20 Jul 2017
In the Christian worldview of sex and sexuality, sexual pleasure points to something greater than the mere physical experience of it. Although most Christians know the moral “guardrails” of sexuality – one man, one woman, for life–they’re unable to explain the theological realities behind God’s design for sex. The idea that the Bible encourages sexual pleasure between a husband and a wife is generally minimized (by the church), in favor of speaking of what’s permitted/not allowed in order to keep things safe. When churches fail to teach God’s intention to enrich our lives and that of society as a whole through our sexuality, it leaves believers unable to adequately respond to a culture that sees biblical sexuality as restrictive and repressive. Yet, the Bible has much more to say about sexuality than procreation or “wait until marriage.”
Like Paul restating his point (Philippians 3:1), we need to keep returning to what God has said about this glorious and powerful gift of sex. We need to recapture the rich meaning of sex and God’s desire to bless men and women with it.
We’ll examine two theological aspects of godly sex and three practical considerations.
God loves pleasure
Scripture is unashamedly positive about sex. Remember God’s first command to newly created humanity? “Be fruitful and multiply!” Genesis 2 records the beauty of human sexuality prior to the Fall: Adam rejoices in Eve (“This at last is bone of my bones…”); their union is described as becoming “one flesh”; and the passage concludes they were “naked and not ashamed” (ESV). Shame surrounds our nakedness and sexuality because of sin. It’s not the design of our loving Creator. Jesus came to restore our sexuality, that we may know God’s joy in it. God designed sex to be pleasurable. He’s the one who crafted everything, including orgasms, and declared it all “very good.” This is hard for us to believe because we are prone to overdo pleasure, whether food, entertainment, sex, etc. This leaves us feeling guilty and ashamed; our problem is we worship “created” things, rather than letting these good gifts lead us to a deeper worship of the Giver. As the majesty of a sunset declares God’s glory (Psalm 19:1), all beauty—and pleasure!—should lead to worship of our Creator.
The Bible extols the pleasure of sexuality. Proverbs 5:18-19 tells husbands, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth… Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” God wants married couples to be drunk with sexual delight! Further, the Song of Songs contains passages with profoundly sensual language. Most English translations render the Hebrew with accurate, but very safe, interpretive decisions. The bride proclaims, “His body is polished ivory, bedecked with sapphires” (5:14). Many scholars observe that knowing ivory comes from an animal’s tusk gives a clearer picture of the object of her delight. Prudish views of sex are added by church tradition but are foreign to Scripture.
The wooing Bridegroom—the importance of “otherness”
God created us with an erotic drive so we’d glimpse his heart for us and be amazed by his love. We see this in the OT Prophets, where God describes his relationship to Israel as a Husband with his Bride. In the NT, Jesus takes the OT description of God as Israel’s husband and says, in effect, “I AM!” He places himself in the center of this metaphor, in the very role of God. And, of course, all of human history is hurtling forward to the New Heavens and Earth, beginning with the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10). Why did Jesus teach there’ll be no marriage at the resurrection (Matthew 22:29-30)? Because marriage points to our relationship with him. Writing about marriage, Paul makes this explicit: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). This glorious reality should be reflected in, and guide, sexual activity in marriage, so a couple’s physical intimacy appropriately mirrors Christ’s love for his Bride.
God designed sex to be pleasurable. He’s the one who crafted everything, including orgasms, and declared it all “very good.”
God created you as a sexual, romantic being with deep, powerful longings so you would understand his longing for you! When I was engaged to my wife, Isaiah 62:5 bowled me over: “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” This verse teaches my love and longing for my wife, my desire to be one flesh with her (which far transcended mere physical desire), was a drop in the Pacific Ocean of God’s heart toward me. And you. He created us that we would catch a glimpse of this “profound mystery” through our longings—Christ’s love and longing to be consummated with his Bride. God insists on sexual expression within an exclusive, covenantal relationship because it is analogous to a deeper, eternal reality—a husband and wife devoted to one another, forsaking all others, as a reflection of Jesus’ desire that we be utterly devoted to him, forsaking worship of all others.
