Culture Friday – J.D. Greear and ‘pronoun hospitality’

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday, January 17th, 2020. Glad to have you along for The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.  This week’s Culture Friday, we’ll just say here at the beginning, contains themes you may not be ready for your younger kids to hear. So we wanted to give you a heads up, take a pause here to give you the opportunity to hit the pause button if you feel like you need to. Because the topic is transgenderism.

What we’re going to talk about is how pastors might treat the subject. Well, more specifically, how a particular influential pastor treated the subject.

Before the holidays, on his podcast Ask Me Anything, pastor and president of the Southern Baptist Convention J.D. Greear sparked some headlines with his response to a question about transgender people and pronouns.

He suggested that Christians might consider something called “pronoun hospitality.”

GREEAR: If a transgender person came into our church, came into my life, I think my disposition would be to refer to them by their preferred pronoun. When we want to talk about gender, I will be clear with him on the truth. The question is, is that the battle front that you want to choose. 

I do think—and Andrew Walker points this out and I’ve got another guy named Preston Sprinkle who has some good thoughts on this—that you do see in the Bible evidence of this kind of generosity and accommodation of spirit in simple things like when they refer to different gods in the Old Testament. 

I mean, we know there’s only one God. But there’s a sense in which, I don’t know if I want to draw the battle front there. I’m going to declare the truth. I don’t know if the pronoun is exactly the place that I have to, you know, do it. … I’ve heard it called pronoun hospitality.

BASHAM: That response earned a lot of further responses from Christians, including some of our listeners who wrote into the program asking us to cover J.D. Greaar’s comments.

So we took that as a good opportunity to simply go straight to the horse’s mouth and call Pastor Greear and ask him about it.

Welcome to Culture Friday, J.D.!

J.D. GREEAR, GUEST: Megan, thank you guys for having me on. I’m a big fan of The World and Everything in It. It’s an honor to be here with you and your listeners.

BASHAM: So, to start out, I want to bring up the Nashville statement, because you signed that and I’d guess it took a lot of courage to sign, and plenty of pastors weren’t willing to do so. One tenet of the statement reads, “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.”

Do you think that’s at odds with your podcast answer?

GREEAR: No, no and I gladly signed the Nashville Statement. I think it was a very important statement. I think it’s very timely and that statement was clear on a number of things, just about when it comes to gender and sexuality and historically what Christians have believed and those are things I hold very dear. 

Let me start with this. Michael Greene, the old Christian philosopher from Oxford, in his book Evangelism in the First Century, he talks about how in the body of Christ there are defenders of orthodoxy and there are missionaries. And he said a defender of orthodoxy is—their concern is to state things as clearly as possible and to show the difference between what the world believes and what the Bible teaches. He said the missionary, their role is in relationship to try to bridge the gap and try to love people and to move them toward the truth. He said the two should never be at odds. They should never contradict each other, but the approach that they take is different. 

In the roles that I play as president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a signer of the Nashville Statement, I’m a defender of orthodoxy. And as a pastor of a local church that has probably I think every weekend people that would be in the transgender category that would come or visit or at least somebody close to somebody there would be, I’m also a missionary and I’m trying to love them and move them and treat them as somebody made in the image of God and, so, yes, let me just say I profoundly agree that clarity on this issue—of all the things that we need to be clear on—we need to be clear right now on what gender is and what it is not.

EICHER: Well, let me turn to some of the sharpest criticism out there. Rod Dreher. He’s a very tough, very good opinion journalist at the American Conservative. And he said in his view, concepts like pronoun hospitality contribute to young people mutilating themselves with surgery and taking puberty blockers and hormones. 

And of course WORLD has done stories on people who have experienced lifelong regret after taking those kinds of actions.

