Review of Patricia Weerakoon with Robert Smith and Kamal Weerakoon, The Gender Revolution : A Biblical, Biological and Compassionate Response, Matthias Media, 2023.

When I reflect on the current world in which we live, and in particular the ideologies of gender and identity which have become wholly accepted within the last 20 years or so, I always need to remind myself “there but for the grace of God go I”. If there was ever someone who had the life experience to accept, defend, or even champion these ideologies wholescale, it would be me.

I spent the better part of 15 years studying and then teaching English Literature at university. I have to admit that I wrote more than a few essays raging against phallocentric structures, dangerous hierarchies of power, while also affirming the forms of “performative” gender which have become the basis for gendered ideologies which this books speaks into.

I had a choice, almost ten years ago, to dive into the world of academia wholly, or to focus my time, energies and talents on teaching God’s word – and I am so thankful that God led me to the path I am now on as someone who writes about God’s truth, rather than ideologies built on houses of cards.

If you doubt the need for a book such as this, just chat to any long serving High School teacher. In the last 10 years, the number of gender-diverse or gender-non-conforming teenagers has increased dramatically.

I watched this trend firsthand. In 2014, I was teaching in a school in southern Sydney where not a single student claimed to be gender-non-conforming. By the end of 2017, I had one student say that when I saw him next year, he would have a new name and a new gender identity. That following year I had several year 7 students socially transition. I now know of primary school teachers who have welcomed Kindergarten children who socially transitioned their genders before starting school.

But it’s bigger than just the classroom. In recent years, the use of non-gendered terms for women’s biology has become mainstream. Not only are maternity rooms now spaces for “birth-parents” rather than mothers, supermarket chains have renamed the “feminine hygiene” section to “period care”, as the prevailing understanding now is that women are no longer the only gender to menstruate.

These changes have also impacted our churches. There are often three different generations of responses to this new world in which we live: Boomers (and pre-boomers) are often perplexed and bemused by such trends, having never imagined the possibility of rejecting one’s biological gender. Parents of teens (and pre-teens) face such changes with concern, feeling ill-equipped to shepherd their children through a society that celebrates something so opposed to God’s plan for our bodies. And then there are young adults, those to whom these changes aren’t changes at all – they are cultural waters in which they have always swum. In fact, for some, the Church’s rejection of trans-affirming ideology is seen as an act of bigotry and hatred.

This book is helpful for Christians in all of the above groups – and even those Christians struggling with gender-identity issues themselves. The writers also hope this book will help Christians to continue to walk in a biblical worldview of sex and gender, to protect others from falling away (or ‘deconstructing’ their faith), to empower those who feel there are being silenced by the wholescale acceptance of transgender ideology, to enable readers to love and show compassion to those who are genuinely suffering with feelings of gender dysphoria, and to renew their readers’ confidence in the goodness of Jesus Christ their Lord.

It is in this complex cultural context and with so many stated hopes that Patricia Weerakoon writes (with Robert Smith and Kamal Weerakoon). All three have considerable research and professional backgrounds which allow them to address the topic not only as those who hold to biblical principles, but also as those who have distilled much more research and writing on the topic than the average Christian reader. Rob Smith has dedicated years of research and a PhD to the topic, Patricia is a medical doctor and sex therapist, and Kamal has explored biblical views of sexuality in his Masters thesis. These authors are no mere talking-heads railing against a culture war. Their arguments are well-researched and their findings are sound.

Moreover, as they note in their preface, this book is motivated by love. Faced with a worldview that “ignores the truth about God, about humanity, and about science”, this book seeks to speak the truth in love, a difficult task when the existence of such a book would be considered by some as an act of “hate speech”. Sadly, even the opening “note for readers” has to acknowledge the danger of upholding a biblical view of gender and sexuality, citing that in some areas of Australia (such as Victoria), “it can be legally problematic to discuss with someone their sexual orientation or gender identity”. In this context, this book is an act of bravery – although the writers wouldn’t see it like this, rather, they see it as part of the gospel call to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

In the first chapter, the authors address the power of words to shape reality. As they note, “transgender ideology hijacks language to create a pseudo-vocabulary of words and phrases that are not grounded in reality. They come from the illusory inner world of individual feelings and desires.” This is in complete contrast to the God of truth who spoke reality into being.

Chapter two follows by unpacking how we have come to a point in western society where individual feelings trump biological, scientific facts when it comes to one’s bodily reality. This is contrasted this with the Christian reality of looking not inward, but rather, outward to God for knowledge of ourselves and our reality. The Gospel is related to bodily reality with four key statements:

  1. We are wonderfully created – as male and female in God’s image
  2. We are pervasively fallen – and so in need of radical redemption
  3. We are mercifully redeemed – and are now in the process of restoration
  4. We will be gloriously resurrected – transformed and perfected forever.

Chapter three engages with several binary parings which flow out of a biblical view of gender. Chiefly, God’s good design of men and women as different. This is contrary to a view of gender which sees biological reality as “assigned” by a doctor at birth rather than part of God’s plan for the individual from the moment he/she is conceived. Chapter four unpacks the science of sexual development even further, from conception to fetal development, through to the scientific reality that “no amount of gender-affirming therapy can change a biological male into a biological female, or vice versa”.

Chapter five addresses the question of orientation and the prevailing thinking that “many people today believe that sexual desire is an unstoppable force and that it is harmful to restrain it”. This is contrary to Biblical teaching that sexual feelings are a God-given predisposition, but “people can decide whether to express it, and when and how to do so”.

Chapter six contains some eye-opening statistics about the increased prevalence of gender identity issues in children. Up until the early 2000s, the numbers were so rare, there were no official counts. However, between 2006 and 2015, the number began to rise sharply with the latest figures showing a 53-times increase in referrals to the controversial Tavistock Clinic in the UK between 2010 and 2020.

One reason for this increase is a tendency to see any non-typical gendered behaviour (such as boys enjoying stereotypically “girly” toys like dolls and tea parties and girls enjoying sport over dolls) being interpreted as signs of dysphoria, rather than mere personality preference. This is where transgender ideology which seems on the surface to be broadening gender possibilities is actually limiting them, as the authors argue “transgender ideology says that if a child behaves according to stereotypes assigned by society to a particular sex, then the child must be that sex, regardless of their biology.”

Chapter seven outlines what “management” of gender dysphoria might look like in adults, children and teens. There is much in this chapter which is confronting about the realities of the impact that puberty blockers and other hormonal (and surgical) treatments have on individuals. It is hard reading, but necessary for understanding the dangers that individuals face should they seek gender-affirming care. For example, side-effects of a particular puberty-blocker include “Osteoporosis, decreased cognitive development, loss of fertility and sexual function”.

Chapter 8 concludes with a call for Christians to respond with compassion as well as truth. The author outline three scenarios which demonstrate the tightrope between love, compassion and biblical truth.

The book includes a short discussion on the use of gendered names and pronouns – particularly to help readers consider how to love someone who is asking you to use language to affirm their gendered reality. There are many areas to consider and this addendum is a helpful one to guide the readers into a balance of loving care and truth. There is also a helpful glossary, for those who are unfamiliar with the terminology used in these areas, as well as a detailed list for further reading.

In a world in which biological reality and personal experience no longer go hand in hand, this book is a necessary guide to help the Christian navigate such murky cultural waters while remaining pastorally helpful and biblically accurate.

– Jenn Phillips