19 Oct 2017
I’ve been watching youth culture for almost thirty years. I’m convinced that there’s no visible cultural shift that’s been faster, more significant, more widespread, and more life-altering than our beliefs and behaviors regarding sex and sexuality. And if culture refers to the way that we define and live in the world, then the road map we’re following in today’s world is pointing our kids to a sexual ethic void of borders and boundaries, with the exception (at least for the time being) of labeling anything non-consensual as “wrong.”
The life-shaping cultural soup that our kids swim in 24/7 tells them that when it comes to sex, you can do whatever you want, however you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, with whomever you want. To be “sex positive” is to be authentic and true to your desires and feelings in the moment.
Over the course of my years watching culture, I’ve looked for ways to effectively engage in conversations that might challenge kids to rethink the cultural narrative in light of the biblical narrative on God’s good gift of sex and sexuality. One valuable tool we have at our fingertips is the cultural artifact of popular music, which happens to be one of the more voluminous ingredients in the cultural soup. So, why not use it to our advantage?
Perhaps we can take a lesson from the missionary approach of the Apostle Paul. In Acts 17 we read of his encounter with the Athenians and their pagan culture. Before challenging their cultural narrative with the biblical narrative, Paul took the time to look carefully at what they held near and dear (v. 22-23). He kept his eyes and ears open, listening to their beliefs and behaviors before confronting their beliefs and behaviors with the Gospel. Then, when he opened his mouth to speak the truth, he did so in ways that reflected his knowledge of their culture.
The life-shaping cultural soup that our kids swim in 24/7 tells them that when it comes to sex, you can do whatever you want, however you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, with whomever you want.
When it comes to talking to kids about sex and sexuality in today’s world, it’s not enough to know the ins and outs of biblical sexuality. We must also know the ins and outs of what culture is teaching our kids on these matters so that we might be able to celebrate and affirm where the culture might be getting it right (and that happens from time to time), and where the culture might be getting it wrong. That can only happen when we are committed to taking the time to listen carefully.
At the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (www.cpyu.org), we endeavor to allow popular music to serve as a tool that pulls back the curtain on the “spirit of the age.” By listening carefully to the music, we begin to unfold and see the maps that guide our kids. Then, we work to bring the light of the Gospel to bear on the realities that exist. A simple way to hear the music speak and to frame a response is to utilize what we call a “3(D) approach.” We begin by Discovering the worldview woven in and through the musical piece. Then, we work to Discern how that worldview affirms or conflicts with the biblical worldview. Finally, we Decide how to best respond to what we’ve Discovered and Discerned.
Singer Ed Sheeran’s song, “Shape of You,” offers a great example of how to use music to spark conversations on sex and sexuality. Pre-released as a single digital download on January 6, 2017, this Caribbean-flavored dance song from Sheeran’s album “÷” (Divide), has already topped the charts in 30 countries (including the U.S.), and just might wind up being the most-listened-to song of the year. Find the song’s lyrics online and give them a read. Then, go to YouTube and watch the official video for the song. Then take a look at how we’ve broken the song down using our 3(D) methodology (see below). Finally, take what you’ve learned and use it to spark discussions with the kids you know, love, and have been called to lead!
Discover: What is the message/worldview?
- The song’s title is a straightforward reflection of the song’s message. The song and video depict and promote a quickly-formed mutual male/female relational connection prompted solely on the basis of visual/physical attraction.
- In the video, Sheeran and his female interest cross paths while training in a dimly lit boxing gym. In the song, Sheeran sings of his deliberate quest to hook-up in a bar: “The club isn’t the best place to find a lover/So the bar is where I go/Me and my friends at the table doing shots/Drinking fast and then we talk slow/Come over and start up a conversation with just me/And trust me I’ll give it a chance now.” With inhibitions lowered due to alcohol, the couple agrees to dance.
- The dance leads immediately to each of them declaring a desire for a sexual connection. He sings to her, “Girl, you know I want your love/Your love was handmade for somebody like me/Come on now, follow my lead.” She follows his lead while discouraging any getting-to-know-each-other through conversation: “Say, boy, let’s not talk too much/Grab on my waist and put that body on me/Come on now, follow my lead.”
- The encounter quickly leads to a hook-up: “I’m in love with the shape of you/We push and pull like a magnet do.” Sheeran tells us that continuing sexual encounters based on visual attraction precede love: “Although my heart is falling too/I’m in love with your body/And now my bedsheets smell like you/Everyday discovering something brand new.”
