10 Jan 2019
Porn is everywhere on the internet. Everywhere. Type just about any word in a search engine and the chances are good you’ll strike something sexual. The links to pornographic posts, images, and videos are embedded in this medium.
The impact this has on your kids is devastating. Two forces are at work to make avoiding porn next to impossible.
First, its accessibility. Because of technology, we are awash in 24/7 anonymous and accessible pornography. We’ve gone from the public realm of convenience stores and adult bookstores, to the anonymity of computers, to the instant accessibility of mobile devices. We now carry around the entire contents of an adult bookstore in our pocket.
Second, we live in a culture of hyper-sexuality. It’s the air we breathe. We are increasingly deadening our sensitivity to the biblical boundaries that actually protect what is good about sex. Many people (including Christians!) say, “There’s just nothing we can do about it,” or even, “What’s the big deal?”
Here’s the big deal: Porn is a worldview, and like any worldview, it becomes a set of “lenses” through which we look at the world, interpret what we see, and then live it out. Porn teaches a destructive message about sex, human relationships, and what life is all about.
Christians have long been in the forefront of sounding the alarm about the effects of pornography on children, marriages, and relationships. But now even those outside the church are seeing what is happening and are reacting with concern.
Pornography is not a harmless, private activity. It is one of the major engines fueling the demand for sexual exploitation in all its forms.
The June 2018 issue of Philadelphia Magazine featured an article on Al Vernacchio, a sex education teacher in the Philly suburbs, who teaches a popular high school class about “porn literacy.” Here’s how the article describes his class: “The emerging subject is exactly what it sounds like: It’s grounded in the understanding that kids (whether we like it or not) are watching porn, and that we need to provide them with the critical thinking necessary to understand its messages.” Vernacchio clearly recognizes the reality of porn in the lives of students.
While Vernacchio isn’t telling his students not to look at porn, he does talk with them about the harm it can do. “Is porn harming our culture? Yeah, I think it is…and we have to find ways to stop that harm.”
As parents are the chief disciplers of their children, we have to start—and continue to have—age-appropriate discussions about how viewing pornography will harm them deeply and profoundly. But first, we need to keep the conversation centered on this point: Christians do not have a negative view of sex. The Bible is extremely positive about sex and sexuality when expressed within God’s wise boundary lines. God created it for us, and God knows how it should best be used. Walls are for protection, and God wants us to enjoy his gift of sex and sexuality. When sex is used properly, individual lives and a whole society flourishes.
But something so profoundly good is incredibly powerful. The Bible acknowledges the fact that sex can be dangerous. Dangerous when it is misused; dangerous when it is out of control in one’s life. There are victims when sex is used wrongly.
Here are the six messages your kids need to hear about the dangers of porn.
ONE: It teaches a false view of sex and relationships.
Porn turns real people into fantasy objects to be used for my needs. It objectifies and demeans. Whole people are deconstructed into body parts, commodities to be used and discarded. On to the next encounter!
Porn teaches that the sexual act is what most matters, not building a loving relationship with the person.
Porn teaches radical self-centeredness—the images or video caters to you; feeding the lie that people exist to serve your wants and desires. You begin to live more and more in a fantasy world—but the tragedy is the more you spend time online, the lonelier you become in real life. Porn becomes a substitute for real relationships.
You cannot immerse yourself in this stuff and not have it affect you in some broken way.
Sex was designed for real relationships, but relationships take work, and the work of a good relationship takes years. Love is about giving, not getting. And sex is merely a part of it. While important in marriage, it is just one of many parts that work together to slowly shape a life and a relationship into something beautiful. Porn doesn’t teach that.
TWO: Porn slowly drains vitality out of reality—and can lead to addictive behavior.
Here’s something that is universal: My life, your life, is never entirely what we hoped it would be. We live in a fallen world that dashes our dreams and gives us “thorns and thistles,” bringing suffering and hardship into our lives.
Sex involves the release of powerful brain chemicals that trigger intense pleasure. In many ways, we are wired to seek pleasure, even when our minds say it might be harmful. That’s what happens when people become addicted to substances, even though they know they’re destroying them.
Engaging in porn, with its objective of sexual release and pleasure, triggers the same “reward/pleasure centers” of the brain. As porn use increases, the mind and heart keep looking for a greater “high.” Like drugs, there are “diminishing returns.” You need more and more to get from it what you did at the beginning. This leads to greater depravity.
Our children need to know that viewing porn can be just a step away from enslavement. At Harvest USA, we see men and women who have lost years of their life to compulsive porn use, while losing spouses, friends, careers, and sometimes even faith. What the world proclaims as sexual freedom, the Bible knows as slavery.
THREE: Porn disconnects sex from love and respect and encourages aggression and abuse.
A great deal of porn is filled with images of aggression and violence—especially toward women. I’m not saying that all porn does this. But it is terribly easy to find violent and demeaning images online.
Vernacchio’s class is learning this. “While there’s little definitive cause-and-effect research on adolescents and porn… studies have shown that kids are often first exposed to porn—some of it depicting violent or criminal behavior—in their early teens. And analysis has correlated pornography usage with sexual aggression…”
Vernacchio, when asked what he thinks kids learn from porn, goes on to say, “They learn that men are supposed to be sexually aggressive…They learn that women are objects. They learn that in the absence of consent, you don’t need a clear ‘yes.’ They learn that sex doesn’t require communication.”
