19 Jul 2018
A growing issue in the Church leads us at Harvest USA to leverage the insight and expertise we’ve gained ministering to same-sex attracted individuals for the last 35 years and speak up. That issue is this: should someone identify as a gay Christian?
This issue is related to two questions: Where does a Christian’s identity come from? From our desires and life experiences, or from our Creator and Redeemer God? The second question is this: is the mere experience of same-sex attraction sinful, even if there is no acting upon those desires?
These two questions have a lot of emotion behind them. They are not just theological questions; they are personal questions, questions about people. For the person who lives with same-sex attraction, experienced as a growing awareness over a prolonged period, those feelings seem natural. Because same-sex strugglers never consciously chose same-sex desires while growing up, it might seem reasonable to conclude that he or she was born that way. And for the believer, it might seem a natural conclusion that such desire is part of God’s created order.
So, given the typical life experience of those with same-sex attraction that I just described, what’s the big deal about calling oneself a gay Christian as long as one is following the biblical sexual ethic?
Therein lies the problem. People experience both the saving grace of God and same-sex attraction. How are believers in Christ to resolve the tension of experiencing same-sex attraction, which they never sought or knowingly cultivated, and wondering whether this attraction is innate and connected to identity?
To understand the issue of living with something that is unchosen, we need to start with some basic Christian theology.
The experience of living with same-sex attraction, and the behavior that acts on that desire (in thought, word, or deed) is a distortion of God’s created intent for sex and sexuality. That distortion is the result of the Fall which has corrupted all aspects of human existence and experience.
Scripture asserts that all human behavior comes from our hearts and that our hearts are fallen. This means that every natural inclination of our heart, including our thoughts, emotions, desires, as well as our deeds, is corrupted by sin. All of us are in the same boat, as it were, when it comes to the effects of original sin. Within each one of us is an accumulation of countless desires, thoughts, and behaviors, some we didn’t choose but only discovered over time, and some which we do choose, and nurture, and develop, and act upon.
I think it is helpful when considering same-sex attraction to make the distinction between volitional sin (where someone chooses to respond to temptation by acting sinfully in thought, word, or deed) and the passive experience of same-sex attraction as a manifestation of indwelling sin.
How are believers in Christ to resolve the tension of experiencing same-sex attraction, which they never sought or knowingly cultivated, and wondering whether this attraction is innate and connected to identity?
Volitional sin, by its definition, is a purposeful, chosen action to rebel against God and his will. But the experience of same-sex attraction, as a passive state, can suddenly present itself, unchosen, as a relational, emotional, and sexual desire toward someone. That individual did not decide to be drawn toward that other person; in fact, he or she may not want that at all. But it happens.
That draw is the enduring power of the flesh. It is the “orientation” toward sin; the way that person’s heart interacts with his desires. But if that person does not act on those sinful desires, if he takes the “way of escape” described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:13, then he has actively turned from sin.
In short, the call of the same-sex attracted person who is in Christ is to not embrace an orientation toward sin, but instead to actively cultivate a heart that is increasingly oriented toward being made new, in the image of Jesus Christ.
Now we can turn toward the issue of identity.
Identity is important. Who we are and who we want to become is wrapped up in how we view our relationship to Christ.
Our identity comes entirely from God. We add nothing of genuine or enduring value to it. In Philippians 3:4-11, Paul lists his accomplishments: his well-earned pedigree, which by all accounts he should have cherished as his identity and the basis of his personal value. But instead of cherishing these things, he says: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” (3:8-9).
Paul doesn’t subordinate some aspects of his identity to Christ. He doesn’t say that knowing Christ is one aspect of his identity or even the most important part of it. He says that everything else he would have once turned to for identity and value (his heritage, his birthright, his theological affiliation, his education, his record of obedience) is all rubbish. (The Bible translators were very delicate here; the word translated “rubbish” actually refers to entirely worthless things, like dung.)
In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul tells us about the transformation that takes place for the one who trusts in Jesus. He says, “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Identity is important. Who we are and who we want to become is wrapped up in how we view our relationship to Christ.