- Reflecting and promoting current cultural trends regarding sex, dating, and love, Sheeran puts a dating relationship following a week’s worth of sexual encounters: “One week in we let the story begin/We’re going out on our first date.” The song ends with Sheeran singing his mantra of physical attraction: “I’m in love with your body/Oh-I-Oh-I- Oh-I-Oh-I.”
Discern: How does it stand in light of the biblical message/worldview?
- Culture is bombarding our kids with hyper-sexual messages that lead them to equate “love” with sexual activity of all kinds. “Shape of You” both reflects and promotes the message they hear, specifically that there are no boundaries when it comes to sexuality, except for mutual consent. When it comes to sex, you are to “follow your heart” and your emotions, pursuing physical intimacy by doing whatever you want, wherever you want, however you want, whenever you want, with whomever you want. Increasingly, dating may now follow sexual hook-ups (which are increasingly random and anonymous). Contrary to these beliefs, the reality is that sex has been created by God as a good gift that He’s given to humanity. The Scriptures are clear from Genesis to Revelation: Sex is a wonderful and good thing that has its place: shared between one man and one woman within the context of a covenantal marriage (Genesis 2:24). Sex also has its divinely-ordained purpose: consummation of marriage, procreation, intimacy, and pleasure. We are to flee from any sexual activity which is outside of this place and purpose (Colossians 3:5; Galatians 5:19-21; I Corinthians 6:18).
- The Bible defines “lust” as a strong attraction and desire that can move in either a good or evil direction. In this case, Sheeran is promoting indulgence and servitude to the lusts of the flesh, which the Bible states are not of God and which war against the soul (Ephesians 2:3; I John 2:16; I Peter 2:11). Indulging lustful feelings is not only immoral, but it selfishly sabotages personhood (both of self and other), our flourishing, and the potential for full relational intimacy (both now and future).
- Culture puts a premium on physical appearances. Our boys are growing up in a culture that encourages them to view females as nothing more or less than sexual objects. Our girls are learning that they must center their lives and identities on creating a sexually attractive visual persona that is attractive and pleasing. Identity is now found in curating one’s self to satisfy “sexual consumerism” where we display ourselves, window-shop, purchase, consume, and then quickly dispose of that which is no longer novel. The Scriptures tell us that we have been made by God and for God. Finding our identity in anything other than Christ is idolatry (I John 5:21; Exodus 20:3-6). While humans mistakenly idolize outward appearances, we must rewrite the cultural narrative by cultivating inward character and hearts bent on faithful obedience to God (I Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 31:30).
Decide: What do I do with it?
- You can be assured that the overwhelming majority of kids have seen and/or heard “Shape of You.” The song’s video treatment is relatively tame, using the boxing gym as a metaphorical representation of the song’s lyrical content. We recommend showing the video to students and then talking about the song’s lyrical messages, contrasting those messages with the message of the Scriptures on sex, sexuality, love, identity, personhood, objectification, and dating.
- Ask students to evaluate how Sheeran’s song reflects the movement towards “expressive individualism” (being faithful, true, and authentic to one’s self) in our culture, as opposed to following the way and will of Jesus Christ (being a faithful, true, and obedient follower of Jesus).
- Show the video to parents and youth workers, demonstrating how a cultural artifact serves to mirror current beliefs and behaviors. Specifically, describe the current cultural order of relationship building (hook-up, conversation, dating relationship). Then, teach them how to use “Shape of You” as a springboard for engaging in narrative-shifting conversations in a manner Jesus himself used: “You have heard it said that. . .” (the erroneous cultural narrative)… “but I tell you…” (the corrective of the biblical narrative).
- Ask students to consider this quote from Lord Acton in relation to “Shape of You,” from a talk that Os Guinness gave to Cambridge University students: “Freedom is not the permission to do what you like. It’s the power to do what you ought.”¹
Note: This blog originally appeared as an article titled “An Exercise in Cultural Discernment: From Bar to Bed..and Other Lies” in the Fall 2017 harvestusa magazine.
11 Oct 2017
We are bombarded with practical strategies for helping our children and students live rightly and well. Nothing wrong with that, but to reach their hearts you can’t start with a technique. You have to start with your own heart. You have to be authentic with them about how God is working in your life first.
Click here to read more thoughts from Cooper Pinson in his blog: A Look Up: Touching the Heart of Students
11 Oct 2017
Every adult generation has a similar refrain: a proverbial uphill-both-ways-commute, a more centralized family, a simpler life, and perhaps even a better America. And some of the generational shift is true. The neighborhood newspaper kid has been replaced with the online news feed. The drive-ins and Blockbusters of the world have been put to rest by Netflix and Amazon Prime. Those RC colas have stepped aside for pour-over coffee and craft beer. Now we have transgender bathrooms in elementary schools. Students are exposed to hardcore porn on smart devices at their friends’ houses. Fueled by the catalysts of hyper-individualism and secular humanism, a new sexual mantra has emerged:
Sexually, you are the only one who can define yourself, your truth, and your happiness.
