Gender Identity and the Image of God

Gender Identity and the Image of God November 19, 2019

Branch, J. Alan.
Affirming God’s Image: Addressing the Transgender Question with Science and Scripture.
Bellingham WA: Lexham, 2019.
Available at Logos.

Review by Suzanne Day

Affirming God’s Image: Addressing the Transgender Question with Science and Scripture is a concise, well-researched book aimed at helping Christians understand and respond to the modern phenomenon of transgenderism. Branch addresses different facets of transgenderism, including history, vocabulary, scripture, science, treatment and Christian responses. This book is a helpful resource addressing a very relevant issue.
The first two chapters provide a brief history of the transgender movement and explanations about key vocabulary. Branch begins with transgender-like behaviour in ancient Rome, and discusses key people in the modern transgender movement, including Magnus Hirschfield and Harry Benjamin. The discussion about vocabulary was useful and I appreciated Branch’s attitude of seeking to understand language in order to engage effectively in culture.

After setting the scene in the initial chapters, chapter 3 provides a biblical critique of transgenderism and its underlying assumptions. Branch draws particularly from Genesis 1:27 to affirm sexuality as part of God’s will for his image-bearers and also discusses New Testament texts, concluding that “The concept of someone assuming a gender role different from his or her natal sex is foreign to the New Testament (p.47).” However, he does not really explain what he means by gender roles other than in marriage and bearing children. This chapter clearly presents embracing a transgender identity as inconsistent with Christian ethics.

Chapters 4 and 5 refute biological deterministic claims about being ‘born transgender’ and chapters 6 and 7 address the problems with transitioning as a treatment option for gender dysphoria. Studies in both genetics and the brain have to this point been unable to prove what causes transgenderism. Branch clearly argues that current treatments for transgenderism are not value-neutral and both hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery are in contradiction with a Christian worldview.

The final chapters draw together the ideas throughout the book to consider responses within the family and the local church. The tone is gentle, recognising the challenges faced by parents, whilst also encouraging them to stand firm on biblical truth. There was also a good point about how attempting to aggressively enforce rigid gender stereotypes can actually reinforce feelings of gender dysphoria. Branch attempts to steer the Christian response between two potential pitfalls, lack of compassion and lack of biblical truth. This is exemplified in differing Christian responses to the question of what language to use to refer to a people who are transitioning to the other gender.

For those who choose not to conform to transgender vocabulary, Branch asks:

“First, have I prayed for the person in question and are my actions motivated by love both for the truth and for the person? Second, am I willing to suffer for following my convictions, including loss of employment? Third, if I am dismissed, will I love my enemies and pray for them?”

For those Christians who are seeking to maintain relationship by using the preferred terms of identification:

“First, do I have a clear understanding of the biblical stance on gender, and do I grasp the grievous sin my friend is committing? Second, do I genuinely intend to make an intentional effort to share Christ with this person, given the right time, opportunity, and prompting by the Holy Spirit? Third, am I willing to share my convictions about gender based on Scripture, realizing others in our culture will strongly disagree; or am I looking for a way to avoid the stigma of being a Christian?”

Affirming God’s Image is a very relevant book for Western Christians. It covers a lot of different topics related to transgenderism, which limits the depth to which it can address each issue (and the nature of the science-based chapters means that one can expect these chapters to become out-of-date more quickly). However, Branch provides a helpful explanation of the main issues. Each chapter begins with an example from popular culture of the effects of the transgender movement, which seemed overly repetitive and was unnecessary to prove the relevance of the topic. The book strikes a hopeful note, but it could have been vastly improved by containing real-life examples of how Christians have responded to this issue positively. As it is, the book provides a (very good!) theoretical response to transgenderism, rather than a practical response that has been tried and tested. I recommend this book to pastors and teachers within the church, as well as to all Christian, particularly parents, who want to understand more about transgenderism from a biblical perspective.

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