This passage is even more powerful regarding identity formation than the Philippians 3 passage. In 2 Corinthians 5, we see a radical wiping away of prior identity, initiated through Jesus’ death and made complete through his resurrection. In 2 Corinthians 5, everything that we’ve accreted to our personal identities, everything that once defined us, has been utterly wiped away by the power of Christ. Through his death, he took us with him into death. Through his resurrection, he has brought us through death into life everlasting. Here and now, we already partake (albeit, for a season, in very limited ways) of the new life we share with him forever. Paul tells us in Romans 6:4 that all this has happened so that we too (just like Jesus) “might walk in newness of life.”
That newness of life is our new identity. That now defines who we are.
Christ died to remove through his broken body and shed blood the power of sin and the power of death from his people, forever. Why would any Christian wish to name him or herself according to a pattern of sinful desire or behavior, such as “gay”? As our friend Rosaria Butterfield asks, why would any Christian want to limit the identity of “Christian” by modifying it with an adjective like “gay”?
Identity defines who we are and who we will become. At Harvest USA, our ministry to individuals with same-sex attraction has shown us the imperative need to define oneself wholly by the work of Christ. A gay identity, at best, is confusing (there are, after all, those who use such a label and espouse same-sex relationships as being approved by God). But a greater danger we have seen is that it can be a slippery slope leading to sexual sin and for some a rejection of orthodox faith.
We at Harvest USA fully and humbly acknowledge that it is typical for the same-sex-attracted believer to experience fallen sexual desire for long periods of time—even a lifetime. For most, it doesn’t disappear. There are no easy explanations as to why that is. This is an area for the Church to grow in compassion, in patience, and in love for its people who struggle with same-sex attraction.
Again, the enduring nature of same-sex attraction should not be confused with the characteristics of personal identity. We encourage Christians who experience same-sex attraction to see that same-sex attraction is part of the fallen nature that is still visible, still palpable through the glorious veil of new life in Christ—yet not determinative.
That’s why Paul exhorts his hearers to “put to death…what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Believers must put such things “to death” for the precise reason that they are inconsistent with the believer’s new nature in Christ.
There is nothing I could have gained in the past, in the gay life or identifying as a gay man, that could compare with the identity I have now as one who is securely cradled in the Lord’s embrace.
And, we would be remiss if we failed to mention that just a few verses later, Paul exhorts the same hearers to “Put on…compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another…” (3:12-13). The role of the rest of the Church is to be compassionate toward those who struggle with temptation and sin and to bear with them. Our call is to walk alongside brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction, helping them bear the very real burdens they face as they live out their new identity in Christ: finding community, intimacy, friendships, and completion, even as they struggle with feeling at times very different and alone.
And for my fellow believers who struggle with same-sex attraction, I humbly offer this. There is infinite joy and glory in submitting your life, your desires, your very identity to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in Philippians 3:9 that, for him, there is no greater joy than to be found in Christ; to derive all of his meaning, all of his identity, all of his hope from Jesus.
As one who has struggled with same-sex attraction, I know how difficult it is—and continues to be—to daily lay down my own accomplishments, my own identity, and submit myself to the Jesus who, as God, alone has the right to name me and thus give me my identity. This is the calling of every Christian. It’s something we grow into as we grow in faith over the course of a lifetime.
There is nothing I could have gained in the past, in the gay life or identifying as a gay man, that could compare with the identity I have now as one who is securely cradled in the Lord’s embrace. There’s nothing I could gain in the present, as a married man and father, as a minister in the Church, that could compare with knowing that I have not only a King and a Lord but a Brother in Jesus.
All that matters is being in Christ. I realize this requires a leap of faith. But as you leap, I think you’ll find that in Christ, the more you count as rubbish, the more you receive in real identity, real fellowship, real joy.
It’s so important for us teach young women that sex and sexuality are wonderful aspects of their created nature, but they aren’t ultimate. To learn more from Tim Geiger on this topic, read his blog, “On Being a Woman: A Father’s Words to His Daughter.”
