14 Sep 2023
This post is an edited excerpt from Across the Kitchen Table: Talking about Trans with Your Teen, by Sam A. Andreades. Available to preorder now at Harvest USA!
A difficult case confronted Jesus as he came down from the mountain in Mark 9. His disciples had been trying to help a father whose boy was really messed up, but the problem was too difficult for them. What follows is the longest description of a healing/exorcism in the Gospels. The uncommon amount of detail affords us insight into how Jesus worked to restore people to wholeness. While we do not know all that Jesus did each time he made someone better, this lengthy example shows that it sometimes involved a process.
Jesus the Diagnostician
Jesus works with families. The process of addressing the child’s need first turns into an instruction for the friends trying to help—in this case, the disciples (Mark 9:14, 18–19, 28–29). It then turns into an address of the father’s need as well. Jesus talks to the father about the man’s own heart as revealed by the situation (Mark 9:22–24).
We similarly find, in trying to help a condition like teen trans, God challenges our own hearts. As secular psychologists Susan and Marcus Evans recognize, “exploring the family dynamics is an essential part of any assessment [of gender dysphoria].” As you help your son or daughter, God is after your growth as well. At the very least, a gender-troubled loved one will require you to grow in love and faith. You, as the parent, are instrumental in your child’s progress.
Then the Diagnostician turns to the boy himself. Jesus has a way of drawing the real problem out of people. In his presence, the evil possessing this man’s son soon shows (Mark 9:20). The boy is in the grip of a spirit that brings him to body-mutilation. This self-destructive force has overcome his soul (Mark 9:18, 20 and Matthew 17:15 emphasizes the boy’s self-harm). As Jesus observes the manifestation with the father, he asks the man a telling question about his son: “How long has he been like this?” (Mark 9:21, NIV). Jesus is interested in the boy’s history; it somehow helped to hear what may have led to the present condition.
Breakfast and Other Past Events
Revisiting the past to study a key moment when “it all started” occurs in other places where we see God’s counsel in the Bible—in fact, the first one. God revisits the beginning of Adam and Eve’s problem by asking them what they had for breakfast (Gen 3:11). He thereby takes them back to see the decision they made that produced the shame under which they now labor. Isaiah the prophet conveys God’s diagnosis of how Israel had, at one point, gone wrong in adopting another means of security instead of God himself. He takes them back to a past key time when they “made a covenant with death” (Isa. 28:14–19).
Going backward sometimes helps people go forward. A probable cause of pronounced body alienation is earlier-life trauma. As John Calvin put it, “Satan mixes up his attacks with natural means.” Sins by others against our bodies can greatly exacerbate the shame to which we are already susceptible. If one feels like one’s body is the problem, a reasonable place to look for the source of that discomfiture is in an experience that would make one want to separate from the body. Unfortunately, childhood sexual abuse, an example of the kind of trauma that can derail a person’s gender, can take place without anyone finding out until much later.
Sometimes, for example, in response to being hurt by a man, one finds in an abused girl a desire to be a man in order to not get hurt: “I want to be a man because men are not vulnerable.” Early on, she makes a decision to never get hurt again, and this is the best way to ensure it. She deeply wants what she perceives as the protective power of being a man. Sometimes, a sexually abused boy concludes, “I am treated by men as a woman, so I must be a woman.” He internalizes his abuse and shields himself from disgust by the strong desire to be a woman.
Of course, such a horrid experience as child abuse is very difficult to revisit. It is easier to say, “I’m in the wrong body” and never have to speak of it again. But, if that is our reality, ignoring it further damages us. When a person is ready to talk about past excruciating experiences, licensed counselors can help provide the delicate care needed to make the recalling tolerable. Furthermore, revisiting such awful memories can only help if the person reinterprets them in light of God’s presence and acceptance. As cited above, God directed his first “How long has it been like this?” question to Adam and Eve. God revisited their initial decision to help them connect their wrong reaction to temptation to what they were currently experiencing. He then lovingly clothed them, giving them a new way to deal with their shame (Gen 3:21). Jesus’s questioning of the boy’s father showed that his presence can overcome any trauma, even if it dates to childhood (Mark 9:21).
In Prison No Longer
When, as Jesus found in his diagnosis, we see a greater evil has taken hold, God will take greater measures. One time, a cross-dressing man—we’ll call him “Archie”—contacted me at his wits’ end. He came over to talk, and we reviewed his strange history. Since age fourteen, Archie had periodically adopted a woman’s persona. Therapist after therapist, psychologist after psychologist, told him this was just how he was made. But it didn’t help. He ended up in prison. When he got out, he said, “I am still in prison.” He was, at times, close to suicide. When, decades later, he finally broke free of the addictive medications he was on, he began to have clarity about himself.
As he described his strange history to me and asked for my help, he made no bones about having a demonic possession. It was more a matter of Archie doing the diagnosing rather than me. He could tell that Satan lay behind his man-denying behavior. The Dark One exploited the sexual molestation visited on Archie at six years old by an evil grandfather.
I do not tend to rush into these things. Archie had not been to church in 25 years. But he did understand his guilt, shame, and need for reinterpretation in Christ. After further discussion, prayer, and enacting appropriate safeguards, I (as I’ve done on rare occasions) performed an exorcism. That was the beginning of Archie as a changed man. In my last contact with him, he wasn’t in prison anymore. (We can expect more need for demonic deliverance as our culture continues its steady march to paganism.)
Trauma-induced gender tearing can be redeemed by re-understanding it to be inside the care of our heavenly Father and including it in the reason for Christ’s work on our behalf. But this the Holy Spirit is faithful to do with God’s children. It is remarkable to see him apply Jesus Christ’s excruciation to areas of pain in our lives to bring about healing, forgiveness, and, in the end, freedom. Yet this, he does.
