26 Oct 2017
Youth pastors have challenging ministries, and that’s an understatement today. I took a phone call from Tom (all names have been changed), a youth pastor at a large, PCA church, and his situation is something churches will be encountering everywhere.
Tom said he had worked hard to build a thriving, discipleship-oriented youth ministry. He solicited many 30-something adult helpers and small group leaders. His ministry emphasis was on biblical education and personal ministry, but he also worked to develop an outreach mindset for the unsaved and outsiders among his kids.
And it was working. The youth group grew. Many un-churched kids regularly attended as a result of being invited by his kids. But one day his outreach approach came close to tearing the entire ministry apart.
What happened? One of the invited kids, Eric, who got very involved in the youth group, announced one day that he was gay. This is where the problem for Tom began.
The kids from church had different responses to Eric’s disclosure, and they fell into three camps. The first camp was, “That’s wrong! He shouldn’t be in the youth group.” The second was, “He should be here. The church is the best place for him to learn about Christ.” And some said, “There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”
All three responses created confusion and turmoil.
And then the parents got wind of it all. Not only were they shocked by the emerging disorder in the youth group, but many of the parents began to learn, for the first time, what their children believed about this issue. And they responded with anger and fear at everything that was happening.
Tom’s phone rang, and his email overflowed. “How did this kid get into the church’s youth group?” asked one dad. One mom gave an ultimatum: “If that boy continues to attend, we’re pulling our sons out.” Another said, “I don’t want that kind of bad influence around my child.”
Some church kids threatened to leave if Eric was asked to leave; others said they would never invite anyone else to come. To top it off, Tom’s staff had different responses. Tom was in no-man’s land, feeling pressure to make the right decision. Clearly, there would be consequences no matter how he handled the situation. Hence his phone call to me!
We must take seriously this awful fact: the culture (not parents, not the church) has become the predominant and authoritative teacher of sexuality for our youth. If youth leaders don’t want to take the initiative to address these issues, they should not be in youth work today.
As issues of sex, sexuality, and gender become the defining identity marker in the culture, it has never been more critical for the church to be educated and equipped. With the church and parents often committed to not speaking about these matters to our kids, most kids make up their minds about sexuality and gay marriage by the age of 12 these days (and it’s getting younger every day). The culture has “discipled” them well. They are listening to the voices on the Internet and media, which they spend hours each day consuming.
Churches need to educate their leaders and volunteers in how to lovingly and compassionately minister to youth, some whom struggle silently with sexual issues from a relatively early age. Parents need to be taught how to talk to their kids, well before an issue explodes and they respond in anger and fear.
Those who are involved in ministry to junior and senior high youth must speak boldly, frequently, compassionately, and truthfully about sex, sexuality, and gender, especially because most kids struggle in their silent formative years when sexual identity is being formed and embraced. We must take seriously this awful fact: the culture (not parents, not the church) has become the predominant and authoritative teacher of sexuality for our youth. If youth leaders don’t want to take the initiative to address these issues, they should not be in youth work today.
Yes, you want 13-year-old Jason to trust you (or his small group leader) to tell you he’s looking at porn on his smartphone. Yes, you want 15-year-old Erica to confide that she’s attracted to other girls, and wants to know, is she gay. You want Sam to tell you he feels he’s another gender. You want these kinds of talks because God has placed you in their lives at this crucial time, while they still live at home and before college. Believe me, once they get to a secular college, there will be plenty of voices saying, “Yes, please come talk to us. We’ll help you figure this out.”
I’m so serious about this I’m going to repeat it: if youth leaders are not willing to engage these issues with the youth under their care, they shouldn’t be involved in youth work today!
HARVEST USA is ready to help your church become educated and proactive in dealing with these matters. We can meet with your church staffs and elder boards to help them strategize and implement how to do 21st-century youth ministry work.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we conclude this blog series on coming out and parental responses, let’s review where we have been. I’ve discussed three things parents should do in responding to this process of coming out.
Part 1: Get to know your child. Love is getting to know your child more deeply and learning the details of how he has wrestled with his sexuality or gender.
Part 2: Reflect on what is in your heart too. Do not neglect all that is happening in your own heart as a result of your child’s situation.
Part 3: Have wisdom in ongoing conversations. Keep track of the good, the bad, and the hard as you seek to display Christ accurately through the relationship you have with your child.
Now we look toward two final things you should do when you discover your child is identifying as gay or transgender. As you consider the road ahead, I want to encourage you to do two things: Set your expectations on loving your child as Christ has loved you, and keep a long-term view in mind.
As Christ has loved you, so love
God has called you to the challenging place of loving your child just as he loves you. Your child’s decision to come out and embrace an unbiblical identity will, of course, be the major issue that causes you pain. But in that, there will be other relational sins that your son or daughter will commit against you that go along with the pursuit of what he or she feels will be ultimately satisfying. I encourage you to make every effort not to count your child’s sins against him. Doing so will cause great harm in your relationship.