Tim Geiger, President of Harvest USA, shares the words he is speaking to his daughter about being a woman made in God’s image and how this informs her understanding of sexuality. This blog was first published in our Spring 2018 harvestusa magazine on women, sexuality, and the Church.
Let me share with you the counsel I’m giving to my 14-year-old daughter about what biblical womanhood looks like from a father’s perspective.
To fathers everywhere, I make this earnest appeal: Teach your daughters that it is safe and good to live as a godly woman in a world that would teach them otherwise.
I make this parallel appeal, as well: model for your daughters what godly masculinity looks like. This is a huge topic; beyond my words in this brief article. Godly masculinity reflects what Paul says in Ephesians 5:25-26 about how husbands are to love their wives, and I believe it extends to how a father is to love his daughter as well: to love her with a fiercely sacrificial love, and to pour into her life every good thing she needs to fully grow into becoming the woman she is, created in God’s image.
That is our task as fathers, helping our daughters establish a biblical worldview concerning how to live as a woman.
I think this has never been more critical. The world in which my 14-year-old daughter is growing up threatens her as a woman. A culture shaped more and more by sensuality and sexualization (fueled by pornography) has left women more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, to be viewed merely for their physical beauty and sexual allure. The post-gender culture denies the separateness and uniqueness of being a woman.
Along with my wife and our church, I must help her discover what it means to be a woman who is faithful to the Lord’s design.
As her father, I must speak truth into the lies and confusion she hears from the media, from her peers, and from her own sinful heart. Along with my wife and our church, I must help her discover what it means to be a woman who is faithful to the Lord’s design. I want her to find her true identity in the Lord and not in what the culture says nor what others say about her. I want her to think of herself as God thinks of her.
Here are the words I am speaking to my daughter:
You are not inferior to a man. Women are equally created in God’s image, created to partner with men in kingdom work, and to reflect the Creator’s image and design throughout creation (Genesis 1:26-28).
But you are different from a man. The differences here are more than biological. Contrary to what the culture would have us believe, the roles of men and women are not interchangeable. God created Eve as a “helper fit for [Adam]” (Genesis 2:18) in marriage. Within that context, God provided an order: in marriage, the man is the head of the woman (1 Corinthians 11:3). These roles are not interchangeable. Reordering and redefining what God established leads only to confusion, chaos, and ultimately, to destruction. Living within God’s loving parameters is the only way to flourish in life.
The term “head” has several implications, but let me talk about one that is paramount: the husband is to be a servant leader—as Christ is to his Bride, the church. For our redemption Christ, our Husband, lays down his glory and life for his people. Human marriage functions allegorically. Husbands are called to lay down their lives for their wives, and wives are called to submit to their husbands’ leadership (Ephesians 5:22-27). But submitting to your husband’s leadership doesn’t make you a doormat; you are his partner in life, called to love him with a love that speaks into his life on all matters, including correcting him when he is wrong.
One more thing here. All women are single at some time like you are now, and some are called to a life of singleness. As a single woman, you are not called to submit to men in general, but you are to submit to Christ. One way you experience that is through the ecclesiastical authority he delegated to his elders in the church. They are not perfect, but Christ is, so always teach your heart to submit to him.
You are to be treated with respect and dignity. A woman should not be treated with less respect or dignity than a man. God does not treat his sons and daughters differently: he assigns to them all the highest level of esteem and blessing. That is one reason Paul writes in Galatians 3:28, “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Do not accept being sexualized as a woman. In this warped culture, women are sexualized both by men and women. Women are commercialized to attain an ever-changing ideal of beauty, and the pursuit of that is unhealthy. Our culture also sexualizes women by turning them into objects of lust (particularly pornography), making them nothing more than a means to an end to satisfy one’s own, self-centered desires. This isn’t love; it’s using others and being used.
You should never tolerate sexual harassment. Sexual harassment takes many forms. No one should make sexual comments about you or anyone else. Resist any threats or manipulation to coerce you to do anything sexually. Paul tells us: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths…” (Ephesians 4:29), and: “Put to death…sexual immorality, impurity, passion…” (Colossians 3:5). No son of God should treat any woman this way. No daughter of God should tolerate it.
