ProLife / Issues

Aontas' Statement on the Eight Amendment

As an association of Bible believing churches in Ireland, we are deeply concerned about the current proposals to repeal the 8th Amendment.
We hold that all human life is precious. The ultimate foundation of this is the Bible’s teaching that we are made in the image of God. That gives every human being immense dignity, worth, value and meaning, regardless of size, shape, nationality, ability or colour.

The circumstances surrounding this new life may be hard and difficult, but each life is valuable because God formed and shaped it for a purpose. We thank God for the life of every child, no matter the circumstances surrounding their conception, or the length of days given to them. 

As a nation we have not excelled in living out the implications of the preciousness of all life. We have failed mothers and babies. We have created stigma and shame instead of creating an environment of grace and love. We need to do better at providing support: emotional, mental, physical and spiritual. And we need to do better in providing loving, long-term alternatives like adoption.

But our shortcomings do not give us the right to determine who should be born and who should not. God alone is the author of life. His word is clear that life begins at conception (Psalm 51:5). Modern science has only underlined the truth of the Bible’s ancient claim.

Since God alone is the author of life, only he has the right to determine who lives and who does not. Much is made of the mother’s right over her own body, but from conception a new and separate person is formed within her. She has the responsibility to preserve the life of this new person but never the right to take it.

We acknowledge that difficult medical circumstances may arise where the life of the mother and the life of the unborn child cannot both be preserved. However the wilful killing of an unborn child by abortion is indefensible.

In choosing abortion we would declare that all human life is not valuable, that discrimination is permissible; we would make ourselves the determiners of a person’s worth, and worse still, take God’s work of divine skill and destroy it—denying His wisdom and purpose in creating it (Psalm 139).

There are some things we shouldn’t be free to do—denying another person their humanity is one of them, defacing God’s artistry is another.
The Irish Constitution magnificently recognises the worth of both mother and baby—far in advance of many other countries. It is not backward, but progressive. It is God-honouring and person-exalting.

We therefore urge our churches’ members and our fellow citizens to resist the call to repeal the Eighth Amendment, and to continue to work towards a richer, better, more grace-filled society.

Some suggestions for churches and Christian individuals to engage in the forthcoming referendum campaign.PRAYER
It is vital that the Irish Constitution continue to respect the right to life of the unborn. This protection of the right to life of the unborn can only happen if we keep the 8th Amendment. Without it we face the prospect of abortion becoming as commonplace as it is in Britain, where almost 200,000 babies are killed by abortion every year.
As churches and individuals, we need to be earnest in prayer if the Eight Amendment is to be retained in our constitution. Please consider committing to prayer as a church on this vital matter.
Also as the referendum approaches, please give consideration to setting aside a number of days of fasting and prayer.
This battle will only be won through earnest prayer
Please consider holding public information meetings if none are already arranged for your area. If other pro-life groups are holding a meeting in your area, please encourage as many as possible to attend.
If you wish to arrange a meeting and need to find a suitable speaker, please see the contact details for the varies groups below.
Aontas would like to encourage Church and Christian individuals to work in co-operation with the various pro-life groups that are working to protect the 8th Amendment. Each of the pro-life groups is eager to have people help with the distribution of their excelled literature door-to-door. Please do consider contacting them and getting involved.
We will provide a number of sample letters to help in a letter writing campaign. Please encourage as many people as possible to write to both your local papers and to the National papers. Please also make use of all the social media outlets available.
If you would prefer to write your own letter you could visit the Pro-life Campaign website for some helpful pointers.

Regretfully the pro-choice campaign will be extremely well funded. So, therefore, we need to give serious consideration to holding special collections in our churches to help support the pro-life cause. Please choose one of the pro-life groups listed below. Please give consideration to doing this several times during the campaign.
Pro-life car stickers are available from the Yes to Life office. Also, consider wearing a pro-life tee shirt during the weeks leading up to the campaign. This will have a far greater impact then we would be inclined to expect.RESOURCES CONTACT DETAILS
Protect the 8th’s website: &
Protect the 8th is dedicated to keeping the 8th Amendment and keeping abortion on demand out of Ireland. Its comprehensive campaign encompasses social media, traditional media and ground campaign.
CONTACT Adrian by email at and by phone at 01 8552790 

Yes to Life Initiative’s website:
Aims to have a one-to-one conversation with the nation on abortion, to answer questions, provide information and explain why there is always a better answer than abortion.
CONTACT Donagh by email at and by phone at 087 1674656