 Susan Evans and Marcus Evans, Gender Dysphoria: A Therapeutic Model for Working with Children, Adolescents and Young Adults (Oxfordshire, Oxford, England: Phoenix Publishing House Ltd., 2021), 93.
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (1852; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981), XVI:II:322.
07 Sep 2023
Whether you’re parenting toddlers, teens, or both, today’s sexual climate probably concerns you. I once heard parenting described as walking around with your heart outside your body ; that feels accurate. Parents face intense vulnerability as we strive to keep our dear children safe. Now that I have a teen and a ten-year-old, keeping my boys safe looks much different than when they were babies and toddlers. I’m no longer worried about them catapulting out of their crib or flinging themselves into a pool.
But the dangers they face as they grow older are even scarier. Will they cling to Christ amid an antagonistic culture? Will they continue to know who they are as boys—growing into men—made in God’s image to glorify him? Will they resist the dehumanizing and addictive lure of pornography? If they marry, will they commit to women who fear the Lord? Of course, I care about their physical well-being. But will their souls be safe?
More than anything, I long to rejoice in eternal glory with my sons as my brothers.
God Uses Means
It’s easy to look around at the world and let fear shrivel our hearts. According to a recent Barna survey, 73% of Christian parents are “concerned about their children’s spiritual development.” This concern isn’t groundless; our children are under attack (see 1 Peter 5:8). As Mark Sanders highlighted, so many of our youth are deceived and seeking purpose in identifying as LGBTQ+. What can we do to make sure our kids will be okay?
Being not sovereign, not omniscient, and not omnipotent, we can’t guarantee anything. Our parenting can’t secure any particular outcome for our children. Faithful Christian parents might, heartbreakingly, watch their children turn away from the Lord.
Yet God works through means. In his providence, godly parents are a gift to their children and instruments in the Lord’s hands. How can we parent our kids from a place of confidence in the Lord rather than fear? Here are some thoughts and practices I’ve observed in wise Christian parents that my husband and I seek, by God’s grace, to follow.
- Trusting the Lord
Exhausted and defeated when my newborn wasn’t sleeping despite my having read, underlined, and applied all the baby book instructions, I agonized over what I was doing wrong. Don’t we all like a clear “do this, get that” sequence? But children are not programmable robots and only sometimes do what we expect.
Just as we’re saved only by God’s grace in Christ, not by our works, he is the only one we can rely on in all aspects of raising our kids. If they resist LGBTQ+ ideology and other sexual sins, it will be by God’s grace. This shatters my pride and gives me hope. If our children stand firm, praise Jesus—it’s his work alone. If they turn away, God is still good and accomplishing his plan in their lives and ours. I am finite and less good than God, the author of my children’s story as well as my own.
I am finite and less good than God, the author of my children’s story as well as my own.
The Judge of all the earth shall do what is just (Gen. 18:25) and calls himself “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6b). This truth soaks comfort into a believer’s soul, helping us entrust our precious children to the everlastingly faithful Father. We can’t guarantee anything, and we certainly can’t save them—and this is good news, because we make terrible saviors. The hopeful reality is that they’re in the hands of the triune Creator, who is justice, mercy, and love.
I’m happily convinced that praying for and with our kids is the best thing we can ever do for them. It’s better than all the discipline, school choices, family times, and device limits in the world.
Praying for Our Children
In Christ, frail humans are united to the One who spoke the universe into existence and keeps our breath circulating each moment. Prayer acknowledges that we are God’s, his way is best, and he is mighty. Before stating that “children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward” (v. 3), Psalm 127 begins with a foundational truth: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (vv. 1–2). We can rest (“he gives to his beloved sleep”) because God is the builder and the watchman (v. 2).
Yet here lies one of Scripture’s great paradoxes: the almighty Lord chooses to work through the prayers of his people. Our prayers are part of God accomplishing his plan for our children. Let’s earnestly plead for them—for their salvation, their preservation, their delight in Jesus, their Kingdom usefulness, their eternal joy.
Praying with Our Children
Praying together establishes the family as a team, united in seeking the good of unbelievers for God’s glory. It lifts our gaze up and away from ourselves, opening our eyes to a world that needs the gospel and increasing our compassion for the lost. You most likely know a young person experiencing gender dysphoria—as a family, bring him or her before the throne of grace.
Praying with our children also models how believers can respond to intense emotions. In Christ, none of us must bear life’s weight alone. What a gift this is! We’re introducing them to our lifeline—a replenishing stream of communication with the living Lord who welcomes us in our sin, confusion, weakness, and fear. In prayer, directed by God’s Word, our children can run to Jesus with the deep troubles of their hearts instead of looking for hope in sexual sin and misplaced identity. We teach our kids to call 911 in an emergency; how much more to run to Jesus in prayer.
- Christ-Centered Marriage
Marriage in the Lord is holistically beneficial. Instituted by God for his glory and our joy, marriage between one man and one woman leads to whole-family flourishing that ripples out into the church and wider community. The radiating warmth of a godly marriage undermines today’s cultural idea that traditional marriage is oppressive. It’s so good for children to experience the loving stability of a home where their parents’ marriage is anchored in the Lord.
However, families face the reality of sin daily, and sometimes grievously. Your marriage may not be a haven; it may be broken. I’m sorry if you’re carrying this heavy burden.