You were made in God’s image as a woman. That is your core identity. You are a sexual being, but you are much more than that.
Your core identity is not as a sexual being. The world today says who you are as a person is based on your sexual attractions and desires. In other words, the deepest part of who you are is what you feel. But your feelings and attractions are fleeting and changeable. Our desires are fallen and subject to sin and corruption as anything else in life.
You were made in God’s image as a woman. That is your core identity. You are a sexual being, but you are much more than that. Your sexuality is an important part of you, but sex is not the ultimate thing in life. It is not easy to live as a single person, but it is doable. Do not think like so many think today, that to live without sex is a tragedy. God may call you to this, and in his Word singleness is a high calling (1 Corinthians 7: 8, 17-40).
You were created to bear the glory of God himself. That is your core purpose in life. You were created to reflect him to the world and help restore this world, now fallen, to again display his glory to all of creation. Live as one who will live forever. Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). What was this joy that propelled him into and through that suffering? That you and the rest of his people would live with him in a new heaven and new earth, in perfect and joyful union. That’s the glory you were created for: to be with the Lord forever, without the veil of sin and shame creating any barrier between you and the Lord.
Keep sex sacred and within God’s design for marriage. One reason sex was created is to be a physical act analogous to the mystical reality of the believer’s perfect, intimate union with Christ (Ephesians 5:32). That’s a lot to take in, but one thing is clear: sex is more than just a physical act. The world says sex is nothing but a biological drive meant for one’s enjoyment. This tragically diminishes sex, marring its deeper beauty.
God designed sex as a crucial part of the covenantal bond within marriage between husband and wife, who promise fidelity and exclusive intimacy with each other. To engage sexually with someone outside this covenant is sinful.
Sex is powerful, so do not take it lightly. As long as you are single, pray and work to steward your sexual desires, as you need to manage any other desires and feelings for anything else. Be governed by the spiritual gift of self-control (Galatians 5: 16-24). Jesus taught adultery is an issue of the heart, not the body (Matthew 5:28). To even look at someone with lustful intent is enough to break the seventh commandment. So to lust after someone else, and to engage in inappropriate touching, kissing, or any other physical or emotional interaction with someone else that could lead to sex is sinful. The Bible views any type of genital contact as sexual activity.
You are imperfectly loved by me but perfectly loved by God. As your earthly father, I will continue to lead, cover, and nurture you imperfectly as long as I live. But your heavenly Father loves you perfectly, knows you perfectly, and delights in you always. You are his precious daughter! He loves you well in all the ways in which I sometimes fail you. When you feel unloved, turn to him. When you feel lonely, seek first his companionship. When you feel rejected, seek comfort in his presence. Don’t look primarily for love and meaning in your human relationships. Realize that, ultimately, you are part of a “helper” fit for Jesus himself. Glory in that reality.
Tim Geiger shares more thoughts on this topic in the accompanying video: What Should I Communicate to My Daughter About Sexuality? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
31 May 2018
Juan Carlos Cruz, a Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse survivor from Chile, met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in April 2018. Cruz, who bravely brought his abuse into the light, self-identifies as gay. In a post-visit interview with CNN, Cruz reported what he says the Pope said to him: “You know, Juan Carlos, [being gay] does not matter. God made you like this. God loves you like this, the Pope loves you like this, and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say.”
The Vatican, when asked, would not comment on whether the reported comments from the Pope were accurate as presented. So, the topic of this blog is not about what Pope Francis said or might have said. Rather, the comments themselves, as reported, are reflective of a growing sentiment in the Church today. Whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, evangelical or mainline, more and more church leaders, members, and attendees embrace the concept of “God made me this way” when it comes to people who self-identify as LGBTQ.
But is that statement true? Did God make me this way?
That’s a question I asked myself repeatedly growing up. As an adolescent and young adult, I wrestled with same-sex attraction—and even to this day. Between the ages of six and eight, I was molested several times by Jim, a neighborhood boy. I don’t remember much about those experiences. But I do remember that they made me feel loved, special, wanted. Jim was the first male friend I ever had. He taught me that friendship was expressed through sex. He taught me that I could be someone who could bring him happiness.