The Pro-life Campaign’s website:
The Pro Life Campaign is a non-denominational human rights organisation, drawing its support from a cross-section of Irish society. The Campaign promotes pro-life education and defends human life at all stages, from conception to natural death.
CONTACT the Prolife Campaign Office by email at and by phone at 01-662 9275 

a Christian Perspective on Other Current Issues in Ireland today 

Links and Articles © K. Beville 2016
Euthanasia talks:
The Church in Contemporary Culture:

Articles on this page:
• Refugee Crises • 8th Amendment • Sexual Identity Confusion

A Christian Response to the Refugee Crisis in Europe

The European continent has many different cultures with diverse but often interconnected histories. Ever since the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in Eastern Europe there has been a trend toward independence among its member states, asserting national sovereignty on the basis of heritage, ethnicity and language. Yet there has been, at the same time, a competing movement toward economic union and co-operation in security (etc.) that expresses an understanding of the interdependence of the states on this landmass.
Europe as an entity is in flux, with fragmentation on the one hand and, paradoxically, unification on the other. In a sense, then, Europe is like an organic, dynamic thing that is disintegrating and evolving simultaneously into something new. It is becoming something new. The old order is passing and a new order is emerging. The old structures of religion are being dismantled and many are just museums that speak of a heritage that is past. It has been recognised for some time now that we are in a post-Christian era in Europe. The political and spiritual map of Europe has changed significantly in a generation. Now the European Union wants to protect its borders and many people from countries outside this elite club of privileged nations are trying to gain access as either economic migrants or refugees.
What does this mean for European society? There is a growing refugee crisis and Islam is on the rise in Europe. This is partly because of immigration and partly because of higher birth rates among Muslims. With the rise of fundamental Islam there is a growing suspicion and polarisation between Muslim and “Christian” or non-Muslim communities. There is a general sense of fear that Europe is not a safe place anymore. Europe has always been a complicated place but many now are beginning to think of it as a chaotic place. One of the greatest challenges facing Europe is an increasing refugee crisis.

How can the church respond to this human calamity?
First of all we need to be clear that there is a difference between an economic migrant and a refugee. Refugees have rights in international law and we have obligations under those laws. We need to make a decision to speak positively both inside and outside the church about those who have come to Europe seeking asylum from war ravished lands. We should oppose racism, bigotry and hatred and uphold love, generosity (not just financial but generosity of spirit).
One way of looking at refugees is to see them as victims. This, of course, is only one dimension of their humanity. Many refugees have a lot to offer. Perhaps we should begin to see them as people with expertise about the issues of displacement. Surely, they know best what they need and they know best how to respond to those needs. So I think any approach to assisting refugees should begin with respectful dialogue. This consultation process allows the dispossessed to become stakeholders in any processes or strategies that might be implemented and gives them the dignity they deserve.

Benefactors and beneficiaries
The desire for us to see ourselves as benefactors and refugees as beneficiaries is partly to do with our desire not to relinquish power and so, if we engage in consultation processes at all, they are a kind of tokenism rather than real partnership. We offer them charity when they have rights. We dispense largesse by the ladle-full and expect gratitude in return. We are the superiors and they are the subordinates.
Some Christians say that getting involved in social issues is a work best left to humanitarian organisations and aid agencies. They feel they are not equipped to tackle poverty, offer health-care, education, food, shelter and clothing. They say the best we can do is refer people in need to those secular bodies that have specialist personnel. They argue that we are not social workers and so on. I can understand this point of view but I feel that not connecting in some way at the early stages of a refugees experience shows a lack of compassion and is a missed opportunity to show the love of God to people in desperate need. And, of course the needs of refugees are not merely material needs.

Seeing the needs
One of the needs they have is to learn the language of the host country. Another obvious way of assisting refugees is to help them understand the asylum system. Every refugee must be wondering what they are going to do now with the rest of their life. What are the options and opportunities for employment? They need to be helped to understand often very complex application processes to access education and training opportunities. They need legal advocacy, and other forms of mediation, especially with regard to housing and social welfare entitlements. Without options and opportunities it is difficult to have hope, and hope is seldom imparted in pious platitudes alone.
We should be thinking of refugees as people who have all sorts of capacities and potential. Usually they are not looking for handouts. They are looking to take an active part in solutions so we need to recognize that and work together. We must begin by building trust and relationships that are respectful. Even if we don’t have all the answers we can be sounding boards for people who need to ask questions.
Becoming a refugee is a traumatic experience and this crisis affects people in different ways. But one way it impacts them is in terms of their identity. However, refugees are not the only ones who have an identity crisis. We in the host European nations also have the spotlight shone on us, causing us to question who we are, what we are becoming and what we want to be as a people. In an identity crisis there are all sorts of pressures and tensions.
It is pragmatic to ask how many refugees can be handled if admitted to the system. We must be prudent, but we must also be merciful and gracious and generous and be prepared to make sacrifices for the greater good. We cannot be selfish as that dishonours God.

