22 Feb 2017
The proverbial kid in the candy store is a striking portrait, and so is our obsession with smartstuff, the internet, and porn. The Internet and smart technology, permeated by a wonderland of varied apps and social media platforms, seem to be omnipresent in our niche of the world. And with porn being a seemingly ubiquitous part of our existence, it might be prudent for us to develop deeper levels of thoughtfulness regarding Christian discipleship.
As we at the Student Outreach speak at events across the country, a lot of parents and youth workers yearn for the details of helping students deal with porn and their technology: the methods, the words to say, the filters to use, and everything in between. And the “nitty-gritty” is important to talk about. The concern for the nitty-gritty, however, is trying to manage how to eat the candy in the candy store, but I’m concerned that we’ve refused to acknowledge that the candy might be laced with cyanide. In other words, it might not be a question of simply modeling good tech usage for our kids, or teaching them how to use their technology for the glory of God. Mr. Wonka might actually be a fiend and not a friend.
More basic than method or detail is the worldview by which we interpret the universe around us. Along with the nitty-gritty ways to help students manage the Internet and their devices, are we coming to terms with our own worldviews—and helping students come to terms with theirs—which oftentimes assume an enslaving normality?
Let’s hear from Jesus: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).
Implicit in Jesus’ words is a love for Him than surpasses anything else on this planet. Christ Himself is the motivation for students and ourselves to take drastic measures in our lives, to ponder our walk thoughtfully even to the worldview level. In the wake of Him, every minute detail of life, even the thing that seems so indispensable, is to be filtered through this question: will this contribute to me following Jesus? Another way to put this would be in terms of the two great commandments: will this help me love God and love others (Matthew 22:36-40)?
One of the goals, then, of discipling students is to help cultivate in them a superior love for Christ that will enable them to formulate worldviews which are radically oriented around the Kingdom of God. To be sure, evil doesn’t begin in the candy store; sin begins in our own hearts. But the candy store can play a significant role in how our flesh roams. Assuming, then, that there’s more to be done than simply “cutting off” whatever facilitates our stumbling, let’s turn our attention to the sugar-saturated store itself.
Question the Closeness of the Internet
In helping students deal with pornography, what’s a more basic worldview question than, what are the best filtering and accountability options for my device? It’s this: is having the Internet so close to me all the time facilitating my walk with Christ? For the student who consistently struggles with pornography, the answer seems to be an emphatic no.
But let’s push things further. Shouldn’t we all be concerned with having such a powerful and potentially destructive force in our hands at all times? The answer is less emphatic, but we must certainly wrestle with the question. Practically, we would do well to consider whether any of us should have our own passwords to download any app we see fit. But more than that, it should cause us to question the very world-wide web itself and its accessibility in our lives. What if we actually removed our capabilities to access the internet on some of our devices altogether? What if, through our use of filtering software, we implemented times throughout the day during which we can’t access the Internet?
Question the Smartness of Smart Technology
As a corollary to questioning the closeness of the internet, maybe we should also thoughtfully ponder the role that smartstuff plays in our lives. Apart from the somewhat terrifying reality that smartstuff might actually be conditioning us for impulsive consumption, let’s bring our phones, our tablets, our watches, our tvs, and everything else that we can use to access pornography before the feet of Jesus.
Perhaps we should begin with this question: Should I even have smartstuff? Before we rejoice that we aren’t like that guy over there looking at porn regularly on his smart device and thus might be able to manage our technology, we should also remember that we are more like that guy than we would often care to admit. How much time are we spending on our devices, so radically close to the dangerous porn-precipice? It might be time to get rid of that tablet. It might be time to regress to a dumb phone.
I want both myself and the students whom I serve to be so radically devoted to Jesus and His Kingdom that they question the very assumptions and foundations of our modern culture. Are we helping kids to form worldviews that perceive the supremacy of God in Christ as the ultimate point of life? Are we helping them to see that everything else flows from and is informed by their primary allegiance? Are we ourselves thinking thoughtfully about the things we allow to invade our lives?
Jesus knows that anything we give up on this side of eternity will be nothing compared to what is now given to us in Him and what will be given to us by Him when we reach the other side. If we centered the discussion around our devotion to Christ, with His splendor, glory, and superior beauty, and asked hard worldview questions of the assumed pillars of our existence, we might begin to look radically different than the world around us, find a measure of sanity when it comes to porn, and most importantly become more thoughtful, intentional, and devoted followers of our Lord.”Mr. Wonka might actually be a fiend and not a friend.”
