17 Jun 2021
His response surprised even me. He had asked how many were in the group. “Six?!” he exclaimed, his eyes wide with shock and dismay. I was inviting him to join a group of men who met regularly to share fellowship in the gospel and encouragement in the same lifelong sexual sin struggle as he. I had been the first person with whom he had ever been so honest. But a group was, for now, still too much. He was not yet ready for even a few more to know him that well.
By inviting him to express himself with open humility before a larger number of men, I was gently coaxing him into fellowship in the light with God and others (1 John 1:5–7). Without such fellowship, there is no gospel joy, no gospel transformation; fear and shame are both jail and jailor—especially for those who struggle with sexual sins and temptations. Far too often, the message they have received is that they will be rejected if they let anyone know that they even struggle with such things. Many know this through cruel experience. So they remain in hiding and isolation. Sin and darkness reign and grow in that place.
This is why Harvest USA strives to create an environment that encourages people to come into the light, to speak the hardest truth about themselves, to speak in community about the temptations and sins that have dominated their lives. And we believe that many churches still need to be encouraged to grow in this. We urge community in which both truth and mercy are undiminished. I see many churches making progress in this direction.
And yet, we do not view this simplistically as a pendulum that needs to swing to the other side. Yes, the Church must continue to grow in being a place where sin struggles of all kinds can be discussed and met with gospel mercy, gospel challenge, and gospel hope, not disgust, disdain, and condemnation. But as we make this progress, we need to be alert to some pitfalls along the way. I will describe two.
- The pitfall of God-less authenticity
We live in a culture that prizes a sort of brazen authenticity that is only occasionally corralled by, “TMI!” Our culture’s love for authenticity is not exactly the same thing as the fellowship we aspire to. In fact, it is quite different. Put simply, in our culture’s practice of authenticity, God is not in the audience. Our culture presupposes the non-existence of God. In this context, authenticity flows from the individual’s need to create meaning from within herself. Without a transcendent standard, without God, authenticity is unmoored from accountability. There is no aspect of confession, no sin, only honesty and freedom of expression.
We must resist this God-less authenticity. First, because its presupposition is false; God does exist, and we are accountable to him. But also, because the gospel—the good news—is that our accountability to God need not lead to condemnation. There is grace, redemption, and hope in Christ. It is largely because our world either does not know or does not believe this that it seeks an authenticity based on denying God’s existence.
- The pitfalls of “identifying”
In our culture, “identification” has become a common tool in the service of authenticity. So, for example, someone might “identify” as gay or some other subset of LGBTQ+. The idea is tricky to describe and evaluate, but some precision and clarity is necessary. Here is the relevant dictionary definition¹:
identify as: Assign (a particular characteristic or categorization) to oneself; describe oneself as belonging to (a particular category or group)
As defined here, especially in the first sense of assigning a characteristic to oneself, this is fairly common. Grammatically, it involves connecting a predicate adjective or a predicate nominative to ourselves—“I am blonde,” “I am a conservative,” “I am male.” But not every instance of saying something about self is “identifying as.” The second part of the definition adds the sense of placing ourselves in a category, class, or group. The idea of “identification” comes with pitfalls in two directions—one to the left and the other to the right, we might say.
Pitfall #1: Communicating the unstated assumptions of identity politics
It is the second part of the definition, placing oneself in a category or group, that has come to be used in what some call “identity politics.” Used in this way, identifying with a particular group generally implies a whole set of other unstated assertions about that group. Let me suggest a few of the unstated connections that often are implied in such identification:
a. This use of identity is generally claimed on the basis of a trait that is assumed to be indelible.
b. The connection of the group is not merely by commonness of trait but, rather, forms a distinct community with mutual belonging and purpose.
c. The group or class identified by that trait is assumed to have been subject to systematic persecution or oppression.
d. Therefore, as a corrective of c., both the trait and the community identified by it are to be affirmed and celebrated.
e. Lastly, a point which seems to go with the cumulative combining of the previous four: When identification is done in this “identity politics” way, it often represents a level of personal meaning and significance that places it at the core of the sense of self.
