“Transgender community goes face to face with pastor opposing parts of bill c-16.” This is the title of a CBC news story from last year. This week (and next week) we chat with the pastor referred to here – pastor Paul Dirks. In this week’s conversation, Paul helps us understand some of the terms used in the general transgender issue, as well talks about his personal story in how he got involved. Paul also helps us think biblically about the transgender issue.
Who's our guest?
Paul Dirks is the Lead Pastor of New West Community Church. He lives in the neighbourhood of Sapperton with his wife Rachel, and his five children. He came to know Christ at a young age through the godly influence of his parents and thinks that such a conversion is as exciting as any. Paul has a big smile and loud laugh. He enjoys basketball, history, and music. Paul loves preaching and teaching and enjoys books by John Piper, CS Lewis, and GK Chesterton.
With me today is Paul Dirks. Paul is a husband. He’s a father. He’s a local church pastor, and I found out yesterday he’s a musician as well, which is awesome. Paul is also the founder of Woman Means Something, which we’ll get into in a bit. Anyways, thanks for being here with me today, Paul.
Yeah. It’s my privilege. Thank you so much, Isaac.
Before we jump into this topic, and I do want to spend a lot of time on this topic, but I think it’s important just for people that have never heard of you, who are you? Maybe what’s your brief kind of testimony? How’d you come to faith?
Thank you. Yeah. I grew up in a Christian home where God was glorified and His word upheld, attended Fellowship Baptist churches. That’s a bit of my theological heritage. Yeah, I came to know Christ from an early age. I remember I had two kind of main pastors that served in our church for quite some time in my late childhood and adolescence. I remember that one of those men, Jack Purdy, was preaching on I think it was a Sunday evening. I went home at a young age, I think probably around five years of age, realizing there is something that I was being called to that I hadn’t yet done. I remember kneeling with my mother and asking the Lord Jesus to have my life and asking for the forgiveness of my sins. The Lord’s been with me since then. I’m so thankful for the rich heritage I have.
I know there’s a lot of people that don’t have that same kind of benefit and upbringing. I’ve always had a bit of an idea from an early age that to those whom much is given, much is expected. It’s a privilege, although I never really saw it coming in the early years that … Now I get to serve the body of Christ as a pastor and that’s a privilege as well, of course, as being the leader of my little flock at home of five kids with my beautiful wife, Rachel.
That’s so awesome. That’s really good. As I consider people listening to this across the country and even around the world, you pastor in this place called New Westminster. What’s some of the cultural characteristics of this place?
Yeah. It’s actually a very liberal progressive area. You’d have to probably go Downtown Vancouver before you’d get a place that was any more progressive or liberal than this community I live in. Yet at the same time, there is quite a … Sure. I mean there’s a lot of churches in New Westminster. It’s a great place to be. There’s a very strong community feel here.
I’ll get into a little bit later maybe about how I got into talking about SOGI related issues, but I know that one point when I went to the school board meeting where there was a key decision being made, that the newspaper reported that this was a very kind of a “New West” sort of disagreement that happened because it was so pleasantly done between not just myself, but those on the opposite side of the argument as well.
That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that.
Now you and I met in person at the Apologetics Canada Conference a couple months ago now. It’s interesting. You did this workshop on transgenderism. You started this talk off by just defining terms. I think that is the smartest thing to do. Before we jump into this, what are some of the most commonly used terms regarding this massive discussion on transgenderism? What are the terms and what are their definitions?
Yeah, so one of the terms that is used currently quite a bit, and yet is quite sort of a recent term, is the term SOGI, which stands for Sexual Orientation and then Gender Identity. Sexual orientation refers to the LGB part of that acronym LGBT, and then of course if it keeps going. Then whereas the GI stands for Gender Identity, which is the teaching or the belief that somebody’s gender, somebody’s true or innate sense of gender can be different than their biological sex. Gender identity is almost synonymous with transgenderism, although in a lot of places transgenderism isn’t used as a noun. It’s used as, transgender, as an adjective.
Sexual orientation, and I actually don’t like using the word “orientation” because it communicates that sexual attraction is something that’s immutable, which recently there’s been academic consensus around the fact that that is not the case. For instance, a lesbian will be a biological female that’s attracted to other females. When we move then to transgenderism it’s not related specifically or linked specifically to orientation or attraction. Rather, it’s this idea that your gender or even how you would express that is different than one’s sex.