Marriage, as great as it is, is not a final destination. It exists to illuminate the eternal spiritual reality of Christ and his bride, and, in the church, we bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Being part of a local church also provides the opportunity to see healthy families in action. My husband’s dad had an affair with the neighbor’s wife when my husband was only two years old. Later, his stepfather physically and emotionally abused him. Yet in the church, he saw husbands and wives loving one another and children happy in their security; he began to learn what it means to follow Jesus as a husband and father.
- Christian Community
I’ve learned much from families who are consistently involved in their local church, pursuing the means of grace despite physical obstacles and pain. This communicates to our kids that meeting with God’s people, under the preached Word, is not optional but essential. Taking communion, singing, praying together in the Lord—this is oxygen to believers living in a carbon-monoxide world.
And in the family of God, our children get to experience a truly gracious community. A desire for belonging may often drive young people toward an LGBTQ+ lifestyle. But the church offers a far richer, more diverse, beautifully hopeful community where every individual matters not for how they self-actualize, but because God says they are innately precious image-bearers.
We need not hide from the world, afraid of being infected by its cultural agenda. Exercising wisdom is not the same thing as letting fear guide the way we interact with unbelievers.
Hospitality has always been central to following Jesus, and following Jesus leaves no room for fear, snobbery, or judgment. We were not saved by a superior understanding of male and female chromosomes or because our sexual preferences align with the Bible’s teaching, but by God’s welcoming mercy. We who call Jesus “Lord” were welcomed by him when we were deceived and hopeless. The bedrock of Christian hope is that the triune God loved us when we were still sinners and made us alive together in Christ when we were dead in our trespasses (Eph. 2:4–9, my emphasis).
In a culture saturated by an anemic, clichéd understanding of love—where “love is love” and “love wins”—the biblical assurance is this: God is love and Jesus wins.
When we extend hospitality, our children get to be exposed to a variety of people, lifestyles, and personalities. They see that the transforming love of Christ causes us to love others, even those who are different from us. Especially in our partisan world, this is a powerful apologetic for the gospel. I’m inspired by families who demonstrate their theological convictions through gospel-motivated and Spirit-sustained hospitality.
To begin teaching your kids about sexuality, one friend says, just read the Old Testament during family worship. It will provoke all sorts of questions. She’s joking but also serious—God’s Word doesn’t shelter us from the ugliness of human depravity. It’s right to explain to our kids (age-appropriately) what’s going on and how it points to our Redeemer.
The temptation to avoid uncomfortable topics is real, but if we don’t speak with our kids about sexuality, we can rest assured the world will. Let’s resist any hint of shame culture that would cause embarrassment about the bodies and functions God created. Individual families need to decide when they’ll introduce things like biologically correct anatomical terms, the reproductive cycle, puberty, pornography, LGBTQ+ ideology, and other sexual developments and sins our children will face. But we must own our responsibility to teach them. I pray my boys know that they can come to their father and me with any—any—question and receive a truthful answer.
Our Hope: Jesus Alone
In a culture saturated by an anemic, clichéd understanding of love—where “love is love” and “love wins”—the biblical assurance is this: God is love and Jesus wins. Hopefully these aims encourage you in your parenting. Raising children in a world increasingly hostile to Christianity is scary. But—perhaps you’re feeling this, too—my sin scares me even more than the sin “out there.”
Inconsistency, irritability, distractibility, preoccupation with other things—these are some of the dangers my children face from a mom who claims to follow Jesus yet so often doesn’t live like it. Will they know I love them when I’m half paying attention and half trying to figure out my next task? Will they still see the beauty of Christ when they see me grumbling about chores or restless in discontent?
My hope as a weak and fallible mother rests in Christ alone. His children are clothed in his righteousness, and he will finish the work he started in us (Phil. 1:6). He is faithful; he is powerful; he is enough. Parents: with our confidence rooted in our Savior’s character and victory, we have every reason to press on, courageously raising our kids amid a threatening world.
1] As yet, I’m unable to pin down the source for this quote. It’s commonly attributed to Elizabeth Stone, but I’ve also seen it attributed to Ellen Cantarow. If anyone knows, please contact Harvest USA and fill me in!
I’ve been representing Harvest USA at many national Christian conferences over the last two years. We get a lot of traffic at our exhibit tables, and once people find out what we do, most of them tell me about their child, grandchild, or friend who has come out as gay or transgender. Almost everyone I meet has been personally touched by the LGBTQ+ wave sweeping our country. And the overwhelming majority of people identifying as LGBTQ+ are young. What is happening to our millennial, Gen Z, and alpha generations?
In the latest Gallup poll for 2022, only 2.7% of baby boomers and 3.3% of Gen Xers identified as LGBTQ+ versus 11.2% of millennials and 19.7% of Gen Z. Along with that, while there was only a slight increase in the total percentage of Americans identifying as LGBTQ+ from 2012–2020, that number showed a marked uptick from 2020 to 2021. How do we make sense of this data? While there are many factors involved, here are just a few things to consider.
COVID Lockdowns and TikTok
Regardless of what you think about COVID lockdowns, we can’t deny the social impact of forced isolation. Kids were taken out of school and put in front of screens. Not only were many of these children receiving consistent LGBTQ+ indoctrination in their virtual classrooms, but they were also getting heavy doses of it on social media. By April 2020, just as the lockdowns began, TikTok surpassed 2 billion downloads worldwide.
Consider what happens when our youth are cut off from the real world and plugged into an attractive, addictive virtual world algorithmically curated to show only one perspective?
Social media platforms specialize in creating echo chambers, with sophisticated algorithms designed to keep our attention as long as possible. The more we click on one type of video or post, the more we’ll see that type of content. Even if we click on just one pro-LGBTQ+ post, we’ll start seeing more of them. The more we click, the more dominated our feed becomes. Consider what happens when our youth are cut off from the real world and plugged into an attractive, addictive virtual world algorithmically curated to show only one perspective?