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.
02 Dec 2016
“I really need to talk,” one student recently said to me over the phone. We met at a good barbeque place, and for the first couple of minutes, we caught up on life. Then he fell silent.
Finally, after a couple of minutes, he spoke.
“I can’t tell you what I need to tell you. But I’ve written it down for you.”
He pulled a letter out of his jacket pocket, put it on the table, and slid it across to me. I unfolded it and began to read. On page after page, he described his four-year battle with same-sex attraction and, consequently, his identity.
Imagine yourself in that moment. Imagine the importance of your time together. What will you say? How will you respond? Perhaps this post can offer some beginning steps, although you might want to check out our more general post on having a ministry that can effectively shepherd same-sex attracted students. Here, we’ll be more specific.
Listen and Learn
If you’re anything like me, when students come and talk about their struggles, you want to do something about it quickly. And our desire to help is certainly good! Unfortunately, this fix-it-quick attitude tends to ignore students as complex people with unique stories (see our blog post, “Ministering to Same-Sex Attracted Students”). Human complexity puts a check on swift, fix-it-quick methods and attitudes.
What helps us take students’ complexity and uniqueness seriously is when we pause, listen, and learn from them as fellow strugglers on this journey: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). Let’s begin by asking questions of our students rather than trying to simply fix their broken situations. Where are they in their lives right now? How has their struggle with same-sex attraction affected their lives in the past? How has it affected their lives in the present? How can we best support them and walk with them now?
Along with listening and learning, we also want to be realistic with our students about what life is going to be like (see our posts, “Preparing Students for the Margins” and “Sexual Sufferers. Not Just Sinners”). Because we live in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christian beliefs, our culture is always going to look more inviting than following Jesus. But we also want to help same-sex attracted students see that following Christ is now, and will be in the future, truly life-giving.
We also want to give our students the ultimate goal of life: holiness and Christ-likeness, not heterosexuality. God never promises heterosexual desires to the exclusively same-sex attracted person. The point is that God wants us to seek Him above all things, even if He might leave those same-sex desires in place to drive us to Himself. Pursuing Christ above a simple, 180-degree change of desires is hard to grasp, but it makes Christ-likeness, not heterosexuality, the goal of our pursuit of holiness.
Give Them a Vocabulary for the Christian Life
Along with this realistic view of the Christian life, we must give same-sex attracted students a vocabulary for following Christ. This life is lived in daily faith, repentance, and love; we must daily reorient our trust around the person of Christ, daily turn to Christ in the moment of temptation, daily turn from our sins to follow Him, and daily love others by serving them. How can we practically help our students engage in these practices?
Not only must we hold up the goal of Christ-likeness for our students who struggle with same-sex attraction, we have to help them understand that change and growth in godliness is a process, a daily fight to turn again to Jesus by use of prayer, Scripture reading, spiritual disciplines, openness in community, Christian service, and the like. That brings us to our next point.
Help Them Grow in Community
In light of the voices which seek to comfort our students by affirming their same-sex attractions as simply another option for a thriving life, we run the risk of losing our same-sex attracted students to the open arms of our culture if we remain silent. At the same time, we must let students know that they have a community in Christ’s Church. Oftentimes, same-sex attracted students struggle in the church to grow in openness and community because of the intense, prison-like nature of shame, other people’s judging gazes, and the Church’s unwillingness to talk about it.
Part of our job in ministering to our students who wrestle in this way is to help them, over time, open up about their temptations, sufferings, and sins to other godly people and find life in godly community. This doesn’t have to happen right away. But as you meet with this student, instilling within him the grace of God and the identity he has in Jesus, we should be helping him to identify other people in whom he can confide, encouraging him to let in more and more light into his life.
Help Them Grow in Love and Ministry
While same-sex attraction should be taken to the feet of Jesus in faith and repentance, same-sex attracted students, like the rest of us, have been given gifts to contribute to the building up of the Body of Christ. Let’s help them discover, develop, and use those gifts in love and ministry, helping them to cultivate their God-given uniqueness to build up the Kingdom.
We need to be aware, however, that many times, same-sex attracted students’ gifts will not match the gender-stereotyped norms of the culture in which they live. This is more than okay. The question is: what gifts has God given them, and how can they, in turn, use them for His glory?