Now, a word about where we’re coming from. And for that, let me read from our internal policy book, WORLD’s editorial style, and I’m quoting from it now, our policy is to “avoid reader confusion, use nouns rather than pronouns to refer to transgendered persons, recasting sentences whenever necessary… . We do not use made-up pronouns, except (if necessary) in a quotation. If a teenage boy wins a state women’s wrestling championship and we cannot avoid using a pronoun at some point, we write, ‘he won.’”

So, that’s where WORLD is coming from. And I understand a reporter in a news organization is different from a pastor. 

But you know, we’ve reported on some academic research on the subject of what the researcher called “rapid onset gender dysphoria.” To boil it way, way down, and at the risk of oversimplifying this phenomenon, the idea here is of gender dysphoria that’s essentially socially spread. Copycatting, in other words. It’s cool to be transgender.

So in light of that—hard question here, pastor, but you’ve faced tougher questioners than I am, but with respect:

If you make a compromise with pronouns, do you see any risk in contributing to a culture where it becomes more likely that this kind of confusion spreads, and leads people even to the point of life-altering surgeries?

GREEAR: Well, let me just make clear that I actually agree with your policy. I think it’s a very wise one and I would not—and I was not trying to address that in the comments that I made. I think clarity on the issue is absolutely essential. And I tried—in the context of that podcast, even longer than that minute or so that you played—I think that’s a theme that comes up multiple times that we have to be clear on this. 

Because basically what the situation I presented, Nick, is similar to what you quoted them because I’m acknowledging this is the word that you’re using. And if my use of a pronoun in that situation ever causes them any confusion as to what I believe and what God’s word teaches about the issue, then never would I use that pronoun or encourage anybody else to because truth is absolutely important. 

And if that’s the issue that we’re getting after. Once that has been clear. What leads a young person to get deceived and then mutilate themselves is confusion. It’s not the pronoun use, it’s what’s behind it. So, the question is if we’re clear on what we are saying about that, then in the moment when we’re talking with somebody, as we’re doing the give and take and interact, if you know and I know and you know that I know that this is not really what the Bible teaches and I’m kind of, you say basically this is what you’re saying, and for the sake of argument right now we’re going to use your term, I don’t think that is going to — I think there are other situations where we do that and it’s not considered to be lying because we’ve made clear what the truth actually is on this.

BASHAM: To kind of move from the one-on-one or personal or even an institutional policy, one of the writers that you mentioned in the podcast that has guided your thinking is Andrew Walker. And you pointed out his principle of avoiding being needlessly combative or confrontational.

I’ll confess that when I first heard that, what it immediately brought to mind for me was meat sacrificed to idols. I’m thinking of chapters 8 and 10 of 1 Corinthians. I want to ask you about, again, more of the witness perspective. Paul counsels that since many of the believers in the church at Corinth had come out of a lifestyle of idol worship, their consciences would be especially sensitive.

And he basically says if you and your brother are at the home of an unbeliever, don’t ask where the meat came from. Don’t be confrontational. But if someone tells you that meat was sacrificed to idols, then don’t eat it. Both for the sake of your brother and for the sake of the unbeliever.

Now, based on my reading, that principle has applications for our conversation here. And I have to be honest, they would lead me to a different conclusion than pronoun hospitality.

GREEAR: Yeah, well, so Romans 14 is the other place that he talks about that and what he says in Romans 14 is Paul puts himself definitely on the side that thinks that you should be able to eat meat that’s offered to an idol. He says, he quotes, basically says all things are clean for the Christian. And he calls those who don’t agree with him there, he calls them weak spiritually. So, it’s clear that he has an opinion on this and he feels free eating meat and he’s even free enough in a public letter like Romans say I think people who don’t see this are wrong. But what’s amazing is what he does after that. He then says unity in the body is more important than how I feel about this issue. I actually think that’s a marvelously relevant topic for this because I do think, Megan, there’s somebody like you that’s just convinced that in no situation—even if I’ve been clear on the truth and even if it’s clear that I’m kind of quoting what they’re saying—I just feel like I can’t do that. I think that’s a conviction that we can take in good conscience. If you’ve got somebody sitting right beside you that said, well, I think in that situation—like an Andrew Walker—who says I don’t need to confront you in this moment and I’m going to go along with what you’re saying even while I’m being clear. Well, if that’s the other side of it and you say well I’m really convinced of that side, I think unity in the body is more important than us insisting on uniformity on this.