He also taught me that I needed to keep secrets. He taught me how to feel ashamed. And in teaching me all this, he opened the door to my being sexually abused by others.
In some respects, my story mirrors Juan Carlos’s. As I struggled as a young man to interpret everything that happened (along with my growing sexual attraction to men) I came to conclude that I must be gay. Why else, after all, would these things have happened to me? What other rational explanation could there be? And like many others, I asked myself, Did God make me this way?
Over the subsequent years, I struggled with depression, self-loathing, and doubt. Deep, suffocating doubt about whether I was really gay; whether I would ever change; whether God made me this way; and whether God loved me.
The answers offered by many compounded my doubt: Two secular counselors I went to in my twenties told me my problem was my religion. Go to a church where they accept you. Men with whom I had sexual encounters told me, Be true to who you really are. Don’t deny yourself the happiness you deserve. A gay friend told me I should question whether or not I was really a Christian, because Christians couldn’t be gay.
And I was forced to agree. I thought I had come to faith as a child. I don’t recall a time when I didn’t know and love the Lord. But there was no way I knew to bridge the gap between what I knew the Lord wanted of me (obedience) and my pitiable record of 20 years of life-dominating same-sex attraction and homosexual sin. How could God love me this way?
Then, the Lord brought me to a place where I had to grapple with 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, an all-too-familiar passage, one I avoided like the plague, especially verses nine and ten. Those verses are the ones that talk about “men who practice homosexuality” not inheriting the kingdom of God. Every time I read through 1 Corinthians I breezed past those verses as quickly as I could, because I didn’t want to hear the refrain of doubts in my mind and my heart.
But the Lord led me to sit with verse 11: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
I sat with it, and sat, and sat, and sat. And I began to wonder: who is Paul writing this to?
Surely, if he were writing to people who no longer struggled with all the patterns of sin listed in verses nine and ten, then verse eleven wouldn’t make any sense. The only reason why Paul would say: “And such were some of you…” was if those in his audience were still struggling, still living as if they had no hope.
Paul was indeed writing to these people, people like me who were still stuck in patterns of sinful behavior. Paul tells us “Such were some of you,” because he’s trying to get us to see that the identity to which we cling can’t define us any longer. It can’t. Because we were washed, sanctified, and justified—new identity-defining words given to us by Christ and the Holy Spirit.
I began to realize God did love me—but not “this way.” He didn’t love my sin; he loved me in spite of my sin, in spite of my continuing struggle with sin.
And I began to learn there is power in realizing that love: gradually living a transformed life. Paul tells us in Titus 2:12 that Jesus “[trains] us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” In other words, there’s no way to be in authentic relationship with Jesus without being transformed by his love and the work of his Spirit. We are, over time, becoming people who look and act more and more like Jesus every day.
To Juan Carlos, I say, don’t be deceived, my friend. God doesn’t love you “that way.” As a matter of fact, he loves you so much more that he gave his only Son to become the sacrifice, slain for your sin—so that you would be brought in as a dearly-loved son, someone fitted for uninhibited relationship with the Father. God loves you as a son being perfected, made perfect, made whole.
Pursue God’s grace to rest not in your identity as a gay man, but in your identity as a dearly-loved son of God. One day, your gay identity will be taken away—through repentance or death. On what else will you stand before God?
And to the Church of Christ, I say, don’t give same-sex strugglers the false hope that God is okay with their sin. Lead them to the knowledge that in Christ the power of that sin to rule over them and define them was defeated on the cross. Help these little ones to pursue holiness, peace, love, and joy in repentance and reconciliation with the Father through the Son, instead of glorying in things that will only pass away.
30 Nov 2016
On May 13, 2016, many were surprised to learn that the federal government issued a directive, concerning transgenderism, to schools receiving federal Title IX grants. The directive said that schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room that match their gender identity. A confusing issue on a personal level became even more confusing as it developed into a public policy issue.