A few other terms that kind of crop up in the discussion. One of them is the word transsexual. It’s a word that’s not used quite so much in today’s kind of normal parlance, but it’s a word that’s actually used quite a bit in the medical literature because of the fact that it’s a much more explicit or specific term than transgender. Transsexual refers to those who have had some kind of medical transition, either through cross-sex hormones or gender reassignment surgery, or sex reassignment surgery might be a better word, although it’s … I would say that somebody can’t actually ever change their sex.
Another interesting word that you don’t hear as much anymore, and yet is really an important part of the discussion, is the word transvestite. Transvestites are those who cross-dress and is sometimes affiliated with a particular paraphilia, or sexual disorder called transvestic fetishism. It’s almost always men who cross-dress for sexual arousal. The reason that I sometimes end up talking a little bit about transvestites is because a lot of people aren’t aware that under this big umbrella term of transgender, that only a relatively small proportion of transgender people are transsexuals. By and large the majority of transgender people are transvestites or cross-dressers. We can get into some of the statistics on that, but the majority would be transvestites and not transsexuals.
Another word that’s used in related to this discussion is gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is usually used as a clinical term, a diagnosis of a significant distress around the fact that one’s gender identity or conception of that is different than one’s biological sex. For instance, in the diagnostic and statistics manual of mental disorders, the latest version is five, so it has a diagnosis for gender dysphoria. Previously it used to be called gender identity disorder. There’s some interesting medical, but also perhaps political reasons that that diagnosis has changed.
Then one last word that’s probably key in this discussion is the idea of intersex, where people have disorders of chromosomes or genitalia or reproductive organs that are not correctly sexually dimorphic. Those characteristics don’t fall neatly into one of the two biological binaries that the human race does fall into.
It’s interesting that the word intersex of course means between the sexes, and yet at times it’s used to kind of point out that there is no sexual binary, which is almost completely against the very meaning of the word, which presupposes that there is a sexual binary and that there’s something not right about somebody who has certain characteristics who wouldn’t fall into that binary. The intersex population is very, very small, although it does depend on how you determine that. Most people would have the intersex population at less than 0.1% of the population.
Yeah, and that’s so good. Thank you for talking about some of these different obviously words that so often a lot of these different terms can sort of just be clumped together in ‘transgenderism’. I think it’s good to kind of sparse them out. I think then we’ll be able to understand your different answers to the next questions more properly when you use these different terms. I appreciate that.
Personally, speaking though, Paul, what made you dive into this issue? Why do you spend so much time writing and researching? I’ve seen online that you’ve spent lots of hours reading all these different reports and stuff, which would probably cause many people to fall asleep. Speaking on these issues, things like that, what made you dive into this? Then also after that, what made you start this Woman Means Something?
Yeah, so maybe I’ll pick up the story about four years ago when our local school district, School District 40 here in New Westminster, was looking for feedback from parents on their new Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) policy. I was involved with the parent’s advisory council at the elementary school where our children had been active. I knew at that point, “Okay, here I’ve got my community asking for my feedback.” Even though I had some idea of where that might go, I decided to do that and give some feedback.
Now, you know, from my standpoint, I believe, you know my starting point is always the Word of God. I believe the Word of God, full stop. Yet, at the same time I think it’s helpful to have ways to interact with the world where we can be on the same field as far as talking about the same kinds of things. I began to do some research into the secular peer reviewed literature. I was really surprised by what I found. I know one of the first studies that really made my jaw drop, and I continue to point people to it to this day, is a study by Ritch Savin-Williams in 2007. One of these studies that’s just world leading, longitudinal, huge sample size, very well done where he found that over 80% of same-sex behaved adolescents, so not just attracted, but even behaved adolescents, not just kissing but actual sexual behaviour, what we would call sex, that they became exclusively heterosexual in their sexual behaviour after six years as they moved into young adulthood.
