Those are the words of transgender athlete, Lia Thomas, in a Sports Illustrated cover article from earlier this month. Thomas, a swimmer and fifth year senior at the University of Pennsylvania, won the NCAA championships in the 500-yard race last Thursday.
In contrast, a parent (who wished to remain anonymous) of a female teammate at Penn said, “Lia is a human being who deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. But it’s not transphobic to say I disagree with where she’s swimming.”
Thomas, who was born biologically male, raced as a man until this year. After transferring from the men’s team to the women’s team at Penn, Thomas began setting both school and Ivy League records and had been on hormone replacement therapy for 34 months when the NCAA competition began. Thomas’s goal is to swim in the women’s category with Team USA at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
Passions are high on all sides of the national conversation about Thomas and transgender athletes. It feels like much is at risk, both personally and corporately, and therefore many of us aren’t sure what to think or say. As Christians, though, I believe we should not shrink back, but we should engage. As a people who know our Creator, his character, and his purposes, we can offer both grace and truth to the national conversation.
As God allows us to dive in—whether that’s across the dinner table, backyard fence, or from the pulpit—let’s keep four important truths central to our thoughts and conversations.
The Created Order Matters
Amid loud and bewildering culture wars, even long-time Christians might be tempted to question the authority of God’s Word. In these disorienting days, it’s imperative we hold tightly to what we know to be true.Many of us aren’t sure what to think or say. As Christians, though, I believe we should not shrink back, but we should engage. Click To Tweet
Our Creator God is personal, kind, and loving. He creates with purpose and intention and all that he makes is good. The creation of both male and female was neither accidental nor an afterthought. The two sexes are by design and needed. Humans are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and that image was not complete until both Adam and Eve were made (Gen. 2:18–25).
While non-Christians may not assent to the reality of a Creator and the truth of creation, these truths still stand. It is for our own good, and for the good of others, to live according to the created order. We do not determine our sex, rather we are created with a sex. And both sexes are good. It is good to be male. And it is good to be female. It is good and right to point both believers and nonbelievers to the good created order.
Protected Spaces for Women (and Others) Matter
Equality is not sameness. Male and female bodies are different and it’s not sexist nor transphobic to say so. Male and female differences are good, to be protected, and to be celebrated.
When Title IX became law in 1972, it was to prohibit discrimination in education. It took time, but eventually college athletic departments began to comply with the federal law and women’s sports began to take hold. In 1981, fewer than 30,000 college women participated in sports, but by 2017, over 200,000 did.Equality is not sameness. Male and female bodies are different and it’s not sexist nor transphobic to say so. Click To Tweet
The cry for equal treatment for girls in education, and therefore school sports, did not lead to the addition of women to men’s teams. Intuitively, colleges and high schools created women’s teams, because it was readily obvious they were not the same as men. Title IX was invaluable progress for American girls and young women. It gave us appropriate places and spaces to grow, compete, and thrive.
The allowance of biological males in female spaces and sports is regressive. It erases the progress of the last 50 years. Just consider how we acknowledge the differences among us already. In bicycling and running we require those of similar ages and speeds to compete against one another. In wrestling we require competitors to be divided by their weight. We have Olympics and Paralympics. So, too, female athletes deserve fair environments and equitable spaces to compete solely against one another.
Lia Thomas and all transgender people are created in the image of God and with inherent dignity. As Americans they are entitled to fair treatment and protection from harm. However, the protection and inclusion of one group cannot simultaneously harm another group. Biological women and girls have been marginalized in the past and remain vulnerable. Forsaking their rights cannot be an option.
How We Talk About Transgender People Matters
While our convictions about God’s created order and the necessity of protected spaces for women are strong and based on truth, our speech must be “gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6), especially as we speak with those outside the faith. There is no room for the Christian to name-call, belittle, or be unkind.It is good to be male. And it is good to be female. It is good and right to point both believers and nonbelievers to the good created order. Click To Tweet
The Word of God is full of hard truths when it is read in light of our culture’s beliefs about the sexes. But may it be the Word of God that offends, rather than our own arrogance or unkindness. We may sound like bigots because we hold to a biblical sexual ethic that has been rejected and mocked, but let’s not be bigots.
We are saved by grace through faith; it is not our own doing (Eph. 2:8–9). Therefore, there should never be even a whiff of pride in our own words or behaviors. Apart from Christ we are nothing. It is good and right for us to call out sin and seek the flourishing of all people as we try to influence this cultural moment. But as we do so, let us not demonize others, but walk in humility.
The Healing Power and Love of Christ Matters
In these polarizing days, many are tempted to retreat. But churches have the very best reasons for putting ourselves out there and engaging in this conversation. We know the Christ. He is our one and only hope.
The gospel is not only that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. The gospel starts with a good Creator who’s been pursuing us since even before we gave in to sin. If you and I—and anyone else, including transgender athletes—are going to be well, we have to know and surrender to Jesus. We have to know and abide by the character, design, and purposes of our Creator and Savior.In these polarizing days, many are tempted to retreat. But churches have the very best reasons for putting ourselves out there and engaging in this conversation. We know the Christ. Click To Tweet
The warm, true, and hard words of Jesus have been wooing people to himself for millennia, and that’s not going to stop now. Our God is not anxious or worried about offending, because for those who have ears to hear, his Word speaks life. As values and what’s permissible and celebrated in our day change, Jesus’s words do not.
In this moment, to love God and to love neighbor is to engage. Whether it’s a conversation about Lia Thomas or any other contentious issue in the days and years to come, it’s good and right for you and me to engage.
Our homes and our hearts hold out hope when our neighbors and loved ones are exhausted from trying to keep up with the idols of our age. Our lives—as countercultural and embarrassing and awkward as they may be—will point to Jesus. He is the way. He is the truth. He is the life. Churches, as you follow Jesus, you offer life.