Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Quickfire
9 September

Jesus would have respected gender pronouns

Enoch Burke isn’t the martyr he thinks he is.

By Michael Coren

There are many disturbing aspects to contemporary conservative Christianity but one of the most troubling is the phenomenon of ersatz martyrdom. In an age when people are still genuinely persecuted and even killed because of their faith, there are Christians in the UK and North America who claim oppression from places of comfort and privilege. Their suffering is minimal and, sometimes, one wonders if it is something they embrace. 

That’s surely the case with Enoch Burke, an Irish evangelical who is currently in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. Burke, his supporters and various irresponsible newspaper headlines claim he is in prison because as a teacher he refuses to use a transgender student’s gender-neutral pronoun.

Actually, Burke was suspended from his school on full pay while a disciplinary hearing considered the case, which is standard procedure when a teacher’s conduct is called into question. The student and their parents had asked for “they” to be used instead of “he”. Burke refused.

Yet rather than remain at home, he insisted on coming to school and sitting in an empty classroom. The school secured a temporary court order; Burke broke it, and then told the court that he wouldn’t observe any further injunction. The judge had no option but incarceration, which one can’t help thinking is precisely what Burke wanted.

“If this court so determines, I will never leave Mountjoy Prison if in leaving the prison I violate my well-informed conscience and religious belief and deny my God,” said Burke. “It seems to me that I can be a Christian in Mountjoy Prison or be a pagan and respecter of transgenderism outside of it. I know where I belong.”

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Or be a Christian who obeys an entirely reasonable law, and enjoys full pay while he waits for his school to consider how best to deal with a situation provoked entirely by his own bloody-mindedness.

Content from our partners
Why ports are the gateway to growth
We are living longer than our predecessors – policy must catch up
Getting Britain building

From a biblical point of view the language issue is far from absolute. The Hebrew word “Adam” is ambiguous, and in Genesis 5 is gender non-specific, more “man and woman” than specifically masculine. It’s also used in a collective sense, to signify humanity. The Gospels call for empathy and kindness, which one would think should include listening to a young person likely going through an extraordinarily difficult time.

But in all honesty it’s not really about what scripture says or Jesus taught but what conservative Christians want. And that’s to combat what they regard as a secular, threatening and immoral world.

Burke is a member of a large and well-known family in Ireland, whose members have campaigned against abortion and equal marriage, and launched legal challenges based on alleged religious discrimination. Similar cases have occurred in the US and Canada, and I guarantee that however this one ends, it won’t be the last of its kind.

The irony is that the Christians who suffer in this instance aren’t the ones spending a few nights behind bars and being celebrated for it, but rather those of us who – believe it or not – work for understanding rather than conflict, and cringe in shame each time something like this happens.

[See also: Writing in the age of Big Data]

Topics in this article: ,