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Theology

Whom Do You Serve? Sphere Sovereignty and the need for limits on power

Children are often told to obey many different folks. Listen to your mom and dad. Listen to the policeman. Listen to your teacher. Listen to the pastor. Adults too are encouraged to obey various authority figures. Which raises a question: what happens when demands of the State and demands of other authorities clash? Whom do we obey? The Dutch philosopher, theologian and prime minister Abraham Kuyper developed a system of thought to assist in understanding the authority structures in the world. The system is called “sphere sovereignty” and it helps answer the question, “Who do we obey when various demands on us and our behavior clash?” GOD OVER ALL Kuyper argued and demonstrated from the Bible that God has created in society a number of different institutions or spheres, each with their own respective roles and responsibilities. Three of the most important institutions created by God are: the CHURCH– starting with Adam, and continuing through Noah, Abraham, the people of Israel and the New Testament church the STATE– whose role is set out in various places including Psalm 72 and Romans 13 the FAMILY – begun with Adam and Eve In the Bible, God gives each of these spheres a distinct task and role. So, for example, the sphere of State is sovereign in matters properly within its jurisdiction as given and defined by God. Some of those matters would include criminal law, national defense, and maintaining a fair and impartial justice system. The sphere of Church (or synagogue/mosque/temple/monastery, etc.) is sovereign over areas within its jurisdiction: theology and doctrine and church discipline and membership. And within the sphere of family lies responsibility for issues of child education and discipline, religious instruction, sexual ethics, moral development, etc. In the graphic accompanying this article, you’ll notice other spheres: a larger sphere of Society and smaller spheres which are each sovereign in their own right: the market, the academy, charities and the individual. Academics will argue over how many separate spheres there might be, but while the number and boundaries of the smaller spheres is a source of debate, there is agreement about the obvious biblical basis for the first three. God has instituted the Church, the State and the Family and invests each with its own specific sphere of authority. There is, of course, some overlap from sphere to sphere. Fraud can’t be limited to the market sphere; it requires the State criminal law power to protect the consumer. Physical assault of a child can’t be limited to the family sphere; it requires the State criminal law power to protect the child. Restorative justice can’t be limited to the State sphere; it requires the family sphere and the church sphere to mend broken relationships. However, there are also boundaries between the spheres. These boundaries are critical. History has taught us that great harm can be done when one sphere takes over the role of another. For example, problems abound when the State interferes in church doctrine issues. This was the greatest problem during the bloody Reformation era. The State used the sword to enforce church doctrine, which was a total abuse of its power, and a violation of the principles of sphere sovereignty. A modern example would be the Ontario human rights tribunal ordering a Roman Catholic bishop to explain himself to the Tribunal for not allowing an openly gay man to serve as an altar boy (this occurred in Peterborough, Ontario in September 2009). A similar violation of the boundaries between the spheres happened when the Ontario Minister of Education, standing outside the Ontario Legislature, declared that Christian schools could not teach that abortion is wrong, since such a teaching was “one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take.” (That statement was made by Minister Broten in October, 2012.) And in the not too distant past, churches and families tried to keep certain criminal acts (child abuse, for example) quiet and internal, when it ought to have been reported immediately to the State. Having shown the boundaries that exist between these spheres, we need to turn our attention to the key of Kuyperian sphere sovereignty: over each and every sphere reigns Christ as sovereign. Kuyper’s famous saying applies here: “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” As a Christian country, we once recognized this, and it wasn't even that long ago. The preamble to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (added to our Constitution in 1982) still states, “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law…” Recognizing the supremacy of God is necessary in public policy because, when we fail to do so, someone or something else will take God’s place as supreme authority. THE STATE/LAW OVER ALL For example, take a look at the concept of sphere sovereignty through the eyes of our former Chief Justice, the Right Honorable Beverley McLauchlin. We can see in some or her statements a recognition that there are some spheres in life which are distinct: the sphere of society, spheres of religious communities and families and the sphere of the State. But we should take careful note of where, in her mind, the State sits in relation to the other spheres. In a speech delivered in October 2002, Her Honor stated that: the rule of law exerts an authoritative claim upon all aspects of selfhood and experience in a liberal democratic state… influenc local, community, and familial structures. The authority claimed by law touches upon all aspects of human life and citizenship… It makes total claims upon the self and leaves little of human