Beliefs Culture Ethics

Evangelical transgender conference rejects notion that gender identity can change

Video courtesy of The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors

(RNS) The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors is planning what it calls evangelical Christians’ first-ever conference on transgender issues.

But don’t expect to hear from any transgender voices at the conference.

The association will co-sponsor “Transgender Confusion and Transformational Christianity” with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on Oct. 5 on the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

All the speakers have agreed to a statement published last year that rejects “that a human being could possess a gender other than the one indicated by biological sex.”

“I think Christians need to be concerned about this because Christian care demands that we be able to help the people all around us who are struggling,” said Heath Lambert, executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and assistant professor of biblical counseling at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“We’re in a culture where Christians are the only ones that can teach moral sanity in the midst of the moral craziness we’re in,” he added.

READ: Why insensitive evangelical rhetoric on LGBT youth is toxic (Commentary)

The conference, which is sold out, precedes the annual Association of Certified Biblical Counselors conference. Speakers include R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern seminary, the flagship school for the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Photo courtesy of Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr.

The Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Photo courtesy of Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Psychologists generally have not been trained to work with transgender people, who have unique concerns, including stigma, said Clinton Anderson, associate executive director for public interest and director of the American Psychological Association’s office on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns.

That’s why the American Psychological Association last month released its own Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People, he said. And in the last few years, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders also has changed its diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” to “gender dysphoria,” he noted, a move to distance its language from that stigma.

The DSM, published by the American Psychiatric Association, defines gender dysphoria as when a person’s gender at birth is different from the one he or she identifies with.

People have the right to their religious beliefs, said Anderson, who had never heard of the biblical counselors group. But he added that he was concerned that the mix of worldviews between religion and science is one “we don’t feel works very well for people.”

“We want to be very careful to keep what psychology has to say from its knowledge distinct from what religion may have to say from its knowledge,” he said.

READ: Ranking religions on acceptance of homosexuality and reactions to SCOTUS ruling


The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors had planned its conference last year, Lambert said. But nobody could have predicted what has happened since then. Stars such as Laverne Cox of “Orange Is the New Black” and Caitlyn Jenner have turned the national spotlight on transgender issues, and the Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

It’s important that seminary students understand the world they live in, he said. And it’s important for Christians to learn to think about the issues in a way that is “not just informed by Christian thought, but informed by Christian care.”

That’s what he said he thinks is missing from the conversation about transgender issues.

The topic of this year’s Association of Certified Biblical Counselors annual conference is “Homosexuality: Compassion, Care and Counsel for Struggling People,” which the association also called a first of its kind for evangelicals.


About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.


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  • Christians are in NO need of the leash from the APA on how and what to believe. Christians that want to be Christians have that right under the US constitution and the conscience of man to live as they so choose. And people that reject Christian life and the Gospel can walk their own path by choice.

  • Typical fundamentalist arrogance. Why have anyone there who might contradict the intellectual and religious masturbation going on? Why would you want to have someone who actually knows something about the subject?

    I’ve attended these conferences. Lots of made up stories, very shy on actual facts, logic, and experience.

    ““I think Christians need to be concerned about this because Christian care demands that we be able to help the people all around us who are struggling,”
    Help them without the slightest reference to the people you are helping. It’s not Christian care. It’s narcissism.

    ““We’re in a culture where Christians are the only ones that can teach moral sanity in the midst of the moral craziness we’re in.” It’s not moral sanity. It’s narcissism.

    If I want moral guidance from anyone, the last people on earth I would ask are fundamentalist Christians, obsessed with sex and gender, and filled with messianic zeal that is only matched by their ignorance.

  • I cannot help but wonder if there is any organization that had alienated as many souls from Christ s s evangelicals. They are Satan’s most effective recruiters

  • There is no way for evangelicals to ever understand the plight of transgender people without ever first actually talking to transgender people. And, most evangelicals refuse to associate with anyone they deem to be ‘unworthy’.

    Evangelicals need to be more like the example left for them by Jesus and associate with the rest of the world and not enforce spiritual isolation on themselves. After all, Jesus hung out with the very people evangelicals disdain the most.

    Modern medical science has clearly shown that gay and transgender people are born as they are, just exactly the way the gay and transgender communities have been claiming all along. They should invite several transgender people to speak at this event. Or, they’ll never really learn anything.

  • This conference is a farce. Nobody with any credibility on the topic is presenting, and no transgender people involved.

    Let’s get this straight: God made my gender *female*, my (former) birth certificate not withstanding. I am a married Christian woman of transsexual/intersex experience.