It’s a blessing when any student approaches a student minister for help, and it is our privilege to walk alongside them. Let’s commit to bringing the truth and mercy of Christ to our same-sex attracted students, to walk alongside them as we both move forward in the life-long process of discipleship.”Human complexity puts a check on swift, fix-it-quick methods and attitudes.”
27 Oct 2016
Recently, the blogosphere has been abuzz with denunciations of the pervasive purity culture hailing from the 1990s and early 2000s, and with good reason. While helpful in some—albeit very few—ways, the oversimplified purity culture, which advanced delayed sexual gratification until a far-off wedding day, was never very biblical and, in the long term, not particularly helpful in facilitating faithful disciples of Jesus. At best, this purity culture pointed out the sheer cliffs and dangers associated with sexual brokenness without providing a helpful path to navigate them.
And if I’m honest, I’ve endorsed this very culture in many conversations with students. But youth are savvy, and with the sobering realities of divorce and family brokenness splattered all over our culture and the church, they have seen through my smoke and mirrors. It might be helpful, then, to ask, ”What should I give students in lieu of a purity culture steeped in delayed sexual gratification and marinated in the false promise of an all-satisfying marriage?”
True love waits? Nope.
While it is certainly true that true love waits for good timing, espousing marriage as a satisfying alternative to sexual promiscuity simply leaves students to pop their wrists with rubber bands, hoping to drive away lustful thoughts through a culturally-appropriated medieval practice.
True love waits? Ok. But more than that, true love serves (1 John 4:10-11; Luke 10:27). Sexual sin uses others. So instead of asking students to delay gratification until a far-off wedding day, which may or may not be in the cosmic cards, why don’t we help them discover how to counteract the inward, self-exalting nature of sexual sin and actually use their gifts to love and serve both their friends and their significant others?
What would dating look like if, instead of asking “How far is too far?”, we asked, “How can I love my brother or sister in Christ to better point them to Jesus?” What if we really helped students steward and use their gifts, whether by serving on a leadership team, cleaning up lunch trays at school, playing in the worship band, or serving as a small-group leader to younger students? An emphasis on serving others will help to counteract the sexual sin that urges them towards isolation and self-exaltation. It might seem strange, but perhaps one of the greatest ways to fight sexual sin is to roll up our sleeves and do good for someone else (Matthew 23:23).
Your needs will be met? Nope.
I love the emphasis on God fulfilling our needs, but oftentimes we confuse human wants with godly needs. Sex isn’t a need. Feeling a certain way about myself, whether being accepted by a spouse or feeling fulfilled in a good marriage, isn’t a need. But being in God’s family is a need. Worshipping the Lord is a need for human flourishing. So while I’ve sat with many students and simply told them that either their needs will be met in a future spouse or that their needs will be met in Jesus, I’ve actually failed to help them distinguish between true and false needs, repent of false needs, and turn outwardly in love and service towards others and the Lord.
The “need” to be sexually fulfilled—which says, “Life would be fulfilling if I could just have sex”—simply isn’t going to be fulfilled this side of eternity or the next. Our sexual “needs” are tainted and distorted by our own sinful nature, and since none of us are going to marry in the New Earth (Matthew 22:30), I need to awaken students to the self-denying and others-serving reality of being in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 16:24; 19:30). Ultimately, I need to teach them the humbling, hard, but necessary, tasks of repentance, suffering, and service.
Marriage might be an answer? Ultimately, nope.
Certainly, marriage is a wonderful thing and a gift that God has given us. It does alleviate a measure of isolation. It does makes us more like Jesus as we learn to live with another person who is just as much of a sinner as we are. And it also tells the wonderful story of Christ’s relationship to the Church.
Marriage does help in staying sexually pure. But it only helps our brokenness; it doesn’t cure it. Even the wonderful intimacy that marriage provides remains tainted by sin and selfishness. Marriage is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. It does not take away our brokenness or selfish expectations. In fact, it really only highlights them.
For all its glory and aid in fighting sexual brokenness and in providing a safe context for true intimacy, marriage is only a signpost, a shadow of a deeper reality that will outlast all vows and covenants and one which will cure and re-create all that’s broken and distorted. This deeper reality is, of course, the Person and Work of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-33; Revelation 19:6-8). Our sole hope is His person as Savior, Lord, Prophet, Priest, and King and His work of salvation for us, including His work of the Spirit in us.