Further, gender asymmetry is foundational to godly sex as the only physical coupling that suitably reflects the mystery of “Christ and the church.” While male and female is directly connected to procreation in Genesis, theologians have long pointed to gender differences as contributing to a deeper shaping of humanity. All that can be said in this brief space is this: the unity and diversity of male and female, in life as well as in sex, is a call to explore, know, and delight in someone who is “other.” As each spouse grows in wonder of the “other,” it is a snapshot of our ultimate union with the One who is holy, which means “set apart”—profoundly and infinitely “other.”
God created you as a sexual, romantic being with deep, powerful longings so you would understand his longing for you…Our sex drive is an invitation to worship!
Our sex drive is an invitation to worship. Perhaps you’re experiencing the richness of this in your marriage. You worship God easily in your sexuality. But what if you’re single or, like many, in a marriage that falls short of your sexual hopes? Jesus invites you to draw near to him in your unsatisfied longings, realizing they ultimately point to him and the sure promise that they will be forever satisfied on That Day. At his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11), which God says we can’t even begin to comprehend (1 Corinthians 2:9).
This doesn’t mean singleness isn’t hard and at times crushingly lonely, or that a distant, sexless marriage isn’t painful. But these frustrated desires point beyond themselves to something God will eventually give you with a fullness you can’t begin to imagine. And you need to know Jesus “gets” your experience. He suffered in this life with all kinds of unsatisfied desires, and he’s been waiting 2,000 years for the glorious consummation to come. He’s sitting at the right hand of the Father, ruling over the universe, still waiting and fasting (at least from wine; see Matthew 26:29) until he can celebrate with us at the Wedding Feast. He understands your suffering, groans within you by his Spirit, and promises that you will be satisfied if you hunger and thirst for righteousness.
You can watch Dave talk some more about this on his video: Just What is Godly Sex? – Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
20 Jul 2017
Christians seem to know morality when it comes to sex and sexuality, but most are not able to articulate the full picture of what God’s design for sex, sexuality, and pleasure is about. Dave White discusses his two-part blog on the need for Christians to understand the bigger picture that makes God’s boundaries for sex and sexuality understandable and necessary.
06 Jul 2017
Many people today think reparative therapy is Christian-based, but it’s not. There is no gospel in it, and it’s important for Christians to speak intelligently about how helping someone with same-sex attraction in a gospel-focused way is altogether different.
06 Jul 2017
Expectations. We all have them, whether we acknowledge them outright or hide them in our hearts. We are hope-based creatures; we need to have hope in order to live. Yet there is danger in hope; it will crush you if you put your trust in something that can’t deliver.
I think about the destructiveness of false hope whenever reparative therapy pops up in the news. Every few months another state or city government proposes legislation to outlaw reparative therapy. All over the web are stories of gays and lesbians who were harmed by attempts from therapists or Christian ministries to change their sexual orientation. The faith of many broke over those unbiblical expectations.
Putting one’s faith in anything outside of what God has explicitly promised is courting disaster. I remember sitting with a church leader, pouring out my fears about the impending birth of my third child. Three years earlier our second child was born severely disabled. We had a 25% chance of the same birth defect occurring with other children. We decided not to have any more. God decided differently. It was a pregnancy full of fear for us.
In that meeting, what I heard from him deeply unsettled me: “Don’t worry. God isn’t going to give you another disabled child.” How did he know that? He didn’t, but he said he couldn’t fathom that God would do that, again, to us.
I left that meeting confused but already determined to reject that advice. I knew that no page of Scripture promises specific things we want in life. I had been painfully learning for the past three years, in raising my disabled son, to let God be God. While I didn’t understand what God’s purposes were for giving us such a child, I had, unexpectedly, come to trust him more. My relationship with God was no longer based on what I expected him to do for me. (Isn’t that much of the way we relate to God in our hearts?)
I had come to see that my prior expectations of what God would do in my life were but projections of my own hoped-for future. False expectations. God had mercifully smashed them. And in doing so, I came to grasp that his death on my behalf was a sufficient display of his love for me. I could live on that.
So, we are asked from time to time whether HARVEST USA does reparative therapy. Can we promise the kind of change many have desperately hoped for? And our answer is a compassionate, biblical “No.”
The essence of reparative therapy is that homosexuality can be changed into heterosexuality through following its counseling practices. Some of those practices were immoral and unethical (past practices included aversion therapy, “cuddling,” using pornography to encourage heterosexual desire, etc.). But the expectation of change—that was what deeply pulled on the hearts of those who wanted to live without same-sex desire.
