20 Apr 2017
When a child comes out as gay or transgender, parents go into crisis mode. Often, their response to their child can make the situation worse. Chris Torchia says the first thing a parent should do is to ask questions to get to know their child on a deeper level. Click the following link to read Chris’ related blog: Coming Out as Gay or Transgender: Five things parents must do – Part 2.
Coming out. It’s a scary expression for most parents. In my first blog in this four-part series, I emphasized how important it is for parents to get to know their child and their unique experience of their sexuality and/or gender. To genuinely love your child is to know them more fully, even—no, especially—after coming out. As we continue Part 2 of this blog series, I want to focus attention on what is in your heart as a parent in all of this.
Get to know your own heart
When a Christian parent has a child who comes out as gay or transgender, it can be devastating. Emotions swirl; everything from fear, despair, anger, regret, grief, and more can be part of that experience after the coming out. The experience can hit like news of a sudden death in the family, leaving you shocked and disoriented.
As time progresses, parents can also experience mourning. The loss of the hopes and dreams they had for their child can be intensely painful. They fear the worst as they consider what the future holds for them.
Those who have walked this road a little longer know that the severity of those emotions tends to lessen over time but can still rise to the surface at any given moment. A random Facebook post or picture pops up on their profile; a text conversation with your son feels cold or distant; a friend boasts to you about their daughter’s pregnancy, and the pain and resentment come sweeping back in like a stiff winter wind.
What do you do with all these feelings? I encourage you to be honest. Honest about everything you are experiencing. To get the care and support you need, it will only begin when you honestly face—and talk about—what you are going through.
This can be very hard to do. To reach out to others for help means working through the shame you feel, much of it caused by how you think others will think about you and your family.
But God does not intend for you to carry this burden on your own. He desires to comfort your pain, speak to your fears, and remind you that he is your rock, shield, and fortress in the midst of this great storm. Just as Proverbs 30:5 testifies—“every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (ESV)—let me strongly encourage you to talk to him first. You need to pray and share with him how you are feeling, and invite him to speak in return through the Scriptures.
And in this conversation you will be having with God, you’ll discover his desire is that you be honest not only with him but that you invite others in to share this burden. It’s never just about you and God; it’s about you and God and his people. It’s about how the church community, in particular, comes alongside us in our pain and guides us toward him.
If you are honest, you know your heart can respond in sinful and damaging ways to your child, to others, and yourself.
You can damage your relationship with your child by responding to them frequently in anger following their disclosure. Instead of sharing your sadness with them regarding their newly declared direction, you can find yourself responding to them in anger while you attempt to reason with them. Every time you see them, you have another lecture to give them. This will just drive them away from you and from further opportunities to speak biblically into their life. Any love you do have for them will be lost in the tension that now exists between the two of you.
You can also damage yourself and others with these attitudes and behavior. You can fool yourself by displaying negative attitudes and behaviors toward your child while thinking you are following God faithfully.
But God’s call to all of us is to love even while we are hurting and in pain. When we aren’t doing this, we don’t see how cold and hard our hearts are becoming, until one day we realize how bitter we are toward God for not giving us the child we worked so hard to raise.
All these actions are motivated by a heart that is desperate to control what seems like an out-of-control situation, rather than to be guided by the mystery and uncertainty of how the Spirit does his work.
I encourage you to consider these questions individually and/or with your spouse, as a way to reflect on where your heart is in all of this:
- Do you have someone who knows what’s really going on (a friend, pastor, or church member)?
- Who is one person you could trust to a greater extent by sharing the daily struggles you face with your child?
- Have you asked others to pray for you and your child?
- Has this situation revealed areas of sin in your own heart?
- How can your struggle bring you to pray in more meaningful ways by inviting God to heal your pain and control your heart’s sinful responses?
You must not neglect all that is happening in your heart, for as Jesus said in Luke 6:45, from the overflow of your heart your mouth will speak. We all need help from God and others to process the pain we experience.
You can catch Chris talking some more about this on his video, Coming Out: Five Things Must Do – Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
11 Apr 2017
When a child comes out as gay or transgender, parents go into crisis mode. Often, their response to their child can make the situation worse. Chris Torchia says the first thing a parent should do is to ask questions to get to know their child on a deeper level. Click the following link to read Chris’ related blog: Coming out as gay or transgender: Five things a parent needs to do, Part 1.