Perhaps you can already see how some of these, or perhaps all of them, would be a problem for a Christian if the trait that was the basis of the identification was a sinful condition. Viewing the trait as indelible conflicts with the gospel promise of ultimate glorification and current progressive transformation. A sense of mutual belonging and purpose with a distinct community might, if carefully defined and limited, be seen as a mission-field connection. But it is just as easy to imagine it becoming an alternative and competitor to the Church. As to points c. and d., while godly compassion will always seek to come near to suffering with healing and justice, it cannot do so by affirming or celebrating sin. Finally, no identification with any trait or with any category or group should compete with the gospel reality of what we are in Christ, variously described in the Scriptures.
These unstated implications of identification, as used in identity politics, are the reason why we at Harvest USA have preferred the term “same-sex attraction (SSA)” over terms like “gay” or “lesbian.” You’ll notice that there is no “S” in “LGBTQIA+.” The goal is not to have a different way to say the same thing; it is to avoid the pitfall of communicating those problematic assumptions listed above while encouraging unhindered openness and fellowship in the Lord.
However, this brings us back to the concern I started with, and the other pitfall…
Pitfall #2: Reacting against any language that sounds like identification in such a way that people are driven back into silence and isolation
Focusing so strongly on the issue of identification can inadvertently communicate that honest description of sin struggles is unsafe. Rather than the mercy of the gospel gently inviting self-disclosure and confession, a culture of shame and stigma encourages everyone to “play the game,” look good, and make sure nobody finds out what the real battle is in our hearts and minds. In order to love those who are struggling to come into the light, we may need to be less concerned with the terms used and more concerned with their hearts. That may require us to forego a discussion of terms of identity and the wisdom of using particular language, and instead prioritize discipleship in the gospel truths that counter all of the false implications that may be attached to their current vocabulary.
Also, we should keep in mind that outside of the world of identity politics, it is quite normal to “identify as,”—to assign a particular categorization to oneself or describe oneself as belonging to a certain category or group—while neither intending nor being heard to mean any of the unstated assertions listed above. It is even possible, if wisely subsumed in a gospel context, to do this with a sinful category. For instance, Paul can write, “The saying is trustworthy, and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). He is displaying an extraordinary humility of self-expression, identifying not merely as “sinner” but, in the older versions, “chief of sinners.” And he encourages others to do the same. But Paul communicates none of the erroneous implications listed above. His freedom to identify as a sinner is firmly set in the context of redemption. His identification as chief of sinners does not share the same place in either his argument or his sense of self as does his identification as “an apostle of Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:1). No one reading Paul in context would think otherwise. His use of identity language here is subsumed under and serves the gospel: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). Paul carefully and wisely uses language in a way that does not encourage people to remain in sin and darkness, but draws them from it to the mercy of Christ. Indeed, it would seem healthy for all of us to stand before the Lord and declare who we are apart from him, that he may declare to us who we are now in him.
Let us pray and strive for wisdom and humility as we call people out of darkness into fellowship in the light and into an identity in Christ which is eternal.
¹“identify.” Oxford’s Lexico.com. 2021. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/identify (8 June 2021).
06 May 2021
Our world today is obsessed with self-concept and “identity.” We have never been more encouraged to form thoughts about ourselves and to shape our lives by those thoughts. But what our culture lacks is an objective truth beyond ourselves by which our self-assessments might be shown to be false and harmful.
The Bible is full of stories of people just like us—people who are blind to who they really are and blind to their own blindness! Since Adam and Eve, we humans have tried to understand ourselves under the guidance of our autonomous hearts. The result is that we alternate between thinking too highly of ourselves and thinking too lowly of ourselves. We are either building ourselves up in pride, arrogance, and entitlement or descending into self-defeating despair and depression. The lies we believe about ourselves have contributed to the power of sin over us.
Consider some of the characters whom we know from Scripture. Let’s try to straightforwardly state the things they believed about themselves.
- First, Adam and Eve thought, “I am like God.” Then, “I am more able to discern good and evil than God.” And finally, “I am a doomed rebel. My only hope is to flee God.”
- How about Lamech, Cain’s descendant who thunders menacingly at his wives, “…listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4:23–24). How does Lamech define himself? “I am powerful; I am entitled to fear and respect.” Or, could it be, “I am unsafe and vulnerable, and I must protect myself by controlling others with violence and fear?”