    Some people are trans: Get over it and do what Jesus told you to do: love people unconditionally and don’t get your panties in a wad over how God makes them.

    I am *so embarrassed* for my fellow Christians who totally misrepresent Jesus and the Gospel because fighting useless battles over people like me. No wonder Jesus weeps.

  • Why struggle with diversity? I find it an odd viewpoint because if god created the planet then he also created diversity. It seems like human will is being given greater value over god’s creation. Surely science could be seen as merely understanding god’s work?

  • Um, yeah, thanks, but no one needs a public service announcement about people’s right to believe and live as they choose.

  • “We’re in a culture where Christians are the only ones that can teach moral sanity in the midst of the moral craziness we’re in,” he added.

    Reason #3,7219 no one with any sense cares what evangelicals say. About anything. Let alone morality.

  • Oh and by the way, transgender women are cisgender/biological women with penises, yes it happens, accept it or not, its the whole truth, ha-ha!!

  • And yes, transgender women suffer discrimination for being women just like any other women. Men discriminate on cisgender women in the workforce and many other areas in life, if not worst, regardless if you’re a cisgender woman with a penis or a vagina! So can you really say, “Who has more authority, the penis or the vagina?” Not in the case of us women. Your ignorance in religious propaganda proves you are wrong!

  • Hmmm. I wonder if the Bible says anything about judging people who are different – and then invoking hatred among your congregation – in order to increase your own personal power and wealth?

  • They already “know” everything. What on earth would they have to learn, and why?

    This is their spiritual and moral arrogance speaking. As I said, it’s not love, it’s narcissism.

  • Human will given greater value than god’s creation?

    How do you think they managed to transform the “sin” of homosexuality into the greatest sin ever heard of, a threat to everything good and holy, an enemy of God, and a threat to civilization itself!

    This has NEVER been about the word of God, alleged or otherwise, but how much the very thought scares,centimes, and excites some heterosexual people, and a whole bunch of people who desperately wish they were heterosexual, but never will b.e

  • A comment from the article says —
    ” We’re in a culture where Christians are the only ones that can teach moral sanity in the midst of the moral craziness we’re in. ”

    A scripture narrative about Christians says —
    You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men………Matthew 5:13

    Sadly, a big problem today is that the ‘salt has become tasteless’.

    ‘Man’s ways are of the Lord’ the scripture says, but some will call these ways ‘moral craziness’.

    Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God……..Romans 15:7

    That is good advice on what to do for LGBTs.

  • Pope Francis equated being transgender with nuclear arms. He said in February 2015: “Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings. Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.” The “gender theory” Francis is denigrating is the medically and anthropologically supported concept that gender is a construct imposed by society. It is commonly cited in defense of transgender rights, since it shows gender can vary despite society’s expectations.

  • As a recovering Southern Baptist and a proud, happy transgender person, let me assure one and all that this SBC conference on trans issues is a religious charade and an utter fraud. The SBC is going into this conference not with an open mind but with a spiritually arrogant, condescending attitude and a demeaning agenda that will only serve to further reinforce religious bigotry toward transgender people. Most reasonable people would agree that it might be helpful to have some actual transgender voices available to speak at the conference, since the event is ostensibly about them. However, that’s not how the cowardly SBC chooses to roll. The SBC prefers to control the narrative, thus ensuring that sure their own prejudicial agenda is the only one that receives attention. The whole thing is a contrived spectacle that will not help transgender people in the least, but it will almost certainly create some new problems for the trans community. The SBC is on the wrong side of history…

  • No matter what you think about her politics, it’s not fair to say that Rosaria Butterfield (one of the speakers) hasn’t listened to the other side. She was a lesbian and strong advocate in the LGBT community. She then became friends with Christians, listened to what they had to say, and changed her mind. She’s a perfect example of someone who listens to those she disagrees with. Her story is also an example of Christians who are happy to be friends with members of the LGBT community. The friendship that these Christians had with Butterfield was not contingent upon her agreeing with them, it was just a friendship. They ate meals together, hung out at each other’s homes and with each other’s friends. So while you might disagree with what she has to say now, Butterfield is not a good example of someone who refuses to listen to the other side (she was on the inside of the LGBT community) and her story testifies to at least some Christians who don’t shun those they disagree…

  • Thank you; your thoughts are interesting, and reading the story of this academic feminista undergoing a “conversion” is somewhat fascinating in some ways, but all too predictable in others. It would seem she has some things in common with Monsieur Talleyrand, who served as Foreign Minister for King Louis XVI of France, then served in the same capacity for Emperor Napoleon after the French Revolution, and then again for the restored monarchy of Louis XVIII after Napoleon was defeated. Talleyrand was able to do so because of his skills and erudition, things this woman appears to posses as well. While I don’t question her “conversion,” I tend to regard it as a rather dumb and futile gesture, but, hey, whatever floats your boat, right?