A significant part of HARVEST USA’s ministry work is with those who live with unwanted same-sex attraction and who reach out to us for help. Many of these men and women grew up in the church, and many of them want the kind of “guarantee” reparative therapy falsely offers. So, we are asked from time to time whether HARVEST USA does reparative therapy. Can we promise the kind of change many have desperately hoped for?
And our answer is a compassionate, biblical “No.” HARVEST USA has never used, nor approved of, reparative therapy. We believe it to be thoroughly unbiblical and unhelpful because it attempts to correct a spiritual issue with behavioral modification. Reparative therapy is a product of our culture’s obsession with all things therapeutic. Tragically, the evangelical community jumped on the therapeutic bandwagon and found themselves wed to a psychological methodology that was never biblical to begin with.
The church is now, thankfully, repenting of proclaiming this kind of unbiblical hope. Not because there is no hope; rather it is not the hope Scripture gives to sexual strugglers.
Homosexual behavior is a sin that needs repentance. Like all sin, it comes out of our fallen hearts. All sin rises, as Luther said, from the “inherent bentness of our hearts” toward idolatry, and away from God. That’s the message of Romans 1. Paul is not singling out gays and lesbians as being the worst of sinners; he is pointing the finger at every single human being because all of us possess a disordered heart. A heart whose inclinations and desires, whether chosen or discovered, insist and demand to live life on its own terms. Following Christ, however, is about always submitting our heart’s desires to his kingly rule over every part of our life.
Therefore, we call everyone to a different kind of change, an inner heart change. HARVEST USA is not in the “sexual re-orientation” business, but rather seeks to help men and women grow into radical Christ-orientation in all areas of life, including our desires and attractions. Our core ministry is to help sexual strugglers of all kinds know and learn from Jesus (Matthew 11:29), who promises to meet us in our struggles and give us new life, daily. In our teaching, we acknowledge and address the complex life experiences that each person brings through our doors. Our work is about applying the power of the gospel to inform all the external and internal factors that shape a person’s life while calling and helping everyone to live a life of sexual integrity according to the Scriptures. That kind of life is supernatural, and it does lead to surprising joy.
Authentic submission to Christ is allowing God to direct our lives and our future in ways that exceed our expectations—even when the reality might be that one continues to live with same-sex attraction and on-going temptation.
In our culture, living a life of sexual integrity that the gospel calls us to is an especially hard journey. Now both secular society and proponents within the wider church say that same-sex behavior is an acceptable life to God. Tragically, leaders in the church are now proclaiming this kind of false hope also.
What about change then? We believe that people are changed when they grasp ahold of the gospel. But we don’t say what that change will exactly be. We don’t create unbiblical and unrealistic expectations of how God is going to work in every person’s life (for a fuller discussion read our mini book, Can You Change if You’re Gay, available at harvest-usa-store.com). Jesus promises to make his followers into his image, expressing his character, steadily growing in outward obedience to his will. This is not behavioral modification. Authentic submission to Christ is allowing God to direct our lives and our future in ways that exceed our expectations—even when the reality might be that one continues to live with same-sex attraction and on-going temptation.
One quick point about the legal issues surrounding reparative therapy; the push for legislation does raise legitimate concerns about religious liberty. Would the way HARVEST USA helps people with same-sex attraction—to follow Christ faithfully and live according to God’s design for sexuality—be viewed as being no different from reparative therapy? Will it one day be illegal to even speak of the Christian position on sexuality to a young person in the church who wonders about his or her sexuality? This is a significant matter and one that we must defend. For that reason, we must also be clear about the lines we draw in how we help people, and not go beyond Scripture.
I still wonder as I think about all this, if I had put my trust in the well-meaning words of that church leader, where my faith in Christ would be now, because my third child was born with the same genetic disease, and his short life ended six months later. Thankfully, I had learned to put my hope in God and his glorious cross—and not my hoped-for expectations of what I needed him to do in my life. That made all the difference in my life and for my faith, and it has led to surprising joy.
You can watch Nicholas talk some more about this on his video: The Dangerous Expectations of Reparative Therapy.
