11 Feb 2015
God created our sexuality to show us his desire for us. In the desire a bridegroom has for his soon-to-be wife, God wants us to see a hint of how much he longs—and delights— to be in relationship with us. (Dave White teaching at Harvest USA Seminar, Discipleship Leader Training.)
07 Sep 2016
In our first post in this two-part blog series (insert link), we examined the potential problem of your pastor¹ struggling be a friend and to have true, honest friendships with others. This can occur because they are often expected to constantly give and shepherd more than they receive, they fear what will happen if they reveal deep struggles and sins, and they worry about the damage that their reputations and families will incur. Nowhere are the consequences higher than when a pastor is struggling with sexual issues and sins.
“I stood in that pulpit week in and week out. I looked into the eyes of a hundred people every week, people who really didn’t know me at all. And I wanted to shout out to them, ‘I’m dying up here!,’ but I just couldn’t.”
But Scripture speaks of the necessity of real, heart-depth friends and friendships as a way out of these problems.
So, what can you do to help? Here are four ways you can help your pastor find the kind of support and friendship that he needs.
First, pray for your pastor. This may seem like a non-starter. Isn’t that something a church member would do automatically? Well, yes — but many people don’t. Many people only pray in general or duty-specific ways for their pastors and other leaders: “Help Pastor Kevin to preach faithfully.” I’m encouraging you to intercede specifically and frequently for your pastor.
How will you know how to pray specifically for your pastor? Ask him. Believe me, there are precious few church members who ask that simple question of the men who shepherd them. You’ll not only learn how to pray, but you’ll encourage the heart of your pastor and perhaps even build a foundation on which a friendship might grow.
Jesus instructed Peter, James, and John to pray specifically that they would not enter into temptation in particular ways (Matthew 26:41). James instructs us to pray powerfully and specifically for each other, for the Spirit to intervene in particular ways in particular circumstances (James 5:13-16). We should pray likewise for our pastors — that the Spirit would make them wise to recognize and stand firm against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11). We should pray that the Lord would preserve them particularly from sexual temptation and sin, which are common to all people (1 Corinthians 10:13). Pray that the Lord would lead them into deep friendships and make those friendships effective for his purposes.
Second, show hospitality to your pastor. Invite him (and his family) into your home for dinner — not for a pastoral visit, but for pure and simple fellowship. Tell him that’s the purpose of the visit: he has a night off just to enjoy your hospitality and for you to get to know him (and his family²) in order to care for him better.
Another way to show hospitality is to invite your pastor out to breakfast, lunch, or coffee, and for you to pay.³ Use this as an opportunity for you to “pastor” your pastor: ask him how he’s doing, how you might pray for him in ministry, and how he’s dealing with the temptations, stresses, and fears that anyone in the church might have. Your pastor is a fallen human being just like you. A theological degree should not be confused with sinlessness or perfect faith. Your pastor needs someone to talk to, someone with whom to be honest, someone who is going to have his back and the backs of his family members. There are few pastors who aren’t under spiritual attack in some way. As their brothers (and sisters), we are called to join in his battle — to lay down our lives for him (1 John 3:16). Again, this is a way for you to build a foundation of trust and friendship, which will be a blessing to your pastor.
Third, tell your pastor about Harvest USA. Tell them about the ministry, particularly our ministry to pastors who struggle sexually. Ask your pastor to visit harvestusa.org and to look under the “Connect” tab, then click on the “Help for Pastors” option. Harvest USA offers confidential and biblical help at no cost to pastors who are struggling with pornography, lust, or same-sex attraction.
Fourth, encourage your pastor to be involved with others for friendship, accountability, and encouragement. Ask your pastor if he has a friend with whom he can speak candidly, a friend who knows him and loves him well enough to bear the secrets he would never tell anyone else. Unless your pastor is extraordinary, the answer is probably “no.” Exhort your pastor to pray for such a friend, and to pray for the humility and grace to open up to this friend. Commit to pray along with your pastor for this kind of friendship to develop. It could be that you might become that very friend.
In summary, pastors need friends as much as anyone else, but they may be less likely to already possess, or to develop those friendships, on their own.
