I work in a secular workplace, and my new colleague is transgender. When I was introduced to him and found out that he wants to be addressed by a female name and pronouns, I was caught off-guard. I didn’t know if I should address him by his real name or by the female name he wants to be called, and I certainly don’t think I can address him in good conscience using female pronouns. How can I speak to him and work with him in a loving way without compromising my Christian convictions?
Thank you for the specificity and spirit of your question. It is evident you desire to convey respect without compromise and to keep doors of communication for work and witness open. Navigating this issue will require discernment and discipline, because there are many potential snares here.
There are two foundational pillars and four facets of wisdom that can help in this moment.
The first pillar is the biblical truth that your colleague is made in God’s image and is a sinner in need of grace. This leads to the second: you can offer continual prayers of blessing and intercession for your colleague’s salvation.
These are both vital because the inversion of truth is evident, and the demand for respecting a deception is emotionally and spiritually taxing. When we see people (including ourselves) as divine image-bearers in desperate need of regeneration in Christ, our gratitude for God’s intervention in our lives increases, and our compassion for others grows. As we pray, we are not asking God to bless the deception or iniquities emanating from this worldview. We are asking God to have mercy on our neighbors and draw them to himself.
Four Facets of Wisdom
As your vision and prayerfulness mature, here are four facets of wisdom for navigating the rapids of this hot-button issue.
1. A preferred name shows respect.
It is the first step in peacemaking. While some names are gendered, many—such as Leslie or Ashley or Addison—have switched genders over time. Nicknames, too, don’t always follow conventional gender patterns. While some may legitimately disagree with me, I don’t think this is a hill to die on.
2. Pronouns are more challenging.
As Christians, we want to tell the truth, and using the wrong pronouns isn’t truth-telling. On the other hand, insisting on using correct pronouns for a person who has asked you not to can come across as disrespectful and antagonistic. I wish I had a better answer for you, but for now, this is my best advice: if possible, try to refer to this person in writing and verbally by the generic “they” or by using the person’s name in place of pronouns where possible.
3. Be prepared.
You want to have an answer when asked directly to affirm trans rights or LGBTQ lives. When asked, you can affirm your belief that, in a pluralistic world, diverse choices and opinions are part of true liberty.
Have an answer when you are asked directly to affirm trans rights or other LGBTQ lives.
If pressed more deeply, you can say that many philosophical and religious traditions have strong beliefs on gender identity and sexuality. You live your life in accordance with your faith, without imposing your convictions on others. If pushed further, you might ask, “Are you demanding that billions of people of many cultures and religions abandon their convictions, or can we live peaceably with our differences?”
(For more perspective on pronouns, you may want to read Andrew Walker’s article “He, She, Ze, Zir?” or listen to the podcasts “He or She?” and “When Talking with a Transgender Person, Which Pronoun Should You Use?”)
4. Defend your perspective
You want to be ready with a defense of your position supported by both biblical convictions and the secular bibles of science and toleration. Basic biology reveals that more than 99 percent of all humans are born with clear DNA markers and the physical attributes of male or female.
While there may be minor physiological pointers toward gender confusion or dysphoria, science supports a clear biological identity. Science supports the biblical truth that God, in infinite wisdom and goodness, made us either male or female (Gen. 1:26–28; 5:1–2).
That said, you might want to acknowledge the real psychological factors that influence women and men toward gender reassignment. You may also affirm that adults have the freedom to make certain choices about their bodies, whether you agree or not. However, we do not support allowing children to make decisions about their bodies that have serious consequences for a lifetime.
When these conversations occur, pray for God’s help in using a calm and gentle tone, and wait for the right words he has promised to supply (Matt. 10:19). Above all, let’s remember that the gospel is big enough for this conversation and for our transgender colleagues.
Don’t Be Afraid
It can be nerve-wracking to think about having these confrontations, especially at work. But Jesus tells us not to be afraid in such situations (Matt. 10:26–33). That’s not because we’re clever enough or bold enough to triumph over opponents, but because he’s working in us by his Spirit to lead others to himself.
He does not leave us alone, even for a minute (Isa. 41:10). Nothing, including a verbal stumble, can separate us from his love (Rom. 8:31–39). And everything, even an awkward moment at the office, works for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28).
As you prayerfully work each day, the Holy Spirit is in you and will illumine your pathway, helping you avoid the traps our Adversary has in place. As you honor Jesus, our Advocate, by praying for your colleague and choosing your words carefully, God’s peace will fill your heart and calm your mind.