Throughout our marriage, Sarah and I have been big fans of the CBS reality show, Survivor...
It’s one of our guilty pleasures. And immersed in the binge-watch culture of our day, we wait until each season is complete before gorging ourselves over several nights. Judge if you like. I’ve made peace with it. Yet, the escapism that network television thrives upon is sometimes turned on its head when reality TV is permeated by very real human struggles, and socially relevant topics.
Season thirty-four (the most recent) of the show featured the second appearance of a cast member who self-described as “gay” in a previous season, but was outed by another teammate as transgender. I will not mention this person’s name, for this is not an attack on an individual, but a response to the cultural approval of a particular lifestyle. In fact, I’ll go further. This outing was shameful, and I’m glad the offender apologized. The psychological struggles, and identity bewilderment of the unnamed transgendered individual are clearly very real, just as they are for many others. Moreover, as a believer, I see this whole issue as, at bottom, a worldview question. For us, this is not an oddity that should serve to amuse, nor is it an achievement that should be praised, nor is it merely a matter of one’s battle against cultural opinions. It’s more. It has to do with the image of God, the reality of sin’s effect on all of creation, the intent of the Designer, and the question of whether we live for our own satisfaction or His.
A strange cultural morality has emerged, and was clearly visible in Executive Producer and host, Jeff Probst’s eyes throughout the event. He seemed to take the unjust outing as a personal affront, as did several other tribe mates. I was appalled, as well, but there was clearly more to it than that. There was an air of universal praise for the noble individual in question in the small cosmos of the island. Don’t take my word for it. Slate magazine seems to agree.
Columnist, David Canfield writes,
It’s safe to say that never before in popular culture had a large American audience been guided into witnessing such forceful, persuasive, and (seemingly) unprompted advocacy for the trans community. (Emphasis added)
Or consider the words of cast member, Sarah,
You know, I come from the Midwest. I come from a very conservative background, so it’s not very diverse when it comes to a lot of gay, and lesbian, and transgender, and things like that. So, I’m not exposed to it as much as most of these people are. And the fact that I can love this guy so much and it doesn’t change anything for me makes me realize that I’ve grown huge as a person.
What Sarah got right is that transgenderedness should not change our love for individuals, but what the culture in general has gotten wrong is the affirmation of the lifestyle, and the praising of its embrace as a noble feat. From whence has this cultural morality come? On what is it based?
Scripture presents believers with an understanding that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), that there was an intentional design related to male and female physiology (Matt. 19:4) that correlates directly with masculinity and femininity (Deut. 22:5; 1 Cor. 6:9), and that this is symbolic of transcendent, theologically rich truths (Eph. 5:25-27).
If this is correct, then anyone who affirms transgendered individuals in their decision to embrace a transgender identity is actually turning things upside down and demonstrating a lack of love – an apathy for the spiritual health of the person standing before them. It is a loveless cowardice that runs from the spiritual conflict at play, and strands the transgendered individual in a dry land. Instead, they should pray with them toward a biblically endorsed repentance. Not that an individual is in sin merely because of their desires, or identity crisis, but that acting on these impulses is a different question.
Is that change possible? Well, that question hinges, in part, on worldview considerations too. If the Bible is true, then change is possible. At least, that’s what Paul thought.
In 1 Corinthians Paul informs our understanding of this in chapter six, verses nine through eleven. He says,
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Now, however one wishes to understand the sort of overcoming Paul references, that he is referencing an overcoming which has taken place in the lives of “some” Corinthian men is hard to deny. Attempts by liberal scholars to dilute or alternatively explain Paul’s meaning are available, but also assailable. Principally, the case is often made that the Greek word, αρσενοκοιται (arsenokoitai) should be understood to refer to male prostitutes rather than homosexuals in general. Moreover, μαλακοι (malakoi), typically translated “effeminate,” is thought to refer to effeminate boys. This combination, it is therefore argued, refers to pederasty. As David Garland summarizes,
The meaning and significance of the words μαλακοι (malakoi) and αρσενοκοιται (arsenokoitai) have been examined in recent years by those who would like to water down the condemnation in the NT of homoerotic acts . . . [yet] . . . Paul considers homoeroticism to be a “dishonorable passion” and a “shameful act” because it is “against nature.”
Furthermore, Garland rightly notes, “Had he wished to limit his critique to pederasty, he could have used the term ‘pederast . . .’”