Coming out. It’s a scary expression for most parents. It is a far too common experience today for a parent to discover their child is identifying as gay. Teens and young adult children suddenly coming out as transgender is also a growing occurrence in Christian families.
News like this is a very difficult thing for parents to navigate when they hold to biblical convictions of sex, sexuality, and gender. It is hard to know what to do when you are thinking of how to love your child while moving them towards walking in the truth of the gospel. At this point, most parents want to do just about anything to keep their kid on the right path after hearing this news. Their approach to their child can swing in wildly opposite directions.
On one end, parents may try to argue with their child to no end about their decision to come out, seeking to convince them of how misguided they are, and use everything in their power to change them. On the other end, parents may seek to keep things light and superficial in hopes to not ruffle feathers or push them away and hurt the relationship. They refrain from bringing this issue up altogether. Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum, this is a very hard journey to walk.
Wanting your child to turn back from what they are considering is what your heart and emotions scream for, but as it stands now, you have some important work to do—work that is smack in the middle of these two opposite poles.
And the work you need to do… should be directed toward keeping your relationship open with your child. That’s the only way you will still have a voice in their life.
And the work you need to do—as much as it depends on you, as Romans 12:18 says—should be directed toward keeping your relationship open with your child. That’s the only way you will still have a voice in their life. And working to stay connected is still the way to show them how much you love and care for them.
So, I want to give you five things you can do that will help this situation. Five things that won’t guarantee your child will change, but that can be used by God to stir up his or her heart.
Get to know your child
Here’s the first one. Whether your child is 14 years old or 24 years old, you need to get to know your child’s unique life experience and what has led to their decision to identify this way. When someone first comes out as gay or transgender, they most likely have been wrestling with these thoughts for years. There was an interior life that you were not part of, and now one of the most significant ways you can know and show love to your child is by listening to their story.
Here are some sample questions you can use to help you get this important (and yes, scary!) conversation started:
- When did these feelings of (same-sex attraction) begin? Or, when did you start to feel that you were a boy (or girl)? What made you feel that way? (As much as possible, move toward getting specific here, but don’t push too hard at the beginning—this will be a difficult conversation for both of you.)
- What was it like to grow up in our Christian home and struggle with these thoughts and desires?
- How did you feel sitting in our church and struggling all this time in isolation? What were you thinking when you were feeling so alone?
- Why did you feel like you could not come to us when you knew you felt attracted to people of the same sex (or feeling like you were in the wrong body?) Why? What was one thing that kept you silent?
- How do you envision yourself living out your sexuality (or gender) from here on? What do you want your life to look like?
- How do you see this decision to come out and identify as gay or transgender as being OK for a Christian?
- How do you want our relationship to be now that this is in the open?
These questions are by no means meant for interrogation (although that may be a temptation). I encourage you to sincerely desire to know your son or daughter’s experience, not as a means to “fix” them, but out of a desire to love and know them more fully. It’s never too late to have these conversations, even if you are farther out from their initial disclosure.
This discussion (or series of talks) may be an opportunity to strengthen your relationship by talking about past relational hurts or experiences that have impacted your child. It may also present opportunities for you to speak truth to them in a way that they can be open to receive it. You might just be surprised by what they share.
You can catch Chris talking some more about this on his video, Coming Out: Five Things Parents Must Do—Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
02 Feb 2017
Affirming Gender is a new blog site that Sam A. Andreades, pastor, author, and speaker, has put together to create an online forum to discuss issues of gender and transgender. Sam is the author of enGendered: God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship, a biblical and engaging study of how God has given humanity the gift of gender, and of the difference that gender makes in relationships and the rest of our lives.
A few months ago, Sam gave us a rich, in-house teaching on gender and transgender issues, and all of us here at HARVEST USA want to commend his ministry in this crucial area. Check out his new website, and start thinking about and exploring gender in ways that are both biblically solid and, perhaps, different than you would think. That this is a discussion on gender we need to have now is an understatement, given that we now read almost daily about gender being immaterial to who we are as persons or changeable according to the opposite gender we would like to be.
Sam is giving us permission to post some of his blogs that we think help our followers to think through these issues in theological and pastoral ways. Get to know Sam…he’s well worth your time online.
Here’s Sam’s post on affirminggender.com, dated December 31, 2016:
It was in the campus air. Women’s Studies had begun as a field, laying a groundwork for Queer Theory in the 1990s. The people in the know would introduce it slowly, of course, to make sure it wasn’t completely abhorrent. It was the program to tear down the gender binary.