Rather, seek in multiple ways to show her the mercy and grace that you have received in Christ. It is important to remember the words of Colossians 1:21: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (NIV). Always remember that God demonstrated his love for you by sending his son as a propitiation for your sins. You were once his enemy, living for yourself and spurning his love and lordship. Not only so, but he continually demonstrates his love, patience, kindness, and compassion towards you every day.
Does this reality shape your love for your child? I find that we often forget that we are broken, sinful people ourselves, in need of his constant grace. If you do not engage your child with this mindset, it will be impossible to love her.
But showing this love will not be easy. The situations you face will not be black and white. For example, you find out your teenage son has had a boyfriend for the past year. How do you respond? Loving your child will entail determining what boundaries you think are appropriate to set with him regarding this relationship, communicating this to him, and standing firm on these limits even when there is resistance. It will also look like disciplining him when he goes beyond the boundaries while still communicating that you recognize his strong desire for this relationship. Voicing your understanding, or asking questions in order to understand, shows compassion for his struggle to obey. This demonstrates how God sets boundaries that are for our good. He disciplines us in love when we rebel and comes alongside us to help in our struggles.
As I mentioned in my second blog, I encourage you to bring others in to help you so that you may receive clarity on how to love your child, given the details of your particular situation. If there is a group of parents who are also going through this (like we have in our parent groups), then it would be ideal to reach out to them. Discerning how to respond to a multitude of situations in ways that display God’s love will require more wisdom than you have within yourself.
Keep a long-term view in mind
Although you don’t want to hear this, I need to say it: You are most likely in for a long journey. This is where you need to set your expectations. Most parents initially set their gaze on the short term, pushing their child to see the right counselor, listen to the right sermon, and read the right book, all in hopes of changing their child’s mind.
If your child feels like a project that needs fixing, he will close himself off and not give you access to what’s really in his heart
Although all these things can certainly be helpful given the right setting, this yields minimal fruit more often than not, especially if your child is resistant. Parents who pull out all the stops to help their son or daughter may find that this does more harm than good, damaging the relationship with their child. This can cause your child to distance herself, close up, and move away from you (emotionally if not physically). If your child feels like a project that needs fixing, she will close off and not give you access to what’s really in her heart.
Part of having the long-term view in mind is understanding that change is slow and, even more importantly, that God’s time frame is not ours. God is ultimately the one who sovereignly works in your child’s life. We all appreciate the success stories of someone coming to Christ and experiencing complete freedom from ingrained sin patterns, but God doesn’t always work that way. A more accurate picture of repentance is a gradual process of turning away from sin and turning to God more and more, usually with many bumps along the way.
Consider the father in Luke 15 who waited for his son to “come to his senses” before finally returning home with a repentant heart. The father was waiting right there to embrace his son, showing him the surprising grace, love, and compassion of our heavenly Father. This will be very challenging to consider that your child may have to experience some form of trial or suffering, like the son in this story, before she changes direction. No parent wants to watch their child go through hardship, but this may be the path God uses to bring her back to himself.
So what does patience and trust in God’s sovereignty look like? It doesn’t make your role passive; rather it allows you to have the patience to look for opportunities to display Christ to your child when those opportunities present themselves over time.
This may look like listening to him when he is in a vulnerable moment, praying with him as he struggles with the usual ups and downs of life, carefully throwing in your thoughts about how only God is ultimately fulfilling when he experiences unfulfillment in his sexual or gender identity or just has a deep unrest in his heart. As in the language of Jeremiah 2:13, his “broken cisterns” will be sure to run dry in the end and never ultimately satisfy. Your relationship with him over time may give you an opportunity to point him to the living water in specific moments of pain and unfulfillment.
Intentionally seeking to love your child as you experience Christ’s love for you, and resting in his sovereignty as you wisely seek opportunities to engage your child’s heart, will enable you to be an instrument in God’s hands. He is the agent of change—not you. In doing so, you will find freedom and peace as you entrust your life and the life of your child into God’s hands.
In Part I and Part II of this four-part blog series, I talked about the experience of a child coming out to his or her parents, and I mentioned two essential things you can do when your child is identifying as gay or transgender:
First, get to know your child. Listen to his or her unique experience, and ask thoughtful questions out of a desire to love and understand them.
Second, reflect on what is in your heart too. Be honest about all that you are experiencing as a result of your child’s decision to come out. Invite God and others to share in the burden of pain and keep the sinful responses of your heart in check.
Now I want to add another useful step to help you to respond to your child in wisdom.
Have wisdom in ongoing conversations
Knowing how to navigate ongoing conversations with your son or daughter over this will be challenging. One thing that will make this more difficult is the likelihood that your child will have bought into how our culture believes truth is arrived at today: by the authority of one’s individual experience rather than viewing oneself and the world through the lens of Scripture. Because your child has been greatly influenced by these worldview beliefs, it will be important for you to use discretion as you engage in conversation with him. You want to avoid throwing Bible passages at your kid over and over again as if this will change his mind. Rather, you want to aim toward engaging your child’s mind and heart by bringing God into the conversation in the context of his real-life circumstances.
