a ton. I've talked with people. Now, publicly and certainly when it comes politically, legally, that could be different than just interpersonally with somebody.

>> Scott: Right.

>> Like, those are different things, but I would have a harder time doing that personally. But friends of mine who we've had in this program who say, "Sean, I'm just meeting somebody where they are at and being willing to love them." In fact, interestingly enough, somebody criticized me for taking this position and they said, "Well, Sean is a compromising generation. His father would never do that." So I went to my dad and I said, "Hey dad, I'm just curious." Didn't give him any bias. I said, "Would you ever use a preferred pronoun?" And his answer was, "I would use whatever language it takes to be in relationship with somebody to have a chance to share Jesus with them." So even my father and I differ a little bit on this one. I think there can be room for conscience. And by the way, when I posted this, a well-known scholar you and I know publicly criticized me and I responded. So viewers can pull that up, read it.

>> Scott: Good.

>> Maybe they disagree with me, but it was a substantive exchange that we had. That's where I stand. What say you?

>> I'm with your dad on this.

>> Okay, all right, all right.

>> Although I admit I'm conflicted with it because I really, I don't like the idea of using language that communicates a narrative that I think is false that, you know, sex and gender are not binary. I mean, I think that's what the Bible teaches. But you know, I'm in this to win a person more than I am to win an argument. And if that's what it takes to have a relationship with a person and to... Because I think if you choose not to use the pronouns, I think for the most part you've foreclosed any possibility of a conversation. Now, whether that's right on their part to foreclose it, I think is a separate question. But the reality is that I'm probably not gonna be able to have any kind of relationship with them if I don't choose to offer them that kind of respect.

>> So your difference with me is not... You agree it's a matter of conscience.

>> Scott: Yes.

>> But you're more inclined to do so than I would be personally. That's where the difference lies.

>> That's right.

>> Sean: Okay, that's fair. That's helpful.

>> A couple other questions. Well-documented that the transgender community as a whole, and I don't wanna be, I don't wanna overgeneralize this, but as a whole, it's well-documented that they have higher rates of depression, loneliness, suicide ideation, things like that. Shannon makes the point, tries to answer that by saying, "It's not necessarily being transgender that makes someone suicidal. It's the fact that they're not accepted or allowed to transition." What do you make of that counter-argument to the, I think, well known empirical facts about the transgender community?

>> The first question you asked me, "What did I expect when I read this book?" The third thing was is I knew that claim was gonna come up at some point. It always does, and it's at least twice in this text. I would say a couple things. I called two leading researchers who, I won't even mention who they are. I don't think they wanna be mentioned. You know both of 'em. And I said, "Hey, is it possible to do a study that could link one's distinct theology on this issue to depression, loneliness, and suicide?" Both of 'em said that kind of study would be so massive and so many millions of dollars that it's almost prohibitive. And in their awareness and mine, that study hasn't been done yet. So when I look at the studies to show this in press, they're a small sample size. They don't really narrow down on exactly what the cause is and make the kind of distinctions that say, hey, I disagree with you theologically and get outta my house and I disagree with the theologically, but I love you unconditionally and we're in relationship together. Those kind of distinctions not made. So I think there are personal stories people tell, like Kearns will tell, but not the data objectively to back it up. In fact, you know, a couple examples. We've had Caleb Kaltenbach on our show, and this is Kaltenbach, but a little different, but overlaps is he actually said when he came, he grew up with two moms and became a Christian. They kicked him out of the house so they responded the way we hear the narrative that Christians often respond. Christopher Yuan, whose mom was Christian and he was in a bunch of gay relationships, an atheist, he said when they became Christians, that's when they were really able to patiently, graciously love me. So I don't buy that narrative, but the other thing that tells me I'm not convinced by it is if the suffering comes from the non-acceptance of society, then let's go to societies that are more accepting and we should see the psychological mental illness, depression, loneliness decrease. Well, if you go to places like the Netherlands.

>> Scott: That's a good point.