I noticed it in the women’s styles. Long hair was out. Wearing short hair as a girl was a statement. The style was not just easier to brush, but an attempt to cut off any sign that women differed from men.
There are several reasons for the destruction of gender, but this was one. The two camps of academic second-wave feminism (1970s–1980s) were battling about whether to empower women by showing them to be capable of supposed masculine traits or to seek equality by valuing femininity and what women do, working to reconstruct society’s values to value what women are. Neither side won exactly, but the resulting synthesis was a program to obliterate any sense of difference between the genders.
Some women resisted the program. Feminist author-to-be Naomi Wolfe was different, of course. Her incipient tendency to be a gadfly was evident even then in her long, full, flowing, brunette mane, which she refused to cut. She was annoying people even then.
Later-to-be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had just left the law school seven years before, with her hair intact. But she learned there, as we were all learning, that baking cookies was sub-par—if you are a woman, that is. That a calling of making a home for a family was for losers. In the process, we were being taught to disdain our mothers for the stability they made in their homes for us, the stability from which we went on to our great achievements.
They were right about there not being a difference in scalp hair. Men and women’s hair both grow long unless it is cut. As the apostle Paul recognized so long ago (1Co 11:14-15), “the nature of things” in Roman culture gave women of that time glory in their hair, as in American culture of the previous decades. So whose hair is long or short is not a matter of gender.
And yet it was.
Because gender is about relationship, ultimately with the other gender. Shearing that cultural artifact was about defying a practice that expressed a complement to men. It didn’t matter whose hair was short, but it did matter that there was some cultural way of expressing difference. And that was the point. Difference was to be erased.
But gender is all about making a difference. That is why Paul instructs the Corinthians to use the cultural practice to express truth about gender in marriage (v. 16). Erasing all distinction between women and men distances them from one another. And then follows the big mistake of believing that women’s problems can be solved without men, without reference to men, in spite of men.
But that will never happen. And that is why this blog exists. To call us in a better direction. For when you lose gender in relationship, you lose gender.
Welcome to the Affirming Gender blog, Post #1!
30 Jan 2017
Identity. What makes it up? It is no easy thing to decide, and we need help. I am writing this article having just learned today that a young man close to our family has decided that he is really a woman. He is taking a new name to assume what he thinks is his true identity.
People today have done a great switcheroo on the matter. Nowadays, a man’s desires are considered a deep part of who he is, at the core of his being. But his body is simply happenstance, a house of the soul that may be changed, or exchanged, without damage to his identity. We must grieve this change in the culture because it is exactly opposite of what the Bible says about us.
According to the Book, we are chock full of desires, some lofty, some destructive, many mostly contradictory. While some tell us about ourselves, others lie to us about who we are. To root our identity in a particular one is superficial and likely to mislead us. For a person to identify herself by the direction of her sexual desires (as in, “I am a lesbian”) is incredibly dehumanizing and limiting to the psyche. To demand, as our society now does, that people who experience same-sex attraction must identify with those desires, must consider them an inalienable and unchangeable part of who they are, must, in other words, call themselves “gay,” is one of the great harms of our day. It means that many who would like to determine themselves differently cannot get help with unwanted same-sex attractions. Even if they are aware that help exists, they will be persuaded against seeking it out.
At the same time, under the influence of Plato, Gnosticism, and, more recently Rene Descartes, our culture has decided that our bodies are not an important component of our identities. The body is considered a cage of our real selves, and sometimes a hindrance to our spirituality. But, in the beginning, God declares that He gives us bodies to reflect His image. In the first chapter of Genesis, He makes us masculine and feminine, giving us physical characteristics to guide us into our identities. That integration is maintained throughout the Biblical witness (spend some time, for example, meditating on James 2:26). Our bodies teach us how to be in relationship, and being in relationship is deeply who we are.
Transgenderism is a predictable result of rejecting the Bible’s counsel. We all commonly dislike parts of ourselves. If we switch what does not really compose our identities (our sometimes wrongful sexual desire) for what should compose our identities (our body), then when we experience severe distress with who we are, it makes sad sense to try changing our bodies. But, as the suicide statistics of those who transition show, that modification is not the answer. We are wrecking part of our true identities.