Think about college campuses, where youth and sex and alcohol mix in dangerous combinations. Then think about the amount of pornography being consumed by young men in particular. Having grown up in an online world, they have been consumers of porn for more than a decade. You cannot immerse yourself in this stuff and not have it affect you in some broken way.
FOUR: Porn teaches a lifestyle of lies and deceit.
Children will get this point because they’ve been doing it almost since they entered the world: hiding sinful behavior. The person looking at porn will cover his tracks. It may not be “active” lying, but over time you’ll be living a double life. And making sure you keep that part of your life hidden takes work! You can never really relax and be yourself, because the secrecy of your behavior—and the isolation secrecy breeds— makes that impossible. Keeping a part of yourself hidden is tiring, deeply unsettling, and intensifies shame.
Porn teaches that the sexual act is what most matters, not building a loving relationship with the person.
As a Christian, guilt and shame will dog your footsteps. And if you one day stop feeling guilty and shamed, then you are in a worse place—because you will have seared your conscience.
Ultimately, you’ll be playing games with God. You will feel profoundly unsettled in your walk with God. You’ll work hard to look good on the outside, all the while hiding what’s on the inside.
Many in the world will argue for moderation in using porn (even for teens) so that honesty is not compromised, but we need to see porn for what it is: poison. A destroyer of relationships, and the first relationship impacted is our relationship with God. The porn user who thinks it’s “no big deal” needs to face what Jesus said about lust (Matthew 5:27-28).
FIVE: Porn normalizes perversity and diminishes human dignity.
There is a general pattern of behavior for the porn user. The law of “diminishing returns” results in looking at edgier and more extreme images, thereby normalizing perversions. Perversity in pornography knows no bounds. Especially child pornography. Porn’s ugliest underbelly is its ability to push perversity to previously unimagined levels.
We have reached a point where we are no longer shocked by what we see. Paul’s encouragement to focus on “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely…” (Philippians 4:8) is a crucial discipline to teach to our kids. Porn obliterates that, and it takes years to empty the mind of images after exposure.
SIX: Porn makes you participate in abuse and global injustice.
Pornography is not a harmless, private activity. It is one of the major engines fueling the demand for sexual exploitation in all its forms.
Our children must know that many involved in the pornography industry come from abused and broken backgrounds. Not all of them. Sadly, pornography is seen by some women as an opportunity for a higher paying job.
But in the entire process, from filming to production to posting and distribution, people are used and exploited—including the consumer. In the complex web of sexual distortions that pornography weaves among its viewers, the dignity of men and women made in the image of God is increasingly defaced. Viewing it, engaging in it, contributes to the entire system of broken sexuality throughout the world.
There is one more thing, however, beyond these six points that should undergird everything we say to our kids.
In talking about sex and the dangers of pornography, morality is not the main objective. We have to connect what we say to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul puts it perfectly in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him, who, for their sake, died and was raised.”
The motive for sexual faithfulness is rooted not simply in achieving good morality but in a vital, trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. To magnify him is the ultimate goal of our talking to our kids about sex, and seeing them grow up to follow him from the heart in this powerful area of life.
This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.
What happens to a marriage when pornography invades the home? What is its relational and sexual impact on the couple? While our culture increasingly dismisses any talk about the negative impact of porn, the reality is that it’s much more corrosive and damaging than you think. Long before your marriage descends into the chaos of exposure and threats of divorce, you need to know the damage that porn can inflict on relationships. It’s never too late to change direction if you know or suspect that porn is disrupting your marriage. One way to start on the road to transformation is to honestly examine the damage porn has already done to you and to others. Sometimes God uses warning signs in our lives to get our attention. There are three major ways that porn disrupts and eventually destroys marriages.
Pornography Destroys the Beauty of God’s Design for Sex
A healthy marriage is based on intimacy. Adam and Eve were “were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25), a description not just of sexual pleasure but of relational intimacy. They held nothing back from each other; they were totally open and vulnerable. They knew each other in a way that no other couple ever did. Before sin entered the human heart, they experienced sex as God designed it, mutually pleasurable as both sought to selflessly please the other. God gave them the gift of sex as the means to deep relational connection.
But when sin entered the world, the perfect intimacy that Adam and Eve shared collapsed. Because God made sex such a powerful experience, it needed the relationally safe boundaries of marriage. Intimacy is not something that happens quickly between two people; it grows through the years as the couple faces problems together. That is why the father in Proverbs 5 tells his adult son to remember the years he has spent with the “wife of his youth.” He is not to throw away those years and experiences to have sex with anyone he chooses. The pleasure sex brings is better within the boundaries of marriage, with the wife he has spent years knowing and loving. “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18–19).
God created sexual pleasure within marriage and values it as a foundational expression of growing spiritual and emotional intimacy. But the physical intimacy with your spouse that God values so highly is steadily corrupted and ultimately destroyed when you engage in porn.
Pornography Makes You Selfish and Self-Centered
As one Christian counselor put it, viewing pornography is all about masturbation.¹ In other words, when you engage in porn, it’s all about what you can get out of it. It’s about your fantasies, your pleasure, and your desires. Women and men are reduced to mere sexual objects for your own selfish pleasures. The people on the screen, whether you are passively viewing them or actively engaged with them (via webcam, texting, or chat rooms) exist only to please you. Real intimacy, which by its nature takes time to develop, is obliterated in quick hits of self-centered fantasy.