experience untouched. These “total claims” on us as legal subjects, she said, “flow from a conception of authority rooted in the sovereign .” Invoking Kuyper, one could paraphrase what the Chief Justice said in this way: “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which the Law, which is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” Admittedly, Her Honor does believe that Law must carve out space for religious communities to live according to their particularities. However, it’s Law (and the State, as the authors of the Law) who makes space and accommodations for religion. For our chief justice, law remains the supreme authority. So there remains a tension between the Law of the State and religious precepts, familial obligations, and individual responsibilities. THE ROAD TO TYRANNY Without something (or, more properly, Someone) over all spheres, tension breaks out between the spheres, and a struggle ensures to see which sphere will reign as supreme. Now, of all of the spheres (the State, the Church, the Family, the Market, etc.) which has the most power? Quite obviously, the State does. As the Apostle Paul once wrote, it “bears the sword.” It has unlimited financial resources, it has coercive powers, it writes the laws, and it has lethal force. So, if God is removed as sovereign, who becomes sovereign? The State does. This is absolutely evident in every officially atheist country from the last century: the USSR, China, North Korea, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy. When the State raises itself above God, then God becomes a problem for the State. And know this: as the State replaces God, or makes itself god, then it naturally also begins to compete with the family, substituting itself for the family. (It’s no coincidence that the leader of North Korea is referred to as “father.”) And when we, free citizens in a free country, begin to think that the State will provide everything for us, not just national defense or a fair justice system (as it ought to) but also total healthcare, education, food, clothing and shelter, unemployment wages, settlement of petty disputes with our landlords and employers, and on and on, then we are looking to the State not just as god, but also as savior. Lord Acton once wrote, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That dictum is true for all of mankind because of our innate sinfulness and our covetous lust for more. This may be why the LORD never allowed all three offices of the Old Testament to be vested in a single person, though there were exceptional cases where a single person was both a prophet and a priest. Think, for example, of the punishment of King Uzziah when he tried to act as priest and burn incense before the Lord (2 Chronicles 26). Applying this anecdotal evidence for division of power to our civil government, we see a three-fold division of power there too, between the judiciary, legislature, and executive. The Canadian Constitution holds all three branches of government in check – each have power to limit the powers of the other. But if that balance is ever upset such that one person (or one small group of people) becomes lawmaker and law interpreter and law enforcer, we will have tyranny. Expanding out from the Biblical offices and expanding out from civil government, we see that there is a natural protection against tyranny in the dispersion of power. Lord Acton also wrote, “Liberty consists in the division of power. Absolutism, in concentration of power.” So we see that for mankind’s good, God gives some power to the church, some power to families, and some power to the State. But if the ultimate power concentrates (as it is tending to do these days) in one of these spheres, we also have tyranny. One example would be in the realm of education: God gives authority over education of children to parents, with the church assisting parents in that calling historically. But in the last century, the State took over, first from the church, and now more and more from parents, such that even the most intimate and personal educational material is being taught by State bureaucrats, often without parents knowing (think of some of the graphic sex education curriculum for grade 3 and 4). REMINDING OUR NEIGHBORS OF GOD'S PLACE One of our responsibilities as Christian citizens in a free country is to keep the State in its proper place, and to remind fellow citizens of what their responsibilities are apart from the State. This is where you come in. Use the graphics in this article to show your friends and colleagues that we all must be under some ultimate authority. The question is simply, which one? Are we willing to submit ourselves fully to the State? Isn’t the Lordship of Christ infinitely better? We must remind our fellow citizens of what their responsibilities are apart from the State, and explain to them the effect of subjecting everything to the ultimate authority of the State – it means losing the freedom to live as we ought to live. Failure to understand this important concept means subjecting our institutions, our businesses, our families, our churches, subjecting even our very selves to the sovereign will, not of God, but of the State. So, to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this philosophical discussion – who do we obey when demands of the State and demands of parents or pastors or professors conflict? The answer is: it depends. It depends on whether the parents or the professors or the pastors or the State are authoritative in the sphere in which they are making the demands. This approach to understanding the very limited authority of the State should not be interpreted as a proposal for anarchy. I once swore an oath of allegiance to the country I love, my Canada, an oath which I