Here are three categories of conversations to consider as you engage your child.
You want to avoid throwing Bible passages at your kid over and over again as if this will change his mind. Rather, you want to aim toward engaging your child’s mind and heart by bringing God into the conversation in the context of his real-life circumstances.
Keep track of the good you see in your son or daughter. Affirm your love for your child by celebrating the unique way that God has made her and the strengths and gifts that God has given her. Point it out to her when you witness these gifts at work. Communicate to your daughter if you see something she has done that is praiseworthy.
Don’t be afraid to speak about the good you see! If he did well in his classes, if you enjoyed spending time with him on his visit home, if he talks with you about something on their heart, if he did something caring or thoughtful for another person—share how you appreciate these things, and tell your child that you are proud of him in areas you can sincerely identify.
Here’s the bottom line: Do not reduce your child down to sinful behaviors, allowing her coming-out decision to be the only way you see from here on. Continue to genuinely love her, and say it to her. This is your child! Loving your child in all the ways she has been gifted communicates a gospel perspective: that God sees us even in our sin and rebellion and continues to show his love toward us.
As a parent, it’s okay to affirm and show compassion—doing this does not necessarily communicate agreement with the direction in which your child is going
Ask to be invited into what is hard. Your son or daughter is also going through suffering and hardship as well. Seek to identify what that struggle is and enter into it if your child will let you. This may not be easy to do, especially if your child’s struggle is way beyond your experience.
So begin by looking for things in your child’s life where he shows or expresses pain. Acknowledge the struggle and ask to hear more about it. An example of this could be if you have a son who identifies as a girl and has long felt different from his male peers. You can be sure he has struggled to a great degree with confusion and shame.
It’s appropriate to voice that pain back to him and ask him to help you understand how hard it has been to live with it. As a parent, it’s okay to affirm and show compassion—doing this does not necessarily communicate agreement with the direction in which your child is going. This gives an opportunity to demonstrate and speak to your child about the compassion Christ has for us in our struggles.
Loving your child also means mirroring back what is bad and ultimately destructive to our souls. Again, you do not want to badger your child, but you do want to lovingly display the mirror of God’s truth to her. By taking those opportunities when they arise, you help your child see—even if it’s just a glimpse—when her decisions or behaviors are self-destructive and ultimately self-defeating.
Where are those opportunities to do this? When your child experiences some of the negative consequences of his actions. Perhaps he shut out others in the family who have not affirmed his coming-out decision, so as a result he feels unloved and discriminated against. An appropriate response is to help your child see how the demand to be loved on his own terms will damage relationships in his life.
By mirroring her behavior back to her, you are lovingly keeping her accountable for her actions while helping her see some of the negative consequences of her sin. It may be a temptation to avoid these hard conversations out of fear of damaging your relationship with your child. I know this area of communication is going to be the most difficult to pull off. However, we must not shrink back from telling the truth in love. Doing so demonstrates that God’s love does not allow us to remain in rebellion and sin that is ultimately destructive to us.
In all of these conversational areas, you must recognize that, above all, your son or daughter’s greatest need is to see and experience the love of God and understand his or her fundamental desperation for his saving grace. A relationship with God must be more meaningful to your child than the desire for fulfillment through perceived sexual or gender identity. Repentance is a fruit of being moved by the love of Christ through the gospel. As you have wisdom in ongoing conversations, you can be instrumental in showing the love of Christ for your child more comprehensively in these particular ways.
Coming out. It’s a scary expression for most parents. In my first blog in this four-part series, I emphasized how important it is for parents to get to know their child and their unique experience of their sexuality and/or gender. To genuinely love your child is to know them more fully, even—no, especially—after coming out. As we continue Part 2 of this blog series, I want to focus attention on what is in your heart as a parent in all of this.
Get to know your own heart
When a Christian parent has a child who comes out as gay or transgender, it can be devastating. Emotions swirl; everything from fear, despair, anger, regret, grief, and more can be part of that experience after the coming out. The experience can hit like news of a sudden death in the family, leaving you shocked and disoriented.
As time progresses, parents can also experience mourning. The loss of the hopes and dreams they had for their child can be intensely painful. They fear the worst as they consider what the future holds for them.
Those who have walked this road a little longer know that the severity of those emotions tends to lessen over time but can still rise to the surface at any given moment. A random Facebook post or picture pops up on their profile; a text conversation with your son feels cold or distant; a friend boasts to you about their daughter’s pregnancy, and the pain and resentment come sweeping back in like a stiff winter wind.
What do you do with all these feelings? I encourage you to be honest. Honest about everything you are experiencing. To get the care and support you need, it will only begin when you honestly face—and talk about—what you are going through.
This can be very hard to do. To reach out to others for help means working through the shame you feel, much of it caused by how you think others will think about you and your family.
