Jun 20, 2017

Transgender Children...A Christian Leader's Response

The front cover of a recent National Geographic Magazine issue was titled "Gender Revolution" and featured a picture of nine-year-old Avery Jackson of Kansas City.  Avery has lived as an openly transgender girl since the age of five.

"I am Jazz" is a a reality show on TLC about Jazz Jennings.  Jazz was born a boy, but at age 4, was diagnosed with gender dysphoria.  By Jazz's 5th birthday, the parents decided to support the child's female gender identity.  The show gives you an inside look at the child's journey and family dynamics.

Discussions and debates about transgender issues have escalated.  Much of this has been sparked by bathroom policies, which is a lightning rod.  Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old who was born female, but now identifies as a male, went to court to have the right to use the boy's bathroom at Gloucester High School.  In April of 2016, Target publicized a bathroom policy that stated customers were welcome to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.  “Inclusivity is a core belief at Target,” the company wrote. “Everyone deserves to feel like they belong.  And you’ll always be accepted, respected and welcomed at Target."  This sparked a protest and national boycott.

As Christian leaders that minister to kids and families, we can't ignore the transgender revolution, hoping that we will never have to be personally involved.  But as we look at Scripture, we see that Jesus didn't walk away from the messiness of a world broken by sin.  He walked right into the middle of it and met people where they were...offering hope, help and healing.

The quick thing to do is paint a broad stroke with cries of "sinful" or "against nature" or "perversion."  It's especially easy when you're simply typing words on a computer or posting on social media.  But when you interact face-to-face with families who are trying to navigate with their child who says he or she is transgender, it becomes very real and your words of condemnation slow down very quickly.  

So, how should we respond?  As I began to personally journey with families whose children are struggling with being transgender, I went searching for answers.  One of the best resources that I found was the book "Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture" by Dr. Mark Yarhouse.  Mark is the Hughes Endowed Chair and Professor of Psychology at Regent University and is one of the leading Christian voices in transgender issues.

In the book, Mark helps define terms, which is where we must start.

Transgender - an umbrella term for the many ways people experience a mismatch between their gender identity and their biological sex.

Gender identity - how people experience themselves as male or female, including how masculine or feminine they feel.

Gender dysphoria - deep or abiding discomfort over the incongruence between one’s biological sex and one’s psychological and emotional experience of gender.  In simpler terms, a boy feels like a girl trapped in a boy's body and visa versa.   A prior previous version of the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual included the diagnosis “gender identity disorder.”  It highlighted cross-gender identity as the point of concern.  The newest version refers instead to “gender dysphoria,” moving the discussion away from identity and toward the experience of distress. 

Transgender and homosexuality -  gender dysphoria and transgender issues are not about having sex or attraction to the same sex; they are about an experiential mismatch between one’s psychology and one’s biology.  People often confuse the two, likely due to transgender being a part of the larger lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) discussion.  

What causes gender dysphoria?  The most popular theory among those who publish on this topic is the brain-sex theory.  It proposes that the brain maps toward male or female, which in nearly all cases corresponds with various biological indicators of sex: chromosomes, gonads, and sex hormones.  In rare instances, the normal sex differentiation that occurs in utero occurs in one direction (differentiating toward male, for example), while the brain maps in the other direction (toward female).  Several gaps remain in the research behind this theory, but it nonetheless compels many professionals.

What normally happens as a child with transgender leanings grows up?  In 3 out of 4 cases, the gender identity conflict resolves on its own.  However, about three-fourths of children who experience lessening or resolution grow up to identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

So how should we respond as Christian leaders who minister to children and families?  Mark identifies three lens we can look through when it comes to transgender identity.

Lens #1 - The Integrity Lens
This lens draws a hard line based on Biblical passages.  It approaches the issue emphatically using passages such as Genesis 2:21-24.

So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening.  Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.  “At last!” the man exclaimed.  “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh!  She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man'.”  This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.

It sees transgender as one theologian put it, "the denial of the integrity of one’s own sex and an overt attempt at marring the sacred image of maleness or femaleness formed by God." 

This lens does reflect the truth of God's Word.  Scripture is clear about male and female distinction.  And as Christian leaders, we must have the integrity to uphold God's Word.  Truth does not change just because the culture changes.  Truth does not change to be "politically correct."  If we totally abandon the truth lens, we pull away the foundation that our faith rests upon.   

But the temptation when looking through the truth lens is to shove scripture at the family and tell them to align with God's Word...no questions asked.  To tell them to "repent" and "get their act together as a parent."  To give them hard rules and ultimatums.  It looks like...

"Your child cannot attend the children's ministry at church if they are dressed as the opposite sex."

"We do not want your child sitting in the group of kids they identify with as a transgender child."

"You are failing as parents."

"Your family is being immoral for allowing this to happen." 

"You must get your child in line and make them stop."

"We refuse to call your child by their transgender name."
To be honest, when I was first faced with a family going through this with their child, this is where my thoughts first tracked. I think this would probably be true for most Christian leaders.  We simply don't know, so we immediately look through the integrity lens first.