Let’s ask ourselves today: am I promoting a purity culture that is devoid of the self-sacrificing, others-serving, Jesus-following nature of being in the Kingdom of God, or am I giving students Kingdom realities that will truly carry them through self-denying death and into others-serving life?
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.
15 Aug 2016
It was another phone call from a pastor asking what to do. A woman in his church, married, is beginning to look like a man. Over several months it has increasingly become clear that something significant is happening. But neither the woman nor her husband has come forward asking for advice or help. No one has said anything. But the silence obviously cannot remain. People are talking… transgenderism? What should this pastor do?
For a church to help someone with gender dysphoria is first to see the 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 by its insistence that gender is not connected to one’s sexual anatomy at birth, but rather what someone feels they are. Gender identity politics has become the latest cultural battleground. In an increasingly secular culture, sexual freedom is sacred ground.
But if someone in your church is silently struggling with what gender they feel they are, we need more than promoting adherence to Genesis 1 and 2 to set him or her straight. Yes, good biblical teaching is necessary. We must not abandon the anchor position of Scripture, that God created humanity in two genders, male and female, and those genders are, in fact, who we are, and living out our given maleness and femaleness is an essential part of what it means to be human.
Nevertheless, we also live in a Genesis 3 world.
A world that is broken at its core, resembling God’s original design, but increasingly showing deep cracks and fissures in how God’s image bearers live and reflect his image. Men and women have struggled with their sexuality and gender for countless ages, so this isn’t anything new. What’s new is the forceful demandingness of an anything-goes sexuality-and-gender culture, with its message that there is no inherent order or design in who we are and how we should live. The only order and design is the one I create.
But while the culture insists that how one lives is entirely up to the individual, there will be those in your church who are not trying to be rebellious here. Rather, they are confused, lonely, and despairing strugglers trying to make sense of their pain. The distress they feel is real. And for many, the message the world gives seems more hopeful, and so they embrace the post-Christian (really, post-Fall) message of radical individuality.
For this pastor and his church, continued silence is not a godly option. There is no compassion to say or do nothing when someone in the church is living in ways that contradict God’s design for being a congruent-gendered person.
But speaking a biblical message on sexuality and gender to a man or a woman who has come to despise their biological sexual identity is a difficult matter. We must combine wise words with our loving presence. Good teaching is rarely, if ever, the sole factor that moves someone in the right direction. Our words and our loving presence with them are what they need.
So what is our advice to what this pastor could say to this woman? How does he speak a message into her life that might give her hope? Maybe enough hope for a future that would allow her more time to choose to slow down and hopefully reverse the transition process she seems to be pursuing. More time to begin to understand, perhaps for the first time, the biblical categories of male and female that God has chosen for us to live within.
What “alternative script” of biblical truth, in stark contrast to the world’s message, can we give to her? Here are four basic principles:
Affirm and recognize the struggle
Affirm the likelihood that this struggle has been going on for some time. Recognize that this is not a superficial struggle and that the person is trying to make sense of what they experience. Ask good questions so that you can begin to grasp what this struggle is like, and why this person feels so strongly that she needs to transition to the opposite gender.
Seek to be involved as much as possible
Communicate the reality that deep, persistent struggles grow stronger when we deal with them in isolation. As a professing believer (or better yet, a member of the church), ask if they would allow you to keep speaking into their life about this. To hear further about their struggle, but also to allow you to speak about a biblical position on gender and sexuality. An appeal to Scripture’s call to be one body, Christ’s, where brothers and sisters assist one another in the daily struggles of life, should be a constant refrain.
Help them to grasp that our lives, and even our bodies, first belong to God
Believers in Christ have a much deeper foundation for their identity/personhood than those who do not follow him. Whom we belong to is a deeper, more foundational question than the one the world asks: How do I be myself, or how do I find freedom (from my distress or situation in life)?