Ben Witherington III demonstrates that, even when one grants a certain degree of ambiguity in the text of 1 Corinthians 6:9, the argument would not go through. He reasons,
Some have urged that only pederasty is condemned in the NT, not homosexuality in general. If this were the only passage where Paul addressed the issue, one could argue in that way, but Rom. 1:26f. clearly shows Paul’s view of homosexual relationships in general. The reference there to lesbian relationships shows that Paul’s condemnation of same-sex relationships is not limited to pederasty.
On the basis of the above treatment it is reasonable to conclude that Paul is, indeed, referring to all manner of homosexual behavior. He reveals that such activity was present in the lives of some Corinthians, and his words make it clear that homosexual practices have ceased among those same individuals. For them, homosexuality had been overcome! The above comments are equally applicable to Paul’s inclusion of “effeminate.”
The question of how effeminacy, and homosexuality were overcome is a separate subject. Perhaps Paul means that God has supernaturally delivered these men from the proclivities that tempted them. Maybe now their desires are completely heterosexual and any effeminate identity struggles are gone. I, for one, rejoice at the very suggestion. It is certainly within God’s power to perform such a miracle. However, we must not choose our interpretations based on what we would like to be the case. After all, this is the very misstep made by many who affirm homosexuality as biblically permissible for the Christian. Instead, I think it prudent to take a more measured approach to Paul’s meaning. At the very least he must mean that the sinful activities have ceased. For what it is worth, I believe that some have received supernatural, desire-changing, deliverance, but I doubt that it is universal.
Among the other sins listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 are the sexually immoral (in general), thieves, swindlers, drunkards, and the greedy. I’ve yet to meet the Christian who is completely delivered from all sinful desires. The majority of believers struggle regularly with at least some of these issues. That said, scripture does teach that the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, as a great Reformer in our lives, serves to increasingly minimize the allure of these sins. Our minds may be renewed, as Romans 12:2 urges, but we are not yet perfect. For these reasons, as well as a consideration of personal testimonies, it seems fair to assume that many people continue to endure homosexual temptations or transgendered identity struggles even after genuine repentance and faith.
So how are we to put it all together? What are we to tell our friend from Survivor? The biblically consistent answer is to encourage this person to repent, surrender to God’s design, and commit to living a life of sacrifice for Him. This, by the way, is also the most loving response if Christianity is true. But wouldn’t such a suggestion be to condemn the transgendered person to a life of conflicting emotions, and sexual dissatisfaction? Perhaps, but this brings us to the final point.
We humans are not here merely for our own satisfaction, fulfillment, or happiness. We are here to serve our King. What I describe above may sound naïve to the struggle of transgendered individuals. I understand that. Their struggles are real. Their suffering is real. This is not a mere blog article pontification for them. It is their lives. They are confronted with it daily. I will not pretend to understand the depths of their experiences. In fact, I think we should celebrate those who sacrifice the pursuit of personal satisfaction, in this regard, in order to submit to the God in Whose image they are made. It is in Him that satisfaction, peace, and Joy are realized.
 David Canfield. "The Outing of a Transgender Contestant Was an Ugly Moment, but Survivor Was the Perfect Place for It." Slate Magazine. April 17, 2017. Accessed May 23, 2017. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2017/04/17/survivor_got_the_outing_of_trans_contestant_zeke_smith_just_right.html.
 SurvivorOnCBS. YouTube. April 12, 2017. Accessed May 23, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BXqrOSNKn0.
 Typically when I, and likeminded thinkers, refer to liberal scholarship I mean to convey the notion of liberal theology rather than liberal politics. In this case, however, both senses are likely fitting.
 D. Garland responds to two such treatments of the passage: Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. Chicago; London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992. And see also, Scroggs, Robin. The New Testament and homosexuality: contextual background for contemporary debate. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.
 Garland, David E. 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003. Pp. 212, 214.
 Ibid. 213.
 Witherington, Ben. Conflict and community in Corinth: a socio-rhetorical commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995. P. 166.
 Anecdotally, I have encountered many believers who claim to have been supernaturally delivered from the very temptation to engage in homosexual acts or transgendered feelings. Some of these men and women are now in, what appear to be, biblically faithful marriages. They seem fulfilled and satisfied.
 Romans 12:2 - Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.