I recall one pastor who came to Harvest USA for help about fifteen years ago. He came to us only after his twenty-five-year string of affairs with women in the churches he served was exposed, and he lost his ministry and his marriage. He told me, “I stood in that pulpit week in and week out. I looked into the eyes of a hundred people every week, people who really didn’t know me at all. And I wanted to shout out to them, ‘I’m dying up here!,’ but I just couldn’t.”
That pastor’s story is more common than you know. Be a part of making a significant difference in the life of one man — your pastor — so that he can stand with confidence in the Lord Jesus and shepherd you and Christ’s church well.
¹ This article is written with male pastors in mind, but the same principles could be applied to women leaders in the church as well. In my experience, women leaders are just as isolated as men in leadership, and in just as great a danger to fall into hopelessness and sin.
² Pastor’s wives and children need care and prayer as well. Hospitality affords a unique opportunity for women to pursue and encourage a pastor’s wife, and for one’s children to befriend a pastor’s children.
³Propriety would dictate that only men would invite male pastors out to exclusive meetings of this sort to avoid the appearance of impropriety and to prevent any potentially tempting situations.
31 Aug 2016
That might seem like a strange idea: pastors¹ needing a friend or friends. After all, a church’s pastor is the one person who generally knows everyone else in the church. He spends his days talking with people, counseling them, conferring with other pastors, devoting time to prayer and Bible study. He’s the most plugged-in person in the church. How much more connected does he need to be? Doesn’t he already have a lot of friends? What’s the concern here?
The concern here is helping a pastor be who he is on the outside with who he is on the inside. And nowhere does that split occur more than in the area of sexual integrity. In a job filled with stress and built-in isolation, and living in a world that promotes sensuality and sexuality as the “stuff” of life, that combination can be a flashpoint of real danger.
Let me suggest that there is generally a vast difference between the quantity of relationships a person has and the quality of those relationships. In other words, it’s possible for someone to know many people, but for the nature of those relationships to be uni-directional (one-way).
Pastors are uniquely positioned to be in such one-way relationships. I call them “one-way” because of the power differential that exists between the pastor and those attending a church. What I mean is this: regardless of how you or your denomination sees your pastor, you still see him in some way as the leader, the guy in charge. He’s your shepherd. As a result, the nature of the relationships a pastor has with the members of his church are generally focused around him fulfilling that role. He preaches, he teaches, he counsels, he administrates, he shows unfailing love, compassion, and strength in your worst and most desperate times. But rare indeed is the instance in which a pastor receives that kind of care, leadership, and shepherding from someone else in his church, even an elder or other leader.
That power differential also creates something of a barrier in your pastor’s ability to share honestly and openly with others. Because he is the “authority” in the local church, the one who is called to bear the burdens of others, the one who is supposed to have all of the answers, the super-Christian who never does anything particularly egregious, your pastor is less likely to share with anyone else the doubts, fears, shameful thoughts and attitudes, and the sin in his own heart and life. After all, what would all who have turned to him in the past think? The potential damage to his reputation, to his family, to the church, to his career is too great a risk.
Even a pastor’s peers can seem unsafe as potential friends. Other men in full-time ministry might seem likely candidates for the kind of close, intimate friendships that foster confession of sin and unbelief. Unfortunately, the isolated lives of pastors often lead them to feel so wary of being real with others that they intentionally and unintentionally wall themselves off, allowing no one to see past the façade of piety and professionalism.
This is a very dangerous place to be. Scripture speaks to the necessity of real, heart-depth friends and friendships. Paul says in Ephesians 4:11-16 that individual Christians grow in faith and freedom from the power of sin through friends who “speak the truth in love” with each other. In Galatians 6:1-2, we are exhorted to “bear one another’s burdens” of temptation and sin. Likewise, we are to restore each other to the body of Christ and to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). The person who has only superficial and polite friendships has no access to these ordinary means of spiritual growth and sanctification.
Looking at the same issue from another perspective, the writer of Proverbs says in 18:1-2 that the person who isolates himself from others denies godly wisdom and understanding. The “preacher” in Ecclesiastes warns that it is spiritually and physically dangerous to be friendless (4:9-12). There are many, many other exhortations in Scripture to pursue deep, life-affirming, sanctifying friendships and to flee from isolation into community.
I do want to be clear that not every pastor struggles with pornography or sin of a sexual nature. But, as do all people, all pastors struggle with something that marginalizes the Gospel in their hearts, lives, and ministries. And many pastors do struggle sexually, the vast majority of them in secret for the reasons outlined above. The damage to their own faith, their families, and their churches is substantial.