EICHER: Let me ask you about a different kind of situation, Pastor Greear. This is part of what prompted our reaching out to you today. You discussed what your preference as a pastor would be, but the listener wrote in and asked for some specific advice in a different kind of situation. So let me quote from the email that we received: 

“I would be interested in what advice he would give to someone, say, in the medical field, where personal interaction and gender/biology are both critical issues.”

So, think about a doctor or a scientist in your congregation and they’re saying, “How do I deal with this and also speak the truth?”

GREEAR: Yeah, in that situation I’m probably going to do what I do in a lot of situations which is teach various principles. Tell them that, yes, this is going to be a difficult situation you’ve got to figure out and you’ve got to obey your conscience and what’s guided you by Scripture. If a person across from you comes up with a different conclusion as to what needs to be done in that moment, then I hope that’s something that you can exist in charity with one another and say, hey, we both believe the essential thing here, but how we’re applying it in this moment is not. My comments really are limited to the one-on-one relationship, not the journalistic standards that you brought up or how you deal in the medical profession. It’s merely—the context of what I was saying is those one-on-one relations. If he were asking me what should I do? I would say when in doubt, you err on the side of truth. I think being clear on it is more important. But when you’re in a situation where you’re like, I’ve been clear on truth but I also feel like this is not the place to draw the battle line. If somebody decides that because of that they’re going to go along with essentially quoting the person about what they’re saying about who they are, then that’s something I can leave to their conscience and say, you know, I understand what you’re wrestling with and I think this is a place where there can be unity in the body of Christ even when there’s a divergence of opinion. I think one of the most insidious things that takes place in the body of Christ, Nick, is our enemy takes lesser issues and makes them primary issues. That’s precisely why Paul wrote Romans 14. Paul thought that wasn’t an important question about meat being offered to idols. That’s why he called them weak because they didn’t understand that. He’s like, I want you to grow in your understanding. But he’s like, I’m not going to let an issue like that that you’re wrong about keep us from dividing with one another.

Let’s not get hung up there on those issues in a way that would bring division to the body of Christ. Because I think that does nothing but impede our gospel and delight our enemy.

EICHER: Well, J.D. Greear is the pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina and president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Pastor Greear, thanks for wrestling through this with us.

GREEAR: Yeah! It is a wrestle and I’m sure we’ve got a lot to learn and we’ll keep doing it. But let’s be faithful and let’s be good witnesses, too.

(Photo/Creative Commons, Flickr)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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2 comments on Culture Friday – J.D. Greear and ‘pronoun hospitality’

  1. MIRIAM DIXON says:

    It seems as though using a pronoun that you know to be incorrect is bearing false witness about that person, and in a sense, about the God who created that person. When you knowingly call someone by the wrong pronoun, you are perpetuating the lie that they have put forward. I think a good way to apply Paul’s teaching In I Corinthians 10 would be If you don’t know the person’s true gender (you don’t know the meat’s origin), then assume whatever they tell you to be true. However, if you do know the person’s true gender ( you and your host know the meat was from idols), then for their sake, you must use the correct pronoun (you must not eat the meat). I don’t believe you can use Romans 14 to justify lying about a person’s gender. The discussion there was choosing between two non-sinful actions — eating meat or eating vegetables only. That does not apply to the transgender scenario where the choice is between speaking bolstering a lie or speaking truth.

  2. Wayne Asbury says:

    Even though it sounds like you don’t agree with Pastor Greear I was impressed by how polite and professional this discussion was. I wish we could always be so civil. Thanks for setting a good example.

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