Mailbag #45: Transgender Pronouns & Marrying an Egalitarian Couple

Mailbag
12.16.2016

When talking to transgender friends or family members, which pronoun should I use? »
How would you handle the pre-marital counseling of an egalitarian couple? »

Here is a piece of pastoral correspondence neither to nor from 9Marks, but to one of my fellow elders. Yet I have asked the authors if I could share it as a mailbag because I appreciated my fellow elder’s wisdom:

Dear 9Marks,

I have a growing friendship with a lesbian who does not identify as a gender. This friend insists on people using “they/them” when referring to her. I’ve seen her correct people many times on the pronouns she prefers, and firmly believes that when people don’t use her preferred pronouns, it is an act of violence.

Even though I don’t agree with her reasoning, I had been using they/them out of a desire to grow a long-term friendship. However, last night a brother in my church had a long conversation with me about my use of they/them. In a really loving way, that brother suggested I was lying or further distorting the truth to use they/them when referring to a woman. I felt really convicted and appreciated his thoughtfulness.

I have heard you dealt with this before. What do you think?

—Sarah

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for this email. I understand your dilemma, but first let me do something: I want to praise God! Praise God for your opportunity to witness to this friend. Praise him for your desire to be faithful to his Word and sensing the conviction of his Spirit. I’m encouraged by you, sis.

Okay, on to the issue. Yes, I have a family member with a brother who has now identified as a woman—legal name change, crossdressing, hormones, etc. Here’s how we handled it. I’ll say it in order of steps we took, but please know these steps were messy, Christians could disagree on them, and the steps only became clear in hindsight:

First, we wept. We simply mourned what felt like a death of this family member’s brother, and we cried out to God on his behalf. We cried together. (Not saying you need to cry, but in all of this, don’t forget to pray).

Second, we read the Bible and other articles to see what God has revealed to other Christians on this.

  • I particularly think this article is wonderful.
  • This core seminar by Matt Merker is also very, very thorough. It won’t address the practical situation you’re in as it can’t address every scenario, but it will help lay a solid foundation for your theology on these matters (which, I think, is more important).
  • Lastly, this podcast by John Piper addresses the particular situation you’re in.

Third, we had an honest and frank conversation with the family member. Relatively soon after he started identifying as a woman, we sat him down and told him that we loved him, told him that he was always welcome in our home, and we told him that our love for him wouldn’t change. We asked if, in his mind, it was possible for us to love him and disagree with his choice, or not call him everything he desired to be called. To our surprise, he said yes. We then explained that we were to happy to call him his new name, as it’s his legal name, and we have to call him something. To us, names aren’t the property of any specific gender (I know guys named Stacy and girls named Stacy), but pronouns are. I do think it’s a lie (think of what Exodus 20:16 says about “false testimony”) to convince this person they are something they are in fact not, and I think the usage of pronouns seeks to do that. I can see the argument for the usage of the name change doing that, but I don’t think names/pronouns finally land in the same category.

We didn’t say all of this specifically to him, but we simply said we were uncomfortable using pronouns and we explained that this decision was because of our faith. He understood. We said our ultimate allegiance is for Jesus and we hoped that one day his would be too. I then fumbled through a gospel presentation that was probably relatively weak given how nervous I was about the whole matter.

Having this kind of conversation, sister, I think is the most crucial step to take, and the sooner the better, as it will simply make your relationship clear from the get-go. If you have the conversation now, there won’t be surprises or how could yous!? down the road. I had a lot of relational capital built up with this family member’s brother. I’m not sure how much you have built up with your friend. But you’d be surprised at how, if you’re calm, clear, and as affirming and loving as you can be on the right things, God will give you grace to parse through the wrong.

And if the person rejects you, well, then you’ll be more like Jesus who was rejected (Isa. 53:3). Your job isn’t to save this friend or even love them perfectly—it’s to be faithful to God, and whatever the person’s reaction is, we leave that in his hands.

Hope this helps, and I’m praying for you!

Dear 9Marks,

During a pre-marital counseling session with an engaged couple in my church, they explained that they disagreed with our elders on the matter of complementarianism. They were egalitarians. They were happy to be in the church and to sit under complementarian teaching without opposing it. But they wanted me to know they held different views on this topic. How would you handle their counseling? Would you marry them?

—Michael

Dear Michael,

Yes, I would counsel and marry them. But I would also explain to them, this is a very important topic which would set the trajectory for their marriage in a number of ways. And so I would want to think through this topic a little more carefully in the counseling time together. During that time, I’d work both to understand why they think the way they do and to look at Scripture.

Assuming they remained unconvinced, again, yes, I would marry them and do the wedding. But I would not do an “egalitarian service,” whatever that might mean. Instead, I would use our church’s standard liturgy here, and I would use very biblical—Ephesians 5ish—language at every point in the ceremony where a disagreement might arise. Complementarians and egalitarians agree on the Bible (usually), so let’s agree to use biblical language.

Let me add, when a wedding is hosted by our church, our pastors do exercise veto power over any song selection, words, or elements they find objectionable. The rationale is, you don’t have to hold your wedding in our church. If anything, the authority to marry belongs more to the state than to the church. You can do it on a beach and say whatever you want! But if we’re going to involve a pastor and the church and our joint affirmation of this marriage as we participate in the assembly (“If anyone can give just cause why these two should not be lawfully wed, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.”), then a pastor needs to be able assume some pastoral responsibility for whatever happens. This isn’t just “your” event; it’s our event. Along those lines, let’s look for solutions that everyone likes over points of disagreement.

Hope this helps.