- How about the son in Jesus’ parable who has come to be known as the “prodigal” (Luke 15:11–13)? What does he believe about himself as he asks for “what is coming to me” and then goes off to squander it in “reckless living?” “I am entitled to ease and prosperity. I flourish because I am true to myself.” And, after he came to his senses, returning with his rehearsed speech to his father, perhaps he thought, “I am an unlovable failure.”
- How about Saul, after having been anointed by Samuel as God’s choice to be king, cowering and hiding among the baggage (1 Samuel 10:20–22)? “I am doomed to failure.” “I must rely on my own resources and strength to succeed.” “I am a fraud; if people ever saw me truly, they would reject me.”
Do you recognize any of those thoughts in yourself? Do you cling to self-thoughts that are both exaggeratedly autonomous, independent, and selfish, as well as fearful, condemning, and self-loathing? Are you the one whom David describes, “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated” (Psalm 36:1–2)? Or does your heart speak with the voice of Psalm 22:6, “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people?” Those with sexual sin in their past and present know both sides of these thoughts about self, often simultaneously.
What can be done? How does one find freedom from such destructive thoughts?
The answer lies outside of yourself. The supreme lie of our current world may be the ever-present message that you must define yourself, that you find your identity within, whether in your experience or in your heart (defined in the Disney way). That is the oldest lie humans were ever told. But the truth is that you do not have the authority to define yourself. None of us do. So who does?
If we do look outside of ourselves, our first tendency is to look to other people. Their praise or their abuse weighs heavily in our self-identification. Of course, the psalmist thinks he is “a worm and not a man,” for he is “scorned by mankind and despised by the people.” If you have been bullied or abused, you may find it easy to think of yourself as “as a worm and not a man.” Also, many of our relational and sexual choices have the aim of surrounding ourselves with the society of those who (we think) will rescue our broken sense of self or reinforce our chosen identity. But other people do not have authority to define you.
The authority to define you lies outside of yourself, not merely in the sense of being outside of your individuality. It is outside of your nature. Only your Creator defines you. And if you have spent your lifetime defining yourself, the identity your Creator gives you will surprise you. Remember that prodigal son? Even when he returned to his father’s house, he only brought with him his self-plausible ideas about who and what he was. The father completely surprised him with love, life, and glory that he could not have anticipated. It turned out he was not a worm, not a failure, not a slave—neither a slave to his own desires and choices nor a slave to his father’s anger and justice. He was a beloved son. What a surprise.
Will you stop defining yourself and let God begin to surprise you?
Take a moment to simply consider what your son or daughter desires. What is he longing for? What does she feel she is getting from her identity that she cannot live without? Questions like this move you to discover what lies beneath the surface and lead you to a deeper understanding of your child.
To learn more about this topic, consider downloading Shattered Dreams, New Hope: First Aid for Parents Whose Son or Daughter Has Embraced an LGBTQ+ Identity which is available as a free digital resource. You can also purchase Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child: Biblical Guidance and Wisdom by Tim Geiger. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “What Lies Beneath Your Child’s Sexual and Gender Identity,” which corresponds to this video.
Understanding your child’s perceived sexual and gender identity is no simple task. Perhaps you have tried to piece together how your child may have come to these conclusions about himself, but you still don’t understand what may have really formed the person he is today.
Although you may never be able to completely answer the how and why questions, you can be sure of one thing that lies beneath your child’s perceived sexual or gender identity: the desires of her heart.
Scripture speaks often about the fruit of our actions coming from what lies in our hearts:
“…from out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:4).
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality…” (Matthew 15:19).
This is a simple yet profound truth that gives great insight into the reasons for why a person comes to do what they do. Take a moment to simply consider what your son or daughter desires. What is he longing for? What does she feel she is getting from her identity that she cannot live without? Questions like these move you to discover what lies beneath the surface and lead you to a deeper understanding of your child.
As you explore these questions, you will probably discover in your child’s heart some of the most fundamental desires that we all experience: the desire to be loved, the desire for acceptance and affirmation, the desire for freedom from pain and suffering, the desire for comfort or affection.
Perhaps your child longs to be accepted and loved by a particular person or group. Maybe she has always felt unwanted or different from others and desires to be affirmed and feel attractive. Often, going through tough experiences shapes the way we view ourselves and the world around us. If your son or daughter has learned that they can meet an overriding desire through sexual experiences, a romantic relationship, or a unique community, he or she will hold onto it tightly and oppose anything that may threaten the security of keeping it close.
