March 12, 2014

Russell Moore on “Convictional Kindness” and Transgenderism

Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, sat down for a discussion of Christian ethics at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on Wednesday, March 5. Joining him in the conversation was Midwestern’s president, Dr. Jason K. Allen, while several Midwestern students and faculty in the audience posed their own questions. During the discussion, Dr. Moore expanded upon what it means to have “convictional kindness,” and gave his recommendation on how to pastor do a transgender congregant.

“There’s a very consistent theme that you have very intentionally cultivated and projected from ERLC, this whole notion of convictional kindness.” Dr. Allen remarked towards the beginning of the discussion. He asked Dr. Moore to clarify and expound upon what exactly he meant with the phrase.

Dr. Moore began by noting that there are two ways to act like the Devil in the New Testament. The Devil deceives, by saying that there are no moral consequences to your actions. But he also makes accusations and condemnations. “No one is more pro-choice on the way into the abortion clinic than the Devil,” Dr. Moore said, “and no one is more pro-life on the way out of the abortion clinic than the Devil. Because what he wants to do is deceive on the front-end … he seeks to say on one hand, you’re too good for the Gospel, and the other hand you’re now too bad for the Gospel.”

Too often, Moore said, Christians are tempted to fight evil by fighting like the Devil, instead of doing good. “I think you have a kindness… The New Testament teaches us that the people who disagree with us aren’t our enemies, they may be our opponents on some issue or another, but they aren’t our enemies. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood.”

The idea behind convictional kindness to show kindness towards all people, while still standing up for what Christians believe. “So we speak convictionally, truthfully, but we’re not simply trying to win an argument, we’re trying ultimately to present the Gospel…. If you love people and you show kindness but you show a fake kind of kindness… that there’s a peace between you and God when there isn’t, that’s not true kindness.”

“It sounds oddly like Jesus.” Dr. Allen noted, describing Dr. Moore’s view as a “New Testament ethos.”

Whether intentional or not, this idea of loving your neighbor while still rebuking sin was wonderfully demonstrated during the Q&A session. Earlier, Dr. Moore had given the example of a newcomer to Christ who had undergone gender reassignment to go from John to Joan, asking how a Christian pastor should approach the situation. The first audience question Dr. Moore received asked his own views on the matter.

“Well, the first thing that you have to keep in mind is there is no such thing as a reassignment of gender.” Dr. Moore said. “You cannot change sex by surgery.” He noted that when he first posed the question, many of the students in the room were said they would put up an offering to have the surgery reversed.

But Dr. Moore said that they were missing the entire point: “You can’t have that surgery reversed; I’m going to just leave it there. Because, what’s happening is in the surgery, you’re not in fact changing someone from a woman to a man or a woman to a man. You’re simply recrafting a body. I’m not calling for any further surgery for someone who’s been through the trauma of that.” Instead, Dr. Moore said that he would like to see a sense of accountability from John, that he was giving the Creator authority over his life.

“Now this is a man who was alienated from his manhood, alienated from his masculinity,” Dr. Moore stated. But he stressed that all human beings failed to live up to God’s image for our lives, not just transgendered individuals. “We’re all (Romans, Chapter 3) alienated in various ways from how we were meant to be. So that’s not an unusual situation, that’s just how it’s manifested in his life.”

“I would want to see this person start, after a period of time, to identify as a man,” Dr. Moore said, “Start dealing with things like pronouns, such things as a name being received that’s a male name, dress, those sorts of things. If there’s hormone therapy, sometimes it’s dangerous to have a precipitous change in the hormones, but work with doctors to be able to say, ‘How do we normalize this?’”

Dr. Moore stressed that faithful Christians most be more compassionate and hospitable to transgendered individuals, and make it clear that they were not ‘a freak’. “So often when we see someone in this situation, because it’s relatively unusual in our circles right now, what we want to kind of do is laugh. The problem is, if that is happening in the lost world around us but we’re not seeing it in our circles, that’s only because the lost world is saying ‘we don’t have a place in [your] circles.’ And that’s a call to repentance for us.”

Above all, Dr. Moore urged patience. “Joan is not going to be one of the guys off Duck Dynasty three weeks from now, three months from now, or even thirty years from now.”

Transgenderism is one issue that has seen a number of wildly different approaches by Christian leaders, and Dr. Moore’s approach is a welcome addition to the debate. Christian especially should take heed of his warning that transgendered individuals are not to be treated as “freaks,” and they are no less imperfect in the sight of God than you or I. Those who hold to biblical ideas of gender need not sacrifice those beliefs, as some denominations and leaders have done. But to swing too far in the opposite direction and declare transgendered people unwelcome is a grave and unhelpful sin.

Dr. Allen and Dr. Moore discussed a number of additional interesting topics, such as the HHS mandate, religious liberty, and the decline of cultural Christianity. The video of the discussion may be found on Dr. Allen’s website, and I certainly suggest you watch it in its entirety.

One Response to Russell Moore on “Convictional Kindness” and Transgenderism

  1. Tom Van Dyke says:

    What is “transgenderism?” Does it even exist?

    “Until 1975, when I became psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, I could usually keep my own counsel on these matters. But once I was given authority over all the practices in the psychiatry department I realized that if I were passive I would be tacitly co-opted in encouraging sex-change surgery in the very department that had originally proposed and still defended it. I decided to challenge what I considered to be a misdirection of psychiatry and to demand more information both before and after their operations. …”

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