stand by to this day. I pray for her leaders every day. I strive to obey all her laws. But here’s the rub: when those in power begin to legislate in areas over which they have no jurisdiction, my trust in the government plummets. And when those in power dare to legislate in such a way that I must either obey the State’s law or violate my conscience, then I say loudly with the Apostle Peter, “I must obey God, rather than men.” One key to a free, prosperous, democratic society is for the State to back off from taking authority unto itself that was not its to begin with, to not arrogate unto itself powers which are not its own. When the State learns restraint, we can and do enjoy freedom. When our society and culture recognizes a Sovereign high above the State, as we once did, then we certainly will enjoy freedom. This article first appeared in the November 2014 issue under the title "Whom do you serve? Sphere Sovereignty and the need for limits on power." Illustrations were created by Lynn VanEerden. André Schutten is the Director of Law and Policy for ARPA Canada. POSTSCRIPT: QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER While sphere sovereignty is a helpful tool, like any other tool it has limitations. For example, while the first three “spheres” of Church, State and Family are quite clearly instituted by God, we could have endless debates about just how many other spheres there might be. In Canada we could list the federal government as one sphere, and the provincial governments as another, but what about towns and cities? Do they get their own sphere? Is Academia a sphere? What about the Market? Also, while the spheres are a helpful concept, defining the exact borders between each of them is hard to do. So the author wants to emphasize that this is not meant to be the Reformed paradigm through which Christians ought to view the world, and he welcomes feedback on the ideas expressed here. What is helpful about this model, and how might it be improved? André Schutten talks about the sphere of the Church as separate from Family and State. Where does a mosque, synagogue or temple fit in? God instituted the State, the Church, and the Family, but did He institute the mosque? We don’t think the State should interfere with mosques, synagogues and temples so they do seem to exist in a separate sphere apart from the State, but is that separate sphere grouped with the Church, or is it, perhaps, under the Family? Or might it be something else entirely? In Western countries it often seems the State that is trying to take Christ’s supreme position. What might the interloper be in countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran? And if a libertarian were going to make their own sphere sovereignty model, who would they put in place of Christ? ...

Assorted

What's next? The growth of Statism in Canada

Last month I attended a particularly moving live stage production called Solitary Refinement. The play is based on true stories of persecution. It focuses on the suffering of Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand, imprisoned and tortured for 14 years – including two years in solitary confinement – for placing his faith in Jesus above his allegiance to the Communist government. (The play is currently on tour, and I encourage you to attend or have it come to your church. There is also a movie of Wurmbrand’s story that came out this month) In the play Wurmbrand recounts a refrain that reverberated continually between the loudspeaker and the concrete prison walls: “The State is Progressive. Christianity is Regressive." This same mantra was dogmatically drilled into all the students attending the mandatory State-run schools. In the weeks that followed, the play moved me to think about three things: First, the damage and terror inflicted by communism, socialism, and other totalitarian governments Second, how particular episodes in Canadian political drama of the last few months have an eerie similarity to the first experiences of Wurmbrand with communism Third, how unprepared Western Christians are to face such totalitarianism It's simple; just comply In present-day Canada, two government institutions require citizens to affirm State ideology in order to enjoy the equal benefit of the law or government programs. The first is the Law Society of Ontario. It announced several months ago that all licensed Ontario lawyers are now required to affirm that they will: abide by a Statement of Principles that acknowledges my obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, in my behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public. All that lawyers have to do is “just check the box.” Then, right around Christmas, the Hon. Patty Hajdu, Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, announced that citizens applying for a Summer Student Jobs grant had to “just check the box” to affirm that: the job and the organization’s core mandate respect … the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights…  Thousands of Canadian Christian charities doing wonderful work in refugee resettlement, summer camps for underprivileged kids, poverty relief, addictions help, and assistance for at-risk youth, must “respect” “reproductive rights” (which include unfettered abortion, according to the government’s explanatory manual) or risk losing out on thousands of dollars. When pushed on this, the Minister said it’s no big deal to “just check the box,” even if you do believe that the pre-born child is a human being worthy of protection in law. So, what’s the big deal? Is checking a box really the end of the free world? Let’s look at the communist regimes of not so long ago to understand what is at stake. When the power of the State is unrestrained Václav Havel was a dissident