We pursue particular desires because we think we are the authorities on how to bring ourselves joy and contentment. But when we pursue them apart from God, or when we cannot fulfill a particular longing, we begin to live for these desires, doing everything in our power to bring about their fruition. Jeremiah 2:13 paints a vivid picture of Israel’s disobedience in this way.
“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water..”
This is the inclination of our sinful hearts. We seek to have our needs met outside of God’s provision for life, and we turn to broken cisterns that we think will give us nourishment. Although the things to which we turn for life in the created world are nothing more than leaky cisterns, we revisit them over and over again, believing these wells can satisfy our souls.
Somewhere along the way, your child has come to believe that his sexuality or gender expression is a central means to having his desires met. Becoming aware of his underlying desires will not only help you understand your child better but will also have significant implications for your relationship with him. Let’s consider a number of things you can cultivate as a result of this insight.
Lead with empathy and compassion. Rather than reducing your daughter down to her behavior, you are able to consider how your child’s suffering and pain have uniquely shaped the particular desires that she wants to be met. Knowing your own tendency to turn to your choice broken cisterns can help you see that you are more alike than different from your daughter.
Dealing with tension and even hostility in relationship with a child is so challenging for parents. Understanding the role that desires play will help you make sense of his defensiveness and rejection of your interpretation that his sexual or gender identity is sinful.
Pray More Meaningfully
Rather than simply praying for behavioral change, pray for the desires of your child’s heart to be molded to God’s, knowing that he wants to satisfy your child’s desires with good things. Pray that God would show himself to be living water, faithful to meet your child in her thirsts.
Have Conversations that Move to the Heart
Knowing something about how desires lead to behaviors moves conversations beyond the surface fruit and helps you to discover what is in your child’s heart. Ask why his identity or sexuality means so much to him and how his sexual or gender expression meets his felt needs.
Although this may seem like a daunting task, as you apply these relational measures, your understanding of your child and what God may be after in your child’s life will become a little clearer. You will see that God does not simply desire to redeem your son or daughter’s behavior; he is after the heart. Though you aren’t able to see the whole picture clearly, he is still at work!
You can also watch the video, “Desires Fueling Your Child’s Sexual and Gender Identity,” which corresponds to this blog.
16 Aug 2018
You cannot change your child when your child says “I’m gay.” No matter how badly you might want to see change, no matter how much you pray, no matter how convincing your argument, you won’t be able to convince your child to change. Your child’s issue ultimately isn’t with you; it’s with God.
Only a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ will lead to the heart change that is needed before behavioral change will occur. God wants to do business with your child’s heart. Your child has adopted a gay identity because, at some level, he has believed lies about God, himself, and others. Romans 1: 21–25 is a clear and sobering description of human behavior in a broken and fallen world. Paul lays out an argument about how the knowledge and pursuit of God is suppressed and twisted in favor of believing lies about God and turning to idols to find life:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1: 21-25)
This is not a passage to hammer your child with about their same-sex attractions! Romans 1 isn’t targeted merely to homosexuals. Paul is talking to all of us! He is saying that everyone in the world has been so impacted by the Fall (Genesis 3) that we all are guilty of serious idolatry, and only a real, transforming relationship with Jesus Christ will enable us to live in increasing wholeness and godliness before God.
Use this passage to remind yourself that, while you can work toward being an agent of change in your child’s life, you can’t expect that you will be able to convince your child to change or make him change. It’s only the Lord who does the changing in our lives. Such change is likely to come about over time, within the context of Christian community—through your relationship with your son or daughter and through his or her relationship with other mature, compassionate Christians who are willing to walk with those who struggle with same-sex attraction and not abandon them through this journey.
Your Child Doesn’t Need to Become Straight
Your child’s deepest need is not to become straight. Your child’s deepest need is the same as every person in this world—a life of faith and repentance in Christ. Having heterosexual sex will not solve your child’s problem. There is more to this issue than sexuality. The ethical opposite of homosexuality is not “becoming straight.” Godly sexuality is about holiness. It is about living out one’s sexuality by increasingly being willing to conform and live within God’s design for sex. Godly sexuality is not merely about being heterosexual; it is not merely about being married and having two kids and living in the suburbs.
