He was born Ben Bruesehoff. But now the 10-year-old son of a New Jersey pastor and his wife goes by the name Rebekah. His parents say, "Rebekah has always been gender non-conforming. As young as two or three, she gravitated toward typically feminine things. She loved pink and sparkles and all things girly and that was fine with us."
But three years ago, this alleged gender non-conformity intensified, reaching a crisis when Ben, now Rebekah, tried to jump out a second-story window. Distressed, the boy's parents took Ben to a gender specialist, who apparently helped him discover, "I'm a girl in my head, in my heart."
Soon after, these Christian parents began allowing their son Ben to identify as Rebekah – to wear girls' clothes and even dye his hair pink. They're also planning to put their son on puberty blockers so he won't develop into a man. And when he's 18, they say it will be his decision whether or not to pursue a complete sex-change.
Fifteen years ago, this response by a Christian, let alone a pastor's, family would have been almost unthinkable. Yet attitudes about gender have been rapidly changing not just in culture, but also in the church. According to a 2015 study by a dean at St. John's College, University of Cambridge, "there is growing momentum for change; for acceptance and welcoming of transgender Christians," especially within Protestant denominations.
The study found there were at least eight transgender priests serving in the Church of England. There are also transgender priests or pastors in the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Presbyterian Church USA, United Methodist Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Yet this supposedly new perspective is not new at all. It is actually rooted in an ancient heretical philosophy called Gnosticism, though I doubt many transgender-supporting Christians realize it. New Testament scholar and retired Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright recently highlighted this fact in a letter to the editor published in The Times of London. "(T)he confusion about gender identity is a modern, and now internet-fueled, form of the ancient philosophy of Gnosticism," he wrote. "The Gnostic, one who 'knows,' has discovered the secret of 'who I really am,' behind the deceptive outward appearance. . . . This involves denying the goodness, or even the ultimate reality of the natural world."
Gnosticism flourished during the Second Century and taught that the material world is bad and dominated by evil and ignorance, but the spirit world is good. Since a good God could not have created an evil world, Gnostics deduced that the world must have been created by a flawed heavenly being. Yet within this corrupt world remains a spiritual component, fragments of the true and good God.
This distorted worldview had a profound impact on how Gnostics perceived the human person. They believed most people possess a "divine spark," a piece of the true God, within them. However, this spark is trapped within a corrupt body, which few people recognize, and as a result, live in ignorance and attachment to the material world. A person can achieve salvation, however, by attaining secret knowledge of his or her true self and eventually leaving the prison of the body at death. (If a person fails to become sufficiently enlightened, this spark again becomes imprisoned in another body.)
Some Gnostics were pagan, but many others syncretized Christianity with Gnosticism and considered themselves to be higher and more enlightened Christians. These Gnostic Christians denied the incarnation of Christ. After all, how could a good God possess an evil body? And instead of salvation coming through Christ's death on the cross, they taught it came through attaining secret spiritual knowledge, or "gnosis."
Largely in response to the heresy of Gnosticism (and also Arianism, which denied the eternal pre-existence of Jesus), the church produced the Nicene Creed. Refuting Gnosticism, it says Jesus "was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified . . . suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again ... "
Though Gnosticism waned after the second century, it never really died out – and has persisted throughout the centuries as an undercurrent of Western culture. Today, it is the driving force of the LGBT movement, though many LGBT advocates likely have no idea they've succumbed to this ancient lie.
Yet only a Gnostic could say that one's biological sex doesn't matter; the only thing that matters is what you think and feel. Only a Gnostic could say that a boy is a girl in his head and heart, when his anatomy shows he is male. And only a Gnostic could allege that the physical design of the male body, obviously intended to unite sexually with the female body, is irrelevant; the only thing that matters is one's internal desire.
To Gnostics, matter doesn't matter. But to Christians, matter matters very much.
God created the body and the physical world and called it good. He created marriage and blessed the physical union of the husband and wife. And He ordained that this one-flesh union would actually serve as a symbol revealing how Christ relates to His bride, the Church. But perhaps most telling, Jesus – the pre-existent God of the universe – took on flesh and became a man. He died a bodily death – and he bodily resurrected, forever dispelling the notion that matter is bad or in any way unimportant.
No doubt, people who suffer from gender dysphoria, and experience a conflict between their physical sex and their perceived gender, need our compassion and help. But as Christians, we believe the truth sets us free, not a lie. Encouraging people, and especially children, to deny their God-assigned gender will only harm them in the long run. As N.T. Wright noted in his letter, nature "tends to strike back, with the likely victims . . . being vulnerable and impressionable youngsters, who as confused adults, will pay the price for their elders' fashionable fantasies."
Though I have never suffered from gender dysphoria, I can relate in some ways to those who do. As a kid, I was a quintessential tomboy. I loved sports and always felt the boys had way more fun. Yet I thank God that my mother and older sisters had the good sense to shape my identity in a way that matched my anatomy. When I'd display masculine mannerisms, they'd gently encourage me to be more feminine. And when I'd choose boyish looking clothes, they'd urge me to wear something more appropriate for a girl.
Today many would discourage such intentional gender identity formation, but I'm extremely grateful for it. God designed a good physical world, and those who seek to align their internal feelings and identity to match their God-given biology will find greater freedom than those who attempt to do the reverse. Truly, even with modern science, changing one's sex is impossible. One may change his external anatomy, but the truth of one's assigned sex remains in every cell of his or her body as either two X chromosomes (female) or one X chromosome and one Y chromosome (male).
We cannot set our will against God's and prosper. One study involving sex-reassigned persons makes this painfully clear. It found that the suicide mortality rate 10 to 15 years after sex-change surgery to be almost 20 times greater than that of the comparable non-transgender population. As Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death."
As Christians, we must submit to God's design, trusting in His goodness and the goodness of His creation. And we must reject Gnosticism. It was heretical in the Second Century and it remains heretical today.