27 Apr 2017
In part one of this blog, I laid out a multi-layered plan to protect your family from porn while they are at home and connected to your home Wifi network. Now, let’s get to the outside-the-home protection plan.
How can I protect my kids when they leave my home or access their data plans?
One great way to eliminate the temptation for your kids to use their phone for sexual sin is to get them a basic phone. Do they really need a hand-held device that is more sophisticated than the information technology that sent the Apollo Space missions to the moon—especially when an unfiltered smartphone can connect to porn in mere seconds? We at The Student Outreach know of brave teens who’ve asked their dads to let them trade in a smartphone for a “dumbphone,” because they were sick of being tempted by porn.
But if your kid must have a smartphone, how can you protect them?
1. Install Filters and Accountability Software
First, you need to buy filtering and accountability software for each Internet-enabled smartphone, tablet, or laptop that leaves your home protection.
Remember Circle With Disney from our first post? Circle with Disney filters every device using your WiFi router. Circle with Disney just recently released an app called Circle Go that applies those very filter settings used on your router to devices as they leave the home. This might be a great way to kill the proverbial two birds with one (and a half) stone(s).
2. Disable the Downloading of Apps
It used to be that one had to use a browser to find a website. Today, apps are the new web browsers. As you might guess, kids can use many apps to access porn. You need to go into the settings of your child’s smartphone or tablet and disable the downloading of apps so they can’t add apps on their own. If you install a filter/accountability app but don’t disallow adding new apps, your child can load an app that works around the filter/accountability app or delete the one you just installed!
The parental settings, including disabling the downloading of apps, should be password protected. That way, when you kid wants to load a new app, they have to have a conversation with you about it. In other words, we don’t lock down the apps so that kids with a smartphone can only make calls. We lock down apps so that, when they want to download one, they have to come to us to do so. All this, like receiving accountability reports from your kids, facilitates dialogue.
3. Research and Dialogue about Devices, Apps, and Media
Your child says, “Can Johnny drive us to the game tonight?” Before we say, “Sure,” we parents ask some questions and even do a bit of private investigative work, like calling another trusted parent for the inside scoop. So don’t take your kid’s word on how appropriate an app, artist, or movie is. Research it yourself.
Use Google to your and their spiritual benefit. Go to Google and type in, “Is (blank) safe for kids?” or “Can (blank) app be used to access porn”? We recommend Common Sense Media, too. It is the best place I can find for new apps, websites, TV shows, movies, etc. Iparent.tv also includes many “how-to” videos, reviews of apps, etc. Pluggedin.com is also a good resource.
All of this research facilitates a running tech-dialogue. When your child has to come to you for the downloading of an app, it gives you time to research it. It also helps you begin to ask good questions of your child in the meantime: “What do your friends use this app for? What are some benefits of the app that you can see? What might be some downsides to having this app? What would you like to use this app for?”
4. Test Your In-the-Home and Outside-the-Home Protection Plans
You won’t be doing anyone any favors by failing to check to see if things are running smoothly. Randomly test the protection systems you’ve put in place. You may find yourself on a site that you don’t want to see, so do your checking together as a married couple or with a trusted Christian friend. Check all the devices. Something almost always doesn’t work from time to time. Nothing is foolproof.
After being as faithful and savvy as we can to protect our kids from the sexual corruptions of the world, we must trust the Savior and Redeemer with our kids. Only He can save our kids from the sexual corruption, self, and sin within. We must trust Jesus to work in our kids’ hearts and in the sexually broken world they inhabit until His kingdom comes in fullness. Knowledge of and trust in Jesus’ power helps us parent out of dependence, trust, and faith. And that’s a good place for any of us to be.
In all of this, we want to keep the dialogue open with our kids about technology in the home. We want to be talking to them about the measures we are taking to steward technology well. We want to be talking to them about both the dangers and the benefits of the technology we have. And most importantly, we want to approach them as fellow sufferers, not just sinners, in this crazy world, who can approach the throne of Jesus together for help and strength in our moments of weakness.
24 Apr 2017
A few years ago my best friend from college called me in tears. Their six-year-old son typed a “potty word” into a search engine and, for three weeks, watched hard-core porn videos until he was caught.