But consider what has not changed: students are still searching for Meaning. Ever since we decided to forsake Meaning and rebelliously set out east of Eden to subdue the great unknown, we have forgotten who we really are. Yet we still search for that which we lost. At its core, our secularized sexuality is a meaning-quest, a desperate grasp at self-definition, finding ourselves. Rather than simply lament the state of today’s youth and the sexual chaos that has enveloped them, let’s take a fresh look at this quest.
Self-Defining as an Expression of Suffering
Think about transgenderism. What thoughts rise up inside of you?
“What is the world coming to today? The LGBTQ agenda…those liberals…the world is going to hell in a handbasket…”
But when the culture is preaching a message of radical self-expression, and when we ourselves feel the insecurity within us, is it any wonder that students seek to self-define? Who else can they trust? Newsfeeds are awash with upheaval in other countries, corrupt leaders, neo-Nazi hate groups, and TV preachers hyped up on riches. In other words, do we see gender-dysphoric students as political subversives or as human beings caught in a post-Eden world of chaos?
Our students are wrestling with the ever-increasing darkness of our culture. We are not seeing them accurately, nor are we helping them, when we criticize their behavior without taking into account the larger context of their world.
Think about the hookup culture.
“Kids can’t control themselves…I would have never thought about…If parents would just…”
But given the rampant divorce rate and relational hurt many experience in broken families, doesn’t it seem logical to protect yourself from that by-gone institution? Shouldn’t we take the “best” of that bubble, the sex itself, and celebrate it without chaining ourselves to the social construct? The hookup culture is not simply a symptom of our sex-drive; it’s also an attempt to discover a better way.
Students aren’t mindless drones. They are responding to the world around them in panic, like sheep without a shepherd. What if we saw meaning-making and self-defining as desperation in the face of deep suffering?
Perhaps it’s time to give voice to what we often fail to recognize: following Christ in this world is hard and seems absurd at times. When the mantra, “God is in control,” is spoken, it can be horrendously applied. Our students are wrestling with the ever-increasing darkness of our culture. We are not seeing them accurately, nor are we helping them, when we criticize their behavior without taking into account the larger context of their world.
But our kids are not alone in dealing with the chaos. We, too, have struggled with the notion of a good God in the midst of a twisted world. We were once the hippies, the punks, and the dropouts.
The Gospel of Jesus doesn’t promise daisy fields on this side of eternity; it promises crosses. And crosses are still heavy, despite the fact that they will give way to crowns. It’s only as we are honest about our own sufferings that we will be able to effectively walk arm and arm as fellow sojourners with kids.
For parents, youth workers, and anyone who works with kids, what does it look like to come alongside of our students as they make sense of this world? It means sitting your kid down this week to take a look at the news, asking questions about how he or she is processing the suffering in the world while not giving canned answers in response. It means taking a student out for a meal and asking, “What has been particularly difficult for you this week? How has that impacted you?” It means talking about our own hardships as well. Notice that Jesus weeps with Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus before he reframes suffering in a flood of resurrection-light (John 11:35-44).
Self-Defining as an Expression of Sin
However, our students’ attempts at self-defining are more than expressions of suffering. They are ultimately expressions of sin.
As one theologian said, secularization is “essentially forgetting Christ, because secularization is the isolation of the world within its own immanence.”¹ But since we can never truly isolate ourselves from our Creator, our secularized sexuality is at best attempted isolation, an endeavor to cut ourselves off from God. It is, essentially, an effort to burn Jacob’s ladder to the ground. But true purpose and meaning come from beyond the self.
When we have no Cosmic Norm, we brew confusion. If there is no Authority, we are all authorities, and when we are all authorities, there are no legitimate rights and wrongs. So while we need to approach our kids with a compassion that seeks to validate their suffering, we also need to approach them with a challenge about their rebellious hearts.
We need to help students see that repentance and faith are things we practice every day, not just things we did long ago when we were immature and foolish students ourselves.
How can we do this practically? If we want kids to trust God, and what his Word says about sex, sexuality, and gender, then as parents and leaders, we must be willing to wisely talk about our own sins with kids. We must be honest about our mess and the truth that Jesus — yes — has changed us, and that He, by His Spirit, is currently changing us as well.
