Evangelicals and the “Problem” of Transgender Names

Evangelicals and the “Problem” of Transgender Names July 4, 2017

For an organization founded to promote creationism, Answers in Genesis’ website has a surprising number of blog posts and articles that are about other cultural issues. In one, Pastor Corey Abney weighs whether evangelicals should address transgender individuals by their chosen names or by their given names.

…using a transgender person’s chosen name does not necessarily imply agreement with the transgender movement. Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” One way to do that is to greet members of the transgender community by their new names, especially in cases where no previous relationship exists.

A believer’s primary aim is not to win an argument on sexuality, but to win others to Jesus. If using their birth names places a stumbling block in the way of the gospel, we should avoid such offense in order to gain a hearing.

Nevertheless, using a new transgender name is not always wise. This is especially true in situations where a previous relationship exists. If a family member, friend, or coworker undergoes sex-reassignment surgery, it may be very difficult to call him or her by a new name and maintain a strong Christian witness. The key distinction is whether the transgender person will view our use of the new name as a tacit endorsement of a sinful lifestyle.

In such cases we should do everything we can to lovingly but firmly convince a transgender person that his or her actions are ultimately self-destructive and harmful. Many times this may mean refusing to use a new name.

What is Abney’s answer?

Abney says that if there is no prior relationship with a transgender individual, using their chosen name may be acceptable, but that if there is a previous relationship using their chosen name may signal “tacit endorsement” of their transgender identity. Abney also says that calling a new transgender acquaintance by their chosen name may be one way to “live peaceably with all men” as written in Romans, with hopes of keeping doors open to win individuals to Christ in the future.

On one level, this “live peaceably with all men” thing seems like really good advice. It does, however, beg a question: why is it limited to transgender individuals with whom there is no prior relationship? Live at peace with new transgender individuals you meet, Abney tells his readers, but refuse to use the chosen name of a transgender family member, friend, or coworker. Say what?

Let me make two quick points.

First, I suspect that the true distinction here is that Abney’s readers will very often (usually, even) not know the given names of transgender individuals with whom they have no prior relationship. How can you call someone by their given name, after all, if you do not know it? And in most situations, you have to call them something. A family member, friend, or coworker who comes out as transgender, though—their given names you will know. This seems to be an argument of convenience.

Second, Abney suggests that using a new transgender acquaintance’s chosen name will help keep open lines of communication and witness for the future. What Abney ignores is that refusing to use the chosen name of a transgender family member, friend, or coworker out of concern that doing so will signal endorsement closes those same lines of communication and witness. Abney seems to be taking these relationships completely for granted.

Using a transgender person’s chosen name is basic human decency. When individuals refuse to do so—especially family members, friends, and coworkers—it closes doors and signals a profound lack of compassion or interest in being there for them. And yet, Abney thinks doing so will somehow play a role in convincing a transgender individual to become (their brand of) Christian.

That’s about as backwards as you can get.

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