Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Lies We Tell to Keep the Peace

Written by: on March 6, 2020

The whole issue of human sexuality has been a difficult one for my age group to comprehend fully. I straddle an era in which homosexuality and transgender, in all its forms, were hidden behind closed doors, whispered about or only seen publicly in the world of entertainment. In the 1980s New Zealand faced the task of decriminalising male homosexuality, because, ironically, lesbianism wasn’t illegal; Queen Victoria couldn’t imagine that women would engage in such behaviour, so no legislation was passed against women. I still remember Christians wandering the street of my home city cornering unsuspecting neighbours to sign a petition fighting decriminalisation. However, in fairness, it wasn’t just Christians. The vast majority of secular society was against it too, a point forgotten by those railing against religious conservatism. The issue was compounded with the fear surrounding Aids, a fear that dwarfed Coronavirus and had people living with Ebola level terror. Eventually, the gay community was suddenly free, and the world didn’t fall apart. However, it did create a landslide that no one could foresee as, in time, gay rights transformed into LGBT rights, then more recently to LGBTQIA etc.

In many ways, the last forty years have been a sexual revolution that mirrors the sexual revolution of the 50s and 60s. However, it has been more militant politically, socially and educationally. Subsequently, when intertwined with postmodernism, we find ourselves navigating some of the most challenging times, not just politically and economically, but confronting in terms of fundamental worldview, and the politicisation of language. At its heart, there appears to be a message that world is incredibly unequal, filled with injustice and it all stems from the evils of those who were born and died in the 20th century; not to mention Christianity as a whole.

Transgender and Gender dysphoria are unique in the sexual revolution because they represent such a tiny portion of the population whose coming of age dovetailed nicely with developing philosophical questions about sexual identity. As a result, transgender has driven a wedge between various sectors of the LGBTQIA community and traditional feminists by claiming that sexual orientation and identity is biological; it not a lifestyle choice. Of course, such a position is in opposition to the dysphoria and identitarian crowds who claim the sexuality is merely a social construct. Unfortunately, it can’t be both.

I’m a reasonably intelligent person, and I don’t like lying about what I believe or don’t believe to keep people happy. When we begin living like that we participate in our personal totalitarian world – we tell the world a story we don’t personally think is right and we expect others to join in the deception. The reality is, despite all the academic pronouncements, we know almost nothing about the science of being gay, lesbian or gender dysphoric. The ideologically driven language shifts of the last decade are politically motivated and defy what we do know about what it means to be male and female and how sex works and what evolutionary biology reveals. So, in all honesty, I simply don’t get it. It’s not just a feature of my age – I’m not alone, but no one is prepared to say so in public – and that is the great political lie of our time and the basis of totalitarianism; we ‘must’ tell a story we don’t much believe.

In his book, The Madness of Crowds,[1] the neoconservative author Douglas Murray uses an illustration that defines some of my frustration and perplexity. Murray writes that at the end of the 20th century, we had accumulated and navigated several issues from gay rights and marriage, women’s rights and equality alongside global poverty that was being addressed as never before. It felt as if western society was like a train slowly arriving at a destination worth of reaching. Then, for some inexplicable reason, the train picked up a head of steam and careered of the end of the tracks, hell-bent on killing everyone in its path; leaving the bodies of celebrated and courageous 20th-century activists for social change in its path.[2]

At the opening of his review of Heather Brunskell-Evans and Michele Moore’s edited book, Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body,[3] Michael Bird writes, “For those of us in such a position, triangulated between being curious, caring, and critical, Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body is a much-needed book.”[4] I didn’t buy the book (it’s a hundred $$), so I read the reviews. And they are all mostly positive because the book unpacks the stories of tragedy and difficulty resulting from medical and psychological interference in the lives of complex people for ideological ends. Perhaps the biggest concern being the adult of manipulation of children towards socio-political ends by taking a child’s simple questioning of identity and inadvertently confirming their identity queries as an identity diagnosis A point observed very recently in the British Guardian Media titled, “Teenage transgender row splits Sweden as dysphoria diagnoses soar by 1,500%”.[5] From all accounts, the book is carefully and sensitively written and has been welcomed by those working closely with trans people of all ages.

