Gender, Confusion, and Conversation, Part 2

confusionYOU are an image-bearer. Have you ever paused to consider this weighty theological truth?  Men and women have been given the most profound honor in all of creation: we are created to bear the image of God. We bear God’s image—who He is and how He interacts with the world—in our spirits, souls, and in our bodies as male and female. The enemy is working hard to remove God’s image from the earth by bringing about much confusion regarding gender and sexuality. As image-bearers, we have the privilege of speaking truth into this confusion. We can also take life-giving steps to bless and affirm the God-given gender identity of the children and teenagers in our spheres of influence.

Message #1: Gender is a Social Construct

In order to have life-giving conversations, it is helpful to understand a little of the world’s thinking. We interact with it every day. Overall, the world is communicating three messages. First, gender is a social construct. In other words, gender is a concept created and constructed by people. This philosophy is nothing new. It has been taught in women’s studies courses for decades, but it is now emphasized among mainstream educators and taught as early as kindergarten.

Message #2: Gender is Based on Feelings

Second, the world says that gender is based on feelings, interests, and passions and is defined by each individual. Thus, we have people who identify as “transgender.” Their thoughts, feelings, and interests are classified according to what has historically been assigned to the “other” gender, not the one associated with their physical bodies.  It’s also a perfect confluence of self-determination and post-modern thinking. There is no objective truth—my truth is my truth, and your truth is your truth. Each of us creates that truth on our own, including the truth about our own gender. As a result, there are now 57 genders to choose from on Facebook in the United States.

Disconnected

Much of our culture is working with the misguided idea that gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual attraction are all independent parts of a person’s makeup. These different areas of a person’s life are all considered to be completely separate from one another. They are based on feelings and completely changeable from day to day. This means that every day, people are choosing whether they feel feminine or masculine. They are deciding how much cultural femininity or masculinity they want to express through clothes, hairstyle, etc. They are selecting how much of their physical female-ness or male-ness they want to exhibit, and whether they sense attraction to men or women.

Message #3: Gender Doesn’t Matter

Third, the world says gender ultimately doesn’t matter. In the end, men and women are interchangeable. There is no difference between the two. The ultimate goal of this line of thinking is androgyny, a world where humans are indistinguishable from one another. Distinction is removed, and the two meld into one. Thus, we have people identifying as “gender fluid” or “queer,” believing that they don’t belong to either gender.

The Truth of God’s Design

The truth, in contrast, is that gender is created by God, gender is defined by God, and distinction between men and women-and unity within marriage-are an intentional act of God.  We believe that God reveals and imparts our complete identity to us at the moment of creation through our embodiment as man or woman. The creation and definition of our identity rests in God’s design, not ours. When a man and woman are united in marriage, the ultimate goal of unity with distinction is shown to the world: two become one, while still remaining two.

Navigating the Chaos

Bottom line, the world’s thinking is rooted in contradiction and chaos. The world is trying to make sense of feelings and experiences while rejecting the truth of God’s design and revelation. Our children and teenagers are encountering this contradiction and chaos daily. Now as a parent of teenagers myself, the topic of gender comes up nearly every day. I am often corrected on the particular pronouns of choice by my daughter’s friends. “Mom, that person is a ‘they’.” Another friend chooses the pronoun “he” when “his” body is definitely a she. While God imparts our gender identity at creation, we also must embrace and grow into that given identity. As parents and mature adults, we can help children and teenagers in our sphere of influence do the same.

Connect Children with Their Bodies

The following tools can help build a solid foundation of blessing and affirming their God-given gender identity. First, within the context of family, we can connect children with their bodies. We can connect children with their male-ness or female-ness. Intentionally call them “son” or “daughter” and “boy” or “girl.” Teach children about their bodies and help them see how their bodies are called good by God. Teach the correct names for body parts and how to protect their bodies from misuse and abuse. This first may require overcoming our own shame about our bodies.

Encourage children to understand how their particular body works, what it does well, what it needs more help doing. Remind boys that their body is distinctive and different from a girl’s and how to take care of all the parts of their body. Remind girls that their body is distinctive and different from a boy’s and how to care for their unique body. Most of all, make your family the place children learn about their bodies. Then when they have questions, they know they can come to moms and dads to ask those questions.