Our identity
The refugee crisis has raised questions about who we are in Europe and what the European project is about. It has raised questions about Europe’s relationship with its bordering neighbours. The Great Commission (to go and make disciples of all nations) must be fulfilled in the spirit of the Great Commandment (to love one’s neighbour). Some might see this time of crisis in negative terms but I am more inclined to see it positively. If it is causing Europeans to engage in reflection and dialogue about the roots of their identity that presents an opportunity for the church to contribute to the discussion about our Christian heritage and what we stand for. We can present our cherished beliefs as values that have shaped Europe and served us so well for so long.

Prayer networks
Christians everywhere inside and outside Europe can pray for refugees. These displaced peoples understand prayer. Most of them come from religious countries.  Muslims, most of all, need to see that Christians care enough to engage in prayer about this plight. This conveys something of the heart of God to them. They realise that Christians are not indifferent or passive. We can build networks of prayer by getting information about what, (specifically) to pray for. So people in the church with a heart for prayer can be involved and recruited to gather the necessary information. They can be involved in helping to spread the news of these needs and connecting people with appropriate skills. This can be a two way process as many refugees have skills that they would love to use.

God is active
Perhaps there are people in our churches who need to be given opportunities to explore, test and develop their calling in this area. Leaders can facilitate this, if there is a will to do it. We need to recognise that God is working through the nations that are coming to Europe. Before the first wave of economic migrants and refugees were admitted to Ireland in 1998 we were an insular society. Now the cities and towns have manifold ethnicities and cultures and this melange is represented in most churches. This is a wonderful opportunity for the spread of the gospel because the best people to reach these people-groups are their own people, who understand their mother tongue and culture. So instead of going to every tribe and nation we now have every tribe and nation coming to us. If we do not see God’s hand at work in that then we are spiritually blind. Leaders should be encouraging Christians to ask what they can do.
I’m sure we are all aware of a whole range of positions on the refugee crisis. We know those who at one end of the spectrum say this has nothing to do with them or their mission as a church. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who have reduced the gospel to philanthropic endeavour. People from within and outside the church react differently to the stresses that the refugee crisis seems to present. Some see it as a huge threat to Europe and others see a huge opportunity for Europe and for the church particularly.

Renewed vision
Christians can volunteer in refugee camps abroad or at centres at home that offer services to refugees.  Consider the resources the church has in terms of the qualifications and experience of its people. It is not only Christians who show compassion and offer practical help. People of other faiths and those of none as well as the state offer aid and that is a good thing, but the Christian has something to offer that none of these other groups can offer, namely the gospel. Sometimes Christians lack a sense of purpose because they do not engage in practical enactment of the principles of their faith. This sort of engagement can give the Church a renewed sense of vision and purpose. This sort of activity can draw churches together but that togetherness needs to be on a shared basis of faith, otherwise people are being drawn into unhelpful ( and even unholy) alliances.

Many ways to connect
Many refugees in Ireland are not allowed to work while their applications for asylum/residency are being processed. This can take up to fifteen years and that is soul-destroying. We could encourage them to volunteer or we could host classes (art, language, literature, history, cookery…) if we have the personnel or we could get them to host such lessons in our churches or homes and build relationships. This gives the church a witness in the community. Others who are not involved in the church can then see the church in action on this important social issue, thereby impacting all of society. It might be the first time they notice the church, which has become visible. Perhaps some will even want to volunteer by helping out in different ways. This is good, let them, as it draws them into Christian networks. The church has a distinctive and crucial part to play.

Compassion is a family trait because our heavenly Father is compassionate. When we think of displacement, what comes to mind? Perhaps tents, food, medicine, blankets. Refugees have fled life-threatening conflicts. Many are traumatised. Perhaps they have lost loved ones. Bereaved and grief-stricken, alone and afraid there can be a sense of despair. They have seen violence and death. They need counselling and comfort. They feel they have no homeland. They often have an overwhelming need to belong. They feel ashamed that they have nothing. Often they have experienced discrimination and there is even a loss of humanity. They feel like animals. These feelings can create a huge vacuum in their souls. Unless we have been through this experience we can never fully identify with what they go through and know what it is to be uprooted. But we do know it must be horrible and this is what we need to respond to. They are left with nothing ~ not just a sense of having nothing but also of being nothing. They feel they are alone, unwanted and worthless with no future, no options and no hope. These are the experiences and emotions that are at the heart of being a refugee. God cares and so should we, “The LORD is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18).
The book of Acts tells us that when Paul was in Athens, “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” (17:16). I believe he saw what God saw and he felt what God felt. Seeing comes before feeling and feeling comes before doing. So, first we need to see. We need to open our eyes and see what Jesus saw ~ a harvest field. Often we talk about how hard the soil is or thorny the issues are or how the seed is snatched away by other forces and all that may be true. It is certainly difficult in Europe, which is probably now the darkest continent in terms of gospel witness.