The emergence of public scrutiny over gender raises questions in the minds of many Christians: Why would someone identify as transgender? What do we mean by gender? Is it possible that there are more than two genders, male and female? How does Scripture call Christians to interact with transgender individuals?
These questions and the various answers given have sparked tremendous confusion and even, from some, hostility over what many see as another example of society going off the rails. It has become crucial for Christians to know how to reason through these issues on gender. With opinions on gender coming at us from all directions, we must find clarity to both understand and respond—intelligently, and with Christ-like compassion.
How do we understand what gender is?
What is a traditional understanding of gender? To understand what is revolutionary about current gender politics, a quick look at how gender has been viewed historically, across all cultures, is necessary. For the whole of human existence, society, with few exceptions, has affirmed a male-female binary regarding gender. In other words, an individual’s [given] physical sex at birth revealed and determined which gender the person was, however those gender roles of being a man or woman were expressed in one’s given cultural time period.
In the twin areas of sexuality—sexual behavior and gender identity — the church is experiencing tremendous pressure to change its understanding of what Scripture says about personhood and identity—and to subsume its authority to that of the individual.
This view of gender understood that for a very few number of individuals (about one in every 1,500 births, or .007% of the population), this binary classification was not clear at birth. A condition known as intersex, formerly known as hermaphroditism, occurs when an individual is born either with genitalia of both sexes or with ambiguous genitalia. This poses tremendous challenges for these children and their parents regarding what gender they will live out. We ought to give much understanding and compassion for these difficult situations. However, intersex conditions have not been viewed historically as evidence of multiple genders, but rather as disorders of sexual development. Like someone born without the ability to use their legs to stand or walk, such a condition does not argue that there are multiple views about what legs are for.
What is the new cultural understanding of gender? In simple terms, it’s this: Instead of possessing one of two fixed genders for life, the new understanding is that gender is fluid. Gender exists not as two permanent, fixed points, but rather on a continuum ranging from male to female. One’s experience of gender is no longer one gender or the other; instead, it can be entirely opposite from one’s biological sex, or one can switch back and forth between two genders. The goal of this cultural redefinition of gender is to ultimately do away with even the categories of male and female. Gender doesn’t matter in understanding what it means to be human.
A second element of this new cultural understanding is that gender is not innate, but acquired. While a child is born with male or female genitalia, that child does not develop his or her sense of gender identity until well after birth, according to psychologists. In most individuals, psychological gender is congruent with physical sex. However, in some cases, this is not so. Hence, it is possible to have an individual born with genitalia associated with one gender, but to have a psychological conception of one’s gender that is incongruent with one’s physical sex.
Transgender is a blanket term applied to a person whose subjective experience of gender is incongruent with his or her physical sex. Because of this perceived discrepancy, a transgender individual may elect to live out his or her gender in any number of ways. One might choose to identify as a particular gender different from his or her physical sex but never take measures to surgically or pharmacologically alter his or her physical sex. Someone might go through a process of using certain drugs to alter brain chemistry and hormone levels to develop physical characteristics of his or her preferred gender. Or one might elect to undergo gender reassignment surgery. These last two processes are known colloquially as transitioning.
Gender matters to God, and as his image bearers, it should matter to us as well.
This particular cultural concept of gender is new and itself in a state of evolution. In 2012, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association categorized the aforementioned types of gender incongruence as a psychiatric condition: Gender Identity Disorder (GID). Just four years ago, the psychiatric community would have counseled the GID-presenting patient to accept his or her physical sex.
When the DSM-IV was updated in 2013 (DSM-V), the diagnostic criteria for GID changed, so that most people who were previously diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder are now diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria—a perceptual problem, as opposed to a disorder. Now the goal of the therapist is to help patients accept their perceived or preferred psychological gender.
What is the problem with transgender? Essentially, this view of sex and gender makes the individual’s experience and feelings primary about what it means to be a person. Who I am and what I am are grounded in what I feel or believe about myself. Everything else—whether Scripture, or physical reality, or millennia-old social understanding—becomes secondary to my understanding of personhood. So if I feel as though I am another gender—whether male, female, or something in-between—that is who I actually am.