Our gender is a great gift from God, an immense privilege in reflecting His image, and, as expressed through our bodies, an indispensable key to understanding our inner selves. As I’ve said, it is no easy thing to understand our identities and our bodies are given to guide us in that understanding, to help us know how we should love. Why would people reject this great gift?
There are many reasons we could give, but two very important ones stand out. The reasons are false ideas that deceive many people today.
A first reason for believing that one is trapped in the wrong body is misunderstanding what gender is. According to the Bible, gender matters in relationship, and this part of who we are comes out in how we love one another (1 Corinthians 11:11). Again, rejecting this counsel, people come to think of their gender in isolation and rely on societal norms to define manhood and womanliness. They think that being a real man means using power tools, or being a real woman means wearing perfume. If you are a man who does not fit in with the norms around you, or who identifies more with the opposite norms, then—of course, that’s it!—you must really be a woman.
But your gender was never meant to be understood that way. Young people today need more than ever to see the Bible’s beautiful vision of manhood and womanliness so that they can be encouraged that they can do it as they grow. Yes, if I am a girl, I can be a woman in the Lord’s eyes. Yes, if I am a boy, I really can do the things that God calls men to do, I really can reach manhood. Maybe I cannot achieve the culture’s definition, but I can answer God’s call.
Our gender is a great gift from God, an immense privilege in reflecting His image, and, as expressed through our bodies, an indispensable key to understanding our inner selves.
A second reason people are apt to opt for transitioning is mistaking capacity for sympathy for identity. Our secondary sexual traits often overlap. Boys are usually better at math but not always. Girls often do better at languages but not every time. Many more men sleepwalk than women, but that doesn’t mean that no woman ever sleepwalks. God makes this overlap on purpose so that we can relate to one another. Men and women need points of connection. So if a guy feels certain affinities with women, he should understand that he is God’s gift to the church to help the men around him relate to the mysterious others in their midst. Pastorally, we can help this man by helping him to understand how he is uniquely created and how God loves many of these things about him, even things that he himself may hate. This man is given to us to understand women better, but he is not a woman.
These are two of the gross misconceptions, really deceptions, that cloud judgment and pave the road to the adoption of the opposite gender and alteration of the body. They block off finding one’s true identity in Christ.
We can expect the transgender phenomena to increase because when you lose gender in relationship, you lose gender. Our society has, and will. If you do not already, you will soon know someone like our family friend, who is taking a new name as a woman. His parents have written me, in a letter I just opened, urging me to support this decision. While I want relationship with this friend to continue in my life, I do so with great sadness for him. I must grieve at what is, to me, a great case of mistaken identity.
By Dr. Sam A. Andreades
Dr. Sam A. Andreades is a PCA pastor in Pennsylvania and author of the book, enGendered: God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship, published by Weaver Book Company. enGendered won World Magazine’s Theology Book of the Year for 2015. Sam is a friend of, and partner with, Harvest USA in ministry to sexual strugglers.
18 Jan 2017
Seeing the gender struggle
One of our sons announced, almost as soon as he could string together sentences, that he did not want to be a man when he grew up. By the time he was four, he covered his head with yellow T-shirts and flicked his imaginary blond hair over his shoulder.
His dreams, both sleeping and waking, featured him in sequined dresses dancing on stage, with no one in the audience knowing he was male. For years, he wanted to wear fingernail polish, dresses, high heels, and feather boas.
His voice was high and his mannerisms were extremely feminine. He screamed his hatred for his body, “Why can’t someone just cut ‘it’ off and put in a hole instead?” He fantasized about what he had never heard of: gender reassignment surgery.
Our homeschool, all-male-except-mom family wasn’t expecting this. We weren’t expecting a son who kept sneaking into my dresser to try on my lingerie. We weren’t expecting a son who wrote stories about himself dancing with a prince at a ball. We weren’t expecting self-portraits with cleavage. We weren’t expecting a son who took down his curtains to fashion an evening gown.
In 1992, when our son was seven years old, I (Nancy) made calls and sent letters to Christian counseling organizations across the country, willing to pay anything if someone could help our son. One person said, “There’s nothing you can do about problems this serious in a child this young.” One of these organizations gave me a phone number. The receptionist there brightly chirped, “We absolutely can help your son.”
“How?” I clung to the phone.
“We do gender reassignment surgery.”
I quit making phone calls.