Lens #2 - The Disability Lens
This lens upholds the integrity lens, but it also understands that we live in a fallen, broken world.  It views gender dysphoria as a result of living in this broken world and not as a direct result of a moral choice.  Simply put...it is condition that comes from the Fall.  The person may make choices in response to their condition which have moral and ethical implications, but the person is not culpable for having the condition.  Think about it, with a  5, 6, 7, 8-year-old child, it is not a case of a child who is deliberately "rebelling against God" and choosing a certain lifestyle.  

When you sit down with a family whose child is struggling with transgender issues and talk with them rather than just dismissing them, this comes to light.  I am reminded of one family I journeyed with.  Their child had never been exposed to any outside transgender influences, had not been abused nor been encouraged in any way to be transgender.  None of the child's older brothers or sisters identified as transgender.  From an early age, the child began to identify as transgender.  At first the parents, who are believers, took the "integrity lens" approach with their child.  They drew a hard line and pushed their child toward the birth gender.  But as the child grew, it became more difficult to maintain the "integrity lens only" approach.  When your child is crying, struggling emotionally and seems to be going downhill fast, you begin to search for answers.  First and foremost, you are seeking to protect your child and keep them healthy.  You are haunted by the fact that 41% of transgender people attempt suicide sometime in their life.  

It's easy to cast judgment on families who have a transgender child.  It's easy to say "if it were my child, I would take care of it in one day" or "I wouldn't put up with it."  In my personal observtions, I have found the opposite is true.  It's a scary, heart-breaking journey for families who have to walk through this with their child.  If you've never walked a mile in their shoes, you really can't understand or truthfully say what you would or would not do.  

The disability lens helps you understand this and fills your heart with compassion for the child and family.  The disability lens helps you see parents who love their child deeply and are just trying to help them navigate through what they are facing.  The disability lens doesn't abandon truth, but it balances the truth with love.  The disability lens listens to the family with empathy.  The disability lens blends Scripture, the latest medical research and the personal story of the family.  The disability lens makes room for support and care.  

I believe this lens most accurately reflects the heart of Jesus.  It listens to the child and family facing gender identity with empathy and compassion.  It sits and cries with them rather than just denouncing them.  It provides pastoral care. 

Whereas just using the integrity lens most often will shut the door on any opportunity to minister to the family, the disability lens opens the door to walking with them.  

An example of this is honoring the family's request to use the child's preferred name and pronouns when you are talking with them.  If the child is a transgender male who's birth name was Joseph and the parents ask you to address the child as Jo Anne instead and use the pronoun "her" rather than "him," you should honor their request.  This is not the time to pull up the integrity lens exclusively.  Doing so will push the family away and forfeit the opportunity to establish a relationship with them.

I also want you to consider this.  The transgender child will remember how you responded for the rest of their life.  At the time when he or she needed you the most, what will the child remember?  A church that turned their back on him or her?  A church that refused to listen with compassion?  A church that walk away from the struggle rather than to the struggle?  Or will the child remember the church was a safe place where they could find help?  A place that cared and loved them unconditionally?  A church that pointed them to God's grace and redemption? 

Lens #3  - The Diversity Lens
This lens celebrates, honors and revers transgender persons.  This is a much more liberal alternative than the integrity or disability lens.  This lens promotes transgender with the desire to help people with gender dysphoria find acceptance and purpose in life.  This lens leans toward disregarding Scripture.

What should we do as a Christian leaders?

Avoid gossip.  In my experience, most families whose child is transgender will come to you in confidentiality.  The last thing they need is for you to "spread the word" to other parents.  This will only fuel the shame that drives these families away from church.  This does not mean you try to cover it up, but you should only talk about it with other families on a need-to-know basis.

Don't try to be a professional Christian counselor if you are not one.  You can minister to the family as a pastor, but for professional help, point them toward a licensed Christian counselor.

Embrace the messiness of ministry.  We must remember that ministry is messy.  As I stated earlier, that's what Jesus has called us to.  We are to enter the messiness of a broken world and help people wherever they are in their journey.  At the same time, we must remember that we can't "fix" people.  Our role is to point people to Jesus and help them grow in their relationship with Him.  It is the Holy Spirit that transforms people into the image of Christ.

Only using the integrity lens will cause us to join the culture wars and become known for what we are against rather than what we are for.  But if we are going to minister to children and families effectively, we must rise above this and be a witness to the grace and redemption offered through Christ.  We must remember that the church is a hospital for those who are struggling, not a museum where perfect Christians are on display.

As our culture continues to shift, many of you reading this will be called upon to walk through this with families.  I know of several churches right now who are.  These churches are working through the same questions you will be faced with from parents.
Can my child use the bathroom of their gender identity?

Can my child wear the clothes style of their gender identity?

Can my child be part of the small group that is their gender identity?

Can my child sleep in the dorm of their gender identity at camp?

Will you address my child by the name and pronoun of their choice?

What are you going to tell other parents who become aware of our situation and ask you about it?