On the positive side, the last forty years of worldview confusion and religious moral conflict has driven me back to scripture to find a way forward. In Ephesians 2, the Apostle Paul say of Jesus that, “he is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” In our liturgy, it is written as a combination of Isaiah 9 and Eph 2, “The Prince of peace who breaks down the walls that divide.” For me, it is an ongoing reminder that in following Jesus, I move toward all people of difference, never away from them. I move toward them as a participant in God’s grace, acceptance and love. I move towards them because, through Christ, they are as acceptable I currently am. I may never fully understand the whole sexuality, language and identitarian political debates. Still, I do understand grace, which I guess is why I get on with my congregation of gay, straight, confused, racist, activist, and gender-fluid people who irritate each other – in love.


[1] Douglas Murray, The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, Kindle ed. (London: Bloomsbury, 2019).

[2] Ibid. 119ff

[3] Heather Brunskell-Evans and Michele Moore, eds., Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body, (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2018).

[4] Michael F. Bird, “A Must-Read Feminist, Queer, Disability & Psychoanalytic Critique of Transgenderism,” 2019, Accessed 3 March 2020, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2019/05/a-must-read-feminist-queer-disability-psychoanalytic-critique-of-transgenderism/.

[5] Richard Orange, “Teenage Transgender Row Splits Sweden as Dysphoria Diagnoses Soar By 1,500%,” The Guardian, Accessed 28 February 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/feb/22/ssweden-teenage-transgender-row-dysphoria-diagnoses-soar.


Bibliography – of sorts

Bird, Michael F. “A Must-Read Feminist, Queer, Disability & Psychoanalytic Critique of Transgenderism.” Last modified 11 May 2019, Accessed 3 March 2020, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2019/05/a-must-read-feminist-queer-disability-psychoanalytic-critique-of-transgenderism/.

Heather Brunskell-Evans, and Michele Moore, eds. Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2018.

Murray, Douglas. The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity. Kindle ed. London: Bloomsbury, 2019.

Orange, Richard. “Teenage Transgender Row Splits Sweden as Dysphoria Diagnoses Soar By 1,500%.” Last modified 22 February 2020, Accessed 28 February 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/feb/22/ssweden-teenage-transgender-row-dysphoria-diagnoses-soar.

About the Author

Digby Wilkinson

I am currently the Vicar of the Tawa Anglican Church in Wellington, New Zealand. I have only been in this role since February 2018. Prior to this appointment, I was the Dean of the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, which made me the senior priest of the diocese working alongside the Bishop. I guess from an American perspective this makes me look decidedly Episcopalian, however my ministry background and training was among the Baptists. Consequently, I have been serving as pastor/priest for nearly thirty years. My wife Jane also trained for ministry, and has spent the last decade spiritually directing and supervising church leaders from different denominations. We have three grown children.

18 responses to “The Lies We Tell to Keep the Peace”

  1. Sean Dean says:

    Thanks for the background and the thoughts. I think you ended it on the right note, that of grace. Living in grace is surely the start to getting through the deadlock of language and political philosophy.

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Though it is no silver bullet to ongoing disagreements, I haven’t witnessed much else that works. Unfortunately, love and grace comes with a caveat – you might just need to die a bit. Seems to be the Jesus way.

  2. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    You are truly gifted in the brainiac department, but I think this is your best post yet. It beautifully draws together your New Zealand context, the topic at hand, and our current day academic political context. Thanks for the reminder of AIDS hysteria compared to the Coronavirus. Most of all thanks for your integrity and candor to simply state, “I don’t get it.” despite the global hecklers. Most of all thanks for reminding us to step back into our scriptural admonition to love and extend grace to others as it most definitely has been extended to us. Cheers!

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Thank you Harry. I’s was taught a long time back to return to scripture when our confused humanity got the better of us. There are no prof texts, but the story of scripture contains more than enough to find our place in the world as it is. It’s always a case of remembering who she are ‘in Christ.