Hidden Experiences or New Interpretations?
Many will argue that the dramatic increase in people identifying as LGBTQ+ stems mainly from growing social acceptance. They’ll say the numbers have always been this high, but only recently have people felt safe to be public about it. While that may be true for some, it doesn’t account for the large statistical differences between generations. Now that there is social acceptance, you’d expect just as many boomers as Gen Zers identifying as LGBTQ+.
Instead, we’re witnessing a social contagion to which young people are particularly susceptible. Adolescence is a scary, confusing time for everyone. Our bodies and minds are going through countless changes which we struggle to know how to interpret. But now doctors, teachers, therapists, scientists, and politicians are giving new answers for these age-old questions. Consider that 66% of Gen Zers identifying at LGBTQ+ identify as bisexual. Why has bisexuality become so prevalent? Boys and especially girls will often go through seasons during adolescence when they might develop new feelings for a friend of the same sex. Historically, those feelings wouldn’t have materialized into anything more than a fleeting quasi-crush, leading to little (if any) questioning of their sexuality. But today, their radars have been trained and conditioned to see even the slightest attraction toward the same sex as incontrovertible evidence that they are indeed bisexual.
The questions used to be, “How do I live as a man? How do I live as a woman?” But now the question every child is being forced to consider is, “Am I a boy or a girl?”
The same is true for gender identity questions. All boys and girls will ask questions about what it means to be a boy or a girl: What activities should I like? What feelings are masculine or feminine? Fallen humanity has always struggled to live as the men and women God calls us to be. But, by and large, these questions were limited to our roles, not our ontology. The questions used to be, “How do I live as a man? How do I live as a woman?” But now the question every child is being forced to consider is, “Am I a boy or a girl?”
The Battle for a Better Story
I recently spoke at a retreat for a few hundred Christian college students from a variety of secular campuses. I was sobered by the extent to which worldly categories have infiltrated this generation. The deck has been stacked against them. They’ve been fed language, narratives, and parameters that prohibit any biblical categorization for who we are and how we are to live. Truly, Gen Z needs an entire deconstruction of their sexual worldview for a biblical framework to make any sense.
This deconstruction won’t start with logical arguments and statistics; they’ve been captured not by data, but by a story. A story of liberation, meaning, justice, and beauty has captivated their hearts and they’ve found their identity within it. A competing narrative strikes at the core of who they understand themselves to be. This will feel extremely scary; all their defenses will be on high alert against these threats to their identity.
Many who currently find their value, meaning, and identity in an LGBTQ+ label will, in God’s good timing, find Christ alone to be their all-in-all.
But this is where Christians have every reason for unshakable hope and confidence: we have a better story to tell. The gospel is the only narrative that accounts for everything we experience in this life and promises transcendent, everlasting hope and purpose. And we have the best Story-Teller in the universe! If you’re a Christian, it’s because you were told the story of the gospel by the Holy Spirit. Yes, you audibly heard it through a human voice. But spiritually, your ears were opened, and your heart brought to life by the voice of God himself. Jesus, our great Shepherd, calls his sheep by name, and his sheep know his voice (John 10:27).
Jesus died for Gen Z and alpha generation sheep. Many who currently find their value, meaning, and identity in an LGBTQ+ label will, in God’s good timing, find Christ alone to be their all-in-all. Who is sufficient for these things? “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). May we fervently pray for the hearts and minds of our youth as we point them to the solid hope of God’s better story.
23 Jan 2020
In 2015 I began to struggle with gender transitioning and whether God’s Word would allow me to live as a woman. God’s answer to me was a resounding “NO!” This is my story.
The question of my gender identity began tugging at me during early childhood when I found a bag of girl’s dresses in our garage. I secretly tried on every dress. Fast forward a few years, my subsequent struggle with pornography began as a pre-teen when a neighborhood friend and I discovered a box of old pornographic magazines in one of the local farmer’s abandoned cars. It was a struggle that would last for the next 35 years.
My earthly father led me to the Lord at the age of seven after attending a local church camp. Diane and I met at that very same camp ten years later. During the two years that we dated, I shared with her my struggle with pornography. In spite of this, my bride agreed to marry me and walk alongside me. You see, both of us believed in the common fallacy that marriage would be the answer to my struggle with lust. We were wrong! Instead, our marriage would yo-yo for the next 25 years. At times, when our walk with Christ was maturing, our marriage was amazing. In between, when I struggled with porn, our relationship turned distant and resentful; each time, little by little, my sin would slowly escalate. Yes, sin does that. You don’t skip from A to M to Z; instead, you progress slowly from A to B to C. And when you reach M or Z, you wonder, “How did I get here?”
After twenty years of marriage my lustful desires began to escalate exponentially, to the point where I began wearing women’s undergarments, a habit which slowly grew into full blown cross-dressing. After reading about Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn in 2015, I began to seriously consider the possibility of transitioning, myself. And several months after Diane and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, I shared with her my desire to experiment with living as a woman. My desire to dress as a woman was no longer enough. Hence, I was about to enter the next phase of my struggle with lust, covetousness, and idolatry.
I confessed to my bride, not only that I wanted to live as a woman, but that I wanted her to share in my gender dysphoria, embracing this journey with me! You see, I believed we could continue to enjoy life together, only this time as two women. And I also believed that, by becoming a woman, I could finally conquer my struggle with lust that had persecuted me now for more than 35 years. I so wanted this struggle to end that I was willing to do anything. I questioned God: “Why did you make me this way? Why did you put such strong sexual desires in me? I just want to live for you, but I cannot put to death this sin in my life!”