Seeing the sin
If our son had been born with a hole in his physical heart, we would have repaired it. What would be wrong with fixing this hole in his soul? Our son’s anguish was clouding our understanding of Scripture. So, we read the Bible with him, hoping to gain a God-honoring perspective on gender. Instead, our son wanted to be Delilah.
As we dug through the rubble of our son’s gender brokenness, we saw his sin. His unbelief that God could help him live as a man. His rebellious demand to be what he wanted to be, not what God made him to be. We also saw our sin. Our fear that God might not work the transformation for which we prayed daily. Our proud and rebellious accusation, “Millions of children bond with their biological sex. How could God keep such a good gift from our son?”
Seeing gospel opportunity
In 1993, after reading an afterword in one of Larry Crabb’s books, I wrote to seek his help. Dr. Crabb urged us not to think of our son “as having a qualitatively different struggle than any boy learning the joys of manhood. Think of it as a continuum and [your son] is at the far end of the struggle, but still on the same continuum of all boys.” United with Christ, we believed God would give us the same courage we were calling our son to embrace as, together, we lived for Christ, rather than for ourselves:
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. (2 Corinthians 5:14-16, ESV)
In place of fear, the love of Christ began to control us. God gave us eyes to see our son by faith and celebrate glimpses of God’s grace at work.
We saw God’s truth as our confusion became conviction that, not only was our son’s gender a gift from the King to be lived for His glory, so was ours. We saw God’s power as our son took broken but beautiful steps of faith.
Dr. Crabb also gave this advice: “Pray together as husband and wife about how the picture of MAN and WOMAN can be lived out clearly, not by trying hard to do so, but rather by expressing joyfully the deepest part of who you both are…” Living out our genders became a joyful current, and we prayed that our son would be swept along in the beauty and symmetry of God’s good design for male and female.
Seeing God together
We helped our son illustrate a book we wrote outlining simple teaching about biblical manhood and womanhood. Later, we wrote a chapter book  that gently wove the theme of biblical manhood into its child-sized plot. We used cloth dolls to tell stories of children living out their genders for the glory of God. We built a castle for our son to sleep in, as a reminder that God was his protection amid what was for him a terrifying prospect: becoming a man. We fasted and prayed that our son would see his gender as hallowed, rather than happenstance. We laid hands on our son while he slept and spoke blessings over him. We recruited two dozen people who prayed daily for our son and our parenting. We cried—often.
And we saw God. We saw God’s truth as our confusion became conviction that, not only was our son’s gender a gift from the King to be lived for His glory, so was ours. We saw God’s power as our son took broken but beautiful steps of faith. We saw God’s mercy as the treasure of the gospel worked in and through jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7). We saw the goodness of the God who “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). We saw God’s glory, and that became enough.
As our son moved through his teenage years, he became more masculine. Recently, he said, “I’m so glad you didn’t turn me into a girl.” Instead, his struggle with same-sex attraction became the frontline of his fight. He remained involved in church and shared his struggles with his pastor. As he matured, his heart orientation toward God and His Kingdom strengthened. After moving to another city, he found a Gospel-centered church where he is involved in a strong small group. He is fighting his fight, but it is still a fight.
If our son, however, now claimed to be our daughter, our story of seeing God’s glory and becoming satisfied with Christ alone would still be a good story. It glorifies God when Christian parents teach their children that gender is a gift from the King to be lived for God’s glory—regardless of the outcome.
We don’t simply show mercy to children who hate their gender because we hope the mercy will change them. God calls us to delight in showing mercy because it glorifies the God who shows extravagant mercy to sinners. Working for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23) may involve spending oneself and seeing no fruit. Mercy that flows from the love of God shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5) glorifies God even if we never see results from that mercy. “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
“Now we see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We fight for glimpses of God’s glory in His Word and His world. One day, however, our faith will be sight. We will see Him as He is and be changed to be like Him (1 John 3:2). Our present sufferings—anguish for a child who struggles with gender, marital conflict over how to disciple a child who longs to change genders, hurtful comments made by others, dread over a child’s future—will work for us a weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). We will enter the glory we fought to glimpse. And it will be more than enough.
Chuck and Nancy Snyder, with permission from their adult son
 Lions for Ajax, to be published by Shepherd Press.
09 Jan 2017
“What’s wrong with changing your gender if your body is sick—if your body is wrong for you?”