What gets lost in viewing or engaging in pornography is this critical fact: the person you are interacting with is not real and neither are you, because the foundation of your “relational encounter” is a total lie. In real life and real relationships, there is someone you want to get to know, and someone who wants to know you as well. The fantasy of pornography is that you believe you are the object of someone else’s interest and desire, but the cold reality is that you are really alone with yourself.
Pornography Isolates You from Your Spouse and Family
The more you use pornography, the less you will attempt to relate to your spouse as God intended, because that involves effort and a willingness to care about someone else. In contrast, porn becomes the way you escape the endless stresses of life, especially the stresses that are part and parcel of marriage. Life in a fallen world is difficult. A good marriage not only lets you weather the storms; it helps you grow through them. But porn entices you with the false promise that you don’t have to face those storms. Instead, it promises pleasure and escape. In porn you will find women who are beautiful, daring, lonely but anxious to be fulfilled by you—quite different from your wife. In porn you will find men who are thoughtful, romantic, and willing to tackle any challenge to have you–quite different from your husband. But porn, very simply, entices you into a world that doesn’t exist.
Your spouse, meanwhile, continues to occupy the real world, and the more you pull away into fantasy, the more he or she will feel abandoned by you.
¹Jeffrey S. Black, Sexual Sin: Combatting the Drifting and Cheating (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2003), 6.
This blog is an excerpt from our minibook, What’s Wrong with a Little Porn When You’re Married? by Nicholas Black, published by New Growth Press. To purchase this minibook, and other resources from Harvest USA, click here.
The #MeToo movement keeps rolling along. As with any new cause, there is a tendency to go overboard and push things too far, but overall what has happened has been a very good thing. As a father who raised a daughter, I worried that she would be taken advantage of and then shamed or scared into silence. What a horrible experience that is for a child, for a young girl or boy to go through! With every outing of such men and their behavior, I say, Good! You finally got caught!
The latest offender in the #MeToo public bullseye is Larry Nassar, the doctor at Michigan State University who has been on trial for sexually abusing more than 100 girls. So many of the men in the news who are accused of sexual violence and misconduct did these things over and over. For years. With victim after victim silenced by power, reputation, fear, and shame.
The details of what they did vary, but what finally brought about the means to stop them was the same. They got caught. That is, someone talked. One woman, and then another, and another, mustered up the courage to give voice to expose such evil. Tragically, horribly, inexcusably, it took years for those voices to be heard. But finally someone listened, and now we are all listening.
We have an expression in our men’s biblical support groups here at Harvest USA:
It’s God’s mercy to you that you got caught.
Here’s what I mean. Many of the men who come to our biblical support groups are married, and they’ve been trapped in pornography. They aren’t sexual predators like Nassar, but in some ways, they are like him. They’ve spent years doing these behaviors, hiding their behavior, lying to their wives and family and looking respectable on the outside, while giving their hearts over to desires that rule them and own them.
A few self-confess and seek help. But the majority have gone so far with their sin, and have staked their livelihoods on their reputation and identity, that outing themselves is unlikely. Getting caught becomes the only way out.
But getting caught does not feel like God’s mercy at all. It feels like hell itself! Their entire world has crashed down upon them. Some have lost jobs, others their marriage and family, all have had their polished public image ripped to shreds.
Sin owns you, and in turn, you own it. The paradox is that while you feed on sinful impulses and desires, it feeds on you.
And then we tell them when they show up at group, “It’s God’s mercy to you that you got caught.”
It takes some time before the men come around to understanding this.
First, they have to acknowledge a strange paradox of human behavior. Rachael Denhollander, the gymnast whose legal action outed Larry Nassar, gave a stirring Christian testimony at Nassar’s sentencing where she touched on that paradox. She spoke about how Nassar pursued his desires to get sexual satisfaction from his victims, while being, at the same time, ruled by those same desires. She said, “You have become a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires, a man defined by his daily choices repeatedly to feed that selfishness and perversion. You chose to pursue your wickedness no matter what it cost others…”
Sin is slavery, said Jesus. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Sin owns you, and in turn, you own it. The paradox is that while you feed on sinful impulses and desires, it feeds on you.
And the first damage it does is to your own heart. Because sin—repeated sin—over time hardens your heart. Hardens it to the point where the heart begins to justify whatever it wants. Freezes it, with little warmth or compassion left for those you hurt because your needs must be met. Eventually, that heart, though made in the image of God and capable of great love and beauty and kindness, becomes the shadow of death to others and to itself.
In her testimony, Rachel then spoke about what repentance and forgiveness would mean for her abuser. “The Bible you carry speaks a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found…I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God…”
All of us will be exposed – either in this life or the one to come. Will you come into the light? The question is whether we will voluntarily come into the light, or get caught.
Getting caught is the best thing to happen to Larry Nassar. Sure, primarily because the evil he did has now been stopped, and justice is now being meted out on him for his crimes. But also for his sake. That is what Rachael is offering him. He now has a chance to face, while still alive in this world, a God whom he would inevitably face in the world to come. Repentance is being offered to him, a chance for him to allow God to restore his heart and his humanity.
Getting caught is the best thing to happen to the men who come into our groups. Only now can they clearly see themselves and their behavior, see the damage it has done to others, the damage to themselves, and fall upon the grace Christ gives only to those who know they are guilty.
If we are honest with ourselves, all of us need to be caught. We need the eyes of others to see us, and we need their voices to speak up when they see us act wrongly. The writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers to do these very things with one another: “But exhort one another…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
Where does this blog find you? Are you still in hiding? Jesus warned, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3). All of us will be exposed – either in this life or the one to come. Will you come into the light? The question is whether we will voluntarily come into the light, or get caught.