The ripple effect
Imagine if every Christian got involved what a difference it would make, not only to refugees but also to our churches. The ripple effect could be amazing. If we get out of our churches and comfort zones and into the world the Lord will bless it. Sometimes we just make things too complicated. As the Nike add said, “Just do it!” We need to just ignore the cultural barriers to the gospel and move in close to people who are alienated in this world and estranged from God.

Christ’s example
The example of Jesus with the woman at the well (John 4) is interesting. The conversation began with a quasi-cultural/religious issue but quickly developed into a meaningful spiritual dialogue. I think we should not be afraid to challenge people and move quickly into spiritual territory. We need to get to the core of the message and share the gospel and I think we need to challenge people to respond. We should do that with the assumption that it is harvest time. When the harvest is ripe you don’t spend harvest-time back in the yard preparing all your equipment and repainting your tractor you get out there and get it in field.
Jesus stopped to have a drink of water in an extremely complicated place. I wonder what we might see if we were in that place ~ probably the difficulties and limitations rather than the opportunities. When you hang out at the well you might have a fabulous conversation. But it was a confrontational conversation too. In that difficult environment an amazing discourse took place.

Beyond friction and fragmentation
I think if Jesus came to Europe he would look beyond the economic, political and security situation. He would see past the friction and fragmentation and focus on reaching out to the marginalised, the excluded, the rejected and the despised. We might say refugees are foreigners and have another religion. Was this not the case with the Samaritan woman? God is speaking to us through the refugee crisis in Europe. Let us listen learn and lead the way by showing our God cares.


Should the 8th Amendment be Repealed?

The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland Act, 1983 introduced a ban on abortion by recognising the right to life of an unborn child. It was approved by referendum on 7 September 1983 and signed into law on the 7 October of the same year. After a rancorous referendum campaign, the amendment was passed by 67% voting in favour to 33% voting against.

Intense focus
There is now an intense focus on repealing the 8th Amendment with an orchestrated and well-funded campaign underway. Discussion has taken place in the Dáil about the issue of “fatal foetal abnormality”, which was initially mooted on the basis of “foetal abnormality.” This change was a thinly disguised strategic manoeuvre to drive the sharp end of the wedge into this issue rather than the blunt end, where abortions could be performed on the basis of any abnormality. Thus it reveals the true agenda and ultimate end of the pro-choice lobby. This is happening in the UK and other constituencies where babies with defects like Down’s syndrome and cleft palette are being aborted.   

Lessons from other countries
The 1966 UK Abortion Act allowed for abortion in limited circumstances, such as medical reasons. It envisaged that therapeutic abortion would be a side effect of the medical treatment of the mother. But now abortion on demand is the reality and the norm, whatever the small print might say. Only a tiny proportion of the abortions performed are for legitimate “medical” reasons. The vast majority are for social reasons and come into the category of late birth control.

Principle and pragmatism
I favour abortion to save the life of the mother, it is abortion without any medical justification that I oppose. The concern I share with many others is that legislating for this could be a slippery slope and that whatever safeguards are initially put in place will eventually be removed or ignored. We have seen in countries where abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are permitted that once the principle has been conceded amoral pragmatism takes the ascendancy. Like many other Christians I’m trying to work through this issue in order to bring a Christian perspective to into focus for myself and others.