But God does not intend for you to carry this burden on your own. He desires to comfort your pain, speak to your fears, and remind you that he is your rock, shield, and fortress in the midst of this great storm. Just as Proverbs 30:5 testifies—“every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (ESV)—let me strongly encourage you to talk to him first. You need to pray and share with him how you are feeling, and invite him to speak in return through the Scriptures.
And in this conversation you will be having with God, you’ll discover his desire is that you be honest not only with him but that you invite others in to share this burden. It’s never just about you and God; it’s about you and God and his people. It’s about how the church community, in particular, comes alongside us in our pain and guides us toward him.
If you are honest, you know your heart can respond in sinful and damaging ways to your child, to others, and yourself.
You can damage your relationship with your child by responding to them frequently in anger following their disclosure. Instead of sharing your sadness with them regarding their newly declared direction, you can find yourself responding to them in anger while you attempt to reason with them. Every time you see them, you have another lecture to give them. This will just drive them away from you and from further opportunities to speak biblically into their life. Any love you do have for them will be lost in the tension that now exists between the two of you.
You can also damage yourself and others with these attitudes and behavior. You can fool yourself by displaying negative attitudes and behaviors toward your child while thinking you are following God faithfully.
But God’s call to all of us is to love even while we are hurting and in pain. When we aren’t doing this, we don’t see how cold and hard our hearts are becoming, until one day we realize how bitter we are toward God for not giving us the child we worked so hard to raise.
All these actions are motivated by a heart that is desperate to control what seems like an out-of-control situation, rather than to be guided by the mystery and uncertainty of how the Spirit does his work.
I encourage you to consider these questions individually and/or with your spouse, as a way to reflect on where your heart is in all of this:
- Do you have someone who knows what’s really going on (a friend, pastor, or church member)?
- Who is one person you could trust to a greater extent by sharing the daily struggles you face with your child?
- Have you asked others to pray for you and your child?
- Has this situation revealed areas of sin in your own heart?
- How can your struggle bring you to pray in more meaningful ways by inviting God to heal your pain and control your heart’s sinful responses?
You must not neglect all that is happening in your heart, for as Jesus said in Luke 6:45, from the overflow of your heart your mouth will speak. We all need help from God and others to process the pain we experience.
Coming out. It’s a scary expression for most parents. It is a far too common experience today for a parent to discover their child is identifying as gay. Teens and young adult children suddenly coming out as transgender is also a growing occurrence in Christian families.
News like this is a very difficult thing for parents to navigate when they hold to biblical convictions of sex, sexuality, and gender. It is hard to know what to do when you are thinking of how to love your child while moving them towards walking in the truth of the gospel. At this point, most parents want to do just about anything to keep their kid on the right path after hearing this news. Their approach to their child can swing in wildly opposite directions.
On one end, parents may try to argue with their child to no end about their decision to come out, seeking to convince them of how misguided they are, and use everything in their power to change them. On the other end, parents may seek to keep things light and superficial in hopes to not ruffle feathers or push them away and hurt the relationship. They refrain from bringing this issue up altogether. Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum, this is a very hard journey to walk.
Wanting your child to turn back from what they are considering is what your heart and emotions scream for, but as it stands now, you have some important work to do—work that is smack in the middle of these two opposite poles.
And the work you need to do… should be directed toward keeping your relationship open with your child. That’s the only way you will still have a voice in their life.
And the work you need to do—as much as it depends on you, as Romans 12:18 says—should be directed toward keeping your relationship open with your child. That’s the only way you will still have a voice in their life. And working to stay connected is still the way to show them how much you love and care for them.
So, I want to give you five things you can do that will help this situation. Five things that won’t guarantee your child will change, but that can be used by God to stir up his or her heart.
Get to know your child
Here’s the first one. Whether your child is 14 years old or 24 years old, you need to get to know your child’s unique life experience and what has led to their decision to identify this way. When someone first comes out as gay or transgender, they most likely have been wrestling with these thoughts for years. There was an interior life that you were not part of, and now one of the most significant ways you can know and show love to your child is by listening to their story.
Here are some sample questions you can use to help you get this important (and yes, scary!) conversation started:
- When did these feelings of (same-sex attraction) begin? Or, when did you start to feel that you were a boy (or girl)? What made you feel that way? (As much as possible, move toward getting specific here, but don’t push too hard at the beginning—this will be a difficult conversation for both of you.)
- What was it like to grow up in our Christian home and struggle with these thoughts and desires?
- How did you feel sitting in our church and struggling all this time in isolation? What were you thinking when you were feeling so alone?
- Why did you feel like you could not come to us when you knew you felt attracted to people of the same sex (or feeling like you were in the wrong body?) Why? What was one thing that kept you silent?
- How do you envision yourself living out your sexuality (or gender) from here on? What do you want your life to look like?
- How do you see this decision to come out and identify as gay or transgender as being OK for a Christian?
- How do you want our relationship to be now that this is in the open?