This radical view of personhood and identity comes out of the movement toward deconstructing gender and sex (as they have been traditionally and historically understood), which is the fruit of the sexual revolution that began more than half a century ago. Sexual boundaries and gender understanding are seen as social constructs, imposed by tradition (religious and civil) and by those in power. Viewing the issue from that worldview, the individual is elevated above society and is now seen as self-determinative and authoritative, able to choose what best fits their own perception of reality. The result of this worldview disallows any kind of objective truth from God—that the world he created has a particular design and a particular purpose within which people find God’s plan, his purposes, and themselves.
In the twin areas of sexuality—sexual behavior and gender identity—the church is experiencing tremendous pressure to change its understanding of what Scripture says about personhood and identity—and to subsume its authority to that of the individual. While the world sees this process as freedom and finding authenticity of self, Scripture views it as the outworking of sin and rebellion that is the result of the brokenness of life. The last line in the book of Judges, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” aptly describes our world of increasing chaos and brokenness.
What is God’s view of gender?
Understanding the narrative of Scripture when it discusses human beings, made in the image of God, as either male or female, will give us a critical starting point for entering into this discussion.
Scripture is the starting point for how Christians ought to think and live. God’s Word has much to say regarding gender and makes the following especially clear:
- It identifies two (and only two) genders in creation, with no distinction between biological sex (male and female) and gender (being a man or a woman)
- It describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, from which gender confusion results
Scripture identifies two (and only two) genders in creation
We see this plainly when God establishes two genders—male and female—by decree in Genesis 1:27:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
God created men and women specifically for a particular kind of relationship with one another: The covenant of marriage, where the creation of children, leading to the development of both family and society, is a major reason for our sexuality. Sexual activity is connected to humanity’s purpose in life—a purpose that God mentions in Genesis 1:28 to manage the earth and make it a place of bounty and beauty. Creating life is an essential part of this.
But the Genesis story, as the anchor for our understanding of sexuality and gender, doesn’t limit gender differences only to reproduction. Male and female reflect God’s image to the world, and particularly so when a husband and wife join together in marriage. The narrative in Genesis hints at how gender differences profoundly shape humanity and our relationships. When Adam first sees Eve, he speaks of both similarity and difference, and between them a relationship develops where intimacy, transparency, mutual love, and unity grow in a way unlike any other human relationship (Gen 2: 21-25). Eve’s designation as Adam’s “helper” speaks of a relationship of unity and shared purpose (and not, as some erroneously think, that woman is inferior to man).
The importance of gender is not relegated only to marriage, either. A single man or woman also lives out their unique identities and personalities in the context of their malenesss or femaleness. All relationships are structured and enhanced through how we relate to one another as gendered beings.
So, God has established two genders—male and female—generally, in creation. But, we must note that he has also established these genders particularly in the lives of each individual. That is to say, God has assigned one of the two genders to each person at his or her birth. Scripture declares that God has planned out our unique identities, which includes the biological sex with which we were born.
The Psalmist in Psalm 139 says clearly that God designed each person before he or she existed:
- “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)
- “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:15)
- “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 139:16)
God both declares and foreknows the gender he has given to us. Examples of this are found throughout Scripture: Hagar is told she will bear a son who is to be named Ishmael (Genesis 16:11); Abraham and Sarah are told that Sarah will bear a son, and they are to name him Isaac (Genesis 17:19); the angel of the Lord tells Manoah that his barren wife will soon bear a son (Judges 13:3); and Mary receives the startling news, as an unmarried woman, that she would bear a son, Jesus, who would be the Messiah (Luke 1:31).
These key redemptive-historical acts, while they only mention the birth of sons, nevertheless establish the fact that it is God who ordains who we are as either male or female, as either sons or daughters.
Scripture describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, from which gender confusion results
Christians do not live in a perfect, transcendent world; they share in the extensive brokenness of all creation. In the area of sexual behavior, the numerous prohibitions in the Old Testament regarding particular sexual acts is telling. The reason why God had to spell out one sexual prohibition after another was not because he views sex as intrinsically evil (as some think Christian doctrine teaches), but because our fallen, sinful hearts are capable of doing evil even with the good things God has created.