      • Hey Digby, you said there are “no proof texts” What are your thoughts on Scripture’s teaching that gender = biological sex?

        • Digby Wilkinson says:

          Ah Harry, I can see what you’re doing! Ok, when I think of proof texts I think of the way that certain verses are used as proofs of a particular truth. However, I don’t think scripture attempts to prove anything. Second, scripture is the narrative language of faith. It has meaning to those who read it because it tells the story of our faith, and the acts of God among the people of faith. That God created us, male and female, is a statement within the broad story of our coming to be and our knowledge of God, it’s not a proof text as such. The broad story show how we damage our self perceptions and gods created order at almost every level. The more I think about, the more I think there are no proof texts just a history of salvation that we have to unpack meaningfully in each generation. Our vision of the story may alter, but not the story itself. This could go on for a very long time, Harry. So, offer me your rebuttal to think about 🙂

          • Always a pleasure having these conversations with you. We never really got to complete them in Hong Kong. You’re right, this could go on and on so I’ll just make very quick points.
            1. Scripture and nature is very clear there are only 2 biological sexes.
            2. Blurring that distinction makes for a blurred understanding of marriage.
            3. Jesus compares the churches’ relationship with him as one of a bride and groom, vis-a-vis marriage.
            4. Homosexual practice is a sin.

            Those are just some quick thoughts. I know what you’re saying about the grand narrative of the Gospel, and you’re right, there is no didactic presentation of gender dysphoria in Scripture, but we have enough to ground our behaviors, attitude and thinking towards goodness, truth and beauty don’t you think?

  3. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Grace. What a lovely concept to bring into this discussion. Gotta say Digby, this is one of your most pastoral posts. Thank you for the wisdom.

    • Karen Rouggly says:

      I echo this sentiment, Jacob. This post is very pastoral Digby – I see it now! 🙂

      But I really appreciated your context and reminding us to locate this situation in the bigger picture of God’s grace.

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Yeah I had to really dig deep for that pastoral spirit! When we get to the end of debates about truth, we are left with people – philosophy and ideology will come and go, but people and relationships remain.

  4. Jenn Burnett says:

    Thanks Digby, this is certainly a topic that while we can wade into the myriad of messy politics and motivations, where we spend most of our time is sitting with fellow broken people needing grace. You are a gifted pastor. Being just a tad younger than you, and missing the AIDS hype at its peak, how do you think the generations differ in their response based on residual trauma from such fear? What other moments shaped by media have shaped our response to communities on the margins?

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      The AIDS scare wasn’t hype, it as an epidemic that no one understood. For some reason, people started dying in families for no reason at all. It was only when it became apparent that it was an std (and a deadly) that the panic cooled a little because it seemed isolated to the male gay community, but then it began transmitting to family members due to secrecy and then through blood transfusions. Because sex is happening all the time, containing it was almost impossible. Some people even weaponised it. To one extent, nothing much has changed, AIDS is still increasing but we have medications to manage it’s long term symptoms, and therefore feel psychologically immune to it, or we have just adapted. For me there are still echos of the chaos, and we currently know plenty of people who are now HIV+. It was through that social disaster that much of our school sex education came into being, along with blood screening all donors. It’s still a problem.
      Humans are odd creatures, rather than attend the actual problem, we prefer to take pills. The media blow both ways. Initially they were part of the witch hunt, and then they became perveyors of the new myth that everything is ok, so don’t worry.

  5. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Digby. We’re born in a similar era and experience and have landed in a similar place. Grace and acceptance is the way forward. Not accepting the ideology, but the person, and listening with a caring heart. It’s amazing how far that gets you with people.

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      As I said to Sean above, grace appears to be the only way through that I know of, but the caveat is our possible self sacrifice in the process – it seed to be Jesus way.

  6. Mario Hood says:

    Great post. Simple straight forward yet profound.

  7. Great Post Digby, It’s only by grace hat we’re what we’re and we owe it to others to show grace to them as an obligation, as Christian Leaders.

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Wallace, it’s strange to think of Grace as an obligation, but I guess it kind of is. Perhaps it’s more of a natural consequence of the grace we know we have received.

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