Godly sexuality also includes being single and celibate, refusing to be controlled by one’s sexual desires because one chooses to follow a higher value in one’s life—to follow God even when it’s not easy or popular (particularly in the area of sexuality today). Rich relationships and friendships are possible and achievable for singles. Again, the world will have us believe that a life without sex is tragic and not “true to yourself,” but Jesus and the witness of the New Testament is evidence against that false worldview.
Being celibate today is not an easy road. If your son or daughter chooses to follow God’s design for sexuality by remaining celibate, they will need to find people who will support that decision and help them live a godly life. But celibacy may not be the only path that is open before them. There are some men and women who, in turning away from a gay-identified life have found a fulfilling marriage relationship with the opposite sex. Over time, many have found a lessening of same-sex attracted desires and some have even found growth in heterosexual desires (most often not in a general sense, but toward a specific person with whom they have grown to love).
In other words, it is important to bring multiple stories of transformation and change to the discussion. You do not know what the Lord has in store for your child’s future. Marriage may be out of the question—for now and possibly for the future. Waiting upon the Lord and seeking his will and wisdom is what is needed, and that will be the faith journey your child will have to walk.
This blog is an excerpt from our minibook, When Your Child Says “I’m Gay” by Tim Geiger, published by New Growth Press. To purchase this minibook and other resources from Harvest USA, click here.
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.
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.
14 Jul 2016
As the church steps into the trenches of the sexual struggles with which her people are wrestling, it is encountering a new reality and new challenges in how to do faithful ministry. As the culture continues to push into the church, the following “givens” impact how Christians are thinking about sexuality:
- Increasing cultural acceptance of homosexuality, especially among millennials
- Growing acceptance of a genderfluid and genderless society
- An awareness of Christians who experience same-sex attraction (SSA) but confusion about how to help them
- Legalization of gay marriage
- The encroachment of pro-gay theology and its inroads into the evangelical church
- The trend toward casual sexual relationships and co-habitation
- The ubiquity of pornography and the steady erosion of biblical sexual ethics
All of the above signals the need for churches to think strategically about how to “do ministry” as the culture continues to push into the church. John Freeman has spoken to church leaders and presbyteries, helping to bring awareness of the pressing issues that need attention. John highlights four things churches must address.
1. Leadership—insuring everyone is on the same page
While leadership certainly means your key leaders—pastors, elders, deacons, etc.—it also includes your leadership volunteers like women’s leaders, youth leaders, Sunday school and adult teachers, small group leaders, and so on. The importance of all leaders being on the same page, theologically and pastorally, has never been more critical. Asking the following questions will (hopefully) result in dialogue and clarification.
Do you know your current leaders’ views on sex and sexuality? Considering the “givens” listed above, how do you approach your leadership in determining what they believe and where they might be feeling pressure to change? We used to take it for granted that leaders would adhere to biblical sexual ethics, but some are changing their views and remaining silent about it. How do you get everyone on the same page?
Do you know if your leaders are struggling here? As important as what they believe, do you know if some of your leaders are struggling here? People, and especially leaders, hide sexual struggles. How can you call them to be honest, and in what ways do you help them? We know that when leadership falls sexually, it deeply injures the church and how people see Christ.
How will your leaders approach sexual issues pastorally? Key leaders have the greatest influence, so it’s more important than ever to make sure they believe fully in what the Scriptures say and will speak that compassionately to those who struggle. Sometimes that’s not easy to do, but true compassion is grounded in speaking God’s truth, not in defining truth as we wish it to be.
How would your church address a leadership candidate who experiences same-sex attraction? As we call believers to openness and honesty about their sexual struggles, we should expect to find men and women who live with same-sex attraction and are living faithfully according to Scripture. When they pursue leadership roles in the church, what help and assistance do they need?
2. Membership—confronting complex issues
The culture greatly influences church members. Confusion is growing as pro-gay theology, rooted in secular thought, influences believers who know too little of Scripture. How will your church in this new reality address some of the following scenarios?
What if someone identifies as a gay Christian? Is this a private matter known only to some, or is this becoming public? Do you know what this person means by adopting this identity label?
What about someone who supports gay marriage and homosexuality? Again, is this a private opinion or an advocacy position? What is a pastoral approach to members whose views are in opposition to Scripture? What if someone with these views wants to join your church?
Are you talking about sex and sexuality to prospective members in your membership classes? Do you approach the issue from a discipline angle, or first from a Christian worldview perspective? Or do you not mention the topic at all, and if so, why not?
