Is it OK for Christians to use opposite-sex pronouns for transgender people?
His goal was to offer “some wisdom for approaching this question with conviction and grace.”
Shortly after the video was uploaded, Dr. Robert A.J. Gagnon, professor of New Testament theology at Houston Baptist University, wrote a lengthy rebuttal of McDowell’s position on his Facebook page. McDowell then posted a response to Gagnon on seanmcdowell.com.
The exchange between the two men highlights the dilemma many families face every day: how do we show love to a transgender or gender-confused loved one and remain true to our convictions?
In his video, McDowell says, “This is an area where I think well-meaning Christians can disagree” as long as we “operate according to our consciences before the Lord. ... People say ‘I’m happy to use a preferred pronoun. It’s just a word. I want to stay in relationship with this person. It’s a way I can accommodate, so to speak, and just show charity.’ If that’s your conscience before the Lord, then go for it!”
Many Christians agree with McDowell because their primary goal is maintaining a relationship with the other person and using the preferred pronouns is a means to that end. But I see no scriptural basis for that argument. When did Jesus ever accommodate someone’s delusion to establish a relationship? And why would He — the Truth incarnate by His own admission — pull back from telling the truth to anyone?
For example, when Jesus sought to establish a relationship with the Samaritan woman, He first initiated a conversation with her, then led her toward the truth He wanted her to confront. When she expressed interest in the water Jesus offered, He said, “Go, call your husband and come here,” which compelled her to admit the truth — “I have no husband.” Jesus then confirmed how well He knew her — “you have had five husbands and the one whom you now have is not your husband” (John 4:15–18).
Jesus’s conversation with the woman reveals that He sees her heart and loves her, but He doesn’t let her sidestep the truth about her sinful lifestyle. Why? He has something better to offer her, and she can receive His gift only if she discards her old lifestyle and accepts His living water.
In his response post, McDowell claims that “loving someone is always biblical,” but that is true only if we are loving that person according to the biblical definition of love — acting in his best interest from a spiritual perspective, in a way that leads him toward God and a lifestyle that honors Him. That’s the love Jesus manifested in his conversation with the Samaritan woman.
Those who refer to persons with gender-preferred pronouns (or first names) that are contrary to their biological sex are encouraging those individuals to continue their sinful lifestyle and deny their God-given identity. Jesus condemned those who encouraged others to sin: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6). The apostle Paul emphasized, “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak” (Rom. 14:21). Certainly, accommodating a transgender’s delusion weakens that individual.
Some also misapply Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:22 to justify what New Testament scholar Preston Sprinkle calls “pronoun hospitality.” When Paul says, “Become all things to all people,” he isn’t suggesting that we condone and participate in another person’s self-deception or sinful choices in an attempt to “by all means save some.”
Others argue that refusing to comply with a transgender’s preferred pronoun may lead to unnecessary confrontation or provocation in a church setting. But again, what would Jesus do — the One who cleared the temple of moneychangers to purify God’s holy space (Matt. 21:12–13).
Gagnon also identifies other problems that may arise when we capitulate on the pronoun issue:
- We create an obstacle for those younger in the faith, which causes them to stumble (1 Cor. 10:23–33).
- We condone sins God finds detestable (Lev. 18:22; Deut. 22:5).
- We encourage the offenders’ “self-dishonoring, self-degrading, and self-demeaning behavior” that’s injurious to them and their loved ones.
- We open the door to other compromises such as using opposite-sex bathrooms, locker rooms, college dormitories, or cabins at Christian camps and conference facilities.
So how do we show love without compromising truth?
- We ask open-ended, sincere questions and listen so we can better understand the other person’s perspective.
- We speak with kindness and compassion, avoiding condescension and judgment, and listen to the person.
- We explain that our position on gender-preferred pronouns is based on scriptural convictions and our desire to honor God’s standards.
- We continue to work on maintaining a loving yet truth-based relationship with the person.
The bottom line is this: Jesus never used love as a rationale for lying to people or indulging their fantasies. His love for a person compelled Him to speak truth; our love for Him, and for others, should compel us to speak truth, too.