A few years ago a friend told me that in the coming days we would, as leaders in ministry, be challenged in new ways by questions about sexuality and gender. He described what was coming as an issue that was going to be very sensitive, for the simple reason that it will involve ministry to and with divine image-bearers wrestling with questions about sex and gender in light of the fast-emerging cultural narrative. His prediction was correct. Perhaps no issue has been more pressing in our youth ministry world and ministry world in general over the last couple of years. Much has changed.
As with all cultural realities that emerge with the advance of the course of this world and the spirit of the times, Christians are called not to adapt the Word to the cultural moment, but to see, understand, and respond to the cultural moment under the light of God’s Word. Why? Because it is the unchanging authority which serves as a set of corrective lenses, helping us to see how to best love and respond to real flesh-and-blood human beings with grace and truth.
Our current CPYU Faith and Culture cohort took a month to read, watch, discuss, and reflect on our current transgender realities. We watched a compelling and very helpful seminar – “Transgenderism – The Reshaping Of Reality In Our Culture” – that brought together Dr. Kevin DeYoung, a pastoral counselor, and a transitioned/de-transitioned woman who gives deep insights into the personal and cultural issues of the day. We also read a very helpful free download from our friend Peter Lynas in the U.K. – “Transformed: Understanding Transgender In A Changing Culture”.
As I’ve done following all of our cohort discussions, I asked members of the cohort – all youth workers – to scribble some thoughts that I can post for others to see. I hope you will find these helpful. . .
- While I thought that DeYoung’s argument was very good, I had one quibble about his second point, Repression is oppression. I think there is an important distinction between repression and suppression, whereas repression has taken on a more technical nuance to mean a subconscious flight from unwanted impulses / desires / memories, suppression is a conscious decision to reject, turn away from, repent of those impulses, desires, etc. I think Christians can affirm repression as a problem which needs counseling, but suppression as a healthy way of fighting against indwelling sin. When we make that distinction, we can help our non-Christian friends to a) see that we all suppress things that don’t fit with our telos (desserts / gluten / violence) and b) can affirm the importance of therapy for a very real problem of repressed memories, etc. It’s a good apologetic move to notice that distinction.
- Being Human by Barrs and Macaulay was my first introduction to the mind/body dichotomy. On that note, again, having a good anthropology (that we are a spirit-body nexus) helps us to see that Death in the fall is any severing of all levels of that nexus – the spirit departing the body in physical death is the antitype for the male mind rejecting the anatomically male body (or female, etc). In other words, in our therapeutic culture, having the ability to speak to the psychological disorientation students feel through the lens of the fall is helpful.
- I thought this line was dynamite: “You have to convince yourself that this [transgender] is something that you are, not what you feel, because if it is who you are it isn’t a decision.” Kids really need their peculiarities to be who they are. In a world where you can be anything and everything you want (Absolute Autonomy), it is fascinating that, like any good idolatry, choice and decisions are incredibly scary. Keep worshipping at that altar and it will rob every choice from you. – Matthew Beham
As we’ve been having these conversastions about transgendrism as a cohort, I’ve been thinking through broader ministry to families and the conversations we should be pushing parents to have with their children, well before their teen years. We talked about the narrative of Scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration) and how an understanding of God working through history frames how we respond to issues today. Are we equipping our parents to lead their children in these conversations? And are we having these conversations with students in our ministry? As a dad of an almost 2 year old, it is easy to fear what cultural pressures she’ll face as she grows up. How can I prepare her? I think the story of God and His people has to be the most important thing. If she understands the gospel as more than a one-time response she makes as a child, but as a daily repentance and surrendering, maybe she’ll be well equipped later in life.
It can seem like it’s too late to help teens understand this sometimes, like culture has already shaped them. But we can’t give up. They’ll be parents in a few years shaping the next generation of teenagers. Obviously we need to engage the practical conversations on gender and identity etc…but the gospel is the greatest news of all time and informs all of these discussions. – Jeff Travis
Some thoughts regarding the transgender topic. Page 17 of the Transformed document touches on the need to have policies in place in advance. When I participated in the Symposium On Traditional Biblical Sexuality last year (at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), this was perhaps one of my biggest takeaways. If it hasn’t happened already, it’s only a matter of time until situations such as transgender bathroom use, accommodations on a retreat/summer camp, baptism or participating in other sacraments come into play in your ministry settings. Taking the time now, ahead of time, to write out official policy statements at the church level (yes, senior pastors will need to get on board!) that address these types of topics (some may have to be at a larger umbrella level… we can’t necessarily predict each situation) with biblical truth will serve us well in the future. It allows us to write out well-reasoned and grace-filled responses based on Scripture that we can point to when needed. I actually think this approach to the “ideology” helps us show proper grace to the individuals when the time comes. We don’t have to spend our efforts running around scrambling to figure out how to address the particular situation, we can fall back to our official policies and spend time ministering appropriately.