Connect Children with Biblical Gender

Second, we connect children with biblical gender, with special focus on the gender that gives them identity. That is, we help all children do masculine things and express feminine traits. We also make sure boys find connection and identity in the true masculine while helping girls find connection and identity in the true feminine. Families are the first place this type of connection is formed. However, the church family and friends also participate in this connection-building.

Affirming Boys

Help boys find connection to the true masculine. Encourage and affirm them in their strength of character, their willingness to stand up for the truth of God’s Word, and their reaching out to others in relationship. Remind them they are “men of God” and name them as “sons of God.”  Make sure to build up this connection without diminishing their capacity to express the true feminine.

For example, when a young man plays a beautiful piano piece for the offering at church, thank him afterward for the strength of his playing. When a sensitive young man in youth group expresses grief over injustice at his school, commend him for calling out the truth of the situation and his desire to protect those who are vulnerable.

Affirming Girls

Help girls find connection to the true feminine. Encourage and affirm their ability to be at peace in the midst of tough times, their willingness to receive the truth of God’s Word into their hearts, and their capacity to live without anxiety about relationships. Name them “daughters of God” and remind them they are “women of God.” Build the connection without diminishing their ability to express the true masculine.

For example, when a young woman comes to church dressed in an androgynous style, compliment the beauty of her spirit and the tenderness of her dealings with others. When you notice a young woman speaking up regularly in Bible Study, commend her for her willingness to receive the truth of God’s Word in her heart. In all these situations, we build up people’s connection to their gender identity, while still allowing them to express characteristics of the other as they grow into full image-bearers.

Connect Children with Distinctions

Third, we encourage and affirm distinctions that arise from the differences between men and women. Take notice and talk about the different ways men and women think, feel, and behave because of their embodiments as male and female. Be aware of our cultural biases here, however. It can be helpful for children to find connection to things that fall into a cultural norm to encourage a sense of belonging, but we must avoid extremism. Toys, activities, clothes, hairstyles, and interests don’t inherently have gender, even though our culture often associates these things with a particular gender. Girls can like sports, and boys can like music without it meaning anything about their gender or sexual identity. Still, girls will do sports differently than boys; boys will do music differently than girls.

Continuing the Conversation

These tools can provide an environment that affirms children in identity and reduces the risk of confusion. They are, unfortunately, not a guarantee. As parents, we strive to fill our children’s hearts with the truth of God. We help them learn to nurture that truth, protecting it from interference from the world until it can bear fruit. We connect to a church body that helps continue this process, helping us teach and train our children in the truth of God’s Word. However, at some point, we all have to let our children move out from under our protection to protect and nurture the truth themselves. As our children mature, they are ultimately responsible for their own relationship with God and their own understanding of God’s Word. We continue to have ongoing, life-giving conversations with our children even after this point. We encourage a biblical understanding of gender and identity, directing them always to God’s design for their lives.

Our world is slipping further and further into gender and sexual confusion. It is now even more important that we have a grasp on what the world is thinking and understand God’s design for us as men and women. Within our families and churches, we must bless and affirm biblical gender and have ongoing, life-giving conversations about gender and sexuality. We need to have discussions about what it means to be God’s image-bearers in the world. These conversations will equip us and our children to have life-giving conversations with those in our communities. Our children are image-bearers of God. Let us as parents and the Body of Christ strive to impart this understanding into their hearts. May fully live as God has designed them, each one.

This article is the second in a three-part series. Part 1 covers biblical gender; Part 2 addresses gender confusion and ways to have life-giving conversations within families and churches. Part 3 covers how to have life-giving conversations with friends and individuals in your communities.

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The Road of Faith and Manhood

Basketball Under WaterI was born to parents who were high school teachers who genuinely loved me and imparted good qualities to my sister and me. Our family attended a Presbyterian church for a while, but it was never a big part of our lives. Little by little, we found other things to do on Sunday mornings.

Even though our family lived apart from God, He amazingly pursued me in my childhood. When I was eight years old, I had a dream about Jesus. The dream had a big effect on me, and I told others about it. Billy Graham Crusades, televised during prime time, also impacted me. I learned the sinners’ prayer and prayed it daily.