Satan appeared to be winning the battle for my life, our marriage, and our family, but God had other plans! Over the next four difficult years, he worked miraculously in our lives and our marriage, pursuing us in different ways and maturing our faith, while burning the sin from my heart and life. And, although we were both believers, because of our different reactions to my gender dysphoria God led us both on two remarkable, contrasting journeys.
Diane turned completely to God for her strength, crying out to him from the beginning. He walked her through what she now describes as the most agonizing time of her life. In time, God revealed to Diane that she had made me her god! Without realizing it, she had been placing her trust in me, instead of him, and I had become her idol. With this realization, God provided Diane comfort. Faithful and obedient, she kept praying and began relying exclusively on him.
I wish the same had been true for me. I tried having it both ways, keeping myself in church, weekly men’s Bible studies, even accountability groups, and discipleship with a fellow brother in Christ who struggled with pornography like I did. But I still allowed pornography and my own sinful desires to consume my thoughts, convincing myself that God would be OK if I chose to live as a woman. And, thus I continued to justify my own sinful desires. After all, since he made me, he also must have made these desires and feelings as well!
As my struggle with gender dysphoria advanced, it appeared to be the answer to my life-long struggle with pornography. Or so I thought! What I found was that, when I wasn’t able to cross-dress frequently, that old struggle with pornography would return. Not only had my gender dysphoria not healed my pornography addiction, but in time, it even escalated it! Slowly, I was becoming what I really loved. Yes, I loved God, but I loved my sin more. And my sin was idolatry, plain and simple.
Slowly, I was becoming what I really loved. Yes, I loved God, but I loved my sin more.
In her obedience to God, Diane saw my situation clearly. But, stubborn and rebellious, I was blind to God’s truth because I wanted to walk with my Lord and Savior and live in my sin! I became the double-minded man described in James 1:6-8, “One who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
But God was still faithful. He pursued me, even when I failed to pursue Him, in spite of my doublemindedness and false assumptions held onto since my youth. What I’d originally thought of as ‘a small compromise’ had enslaved me over time, culminating in gender dysphoria and threatening my marriage. Rules that I thought didn’t apply to me, or were outdated and limited my fun, I dismissed. Thinking I could create my own boundaries, I failed to see that God’s laws were intended to protect me.
Blindness caused by sin is why many will disagree with me, and I realize that, in today’s culture, my point of view will not be a popular one. But having traveled this journey, I know now beyond a shadow of a doubt that my gender dysphoria was rooted in my rebellion against God. I allowed lust to reign in my life for all those years. And that lust ballooned into even uglier sins—idolatry, selfishness, and covetousness—sins that I cherished over my Savior. I was guilty of interpreting God’s Word through the lens of a secular worldview and I chose what I thought best suited me! In full rebellion, I even used Scripture to justify my actions, dismissing those who tried to speak truth to me.
My gender dysphoria was rooted in my rebellion against God.
Together, Diane and I sought help from numerous Christian counseling services, only to be turned away because they did not feel prepared to deal with the gender dysphoria struggle. Then, in a unique and unexpected way, God led Diane to the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) where she restarted her college education. Amazingly, God personally used those courses to minister to both of us, becoming our personal counselor, himself.
Then we learned about Harvest USA. Together, we attended a conference where we listened to Tim Geiger speak on transgenderism. Afterward, I reached out to Tim for help and over the next six months, Tim discipled me via Skype. Diane also received counseling from Harvest USA staff as well. At the conclusion of our remote counseling sessions, we traveled to Philadelphia for intensive face-to-face counseling with Tim and several other members of the Harvest USA staff who discipled us and prayed with us. Diane and I are so thankful that God provided Harvest USA to walk faithfully alongside of us.
Several months after our time at Harvest USA, God revealed my rebellion to me, caused by my sins of lust, covetousness and idolatry. While I was praying one day, God even spoke out loud to me when I heard a literal voice say, “It is done.” I was stunned! I looked around to see if anyone else was present, but I was alone. Immediately, I knew our tribulation was over. As I continued to move toward God in repentance, about a week later he placed the beautiful old hymn “I Surrender All” in my heart, one I had learned as a child. From that moment on, God removed my sinful desires, released me from my self-imposed yoke of spiritual blindness, and began to repair the destruction I had sown.
Only now can both Diane and I fully appreciate God’s redemption in our marriage. If you struggle with pornography, gender dysphoria, or any other sin, remember God’s promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). When Diane and I were married, God already knew this tribulation was ahead of us. He never allowed us to give up on our covenant with him or our marriage. If you are his child, he will never give up on you, either! My prayer is that my own testimony will lead you to allow God to write his story with your life. He loves you more than you will ever know!
Editor’s Note: In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name and we refer to his wife as “Diane” because they have chosen to remain anonymous.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child: Biblical Guidance and Wisdom from Harvest USA. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
14 Sep 2017
Over at Affirming Gender Sam Andreades began mentioning something the media doesn’t talk about: stories of people who transition and the results are nothing like what they hoped for or were promised by our gender-deconstructing culture. This second post from Affirming Gender mentions several more people who did transition and later regretted it.
Here’s Sam’s post of Alternative Trans-Stories.
There is no shortage of stories in the media of how wonderful it is to transition from one sex to another. But the microphone never seems to be handed to the people who did transition and then came to see a better way for themselves. This lack has been addressed by Pure Passion Media/Mastering Life Ministries in their 105-minute documentary, Tranzformed: Finding Peace with Your God-Given Gender, now available on DVD. I have posted before about alternative experiences, but this movie presents us with a cornucopia of stories of going all the way and back again.