We need to help students see that repentance and faith are things we practice every day, not just things we did long ago when we were immature and foolish students ourselves. Maybe we let our older teens in on some of the sins we struggled with, and still struggle with, as youth ministers. When we are honest, we open up space for students to be honest with us. If we want to make disciples, we’ve got to be willing to walk alongside of our children and our students for the long haul, not simply lecture them momentarily on morality.
Self-Defining as a Farce
Under the angst, both we and our kids know that our experiment in self-defining is a farce. We all “know” the true Meaning of the universe, and our knowledge of Him betrays us even as we seek to suppress it (Romans 1:18-20). We know that our attempts at self-defining are exercises in hewing broken cisterns that hold no water and give no life (Jeremiah 2:13; John 4:13-14).
Take a look at the celebrity culture. These people can have all the sex, all the money, and all the fame they want. But what sense can we make of those tip-top celebrities being jailed for drugs or racing their Lamborghinis to spite the police? What do we make of all the rampant divorce plaguing the celebrity world?
If we are attentive to the culture, we will see this truth: human beings can never be “authentic” when we attempt to separate ourselves from God. Even in attempting “authenticity,” we find ourselves just repeating our culture’s sexual mantra. In other words, we are still “going with the flow” even if we buck traditional, Cosmic authority.
We can only be authentic when we are being worshipfully derivative, “receptively reconstructive” of our God-created sexuality, not “critically constructive” to the exclusion of our God.² In other words, when we construct meaning ourselves, we sinfully burden tweens with the idea that they can choose their own gender. When we don’t receive the meaning of sexuality from God, we praise porn stars for their “artistic” ability as we chain them to an industry bent on their exploitation.
With so much time spent looking down these days, it might be best to do the reverse.
A Way Out
I, like all high school students, experienced the pull to meaning-make, to self-define. But there were two, physical spaces that threw cold water in my face during those years.
The first was an observatory on an extremely large, and rural, college campus. This building was in the middle of nowhere (in a wheat field to be exact). I would drive my angst-ridden self out there many days after school and sit in the silence. I could see the pond across the gravel road, feel the wind in the wheat, touch the dirt, and experience the immensity of the land. I could see that the world wasn’t waiting on, or revolving around, me.
The second was the deck attached to my parents’ house, which is situated on top of a mountain in Northwest Georgia. In the late hours, when the house was asleep, I would often sneak out to the deck, and on clear nights, the billions of stars and the expanse of the valley infused Meaning back into my quest. But that Meaning came from seeing that I, in fact, did not live in an isolated snow globe of my own existence. I lived in a universe that sang a different song, and I was not its Theme.
If we are attentive to the culture, we will see this truth: human beings can never be “authentic” when we attempt to separate ourselves from God. Even in attempting “authenticity,” we find ourselves just repeating our culture’s sexual mantra.
I think, at times, given the chaos of our world and the genuine love we have for our kids and students, we run around looking for quick solutions, for a list of do’s and don’ts. But in our hectic spirit, we have neglected to look up.
Repositioning our secularized sexuality starts with turning our gaze elsewhere, escaping the prison of our own self-centeredness to rejoin the universe in its grand song to its loving Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.
A Look Up
There are tons of things we, as parents and youth ministers, can say and do to reach our kids. But we mustn’t begin there. Addressing the secularized sexuality of our kids starts with humbly addressing our own, with lifting our eyes to meet our Savior’s. We need to apply both the balm and challenge of Jesus to our own suffering wounds and sinful flesh in real, practical ways today.
As to our sexual sufferings, we need to bring them to the One who cares for us. Consider Psalm 56:8: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”
Can you imagine your God compassionately tallying your many, excruciating battles with pornography, loneliness, insecurity, or same-sex attraction? Can you imagine Him holding a bottle up to your eye to catch your tears shed for the son or daughter who has embraced a rebellious life? Can you think of Him with His cosmic book, recording your sorrows in prose?
But doesn’t that make the world about me? Certainly not. It is the ironic nature of grace. Grace is water to a dry mouth, enabling speech and song to our God.
How can we bring our sorrows and sufferings to Him? Let me suggest one thing: let’s honestly pray to Him today. Let’s lay our frustrations, our despairs, our inabilities, our sufferings at His feet. And, in doing so, let’s remember the One who hears us. He is the One who did not stay aloof but suffered with us, for us.
As for our sins, the call for repentance must be laid upon us before it can be laid upon our kids or students. In the warmth of his kindness (Romans 2:4), let’s turn back to Him in practical ways even today. When we get angry with our children, let’s apologize to them and ask for their forgiveness, teaching them how we come to our Father. Instead of trying to manage the pull to look at porn on our smartphones, let’s consider a dumb phone.
