From Robert A. J. Gagnon:
Gregory Coles (young author of “Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity,” IVP), in promoting “pronoun hospitality” for Preston Sprinkle’s organization (The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender), a view endorsed by the Southern Baptist President J. D. Greear, cites as exhibit A for his case Paul’s Areopagus speech to Athenian Stoics and Epicureans in Acts 17 (“What Pronouns Should Christians Use for Transgender People,” p. 12). I commented in a previous post that I was unconvinced by this alleged analogy.
According to Coles, when Paul in v. 28 cites poetic lines from Epimenides’ Cretica (“In him we live and move and exist”) and Aratus’ Phaenomena (“We are his offspring”) to argue that God is not far from those who seek him and can be known, he is engaging in a form of “pronoun hospitality.” Even though the third-person in the citations originally refers to Zeus, Paul isn’t overly concerned with “determining the single ‘true’ meaning of this pronoun. . . . His possible fear that he might be misunderstood as praising the Greek conception of Zeus is superseded by his delight at the opportunity to communicate truthfully about the nature of God.”
There are at least two major problems with this argument. For one, Paul clears up any potential confusion in the very same speech. Even before citing the pagan poetry, in Luke’s telling Paul has already asserted that he will identify for his hearers the one true God: “What you piously worship in ignorance, this I am going to proclaim to you” (17:23). He corrects any false view that the one God (not multiple gods) who made “everything” “does not dwell in shrines” (17:24). After the citation, Paul corrects the false view that God can be imaged by statues (17:29). He immediately declares that God is no longer “overlooking ignorance” but now commands all to repent in view of having raised from the dead the one who will judge the world in righteousness (17:30). Thus Paul wastes little time in clarifying any potential confusion. Coles and (by inference) Sprinkle are not promoting immediate clarification.
Second, Paul directs his hearer’s attention to a generic conception of deity, not to any identification of Zeus and the God of Jesus Christ. Precisely because all humans are God’s handiwork and owe God their very breath, they must stop viewing God as something that can be fashioned by human hands. At no time does Paul pretend for the sake of his hearers that Zeus is the one true god. That’s a very different situation from directly participating in the abhorrent pretense that a man can be a woman and a woman a man.
An equivalent type of argument directed at a self-deluded “transgender” person would be to say: “We can all agree that gender is something identifiable; otherwise you would not have any conception of what you are identifying with.” Such a strategy would not be participating in gender identity delusion by referring to men and women by false pronouns and names. Rather, it would be finding common ground without participating in the lie; indeed, common ground that immediately leads to the correction of the lie..
Note too the context for Paul’s speech: “His spirit was provoked (distressed, troubled)” by how full of idols Athens was (17:16), enough so that he daily argued in the marketplace against these pious but fraudulent behaviors.
I would recommend that Gregory and Preston reread 1 Cor 8-10 on the question of eating idol meat when it is identified as such in the presence of “weak” fellow believers or even unbelievers when eating at an unbeliever’s house (10:27-29). . There is concern for weak believers being stumbled by strong believers who rightly recognize that idols have no real existence but disregard the effects of their idol associations on others (ch. 😎. Yet there is also concern for “the strong” themselves who by eating in the venue of an idol’s temple (where they can continue business and social contacts with pagans) will (1) provoke God to wrath against them and (2) put them unknowingly in league with the demonic powers that stand behind the lie about idols (10:14-22). That’s what is happening when someone participates in the lie about “transgenderism,” even if done with the intent to accommodate to the “transgender” person for future ministry outreach.
The “strong” at Corinth could have responded that by going along with the pagan associations with idolatry they were maintaining relationships for missionary outreach. Paul was having none of that kind of reasoning. I hear something similar today by Greear and others to justify calling men women and women men. This is not “generosity of spirit” or an effort at improving chances of evangelism. It is rather provocation of God, stumbling the weak who have scruples, placating the offender’s evil delusion, and putting oneself in a compromised position vis-a-vis demonic forces.
The irony is extended when Greg Coles in the same context defends his “pronoun hospitality” by appeal to Paul’s “all things to all people” passage in 1 Cor 9:19-23. The passage certainly doesn’t get Coles and Sprinkle where they want to go. Paul’s remarks clearly do not extend to participating in another’s self-deception in matters abhorrent to God, such as idolatry, even when one recognizes the idolatry to be self-deception.
It is not accidental that Paul’s “Flee idolatry” command (10:14) is paralleled by his “Flee sexual immorality” exhortation (6:18). It is ridiculous to assert that Paul would have countenanced showing a “generosity of spirit” and “pronoun hospitality” by referring to “soft men” (malakoi; 1 Cor 6:9) with female pronouns and female-specific names. Paul would no more do that than he would commend treating the mother of a man as the man’s wife (1 Cor 5; addressed also in the reference to the pornoi in 6:9, heading the offender list and only two offender groups away from the “soft men”).
So I say: Flee “pronoun hospitality,” which is idolatry.