The production inserts a few authorities speaking about the matter. These include a Reformed Theological Seminary professor — Go RTS! — and some great footage of Joseph Nicolosi before he died, combined with some helpful history narrative, but the real treasure is the fairly in-depth treatment of fifteen sincere souls, opening up their lives to us and explaining what took them into trans-land and how they traveled thence to gender affirmation. Spoiler alert: Jesus Christ plays a starring role.
The documentary features three times as many guys as girls, which is true to life in terms of the numbers suffering from gender dysphoria. The stories come from around the country. (Although, apart from Maine, the North East is unrepresented. A reason for this, perhaps?) They are all great, and all different.
We watch Walt Heyer’s story of his grandmother cross-dressing him from four years old and how being molested by his father’s adopted brother led to feelings so strange he felt sure that God could not understand them. When he finally made it to the top doctor in this area, he was advised after 45 minutes to get sex-reassignment surgery.
Yet all of them also tell how they came to understand their decisions to go transsexual as leading not to, but rather away from, a realization of who they really are
We learn from Diamond Bell, who was introduced on his paper delivery route to porn by his molester, and how he moved to she-male stuff after he tired of regular porn. We meet Jeffrey Johnston, repeatedly sexually abused by his Dad’s business partner; Daniel Jones, whose mother told him very young that he should have been a girl; and Paul Pickering, who was molested by his mother’s boyfriend from 5 years old to 12 years old, and unable to tell anyone about it.
We learn how, when Kerry Potter’s parents found Kerry cross-dressing in the bathroom, their condemnation wrapped his problem in a blanket of shame; how Daniel Diago, after escaping from his diabolical father, met the Drag Queens and was competing in pageants by 18 years old; how Joe Grant’s gender dysphoria led him to homelessness in Georgia, looking for a way to commit suicide; how Antonio Prodegy’s dad, fresh out of prison, sexually abused him, all the while telling him, “That’s the way a father loves his son.”
The movie lets us walk with Joseph Cluse, sexually molested at Catholic School, gang-raped in the Boy scouts, who went on to pursue the trans experience for affirmation; and Arlen Upshaw who learned that he could get much more of the attention he craved by being a girl.
The women’s side presents us with similar tears: how Kathy Grace Duncan learned early that it was bad to be a girl; how Susan Takata’s rape at ten years old left her with no sense of boundaries; how Joann Grace Harley became the child least wanted; and how Linda Seiler developed her obsession with becoming a man.
All of them saw Jesus Christ as patiently working with them, giving them a new identity.
All of these stories, though told without fanfare, are heartbreaking (and I haven’t relayed the half of it). But they are necessary to hear, as the tellers certainly see their path to transitioning to the other sex as a beginning in these tragic events and unaddressed wrongs.
Yet all of them also tell how they came to understand their decisions to go transsexual as leading not to, but rather away from, a realization of who they really are. All of them saw Jesus Christ as patiently working with them, giving them a new identity. He took Linda on an eleven-year journey of transformation. Jeffrey came to loath his implants. Daniel Jones saw his decision to transition as an act of selfishness. Kerry came to realize that he wanted to know God more than anything else. Diamond was accepted and loved by Pastor Abner just as he was. A man praying for Daniel Delgado told him that he was God’s son, and he felt like a brand plucked from the fire. Antonio had an eight-hour wrestling match with the Almighty. Susan’s pastor convinced her that she wasn’t a failure. The Most High became Pa-Pa to Joseph, and Daddy to Kathy Grace.
You really have not seen anything like this documentary. If we want gender dysphoria and transsexualism to be understood, don’t these stories deserve to be heard also?
Our friend Sam Andreades of Affirming Gender has a couple of posts on something you rarely read about in the media: Stories of people who transition and the outcome was not what they were hoping for. These transition stories are important because they present a reality that the general media blithely ignores. Our culture’s aggressive push to disconnect gender from biological sex, rooted not in reality but ideology, does not always lead to “authentic lives” and happy endings.
Here’s Sam’s post of Transgender Regret Stories and Where to Hear Them.
Talk about regrets of folks who transition to the gender opposite to their body of birth is liable to draw a blank stare from people today, maybe from you too. What? You have never heard of anybody regretting such a decision (or, more painfully, their parents’ decision) to adopt a self-chosen gender? You think that there are only stories of happy, now-wonderfully well-adjusted trans-people who have finally found themselves?
A leopard changing its spots always goes well? Stop for a moment and think. You’ve never heard even one story of regret in the media? Given the novelty of surgical treatment for gender dysphoria, the prevalence of suicide and comorbidity even after the operations, and just the complexity of the matter, doesn’t that strike you as a little fishy? Even a little bit?
You can approach the question of trans-regret from a data perspective. (But if you rely on scientific studies for the answer, pay attention to:
1) Longitudinality—that is, the cohort of patients over a long period of time.
2) Sample preservation—that is, how many of the people they operated on remained in the cohort.
3) Who is doing the study and who stands to gain from the results.
In fact, dear reader, there are many stories of regret, from which you can learn a great deal. But in our current environment, it is only the very most courageous who will tell them publicly.
You can also approach the question from a qualitative perspective, just being willing to listen to people who have regrets. In fact, dear reader, there are many stories of regret, from which you can learn a great deal. But in our current environment, it is only the very most courageous who will tell them publicly. The silence is deafening because it is so strictly enforced. Even as late as ten years ago, you could find a roundabout regret story in the New York Times, even with the word “Regret” in the title. That won’t happen today.