No one wants to be an overprotective parent. Overprotective parents breed ill-equipped kids. But we must be appropriately protective. Even though boys 12-17 are the largest per capita consumers of internet pornography, the threat of porn exposure is very real for younger kids and girls. Almost all kids are exposed to porn in their tween and teen years. The call is clear: We have to both minister to (Catching Your Child in Sexual Sin) and protect this rising generation in the face of such a media-savvy, sexually broken culture.
This post is about protection: In part one, I will cover an inside-the-home protection plan, and in part two I’ll discuss an outside-the-home protection plan.
What ways can we protect our home from pornography usage? Our family protection plan includes overlapping means of protection. Some of these might seem like overkill, but trust me, they are necessary.
1. Filter Your Router
All your wireless devices (laptops, tablets, e-book readers like Kindle, smartphones, gaming consoles, and even newer TVs) can connect to the Internet via your WiFi router. Filters act like walls that prevent users from accessing inappropriate content, and filters that attach to your router block porn at the source. Routers can be filtered by installing software like OpenDNS, but another option is to get a hardware device that filters all Internet enabled devices you assign to your home WiFi network.
In my home, I made a one-time purchase of $99 on such a device, Circle with Disney. After downloading the Circle app on my wife’s phone, we customized our filter for each child and each device. We can set time limits, view search histories, block specific websites and apps, and set bedtimes, all customized to each of my four children. Other devices like this include Torch and Clean Router. So far, Circle with Disney is working great for us!
There are, however, two things these awesome router filters can’t do. First, if your child takes her device over to a friend’s house, she can access the Internet on that family’s WiFi but without your router’s protective settings. Second, even if your child is at home, he or she can go into the “settings” on a smartphone or tablet and switch off its connection to your WiFi. Then the data plan kicks-in, and the device accesses the Internet via their data plan.
2. Enable Password-Protected Search Engines
Some may think that if you have router protection, then this step is unnecessary. However, we advise multiple layers of protection. While there are many browsers and search engines like Yahoo, Bing, and Internet Explorer, as of now, Google is the only major search engine that gives the option for password-protected parental controls (Google SafeSearch). The big point here: You must set and guard the password. You can, of course, block access to other search engines through your filtering programs, but this step is not foolproof.
Everything mentioned so far restricts access to inappropriate content on the Internet, but you will need one more, crucial element to your family protection plan.
3. Install Accountability Software on All Devices
Accountability software will email a report of Internet use to an accountability partner; it’s the hall monitor of the Internet. Router protection only filters and blocks, so we recommend accountability software as well. This report will actually enable you to see the websites your family is visiting and will give you an opportunity to see where your family is using their time.
A filter is simply mechanical, but accountability is relational: An accountability report invites discipleship conversations with your kids that you can talk not only about their Internet behaviors, but also about their heart and walk with the Lord, as you see what is most important to them via what they are accessing on the world-wide web. It needs to be said: Adults need honesty too with peer accountability partners, their brothers and sisters in Christ!
There are a lot of great companies offering accountability software: Covenant Eyes , Net Nanny, Safe Eyes, and many more. The big point here is to actually check those accountability reports. Accountability software only works when accountability in relationship is in place.
Our kids are in a war, outwardly assailed by the world and inwardly wrestling with lust, selfishness, confusion, and shame. If we abdicate talking about these struggles, and if we simply neglect to protect them, we leave them absolutely isolated and vulnerable in this war. So, use everything we’ve mentioned in this post to move toward your child’s heart and encourage them with the grace and hope of Christ. They need that in the face of their hyper-pornified culture.
02 Feb 2017
Jan asked her fourth grader, “How was school today?” James said, “We played Never Have I Ever, and I said, ‘I’m never going to become a girl.’” And then he added, “Mom, that’s something you don’t have to worry about with me.”
Transgender issues are not only in our faces as adults, but they also confront our kids. This raises the question, what should we teach our kids about transgenderism and gender identity?
1. Teach God’s wise and loving design for sexuality
Before we deal with transgenderism as a particular aspect of sexual brokenness, we need to give our kids the positive teaching of God’s design for sexuality. They need to grasp the wisdom of God’s design for sexual wholeness to have a context in which to understand sexual brokenness and sin.