    These people regard “Christians” and “LGBTs” as two subsets which do not intersect. However well intentioned such taxonomy may be, it is erroneous. If she would’ve hooked up with some liberal Episcopals, this’d be a different story.

  • “We’re in a culture where Christians are the only ones that can teach moral sanity in the midst of the moral craziness we’re in,” he added.

    What? Is he living under a rock? He never encountered modern secular teachers? How could he say something like that? He can start with Michael J. Sandel’s course on justice. Is there anyone in the fundamentalist world who can compare with Sandel?

  • It is sad that this church has such a misconception about what it means to be a true Christian. I am trans and I can say that one of the most important aspects of Christianity is to save souls not reject them. There are many “counselors” that actually drive true Christian transgendered people away from God. don’t limit the redemptive power of God’s grace.

  • Does anybody outside the Bible belt care what the Southern Baptists think? This is encouraging though, if they feel the need to address transgender people, some must be brave enough come out in such environs. Stay strong dear friends, stay strong. Plenty of Christians support you.

  • Peace comes from being right with the Lord, Before I knew God’s forgiveness I had NO peace. I remember how that felt, it was awful. Even now, if I fall away from the Lord for a time, I lose my peace. When I turn back to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness, the peace returns. PTL I thank God for His awesome peace that passes all understanding. Do you know God’s peace? Have your sins been forgiven? This can only happen when we turn away from sin and ask God to forgive us through faith in Christ and His atonement for us on the cross. I can’t imagine living my life apart from God and seeking my own way day after day after day. That’s not where peace and blessing are found. Do NOT be deceived. Jesus said: “He that finds his life will lose it, but he that loses his life because of Me, will find it.” I know that’s true in my own life. Receive Him as Savior and Lord and know God’s joy and love and peace. God Bless

  • True, but not really helpful in this discussion. I dare say that most, if not all, of us in this discussion have experienced grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Also, being transgender is no more sinful than being autistic, or epileptic; it is a physical condition, where a person’s brain is more similar to the opposite sex than it is their own. It might help you to read a few medical journals and research papers on the subject. Better yet, read “Understanding the Transgender Condition” by Mark Yarhouse. Blessings on you.

  • As the saying goes, “There is none so blind, as one who will not see.” Southern Baptists are famous for “shooting the wounded,” as it were, and this is no different. As long as any Christians, but particularly Southern Baptists, continue to make assumptions based on false premises, and ramrod those assumptions down the throats of those who trust them to speak the truth, they will never be educated on what the truth really is. One of the biggest lies out there is that somehow, that transsexuality is an offshoot of homosexuality, when in fact, they are independent of each other, and always have been. But this doesn’t stop the SBC (from whom I have walked away) from continuing to march forward, spreading the lie in hopes that it will repeat it enough, it will become the truth. It reminds me of the kid who closes his eyes and puts his hands over their ears, and begins chanting, “La-la la, I can’t hear you, la-la-la, I’m not listening…” And the band played on…

  • I find it interesting that no one actually quotes the bible in their assertion that being transgender is inherently sinful. I have looked at the Hebrew and Greek, it is not.
    Some of the strongest Christians I know are transgender, and as some one who has a ministry to the community judge-mental christians (purposeful small c) make my job very difficult. Most transgender individuals have a deep hatred of christians because of the condemnation they perceive. Conferences like this will lead to more souls lost to eternity.

  • you know ive lived 62 years ive always secretly felt feminine but i live in the south, deep south and what i have found to be true is the southern saying that the bit dog always hollers. what i mean is most people who fight lgbt the most ,are secretly with those same feelings.some people just cannot or will not especially in the south think it takes a lot of courage to be who you really are.even to risk losing everything.most folks will just go along with the so called majority.

  • “Woman” is not simply a word that anyone can claim, regardless of biological reality or experience. Transgender women are women because of biological reality. Many studies show that transgender women’s brain are physiologically female. In this sense, transgenders are in the same boat as intersex people. Both faces biological reality, so to speak.

    “The researchers identified a region of the hypothalamus, known as the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc), as being responsible for sexual behaviour. This area is always larger in men than women. However, in their study of six MTF GID sufferers, a female‐sized BSTc was present in all subjects. Additionally, the size of the BSTc was not influenced by taking sex hormones in adulthood. This implies that these individuals had a powerful biological force compelling them to be female, rather than just a psychological conviction” (Nicola Tugnet et al. 2007).