writer in communist Czechoslovakia. His plays ridiculed communism. As Havel became more politically active, he fell under surveillance of the secret police. His writing landed him in prison multiple times, the longest stint lasting almost four years. He later became the president of the Czech Republic (which formed shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union). His most famous essay is The Power of the Powerless – well worth studying as statism increases in the West and the terrors of communism fade from memory. Rod Dreher, in his book The Benedict Option, describes a central point of Havel’s famous essay: Consider, says Havel, the greengrocer living under Communism, who puts a sign in his shop window saying, “Workers of the World, Unite!” He does it not because he believes it, necessarily. He simply doesn’t want trouble. And if he doesn’t really believe it, he hides the humiliation of his coercion by telling himself, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Fear allows the official ideology to retain power – and eventually changes the greengrocer’s beliefs. Those who “live within a lie,” says Havel, collaborate with the system and compromise their full humanity. That is what’s happening with these check boxes today. It’s so simple – by design – to affirm the State ideology of “inclusion” and “reproductive rights.” Just check the box. And yet what’s actually happening is a wearing away or a numbing of our convictions. Like the greengrocer in Communist Czechoslovakia, we fear the trouble of dissenting. We need the funds. We want to keep our license. As Dreher further explains, Every act that contradicts the official ideology is a denial of the system. What if the greengrocer stops putting the sign up in his window? What if he refuses to go along to get along? “His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth” – and it’s going to cost him plenty. He will lose his job and his position in society. His kids may not be allowed to go to the college they want to, or to any college at all. People will bully him or ostracize him. Someone needs to speak up But we must dare to dissent. We need to live within the truth. We have a better and deeper and richer understanding of “diversity” and “inclusion.” We know what murderous lies are hidden behind the euphemism of “reproductive rights.” Because we love our neighbours as ourselves, we dare to dissent because we know what is true, good, and beautiful. And it’s worth fighting for. As Dreher says, channeling Havel, when we do dissent, “by bearing witness to the truth, accomplish something potentially powerful. said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by action, addressed the world. enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth.” And so, when I filed my annual report at the end of 2017, I declined to check the box. I wrestled for a long time about whether to check the box. I rationalized checking the box. After all, what’s so wrong with a statement on “diversity and inclusion”? But I concluded that what was motivating me to check the box was fear: fear of professional consequences, fear of the hassle, fear of what others might think of me. And while I do fear the State in a Biblical sense, I can’t do what it is asking of me because I’d ultimately be lying. My statement of principles in not what they are actually looking for. So I checked no, and then explained myself. I wrote: The Law Society of Upper Canada has no clue what the words “equality” “diversity” or “inclusion” mean as demonstrated in its unequal, exclusive and intolerant treatment of Trinity Western University graduates. I hold to an ethic that is deeper and richer and more meaningful than any superficial virtue-signalling that the law society cobbles together. However, the law society has no authority, constitutional or otherwise, to demand it of me. I, therefore, refuse on principle to report such a statement to the law society. It’s not the most eloquent thing I’ve written. But I dissented. What's next? So where do these check boxes take us? What’s next? I can’t help but think that the check boxes are a trial balloon of sorts. If the current government can get away with enforcing moral conformity as a condition for receiving summer job grants, can it do the same for charitable status? Will the other regulated professions (medicine, accounting, engineering, etc) include check boxes? Will all charities in the next few years have to check the box each year to affirm the “Charter values” of inclusion and non-discrimination and reproductive rights in order to keep their charitable status? And after that, will our Christian schools have to check the box to keep the doors open? Will we as parents have to check the box to access medical care for our kids? What’s next? Are we prepared for what comes next? I’m not saying this is the way it will go. I am optimistic that when Christians stand up for what is right, good things happen. God blesses faithful witness. So I hope and pray for a revival in Canada and I know it is possible, by God’s grace. But if the trajectory we are on continues downward, are we prepared? How much Scripture have we committed to memory for those lonely days in a prison cell? (There are no Bible apps in prison.) How often do we practice the spiritual discipline of fasting, as Jesus expected us to do? If nothing else, it trains us to cope with hunger. Do we practice the discipline of tithing, which develops a willingness to part with material blessings? Are we prepared for whatever comes next? André Schutten is the Director of Law & Policy with the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada. A version of this article was originally published on the ARPA Canada blog, is reprinted here with permission....