What if a same-sex couple comes to faith (one or both)? What if they are legally married? How do you approach the complex situation of pastorally shepherding a family, particularly when there are children, when the parents are legally married?
What about church discipline? While recognizing the complex issues involved with sexual sin, where might church discipline come into play as someone is being shepherded through the ups and downs that go with this struggle? Is there an approach that is more helpful, or less so?
3. Church Culture—what kind of church culture do you want to nurture?
Do you have a sense of the culture in your church in how it relates to the culture “out there?” How does your church address the new reality of sexual issues that are prominent in the culture? How do you speak about them publicly, from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, in the things your church writes? There is a big difference between churches that speak harshly about sexual issues and those that say hardly anything at all. The first approach leaves people hiding, and the other leaves people in confusion. That we need to talk about these issues has never been more critical, but the words we use (or do not use) are equally important. How do you speak to those who are opposed to his ways; and to those who are confused about what Scripture says; and to those who want to obey but struggle to submit to the Lordship of Christ in this area? Our approach, our words, our faithfulness to Scripture, and our presence with those who struggle are the many ways we show who God is to them.
4. Policies and Procedures—possible dangers ahead
Two seismic changes have transformed the landscape for ministry: the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the use, or threat, of non-discrimination laws and regulations, known as sexual orientation and gender identity ordinances. Churches with a history and tradition of opening their doors to the community for weddings and receptions, local community events, outside groups that use the church to meet—all of these connections may become problematic in light of the increasing use of anti-discrimination ordinances.
These new laws and court rulings mean that churches must carefully think about ministry in three key areas.
While this issue gets a lot of press, the reality is that the First Amendment seems quite solid in protecting ministers from performing same-sex marriages. However, the matter is more uncertain if your church has been open to hosting outside weddings and receptions. What steps can your church take to remain open to traditional weddings while not hosting wedding events that oppose biblical truth?
Building usage by outside groups
Apart from weddings, building use for other outside events might become more difficult, particularly for churches that rent their facilities or allow them to be used by the community. The challenge for churches that want to remain invested in their local community is to determine how to both invite and define that involvement, in ways that will avoid potential lawsuits.
Anti-discrimination laws regarding employment are another new reality that is increasingly stepping on religious turf. Churches that discipline ordained staff for misconduct are again protected by the First Amendment. But addressing non-ordained staff behavior is not so clear. What if a staff person comes out as transgender, or a staff person legally marries someone of the same gender? Gender fluidity and sexual orientation are major battlegrounds for employment law today. The area of employment law for religious groups seems to be up for grabs today. How churches will be affected is not yet clear, but they should now find ways to try to protect themselves while also shepherding staff who are struggling in these areas.
We’ve just scratched the surface on a few of the crucial issues churches are facing with these new realities. Harvest USA can help! We can help you think through these issues and conduct a healthy conversation among your leaders.
Contact John Freeman at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the conversation started.
Desire in its best forms
God is a jealous, desiring God. How does one describe the unseen, all-knowing, omnipotent, ever-present God? Words and human experience can never do him justice. And yet, God uses words to teach us about himself. He is just, benevolent, holy, and sovereign. These descriptions evoke images of power, of needing nothing. God does not need anything, for in him everything obtains its life.
But notice, he does not only describe himself with terms of power and strength, but also with words that suggest desire and longing. God is not merely patient with us. No, he longs for us and would gather us to him as a hen would gather her chicks (Matthew 23:37). He pursues his wife (Israel) and hems her in even when she runs after other lovers (Hosea 2). He “burns” with jealousy for Zion so much so that he returns her to an honor she does not deserve (Zechariah 8:2-7), even paying the price himself for remarriage. If God desires us, longing for the glory he deserves from his creatures, then desire is not just something that we should resist.
God cares about and fulfills our desires
You cannot accuse God of being an ascetic or uncaring of your desires. We see numerous references to God’s attention to our desires. The Psalmist reminds God that he hears the desires of suffering people (10:17). He not only hears; he also acts. In Psalm 20 and 21, David sings of God’s hand in bringing about the desires of his heart. In Psalm 37, David clarifies the relationship between human desires and God’s response. When we delight in God, he delights to give us our desires (see also Matthew 5:6). He is a father who dotes on his children. He gives good things that satisfy (Psalm 103:5). Jesus picks up on this theme and reminds us that if we, who are evil, give good gifts to each other, then will not God, the creator of the universe, give good gifts to those who ask (Matthew 7:11)? Are you not yet convinced that God delights to fulfill your desires? Then listen to David as he bursts forth in song, “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. . . He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them” (Psalm 145:16,19).