Yet there are public places to listen. World Magazine, in a recent bold issue, lets some of those stories out of the box with some excellent reporting. That issue also introduces Walt Heyer, a living vocal testimony of regret and a long-time opponent of the use of body modification to address gender dysphoria. In an upcoming post I will review one of his books on its own, but you can check out his resources at www.sexchangeregret.com.
Another place to look is in the heart of Denise Shick, who founded Help4Families and has worked with transfolks for over fifteen years. While not the most culturally engaging book ever, her Understanding Gender Confusion is well worth reading. The last part gives you chapter-length testimonies of the gender dysphoric who have come back and how they were redeemed. Note the themes.
These are some of the places where one hears voices of regret, beyond the din. I also know some of these regret stories firsthand from those I have worked with and walked with. Though I am not at liberty to discuss these cases here and now, I can suggest one more place, the best place really–the real gender strugglers in your own life.
Gender dysphoria is only going to increase, which means that it will be more and more likely that you will encounter close friends or loved ones who have made trans-decisions, and those who, with time, regret them. Be open to the experience they will share. Be willing to be involved. Offer the hope that is available to all people who have serious sadness about what they have done with their lives.
The stories are there. We would do well to listen.
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.
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.
30 Nov 2016
On May 13, 2016, many were surprised to learn that the federal government issued a directive, concerning transgenderism, to schools receiving federal Title IX grants. The directive said that schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room that match their gender identity. A confusing issue on a personal level became even more confusing as it developed into a public policy issue.
The emergence of public scrutiny over gender raises questions in the minds of many Christians: Why would someone identify as transgender? What do we mean by gender? Is it possible that there are more than two genders, male and female? How does Scripture call Christians to interact with transgender individuals?
These questions and the various answers given have sparked tremendous confusion and even, from some, hostility over what many see as another example of society going off the rails. It has become crucial for Christians to know how to reason through these issues on gender. With opinions on gender coming at us from all directions, we must find clarity to both understand and respond—intelligently, and with Christ-like compassion.
How do we understand what gender is?
What is a traditional understanding of gender? To understand what is revolutionary about current gender politics, a quick look at how gender has been viewed historically, across all cultures, is necessary. For the whole of human existence, society, with few exceptions, has affirmed a male-female binary regarding gender. In other words, an individual’s [given] physical sex at birth revealed and determined which gender the person was, however those gender roles of being a man or woman were expressed in one’s given cultural time period.
In the twin areas of sexuality—sexual behavior and gender identity — the church is experiencing tremendous pressure to change its understanding of what Scripture says about personhood and identity—and to subsume its authority to that of the individual.
This view of gender understood that for a very few number of individuals (about one in every 1,500 births, or .007% of the population), this binary classification was not clear at birth. A condition known as intersex, formerly known as hermaphroditism, occurs when an individual is born either with genitalia of both sexes or with ambiguous genitalia. This poses tremendous challenges for these children and their parents regarding what gender they will live out. We ought to give much understanding and compassion for these difficult situations. However, intersex conditions have not been viewed historically as evidence of multiple genders, but rather as disorders of sexual development. Like someone born without the ability to use their legs to stand or walk, such a condition does not argue that there are multiple views about what legs are for.
What is the new cultural understanding of gender? In simple terms, it’s this: Instead of possessing one of two fixed genders for life, the new understanding is that gender is fluid. Gender exists not as two permanent, fixed points, but rather on a continuum ranging from male to female. One’s experience of gender is no longer one gender or the other; instead, it can be entirely opposite from one’s biological sex, or one can switch back and forth between two genders. The goal of this cultural redefinition of gender is to ultimately do away with even the categories of male and female. Gender doesn’t matter in understanding what it means to be human.
A second element of this new cultural understanding is that gender is not innate, but acquired. While a child is born with male or female genitalia, that child does not develop his or her sense of gender identity until well after birth, according to psychologists. In most individuals, psychological gender is congruent with physical sex. However, in some cases, this is not so. Hence, it is possible to have an individual born with genitalia associated with one gender, but to have a psychological conception of one’s gender that is incongruent with one’s physical sex.
Transgender is a blanket term applied to a person whose subjective experience of gender is incongruent with his or her physical sex. Because of this perceived discrepancy, a transgender individual may elect to live out his or her gender in any number of ways. One might choose to identify as a particular gender different from his or her physical sex but never take measures to surgically or pharmacologically alter his or her physical sex. Someone might go through a process of using certain drugs to alter brain chemistry and hormone levels to develop physical characteristics of his or her preferred gender. Or one might elect to undergo gender reassignment surgery. These last two processes are known colloquially as transitioning.
Gender matters to God, and as his image bearers, it should matter to us as well.
This particular cultural concept of gender is new and itself in a state of evolution. In 2012, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association categorized the aforementioned types of gender incongruence as a psychiatric condition: Gender Identity Disorder (GID). Just four years ago, the psychiatric community would have counseled the GID-presenting patient to accept his or her physical sex.
When the DSM-IV was updated in 2013 (DSM-V), the diagnostic criteria for GID changed, so that most people who were previously diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder are now diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria—a perceptual problem, as opposed to a disorder. Now the goal of the therapist is to help patients accept their perceived or preferred psychological gender.
What is the problem with transgender? Essentially, this view of sex and gender makes the individual’s experience and feelings primary about what it means to be a person. Who I am and what I am are grounded in what I feel or believe about myself. Everything else—whether Scripture, or physical reality, or millennia-old social understanding—becomes secondary to my understanding of personhood. So if I feel as though I am another gender—whether male, female, or something in-between—that is who I actually am.