Whether the struggle is relatively small or great, most pastors fear being real with others. The risk seems simply too significant. Unless they cultivate real friendships, they’ll remain isolated in the midst of people all around them.
What can we do for them?
¹This article is written with male pastors in mind, but the same principles could be applied to women leaders in the church as well. In my experience, many who lead women are just as isolated and in just as great a danger to fall into hopelessness and sin.
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 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 we 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.
14 Jul 2016
As the church steps into the trenches of the sexual struggles with which her people are wrestling, it is encountering a new reality and new challenges in how to do faithful ministry. As the culture continues to push into the church, the following “givens” impact how Christians are thinking about sexuality:
- Increasing cultural acceptance of homosexuality, especially among millennials
- Growing acceptance of a gender-fluid and genderless society
- An awareness of Christians who experience same-sex attraction (SSA), but confusion about how to help them
- Legalization of gay marriage
- The encroachment of pro-gay theology and its inroads into the evangelical church
- The trend toward casual sexual relationships and co-habitation
- The ubiquity of pornography and the steady erosion of biblical sexual ethics
All of the above signals the need for churches to think strategically about how to “do ministry” as the culture continues to push into the church. John Freeman has spoken to church leaders and presbyteries, helping to bring awareness of the pressing issues that need attention. John highlights four things churches must address.
1. Leadership—insuring everyone is on the same page
While leadership certainly means your key leaders – pastors, elders, deacons, etc. – it also includes your leadership volunteers like women’s leaders, youth leaders, Sunday school and adult teachers, small group leaders, and so on. The importance of all leaders being on the same page, theologically and pastorally, has never been more critical. Asking the following questions will (hopefully) result in dialogue and clarification.
Do you know your current leaders’ views on sex and sexuality? Considering the “givens” listed above, how do you approach your leadership in determining what they believe, and where they might be feeling pressure to change? We used to take it for granted that leaders would adhere to biblical sexual ethics, but some are changing their views and remaining silent about it. How do you get everyone on the same page?
Do you know if your leaders are struggling here? As important as what they believe, do you know if some of your leaders are struggling here? People, and especially leaders, hide sexual struggles. How can you call them to be honest, and in what ways do you help them? We know that when leadership falls sexually, it deeply injures the church and how people see Christ.
How will your leaders approach sexual issues pastorally? Key leaders have the greatest influence, so it’s more important than ever to make sure they believe fully in what the Scriptures say and will speak that compassionately to those who struggle. Sometimes that’s not easy to do, but true compassion is grounded in speaking God’s truth, not in defining truth as we wish it to be.
How would your church address a leadership candidate who experiences same-sex attraction? As we call believers to openness and honesty about their sexual struggles, we should expect to find men and women who live with same-sex attraction and are living faithfully according to Scripture. When they pursue leadership roles in the church, what help and assistance do they need?
2. Membership – confronting complex issues
The culture greatly influences church members. Confusion is growing as pro-gay theology, rooted in secular thought, influences believers who know too little of Scripture. How will your church in this new reality address some of the following scenarios?
What if someone identifies as a gay Christian? Is this a private matter known only to some, or is this becoming public? Do you know what this person means by adopting this identity label?
What about someone who supports gay marriage and homosexuality? Again, is this a private opinion or an advocacy position? What is a pastoral approach to members whose views are in opposition to Scripture? What if someone with these views wants to join your church?
Are you talking about sex and sexuality to prospective members in your membership classes? Do you approach the issue from a discipline angle, or first from a Christian worldview perspective? Or do you not mention the topic at all, and if so, why not?
What if a same-sex couple comes to faith (one or both)? What if they are legally married? How do you approach the complex situation of pastorally shepherding a family, particularly when there are children, when the parents are legally married?
What about church discipline? While recognizing the complex issues involved with sexual sin, where might church discipline come into play as someone is being shepherded through the ups and downs that go with this struggle? Is there an approach that is more helpful, or less so?
