The Curious Case of the Adult 9 Year-Old

by Owen Strachan March 7, 2018

Today, we commonly hear that the body does not determine our identity. Biology is not destiny, our gender pedagogues tell us. Instead, we are encouraged by our secular culture to conceive of our identity as based on our inmost impulses, desires, and feelings. If we feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body, our culture tells us, then we should be treated as a woman. This is the logic of the transgender lobby, a transformative force in the West in 2018.

But a horrific recent event shows us how problematic this vision of human identity is. A recent story in the Daily Wire featured the following:

A Chicago man [Joseph Roman] accused of sexually assaulting two six-year-olds and an eight-year-old on repeated occasions, told police officers that he’s really “a 9-year-old trapped in an adult’s body,” prosecutors revealed on Wednesday.

Our point here is not to necessarily link pedophilia with transgender identity. No, we are zeroing in on Joseph Roman’s defense of his behavior. He told prosecutors that he’s not actually an adult man, and thus the charges of pedophilia should not stick to him. Instead, he’s a child, because he has the personal identity of a nine-year-old.

Pay attention here: if human identity is feelings-driven, then Joseph Roman is right. Though his biological age is 38, he feels like he is nine. According to the logic of our society, we have no ability to correct Roman on this point. We should simply receive his understanding of his personal identity and treat him accordingly. By such a conception of identity, Roman should not face justice as a pedophile.

This awful circumstance should serve as a wake-up call for Christians and for our broader culture. Believers should, with soberness and full awareness of the suffering Roman’s apparent sins have caused, point to this particular defense offered by Roman as the outcome of our current vision of humanity. If you are your feelings, reality is severed from biology, from the body, from the truth. You can be whoever you want to be, and that identity can change at any given moment. You cannot thus be held responsible for acting your age or living according to your station in life. Instead, you must be viewed as an open book, a blank canvas, able to shift identities at a moment’s notice.

Let me put it plainly: if a man can become a woman, then a 38-year-old can become a 9-year-old. If you affirm the former, you must affirm the latter. And affirming these ideas means you are cut off from intellectual coherence.

Our culture is not only opposed at present to the gospel. It is opposed to the very concept of reality itself. In intellectual terms, it is descending into madness. Times like these call for believers to use both common sense and special revelation in our witness to our fallen neighbors and our secular order. We have staked our eternal souls on Christ; but in staking our souls on Christ, we have also staked them on reality, on truth, on A being A and B being B. Increasingly, we must do substantial pre-evangelism with our unbelieving friends. We must unmask the wisdom of this world, showing it to be foolishness, and then we must share the truth of the gospel. The gospel is not separated from reality; the gospel depends upon reality.

No 38-year-old man is truly a 9-year-old. Joseph Roman is merely cunning enough to exploit the illogic of this age for his own gain. But his defense of the terrible crimes he is accused of is actually in perfect sync with the gender theories and identity conceptions that dominate our age (and that escape the irony-sensors of our gatekeepers). We hear that that which is fixed is fluid, but is fluid only until we discover our fixed identity. We hear that the body does not correspond to our identity, but that we must actually remake the body to correspond to identity. We hear that identity is not based on cultural notions of the body, but this argument is based on a cultural notion of the body. We hear that there is no true self as religions like Christianity argue, but all around us, people seek to discover their true self—they merely do so outside of traditional religion. Postmodern gender theorists offer just as firm a basis for identity as evangelicals like me do—they merely ground it in feelings and impulses, not the body.

Praise God, we are not left to trust in nonsense like this. If we do battle gender dysphoria, further, we are not left a prisoner of our internal sensations. The Word of God cuts through our confusion and our culture’s ideology like a bullet train through fog. As this short book makes clear, our identity is not created from scratch but is given us by God. We are image-bearers; we are men or women (Gen. 1:26-27). We are redeemed by Christ’s cross unto wholeness, and the Spirit leads every sinner back to the truth of God. Once, we found our identity in our sin, our flesh, our weakness; now, we find it in the miracle of Christ in us, the hope of glory, and we become men and women who live for God (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Col. 1:27).

Today, the church needs to speak up, find its voice, and lovingly persuade others of the truth—the truth about reality, and the truth about Christ. If our culture is hopelessly confused, this only gives us a greater opportunity to showcase the beauty and power and hope of wisdom—divine wisdom, which transforms those who believe and peddle lies into those who will suffer and if necessary die to uphold the truth of God.

Editor's Note: This originally published at The Center for Public Theology