Either way, it’s God’s mercy to us.
Nicholas talks more about this on his accompanying video: Why Is It Good to Get Caught in Your Sin? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
01 Feb 2018
When you get caught in sin, it’s an awful feeling. No one likes to get called out for their behavior. But when it comes to living your life in secret, getting caught is the best thing that can happen. It’s God’s mercy to you that you got caught. When you come to see that truth, and embrace it, it restores your heart and your humanity.
Click here to read more on what Nicholas is saying on his blog: “Getting Caught Is God’s Mercy: Reflections on Larry Nassar and Repentance”
01 Dec 2017
In my prior blog about the dangers children are facing today as transgender ideology continues to be promoted in the culture, my hope was to direct parents to take pro-active steps to intentionally teach and guide their children about God’s design for sex, sexuality, and gender. Apart from such active parental guidance — and I include the church in this endeavor, as well — our children will passively absorb these transgender ideas and wonder why gender matters at all — and perhaps come to believe that changing one’s gender is the correct way to fix one’s discomfort or confusion.
And for those few children that do struggle and question the connection between their biological sex and perceived gender — struggles which generally resolve themselves for most children by the time they reach adulthood — absorbing these cultural ideas can have life-long, damaging implications.
Our children need to know that gender does matter. Who we are is dependent on our creational identities as male and female, made in the image of God. Our gendered bodies at birth are deeply connected with who we are and who we can become. Our gender wasn’t “assigned” at birth; it was given to us by a Providential Lord. We relate to one another as men and women, not merely as amorphous persons.
So let me direct you, first, to our harvestusa magazine issue on Transgenderism and Tim Geiger’s lead article, “Transgenderism: The Reshaping of Reality.” It’s a good overview of a biblically-based view of gender.
Then, take a look at some of these recent stories that highlight the fierce intensity of this cultural issue and what’s at stake for our children; again, especially for those children who have legitimate struggles and questions about their bodies.
Our gender wasn’t “assigned” at birth; it was given to us by a Providential Lord. We relate to one another as men and women, not merely as amorphous persons.
Listen to a 14-year-old named Noor talk about her journey from moving toward transitioning to realizing that it was OK to learn to love her body as it was. Here is just one remarkable insight from this teen: “Feelings are feelings. Feeling something doesn’t mean it is true or real…You weren’t born in the wrong body because that’s not possible” (her emphasis).
The website Noor writes at, 4thWaveNow, is not Christian or religious at all, which highlights something you don’t see in the media: that it’s not just Christians who are not accepting the transgender ideology.
World Magazine, which is Christian, writes of a UK-based online community where parents can share their concerns about how their struggling children are quickly diagnosed with gender dysphoria by National Health Service clinics and then moved into transitioning services. Some UK parents are expressing genuine concern and fear at the speed with which this is happening, with little or no time allowed for possible alternative viewpoints.
The online community to which World Magazine refers is Transgender Trend. Again, this is not a Christian website. While the situations mentioned are based in the UK, browsing the site is informative on multiple levels, giving well-reasoned arguments that are logical, commonsense, and reality-based.
Finally, here’s a story from the New York Times that is slanted toward approval of gender fluidity for children. Why am I suggesting you read it? Because if you read it carefully, you’ll spot not only the bias that media typically displays about this issue (progressives are thoughtful and socially responsible, but traditionalists engage in hurtful, bigoted behavior), but I want you to notice three things that come together in this story that helps to explain why this issue is here:
One, it highlights the extensive reach of 50+ years of gender deconstruction and how this worldview is now reaching into the youngest group of children. While the article argues for respect for students who express gender fluidity (Yes! No one should allow anyone to be treated with disrespect and harm!), one educator correctly states that this issue is about more than accepting trans or gender nonconforming people, “it’s about loosening up the whole idea of gender, for every kid” (emphasis mine).
Two, it shows how objective reality is ignored in favor of personal subjectivity. Now, the spirit of the age declares truth is subjective, and one’s personal truth is sacrosanct. The traditional understanding of gender (sex = gender) is now viewed from the perspective of a second-grade child who says (parroting today’s gender propaganda): that gender “is a thing that people invented to put you in a category.”
Three, the article shows how parenting has been eclipsed by professionals (therapists and educators), seen in how one mother talks about her gender-confused child: “It’s tough when people say follow your kid’s lead… We’re talking about a 7-year-old who has no concept of what this looks like in the future.” This mother’s instincts are right—her young child is confused and immature, and all the guidance she seems to have in this culture is a narrative that personal self-actualization, based on one’s feelings, is the highest goal of every person, reinforced by professional educators and therapists (and behind them, an aggressive LGBTQ agenda).
To me, the story gives additional reasons for why every parent, and every church, needs to TEACH their children about God’s design for sex, sexuality, and gender. The stakes are so high now. Silence is destructive to our children and families.
30 Nov 2017
Ever since I was a kid I have been a reader of the National Geographic magazine. So I was both intrigued and concerned when the January 2017 issue, “Gender Revolution,” arrived. How would the story on gender and transgender be told, with an objective analysis or a subjective slant? On the cover was an elementary-aged transgender girl, with the caption reading, “The best thing about being a girl is, now I don’t have to pretend to be a boy.”
