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God's children: he, she or ze?

Following the suspension of a Christian doctor for discrimination and harassment after he refused to refer to a transgender individual by their chosen pronoun, a Christian paediatrician and youth worker shares his thoughts.

Peter is my full name, but when I meet new people I always introduce myself as Pete. 

Why does it matter? Well, while you’d be perfectly correct to point out that ‘Pete’ is not what’s written on my birth certificate, and insist on calling me that because of its presence on the document, it’s a nickname I’ve chosen and personally prefer.

Like me, would you not be offended if someone decided that despite what you’d asked to be called, they were going to continually refer to you as something they preferred to keep themselves comfortable, but at your expense?

It would be, in my opinion, neither kind nor loving to insist on calling me Peter if I’d made a point of letting you know that I prefer Pete. While it’s everyone’s choice and I would never tell anyone they have to refer to me in the way that I want as that’s equally disrespectful, there’s no harm in making someone feel comfortable by using their preferred name.

So, what about preferred gender identity? No matter what you think or how you feel about the concept of gender identity, or whatever beliefs or understanding you have, criticising and not accepting how someone feels and insisting they must accept how you think and feel is baffling to me as a Christian.

Every doctor has the right to conscientious objection – when their personal beliefs may impede their ability to provide a good standard of care, most commonly known in cases of doctors against abortion who request not to have to see these patients for their benefit.

It wasn’t right that this was denied of Dr David Mackereth, who requested to have the case removed from his care. I believe there should be an area for compromise to allow people to have their objections in any situation, appreciating that because of this, it wouldn’t be a good experience for a patient to see a doctor with an opposing view, and instead allow the patient to access the care they need while respecting both parties’ views.

However, the choice to uphold these opposing views despite the circumstances begs the question: why would you ever pursue an identity for anyone else, especially those who you have a duty of care over, other than that of a child of God?

In this case, where a patient approaches identifying a certain way, it’s almost like saying: “You’ve chosen the wrong identity and therefore I will assign you one”, an identity that’s based on whether someone is male or female and nowhere near the adequate level, and the crux of it all, of being totally and wholly loved by God.

This issue isn’t just about trans identity in any shape or form – it’s that our gender will not last (Adam and Eve may have been described as a male and female, but they were fundamentally much more than that) and the only thing that will last is that we are children of God and are loved by him. That is the only identity that will truly stand the test of time.

I believe that having a life that is fixated on gender is unhealthy, but I also think that having a situation where you start making it so that being identified by gender is bad is equally unhealthy. Neither being male or female, nor identifying as other, is a bad answer – and in any situation where they become the wrong answer is a bad place to be.

There has been a huge influx of young people admitting to gender identity issues in the last five years – an increase I’d say is more than just those who have genuine gender dysphoria where teenagers who are naturally questioning who they are and what they want to be are swept up in the wave of cultural change.

We’re seeing more children questioning who they are. While these are perfectly ordinary questions – ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What does it mean to be me?’ – if you’re responding to them in a way that’s always related to sexuality or gender, this is harmful. You need to allow children to ask without encouraging their conclusion.

The line between accepting and encouraging these issues can be fine, but to adhere that personal issues are down to gender and sexuality right from the onset means assuming an answer which is always the case. If we’re going to encourage children toward any conclusion, the only one good enough is that of child of God.

If, like Dr Mackereth, you feel the need to pursue an identity for another person, question with all of your being why. If you’re making any other statement than the truth that God loves each and every one of us as we are, question why you are doing it and why you think it’s the right or logical thing to do.

Regardless of your views, be that person who is kind and loving and listening. We are undeniably called to be that – and not doing so is failing to follow a scriptural command, something we must uphold as representatives of Christ. Remember that you are taking the name of the Lord, wear that label in a way that respects and honours him and is representative of seeing a person and loving them through everything.