How this looks in each of your ministry settings will look different. Some denominations already have some guidance in place, some policies may be “internal” documents, rather than published documents, they do not all need to look the same. Regardless, I urge you to consider doing the work to write one sooner, rather than later. -Chris Wagner
The book Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey is a great apologetics book covering topics related to sexuality and beyond. Highly recommend.
In relation to transgenderism specifically, I came across this opinion piece this week. It’s written from an non-believer’s perspective, but supports many things we heard in Laura Perry’s story. https://www.newsweek.com/we-need-balance-when-it-comes-gender-dysphoric-kids-i-would-know-opinion-1567277
That I can remember, Parenting with Words of Grace by William P Smith is one of the best books I can think of related to the topic of having healthy grace-filled relationships & conversations with children/teens – conversations where we point them to truth while also listening well, pointing them to grace, and inviting them to a deeper relationship. So I thought of this book because it fits this theme of listening well and creating safe space for students to speak up that has been consistent in our last few cohort conversations. Obviously this book approaches the subject from the perspective of parenting, but the principles are more broadly applicable to our relationships with teens as youth leaders. It’d be a great book to get in the hands of volunteers and parents, too.
One possible “first principle” that occurred to me is our need for authority in our lives. I’ve found that the students who struggle the most to accept the Bible’s teaching on some of the topics we’ve been discussing are students who have adversarial or broken relationships with authority figures in their lives and are thus less likely to trust what they hear from adults, an institution like the church, etc. – Linda Oliver
Thinking through the conversation surrounding not just transsexualism, but also the larger narrative of LGBTQ+ can seem to be overwhelming for many. The reality is that many students are facing much of this conversation head on as they seek to navigate the culture as it happens. The question we as leaders, volunteers, and parents must understand is “how do we lead well and point our student to Jesus?”
Reflecting on this conversation and the sensitive nature of it, it is important to remember that Christ calls us to love others even as we share truth. That doesn’t mean we water down our truth to share love, nor does it mean we simply state truth without thinking about how it could affect someone. Instead we should understand that “there is no dichotomy between truth and love. For the Christian truth is love and love is truth. If you are not being truthful, you are not being loving. And if you are not loving – you are not truthful (Preston Sprinkle).”
As we think through our conversations surrounding this topic, it is so important to go back to the beginning and how God created humankind – male and female. And in going back to the beginning of Scripture it is also important to remember that each person has their own story and have experienced various feelings, leanings, and struggles. As a result, we should always be willing to hear and walk with people who are struggling with this and love them as we point them to Scripture. Relational equity is huge in these conversations because it shows your heart and your conviction to God’s Word in a way that is more helpful. We should be willing to hear someone’s story, point them to God’s design, engage in authentic conversation, and walk with them as they seek to have God’s plan worked out in their life. –Nick Mance
As we discussed this together, I was struck by the need to have a nuanced approach in response to transgenderism. We must be able to separate the agenda from the people. As pastors, we have to labor to understand and call out the lies of an agenda that is driven by telling people to attempt to change their biology in a way that is often harmful and detrimental. We must understand why this has such a powerful appeal in our culture and how the hope of the gospel speaks a better word than the hope of a transformed gender. And we need to train our students to understand how to respond to these lies. At the same time, we must approach individual people who are struggling with great compassion. We need to appreciate the fact that every person’s story is different. This requires us to have a listening, learning, and humble posture to anyone who may share with us that they are struggling with their gender. It’s all to easy for us as pastors to seek to give the “right answers” without listening, asking questions, and first of all understanding the struggle of the individual before us. Our response needs to be guided by both great wisdom and great compassion. – Kyle Kauffman
It is interesting how quickly our culture is changing around the topics of sexuality and gender. This has opened up many opportunities for parents and youth workers to respond by educating and equipping students to think about these topics through the lens of a biblical worldview. One way we can do this is by reminding students that our ultimate authority is God’s Word. Students need to know what God has said and how it applies to their lives. This can allow students to understand the foundational beliefs of Christianity and how they can live out what God has for them in their schools, with their families, and while being with their peers. – Kyle Hoffsmith