This just goes completely against most of what we hear in the mass media, which portrays same-sex, whether it’s orientation or attraction, as something that’s immutable. Here we have over 80% moving from homosexual behaviour into heterosexual behaviour. There are other studies like this that I was able to take then to the school board, to our school board chair in a private conversation, and then to the school board meeting and able to present that. They listened, and that was a really helpful time of interaction around these things. They did end up not changing what they had decided to bring in, but it was a helpful process.
I knew in the back of my mind, even at that point, there wasn’t a lot of discussion about transgender related issues. This was only, like I said, only about four years ago, which shows how quickly gender identity related issues have kind of come onto the scene. I knew in the back of my mind, however, that there would be a moment where in our school district I would have to stand up for my daughter and say, “Listen, I’m going to fight the idea of a male having access to the same changing room or bathroom as my daughter.” For me, that can’t happen. I’m going to defend my daughter in that kind of situation.
Now it was, I guess, about a year and a half ago that it came on the scene that nationally, not locally, but nationally Bill C-16 had passed through the House and was moving to the Senate and was even at that point in time thought that maybe it would be passed very, very quickly. I began to engage on that. Bill C-16 has now passed. It’s now legislation nationally. It’s a bill that put gender identity and gender expression into the human rights code as well as into the criminal code as an aggravating circumstance. I think that probably it’s a good idea to have it under the criminal code for aggravating circumstances, but the issue is that once you put gender identity and expression into and you enshrine that in a law, now it overshadows the idea of sex. It in fact erases sex-based rights.
An example of that is simply going back to the idea of women’s privacy or protections when it comes to places where they’re unclothed: bathrooms, showers, change rooms. All of the sudden the sex-based right that would be behind bodily privacy for women, I mean it’s for men as well, but in particular for women, now that’s removed. Same thing with women’s sports now. All of the sudden males can come in and participate in women’s sports. That’s no longer a sex-based right to have women’s, exclusively women’s sports or female sports. I began to oppose this with a campaign that we called Woman Means Something. I began to do some research because I wasn’t finding the kind of data, the kind of research that I would want to point to in my own arguments, since I was engaging on these things publicly.
Fast forward just a little bit, but it was probably about a year ago that we had done a very tasteful poster campaign that you’d have to work really hard to say it was in any way anti-transgender. We did a bunch of posters up that said, “Mr. Trudeau, in order to be a feminist, you have to believe that woman means something”. The media got wind of this, which I mean is part of why we did it, and began to do some media events.
There’s a lot of name calling that comes into that as far as, you know even I’ve been called a neo-Nazi for that kind of campaign. One of the things that came out of this was that our church was protested by some members of the transgender community and their allies. I should note that this was something that was never kind of a church-based initiative, but rather my own with a few other supporting people. As a church, I had told our people, “Listen, whatever happens we want to make sure that we welcome people, that we’re loving, we’re hospitable.” I genuinely care deeply for LGBT people. In fact, I would say more than just caring for them as fellow humans that are made in the image of God, I would say that God has actually put on my heart a very particular honouring, valuing love for LGBT people.
It ended up being in God’s providence a very snowy kind of early Spring day I think. I’d have to go back and check the exact date. We put up a canopy. We put up a heat lamp, Krispy Kreme donuts, Starbucks, pop, water, and we just said, “This is for you”. As it turned out, they didn’t want to cross the street from where they were protesting to partake of our hospitality, most of them, which I understand, you know, that’s not a problem for me. I understand that if you’re protesting you don’t also want to be seen as partaking. That gets a little awkward.
At one point I grabbed a couple of chairs. Somebody was willing to talk to me. We went across the street. CBC News was filming the whole way. We sat down. I fielded questions and had discussion with about 30 people surrounding me and with CBC News. I had a big microphone in my face for about 40 minutes straight trying to record things. The best thing, just to kind of wrap up a little bit of my testimony on this, is that there were a lot of Christian leaders that said, “Oh, you and your church just did an amazing job showing what it looks like to be full of grace and truth both.” The thing that meant the most to me was a gay friend that emailed me and said, “You guys did a great job. I just applaud you.” That meant even more to me as I try to continue to have and build connections with those that are LGBT.
