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Repenting of trans pronouns: True love requires true language

Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash
Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

The Colson Center policy for Breakpoint commentaries and for all our media products, public speaking, and videos is to use only pronouns that correspond to a person’s sex and to use pronouns only if at all necessary. So, we will use “he,” “him,” and “his,” to refer to males even if they identify as female or non-binary or some other identity. And we will use “she,” “her,” and “hers” to refer to females. 

This has the potential to make people angry. As a result, an increasing number of Christians now argue that it is more loving and hospitable, and perhaps even crucial for evangelism, to use a person’s preferred pronouns even if they do not correspond to that person’s biology.  

A prominent Christian voice on LGBT issues once held to this view. Rosaria Butterfield, whose well-known testimony includes being saved out of a lesbian lifestyle, publicly advocated for what is often called “pronoun hospitality.” It was, she says, a “carry-over from [her] gay activist days.” Butterfield hoped that using someone’s preferred pronouns was the best way to “meet everyone where they were and do nothing to provoke insult.”  

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Earlier this month, in an article published on the Reformation 21 website, Butterfield explained why she has not only changed her mind but deems it necessary to publicly repent of her former views. Using transgender pronouns, Butterfield now believes, was not only a misguided attempt at hospitality but a sin, a violation against the commandment against bearing false witness: 

“Christians who use the moral lens of LGBTQ+ personhood are not merely a “soft presence” in the enemy camp. Their malleability makes them pudding in the enemy’s hand. They make false converts to a counterfeit gospel that bends the knee to the fictional identity of LGBTQ+.” 

Butterfield writes that instead of meeting people where they were, using factually incorrect pronouns encouraged them to stay where they were and to root their identity more firmly in beliefs and behaviors that Christ called them to crucify. For people in the grip of a spiritually and often physically destructive delusion, that is the very opposite of “the loving thing to do.” In fact, it only worsens their harm. 

Butterfield’s article should be read in full by all who seek to be faithful to Christ in this confusing moment, especially by anyone wondering why the use of mere two or three-letter words is such a big deal. The answer is found in the more fundamental question, “What are words for?”. Is language essentially arbitrary, a reflection of subjective meaning? Is it perhaps a power play, as Postmodern thinkers claim?  

Or does it correspond to objective realities? Do our words name and differentiate things in the real world, a world itself spoken into existence by the Word of God? If so, then intentionally using and encouraging the use of false language is a verbal act of un-creation, an assault on the actual nature, dignity, and worth of God’s image bearers. It is to implicitly claim that, as the Rev. Calvin Robinson put it in a recent and brilliant speech at the Oxford Union, the God who gave us the Bible “knew less than we do now.”  

Rhys Laverty, managing editor of the theology journal Ad Fontes, summed up the argument well

“Preferred pronouns are a rejection of God’s purpose for our words. They deny what our minds can clearly discern: the good existence of male and female. They shun the obligation we have to declare what we have discerned. And so they are unethical and unacceptable speech for anyone — let alone Christians.” 

The ability to think and act morally largely depends on the ability to speak accurately. This is why so many people on the opposite side of this question are so insistent that we use their words. 

To be clear, Christians should also avoid unnecessary offense whenever possible. And we should know that calling males men and females women will not in and of itself resolve the thorny cultural, psychological and spiritual challenge of transgender ideology. Still, caving on words will destroy our ability to understand and undermine our ability to debate the issue truthfully.  

And it is truth, not niceness or relevance or even hospitality, that can set people free. I am grateful for the commitment Rosaria Butterfield has shown to think biblically about this, even if it required her to publicly acknowledge being wrong in the past. I am grateful for her courage in calling all of us to biblical truth on this most contentious of issues and to repentance when we’ve conflated telling lies with showing love.  

Originally published at BreakPoint. 

John Stonestreet serves as president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He’s a sought-after author and speaker on areas of faith and culture, theology, worldview, education and apologetics.  
Shane Morris is a senior writer at the Colson Center, where he has been the resident Calvinist and millennial, home-school grad since 2010, and an intern under Chuck Colson. He writes BreakPoint commentaries and columns. Shane has also written for The Federalist, The Christian Post, and Summit Ministries, and he blogs regularly for Patheos Evangelical as Troubler of Israel.

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