J.D. Greear Clarifies Pronoun Stance
Last week I raised a strong objection to the Southern Baptist Convention head J.D. Greear’s position on “pronoun hospitality” — this, based on an answer he gave on his podcast to a question about how to interact with transgendered people. Greear is a well-known theological conservative; he signed the Nashville Statement, which is not something anyone moderate or liberal would have done. (By the way, on the question of pronoun use, the Nashville Statement says “our duty [is] to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.”)
My claim was not that Pastor Greear has become liberal. In the podcast, he clearly says that transgenderism is not part of God’s design. “I am who God says I am,” he says. My claim in that post was that his “hospitality” stance was effectively ceding ground that Christians cannot afford to cede. I confess that I felt particularly strongly about his podcast answer because it came to my attention on the same week that Chick-fil-A capitulated.
His actual answer to the question begins at about the 5:30 point in his 11-minute podcast (link above), in case you’re interested in checking it out (and I hope you do). At that moment, he says that Christians disagree on how to respond to the challenge: either “generosity of spirit” or “telling the truth.” In the former, Greear says, it’s about calling the trans person by their preferred pronoun as a courtesy, even though you don’t accept their claim about themselves; in the latter, you don’t concede even that much. He says that there are valid reasons for both stances among Christians, but “personally… I lean a little bit towards generosity of spirit.” He says his “disposition” is to refer to trans people by their preferred pronoun. If they talk about gender, the pastor says, he will lay out what he believes to be the truth. It’s rather a pastoral matter for him: is this really the fight Christians want to have?
He explains that a missionary going into polygamist tribal territory doesn’t lead by telling the polygamists that multiple marriages aren’t really marriages, even though as a Christian, you don’t believe that all the polygamist tribal chief is truly married to five women. The idea is that by showing him respect, you open the door to convincing him, eventually, to reconsider his position in light of the Gospel.
This makes pastoral sense. Greear endorses Andrew Walker’s solution of “not using their pronouns altogether.” Which is a contradiction of what he said earlier — that he would use their preferred pronouns. He also said: “You need to do what your conscience is allowing you to do.”
I believe that Greear did not speak in that podcast with the kind of clarity that he ought to have done. Again, within five minutes, he gave two significantly different answers. Today he tweeted out this link to a Walker essay about the subject, with his endorsement. In that essay, Walker says:
Pronouns are not an insignificant issue. How a person wants to be referred to communicates how that person understands himself or herself at their deepest, most intimate level. This means that language has deeply significant meaning embedded in its usage. The use of language is an attempt to name and give meaning to reality. Pronouns and gendered names, therefore, refer to a reality in which the transgendered individual is wishing to live. The question we as Christians have to consider is whether the reality we are being asked to affirm is objective and corresponds to biblical truth, or whether the reality we are being asked to acknowledge is subjective and false.Nothing less than the truth and authority of God’s revelation over created reality is up for grabs in something as seemingly innocent as pronoun usage. [Emphasis mine — RD] Because, at root, the transgender debate is a metaphysical debate about whose version of reality we live in, and only one account—Jesus Christ’s (Colossians 1:15-20)—can lead us into truth about reality and human flourishing. No amount of willing something into existence that is at odds with one’s biology—such as one’s gender identity—can bring that desired reality about.
Before I state how I’ve evaluated the issue and the conclusion I’ve reached, I think it is important to state that Christians of goodwill who seek to obey and believe the Bible disagree, prudentially, on what the best pathway is concerning transgender persons and pronouns. This is important to establish because this should not be an issue that divides otherwise Bible-believing Christians.
The Apostle Paul declares “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).
Concerning pronouns, this means that Christians should, in principle, not be needlessly combative or confrontational in how we navigate the language of transgenderism. We should attempt to be disarming and defuse circumstances ripe for conflict.
That’s a good and important point. Again, we are talking about being pastoral, which is a matter of prudence. Walker goes on to say that in almost all circumstances, the Christian should avoid using the preferred pronoun, but should not make a point of making a huge issue of it. This can be done by using the trans person’s preferred name. (Though as I pointed out in my earlier post, this did not help Peter Vlaming, the Virginia high school teacher fired for not fully endorsing his student’s transgender identity.) Walker writes about an instance in which a pastor might defer to the transgender person on the pronoun situation:
It is possible you may not know someone visiting your church is transgender and will unknowingly use their desired pronoun and name. If that is the case, a Christian is not at fault. Also, someone who is very obviously transgender may visit your church. I do not know how a question of pronouns would come up in a momentary introduction between persons, but I do think it would be needlessly confrontational to immediately correct someone’s pronoun preference if they are visiting. Again, avoid pronouns altogether. I think the more appropriate route is to gloss over whatever pronoun discussion ensues, greet the person kindly, listen to how they heard of your church, get to know them, and invite them back to church in hopes of building a relationship. Context and relationship matter. To the extent that individuals begin to gain the relational capital to speak truthfully to this person about their confusion, those attempts should be made and made soon. One important caveat: to the extent that a visitor becomes hostile, rudely adamant, or disruptive about pronoun usage, I can foresee the necessity of pastors and elders addressing it immediately in order to guard the flock (Acts 20:28; Titus 1).