I got my answer. I found myself looking at that picture and feeling much sadness. I couldn’t help but think that this young child is still pretending, but now being encouraged by adults to exchange reality for fantasy.
I don’t want to criticize National Geographic for this issue. After all, transgender issues are in the forefront of our news and culture. Christians must look at this issue from both a cultural and individual level. We should not dismiss out of hand these stories of children and adults who feel out of sorts with their own gendered bodies.
But we must equally examine how the media presents this issue. There is a concerted effort to complexify issues of gender, designed to leave the reader agreeing that biology has no essential connection to gender, and that we can be whatever we want to be regardless of the anatomy with which we are born.
That’s a deeply mistaken notion. But what’s most tragic is seeing where this viewpoint has led — that we let even the youngest children make life-altering decisions that will lead them to steadily transform and even mutilate their bodies, with parents and other adults encouraging them onward. Our hearts should feel for how these children struggle with their sense of self, but we should grieve even more for the kind of help they are being offered.
The main article in the magazine, “Rethinking Gender” by Robin Marantz Henig, is the one to read carefully. It is well-written and presents itself in a measured tone, and that is what makes it all the more uncomfortable, if not disturbing. Unless you carefully read what it is saying and what is subtlety not being said, you might walk away thinking, yes, science is indeed showing us that what we believed about the connection between gender and biology — the normative gender binary — has been all wrong.
But that is not what the article proves at all. And you’ve got to read it carefully to know that.
Here’s what I mean:
Henig begins by writing about the complexities of being born intersex. The brief summary is excellent in describing how complicated intersex conditions are for the child and their family. These are difficult situations for parents, doctors, and the children involved, to sort through, and we should give wide leeway to acknowledge the tough decisions that have to be made here.
Intersex conditions have long been seen by the medical establishment as disorders of sex development. In other words, something has gone wrong in the fetal development of the child. A Christian worldview sees intersex conditions in the same light, placing it within the biblical story of the Fall, where the introduction of sin brought about brokenness in all things, including our bodies.
But what’s most tragic is seeing where this viewpoint has led—that we let even the youngest children make life-altering decisions that will lead them to steadily transform and even mutilate their bodies, with parents and other adults encouraging them onward.
But in a post-Christian culture, energized by an increasingly aggressive LGBTQ agenda, intersex conditions are now seen as evidence of multiple genders, as normative as the binary view of gender once was.
Henig, however, makes a connective leap from intersex to transgender, slipping in a paragraph that mentions Caitlyn Jenner becoming a trans woman. Here’s the paragraph:
As transgender issues become the fare of the daily news—Caitlyn Jenner’s announcement that she is a trans woman, legislators across the United States arguing about who gets to use which bathroom—scientists are making their own strides, applying a variety of perspectives to investigate what being transgender is all about.
Step back and notice what has happened here. Henig has linked here the complex issues about intersex conditions to someone being transgender. The reality is, these are two very different things. Jenner’s transformation has nothing to do with being born intersex. The phenomenon of transgenderism is quite distinct from intersex complications. This unwarranted (and virtually unnoticeable connection), if not challenged, will leave the casual reader thinking the two are related, and that science is finally coming to understand, through its research, a new understanding of gender.
Transgenderism is a radical redefinition of what it means to be human, and the implications are likely to bring tragic results.
Henig casually drops hints that, indeed, something more than science is driving this phenomenon. She writes about a 14-year-old girl: “She’s questioning her gender identity, rather than just accepting her hobbies and wardrobe choices as those of a tomboy, because we’re talking so much about transgender issues these days” (emphasis added). Did you catch that? So much of what these children are struggling with is how to fit into cultural roles of gender, many which change from one generation to another. How did we go from ongoing generational discussions about gender expression (or roles) to encouraging children to alter their bodies to fit into those roles?
What is driving the issue of transgenderism and its acceptance is not scientific research (let’s not as Christians oppose legitimate scientific inquiry into this issue), but a dominant cultural idea which has persistently deconstructed gender and gender roles for more than half a century. In a materialistic worldview that refuses to see a divine plan for how we should live, we now arrive at truth by means of our own individual stories and experience. This personal-truth-for-me cultural mindset is seen in a photo of a six-year-old boy who describes himself as “gender creative” and who, the caption says about him, “is very sure of who he is.”
But when it comes to sexuality and gender, we must not let our children learn on their own, passively absorbing the constant bombardment of cultural voices. We must intervene…
A six-year-old who knows with certainty who he is? Childhood has always been observed as the journey in which young boys and girls wrestle with who they are, and eventually emerge into adulthood with a clearer understanding (sometimes still not fully formed) of themselves and the world in which they will live. Now we think children are wise enough to short-circuit that process by more than a decade.
The real difficulties these children experience will not be fixed by encouraging them to pretend to be what they are not, and especially to put their bodies at the mercy of hormone-altering drugs and surgical knives. Walt Heyer, a former transsexual, says about this issue, “Like others who elect to live the transgender life, I painfully discovered it was only a temporary fix to deeper pain… if National Geographic truly wanted to explore the complexities of gender change, they would have included stories of people who discovered that living the transgender life was an empty promise.”
There are a lot of risks our children face as they grow up; some we can protect them from, and some we can’t, where we must let them stumble and learn. But when it comes to sexuality and gender, we must not let our children learn on their own, passively absorbing the constant bombardment of cultural voices. We must intervene, not to shield them inside a protective bubble — as if we could — but to teach and persuade them to see and believe that life is found by living within God’s design and purpose.
