In his new book, Affirming God’s Image: Addressing the Transgender Question with Science and Scripture, J. Alan Branch begins by detailing some of the “virtual tidal wave of events” that have “pushed transgenderism and issues associated with it to the forefront of our popular consciousness.” These include: Bruce Jenner’s announcement of his transition to “Caitlyn”; the Obama administration’s letter to school districts urging them to accommodate transgender-identified students; a female Texas wrestler, who believes she’s a boy and takes male hormones, winning a girls’ state title; and North Carolina’s battle over public restrooms.
Branch, a professor of Christian ethics at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, gives his purpose for the book, “The list could go on, but events such as these and countless others have left many Christians confused and frustrated concerning how we as believers should respond to popular support for transgenderism.” His concise, informative book provides help for the church as he focuses primarily on two issues related to transgenderism:
- What does the science say about transgenderism – is it an inborn, unchangeable trait, rooted in a person’s biology?
- What does the Bible say about transgender issues – how should believers respond to this growing movement?
Regarding the first question, Branch looks at the small group of theories and studies, often touted by transgender activists, that suggest there is a genetic or other biological component to transgenderism. These include the theory that transgender-identified folks have brains more like that of the opposite sex. As he points out, most of these studies are small, flawed, and often have not been replicated. After looking at various studies on twins, families, brains and hormones, he concludes, “Research to date has not found a transgender gene.” While the exact causes may be unknown, transgenderism is not biologically determined.
As for the church’s teaching on this issue, Branch is both compassionate and honest as he examines various scriptures that consistently affirm God’s purposes in creation: God made humans in his image, both male and female. The idea that you can have a female soul somehow trapped in a male body is a Gnostic heresy, which Christianity rejects:
Our sexual identity as male or female is integral to being made in God’s image. …In this light, it seems much wiser to find a way to embrace and care for the body God has given us instead of subjecting it to multiple surgeries.
In addition to these key questions, Branch gives a short summary of the history of the modern transgender movement, including its embrace by groups such as the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. He also explains some of the ever-changing vocabulary used by transgender activists, terms such as “neutrois,” “genderqueer” and “gender expansive.”
As part of the survey of the medical science around transgenderism, he describes current treatments by transgender-affirming physicians that transform a person’s appearance to look like the opposite sex, discussing their effects on an individual. For some transgender-identified adults, treatment may include taking opposite sex hormones and having multiple surgeries. These often irreversible procedures may include mastectomies for women who believe they are men and breast implants for men who believe they are women. More common for men, less so for women, are “genital reconstruction surgeries.”
For children, treatment may begin with puberty suppression and then proceed to opposite sex hormones and surgeries. Branch rightly notes that “puberty is not a disease, but is a normal process of growth and development and an expected part of the natural maturation into adulthood.”
Affirming God’s Design concludes with chapters for families and churches affected by this issue. Branch calls for both to hold to the truth about God’s design for humanity while reaching out with love and grace for those struggling with gender confusion.
I had only a few small quibbles with the book, neither of which negates the helpfulness of this resource. The first is his use of language, where Branch uses “gender” synonymously with “sex” – being male or female. This is somewhat confusing when activists have co-opted the word “gender” and distorted its meaning. Transgender-identified activists and their allies use the word to mean how individuals think and feel about their sexual identity as well as to indicate the idea that “gender” is a social construct. In essence, activists strip “gender” from any solid bodily connection and turn it into an abstract concept. This may create some confusion for those reading about this topic.
Secondly, the book deals with the possible biological components of transgenderism. But Branch never explores the soft sciences, such as psychology and sociology, and possible contributing factors from an individual’s environment. Some research, clinical work and reports from individuals suggest environmental factors may skew a child’s sense of sexual identity and are factors in subsequent gender dysphoria. These include early childhood trauma, separation anxiety issues, sexual abuse, mental health issues in the struggler and other family members, and issues within a family system. Of course none of these are deterministic either, but there is some evidence they contribute to gender confusion for some people. Discussing these topics, and pointing to resources for healing and support, might’ve offered more hope to strugglers and their families and churches.
Having said that, Branch explores the issues of science and scripture with compassion, truth, wisdom and courage. Though some of the science details are complex, he explains them in a concise, readable manner. Affirming God’s Image: Addressing the Transgender Question with Science and Scripture is a very helpful book for individuals, families and churches dealing with transgenderism.
Focus on the Family has a number of resources for men and women struggling with gender confusion, for their family and friends, and for those wanting to learn more about transgenderism in our culture.
We also offer a one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian perspective. To reach Focus on the Family’s counseling service by phone, call 1-855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time). Please be prepared to leave your contact information for a counselor to return a call to you as soon as possible. The consultation is available at no cost to you. You may also place your request for a counselor callback by filling out our Counseling Consultation Request Form.