Broken Reality

When I was 13, life and the forces of darkness took their toll on our family. I was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer and wasn’t expected to survive. Eight months of nauseating chemotherapy and radiation followed. But thankfully God brought me through it, though I lost my right leg through the ordeal.

Also around that time, family problems began to surface. Suddenly we were dealing with fractured relationships and hidden sin. Without the Lord in our lives, none of us knew how to handle it. Wounds and brokenness resulted. (Side note: Outpost’s Living Waters program was a great help to me in processing and praying through wounds from the past.)

Searching for Truth

Having survived cancer and junior high school (not sure which was worse!), I really began searching for truth. In high school, I took lessons in eastern meditation. But my journey to Christ began in the most unlikely place—the local movie theater. Two friends and I went to see The Omen, a Hollywood horror flick based on the emergence of the anti-Christ. We talked into the night about the Bible, even though none of us knew much about it.

Soon after, my friend Mark and I began attending a series on the book of Revelation at a local church. Stories from Revelation left me more afraid than The Omen did. Jesus is coming back, judgment day is approaching, and I knew I wasn’t ready.

Opening the Door

In college, I really started seeking a relationship with Christ but didn’t understand that it began by faith. This difficult season came to a sudden and joyful end when two Christians knocked on my dorm room door sharing a gospel tract. I invited Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior on February 22, 1978.

Wonderful days followed, as I was translated from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God. My life had been turned right-side up, and I was all in. The Lord brought two men into my life to disciple me, and I was baptized that summer.

Off the Rails

Naturally, I thought my same-sex attraction would go away now that I was a Christian. I was wrong. Rather, it was like holding a basketball under water. My gender identity had gone off the rails when I was an early teen, and it was still off the rails. Becoming a Christian didn’t fix it. As author Alan Medinger has said, I had undeveloped masculinity, and the only solution, was, well, development. I needed to resume my journey into manhood.

Same-sex attraction might seem horrible and undesirable to some, but as Proverbs 27:7 says, “to one who is hungry, everything bitter is sweet.”  I longed for manhood—my own manhood, really—and, eventually, the longing became sexual.

After college, I moved to the big city and lived near downtown. Soon, I discovered all of the places to get into trouble. I hated falling into sin but couldn’t resist the draw. Along with the spiritual consequences, there was real physical danger. It was the early 80’s, and AIDS was spreading unknowingly and undetected. Even though I veered into sexual sin, God spared me from that brutal outcome.

But God had a plan. A job opened up in Minneapolis. I packed up a U-Haul and headed north.

Deepened Roots

Many blessings awaited me in Minneapolis, and one of them was Outpost. I contacted the ministry within days of arriving and started meeting with one of the staff members. He also recommended a good church, which I attend to this day.

The following years brought many opportunities for growth. I was in the thick of things at Outpost as a volunteer and participant in Joshua Fellowship. I also deepened my roots at church where I joined a great small group and participated in a church plant in my neighborhood.

At the time, I believed that my efforts to grow spiritually and emotionally would cause my same-sex attraction to go away. Again, I was wrong. I was still falling into sexual sin from time to time, and I longed to be set free. None of my efforts addressed the real underlying issues.

Breakthrough

Though it wasn’t sudden, eventually there was breakthrough. When I focused on developing my wounded gender identity, I began to experience real change—a change that I would have never dreamt possible. I went on men’s weekends, joined a men’s group, read books pertaining to manhood, watched war movies and hung out at Home Depot. I pursued athletics and relished any activity that involved a power saw. Gradually, my identity changed. With masculinity growing in my heart of hearts, temptations lost their power. I didn’t need the masculinity of another; I had my own.

Same-sex attraction isn’t completely gone, but it’s nearly gone. I spent decades believing that this sort of transformation wasn’t possible. Now I can testify that real change awaits the men and women who embark on this journey. It’s been a long haul, and I’m still on the road. The rerouted journey into manhood that I’ve lived just might be more satisfying than if it had never been interrupted at all.

The Psalmist describes me when he writes, “[God] drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2, ESV). I’ve been rescued from the grip of dangerous sin, deadly disease and much, much more. I owe all to grace.

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