P.S. Read my follow-up blog that will post on Friday that links to several online stories and articles that will show you how this issue is reaching deep into the lives of families, with frightening consequences. More reasons to not be passive and silent in raising our children to learn to embrace the gendered bodies God gave them at birth.
Many people today think reparative therapy is Christian-based, but it’s not. There is no gospel in it, and it’s important for Christians to speak intelligently about how helping someone with same-sex attraction in a gospel-focused way is altogether different.
19 Jun 2017
Expectations. We all have them, whether we acknowledge them outright or hide them in our hearts. We are hope-based creatures; we need to have hope in order to live. Yet there is danger in hope; it will crush you if you put your trust in something that can’t deliver.
I think about the destructiveness of false hope whenever reparative therapy pops up in the news. Every few months another state or city government proposes legislation to outlaw reparative therapy. All over the web are stories of gays and lesbians who were harmed by attempts from therapists or Christian ministries to change their sexual orientation. The faith of many broke over those unbiblical expectations.
Putting one’s faith in anything outside of what God has explicitly promised is courting disaster. I remember sitting with a church leader, pouring out my fears about the impending birth of my third child. Three years earlier our second child was born severely disabled. We had a 25% chance of the same birth defect occurring with other children. We decided not to have any more. God decided differently. It was a pregnancy full of fear for us.
In that meeting, what I heard from him deeply unsettled me: “Don’t worry. God isn’t going to give you another disabled child.” How did he know that? He didn’t, but he said he couldn’t fathom that God would do that, again, to us.
I left that meeting confused but already determined to reject that advice. I knew that no page of Scripture promises specific things we want in life. I had been painfully learning for the past three years, in raising my disabled son, to let God be God. While I didn’t understand what God’s purposes were for giving us such a child, I had, unexpectedly, come to trust him more. My relationship with God was no longer based on what I expected him to do for me. (Isn’t that much of the way we relate to God in our hearts?)
I had come to see that my prior expectations of what God would do in my life were but projections of my own hoped-for future. False expectations. God had mercifully smashed them. And in doing so, I came to grasp that his death on my behalf was a sufficient display of his love for me. I could live on that.
So, we are asked from time to time whether HARVEST USA does reparative therapy. Can we promise the kind of change many have desperately hoped for? And our answer is a compassionate, biblical “No.”
The essence of reparative therapy is that homosexuality can be changed into heterosexuality through following its counseling practices. Some of those practices were immoral and unethical (past practices included aversion therapy, “cuddling,” using pornography to encourage heterosexual desire, etc.). But the expectation of change—that was what deeply pulled on the hearts of those who wanted to live without same-sex desire.
A significant part of HARVEST USA’s ministry work is with those who live with unwanted same-sex attraction and who reach out to us for help. Many of these men and women grew up in the church, and many of them want the kind of “guarantee” reparative therapy falsely offers. So, we are asked from time to time whether HARVEST USA does reparative therapy. Can we promise the kind of change many have desperately hoped for?
And our answer is a compassionate, biblical “No.” HARVEST USA has never used, nor approved of, reparative therapy. We believe it to be thoroughly unbiblical and unhelpful because it attempts to correct a spiritual issue with behavioral modification. Reparative therapy is a product of our culture’s obsession with all things therapeutic. Tragically, the evangelical community jumped on the therapeutic bandwagon and found themselves wed to a psychological methodology that was never biblical to begin with.
The church is now, thankfully, repenting of proclaiming this kind of unbiblical hope. Not because there is no hope; rather it is not the hope Scripture gives to sexual strugglers.
Homosexual behavior is a sin that needs repentance. Like all sin, it comes out of our fallen hearts. All sin rises, as Luther said, from the “inherent bentness of our hearts” toward idolatry, and away from God. That’s the message of Romans 1. Paul is not singling out gays and lesbians as being the worst of sinners; he is pointing the finger at every single human being because all of us possess a disordered heart. A heart whose inclinations and desires, whether chosen or discovered, insist and demand to live life on its own terms. Following Christ, however, is about always submitting our heart’s desires to his kingly rule over every part of our life.
Therefore, we call everyone to a different kind of change, an inner heart change. HARVEST USA is not in the “sexual re-orientation” business, but rather seeks to help men and women grow into radical Christ-orientation in all areas of life, including our desires and attractions. Our core ministry is to help sexual strugglers of all kinds know and learn from Jesus (Matthew 11:29), who promises to meet us in our struggles and give us new life, daily. In our teaching, we acknowledge and address the complex life experiences that each person brings through our doors. Our work is about applying the power of the gospel to inform all the external and internal factors that shape a person’s life while calling and helping everyone to live a life of sexual integrity according to the Scriptures. That kind of life is supernatural, and it does lead to surprising joy.
Authentic submission to Christ is allowing God to direct our lives and our future in ways that exceed our expectations—even when the reality might be that one continues to live with same-sex attraction and on-going temptation.
In our culture, living a life of sexual integrity that the gospel calls us to is an especially hard journey. Now both secular society and proponents within the wider church say that same-sex behavior is an acceptable life to God. Tragically, leaders in the church are now proclaiming this kind of false hope also.