I can hear your objection. “But wait,” you say, “There are many desires that God never fulfilled for me. If he longs to fulfill our desires, why didn’t he fulfill mine? Why do I feel so empty? I want to be healthy, married, a parent, happy, content, but my prayers seem to hit the ceiling and return to me.” I do not dispute that living in the wilderness leaves much to be desired. The misery of living in this sin-sick world multiplies daily. Yet, did not God provide for your desires today? Did you not eat? Did you not find momentary rest for your weary body? Did you not see his beauty reflected in something or someone? Ah, we are exposed. We grow complacent with God’s good gifts. They aren’t gifts in our minds, just something that everybody gets. We are far too often like the Israelites in the desert. We overlook the good things God gives us and obsess on what he did not give. God’s good gifts are no accident or afterthought—some sympathetic gesture to a waif. Rather he gives them out of the overflowing desire for his own glory and for the completion of all that he has willed. Every good gift you have received has come because God has ordained your existence in an abundantly provided world (see Psalm 65). He supplies you with your food and with whatever joy, peace, laughter, and righteousness you have experienced.
Fulfilled desires are sweet
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life… a desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul” (Proverbs 13:12,19a). These brief proverbs remind us of what we already know. When our desires are fulfilled, it is a satisfying moment. Even illicit gratification is satisfying, though deadly. “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Proverbs 9:17). Why else would we go back for more? When our desires are filled, we are comforted and secure. God comforts the brokenhearted and satisfies them with his bounty (Jeremiah 31:13-14). Satisfaction also brings joy and gladness. Moses supplicates, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). Satisfaction brings knowledge. The children of Israel, once filled with manna, know that the Lord is their God (Exodus 16:12).
Sexual desire is complex, compelling, and good
Why would God put the Song of Solomon in the Bible? Wouldn’t it be better to use that space to tell us more about himself? What purpose does an erotic book detailing the urges and orgasms of an anonymous couple serve the kingdom of God? The man spends numerous lines waxing poetic about her genitalia and how he wants to play with her. She shivers and aches for her climax. No, this is not a harlequin romance novel. In fact, it is probably more erotic and explicit about sexual desire than our English translations will admit. Those who try to spiritualize the text to mean only something of how God feels towards his church surely do God an injustice. And what of the mysterious phrase that appears in the book on three occasions, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” (2:7, 3:5, 8:4)? These would seem to indicate that one must be careful with love and the power it wields. If you are not careful, your appetites may overwhelm you.
No, really, its best form
As good as sexual desire is, it pales next to desire for God and being united with Christ. The Psalms are full of descriptions of longings for God. David cries out for God, for his ways, his wisdom, and his presence. How are these depicted? There are numerous depictions of this desire as the cries of one who is thirsty and longing for water (e.g., Psalm 42:1; 63:1, 143:6.). In the New Testament, Paul records a similar sentiment. We groan while we are in this “tent” of a body and long for our guaranteed inheritance (II Corinthians 5:1-5). Notice that your good desires for God will bring upon yourself more pain! Doesn’t this run in stark contrast to much of our current depictions of the Christian life? “Come to Jesus,” we say, “and your life (as you have imagined it) will go well.” Instead, as we draw closer to God, our desire for him enlarges. Doesn’t this run in stark contrast to much of our current depictions of the Christian life? Satisfaction increases, but certainly so does agony as we develop an increasing awareness of our desperate need for God.
Yet do not be discouraged; our desires for God do not end in only pain. We do find satisfaction, comfort, fulfillment, joy, and peace. Psalm 131 depicts satisfaction with God as a baby on his mother’s lap whose stomach is filled, who no longer needs to grab at her breasts for more. When we take worship as our food, Isaiah records that we will delight “in the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55:2). These satisfactions are not just spiritual. Rather they reach out into the far corners of our lives. Solomon, who contemplated the search for satisfaction reminds his readers that any satisfaction we achieve has been a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 3:13).