Some life-situations are chronic, persistent, and some will not end in this life (like many chronic disability circumstances). Finding healing or freedom from struggles is not a wrong thing to do, unless it violates God’s design and purpose expressed in Scripture. Then, a Christian is called to persevere faithfully in the struggle, to discover that God’s grace gives meaning and purpose, along with daily strength, to live and grow in and through it (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
Call them to bring God into the heart of the situation
Too often, obeying Scripture is made to feel like obeying a set of rules. But following Christ is a life-affirming direction, even when we must turn from those things that promise a fix or a solution (Mark 10:27-31). One important thing to stress is that all our decisions, even the smallest ones, will either strengthen our resolve to follow Christ or weaken it. Lovingly communicate the importance of pursuing obedience in Christ, with whatever means are available (counseling, listening to stories from others, teaching them good theology, prayer, etc.). In doing so, you will help them learn to accept and grow into the gender God gave them. And if they are willing, walk with them for as long as it takes, through all the successes and failures that will most likely be a part of their journey.
The narrative today about this issue is that the struggle is biological and/or psychological. Putting aside legitimate intersex complications for some, what is noticeably missing is a discussion of how spiritual issues are also at the heart of a person’s struggle.
Bringing God into the heart of the situation can do two things: it legitimizes the person’s real distress with their inability to align their physical and psychological selves, and also injects another not-to-be-ignored dynamic: that the person’s distress has an additional element of struggle to it, that to go against God’s design and purpose does bring about increasing confusion and pain. Following God’s design may not be the easiest path to walk (particularly when the world shouts another message), but in the long run it draws us to him, to the One who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
There’s a whole lot more to say and do here with this person. But starting out this way might better open doors to effectively help a struggler seek God’s help and grow into being who God has called them to be.
For additional resources go to our Transgenderism: Resources page.
05 Aug 2016
In the first post in this blog series, “Transgenderism: A Truth and Mercy Response: Part 1“, we looked at what is meant by gender, specifically how the post-Christian culture views it. Gender is now seen as being divorced from one’s biological sex; that how one views oneself as either male or female (or neither or both!) is based on one’s feelings and self-perceptions. Therefore gender is fluid, changeable, and virtually limitless.
What Does Scripture Say About Gender?
With that said, what does Scripture say about gender? In short, it says lots. Perhaps more than you might think. In this post we’ll examine two key points:
- Scripture identifies two (and only two) genders in creation.
- Scripture describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, and gender confusion results from that.
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.
Male and female in God’s creation are created for a particular kind of relationship with one another: a covenant relationship of marriage where a major reason for sexual expression is the creation of children, leading to the development of both family and society. Sexual activity is connected to humanity’s purpose in life—a purpose that God mentions in 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, in being the anchor for our understanding of sexuality and gender, doesn’t limit gender differences at 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 gives profound hints of how gender differences contribute to a deeper shaping of humanity. Adam’s exclamation when he first sees Eve speaks of both similarity and difference, and between them there grows a relationship where intimacy, transparency, mutual love and unity grow in a way unlike any other human relationship (Gen 2: 21-25). And Eve’s designation as “helper” to Adam speaks of a relationship of unity and shared purpose (and not, as some erroneously think, that woman is inferior to man).
Gender differences are not relegated to marriage, either. Living out one’s life as either male or female, as a single person, will also display God’s unique design (more on the complexity of gender roles will follow in another blog post).
In stark contrast to our culture’s mantra that gender is fluid and determined by the will and wishes of the individual, God declares that who we are individually grows out of the biological sex given to us at birth.
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 particular individuals. That is to say, God has assigned one of the two genders to each at his or her birth. Biological sex should be the anchor of gender identity for any individual, not the modern psychological concept of gender. Scripture declares that God has planned out who we are, and that includes the biological sex we were born with.
The Psalmist in Psalm 139 says clearly that God established the form and personality of each person before that individual 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 and is to name him 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 God ordains who we are as both male and female, as both sons or daughters.
Scripture describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, and gender confusion results from that.
Christians do not live in a make-believe world; they share in the brokenness of all of creation. That brokenness is extensive. In the area of human sexuality, the numerous prohibitions in the Old Testament regarding particular sexual activity is telling. The reason why God had to spell out one sexual prohibition after another was not that he declares sex as intrinsically evil (as some think Christian doctrine teaches), but because our fallen, sinful hearts are capable of doing evil with the good things God has created.
The order in which the world was created still remains, though it exists in fractured form. 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.
This law principle is the same as the other laws God has given to us. That is, 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 “facts” of non-binary gender states, which some proclaim as evidence of a “third” gender or sex, is merely evidence that God’s original design is broken. In these rare cases of sexual development disorders, difficult medical and personal decisions need to be made. There should always be compassion given in these situations. But these disorders do not constitute evidence that there is more than male and female to humanity.