Do we need to apply the balm and challenge of Christ to our kids’ sufferings and sins? Absolutely. But we cannot offer to them something we haven’t received ourselves. We cannot ask our students to lift their gaze if our own is downwardly fixed.
Only when we, ourselves, fix our gaze on Jesus in everyday ways will our families and ministries find their true place in the universe, not as creators, but as creatures; not as masters, but as servants; not as movers, but as moved. Only then will we, and those kids under our watch, be set in motion, not by our farcical, self-defining meaning-quest but by love for our Great God.
High phantasy lost power and here broke off;
Yet, as a wheel moves smoothly, free from jars,
My will and my desire were turned by love,
The love that moves the sun and the other stars.³
Note: this blog was originally published in our harvestusa magazine as “A Look Up: Discipling Students in an Age of Pour-Over Coffee and Smart-Tech.”
¹G.C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: The Work of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), 18.
² Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th Ed., Ed. K. Scott Oliphint, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing), 72.
³ Dante Alighieri, Paradise, Trans. Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds, (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1969), 347.
To see Cooper talk more about this issue, click on Cooper’s video blog, A Look Up: Touching the Heart of Students. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
28 Sep 2017
It’s hard to be honest with someone about what it’s like to live with same-sex attraction. But keeping this struggle secret will only isolate you and make your walk with Christ more difficult. Desmond talks about some first steps you can take to begin opening up and inviting other brothers and sisters in Christ into your life, and receive the care and friendship you need.
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Desmond’s blog: “Hiding my same-sex attraction—Part 2.”
28 Sep 2017
My previous blog looked at why men and women with same-sex attraction in our church still find it difficult to share what they struggle with. You can find that blog here, and my previous video blog here.
I’ll repeat what I said about disclosing this struggle with same-sex attraction: it’s difficult to do this, for both personal reasons and for reasons that might have more to do with the people in your life or the church you attend. You need to identify what your reasons are for keeping this a secret.
And then, you need to face what keeping a secret does to you, and any of us: it perpetuates your feelings of being alone, and in the long run, it weakens your walk with Christ because growth in faith depends on being increasingly open and honest with others and with God.
Hiding anything gives that “thing” a life of its own; it gives power to the secret to become larger and stronger in our lives. But God’s word tells us that living in openness and transparency is the key to intimacy with him, and with others. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Hiding anything gives that “thing” a life of its own; it gives power to the secret to become larger and stronger in our lives.
Now I want to talk about how to open up and talk about this. I want to talk about how we help men and women with same-sex attraction who come to Harvest USA take a few first steps in moving toward others in honesty and transparency. Once you are persuaded that keeping this matter a secret hinders your spiritual growth, knowing what some first steps to take can be helpful. Here are some practical steps in how to walk in the light with your struggle.
Find someone you know who is safe
Willingness to share is the first step. It is an important step, but that is not where it stops. Identifying someone with whom to share can be an even more fearful step. Who do I know well enough to trust this with? How will they react when I share a struggle that they most likely know nothing about?
Sometimes feeling totally “ready to share” may never come. Take your time, be patient with yourself. Pray about it. Don’t rush the process, but also do not back away from taking such a step once you are convinced that sharing your struggle is needed for your growth in Christ. Be willing to trust God for the right timing. A note of caution: Be careful of sharing prematurely (rushing through this), or sharing with someone who lacks spiritual maturity.
On a practical level, think small. Start with your immediate circle: a small group leader, a brother or sister in the church whom you have had some ongoing contact with, or an overseeing elder. The person who might be the right one is someone whom you have shared something else with and found that they handled it well.
Ask for mutual vulnerability
To grow in freedom means building and establishing mutual vulnerability. Trust is something that is built by being honest with someone about our struggles. But you want this growing trust with someone to be a part of a symbiotic endeavor. Mutuality will keep you from feeling like you are a ministry project.
The goal for mutual sharing and vulnerability is that you are inviting this person to grow with you.
It is important to keep in mind that the primary function of this relationship is not mentoring or counseling (unless that is the purpose you want). We’re talking friendship here. Look for someone who will also be honest about their struggles, even if it is not same-sex attraction. In fact, it’s safer not to pick someone who shares the same struggle.
As this friendship develops, see if it’s mutual. If it feels one-sided, share your need for mutual vulnerability. An open and honest relationship will develop healthy boundaries that can handle it. Sharing invites mutual sharing, so let it come naturally, but also express your need for it if it is not there. The goal for mutual sharing and vulnerability is that you are inviting this person to grow with you.