Political moves
Ruth Coppinger TD moved a Bill, unopposed (on behalf of Anti Austerity Alliance and People before Profit) for a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment on 30thJune, 2016. She expressed the need for all pro-choice activists, campaigners, and groups to use the next 100 days to contact their TDs, arrange to meet them and discuss with them why they should vote in favour of this Bill.[1]

Pro-choice rallies
The annual “March for Choice” took place last Saturday in Dublin (24th September, 2016). Busloads of people were transported from all over the country to attend that rally. Earlier this year the Project Arts Theatre (Dublin) was forced to paint over a repeal mural – and that mural was projected on to Cork School of Music.
A Pro Choice public meeting was held in Cork on 31 August (at Isaacs Hotel). I’m sure that many other such meetings have already taken place in other parts of the country and that many more meetings and rallies will take place in the near future. The speakers at the Cork meeting were author Ailbhe Smyth (Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment and founder and former director of Women’s Studies in UCD), Mary Favier (Doctors for Choice) and Fiona Ryan (Anti Austerity Alliance Councillor for Cork City North-Central, ROSA).[2]

Being visible and vocal
A referendum on this issue is very likely to take place in the not-too-distant future. If that was to happen tomorrow I believe (on the basis of recent opinion polls) that the 1983 result would be reversed in a mirror image in percentage terms. I am concerned that the evangelical Christian community is neither visible nor vocal on this issue. I have not seen any statement from Christian denominations on this crucial social and moral issue. I am not aware that associations representing non-denominational, independent evangelical churches have any statements, position papers or policies, yet.

Repeal the 8th?
Should the 8th amendment be repealed? I’m not going to answer that question now (sorry to disappoint) but I do intend to address it later (watch this space). Right now I would like to know if there is sufficient interest to organise a meeting to discuss this. A necessary first step in a strategic approach to a possible campaign would be to hold a meeting where we could be briefed on the matter and have concerns addressed. This would involve a presentation of the arguments for and against and a Q & A session. But I should clarify that I am not interested in debating with pro-choice advocates and neither am I interested in a public forum. 

[1] Here is a link (3 minutes) to her speech:

[2] ROSA (for Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism & Austerity) has been initiated by women in the Socialist Party, with the aim of promoting and organising events, actions and campaigning activity on reproductive rights, against Oppression, sexism and austerity. It’s named after Rosa Parks, the inspirational black campaigner who famously refused to give up her seat for a white passenger, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott of the Civil Rights Movement.  And also after Rosa Luxemburg, exceptional and leading socialist theoretician and activist of the early 20th century, killed for her revolutionary politics in 1919.

Transgender ~ Identity Crisis and Christian Response

We are witnessing the emergence of a new kind of person, who is experiencing identity confusion. This psychological phenomenon is best described by the phrase “gender dysphoria.” Dysphoria is a profound state of unease or dissatisfaction, the opposite of euphoria. More specifically gender dysphoria is discomfort, unhappiness, or distress due to one’s gender or physical sex. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders uses the term “gender dysphoria” in preference to “gender identity disorder.”[1]
But is a person locked in the wrong body or trapped in the wrong belief? Which bit needs to be fixed? Even to say that something needs to be “fixed” is to assert that there is something broken or wrong, and this is taboo in today’s culture. Some psychiatrists would say these transgender people are suffering from a form of body dysmorphia or a delusional belief. There are some bizarre body dysmorphia where people believe they will only be happy if some part of their body is changed. This might mean cosmetic surgery for ears that are “too big” or breast augmentation or reduction. But there can be more extreme forms of this where a person might feel he can only be happy if his right arm is amputated. I don’t watch the T.V. programme, Embarrassing Bodies (I see an embarrassing body every day, when I look in the mirror!) but I can understand there are some problematic physical issues that can be addressed effectively with surgery. That’s a good thing.
Then we have a belief like anorexia nervosa (which is much more common) where women (mostly) believe that they should be a certain weight, which is actually dangerous to their health and can be life-threatening. This condition (which is a psychological disorder) cannot be corrected with surgery. So, there is a school of thought among some secular psychiatrists and some Christians that with gender dysphoria that we should try to change the brain, not the body. They argue that what is needed is psychotherapy and counselling.

A new challenge
Having grappled with the complex issues around homosexual identity and same sex marriage, Christians are now faced with an emerging pressure to accept gender fluidity, gender ambiguity, and transgender as a normal part of the spectrum of human sexuality.
A growing number of people who experience ambiguity or confusion about gender are opting for gender reassignment surgery. They assert that this will liberate them to become who they really are. How are Christians meant to respond to trans-culture and the ethical dilemmas it raises?
There has been a huge cultural shift in thinking, whereby “choice” has been elevated to an unquestionable right, almost without moral constraint. The transgender issue is being contextualised by LGBT lobbyists as the next civil rights frontier. This reflects a significant change in society and can be partly explained by understanding that “tolerance” is revered as a virtue today, so much so that any opinion contrary to this is deemed homophobic and extremely offensive. Making courageous choices is also venerated and heroism is understood through these lenses.