These questions are by no means meant for interrogation (although that may be a temptation). I encourage you to sincerely desire to know your son or daughter’s experience, not as a means to “fix” them, but out of a desire to love and know them more fully. It’s never too late to have these conversations, even if you are farther out from their initial disclosure.
This discussion (or series of talks) may be an opportunity to strengthen your relationship by talking about past relational hurts or experiences that have impacted your child. It may also present opportunities for you to speak truth to them in a way that they can be open to receive it. You might just be surprised by what they share.
Some of your students are sitting in deep darkness, suffering deeply for horrendous sins committed against them. Sexual abuse can bring pain and suffering to students for the rest of their lives, entrapping them in a dark prison of isolation and shame. The church must be a body that can bring light and freedom to dark places, walking alongside the sexually abused and helping to remove the guilt and shame students feel through the freeing power of the gospel. What are some initial steps in caring for these sufferers in our midst?
It might seem trite, but these issues are far above even the most experienced minister. We need Divine help, and our students need Divine help. Always be praying for your students who have experienced sexual abuse, even if you don’t know who they might be. Pray that they would be able to voice what has happened to them and find strong Christians who can counsel and disciple them in their suffering. Pray that they would recognize how the gospel speaks to their pain and abuse. And pray that you would be a safe person to talk to and that your community would be a safe place of healing for those who have experienced this trauma.
2) Develop a Ministry Vocabulary
Sexual abuse robs people of their voice. Just mentioning sexual abuse in a large-group talk as a form of suffering that Christians experience can be an initial step of healing for your students and can begin to put words back into the mouths of the abused. Hearing a leader speak about such dark sufferings can be a significant step in helping abused students know that you are aware of them and that they can, indeed, put words to the atrocities committed against them.
If you ever have specific times a year when you are talking about sexual issues, it’s also important that sexual abuse is discussed. The big topics like porn, making out, dating, or premarital sex can easily eclipse the topic of sexual abuse. To bring up this subject can provide a measure of free space for abused students to open up.
In other words, does your student ministry have a vocabulary for sexual abuse? Do your students know that you have sexual abuse victims on your radar? Are you helping to give voice to their silent suffering?
3) Encourage the Voice of Your Students
It takes an immense amount of bravery and courage for a student to speak about the sexual abuse he or she has experienced. For a student to share, you first have to have a community and culture where you encourage and facilitate suffering students to share about their suffering. Think and pray about how you can develop this culture of sharing through what you say and how you respond to what students disclose to you. Creating this kind of culture takes time and intentionality. One excellent ministry to gain knowledge about doing this is G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), at www.netgrace.org.
Furthermore, our students must hear from trusted leaders that abuse is not a sin the victim has committed; they must know that Jesus does not require them to answer for the crimes committed against them. They must know that He is a compassionate and loving Savior, who, by His Spirit, can work healing into the guilt and shame they might feel.
Students must hear that they can and should speak out about any abuse they’ve experienced, so more of the isolating prison walls of shame can come down. Perhaps when you talk about sexual abuse, encourage students to talk to a same-gender leader about their experiences, and know a good counselor in town or in the church community to whom you can refer them.
4) Protect Your Students
It remains tragically true that Christians (and even Christian students) are committing sexual violence against one another. But our community should have no room for sexual abuse. How can we go about protecting our students? This can start with having appropriate boundaries for volunteers and staff to meet with students (check out our post on one-to-one discipleship: here). These three boundaries can serve as a beginning point:
- Students should never ride alone with a staff member or volunteer.
- All meetings between staff, volunteers, and students are to happen in highly visible, public places.
- There should never be a male volunteer or staff meeting with a female student, and visa versa.
It’s good to develop both a plan for preemptive protection of students and for when that protection is violated. Your ministries and churches need to have clear guidelines, and your staff and volunteers need to be trained rigorously about your policies.
5) Know the laws
Know your church’s protocol and who you should talk to within your church about a case of abuse. Protecting your students from sexual abuse also means knowing the laws about mandated reporting. This also includes taking every hint seriously. If a student says something that’s a little concerning, don’t brush it aside. Follow up with the student and ask good questions. Too many times victims might give clues around us, and too many times we let them pass by us and think nothing more of them. The short of it is this: your staff must be trained in the laws of mandated reporting.
6) Educate yourself
Lastly, if you want resources to help you begin to care for your students, check out Justin and Lindsay Holcomb’s book Rid of My Disgrace and On the Threshold of Hope by Diane Langberg. Healing from sexual abuse starts with speaking to the darkness and helping others come into the light. May God protect us, our students, and our ministries from this grave darkness, and may students who have been abused find in Christ healing light, hope, and strength.
19 Oct 2016
“Is it OK for my son to play dress-up like a princess and dance like a girl?” asked Bob, a father, after one of our parenting seminars. Bob, who had the look of a former college athlete, and his wife were concerned for their five-year-old boy and some of his behaviors. At the same time, Bob didn’t want to squash his personality or crush his son’s spirit. He also worried that his son might be bullied because he did not fit into cultural stereotypes.