Read all of Walker’s essay. It’s practical and helpful. If J.D. Greear is now fully endorsing Walker’s position, then I’ve got no problem with Greear’s stance. But it does contradict the mixed message Greear sent in that podcast.
In retrospect, let me again point out that I heard Greear’s podcast on the same week that Chick-fil-A abandoned the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, in a transparent attempt to get LGBT activists off its corporate back. I was super-sensitive to Christians ceding any ground to LGBT activists, and might have reacted more strongly to the view of an influential Southern Baptist pastor like Greear than I would normally have done. And I wish I had not included the broader critical remarks about Greear from a former Evangelical reader, who said that he had not read Greear’s work, and was judging him as an accommodationist based only on the titles of his book. Greear may or may not be an accomodationist — his defenders say he adamantly is not — but the reader didn’t know that based on a reading of Greear’s books, and it was irresponsible of me to post that particular criticism.
That said, I still stand firmly by the reader’s criticism of Greear on the pronoun hospitality matter, repeated here:
1) There is no need to use the pronouns. The only pronouns I call someone when talking to them are the 2nd person pronouns like ‘you’. If you must talk about someone in the 3rd person in front of them, you can always use their name or the common (but incorrect) ‘they’ that all of us have used as a 3rd person pronoun when our English teachers weren’t watching. This was virtue-signaling pure and simple.
2) The danger is real. When we give in on this, we are denying reality and forced to commit doublethinks. I cannot take anyone seriously who thinks it is a good habit to engage in habitual doublethinking. We are enabling the PC police to further erode the culture and destroy very important norms–norms essential to the survival of human communities. A human society that is post-sex is not going to last long and will spiral down into unimagined depravities on the way down.
3) More to the immediate situation, this perverse rhetoric is being used to justify mutilating young people–binding breasts, hacking them off, and castrating young men. When you use these pronouns to win the approval of the PC police, you aren’t cutting off any girl’s breasts, but you are approving of it and enabling it. …
Bottom line: I think the pronoun issue is a bigger deal than Greear indicated in his podcast. I also think Greear set himself up for criticism by taking two (mostly) contradictory stances in that podcast. I agree with him that Andrew T. Walker has the best strategy, but I also believe that Walker is significantly more restrictive about pronoun use than Greear is, at least as Greear was on that podcast. But, if Greear is now fully endorsing Walker’s point of view, as he seems to be, then he has brought much-needed clarity to his stance, and I have no objection to his position. It would be helpful, though, if Greear would speak unambiguously on the topic. After all, he said in the podcast that Andrew Walker’s work on the subject guides him, but he also indicated on the podcast that his own pastoral judgment is more permissive on the matter than Walker endorses in his essay. Or at least that’s my read of Walker’s essay in light of Greear’s statement on the podcast. In other words, I agree with Walker that prudence has a role to play in dictating a Christian’s response to the pronoun question, but I think Greear’s prudential judgment endorsing “pronoun hospitality,” as stated in the podcast, is mistaken. And, I think when a conservative pastor with the kind of influence Greear has makes that kind of mistake, it matters.
Whether or not J.D. Greear is, as the former Evangelical reader alleges, part of an urban/suburban Evangelical shift that, perhaps unwittingly, allows the camel to put his nose under the tent, is not something that I can judge, as I have not read Greear’s books. I wish I hadn’t opened up that controversy on that blog post. Signing the Nashville Statement, as Greear courageously did, definitely put Greear on the conservative, Biblically orthodox side of the battle, and was not something that a liberal or squishy moderate would have done. My guess is that Greear simply had not sufficiently thought through the issue and its implications when the question was put to him in the podcast.
Unfortunately, LGBT activists and their allies, both inside and outside of churches, have made reaching any kind of compromise on these issues impossible. As the Peter Vlaming case demonstrates, and as the lesbian judge example at the Michigan Catholic parish indicates. The priest there was willing to compromise by admitting the openly gay, married lesbian parishioner to communion, and had done, but when she pushed him by showing up at mass, and at communion, wearing a Pride badge, he told her not to return to communion. You will never, ever find peace with these activists, who don’t want tolerance, but submission. These activists and their allies will weaponize “compassion” and “inclusivity” to force pastors and congregations to surrender completely to their worldview.