Popular culture
The film The Danish Girl (based on the novel of the same title by David Ebershoff) is loosely inspired by the lives of Danish painters Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. It tells the story (sympathetically) of the first known recipients of sex change surgery. Then there is the New York Times bestselling book, Becoming Nicole, which is a powerful and illuminating book about one couple’s journey in coming to accept and nurture their transgender daughter (i.e. their son transitioning to a female). It is certainly a page turner and a heart opener. Then there is the debate on the other side of the Atlantic pond about bathrooms ~ whether these should be restricted to the person’s biological sex or whether they can be shared by someone who is transgender.
But there is transgender activism and elements of the media are complicit (at a minimum) in advocating and promoting transgenderism. Up until fairly recently people who had gender identity disorder were classified as people in need of psychiatric treatment. Now many people talk about gender fluidity and accept it as “normal” and acceptable. Just as heterosexual is seen as just one point on the spectrum of sexuality so too “cisgender” refers to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex (i.e. not transgender). In other words, those who are content with their biological birth identity or those whose brains and bodies give the same message. There was a time when sex-change operations made headline news but those days are gone.
Then in the 1990s we saw the emergence of transgender studies in academia. This evolved from feminist and queer studies accusing society of being a hetero normative culture and lecturing about the need to be more open to allowing other people (not just heterosexuals) to be seen as normal. The idea that gender is a social construct rather than a biological reality was spawned and this notion has become embedded in society.
This is where our culture is at. Nobody is allowed to say what is “normal” or “right and wrong” anymore. Many people now describe themselves not as male or female but as “non-binary” in terms of sexuality. There is even a desire that words like “he” and “she” be replaced with gender neutral pronouns.
The trans-community feels rejected by the church and discriminated against and persecuted even by the gay community and some feminists. Many transgender people claim that they have experienced verbal and physical violence and there is a high rate of suicide amongst them. A few years ago the renowned feminist Germaine Greer got into troubled waters when she said that transgender women (i.e. men transitioning to a women) “can’t be women.”[2] Her comments were described as “grossly offensive” and she was accused of misogyny. Interestingly her expletive laden defence shows not just a lack of sympathy but also a lack of understanding: “Just because you lop off your d**k doesn't make you a ******* woman.” Though there might be feminists and people in the gay community who agree with her it must be said that such views are becoming increasingly rare.

High profile cases
Chaz Bono is an American advocate, writer, musician and actor. He is the child of American entertainers Sonny and Cher. Bono is a transgender man. The American soldier Bradley Manning is a transwoman. He was convicted of espionage by court-martial in 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in prison (with a possibility of parole after 8 years) for disclosing a high volume of classified (or unclassified but sensitive) military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks. The day after sentencing Manning said he felt female since childhood and wanted to be known as Chelsea and desired to begin hormone replacement therapy. Bradley was diagnosed with gender identity disorder while in the army.

Other sexual categories
Transvestites engage in cross-dressing for various reasons. Drag queens are usually people who have some sort of sexual fetish. They get sexually aroused by wearing women’s clothes (underwear, shoes…). But some drag “artists” (e. g. comedians) engage in cross-dressing for entertainment and make money out of it. Then there are androgynists who possess a blend of masculine and feminine features. This gender ambiguity may be found in fashion, gender identity, sexual identity, or sexual lifestyle. Hermaphrodites are rare but they are people who have both male and female sex organs. One day he’s Patrick and the next day she’s Patricia. This person does notwant to change sex and is not opting for hormone therapy or surgery.
I think we are entering a time when it will be deemed inappropriate to refer to two distinct sexes. Gender categories on passports and driving licenses (and other identity documents) will become irrelevant. Gender fluidity is being promoted as just another lifestyle choice. Under the commendable guise of stopping the small number of transgender children from being bullied and discriminated against the rest of the class will be bullied into accepting the prescribed orthodoxy that gender is changeable. Any objection to this will be deemed bigoted and thus prohibited. The thrust of this is to break down the children’s sense of what sex they are and also to erase from their minds any notion of gender norms. This is the educational agenda. We have already had the gay agenda in schools now we have this new transgender educational agenda.

About one in two thousand births are intersex births. That means when the child is born the doctors and parent(s) are not sure whether it is a boy or a girl. It is not clear if the child has a penis a large clitoris. So there is ambivalence about the genitalia. Although this is confusing and distressing it is not transgender. There can be also chromosomal aberrations that affect personality characteristics. There are some rare disorders that may be caused by hormone disorders so hermaphroditism relates to someone who is genetically female but has the full or partial genital or reproductive organs of both sexes.