How’s that for a question to answer? The question’s larger context was this: If you’re sick, you go to the doctor and get help. If you lose your leg, you get a prosthesis. If you’re depressed, you take medication. So what’s wrong with changing your gender if your body is sick, if something is wrong with it?
Ellen Dykas and I went to a coffeehouse talk for young adults at Calvary Church in Souderton. Calvary has a terrific discussion event called Living Room Tuesdays, where, according to their website, “these meetings are meant to be a safe place for young adults to discuss issues, ask questions, and learn how the Bible directs us to respond to these issues.” As John McCants, the Pastor of Young Adult Ministries (who, BTW, is totally in sync with this age group!) said to us, “We’ve got to get Christians thinking well on these subjects. We don’t want to be stupid!”
So, yes, it was a safe place to open up and talk about transgenderism. But what came through was the fact that this is, indeed, a very hot topic. And one rife with confusion, courtesy of our culture’s pervasive post-Christian views of gender and sexuality.
After an hour of interactive discussion with John McCants, we took questions. Lots of questions. Questions that really couldn’t be answered with a simple yes or no, do this or don’t do that. Wisdom questions and conscience questions, particularly about how to intersect faith with living our Christian lives “out there” in the marketplace.
Then, near the end of our time, came the question at the top. Upon hearing it, I recognized the cultural mindset behind it. If someone feels this way, then why do Christians find fault with it, especially if, for them, it might be a life or death issue? There are lots of things we fix or change in life, so why shouldn’t transgenderism just be another one?
Our churches need to get these cultural issues on the table for discussion, to air them out, and to help people see the wisdom of God’s design in making men and women his image bearers.
Lurking behind this individualistic framework is our culture’s insistence that truth and reality are arrived at from my own personal experience. And if there is no God, then who I am (identity) and what I do (purpose) are entirely up to me.
Tragically, it’s a mindset that has infiltrated the church. While Christians should respect people’s life experiences, we must also be a people who believe that who we are and what we are here for is determined by God, who has put into place both design and boundary lines so that we might live well.
I couldn’t go too deep into a cultural worldview discussion at that point (we were wrapping things up after two long hours!), but this is what came to my mind. I acknowledged the deep struggle someone might have with aligning their biological sex with their sense of gender, but more foundational than someone’s distress is this issue: Does God have a primary claim on who we are, or are we in charge of choosing whatever seems right for us?
Then I said: Since when is being male a disease to be cured? Since when is being female a medical condition that needs intervention? If there are no biological complexities involved like intersex complications, why would you do this to an otherwise healthy, normal body? Why do we intervene in other “body dysmorphic” issues like anorexia but not this one?
With someone who is literally starving but believes she is overweight, we properly locate where the struggle is: The person’s mind and heart, which has become influenced by self-destructive impulses, erroneous beliefs, and cultural distortions of what a body should look like.
Why would we not do the same with a gender-confused person? We need to help that individual live well within his or her “assigned gender,” to learn that being male or female reflects the image of God and his purposes for our lives.
There’s more to be said about the issue of transgenderism, but Calvary Church in Souderton, PA, is on the right track. Our churches need to get these cultural issues on the table for discussion, to air them out, and to help people see the wisdom of God’s design in making men and women his image bearers.
Go to this link to see the videos on this discussion, as well as follow-up videos from the second time we had a similar discussion at Calvary.
In general, people rarely come forward to talk about their sexuality, sexual struggles, or sexual identity issues. Therefore, it can be difficult to address people pastorally, even when pastors are willing and want to help people deal with their sexual brokenness. On the other hand, pastors are sometimes increasingly reluctant to address these issues themselves. One member of a church filled with millennials told me that his church never addresses issues like sexuality at all. That’s pretty ironic, given that this generation is the most porn-exposed, gay-affirming, and pro-gay marriage group of any generation—even in very conservative churches. In the absence of guidance from church leaders, the culture has done its own job of discipleship in this area quite well!
“Every day, it’s almost like I’m only one step away from starting to believe that, just maybe, we are the ones who have been wrong [about homosexuality].”
Indeed, pastors have told me they fear that the culture, sexually speaking, is starting to impact their leadership and elders as well. Case in point? Sam, an elder at a larger congregation with a mostly younger crowd, confessed to me recently, “Every day, it’s almost like I’m only one step away from starting to believe that, just maybe, we are the ones who have been wrong [about homosexuality].”