Sometimes, however, the other person is as afraid as you to talk honestly about their life struggles. Be okay with that. The relationship may not work out. It may be necessary to seek out someone else.
In the years since I shared publicly what God has done for me and is continuing to do in my struggle with same-sex attraction, it has been an encouraging experience. Being honest about how I got myself into sinful messes with my struggle, and how I am still learning to trust God, is only possible because brothers came alongside me and acknowledged their own brokenness and need of Christ. The mutuality of our sharing is what turns me from self-sufficiency to healthy interdependence. In this sharing, I experience God caring for me.
Ask for accountability
Without having others involved in our struggle, we’ll get stuck. Growth in holiness ultimately plays itself out in our day-to-day involvement with others.
For some, the struggle with same-sex attraction involves thoughts, fantasy, and desires about another person. They may never act out on their feelings, but Christ spoke of “adultery committed in the heart” in Matthew 5:27 as being on the same continuum as behavior. As believers, we should never minimize our internal struggles with sexual sin as being “no big deal.”
For others, the struggle involves actively acting out by looking at pornography or having sexual encounters. Both internal and external sexual sin is sin. The nature or intensity of the struggle doesn’t determine whether you need accountability or not. All of us need accountability because none of us are guaranteed freedom from the temptations around us or within our own hearts. As a ministry worker with same-sex attraction, I have learned the value of making accountability one of my top priorities.
Move toward sharing with more than one person
Finally, move toward sharing with more than one person. You need to widen your circle to include one or two others, because having only one accountability partner can be a tremendous weight on the person with whom you have shared. If you do not know how to best go about this, consider asking your men’s or women’s group leader if they can help you share your need for wider accountability.
I hope I have encouraged you to be bold in taking the necessary steps to share your struggle with others around you, and that you will find the support, care, and love I have found in doing so.
To see Desmond talk more about this issue, click on Desmond’s video blog, Hiding My Same-Sex Attraction—Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
21 Sep 2017
It’s hard to be honest with someone about your struggles. We feel weak and shame in admitting that we don’t have everything together. But for those who live with same-sex attraction, the struggle to be open and honest with others in the church is far more intense and scary. Desmond talks about this intense fear, and how it hurts both the struggler and the church.
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Desmond’s blog: “Hiding my same-sex attraction—Part 1.”
21 Sep 2017
Openness and transparency are markers of a healthy Christian community. Honesty about one’s struggles and needs leads us to reach out to Christ and others for the help we need. But this is harder for believers who live with same-sex attraction.
One would think that with a growing acceptance of gays and lesbians becoming more visible in the culture there would be a corresponding acceptance within the church of Christians who follow God’s word on sexuality and who live with same-sex attraction.
But at Harvest USA we continue to see this issue remain hidden in the church. That means there are lots of brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction whose lives remain shrouded in secrecy. They don’t want to disclose their struggle because of the possible consequences of doing so.
The most obvious reason for staying silent is the fear of rejection. The most intense fear is the fear of rejection from your friends (and yes, I know many who have friendships lasting for years and, sadly, they have never opened up about this to them).
Will my friends think any different of me? Will I be treated with distrust? Will I understand their responses? Will they understand me? How might this news radically change the level of friendship I already have? I want more, but I’m deadly afraid to lose what I’ve got.
I already feel alone and different; I don’t want to feel this anymore.
But the fear is greater than the hope that they might finally be known, and loved, for who they are. So in staying hidden, there remains a part of them that never sees the light of day.
Then there is the fear of gossip. You don’t need everyone knowing this about you, but you fear that it will leak out and spread. Keeping secrets and confidences for a long time is a hard thing to do. If everybody knows this about you, then you’ll dread living in a fishbowl. You are certainly not ready for that.
Then there is the fear of hearing opinions that are inaccurate about same-sex attraction, putting you on the spot, needing to explain again and again.
The desire to keep quiet may seem valid—and feel like the only safe option—but continuing to do so keeps you from growing in your faith. Holding onto a secret from others is also a failure to trust God.
And then there is the fear that, if you stumble and fall into sexual sin, then you know there will be some (many?) who think that sexual sin is the worst kind of offense for a Christian. (And if that’s the kind of church you’re in, there are other gospel-believing churches where that is not the case, and you should seek them out.)
But even if you are in a church that sees sexual struggles and sin as being essentially no different than other faith struggles, these are some legitimate concerns that can keep you from opening up.