This radical view of personhood and identity comes out of the movement toward deconstructing gender and sex (as they have been traditionally and historically understood), which is the fruit of the sexual revolution that began more than half a century ago. Sexual boundaries and gender understanding are seen as social constructs, imposed by tradition (religious and civil) and by those in power. Viewing the issue from that worldview, the individual is elevated above society and is now seen as self-determinative and authoritative, able to choose what best fits their own perception of reality. The result of this worldview disallows any kind of objective truth from God—that the world he created has a particular design and a particular purpose within which people find God’s plan, his purposes, and themselves.
In the twin areas of sexuality—sexual behavior and gender identity—the church is experiencing tremendous pressure to change its understanding of what Scripture says about personhood and identity—and to subsume its authority to that of the individual. While the world sees this process as freedom and finding authenticity of self, Scripture views it as the outworking of sin and rebellion that is the result of the brokenness of life. The last line in the book of Judges, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” aptly describes our world of increasing chaos and brokenness.
What is God’s view of gender?
Understanding the narrative of Scripture when it discusses human beings, made in the image of God, as either male or female, will give us a critical starting point for entering into this discussion.
Scripture is the starting point for how Christians ought to think and live. God’s Word has much to say regarding gender and makes the following especially clear:
- It identifies two (and only two) genders in creation, with no distinction between biological sex (male and female) and gender (being a man or a woman)
- It describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, from which gender confusion results
Scripture identifies two (and only two) genders in creation
We see this plainly when God establishes two genders—male and female—by decree in Genesis 1:27:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
God created men and women specifically for a particular kind of relationship with one another: The covenant of marriage, where the creation of children, leading to the development of both family and society, is a major reason for our sexuality. Sexual activity is connected to humanity’s purpose in life—a purpose that God mentions in Genesis 1:28 to manage the earth and make it a place of bounty and beauty. Creating life is an essential part of this.
But the Genesis story, as the anchor for our understanding of sexuality and gender, doesn’t limit gender differences only to reproduction. Male and female reflect God’s image to the world, and particularly so when a husband and wife join together in marriage. The narrative in Genesis hints at how gender differences profoundly shape humanity and our relationships. When Adam first sees Eve, he speaks of both similarity and difference, and between them a relationship develops where intimacy, transparency, mutual love, and unity grow in a way unlike any other human relationship (Gen 2: 21-25). Eve’s designation as Adam’s “helper” speaks of a relationship of unity and shared purpose (and not, as some erroneously think, that woman is inferior to man).
The importance of gender is not relegated only to marriage, either. A single man or woman also lives out their unique identities and personalities in the context of their malenesss or femaleness. All relationships are structured and enhanced through how we relate to one another as gendered beings.
So, God has established two genders—male and female—generally, in creation. But, we must note that he has also established these genders particularly in the lives of each individual. That is to say, God has assigned one of the two genders to each person at his or her birth. Scripture declares that God has planned out our unique identities, which includes the biological sex with which we were born.
The Psalmist in Psalm 139 says clearly that God designed each person before he or she existed:
- “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)
- “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:15)
- “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 139:16)
God both declares and foreknows the gender he has given to us. Examples of this are found throughout Scripture: Hagar is told she will bear a son who is to be named Ishmael (Genesis 16:11); Abraham and Sarah are told that Sarah will bear a son, and they are to name him Isaac (Genesis 17:19); the angel of the Lord tells Manoah that his barren wife will soon bear a son (Judges 13:3); and Mary receives the startling news, as an unmarried woman, that she would bear a son, Jesus, who would be the Messiah (Luke 1:31).
These key redemptive-historical acts, while they only mention the birth of sons, nevertheless establish the fact that it is God who ordains who we are as either male or female, as either sons or daughters.
Scripture describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, from which gender confusion results
Christians do not live in a perfect, transcendent world; they share in the extensive brokenness of all creation. In the area of sexual behavior, the numerous prohibitions in the Old Testament regarding particular sexual acts is telling. The reason why God had to spell out one sexual prohibition after another was not because he views sex as intrinsically evil (as some think Christian doctrine teaches), but because our fallen, sinful hearts are capable of doing evil even with the good things God has created.
Though God’s order for creation exists in fractured form, it still remains. It still matters that we live according to it. Regarding gender confusion or fluidity, in Deuteronomy 22:5, the Lord tells his people that to live as if you are someone of the opposite gender is sin. For many years, Deuteronomy 22:5 was used as a proof text against transvestitism, but its meaning goes far beyond simply wearing the clothes of the other gender. The verb-object clause used in the verse means to “put on the mantle” of the opposite gender—in other words, to live as though you were of the other gender.
The entire narrative of Scripture, including this passage, proclaims that God created all individuals to be either male or female, and to live as a man or woman in harmony with their physical sex. (As mentioned earlier, special consideration should be given to those who are born with intersex conditions, for they will require difficult decisions that are made for the benefit of the child; but these rare non-binary situations, which some proclaim as evidence of a “third” gender or sex, are evidence that God’s original design is broken and not that he intended multiple forms of gender.)
Gender matters to God, and as his image bearers, it should matter to us as well. To alter one’s birth gender or to live as a member of the other gender is therefore sin—as it is a repudiation of God’s will and intent for the particular creature.
One is reminded of the Lord’s words to his rebellious people in Isaiah 29:16:
You who turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?
To live outside of his design and purpose is to engage in rebellion against him, even if that rebellion is the result of confusion and personal pain. The confusion about gender is the result of our world moving away from an acceptance of God as both creator and ruler. The implications for the individual in distress, and for society as a whole, are enormous. It is right and good and necessary that we proclaim a true view of human personhood and the benefits that come from embracing it.