Phil, a pastor in a large metropolitan-area church, told me that some people stopped attending his church when they found out that the church held a biblically faithful stance on homosexuality. “Visitors are often offended when they learn what we believe about this issue, even though we talk about it with grace and mercy.” It’s true. Today it’s quite normal for someone to inquire of an individual, once they find out they are a Christian, “Well, what do you think about homosexuality? Is it a sin?” It’s seen as the new barometer of trustworthiness in the eyes of the inquirer. In an analogous way, church visitors, even those who may attend an introductory or membership class, also want to know up front now, “What does your church think about homosexuality?” One pastor described trying to navigate these waters today as a minefield—no matter what he says or how kindly he will say it, someone is going to be upset. In fact, the upset party may very well leave the church, perhaps taking some others with them.
Maybe that’s why one pastor of another large city church told me not long ago, “We’ll never have anyone from Harvest USA come and speak to our congregation. I don’t want to offend anyone, especially those who may be gay in the church.” Well, okay, but my question to that pastor would be, “How do you plan to educate your people biblically about sex and sexuality? Or are you just going to let them figure it out for themselves, continuing to allow the hundreds of other voices out there be their instructors?” I also wonder how struggling members of such a congregation might ever be encouraged towards honesty, faith, and repentance when it comes to their sexual temptations, struggles, and sin—to even want to get help.
My guess is that fear of man and a desire to not upset the apple cart are often ruling forces here. We err when we dismiss or fail to teach on something as big and important to God as sex. If we talk about these things biblically (as in really teaching what God says), we may fear that our message won’t go over well with those who are exploring the faith.
But church leadership doesn’t have to walk on eggshells, fear, be confused, or choose silence. Yes, teaching and speaking the whole counsel of God, offering mercy and grace all the while, can be a challenge. Yes, we’ll need to be more strategic in learning how to engage the culture that is already deeply influencing our own people. But if there’s any time that we must proclaim the truth and grace of God about these issues, it’s today!
Harvest USA wants to help pastoral staff, other church leadership, elder boards, etc., to better consider how to communicate all this with their congregations. No longer can we just wait on the sidelines. As leadership, we must intentionally think about how we can guide and help our people better understand God’s intention in these areas.
Please let us know if you’d like Harvest USA staff to help your church leadership and key volunteers think through these things. Your church staff and other leadership will be much better prepared to help the congregation if you do. Send me an email for more information on how your church leadership can begin to tackle these issues—and, therefore, be enabled to lead your people well in concerns close that are close to the heart of God.
19 Dec 2016
A pastor calls, wondering what he should do. A married woman in his church is beginning to look like a man. Over several months her changed appearance has made it increasingly clear that a slow but significant transformation is happening. But neither the woman nor her husband has asked for help. No one in the congregation has said anything publicly, though people are beginning to take notice. Hence his confusion. What should this pastor do?
For a church to help someone with gender confusion, they must first see a real person in distress. When we get down to the level of the individual, this becomes not a cultural battleground but a person who is struggling. Yes, our culture has made transgenderism the issue du jour, but the person in front of you is like a lamb without a shepherd. In everything you do, help her come to the true Shepherd who will gently guide her.
So, if someone in your church is struggling with gender confusion, we need to do more than proclaim adherence to Genesis 1 and 2 to resolve his or her dilemma. Yes, good biblical teaching on sexuality is necessary. We must not abandon the anchor position that Scripture gives us: God created humanity as male and female, and those two genders are who we are as unique, individual persons. Living out our given maleness and femaleness is an essential part of what it means to be human.
But we also live in a Genesis 3 world. Ours is a world that is broken, resembling God’s original design but increasingly showing deep cracks in how God’s image bearers reflect his image. Men and women have struggled with sexuality and gender for countless ages, so this isn’t anything new.
What is different now, however, is how the culture has turned reality upside-down, insisting that the individual decides what is real and true, rather than the individual conforming to reality. But those who wrestle with their gender identity don’t think they are trying to be rebellious. Rather, they are confused, desperate, and fearful, trying to make sense of their pain. The distress they feel is real. The world’s solution seems more hopeful, a better “fit” to their struggle, so they embrace the post-Christian script that gender is essentially pliable.