>> And places like Sweden who have been affirming for a long time, there are negligible, statistically, psychological differences in how the LGBTQ community does. Now, that doesn't tell us what the cause is, but I think it raises very significant questions about what the cause is not, at least the heart of it, namely the non-acceptance of society.

>> Yeah, it may suggest there may be something intrinsic.

>> It could be, yes. It suggests that.

>> But we just don't know for sure, yeah.

>> I just don't wanna overstate. But so ironically we're told that this narrative that we speak is hateful and bigoted. Well, if I'm right about my point, then it's actually loving to speak up against this narrative, even though you're gonna take a lot of shots for it.

>> One last question before we knock off here. This could go on very-

>> laughs: That's true.

>> I think very profitably for a long time. I hope our viewers agree with us on that. But would you recommend to our viewers that they read this?

>> Can I deal with one more issue and then answer that? I know we're getting close on time, but as I read this, one of the first questions you asked me is, "What do we learn from a book like this?" One of the things I learned is we have a lot of bad theology in Christian circles. So for example, Kearns felt a lot of fear. A lot of times our theology is driven by fear of the other, fear of certain decisions. The Bible says, "Perfect love casts out fear." So reading this book reminds me we need to be motivated not by fear, but by love. There's also certain bad theology of prayer. Kearns was told, "If you just prayed and you're living rightly, God would answer every prayer."

>> Scott: The great exchange.

>> Well yeah, God doesn't even, the Father, seem to answer prayers of Jesus in the garden, "Take this cup away from me." Paul, with his thorn in the flesh. That's why in Scripture it says, "Encourage one another, carry one another's burdens." Maybe one reason God doesn't answer certain prayers is so we can be humbled, rely upon one another. But if you're told like Kearns was and it doesn't work, you rightly question the theology of your church. The last one, this is so important, Scott, is I think we see a really bad theology of the body that we have taught. Have to bring this on again. This is a positive of the book. So Kearns write, "The leaders present for my religious upbringing mostly talked about bodies in the negative. Our flesh was sinful. Our bodies were weak and frail. Our bodies held original sin. Our bodies would die and decay." And then Kearns writes, "In every room I've been in with all people of all sorts of gender identities, when we are comfortable enough to be vulnerable, we discover we've all received negative messages about our bodies." And then Kearns says, "We need to revolutionize our theology of the body." And I think that's right.

>> Scott: Yeah.

>> And you and I have talked about this.

>> Scott: I concur.

>> I think our Catholic friends do, as a whole, a better job on this even if we have some differences about birth control, et cetera. They rightly say we are embodied, our bodies are good. There's one phrase where Kearns says that the message was given that sex is bad. And I wanna go, no, sex is good. The body's beautiful. So a huge story of this is even if we differ with Kearns at the end of the day, and even if Kearns says your theology is still harmful, fine, I can't control that. But we can learn how to have better attitudes, be gracious. Also, I think Kearns is pointing out some bad theology in evangelical circles that we can correct. And that's one way we can better love our LGBTQ neighbors and friends and coworkers. So would I recommend people read this? I would, but like every book, with discernment. Be aware that stories and emotions are powerful. I've been to affirming conferences and they say our greatest strategy is just to show that we are neighbors, we're nice, and we love Jesus. Okay, that's a very effective strategy. So like you'd read anything, beware of the power of emotion, beware of the power of story. Always point back to Scripture. We didn't even get into it, but there were a number of times where Kearns used the Scripture and I thought, "Oh my goodness, we are just reading into the text things that are not there at all. That's a red flag. So yes, if you wanna better understand your trans friends, your trans neighbors, understand this movement, read it. But like with anything, read it with wisdom, read it with discernment, and think biblically about it. [bright instrumental music]

>> Well, I hope our viewers have enjoyed this conversation. We hope you found it stimulating. We would encourage you to look with discernment at this book, "In the Margins" by Shannon Kearns. Hope you've enjoyed the time together. We want to remind you that the "Think Biblically" podcast is on audio, and we hope you subscribe to it in that audio fashion, and we look forward to the next conversation.