Book Reviews

Book Review: Affirming God’s Image (J. Alan Branch)

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Christopher/Kristen Beck “yearns for rational thought beyond mere passages from ancient books or bigotry of stereotypes and such. I’m learning to look beyond the many ‘labels’ that we’re forced to abide by in society.” He says, “Look beyond the label of gender, race, color, religion, age, sexual orientation—or anything. Why can’t we just like each other for just being ourselves in all of our diversity as humans? What is wrong with us that we constantly label and judge each other? This inhibits everyone’s potential as humans” (127).

Does he have a point? Or can Christians be merciful and kind without affirming transgenderism? 

In his new book Affirming God’s Image, J. Alan Branch, professor of Christian ethics at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, looks at both science and Scripture and reasons carefully that transgenderism isn’t the way to go. While his book is focused more on the scientific aspect, his view is grounded in the Bible’s story, not “mere passages.” Branch argues that “transgenderism is not a trait like hair or skin color but is in fact an identity rooted in multiple causes and is completely inconsistent with Christian ethics” (4).

In his final chapter he writes that no one knows the causes of gender dysphoria. There is no transgender gene or brain. There are “some variable that correlate with a higher incidence of transgenderism in some cases,” but “no biological or genetic trait has been found that is both necessary and sufficient to cause transgenderism” (129). However, as with all human behaviors, “there is likely a genetic component to transgenderism” (127). But to say that genetics influence our behavior is quite different that saying that someone who is transgender was programmed that way before birth. 

In the first two chapters Branch surveys transgenderism’s history (ch 1) and statistics and the transgender vocab (ch 2). He helpfully defines terms such as transsexual, transvestite, queer, cisgender, neutrosis, agender, bigender, gender queer, gender fluid, gender expansive, and more. A few of these I hadn’t heard of, and others I couldn’t have defined as precisely as Branch.

He looks at what Scripture has to say, along with topics on genetics, the brain, hormonal treatment, and gender reassignment surgery (GRS). In regards to GRS, doctors have long held that one should not mutilate or remove a part of the body that a person believes they don’t need. If a person walked into the hospital believing the removal of their arm would make their life better, they would be sent to a psychologist to try to understand why they think that and to try to convince them otherwise. But when it comes to transgenderism, GRS is an acceptable way to helping people become more like their true selves. However, Branch notes that what is really happening is the mutilation of their genitals. Transgender people often have to have multiple, costly surgeries as there are numerous complications. Often, even after the surgeries, and though most do not regret having the surgeries, many still have psychological symptoms of gender dysphoria.

Compliance

Gender dysphoria is when one’s emotional or psychological gender identity is different than the sex they were assigned at birth. To be transgender is to be in the process of changing your genitalia to what you think you actually are. So just because someone experiences gender dysphoria does not mean they are transgender. As transgender acceptance is moving in to the workplace all over the country (and world), Christians are expected to tolerate and accept this worldview. How Should Christians handle this? How do we even know which pronouns to use? If a man becomes a women, is he a “he” or a “she”? Though christians would say he is still a he, he wants to be referred to as a she. Branch shows the two proper ways Christians can handle this.

Some Christians will not conform to the world’s standard and will continue to refer to a transgender according to their given birth pronouns. (So, the man who became a woman would still be referred to as “he” and “him.”) Other will comply and refer to him as “she” and “her.” Which is correct?

Branch allows for Christians to differ here so long as their motives are right. Some refuse to comply because of God’s creation standards, but they must still love their transgender coworker. Are they praying for the person? Are they willing to suffer for their convictions, even if it means losing their job? Are they willing to love their enemies and pray for them, even when they are reviled at work or fired?

For those who do comply, they don’t want to put off their trans-coworker. They want to “keep lines of communication open” so that as their friendship develops they can share Christ with their coworker. Those Christians need to make sure that they understand the Bible’s stance on gender and the grievous sin their coworker is committing. Are they willing to share christ at the right moment, and are they willing to share their (and Christ’s) view of sex and gender? Or are they merely trying to avoid the stigma of being a Christian?

Recommended?

This was a very helpful and trustworthy little book. I skimmed the two chapters dealing with genetics and the brain simply because I don’t know much on either subject, but you will certainly want to read the rest of the book. I do wish Branch had written a whole chapter on what Scripture itself has to say. Don’t hear what I’m not saying: Branch relies on Scripture and has plenty in here about it, but his book is largely slanted toward the science-end of things. That said, Branch has written a readable book for the church, for sincere Christians who are trying to wrap their heads around transgenderism, and he does so in a way that is loving toward those with gender dysphoria while still remaining faithful to the Bible. 

Related books to pick up on the topic would be Born This Way? (also by Branch), God and the Transgender Debate, Talking Points, and Is God-Anti Gay? (my review).

Lagniappe

  • Author: J. Alan Branch
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (June 5, 2019)

Buy it on Amazon or from Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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