This culminated in me going to the Senate and speaking to the Senate Legal Committee on Bill C-16. You can find that testimony on YouTube. I chose to speak mainly on privacy and protections. I could’ve perhaps chosen to speak on sort of the medical side of things as well, but I kind of hoped that somebody else perhaps who had some formal background in that, I mean I’ve read a lot in the literature, however I don’t have a formal background and I was kind of hoping that somebody who did have a formal background in that would be able to bring that perspective. I focused more on privacy and protections, areas in which I’ve … just because no one else really is doing it, I kind of by default become a bit of a world leader on this. There isn’t good data to draw from on issues of, for instance, whether gender identity policies are safe for women.
No, that’s great. It’s encouraging. I’ve watched a little bit of the clips of you from CBC and all that kind of stuff, and it’s encouraging as a Christian seeing that because it encourages many of us to see this guy and this church step out in such a counter cultural way. I think there’s this innate desire, especially with a lot of young millennial Christians who are just kind of tired of going along with what culture is going along with. Even just seeing this type of, this almost sounds funny, but adventure. You actually had to put yourself out there for a true and grounded reason, this biblical, solid reason. You resonate with that. I do, I thank you for that for being a pioneer and a model for many people in regard to that.
Now we have a few minutes left, Paul. I want to take two questions and wrap them into one. It’s simply this. When we consider, and this is a huge question by the way, when we consider the Bible and we consider the gospel, how has what God has laid out in special revelation, the 66 books of the Bible, and the gospel, the story of redemption of Jesus Christ, how has that helped shape your thinking around transgenderism and the LGBT community?
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I think that really when we’re face with challenges in culture I think that there’s a positive effect that it has on our theology that sharpens it and helps to uncover areas perhaps where we haven’t thought terribly deeply. Let me mention a couple of things. I think that the LGBT movement more broadly, but maybe perhaps in particular the transgender movement or agenda, whatever you want to call that however you want to refer to that, is really about issues of identity, you know “Who am I?”
As Christians, it reinforces the fact that our history, our identity, our pedigree, all is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, and not only in the sense of a New Testament gospel, but when we enter into Christ we see too that we have this, almost this past that is in the Old Testament where we find our identity in him and in the story of redemption, yet including the fall, but the redemption of Israel. It all knits together to the place then in the future.
The Lord says in Revelation, “I’m going to write my new name of you.” I just think of and look forward to getting that tattoo one day, if I can put it that way, where what we are is not yet made known, but our identity is going to be fully revealed, and right now to find our identity in who God has created us.
Now the second part of that has to do with in particular a sex -based, or you could say a gender-based identity that we know that there are very clear analogs in the Scripture. They’re not mere metaphors between the relationships that we have between male and female here on the earth or husband and wife, and the relationship that for instance God has with Christ, his son, or that Christ has with his bride, the church. It’s not surprising. It shouldn’t be surprising to us that a triune God who is both equal in his essence, but also diverse in his three persons, should create the pinnacle of creation, mankind, as both male and female in whom there is a diversity, a basic diversity and a basic equality. We should expect then that as we lean into an understanding of who God has created us as sexed or gendered individuals, that in fact we will discover more about who we are in relationship to God.
In fact, just to go a little bit further with that, I find myself as I interact on these issues of gender and sex and in my relationship with my own wife, it helps me understand in fact my relationship in almost this bride or female role to Christ, my husband. It helps me to appreciate that relationship and the gospel is unfolded in all of its brilliance and depth in a greater way than if we were not thinking deeply about these issues of sex and gender.
For me, this is really all about the gospel. I think that one of the things the church really needs to do is unpack and recover some deep theology about sex and gender rooted in God and in Christ.
Yeah, that’s so good. Thank you so much, Paul. I enjoyed that. The reason I enjoyed it is because it’s important. This is a really important conversation that we need to be having in our day. If you’re listening and you are tempted to sort of leave this, you know that this is an important conversation, sexuality and different things like that, but you want to leave it on the back burner because you don’t want to break relationships and all these different things, I encourage you to pray and to believe what the Bible says about gender and to live that out.
Now if you’re interested in anything else, if you’re interested about Paul and the work that he does you can visit womanmeanssomething.com. I’ll put the link to that on the episode podcast page. There’s just a ton of information on that site. Anyways, thank you and bless you. I will talk to you soon.
Thank you, Isaac, appreciate it. God bless you.