What about change then? We believe that people are changed when they grasp ahold of the gospel. But we don’t say what that change will exactly be. We don’t create unbiblical and unrealistic expectations of how God is going to work in every person’s life (for a fuller discussion read our mini book, Can You Change if You’re Gay, available at harvest-usa-store.com). Jesus promises to make his followers into his image, expressing his character, steadily growing in outward obedience to his will. This is not behavioral modification. Authentic submission to Christ is allowing God to direct our lives and our future in ways that exceed our expectations—even when the reality might be that one continues to live with same-sex attraction and on-going temptation.
One quick point about the legal issues surrounding reparative therapy; the push for legislation does raise legitimate concerns about religious liberty. Would the way HARVEST USA helps people with same-sex attraction—to follow Christ faithfully and live according to God’s design for sexuality—be viewed as being no different from reparative therapy? Will it one day be illegal to even speak of the Christian position on sexuality to a young person in the church who wonders about his or her sexuality? This is a significant matter and one that we must defend. For that reason, we must also be clear about the lines we draw in how we help people, and not go beyond Scripture.
I still wonder as I think about all this, if I had put my trust in the well-meaning words of that church leader, where my faith in Christ would be now, because my third child was born with the same genetic disease, and his short life ended six months later. Thankfully, I had learned to put my hope in God and his glorious cross—and not my hoped-for expectations of what I needed him to do in my life. That made all the difference in my life and for my faith, and it has led to surprising joy.
You can watch Nicholas talk some more about this on his video: The Dangerous Expectations of Reparative Therapy. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
09 Jan 2017
“What’s wrong with changing your gender if your body is sick—if your body is wrong for you?”
How’s that for a question to answer? The question’s larger context was this: If you’re sick, you go to the doctor and get help. If you lose your leg, you get a prosthesis. If you’re depressed, you take medication. So what’s wrong with changing your gender if your body is sick, if something is wrong with it?
Ellen Dykas and I went to a coffeehouse talk for young adults at Calvary Church in Souderton. Calvary has a terrific discussion event called Living Room Tuesdays, where, according to their website, “these meetings are meant to be a safe place for young adults to discuss issues, ask questions, and learn how the Bible directs us to respond to these issues.” As John McCants, the Pastor of Young Adult Ministries (who, BTW, is totally in sync with this age group!) said to us, “We’ve got to get Christians thinking well on these subjects. We don’t want to be stupid!”
So, yes, it was a safe place to open up and talk about transgenderism. But what came through was the fact that this is, indeed, a very hot topic. And one rife with confusion, courtesy of our culture’s pervasive post-Christian views of gender and sexuality.
After an hour of interactive discussion with John McCants, we took questions. Lots of questions. Questions that really couldn’t be answered with a simple yes or no, do this or don’t do that. Wisdom questions and conscience questions, particularly about how to intersect faith with living our Christian lives “out there” in the marketplace.
Then, near the end of our time, came the question at the top. Upon hearing it, I recognized the cultural mindset behind it. If someone feels this way, then why do Christians find fault with it, especially if, for them, it might be a life or death issue? There are lots of things we fix or change in life, so why shouldn’t transgenderism just be another one?
Our churches need to get these cultural issues on the table for discussion, to air them out, and to help people see the wisdom of God’s design in making men and women his image bearers.
Lurking behind this individualistic framework is our culture’s insistence that truth and reality are arrived at from my own personal experience. And if there is no God, then who I am (identity) and what I do (purpose) are entirely up to me.
Tragically, it’s a mindset that has infiltrated the church. While Christians should respect people’s life experiences, we must also be a people who believe that who we are and what we are here for is determined by God, who has put into place both design and boundary lines so that we might live well.
I couldn’t go too deep into a cultural worldview discussion at that point (we were wrapping things up after two long hours!), but this is what came to my mind. I acknowledged the deep struggle someone might have with aligning their biological sex with their sense of gender, but more foundational than someone’s distress is this issue: Does God have a primary claim on who we are, or are we in charge of choosing whatever seems right for us?
Then I said: Since when is being male a disease to be cured? Since when is being female a medical condition that needs intervention? If there are no biological complexities involved like intersex complications, why would you do this to an otherwise healthy, normal body? Why do we intervene in other “body dysmorphic” issues like anorexia but not this one?
With someone who is literally starving but believes she is overweight, we properly locate where the struggle is: The person’s mind and heart, which has become influenced by self-destructive impulses, erroneous beliefs, and cultural distortions of what a body should look like.
Why would we not do the same with a gender-confused person? We need to help that individual live well within his or her “assigned gender,” to learn that being male or female reflects the image of God and his purposes for our lives.
There’s more to be said about the issue of transgenderism, but Calvary Church in Souderton, PA, is on the right track. Our churches need to get these cultural issues on the table for discussion, to air them out, and to help people see the wisdom of God’s design in making men and women his image bearers.
Go to this link to see the videos on this discussion, as well as follow-up videos from the second time we had a similar discussion at Calvary.
19 Dec 2016
A pastor calls, wondering what he should do. A married woman in his church is beginning to look like a man. Over several months her changed appearance has made it increasingly clear that a slow but significant transformation is happening. But neither the woman nor her husband has asked for help. No one in the congregation has said anything publicly, though people are beginning to take notice. Hence his confusion. What should this pastor do?
For a church to help someone with gender confusion, they must first see a real person in distress. When we get down to the level of the individual, this becomes not a cultural battleground but a person who is struggling. Yes, our culture has made transgenderism the issue du jour, but the person in front of you is like a lamb without a shepherd. In everything you do, help her come to the true Shepherd who will gently guide her.