Let me encourage you to take opportunities to talk in age-appropriate ways about sexual topics. You can discuss how great it is that God made them male or female and how God made marriage to be a blessing. For a good place to prepare for such discussions, check out our six-part “Sex Talks” blog series.
Also, discuss with your kids some of the reasons why people don’t follow God’s design for sexuality. We talk about sin not to raise legalistic pharisees but rather to have gospel-centered conversations. The good news of the Gospel doesn’t make sense without the bad news of sin and the Fall. So when we talk about sin in others, it can help us point our kids to their own need for Christ.
We can build on the example of a sibling selfishly stealing a cookie to bridge into discussing how selfishness can motivate someone to have sex before marriage or use porn. Gospel-centered conversations about particular sins are not about denouncing a sinner but about empathetically understanding the temptations “common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). We can help our kids trace the connection between someone’s unbelief in the goodness of God to his or her sinful choices.
2. Educate yourself about transgenderism from a Christian worldview
Our culture believes that gender is merely a human idea or a social construct. But the truth is that humanity is not free to come up with its own self-definitions precisely because we have a Creator and Redeemer who authoritatively defines all things. He reveals His truth about gender, sex, and marriage, and His boundaries are good and laid down for humanity’s flourishing.
The terminology of transgenderism is confusing. One key concept we need to understand is gender dysphoria. This phrase describes an individual’s experience, usually in childhood, of developing feelings that one is uncomfortable with, or even hates living as, his or her birth gender. Some gender dysphoric children become convinced they were born in the wrong body and try multiple ways of living out the other gender. Later, some gender dysphoric people pursue hormone therapy and even gender reassignment surgery.
We must teach our own kids to have compassion for those who struggle in this way. Yet this compassion needs to produce redeeming love, not affirm desires that lead to self-harm.
Here’s a link to Harvest USA’s Fall 2016 Magazine that has four articles covering several important, biblical perspectives on transgenderism.
3. Find out what your kids know and think (or think they know)
Some younger, churched kids may not be aware of transgenderism, but how can our tween-aged and teenaged kids not be? Therefore, ask questions to discover what they know. Perhaps they’ve seen celebrities like Catlyn Jenner or ads for the TV show I am Jazz. Ask them what they think about these celebrities or why someone would be desperate to change his or her gender.
Their opinion may surprise you. Considering the distress of transgendered people offers our kids an opportunity to learn about people’s hearts in general, their own hearts specifically, and how the gospel applies to us all.
4. Teach them about God’s gift of gender and the temptation of gender transitioning
Talking to our kids about gender takes us back to the Garden of Eden. God made us either male and female in His image. Both genders are awesome, wonderful gifts to be celebrated and great responsibilities to be stewarded for God’s glory.
But what did Adam and Eve do with the gifts and the Giver? When tempted to trust their own wisdom, they rejected God, sinned, and experienced the Fall. If Genesis 3 was made into a movie, the serpent would have told them “Trust your heart!” and “Follow your feelings.” So things haven’t changed; we are still up against Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh.
Therefore, we must teach our kids the dangers of trusting our hearts and following our feelings. While your children may not be tempted to change their gender, they all know what it is like when desires of the heart become dictators of their lives.
That’s the key to understanding someone’s desires to transition. But a gender dysphoric kid is not the only one to have disordered desires and deluded thinking. These desires and thoughts are “common” in our kids who are tempted by more socially accepted sins, like dressing immodestly, using porn, or going too far sexually when dating.
The truth is that we all know something is not right with us, that we are flawed, needy, and trapped. Christians and non-Christians have real sufferings. The gospel truth that we can teach our kids is that no one can save himself or herself from suffering. We can’t transition ourselves into a state of peace, fulfillment, and bliss. But we know the One who will one day in His kingdom, and we can trust Him with our sufferings here and now.
21 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.
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 (Ps 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 that 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: that 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.
19 Oct 2016
“Is it OK for my son to play dress-up like a princess and dance like a girl?” asked Bob, a father, after one of our parenting seminars. Bob, who had the look of a former college athlete, and his wife were concerned for their five-year-old boy and some of his behaviors. At the same time, Bob didn’t want to squash his personality or crush his son’s spirit. He also worried that his son might be bullied because he did not fit into cultural stereotypes.