    “We showed for the first time that INAH3 volume and number of neurons of male-to-female transsexual people is similar to that of control females…There was no difference in INAH3 between pre-and post-menopausal women, either in the volume (P > 0.84) or in the number of neurons (P < 0.439), indicating that the feminization of the INAH3 of male-to-female transsexuals was not due to estrogen treatment" (Garcia-Falgueras A, 2008).

    Not all cisgender women (women born with XX chromosome) experience "menstrual cramps, pregnancy and dozens of other things women experience."

    "On December 16, 2010, a beautifully seven-months-pregnant gynecologist walked into my hospital room and diagnosed me with "the very rare Mayer-Rockitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome," or MRKH. She said I was born missing my uterus and the upper two-thirds of my vagina and, because I was "abnormal," I would never be able to have my own children."

  • Is it not possible that, like the region of the brain that controls the woodpecker’s pecking behavior, that both regions have undergone structural changes that accompany the increased activity of the behavior in question?
    It is not too far off the target to discuss – as someone counseling a friend whose son is dealing with this disorder (MTF GID) – that just because I have ” a powerful biological force compelling me to be male…”, I do not have the necessity to violate the Word of God and my moral convictions by yielding to lust. Just as God can help me inhibit the desire to punch someone out who cuts me off in traffic, He is able also to come to anyone’s aid who has the desire, biological or not, to dress as the opposite gender. (How, anyway, does biology ‘compel’ anything that concerns moral decision making? The moral may accompany the biological but it seems a stretch to allow the biological to displace the moral component.)

  • What is gender? Gender is simply the state of being either a male or female. In this construct, we are following the Biblical paradigm. According to the Bible, God has created only two genders: male and female (Genesis 1:26-27). In the New Testament, Jesus Christ also affirmed that from the beginning God created mankind with two genders: male and female (Matthew 19:4). Therefore, any one can only be either male or female since there are clearly two genders only in light of the Scriptures.

    However, this is not what we see in real life. In actual scenarios, we see intersex people being born and we see transsexuals suffer Gender Dysphoria. Therefore, the conclusion that only gender binary exists doesn’t jibe with reality. But being Christians who uphold Sola Scriptura, we have the responsibility to address this issue by “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV).

    The Bible told us that there is a congenital condition pertaining to ‘gender’ (Matthew 19:12).Whatever this eunuch by birth is, it is not regarded by Jesus as sin.

    Therefore, transgenders (intersex and transsexuals) cannot be regarded as sinful due to their gender. They did not commit any sin by simply being what they are.They are born that way and just like every people , transgender or not, they need the love of Christ in their minds, souls and hearts.

    What we need to focus on is the behavior and not the condition per se. Every one is born with the natural propensity to sin (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12). Sinful behavior is what we need to avoid.

  • You lost me when you wrote “However, this is not what we see in real life. In actual scenarios, we see..”
    I do not harbor the idea that there is a “real life”or ‘actuality” separate from the way God sees the world.He made it, maintains it, and will bring it to its end. I think I will stick with Jesus.
    Thank you, anyway.

  • God is fully aware that intersex people and transsexuals do exist for He created them in their mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). Jesus himself knows that there are eunuchs “who have been so from birth” (Matthew 19:12 ESV). Jesus did not regard this “gender variant” people as sinful. This is an example of compassion and not condemnation. I do believe that the way Jesus sees natural eunuchs is the same way he sees intersex people and transsexuals. Thus, if we profess to be His followers, we also have to see this people the way Jesus sees them.

  • No, it is not “an example of compassion.” The compassionate act of a man who sees another committing such a heinous and barbaric act is to awaken that person’s conscience and intervene, not to subsidize and defend it. Additionally, your preceding sentences are a prime example of eisegesis, importing your conclusion into the text of Scripture. Proper hermeneutics requires exegesis, uncovering the meaning of what the author wrote. Your defense does not even rise to the level of an argument.

  • I do believe that the Bible allows SRS for a cogent reason. The Lord Jesus Christ himself did not regard eunuchs as sinful even when their condition is clearly at odds with the gender binary (cf. Matthew 19:12). This is very significant because in first century Judaism, eunuchs are feminised and Jews , notably Josephus (Ant 4.290-291) and Philo (Spec. Leg. 1.325) see them as sinful. Jesus had a differen view point and we need to share in that point of view. We shouldn’t judge these gender variant minority for God is welcoming them in his flock (cf. Deut. 23:1; Is. 56:3-4; Matt. 19:12). We should do likewise.