So, if someone in your church is struggling with gender confusion, we need to do more than proclaim adherence to Genesis 1 and 2 to resolve his or her dilemma. Yes, good biblical teaching on sexuality is necessary. We must not abandon the anchor position that Scripture gives us: God created humanity as male and female, and those two genders are who we are as unique, individual persons. Living out our given maleness and femaleness is an essential part of what it means to be human.
But we also live in a Genesis 3 world. Ours is a world that is broken, resembling God’s original design but increasingly showing deep cracks in how God’s image bearers reflect his image. Men and women have struggled with sexuality and gender for countless ages, so this isn’t anything new.
What is different now, however, is how the culture has turned reality upside-down, insisting that the individual decides what is real and true, rather than the individual conforming to reality. But those who wrestle with their gender identity don’t think they are trying to be rebellious. Rather, they are confused, desperate, and fearful, trying to make sense of their pain. The distress they feel is real. The world’s solution seems more hopeful, a better “fit” to their struggle, so they embrace the post-Christian script that gender is essentially pliable.
What is our advice on what this pastor could say to this woman? How might he speak a message that could give her hope—maybe enough hope to grasp why God has called her to live as a woman; maybe enough hope that she can begin to see herself living congruently with her femaleness; and maybe enough hope for a future that would help her choose to slow down and reverse the transition process she seems to be pursuing?
What do we say? Here are five broad principles this pastor and a church can pursue:
Affirm and recognize how hard this is
Affirm the likelihood that this struggle has been going on for some time. Recognize that this is not a superficial battle and that she and others are trying to make sense of what they experience. Ask good questions so that you can begin to grasp what her life is like and why she feels so strongly that she needs to transition to the opposite gender. When did you start feeling this way? When do you feel it most strongly? What makes you feel most desperate? Get to know her; listen to her stories that are shaping her. Listen carefully.
Understanding biblical truth, and then applying it to our hearts, is a journey, so expect this to take time.
Carefully teach and seek mutual involvement
Communicate to her that deep, persistent struggles grow stronger when we contend with them in isolation. As someone who attends your church, ask if she would allow you to keep speaking into her life about this. You want to hear her thoughts but you also want her to listen as you share a biblical perspective on gender and sexuality. Keep in mind that she has come to hate parts of herself, so communicate in a way that helps her question what she believes about gender rather than trying to convince her with an argument. Questions like, If God has designed every detail of your life from the beginning (Psalm 139), how do you view God if you insist on transitioning? What makes you hate parts of your body when God loves the very body he gave you? What would need to change if you began to accept the body you were born with? Do you know what Scripture says about what it means to be a man or a woman? How is that different from what you believe?
Understanding biblical truth, and then applying it to our hearts, is a journey, so expect this to take time.
Good teaching is rarely, if ever, the sole factor that encourages someone to move in the right direction. Our words, combined with our loving presence, are what people in pain need. Being involved also means connecting her to the body of Christ. You could assist her with Christian counseling, help her find an older and wiser woman as a mentor, involve her in appropriate ministry, pray with her, etc. It is in the body of Christ where we grow. Here, among those who will encourage her, she will learn to accept and grow into the gendered body God gave her. Walk with her for as long as it takes, through all the successes and failures that will be a part of her journey.
Help her to grasp that our life, which includes our body, first belongs to God
Patiently teach that believers in Christ have a deeper foundation for their identity than those in the world. We do not have the right to be autonomous, self-determined individuals, creating identities and lives that fit our felt needs. We are unique individuals, but we first belong to the One who gave us life and redemption. Being made in the image of God includes our gendered body; who we are and how we relate to God and others flows through and is shaped by the body we are given at birth. The body is not like a piece of clothing we can change; we are “ensouled bodies,” bodies into which God breathes life. The body he has given us is essential to our identity.
An identity grounded in Christ seeks his purposes above all else. Orienting ourselves around Christ allows us to reflect on the secure identity that he offers, rather than frantically trying to discover or fashion an identity for ourselves. Grounding who we are in Christ gives us the means to fight and grow increasingly free of internal desires that first confuse and then enslave us.
Teach a biblical view of perseverance in the midst of suffering
Acknowledge that some life-situations are chronic, persistent, and will not be completely resolved in this life, like many chronic disability circumstances. We are called to persevere faithfully in certain situations, to discover in and through the struggle that God’s grace gives all of it meaning, purpose, and daily strength to live, grow, and even to prosper (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
Call her to bring God into the heart of the situation
Bringing God into the heart of the situation is absolutely necessary because this is a spiritual issue too. Her gender distress has another element of struggle, beyond what she or others think about this issue. And it is this: To go against God’s design and purpose (and reality itself) brings about increasing confusion and pain. Searching for healing is not necessarily wrong, but pursuing solutions that violate God’s intentional design and purpose is rebellion against him. Bringing God into the center is to move toward obeying him, even when it is difficult.
Obedience involves repentance, a daily practice that slowly brings about change and joy. This is accomplished not by focusing on behavior, but by helping her see her heart, the place where she still seeks to find her own solutions. Help her see that obedience is not just keeping a set of rules, but rather the means to experience following Christ as a life-affirming direction. But be careful about what obedience looks like. We are not calling her to live out gender stereotypes, but for her to embrace being a woman who lives that out in ways that honor God, which can look uniquely different than our preconceptions.
We could say a lot more here. But speaking into these broad categories might open doors to effectively help someone wrestling with gender confusion to seek God’s help to be who God has called him or her be.