3. Church Culture—what kind of church culture do you want to nurture?
Do you have a sense of the culture in your church in how it relates to the culture “out there?” How does your church address the new reality of sexual issues that are prominent in the culture? How do you speak about them publicly, from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, in the things your church writes? There is a big difference between churches that speak harshly about sexual issues and those that say hardly anything at all. The first approach leaves people hiding, and the other leaves people in confusion. That we need to talk about these issues has never been more critical, but the words we use (or do not use) are equally important. How do you speak to those who are opposed to his ways; and to those who are confused about what Scripture says; and to those who want to obey but struggle to submit to the Lordship of Christ in this area? Our approach, our words, our faithfulness to Scripture, and our presence with those who struggle are the many ways we show who God is to them.
4. Policies and Procedures—possible dangers ahead
Two seismic changes have transformed the landscape for ministry: the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the use, or threat, of non-discrimination laws and regulations, known as sexual orientation and gender identity ordinances. Churches with a history and tradition of opening their doors to the community for weddings and receptions, local community events, outside groups that use the church to meet – all of these connections may become problematic in light of the increasing use of anti-discrimination ordinances.
These new laws and court rulings mean that churches must carefully think about ministry in three key areas.
While this issue gets a lot of press, the reality is that the First Amendment seems quite solid in protecting ministers from performing same-sex marriages. However, the matter is more uncertain if your church has been open to hosting outside weddings and receptions. What steps can your church take to remain open to traditional weddings while not hosting wedding events that oppose biblical truth?
Building usage by outside groups.
Apart from weddings, building use for other outside events might become more difficult, particularly for churches that rent their facilities or allow them to be used by the community. The challenge for churches that want to remain invested in their local community is to determine how to both invite and define that involvement, in ways that will avoid potential lawsuits.
Anti-discrimination laws regarding employment are another new reality that is increasingly stepping on religious turf. Churches that discipline ordained staff for misconduct are again protected by the First Amendment. But addressing non-ordained staff behavior is not so clear. What if a staff person comes out as transgender, or a staff person legally marries someone of the same gender? Gender fluidity and sexual orientation are major battlegrounds for employment law today. The area of employment law for religious groups seems to be up for grabs today. How churches will be affected is not yet clear, but they should now find ways to try to protect themselves while also shepherding staff who are struggling in these areas.
We’ve just scratched the surface on a few of the crucial issues churches are facing with these new realities. Harvest USA can help! We can help you think through these issues and conduct a healthy conversation among your leaders.
Contact John Freeman at email@example.com to get the conversation started.
07 Jul 2016
In January 2016, Ellen Dykas returned to Taiwan, East Asia, to teach a two-week course entitled “Biblical Sexuality and Ministry to Strugglers.”
I was going back to Taiwan to speak to twenty-nine students who all spoke Chinese. Back to China Reformed Theological Seminary in Taipei, to help train men and women preparing for ministry. They came from Taiwan, main-land China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Canada, and Australia. I had been there before, in 2013, when I first addressed sexual struggles in Asia, and I was eager to return. I hoped to meet up with some students who I taught three years ago. As a teacher, you always wonder if anything you said or taught made a difference.
Upon arriving, I learned that Taiwan was considering legalizing gay marriage. The news dismayed my students, and I gave them insight into what Christians in the USA faced when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage last summer. We found common ground as Christians living so far from each other: as sexual sin outside of God’s design becomes the norm, standing firm for biblical truth may cost us more than it has in the past. We agreed that ministry would need to be more strategic and nuanced than ever before in order to speak into the culture.
But we also concurred that ministry still needs to be relational and personal, appropriately caring for each individual. I met up with one of my students from 2013 and heard her story of parenting her gay-identified daughter. She expressed fresh sorrow over her daughter’s life, but shared with me new insight about the faith to which God is calling her as she loves her daughter in a new way. She recalled my teaching from three years ago, that telling her daughter to “Stop!” would not lead to true repentance. She began learning how to engage her daughter relationally while also holding true to God’s design for sexuality and relationships. It is so good to know that God uses even my words to strengthen his people!
How does the church address sexual struggles in Asia? Much the same as we do, but with one very big difference: in Asia, the church hardly talks about sexuality at all. A powerful culture of shame encourages hiding and silence on an even a deeper level than what we see in churches in the USA. And the silence from church leaders is much “louder” than here, compounding the confusion and despair of Christians struggling alone.
But by offering courses like the one I taught, China Reformed Seminary is beginning to change that culture of silence. What the Asian church needs now are solid biblical resources translated into their languages.