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
This is a condition where the adrenal gland produces too much testosterone in female babies and they may be born with a large clitoris that looks more like a penis. This is very rare. These girls have too much testosterone in their own bodies and probably too much testosterone in their mother’s amniotic fluid in the womb. They tend to play like boys so they like boy’s toys and tend to be more “rough and tumble.” It seems that their brains are influenced by the prenatal testosterone. The research in this field suggests the possibility that hormones before birth can affect brain development and might in fact shape a person’s sense of gender. This may not be complete evidence but it is a clue to gender identity confusion. Chromosomes and hormones may influence their bodies and their brains.

Contributing factors
Other contributing factors could be family dynamics and psychological factors such as insecure attachments with parents. Whether a parent wanted a boy or a girl may lead to gender identity confusion. Some might begin to experience a feeling that they are in the wrong body at a very young age (around 3-5) and with others it may occur later in their teens (around puberty, 13-14). So boys display cross-gender behaviour and maybe play only with dolls and have a preoccupation with girl’s clothing and colours. It may be the other way around ~ a girl who might enjoy playing with trucks and despise dolls and shun pink colours. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s daughter, Shiloh, who is 10, wants to be called John and dresses in boys clothing.
Kenneth Saltman (head of the Gender Identity Service for Children, University of Toronto) has conducted a substantial amount of research in this field. He is perhaps one of the more conservative in secular culture. I don’t think he is a Christian but he has shown that most boys with gender dysphoria (3-12) by the age of 10 don’t want to be the opposite gender. They have gone back to accepting their biological gender and only a small percentage continued to want to change. Many of the transgender children he sees are from families where there has been divorce and a lot of other types of brokenness and he suggests, for example, that some boys are born very sensitive and some girls are not very sensitive. But if there is a sensitive boy who has an insecure relationship with his mother, for example, the mother may be angry quite a lot or depressed which makes the boy very anxious and he may choose behaviour (especially if he has sisters) that are common to girls because he thinks it will make him more lovable. This research indicates that transgender confusion may be a way of coping with anxiety and as such has psychological roots in emotional disturbance. In reality we don’t actually know for sure what causes transgender dysphoria.
So, what approach should be taken? Do people with gender dysphoria need behavioural counselling or other forms of psychotherapeutic intervention(s)? What is being done now very commonly is to block puberty with hormones so that the brain prevents menstruation or does not allow the voice to change and so on. Thus breasts will not develop in girls and boys will not grow facial hair etc. Hormone treatment is commonly given to prepubescent children ~ testosterone to girls and oestrogen to boys. They are encouraged to cross-dress getting used to that lifestyle and having a transgender name. Then they are offered transgender surgery ~ say at the age of 17, a girl who believes she is a boy can have a double mastectomy and a boy might be castrated. And this is only the beginning of a long process of surgical procedures. And we used to think tattoos were a problem! Incidentally, gender reassignment surgery is very complicated and expensive and begs questions about how exchequer funds ought to be assigned in a public health service? Even in the private health service if such treatments are covered it will lead to increased premiums for everybody.
            Studies in the Netherlands and Sweden found that the psychological well-being of young people who underwent hormone treatment and gender reassignment surgery improved in the short term. They felt good about themselves but some more long-term studies give contra indications. Johns Hopkins Hospital in Boston, USA, terminated their gender reassignment programme, deeming it not to be an appropriate treatment for someone who has a psychological disorder. Much more needs to be done in long-term studies but on the basis of some reports the long-term results are not good. Initially most of the surgically treated patients describe themselves as satisfied by the results but their subsequent psychosocial adjustments were not better than those who did not have the surgery. There are studies giving conflicting findings. So who do we believe? The research is very difficult to conduct and assess but much more is needed.