The confusion about gender that is sweeping through our culture is the result of numerous personal and societal issues, and the help these people need is not encouragement to undergo gender change but to learn to live within God’s design. Following his design is always a path toward growth and health. Not doing so leads to further brokenness.
For additional information and resources go to Harvest USA’s Transgenderism: Resources Page.
21 Jul 2016
On May 13, 2016, many were surprised to learn that the federal government issued a directive to schools receiving federal Title IX grants. The directive said that schools must allow transgender students to use whichever bathroom and locker room most closely matches their gender identity. A confusing issue became even more confusing. Is there a way to pick through the pieces of this puzzle and respond with biblical truth and mercy?
That news raised questions in the minds of many Christians: Why would someone identify as transgender? What is the nature of gender? Is it possible that there are really more than two genders, male and female? How does Scripture call Christians to interact with transgender individuals?
These are big questions to think about. Christians need to know how to reason through the issues on gender and transgender that are being discussed and decided culturally. In this post, I’ll walk you through an understanding of gender identity – and transgender identity – from Scripture.
What is a traditional understanding of gender?
For the whole of human existence, society has affirmed a male-female binary regarding gender. In other words, a human was one gender or the other – male or female – and that individual’s gender was consistent with the individual’s physical sex at birth.
There is, of course, a condition currently known as intersex, formerly known as hermaphroditism, when an individual is born either with genitalia of both sexes or with ambiguous genitalia. While intersex individuals exist and may face certain challenges, it should be noted that they are a very small percentage of the population: about 1 out of every 1,500 births (or, about 7/100 of 1%).
What is transgenderism?
In order to answer that question, we must first look at the new, culturally-accepted understanding of gender. Whereas a traditional understanding of gender existed in a fixed male-female binary framework, the new understanding is that gender is fluid. All possibilities for gender exist not as two fixed points but rather on a continuum ranging from male to female. Not only is one’s experience of gender no longer fixed between two choices, but the individual may switch back and forth between genders as his or her experience of gender changes.
As a result/consequently, a second element of this new understanding is that gender is not innate. While a child is born with a physical sex by virtue of male or female genitalia, that child does not develop its gender until well after birth. Gender, according to psychologists, develops independently of one’s physical sex and generally develops by the sixth year of age. 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 gender that is incongruent with one’s physical sex.
Transgender is a blanket term applied to an individual whose psychological gender—essentially, one’s subjective experience of gender—is incongruent with his or her physical sex. Because of this perceived incongruence, a transgender individual may elect to live in any number of ways. One might choose to live in a manner that is the culturally-accepted norm for his or her physical sex. 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. One might go through a process of using certain drugs to alter one’s brain chemistry and hormone levels to develop physical characteristics of his or her preferred gender. Or, one might elect to go through gender reassignment surgery. These last two processes are known colloquially as transitioning from one gender to another.
It should be noted that this particular cultural concept of gender is new and is itself in a state of evolution. In 2012, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association identified the types of gender incongruence mentioned in the previous paragraph as fitting the category of a psychiatric disorder: 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 was updated in 2013, the diagnostic criteria for GID changed, so that most people who formerly fit into that former category of a psychiatric disorder are now diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria—a perceptual problem— where the goal of the therapist is to help patients reach congruence with their psychological gender.
What is the problem with transgender? Essentially, this practice makes the experience and the feelings of the individual primary. Everything else – whether Scripture, or physical reality, or millennia-old accepted social practice – is secondary. It says that if I feel as though I am another gender – whether male, female, or something in-between – that is who I actually am.
This continuing movement of our culture renders the individual increasingly self-referential and the individual’s perceptions increasingly authoritative. Such a worldview does not allow for any kind of objective truth from God. The church is experiencing tremendous pressure to change its understanding of Scripture—and to even change Scripture itself to conform to the primacy of personal freedom. Governments, from the local to the national level, are racing to change laws and add new ones to protect the individual’s right to self-determination. Truly, we are becoming a people who do only what is right in our own eyes (Proverbs 21:2).
For additional information and resources go to our Transgenderism Resources Page.
In the next post, we’ll talk about what Scripture says on the issue of gender and how Christians can respond to transgender people.