Pro-life - Euthanasia

Euthanasia and the folly of downward comparisons

Have you ever heard a euthanasia advocate argue that to force grandma to live in pain is to treat her worse than a dog? The assumption is that if euthanasia is compassionate for the dog, it’s compassionate for the human: “I put my dog down because of horrible pain, so why can’t we put grandma down too?” A simple rebuttal The simple answer: “Because grandma is not a dog.” As Barbara Kay eloquently wrote in the National Post a few years back, …if we applied human standards of compassion in all things to our treatment of animals, our willingness to euthanize them when they are suffering would be “compassion’s” exception, not the rule. Sure, we euthanize animals when their lives are a burden to them (and us). We also line-breed them when we want more of them, neuter them when we want fewer of them, give them away when our children develop allergies to them, control what and how much they eat, when and where they sleep, and when they may go outside to relieve themselves. Those in our care who do have sex with others of their species only do so when we permit it, infrequently and only for breeding purposes. We separate them from their biological families to make them members of our own. Is all that compassionate? Not if they were human. But they’re not human, you see, so there’s nothing unethical in any of those actions. Two understandings of “compassion” Our response to the question of suffering is predicated on our worldview. Two radically different answers to the question of our origin result in two radically different answers to our expiration. If we accept that we are mere animals, then maybe we should only be treated as animals. Social Darwinism has us oriented downward instead of heavenward. But the Judeo-Christian worldview re-orients us. Paradoxically, we are both dust and ashes (Ps. 90:3; Eccl. 3:20) and yet a “little lower than the angels” (Ps. 8:5) because we are “made in the image of God” (Gen. 1:26-28). And so our response to suffering is not to “put down” our fellow man like a dog, but to do everything we can to alleviate the suffering of our fellow man. Ideas have consequences, and societies need to understand those consequences when we decide what ideas we are going to embrace. In the ongoing euthanasia debate we can choose to view every one of our neighbors as just another animal and treat them as such. Or we see them as “little lower than the angels” and treat them as such. Let’s not lose ourselves to the animals. We can do better. André Schutten is the Director of Law & Policy, and General Legal Counsel for ARPA Canada. A version of this article first appeared on their website ARPACanada.ca....

Human Rights

Should Christians be free to obey our conscience?

In recent years there’s been a worrying downward trend for religious freedom in both Canada and the United States. Examples abound of Christian T-shirt printers, bakers, photographers, print-shop owners, wedding dress makers, florists and caterers who are being forced – through human rights commissions, or through lawsuits – to participate in same-sex weddings in violation of these various business peoples' consciences. Each of these Christian business people said they would bake, cater, arrange flowers, print invitations, take photos, print T-shirts, etc. for a gay person's birthday or retirement party or any other celebration – they just wouldn’t do it for a same-sex wedding (the only exception was the wedding dress maker, for obvious reasons). This means the objection is not about discriminating against gay people. It never was. It's very specifically about endorsing a definition of marriage or a specific act that fundamentally violates God's design for marriage. Stand up for others I know of Christians who can, with a clean conscience, bake, photograph, etc. a gay wedding. And I know some who can't (see 1 Cor. 8). This is a legitimate discussion to have between Christians. The much bigger question is: should the State force the latter group to do as the former? If you are a Christian and you advocate that the State is justified in making Christians participate, in any way, in a gay marriage, I believe you've ripped the rug from under yourself – if it is fine for the State to violate other Christians’ consciences this time, what's to prevent them from violating yours next? If a Christian photographer has to shoot a gay wedding, does a church have to rent their hall for a gay wedding? (This happened in British Columbia in 2005). Or must an organist play for a gay marriage ceremony? Or will a Christian marriage commissioner be forced to officiate for such a celebration? (In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, this is the case). Negative implications of the bill for Christians Does this mean that I’m ready to let the State allow the same kind of discrimination against Christians? If an atheist decides he doesn't want to take photos of a Christian wedding, am I okay with that? Well, the State can't force all citizens to embrace, encourage and support the Christian faith, because that wouldn't be freedom of religion, would it? Freedom of religion is freedom from the State, and not from fellow citizens. Your Charter rights protect you from the busybody government interfering in your religious practices and beliefs. They are not meant to make the government interfere in your personal or professional relationships in order to promote, oppose or defend your religion. So, to be clear and consistent, I do expect and accept being shunned by others because of my Christian beliefs. (Christ predicted it, didn't he?) I would not expect the State to go to bat for me if a gay bookstore refused to sell my book on a Biblical understanding of gay-marriage, or if an Islamic school refused to hire me as a janitor. If I wanted to publish a Christian defense of capital punishment, I wouldn't expect the State to force a Mennonite printer to publish it for me. With liberty comes responsibility. That includes responsibility to go find another printer, or baker or candlestick maker. André Schutten is the General Legal Counsel, and Director of Law & Policy for ARPA Canada....