Here are the two points of advice I gave these parents:
Affirm and Validate
True gender differences and gender roles come from God our Creator. But every culture expects certain stereotypical behaviors from boys and girls, men and women. The problem with this is that, since Genesis 3, every culture’s ideas on gender contain fallen elements. So, before we guide our sons away from certain behaviors that our culture deems unacceptable, we have to ask if a clear, biblical line is really being crossed.
All our little guys, whether or not they present any gender atypical behaviors, need us to envelop them in love and affirmation. We need to affirm them first of all for who they are. They need to hear, “I’m so glad God sent you to us,” and “I love you!” before we affirm what they do by saying, “You’re great at ________,” or “I’m glad you do ___________.”
Oftentimes parents are worried when their sons have different temperaments, talents, and interests that are not stereotypical for boys. Dads need to honestly deal with the idol of having a son just like them — a chip off the old block. Therefore, affirm and validate to your son that his personality and gifts are from God. Tell your son that God will raise him up to bless the world and build up His Kingdom through his unique giftings.
Dad, whatever you’re into, from football, baseball, basketball, or anything from NASCAR and monster trucks to investing stocks and the golf channel, you’ve got to let “it” go as a must for your son. Instead, find out what your child’s personality, gifts, and passions are, then support them, develop them, and cultivate an appreciation of them. This means that a godly football coach whose son loves art, dance, and drama needs to supportively show up for recitals or performances, appreciate the inner complexities of his son’s fine art with him, and celebrate his efforts and successes.
Protect and Guide
Bob and his wife have an idea of their young son’s personality but not a clear sense of his giftings and passions yet. Dads like Bob fear that other boys may bully their sons when they see their gender atypical behavior. And this is a very valid concern.
We have to protect our little boys, and that means having our radar up for bullying and shaming. So we have to be engaged, observant, and step in to stop verbal or physical abuse by other boys. And yet we must beware of a “helicopter parent’s” tendencies to overprotect.
The way to protect your son from being bullied is not to isolate him from other boys and boyish activities. This is where gentle guidance comes in. We want to help our little guys find safe ways to integrate into the world of boys, which eventually becomes a world of men.
With my son, we’ve tried most of the major sports, dabbled in some martial arts, put him in a choir, started trumpet lessons, and tried some art classes. At nine, we are still discerning his top gifts and cultivating his passions. Try and sample lots of boy-related as well as general kids’ activities, but be wary of demanding or requiring your son to remain in an activity he doesn’t like or stay in a setting in which he does not feel safe.
Now, remember, Bob had a specific question about dress-up and dancing. And in helping your son grow up, there are times when you need to gently guide and redirect his behaviors and help reshape some of his attitudes. My son held my hand and clung to me like glue when I first started taking him to Cub Scouts. He was probably feeling overwhelmed and anxious in a loud, crowded place. But, like Bob, I didn’t want him to be the brunt of ridicule.
I started to gently break his habit of holding my hand and hanging back when we went to Scouts. I simply said, “Guys don’t usually hold their dad’s hand all the time unless they are in a dangerous place.” I would even leave the room to go to the water fountain so that he had interact with the boys. He is more reserved and less rambunctious than some of the other boys, but eventually he found his place, figured out some social cues, and began to enjoy the loud, large group meetings.
Note that I didn’t shame my son with any “Man up!” commands. I did not say, “A real man doesn’t ______” to ‘toughen him up’. When a dad says, “We guys do _____ or don’t ______,” we are guiding and redirecting rather than isolating and shunning. This way we can help our sons feel like they’re on our team and that they belong in our tribe of men.
As parents, and especially dads, we need to pray for wisdom in raising little guys up to be men who follow Christ, our savior and ultimate model for manhood.
02 Sep 2016
We are getting an increasing number of requests from parents, pastors, friends and others in the the church for good, biblically-sound resources to help understand and address issues of transgenderism. There’s a lot of good stuff scattered around the web, and on our sister website at www.harvestusa.org, we’re trying to collect some of them into a Resource Page: http://www.harvestusa.org/transgenderism-resources/
The Resource Page is being updated as Harvest USA staff come across more articles, sermons, blog posts, etc. that we believe are helpful from a gospel perspective. So check back from time to time. Just click the link to the page above. We hope what we have gathered will help you think biblically and compassionately about how to love those struggling with their gender.