Moral framework
We don’t know what causes same-sex attraction and we don’t know the cause of gender dysphoria. There may be family influences, psychological influences. I’m not convinced it can be attributed merely to lifestyle choice. These are complex issues and I’m not qualified to offer an expert psychological opinion. However, from a pastoral position I want to be able to understand as best I can and offer some insight and spiritual counsel wherever appropriate.
I see gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction as an aspect of our flawed and fallen humanity. It is disturbing that the wires have got crossed so badly that the brain can tell a person the distinct opposite of what their body is telling them. Although these people did not choose to be the way they are, they do have a choice about what to do with it. That is the responsibility we have with any aspect of our fallen nature.
Neuroscience shows that there are real differences between men’s brains and women’s brains in both receptivity and response to certain stimuli. But when we consider the cause(s) of gender dysphoria there is much conditioning and brainwashing in our culture. People are encouraged to pursue whatever feels right to them. There are no boundaries, except the supreme value to do no harm to others. But in the absence of any objective criteria for understanding right and wrong, good and bad then whatever feels right is right. I believe that if we as Christians don’t present a framework for understanding these issues we are failing in our moral duty. In a sense we are giving permission by tacit approval for people to engage in drastic and profoundly disturbing choices. On the other hand I think we should not engage in battles about this. Rather we should present a Christian perspective and find ways of ministering compassionately wherever needed.
A transgender man (i.e. a woman transitioning to a man) might just have the breasts removed and not opt for lower body surgery. You can imagine that creating a penis for a woman or a vagina for a man is a lengthy, sophisticated and expensive process. It is remarkable what can be done. But we have to ask to if this is a simplistic “solution” ~ to a very complex identity crisis issue. Just because we can do it is not a good enough reason to do it.
I have found on the internet stories of regret from transsexuals who wish to return to their original biological/birth gender. But there is often a backlash in the comments which reflects a bias in how they are moderated by administrators. This must act as a deterrent to those who might wish to tell their story of remorse. Many of these stories seem to get repressed or taken down. One has to assume then that there are stories that don’t get reported because they don’t fit the transgender as personal paragon of courage narrative so popular in the media today.

An appropriate Christian response
What is the appropriate Christians response to this? Firstly, we should oppose all forms of oppression and discrimination. We are all flawed in this fallen world and as beneficiaries of God’s grace we should extend that grace to others. I want to respect the dignity of people and not shame them or make them feel ashamed. We should not shun transgender people, just as we should not shun people who are struggling with same-sex attraction.
But we need to have a clear view of the creation and the binary nature of humanity as male and female. Throughout Scripture this is affirmed. It is wrong to confuse genders and pretend they don’t matter or don’t exist. God gave us genders in a complementarity order. Marriage points to the relationship of Christ with the church. Thus the integrity of gender in marriage points to a transcendent truth about us and God and the incredible intimacy that one day we will have with him.
In terms of pastoral care we need to take time to listen carefully to the stories and the struggles that these people experience. If we befriended these people and come alongside them we might help them to understand what it means to have ones deepest sense of identity in Christ. We might help them to abandon the desire to proceed with gender reassignment surgery.
How can we encourage such people to become followers of Christ? I think we can argue against it, not in a belligerent way but in an informed and compassionate way. From a Christian perspective I think that God calls us to be satisfied and to work towards accepting the body and the gender that he has given us chromosomally and anatomically. So this means we should not encourage trans-people to cross dress or to change their name.
But what happens if we meet someone in the church named Sam who says he now wants to be called Samantha? Do we say, “No, you are a man and I’m going to continue calling you Sam”? I would say at that stage in that person’s journey we should not go along with this as it would be inappropriate to affirm them in their journey in a morally wrong direction. I would try to talk through their longings and confusion in the same way I would try to help a Christians (or non-Christian) who is struggling with same-sex attraction ~ to live a faithful and celibate life within the community of the body of Christ.
But what should we do if someone has been through gender reassignment surgery comes into the church? That is a real dilemma. Should we advise that person to begin the journey back to his/her original gender? That person has already made a critical decision which has profound physical, hormonal and psychological consequences. Until the Lord redeems them completely in heaven they have to live with the consequences of that. They could, if they so choose, go back through the process again. It would be very expensive and involve a major identity adjustment. Nevertheless it’s not impossible. However, I don’t think this is something we should advise. We cannot say God is calling you to do this and that Scripture affirms this and we insist upon it. I think we just have to accept that person as they are but insist he/she remain celibate. We must resist amoral gender theory and the kind of ideological colinisation that it espouses. This is ultimately a moral problem that needs to be met with mercy but not mindless acceptance of its tenets. At the core of this issue there is a cultural philosophy that asserts that if it feels right then it is right. We must not be afraid to say that this is wrong.
I’m sure there is much more that needs to be said about this issue but I hope my reflections will help us understand the issues. I hope this article will also help us to be compassionate towards the people who experience gender dysphoria. There is a tendency to just write these people off as “perverts” and that is too easy and so wrong. If we dismiss them in that way then we don’t have to face up to the reality and the challenges. Sadly some will do that but I want to encourage you to open your heart to these broken people who desperately need to be understood and helped and loved, as indeed we all do.

[1] In the 1980s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that is used in the USA for psychological disorders described anyone who is transgender as having gender identity disorder. But the latest edition says it is only a disorder if it causes distress. Now we talk about gender dysphoria.

[2] A transman is a biological female who is transitioning to male (F2m or FTM) a transwoman is a man transitioning to a female (M2f or MTF). Sexual orientation is a separate matter.