Sexuality

Transgenderism 101: Share the truth with compassion

Transgenderism is the latest political cause du jour, dominating media headlines, saturating academic deliberation, the subject of new laws and radical educational policies across the country. Lost in the debate, from either side, are the kids themselves. It is important that, in so far as we are able, we ensure our part in this debate isn’t confused as being an attack on the dignity of individuals genuinely struggling with gender identity disorder. As psychologist Dr. Mark Yarhouse notes, in his 30 years of counseling patients struggling with gender identity, most who come into his office are not seeking to tear down the “social constructs” of maleness or femaleness. They are simply looking for help as they navigate these very troubled waters in these times of social change. Today people who believe they were born the wrong gender are being encouraged by the intellectual elite in media, politics and academia to embrace that notion and run with it. That might mean they start identifying as the other gender, or it might mean undergoing surgery to try to resemble the other gender. This must be strongly opposed. Why should Christians oppose it? Because we know it will hurt people! As one Canadian Reformed pastor said at a recent political rally, these new policies require us to love less. They silence genuine concern for transgendered kids, while advocating a celebration of an ideology that, by any measure of science and common sense, will do irreparable harm. What is transgenderism? The term “transgendered” is an umbrella term for the different ways in which some people might experience or express their gender – their maleness or femaleness – differently from people whose gender matches their biological sex. Put another way, transgenderism describes the experiences or expressions of a small proportion of the population who say there is a difference between their mind and their body when it comes to the question of whether they are male or female. One of the debates within the social sciences today revolves around the question of whether we should bring the body into conformity with the mind (via hormone injections, male genitalia removal, breast augmentation, or other surgery) or bring the mind into conformity with the body (via counseling). Perhaps the group that captures the most attention today are those who struggle with gender identity disorder, also known as gender dysphoria, a psychological phenomenon. We might hear them say something like, “I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body” or vice versa. According to the revised language of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (the DSM‑5), gender dysphoria refers to the distress that may accompany the incongruence between one’s experienced or expressed gender and one’s assigned gender. Gender dysphoria is a rare ailment: according to the same manual, it manifests in only 0.005% - 0.014% of adult men and 0.002% - 0.003% of adult women. However, we can expect those numbers to increase dramatically as the popularity of the phenomenon increases with the fawning media coverage of transgender celebrities like Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and the gender-bending behaviors of Jaden Smith (the son of actor Will Smith who “challenges gender stereotypes” by regularly wearing dresses and make-up, etc.). The celebration and indoctrination happening more and more in elementary schools across the country only exasperates the problem. A somewhat related but separate condition happens when, due to genes, hormones, or body structures that differ from the norm, a child may have an “intersex condition” (in older literature, “hermaphrodites”). This could make it difficult to identify a child’s gender at birth – we live in a fallen world, and one of the results of that brokenness is that some people are born with malformed genitalia. This is not, however, what we’re talking about with transgenderism. An intersexed condition is a biological disorder, and should be distinguished from a transgendered person’s gender dysphoria, which is a psychological disorder. It is important to note that most intersex people are not lobbying to pass as the other sex or as a third sex, but are simply seeking to discover to which sex they belong. Their biological sex identification can typically be discovered through a chromosomal or blood test. Truth with grace We know from the creation story (see Gen. 1:27 and 2:18) that God created humankind in his image (imago dei) and that the wonderful mystery of that design includes the binary reality of the sexes: we are made either male and female. That means a woman’s femaleness reflects something of the image of God, and that a man’s maleness reflects something of the image of God. The binary nature of humanity is implicitly confirmed in the words of Jesus in his discussions on marriage (see Matt. 19:4 and Mark 10:6) and in Paul’s directions to the new Christians in Corinth and Ephesus and to Timothy on the distinct responsibilities and natures of men and women. (See, for example, 1 Cor. 11:7-9; Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Tim. 2:12-14.) To mar or to diminish the masculine and feminine diminishes our God-given identity as males or females. Both reflect the glory of God. This is probably why God forbade cross-dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5. This prohibition goes beyond whether boys can wear dresses (the clothing of men at the time of the exodus from Egypt probably resembled something more akin to modern female clothing today). The point is not the article of clothing per se; it’s the intentional diminishing or obscuring of masculine or feminine differences, which is an assault on our design. It should be unsurprising that the sciences confirm this binary reality. With the exception of a few simple organisms, all creatures (including humans) are marked by a fundamental binary sexual differentiation: male or female markers are imprinted on every one of their trillions of cells. The testimony of biology, chromosomal data, and social-scientific evidence all confirm the essential biological binary of the sexes. (For more on this point, see my book review of Why Gender Matters.) But the Bible does not only speak to the issue of gender confusion, it also speaks to how we should relate and communicate on this issue. The Bible reminds us that gentle answers turn away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger (Prov. 15:1) and that “gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov. 16:24). Jesus Christ fulfills this in his ministry and example. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1,14). Randy Alcorn calls this pairing of grace with truth a paradox, and one Christians must emulate: our speaking and relating and communing on this issue of transgenderism must be characterized by grace and truth. Where truth is conveyed without love, it is nothing but noise (1 Cor. 13:1). The truth needs love, and the truth communicated in love will be kind, patient, and will not be rude, irritable or boastful. (1 Cor. 13:4,5). But love also “rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 1:6) meaning that we cannot let our instinctive compassion run unfettered because that will end up hurting, not helping. Having established this foundation, let’s examine some of the science and policy surrounding this phenomenon. When helping hurts – medical testimony Celebration of transgenderism is seen by some as the best way to assist transgender individuals. There is no evidence, however, that the negative outcomes associated with transgender identification – including higher rates of suicide and attempted suicide, overall mortality, and need for psychiatric inpatient care – are alleviated by accepting and encouraging alternative gender identities in those with gender identity issues. The theory behind this celebratory approach to transgenderism is not scientific – it is political. Gender dysphoria is a psychological phenomenon. Gender fluidity – the idea that we can shift from one gender to another – is a concept that is socially constructed and normalizes gender dysphoria, and thereby impedes its diagnosis and treatment. To leave the dysphoria untreated is to leave struggling individuals without help, and to ignore experienced researchers in this field. Johns Hopkins Hospital was one of the first institutions in the United States to perform so-called “sex change” operations. Dr. Paul McHugh, the chief psychiatrist there in the late 1970s, commissioned a study of the sex change program. Its authors found that In a thousand subtle ways, the re-assignee has the bitter experience that he is not – and never will be – a real girl but is, at best, a convincing simulated female. Such an adjustment cannot compensate for the tragedy of having lost all chance to be male, and of having in the final analysis, no way to be really female. Some 40 years later, Dr. Sander Breiner concurs, explaining that she and her colleagues had to tell the surgeons that “the disturbed body image was not an organic at all, but was strictly a psychological problem. It could not be solved by organic manipulation (surgery, hormones)”. Many Canadian experts in the field of psychiatry, including those who regularly work with transgendered youth, have grave concerns about the politicization of this psychiatric issue. Toronto psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Berger says that some transsexuals “have claimed that they are ‘a woman trapped in a man’s body’ or . Scientifically, there is no such thing.” Dr. Ken Zucker sees the political approach to gender identity and fluidity as unsound. And Dr. Susan Bradley considers the political moves of some activists “disgraceful.” Dr. Paul McHugh, cited above, points out, “This is a disorder of the mind. Not a disorder of the body.” Canadian policy makers should take these warnings to heart. Apotemnophilia: a comparison Apotemnophilia is a neurological disorder characterized by an individual’s intense and long-standing desire for the amputation of a specific limb. It is a type of Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID). Some with this condition look for surgeons willing to perform an amputation of a healthy limb and some apotemnophiles have purposefully injured limbs in order to force emergency medical amputation. In 1997, Scottish doctor Robert Smith was performing these amputations before a public outcry brought them to a halt. What would the compassionate option be: to accommodate the person’s self-perception by amputating healthy limbs as Dr. Smith did, or to treat the psychological condition itself? The comparisons between gender identity disorder, anorexia, apotemnophilia and other similar conditions are clear. As Dr. McHugh says, It is not obvious how this patient’s feeling that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body differs from the feeling of a patient with anorexia that she is obese despite her emaciated, gaunt state. We don’t do liposuction on anorexics. Why amputate the genitals of these poor men? What ought we to do as a compassionate society? Alleviating the psychic distress of transgendered individuals requires nuanced answers. We hear about the high rates of suicide among the transgendered. Well, if we want to address this, we must distinguish between suicides that result from rejection by family, isolation, bullying, etc., (all of which are unacceptable) and suicides where psychiatric care is offered that seeks to resolve the dysphoria in keeping with their birth sex. This is not to say that bullying, rejection by family, isolation, etc., are not an issue for transgender people. They can be, and that type of behavior must be corrected. But the reality is that family rejection, isolation and bullying increase suicide risks for all youth, not just transgender youth. The unfortunate politicization of this issue results in the condemning of anything less than full affirmation, reinforcement and celebration of the gender incongruence in transgender youth, a “solution” that compounds the problem. Where family and community walk alongside a transgender individual with love and compassion, all