I have one more memory to share: The seminary partners with a local biblical counseling ministry. On Saturday, between my two weeks of classes, the counseling ministry hosted a community lecture at which I was the featured speaker. You can imagine my surprise when I realized that the lecture made the front page of the Taipei Christian newspaper! Serving with Harvest USA has certainly led to many unexpected adventures!
Also, here is one last prayer request: God is expanding Harvest USA’s influence outside of the United States, and it’s exciting! I will have the opportunity to teach on biblical sexuality at a national women’s conference in Columbia this coming July, but I need some special funding to make this happen. I need to raise $1500 to cover the costs, so that Columbians will be able to attend. Tax-deductible donations may be made by check to Colombia Reformed (please add a note that this is for Ellen Dykas, but do not write that on the memo line!) and mailed to: Colombia Reformed, P.O. Box 102, Lovettsville, VA 20180. Thank you!
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. (To see what some questions could be helpful to ask, click here.)
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 the page Transgenderism: Resources – click here.
In the first post in this blog series, “Transgenderism: A Biblical Truth and Mercy Response: Part I. 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:
1. Scripture identifies two (and only two) genders in creation
2. 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 and the modern psychological concept of gender are the same. 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 establishes the fact that it is 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 the Transgenderism: Resources Page – Here.
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 doubtless raised questions in the minds of many Christians, such as: 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 transgender? 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 got to the Transgenderism: Resources Page – Here.
In the next post, we’ll talk about what Scripture says on the issue of gender and how Christians can respond to transgender people. (Part 2)
09 Jun 2016
It’s easy to go on idol hunts. Do you know what I mean? A student might be sitting in front of me, talking about how hard life has been for him, how sexual sin just keeps dominating him – and I’m on the prowl! I’m hanging on to every word, thinking, That smells like worship! Is that an idol!?
To be an idol-maker is to be a sinner. And for many of us, the sinner category is the only category out of which we operate when we minister to students. I’ll confess: I tend to love both quick fixes and be the “fixer” of people. And when I’m operating from the sinner category, it’s easy to call students to simple repentance and demand quick change.
But simply emphasizing this category results in conversations like these:
“Dude, repent. You just need to stop this. It’s destroying you.”
These conversations often result in impatience and frustration for both me and the student I’m trying to help. But, like all emphases, the category of “sinner” doesn’t give us the total picture. God gives us another category, one that nuances and deepens our ministry to students.
Sufferers. Not Just Sinners.
The Bible tells us that our students are not simply sinners; they are sufferers as well. In fact, the Scriptures make suffering a stipulation for sharing in the coming glory of Christ: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, their heirs—fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17).
Paul says, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” (Phil. 1:29). Doesn’t a large part of our suffering as believers have to do with the “passions of the flesh” that “wage war” against our souls (1 Peter 2:11)?
All of us are walking battlegrounds, hosts to the war between flesh and spirit. As new creations in Christ, we bear the scars. The very presence of the “old man” waging war against our new selves means that we are sufferers.
What are some sufferings that students might face? For a student who struggles with same-sex attraction, her gifts and personality might not match up to the particular cultural group in which she lives. Feelings of isolation, shame, and being out of place might result from not living up to a certain societal ideal of what it means to be a woman.
She didn’t choose her gifts! And she didn’t choose to have a peer or parent say, “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you like to do X like the other girls?” Her gifts that don’t correspond to cultural norms or those comments made by peers or parents are not sins on her part; they are her sufferings.
For a student who struggles with pornography, his home life might be an absolute mess. His mom and dad might constantly fight. Perhaps he perceives porn as his only escape and refuge from life’s storms. But he didn’t choose his home life! It is a part of his sufferings.
What Difference Does This Make?
While students who struggle sexually need to hear the call to repentance that comes from the sinner category, they also need the compassion, empathy, patience, and oftentimes listening ear that come from the sufferer category.
The way we talk to a robber and the way we talk to someone who has been robbed differ drastically. We would usually be stern with the robber. But how would we speak to the one who has been robbed? We would be gentle. We would be compassionate and empathetic. We would be patient as they work through feelings of insecurity and fear. We might simply be quiet, letting our presence do the talking. As sexual sin rears its head, students, many of whom are new creations in Christ, are simultaneously the ones robbing themselves and the ones being robbed of the joy that Christ brings.