Though God’s order for creation exists in fractured form, it still remains. It still matters that we live according to it. Regarding gender confusion or fluidity, in Deuteronomy 22:5, the Lord tells his people that to live as if you are someone of the opposite gender is sin. For many years, Deuteronomy 22:5 was used as a proof text against transvestitism, but its meaning goes far beyond simply wearing the clothes of the other gender. The verb-object clause used in the verse means to “put on the mantle” of the opposite gender—in other words, to live as though you were of the other gender.
The entire narrative of Scripture, including this passage, proclaims that God created all individuals to be either male or female, and to live as a man or woman in harmony with their physical sex. (As mentioned earlier, special consideration should be given to those who are born with intersex conditions, for they will require difficult decisions that are made for the benefit of the child; but these rare non-binary situations, which some proclaim as evidence of a “third” gender or sex, are evidence that God’s original design is broken and not that he intended multiple forms of gender.)
Gender matters to God, and as his image bearers, it should matter to us as well. To alter one’s birth gender or to live as a member of the other gender is therefore sin—as it is a repudiation of God’s will and intent for the particular creature.
One is reminded of the Lord’s words to his rebellious people in Isaiah 29:16:
You who turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?
To live outside of his design and purpose is to engage in rebellion against him, even if that rebellion is the result of confusion and personal pain. The confusion about gender is the result of our world moving away from an acceptance of God as both creator and ruler. The implications for the individual in distress, and for society as a whole, are enormous. It is right and good and necessary that we proclaim a true view of human personhood and the benefits that come from embracing it.
07 Sep 2016
In our first post in this two-part blog series (insert link), we examined the potential problem of your pastor¹ struggling to 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.
The good boy-who-would-be-pastor, so respectable and humble, was living a double life. Struggling with same-sex attraction and dealing with it in ungodly ways, he didn’t care what anyone thought. What mattered most was finding what he felt he needed. But deep inside he feared greatly what those in the church might think.
What did he fear from the church? From his family? Mainly, he feared their anger and rejection. He had so few relational anchors that he didn’t dare risk these. It would be devastating if he failed in their eyes. So, he was careful to live a flawless life, at least the part they could see. But the pain just kept increasing.
The person above was me, more than 20 years ago, before I sought help at Harvest USA. It took a long time to make that decision. But what might have made me seek help sooner was if my church had said that the body of Christ was a safe place to get help.
I didn’t hear that message. What I heard spoken about sexual sin was that it was the worst kind of sin. That made me more determined not to confess to anyone how desperate and despairing I was, how trapped and hopeless I felt, living in constant fear of exposure.
One major passion we have at Harvest USA is to partner with churches to help sexual strugglers, to help churches become safe places for sexual strugglers. One way to do that is by speaking openly about the reality that everyone struggles to live faithfully in these sin-broken bodies. To say that God is not shocked by our sins, but that he sent his Son to cover our shame, forgive us of our guilt, and begin the amazing grace-fueled process of growing and changing. As the psalmist says, “God is. . . a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1, ESV).
When church leaders admit the truth that Christians struggle with sex, then the church starts the journey toward helping strugglers. It becomes a “one-anothering, we’re in this together” community. As the main article in our Spring 2016 issue of the Harvest USA magazine (“Living Faithfully with our Bodies: It Still Matters, But the Church Must Help”) says, “A healthy church is not one without problems; it’s one where problems are addressed openly, with the gospel.”
The Lord has put us together to walk with one another in learning how to obey him and live lives worthy of him. Not to look good, but rather to be honest about our struggles and sin, while believing the gospel that God loves us in spite of who we are. When we live this way, experiencing his power that works in and through our weaknesses, we grow, we change, and we find increasing freedom to live joyfully.
Harvest USA can help your church learn how to help sexual strugglers. We have developed a great program to help churches do ministry to sexual strugglers. We’d love to partner with your church to do so. Here is a brief description of our Partner Ministries, and how we can help get your church up and running for this kind of vital ministry.