But let’s talk for a minute about one other thing that’s hurting you by keeping silent. Not sharing keeps you isolated and feeling alone, which is how you feel almost all the time. The desire to keep quiet may seem valid—and feel like the only safe option—but continuing to do so keeps you from growing in your faith. Holding onto a secret from others is also a failure to trust God.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the cross of Christ is that although it is marked with suffering and shame, it also swallowed up death. In other words, Christ’s death puts to death our sins and fears. We are now given the power to face our fears and struggles and seek help from God and others. And in seeking help from others, we are, in fact, seeking help from God.
The person struggling with same-sex attraction can freely share what God has done, even if there is fear of rejection. I know it’s hard to do this. I get it. I’ve mentioned some of the dangers and difficulties.
And in remaining silent, the church won’t grow. Because how you live your life in the body of Christ affects others.
But when you remain hidden, you won’t grow as you could grow; you won’t experience trust and joy in Christ as you could.
And in remaining silent, the church won’t grow. Because how you live your life in the body of Christ affects others.
My hope is that if you are a same-sex attracted struggler, that you would ask God for the grace to share your struggles with a few others in your church. Start small. To be increasingly honest about who you are. And that in doing so, you will be surprised. Surprised that there will be many who will receive you and love you just as you are, and in accepting you, will love you enough to keep showing you Jesus, and walking with you every step of the way towards him.
To see Desmond talk more about this issue, click on Desmond’s video blog, Hiding My Same-Sex Attraction—Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
14 Sep 2017
Over at Affirming Gender Sam Andreades began mentioning something the media doesn’t talk about: stories of people who transition and the results are nothing like what they hoped for or were promised by our gender-deconstructing culture. This second post from Affirming Gender mentions several more people who did transition and later regretted it.
Here’s Sam’s post of Alternative Trans-Stories.
There is no shortage of stories in the media of how wonderful it is to transition from one sex to another. But the microphone never seems to be handed to the people who did transition and then came to see a better way for themselves. This lack has been addressed by Pure Passion Media/Mastering Life Ministries in their 105-minute documentary, Tranzformed: Finding Peace with Your God-Given Gender, now available on DVD. I have posted before about alternative experiences, but this movie presents us with a cornucopia of stories of going all the way and back again.
The production inserts a few authorities speaking about the matter. These include a Reformed Theological Seminary professor — Go RTS! — and some great footage of Joseph Nicolosi before he died, combined with some helpful history narrative, but the real treasure is the fairly in-depth treatment of fifteen sincere souls, opening up their lives to us and explaining what took them into trans-land and how they traveled thence to gender affirmation. Spoiler alert: Jesus Christ plays a starring role.
The documentary features three times as many guys as girls, which is true to life in terms of the numbers suffering from gender dysphoria. The stories come from around the country. (Although, apart from Maine, the North East is unrepresented. A reason for this, perhaps?) They are all great, and all different.
We watch Walt Heyer’s story of his grandmother cross-dressing him from four years old and how being molested by his father’s adopted brother led to feelings so strange he felt sure that God could not understand them. When he finally made it to the top doctor in this area, he was advised after 45 minutes to get sex-reassignment surgery.
Yet all of them also tell how they came to understand their decisions to go transsexual as leading not to, but rather away from, a realization of who they really are
We learn from Diamond Bell, who was introduced on his paper delivery route to porn by his molester, and how he moved to she-male stuff after he tired of regular porn. We meet Jeffrey Johnston, repeatedly sexually abused by his Dad’s business partner; Daniel Jones, whose mother told him very young that he should have been a girl; and Paul Pickering, who was molested by his mother’s boyfriend from 5 years old to 12 years old, and unable to tell anyone about it.
We learn how, when Kerry Potter’s parents found Kerry cross-dressing in the bathroom, their condemnation wrapped his problem in a blanket of shame; how Daniel Diago, after escaping from his diabolical father, met the Drag Queens and was competing in pageants by 18 years old; how Joe Grant’s gender dysphoria led him to homelessness in Georgia, looking for a way to commit suicide; how Antonio Prodegy’s dad, fresh out of prison, sexually abused him, all the while telling him, “That’s the way a father loves his son.”
The movie lets us walk with Joseph Cluse, sexually molested at Catholic School, gang-raped in the Boy scouts, who went on to pursue the trans experience for affirmation; and Arlen Upshaw who learned that he could get much more of the attention he craved by being a girl.
The women’s side presents us with similar tears: how Kathy Grace Duncan learned early that it was bad to be a girl; how Susan Takata’s rape at ten years old left her with no sense of boundaries; how Joann Grace Harley became the child least wanted; and how Linda Seiler developed her obsession with becoming a man.