with the goal of resolving the dysphoria in keeping with the patient’s birth sex as much as possible, we predict the suicide rates will dramatically decrease, particularly because other coexisting issues can also be properly treated. The way we frame our approach to this issue is of the utmost importance. A compassionate society must recognize the mental illness dimensions of gender identity disorder and reject the dangerous and unhealthy human experimentation of hormone treatments and surgical amputations and modification. A compassionate society gives space for expression of struggles and helps to answer the questions “who am I?” and “where do I belong?” without deconstructing gender. And a compassionate society affirms the inherent dignity and intrinsic value of every human being as either male or female, including those who struggle with confusion regarding their sexuality and gender. Recommendations In terms of scientific and social research, the field of gender identity is still relatively new. Unfortunately, when the State attempts a radically new policy response to transgenderism, it becomes an agent of forced social and cultural change without any standard or criterion of success, and without clearly understanding the possible outcomes. Take just one example that illustrates this concern: in an effort to accommodate transgendered children, the provincial government in Alberta wants every school to work towards eliminating gender differences not only in the classroom, but even on sports teams and in change rooms. This is not the well-reasoned, scientifically-based public policy we should expect of our representatives. Here are a few suggestions for better public policy as it relates to protecting transgendered youth and enhancing social and public policy. State actors must cease to use the phrase “sex assigned at birth” and maintain the scientifically accurate term “sex.” Sex is a biological reality. It is not assigned. To use the language of “assigned” instils a flawed assumption that any incongruence is a biological error, rather than a psychological Provinces must ban all gender reassignment surgery on children before the age of 18. Further, in light of the fact that those who have had sex reassignment surgery have higher rates of attempted suicide, surgical transition should be abandoned as a treatment option even for adults. Provinces must ban all cross-gender hormone treatment on children, including puberty suppressants, due to unacceptably high risks of depression, suicide and sterility. To chemically alter the natural and healthy development of a child with such incredible risks before the child can give their own informed consent is nothing short of child abuse. The State must provide ample room for civil society to respond to this issue. Parents, the medical profession, churches and other community groups must have the freedom to address gender dysphoria in their families and communities without threat of enforced ideological conformity by the State. Provinces must abandon laws that make gender reinforcement illegal. Such laws violate children’s rights and doctors’ conscience rights and interfere with parental decisions regarding the best interests of their children. For example, Ontario’s Bill 77 – which amended the Health Insurance Act and the Regulated Health Professions Act to prohibit services that seek to change the sexual orientation or the gender identity of patients – should be repealed. This law, and others like it, promote an ideological blindness at odds with the best interests of the patient. The terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” should be removed from law because the terms are based on subjective perceptions and cannot be objectively evaluated or measured. There is no consistent policy reason to protect transgenderism, but not protect trans-racism, trans-ageism, trans-ableism, or even trans-speciesism (all of which have manifested in recent years). Further, laws that add the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” as protected grounds of discrimination such as those passed in Ontario and Alberta and being contemplated federally with Bill C-16 are unnecessary since all transsexuals are already protected in law, no less than anyone else. In the interim, we urge that a better balance of rights occur. In places where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists, (washrooms, women’s gyms, etc.) the biological measure of a person’s sex must be the determining factor for access. Due to the reality that there is no objective means to identify a transgendered person, this measure of preventative access can help protect against devastating consequences. Interestingly, spaces of privacy have become "gender-neutral." Adding different genders has had the pernicious effect of subtracting the difference between the sexes expected in public, and removing the privacy and the shield for natural modesty appropriate to them in certain social contexts. Conclusion Gender matters because people matter. Maleness and femaleness are distinct and complimentary realities that correspond to our biological selves and go to the core of what it means to be human. When governments ignore or undermine this reality they do so to society’s detriment. While some children struggling with gender identity disorder may need exceptional care in their various situations, the State helps no one by “breaking down gender” across the province or country. Canadian politicians must be willing to take a stand for good public policy as it relates to gender and sexuality. With sound public policy, we can help our transgendered neighbors as they navigate these troubled waters in times of social change. Out of compassion for our transgendered neighbors, inspired by our duty to love them as ourselves, we need to speak out against an ideology that harms them. It won’t be easy, but the right thing to do rarely is. André Schutten is the General Legal Counsel for ARPA Canada. This article is adapted from a fully footnoted 2016 Policy Report for Parliamentarians on Gender Identity which is available at ARPACanada.ca....