Here are the two points of advice I gave these parents:
Affirm and Validate
True gender differences and gender roles come from God our Creator. But every culture expects certain stereotypical behaviors from boys and girls, men and women. The problem with this is that, since Genesis 3, every culture’s ideas on gender contain fallen elements. So, before we guide our sons away from certain behaviors that our culture deems unacceptable, we have to ask if a clear, biblical line is really being crossed.
All our little guys, whether or not they present any gender atypical behaviors, need us to envelop them in love and affirmation. We need to affirm them first of all for who they are. They need to hear, “I’m so glad God sent you to us,” and “I love you!” before we affirm what they do by saying, “You’re great at ________,” or “I’m glad you do ___________.”
Oftentimes parents are worried when their sons have different temperaments, talents, and interests that are not stereotypical for boys. Dads need to honestly deal with the idol of having a son just like them — a chip off the old block. Therefore, affirm and validate to your son that his personality and gifts are from God. Tell your son that God will raise him up to bless the world and build up His Kingdom through his unique giftings.
Dad, whatever you’re into, from football, baseball, basketball, or anything from NASCAR and monster trucks to investing stocks and the golf channel, you’ve got to let “it” go as a must for your son. Instead, find out what your child’s personality, gifts, and passions are, then support them, develop them, and cultivate an appreciation of them. This means that a godly football coach whose son loves art, dance, and drama needs to supportively show up for recitals or performances, appreciate the inner complexities of his son’s fine art with him, and celebrate his efforts and successes.
Protect and Guide
Bob and his wife have an idea of their young son’s personality but not a clear sense of his giftings and passions yet. Dads like Bob fear that other boys may bully their sons when they see their gender atypical behavior. And this is a very valid concern.
We have to protect our little boys, and that means having our radar up for bullying and shaming. So we have to be engaged, observant, and step in to stop verbal or physical abuse by other boys. And yet we must beware of a “helicopter parent’s” tendencies to overprotect.
The way to protect your son from being bullied is not to isolate him from other boys and boyish activities. This is where gentle guidance comes in. We want to help our little guys find safe ways to integrate into the world of boys, which eventually becomes a world of men.
With my son, we’ve tried most of the major sports, dabbled in some martial arts, put him in a choir, started trumpet lessons, and tried some art classes. At nine, we are still discerning his top gifts and cultivating his passions. Try and sample lots of boy-related as well as general kids’ activities, but be wary of demanding or requiring your son to remain in an activity he doesn’t like or stay in a setting in which he does not feel safe.
Now, remember, Bob had a specific question about dress-up and dancing. And in helping your son grow up, there are times when you need to gently guide and redirect his behaviors and help reshape some of his attitudes. My son held my hand and clung to me like glue when I first started taking him to Cub Scouts. He was probably feeling overwhelmed and anxious in a loud, crowded place. But, like Bob, I didn’t want him to be the brunt of ridicule.
I started to gently break his habit of holding my hand and hanging back when we went to Scouts. I simply said, “Guys don’t usually hold their dad’s hand all the time unless they are in a dangerous place.” I would even leave the room to go to the water fountain so that he had interact with the boys. He is more reserved and less rambunctious than some of the other boys, but eventually he found his place, figured out some social cues, and began to enjoy the loud, large group meetings.
Note that I didn’t shame my son with any “Man up!” commands. I did not say, “A real man doesn’t ______” to ‘toughen him up’. When a dad says, “We guys do _____ or don’t ______,” we are guiding and redirecting rather than isolating and shunning. This way we can help our sons feel like they’re on our team and that they belong in our tribe of men.
As parents, and especially dads, we need to pray for wisdom in raising little guys up to be men who follow Christ, our savior and ultimate model for manhood.
02 Sep 2016
We are getting an increasing number of requests from parents, pastors, friends and others in the the church for good, biblically-sound resources to help understand and address issues of transgenderism. There’s a lot of good stuff scattered around the web, and on our sister website at www.harvestusa.org, we’re trying to collect some of them into a Resource Page: http://www.harvestusa.org/transgenderism-resources/
The Resource Page is being updated as Harvest USA staff come across more articles, sermons, blog posts, etc. that we believe are helpful from a gospel perspective. So check back from time to time. Just click the link to the page above. We hope what we have gathered will help you think biblically and compassionately about how to love those struggling with their gender.
15 Aug 2016
It was another phone call from a pastor asking what to do. A woman in his church, married, is beginning to look like a man. Over several months it has increasingly become clear that something significant is happening. But neither the woman nor her husband has come forward asking for advice or help. No one has said anything. But the silence obviously cannot remain. People are talking… transgenderism? What should this pastor do?
