In August 2013, Bradley Manning — the U.S. Army private convicted of espionage for leaking classified documents — announced that he wished to be known as Chelsea and to live the rest of his life as a woman. He also hoped to begin hormone therapy.
“I want everyone to know the real me,” Manning said in a statement.
Two months later, Azusa Pacific University, a 9,200-student Christian college outside Los Angeles, parted ways with the one-time chair of its theology department, Heather Clements, after she notified the university that she wished to be known as H. Adam Ackley. “This year has been a transition from being a mentally ill woman to being a sane, transgendered man,” Ackley said.
Stories like these grab headlines and often leave Christians scratching their heads, unable to fathom how and why a woman would feel confident that she was really a man, or vice versa. And since people who identify as transgender compose less than 1 percent of the American population, few Christians have ever met a transgendered person.
But as issues surrounding gender identity gain more traction in the public sphere, Christians need to be able to respond biblically, thoughtfully, and compassionately. As Andy Crouch wrote in Christianity Today, “Christians cannot simply accept or reject ‘same-sex marriage’ and think we have settled our sexual ethics.”
The job of the church is to learn what we can about these intricate situations and be prepared for the hard work of listening to and loving those struggling with sexual brokenness that might not be healed in this life.