Sometimes we need a firm hand to guide us. Other times we need a gentle hand to sustain us. Sometimes we need to hear about our need to rest in our identity in Christ. Other times we need to be told to pick up our tools and start working. The truths we give to students shift depending on the situation.
The category of sufferer provides our students with the truth that, though they sin, they are not defined by their sins. They can cry out to the Lord for help in the very moment that they are being assaulted by sin and temptation. This category also helps students draw near to the Lord who knows what it is like to suffer. He willingly suffered in their place and is with them now in the valley.
We might not operate out of the “sufferer” category every time, but when students are so beaten down and broken over their sexual sin that they can’t find the strength to move, this can be a useful tool. This category will help students find the helping hand of Christ who is God With Us and gives us, as ministers, godly and nuanced patience, compassion, empathy, and love for the students under our care.
James Sutton, Associate Pastor, Christ the King PCA, Raleigh, NC shares his church’s experience of partnering with Harvest USA.
We’ve long known sexual brokenness was an issue in our church, even though nobody talked about it. We’re happy to confess pride, fundamental forms of idolatry, destructive anger, jealousy, etc. However, invite us to shine a light onto our experience of sexual brokenness and we get a little sheepish. Doesn’t everyone?
But the Bible reminds us that it’s pretty clear those struggles are going to be there. It even anticipates that we’re going to do our best job of convincing each other and ourselves that they aren’t there. In general, we lived up to that prediction. For a long time, our church’s culture was like a mutually agreed-upon conspiracy of silence.
But something amazing happened a few years ago. Some of our members began pointing flashlights in the direction of their hearts and, in particular, the scary sections hiding their sexual struggles. Some of them just didn’t have a choice, but many did. Some of them were doing it because they actually believed the gospel that their pastors were preaching.
At first, it was as difficult as you might imagine. As we were shepherding our church, we kept running into all kinds of fallout from porn addictions. Then, we’d start developing leaders in our church only to discover they were engaged in some disqualifying sexual sin or another. There were things that we wanted to do, but so many of our potential leaders were being taken out by these sins.
Slowly, quietly, we found ourselves with a group of guys who wanted to meet regularly to talk about some of their deepest, darkest sins. . . They didn’t want to live in darkness anymore.
But even though it was hard and frustrating at times, it was also beautiful. Slowly, quietly, we found ourselves with a group of guys who wanted to meet regularly to talk about some of their deepest, darkest sins. They were eager to apply the gospel to each other’s hearts, to brainstorm about how to help each other, and to pray for one another because they trusted that Christ could do miracles. They didn’t want to live in darkness anymore.
God provided for us by introducing us to Harvest USA. A group of men began to go through Dave White’s workbook, Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-Creating Your Mind in a Crazy World. We had a biblical counselor in our church who volunteered to meet with these guys on a weekly basis. This counselor also took the time to meet with the guys one on one. All kinds of fruit began popping up in their lives.
Not long after, we had a men’s retreat, led by Harvest USA. At that retreat, another group of guys started to open up about their sexual struggles. Encouraged by the fruitfulness of the first group, we started discussing the need to have something similar to the book study on an on-going basis. The trouble was, the counselor who had been working with them moved and was living on the other side of the country.
We decided that the fruit we were seeing wasn’t just the work of this counselor. We decided to operate like it was the Holy Spirit at work, bringing the gospel through the body of Christ.
So we stepped up our game, so to speak. We needed additional help, and that meant training for the men who were already leading. We contacted Harvest USA and were delighted when they informed us of their Partner Ministries training.
They sent us some basic materials, and then we set up a time for their staff to video teleconference with our group to talk through a suggested model for how to set up a standing group. A lot of their practical suggestions were soaked in wisdom and would’ve taken us years to figure out on our own. They were incredibly encouraging, and we organized a weekend for one of their staff to meet with our core group.
The training experience included a full complement of helpful tools as well as some great tailor-made advice on how to apply those tools. Like us, they believed the beautiful fruit we were seeing was the work of the Spirit, and so they taught in a way that drew us to seek him more.
It’s encouraging for our group to have an experienced staff “on call” whose wisdom they can draw from when they encounter particularly challenging situations. God uses their experience, their humility, and their training to help empower our church to continue to shine the Spirit’s light on the dark places we all have in our souls. Overall, it’s one of the most exciting things God has done in our church.