For a church to help someone with gender dysphoria is first to see the person in distress. When we get down to the level of the individual, this becomes not a cultural battleground, but a person who is struggling. Yes, our culture has made transgenderism the issue du jour by its insistence that gender is not connected to one’s sexual anatomy at birth, but rather what someone feels they are. Gender identity politics has become the latest cultural battleground. In an increasingly secular culture, sexual freedom is sacred ground.
But if someone in your church is silently struggling with what gender they feel they are, we need more than promoting adherence to Genesis 1 and 2 to set him or her straight. Yes, good biblical teaching is necessary. We must not abandon the anchor position of Scripture, that God created humanity in two genders, male and female, and those genders are, in fact, who we are, and living out our given maleness and femaleness is an essential part of what it means to be human.
Nevertheless, we also live in a Genesis 3 world.
A world that is broken at its core, resembling God’s original design, but increasingly showing deep cracks and fissures in how God’s image bearers live and reflect his image. Men and women have struggled with their sexuality and gender for countless ages, so this isn’t anything new. What’s new is the forceful demandingness of an anything-goes sexuality-and-gender culture, with its message that there is no inherent order or design in who we are and how we should live. The only order and design is the one I create.
But while the culture insists that how one lives is entirely up to the individual, there will be those in your church who are not trying to be rebellious here. Rather, they are confused, lonely, and despairing strugglers trying to make sense of their pain. The distress they feel is real. And for many, the message the world gives seems more hopeful, and so they embrace the post-Christian (really, post-Fall) message of radical individuality.
For this pastor and his church, continued silence is not a godly option. There is no compassion to say or do nothing when someone in the church is living in ways that contradict God’s design for being a congruent-gendered person.
But speaking a biblical message on sexuality and gender to a man or a woman who has come to despise their biological sexual identity is a difficult matter. We must combine wise words with our loving presence. Good teaching is rarely, if ever, the sole factor that moves someone in the right direction. Our words and our loving presence with them are what they need.
So what is our advice to what this pastor could say to this woman? How does he speak a message into her life that might give her hope? Maybe enough hope for a future that would allow her more time to choose to slow down and hopefully reverse the transition process she seems to be pursuing. More time to begin to understand, perhaps for the first time, the biblical categories of male and female that God has chosen for us to live within.
What “alternative script” of biblical truth, in stark contrast to the world’s message, can we give to her? Here are four basic principles:
Affirm and recognize the struggle
Affirm the likelihood that this struggle has been going on for some time. Recognize that this is not a superficial struggle and that the person is trying to make sense of what they experience. Ask good questions so that you can begin to grasp what this struggle is like, and why this person feels so strongly that she needs to transition to the opposite gender.
Seek to be involved as much as possible
Communicate the reality that deep, persistent struggles grow stronger when we deal with them in isolation. As a professing believer (or better yet, a member of the church), ask if they would allow you to keep speaking into their life about this. To hear further about their struggle, but also to allow you to speak about a biblical position on gender and sexuality. An appeal to Scripture’s call to be one body, Christ’s, where brothers and sisters assist one another in the daily struggles of life, should be a constant refrain.
Help them to grasp that our lives, and even our bodies, first belong to God
Believers in Christ have a much deeper foundation for their identity/personhood than those who do not follow him. Whom we belong to is a deeper, more foundational question than the one the world asks: How do I be myself, or how do I find freedom (from my distress or situation in life)?
Some life-situations are chronic, persistent, and some will not end in this life (like many chronic disability circumstances). Finding healing or freedom from struggles is not a wrong thing to do, unless it violates God’s design and purpose expressed in Scripture. Then, a Christian is called to persevere faithfully in the struggle, to discover that God’s grace gives meaning and purpose, along with daily strength, to live and grow in and through it (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
Call them to bring God into the heart of the situation
Too often, obeying Scripture is made to feel like obeying a set of rules. But following Christ is a life-affirming direction, even when we must turn from those things that promise a fix or a solution (Mark 10:27-31). One important thing to stress is that all our decisions, even the smallest ones, will either strengthen our resolve to follow Christ or weaken it. Lovingly communicate the importance of pursuing obedience in Christ, with whatever means are available (counseling, listening to stories from others, teaching them good theology, prayer, etc.). In doing so, you will help them learn to accept and grow into the gender God gave them. And if they are willing, walk with them for as long as it takes, through all the successes and failures that will most likely be a part of their journey.
The narrative today about this issue is that the struggle is biological and/or psychological. Putting aside legitimate intersex complications for some, what is noticeably missing is a discussion of how spiritual issues are also at the heart of a person’s struggle.
Bringing God into the heart of the situation can do two things: it legitimizes the person’s real distress with their inability to align their physical and psychological selves, and also injects another not-to-be-ignored dynamic: that the person’s distress has an additional element of struggle to it, that to go against God’s design and purpose does bring about increasing confusion and pain. Following God’s design may not be the easiest path to walk (particularly when the world shouts another message), but in the long run it draws us to him, to the One who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
There’s a whole lot more to say and do here with this person. But starting out this way might better open doors to effectively help a struggler seek God’s help and grow into being who God has called them to be.