All of them saw Jesus Christ as patiently working with them, giving them a new identity.
All of these stories, though told without fanfare, are heartbreaking (and I haven’t relayed the half of it). But they are necessary to hear, as the tellers certainly see their path to transitioning to the other sex as a beginning in these tragic events and unaddressed wrongs.
Yet all of them also tell how they came to understand their decisions to go transsexual as leading not to, but rather away from, a realization of who they really are. All of them saw Jesus Christ as patiently working with them, giving them a new identity. He took Linda on an eleven-year journey of transformation. Jeffrey came to loath his implants. Daniel Jones saw his decision to transition as an act of selfishness. Kerry came to realize that he wanted to know God more than anything else. Diamond was accepted and loved by Pastor Abner just as he was. A man praying for Daniel Delgado told him that he was God’s son, and he felt like a brand plucked from the fire. Antonio had an eight-hour wrestling match with the Almighty. Susan’s pastor convinced her that she wasn’t a failure. The Most High became Pa-Pa to Joseph, and Daddy to Kathy Grace.
You really have not seen anything like this documentary. If we want gender dysphoria and transsexualism to be understood, don’t these stories deserve to be heard also?
Our friend Sam Andreades of Affirming Gender has a couple of posts on something you rarely read about in the media: Stories of people who transition and the outcome was not what they were hoping for. These transition stories are important because they present a reality that the general media blithely ignores. Our culture’s aggressive push to disconnect gender from biological sex, rooted not in reality but ideology, does not always lead to “authentic lives” and happy endings.
Here’s Sam’s post of Transgender Regret Stories and Where to Hear Them.
Talk about regrets of folks who transition to the gender opposite to their body of birth is liable to draw a blank stare from people today, maybe from you too. What? You have never heard of anybody regretting such a decision (or, more painfully, their parents’ decision) to adopt a self-chosen gender? You think that there are only stories of happy, now-wonderfully well-adjusted trans-people who have finally found themselves?
A leopard changing its spots always goes well? Stop for a moment and think. You’ve never heard even one story of regret in the media? Given the novelty of surgical treatment for gender dysphoria, the prevalence of suicide and comorbidity even after the operations, and just the complexity of the matter, doesn’t that strike you as a little fishy? Even a little bit?
You can approach the question of trans-regret from a data perspective. (But if you rely on scientific studies for the answer, pay attention to:
1) Longitudinality—that is, the cohort of patients over a long period of time.
2) Sample preservation—that is, how many of the people they operated on remained in the cohort.
3) Who is doing the study and who stands to gain from the results.
In fact, dear reader, there are many stories of regret, from which you can learn a great deal. But in our current environment, it is only the very most courageous who will tell them publicly.
You can also approach the question from a qualitative perspective, just being willing to listen to people who have regrets. In fact, dear reader, there are many stories of regret, from which you can learn a great deal. But in our current environment, it is only the very most courageous who will tell them publicly. The silence is deafening because it is so strictly enforced. Even as late as ten years ago, you could find a roundabout regret story in the New York Times, even with the word “Regret” in the title. That won’t happen today.
Yet there are public places to listen. World Magazine, in a recent bold issue, lets some of those stories out of the box with some excellent reporting. That issue also introduces Walt Heyer, a living vocal testimony of regret and a long-time opponent of the use of body modification to address gender dysphoria. In an upcoming post I will review one of his books on its own, but you can check out his resources at www.sexchangeregret.com.
Another place to look is in the heart of Denise Shick, who founded Help4Families and has worked with transfolks for over fifteen years. While not the most culturally engaging book ever, her Understanding Gender Confusion is well worth reading. The last part gives you chapter-length testimonies of the gender dysphoric who have come back and how they were redeemed. Note the themes.
These are some of the places where one hears voices of regret, beyond the din. I also know some of these regret stories firsthand from those I have worked with and walked with. Though I am not at liberty to discuss these cases here and now, I can suggest one more place, the best place really–the real gender strugglers in your own life.
Gender dysphoria is only going to increase, which means that it will be more and more likely that you will encounter close friends or loved ones who have made trans-decisions, and those who, with time, regret them. Be open to the experience they will share. Be willing to be involved. Offer the hope that is available to all people who have serious sadness about what they have done with their lives.
The stories are there. We would do well to listen.
31 Aug 2017
For those who struggle with life-dominating sexual struggles, repenting is something that is hard to do. We resist it. We run from it. Why? Bob Heywood talks about the reasons why it’s so hard — and what the one key thing you need to do to stop resisting.
Click to read Bob’s blog on this: Repentance and Resistance.