This past Sunday, FINA, the world governing body for swimming released new guidelines for transgender athletes. A working group, assembled last fall, presented suggested policies that do not allow male-to-female transgender athletes to compete in women’s categories in FINA events unless their transition began before the age of 12 or before they reach a specified level of puberty. The policy also clarifies that athletes who previously used testosterone as part of a female-to-male transition could not compete unless this treatment was used for less than a year. Transgender athletes would be able to compete in an open competition category to be established by a new working group. The recommendations were approved by 71.5% of the governing body.
This decision, which will certainly have ripple effects across the sporting world, comes in the midst of a heated conversation about athletes who identify as transgender, such as University of Pennsylvania’s Lia Thomas, who became the first transgender-identified athlete to win an NCAA Division 1 national championship. Thomas, who had begun on the men’s team, moved from 65th place there to 1st place on the women’s team, displacing other qualified female athletes. That success has provoked concern about the fairness of allowing Thomas, a biological male, to compete against females. Even many of Thomas’ own teammates at UPenn objected.
Faithful Christians, who see the Bible’s beautiful vision of gender and sexuality as gifts from the Creator, can find hope in this ruling by the world’s most important swimming governing body. It’s an acknowledgement of a biological reality—that our gender is not fluid, but fixed from birth, and that there are real, complementary differences between men and women.
Romans 12:15 reminds us that the law of God is written on the hearts of men. This means that even those who may not profess faith in Christ still cannot escape the reality of the immutable laws of the universe, which God put in place for human flourishing. The transgender movement is colliding both with biological truth and with the desire to see young women succeed. Sporting bodies are beginning to understand that transitioning young men have an unfair advantage when competing against women and thus unfairly push out female athletes who have worked hard to achieve a competitive position. Ironically, this conversation is happening as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which gave women an equal opportunity for education and competition.
Yet, while we applaud much of the FINA decision, we might also lament the subtle encouragement for parents to begin transitions at an earlier age. Transgender athletes who began the process before the age of 12 will still be eligible to compete. There is a growing trend of parents’ allowing their kids to begin physical transitioning, including surgery, puberty blockers and other life-altering treatments at earlier and earlier ages. And yet there is also growing concern about the permanent impact this is having. Swimming bodies, state and local governments and the medical profession should not encourage this kind of self-mutilation in service of a social agenda. Rather, parents should wisely resist the pressure from the culture to let their kids live out and act out a lie.
Christians should also be unafraid to speak both truth and grace into a culture awash with sexual and gender confusion. We can share the good news that the way God created men and women is good and that He is at work redeeming our frail and often broken bodies through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are undoubtedly many in our communities who don’t feel at home in their bodies, but the answer is not a scalpel or the attempt to redefine their realities, but in the promise of renewal at the end of the age. Jesus not only came to save our souls, but He promises that those who are in Him will one day have bodies free from brokenness and confusion and the decay of a fallen world.
Those who are confused need both a word of truth and a word of hope, the knowledge that God saves and redeems, renews and restores. And that the false promises offered by a broken culture will only disappoint.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Daniel Darling is the director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a bestselling author.)