For additional resources go to our Transgenderism: Resources page.
05 Aug 2016
In the first post in this blog series, “Transgenderism: A Truth and Mercy Response: Part 1“, we looked at what is meant by gender, specifically how the post-Christian culture views it. Gender is now seen as being divorced from one’s biological sex; that how one views oneself as either male or female (or neither or both!) is based on one’s feelings and self-perceptions. Therefore gender is fluid, changeable, and virtually limitless.
What Does Scripture Say About Gender?
With that said, what does Scripture say about gender? In short, it says lots. Perhaps more than you might think. In this post we’ll examine two key points:
- Scripture identifies two (and only two) genders in creation.
- Scripture describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, and gender confusion results from that.
Scripture identifies two (and only two) genders in creation.
We see this plainly when God establishes two genders—male and female—by decree in Genesis 1:27:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Male and female in God’s creation are created for a particular kind of relationship with one another: a covenant relationship of marriage where a major reason for sexual expression is the creation of children, leading to the development of both family and society. Sexual activity is connected to humanity’s purpose in life—a purpose that God mentions in 1:28: to manage the earth and make it a place of bounty and beauty. Creating life is an essential part of this.
But the Genesis story, in being the anchor for our understanding of sexuality and gender, doesn’t limit gender differences at reproduction. Male and female reflect God’s image to the world, and particularly so when a husband and wife join together in marriage. The narrative in Genesis gives profound hints of how gender differences contribute to a deeper shaping of humanity. Adam’s exclamation when he first sees Eve speaks of both similarity and difference, and between them there grows a relationship where intimacy, transparency, mutual love and unity grow in a way unlike any other human relationship (Gen 2: 21-25). And Eve’s designation as “helper” to Adam speaks of a relationship of unity and shared purpose (and not, as some erroneously think, that woman is inferior to man).
Gender differences are not relegated to marriage, either. Living out one’s life as either male or female, as a single person, will also display God’s unique design (more on the complexity of gender roles will follow in another blog post).
In stark contrast to our culture’s mantra that gender is fluid and determined by the will and wishes of the individual, God declares that who we are individually grows out of the biological sex given to us at birth.
So, God has established two genders—male and female—generally, in creation. But, we must note that he has also established these genders particularly in the lives of particular individuals. That is to say, God has assigned one of the two genders to each at his or her birth. Biological sex should be the anchor of gender identity for any individual, not the modern psychological concept of gender. Scripture declares that God has planned out who we are, and that includes the biological sex we were born with.
The Psalmist in Psalm 139 says clearly that God established the form and personality of each person before that individual existed:
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)
“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:15)
“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 139:16)
God both declares and foreknows the gender he has given to us. Examples of this are found throughout Scripture: Hagar is told she will bear a son and is to name him Ishmael (Genesis 16:11); Abraham and Sarah are told that Sarah will bear a son, and they are to name him Isaac (Genesis 17:19); the angel of the Lord tells Manoah that his barren wife will soon bear a son (Judges 13:3); and Mary receives the startling news, as an unmarried woman, that she would bear a son, Jesus, who would be the Messiah (Luke 1:31).
These key redemptive-historical acts, while they only mention the birth of sons, nevertheless establish the fact that God ordains who we are as both male and female, as both sons or daughters.
Scripture describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, and gender confusion results from that.
Christians do not live in a make-believe world; they share in the brokenness of all of creation. That brokenness is extensive. In the area of human sexuality, the numerous prohibitions in the Old Testament regarding particular sexual activity is telling. The reason why God had to spell out one sexual prohibition after another was not that he declares sex as intrinsically evil (as some think Christian doctrine teaches), but because our fallen, sinful hearts are capable of doing evil with the good things God has created.
The order in which the world was created still remains, though it exists in fractured form. Regarding gender confusion or fluidity, in Deuteronomy 22:5, the Lord tells his people that to live as if you are someone of the opposite gender is sin. For many years, Deuteronomy 22:5 was used as a proof text against transvestitism, but its meaning goes far beyond simply wearing the clothes of the other gender. The verb-object clause used in the verse means to “put on the mantle” of the opposite gender—in other words, to live as though you were of the other gender.
This law principle is the same as the other laws God has given to us. That is, to live outside of his design and purpose is to engage in rebellion against him, even if that rebellion is the result of confusion and personal pain.
The “facts” of non-binary gender states, which some proclaim as evidence of a “third” gender or sex, is merely evidence that God’s original design is broken. In these rare cases of sexual development disorders, difficult medical and personal decisions need to be made. There should always be compassion given in these situations. But these disorders do not constitute evidence that there is more than male and female to humanity.
The confusion about gender that is sweeping through our culture is the result of numerous personal and societal issues, and the help these people need is not encouragement to undergo gender change but to learn to live within God’s design. Following his design is always a path toward growth and health. Not doing so leads to further brokenness.
For additional information and resources go to Harvest USA’s Transgenderism: Resources Page.