What is our advice on what this pastor could say to this woman? How might he speak a message that could give her hope—maybe enough hope to grasp why God has called her to live as a woman; maybe enough hope that she can begin to see herself living congruently with her femaleness; and maybe enough hope for a future that would help her choose to slow down and reverse the transition process she seems to be pursuing?
What do we say? Here are five broad principles this pastor and a church can pursue:
Affirm and recognize how hard this is
Affirm the likelihood that this struggle has been going on for some time. Recognize that this is not a superficial battle and that she and others are trying to make sense of what they experience. Ask good questions so that you can begin to grasp what her life is like and why she feels so strongly that she needs to transition to the opposite gender. When did you start feeling this way? When do you feel it most strongly? What makes you feel most desperate? Get to know her; listen to her stories that are shaping her. Listen carefully.
Understanding biblical truth, and then applying it to our hearts, is a journey, so expect this to take time.
Carefully teach and seek mutual involvement
Communicate to her that deep, persistent struggles grow stronger when we contend with them in isolation. As someone who attends your church, ask if she would allow you to keep speaking into her life about this. You want to hear her thoughts but you also want her to listen as you share a biblical perspective on gender and sexuality. Keep in mind that she has come to hate parts of herself, so communicate in a way that helps her question what she believes about gender rather than trying to convince her with an argument. Questions like, If God has designed every detail of your life from the beginning (Psalm 139), how do you view God if you insist on transitioning? What makes you hate parts of your body when God loves the very body he gave you? What would need to change if you began to accept the body you were born with? Do you know what Scripture says about what it means to be a man or a woman? How is that different from what you believe?
Understanding biblical truth, and then applying it to our hearts, is a journey, so expect this to take time.
Good teaching is rarely, if ever, the sole factor that encourages someone to move in the right direction. Our words, combined with our loving presence, are what people in pain need. Being involved also means connecting her to the body of Christ. You could assist her with Christian counseling, help her find an older and wiser woman as a mentor, involve her in appropriate ministry, pray with her, etc. It is in the body of Christ where we grow. Here, among those who will encourage her, she will learn to accept and grow into the gendered body God gave her. Walk with her for as long as it takes, through all the successes and failures that will be a part of her journey.
Help her to grasp that our life, which includes our body, first belongs to God
Patiently teach that believers in Christ have a deeper foundation for their identity than those in the world. We do not have the right to be autonomous, self-determined individuals, creating identities and lives that fit our felt needs. We are unique individuals, but we first belong to the One who gave us life and redemption. Being made in the image of God includes our gendered body; who we are and how we relate to God and others flows through and is shaped by the body we are given at birth. The body is not like a piece of clothing we can change; we are “ensouled bodies,” bodies into which God breathes life. The body he has given us is essential to our identity.
An identity grounded in Christ seeks his purposes above all else. Orienting ourselves around Christ allows us to reflect on the secure identity that he offers, rather than frantically trying to discover or fashion an identity for ourselves. Grounding who we are in Christ gives us the means to fight and grow increasingly free of internal desires that first confuse and then enslave us.
Teach a biblical view of perseverance in the midst of suffering
Acknowledge that some life-situations are chronic, persistent, and will not be completely resolved in this life, like many chronic disability circumstances. We are called to persevere faithfully in certain situations, to discover in and through the struggle that God’s grace gives all of it meaning, purpose, and daily strength to live, grow, and even to prosper (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
Call her to bring God into the heart of the situation
Bringing God into the heart of the situation is absolutely necessary because this is a spiritual issue too. Her gender distress has another element of struggle, beyond what she or others think about this issue. And it is this: To go against God’s design and purpose (and reality itself) brings about increasing confusion and pain. Searching for healing is not necessarily wrong, but pursuing solutions that violate God’s intentional design and purpose is rebellion against him. Bringing God into the center is to move toward obeying him, even when it is difficult.
Obedience involves repentance, a daily practice that slowly brings about change and joy. This is accomplished not by focusing on behavior, but by helping her see her heart, the place where she still seeks to find her own solutions. Help her see that obedience is not just keeping a set of rules, but rather the means to experience following Christ as a life-affirming direction. But be careful about what obedience looks like. We are not calling her to live out gender stereotypes, but for her to embrace being a woman who lives that out in ways that honor God, which can look uniquely different than our preconceptions.
We could say a lot more here. But speaking into these broad categories might open doors to effectively help someone wrestling with gender confusion to seek God’s help to be who God has called him or her be.