Will you accept my child and treat him or her as the other children?

Do you have a counselor you can recommend?
Don't try to do this alone.  This is definitely something you should bring to your pastor, elders, senior leaders, etc.  The senior church leadership must help navigate this.  Many times, they will want to meet with the family with you.

As we navigate with transgender children and their families, I encourage you to consider Mark's concluding thought. 

"We can remind ourselves that the book of redemption in a person's life has many chapters.  You may be witness to an early chapter of this person's life or a later chapter.  But Christians believe that God holds that person and each and every chapter in his hands, until that person arrives at their true end—when gender and soul are made well in the presence of God."

I invite your thoughts and insight in the comment section below.


Thanks for addressing this issue. I believe the church does need to step up without using the integrity lense (for that is what is driving families away from church, including those who have family who identify LGBTQ as well.) Jesus draws people in and develops a relationship with them. People need to know they are loved and accepted as they are - no judgements. Though I don't totally agree, I do see it as a stepping stone in a better direction. Just like we will never understand grief unless we go through it as well; we will never fully understand what it's like to be LGBTQ unless, in fact we are. I understand. The church needs to step up. There are families who need support - if only it's a hug. It would be great to see PFLAG (parent and family of Lesbian & Gays) meetings in every church facility, and GSA's (Gay- Straight Alliance) in youth groups. Everyone is welcome to the cross. Together we can make a difference in the world.

Thank you Dale for your thoughtful perspective. You are right when you say many of us are going to be facing this issue. I, too, have read Mark Yarhouse's resources. He's very good. Another very good resource is Denise Shick. She has written several books. She is director of the Help4Families.com and can be found on FaceBook Help4Families. It is going to be tricky loving these children and their families without judgement. Again thank you for your perspective and wise words.

Thank you for this article. I have just recently become a director in our children's ministry and have had this question in the back of my mind. I definitely agree that the disability lens is the most Christ-like. He never compromised on Truth, but people were always the top priority. I still don't have the answers to many of those questions; especially bathroom and overnight scenarios, but I do know that should those questions come up they will be approached with grace and love.

I was prepared for an article which fell towards a rigid description of this issue. Thank you for a well balanced approach to a difficult issue. I especially appreciate the care and concern you took to develop a basis for the reader to understand the basic definitions of the terms and basic research behind the subject. Having supported several families with young children working through this signicant issue the response of a spiritual community can build up and support a family as they are given the gift of grace, love and support leading to a deeper exprrience of God; or create a spiritual trauma which can carry on into adult years and result not only is a child's distrust in religion/spirituality but the whole family's as well.

I would provide another perspective when describing the 3rd option for acceptance is only a "disregard" of principles for those who hold a more literal/traditional interpretation of scripture. Those ministries, churchrs, and ministers who respond from this 3rd perspective also come from a place of high respect and belief in the their faith and practice. The way in which they view the lens of scripture, and its impact in a rapidly changing culture and world shapes their response. There is not a disregard rather their is an inclusion of a fuller recognition of new umderstandings and information which provides us with more opportunities to respond from a place of grace and mercy.

Again, thank you for a well presented piece.

Dale - You did such a great job with this article. Well researched, well thought out, multiple view points, full of compassion. I really enjoyed reading it and we are sharing this with the directors on our team. Thank you!
- Kendra

Thanks Kendra. Thankful for you and your team. I know you are on the front lines of ministering to kids and families each week.

I would like to offer a different look on your third "lens", that if these kids are indeed made this way (which they consistently tell us they are) then are we not to accept the diversity of gender and the entire spectrum as God has made it? However kind we are if we continue to believe and insist that transgender people are somehow against God's will, then how can we also promote a living God? What kind of God would create His child to be against His truth? How cruel would it be to set these kids up to fail Him? Same with LGB folks. Perhaps God has created a diverse spectrum of everything from race to body types to gender to orientation so that we might be challenged to love all His children, not just the ones like us or the ones whose experience we understand. Who are we to say the He made these kids wrong? I prefer to do as Jesus asked, to love each other and let God sort out sin. Seems to me that should be the mission of the church in these things as well.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts JSWhitr. I appreciate your heart for kids.

Thanks for looking at this subject with compassion. One note, in your example you refer to a transgender male, who now wishes to be called Jo Anne. This would make her a transgender (or trans) girl. A transgender male would be someone assigned female at birth (AFAB) but now living as a male.

Interesting article. Tks for sharing. At the same time being a children's minister...the transgender child and family do need compassion yet we have a responsibility to our other families and their children. This could turn into a major mess. How far do u go with acceptance and change. For ex. We had a teenager who was coming to our youth group who was gay. She was accepted until she started hitting on some of the other girls. Our youth and children need some type of a SAFE haven and their patents r looking for just that. Not easy for sure for where do u draw the line?

Thanks for sharing. The story you shared about the girl at your church is and example of the tension we all feel - the tension between reaching people while making sure our children have good influences around them at the same time. I would say in the day we live in, we must be proactive in having these conversations with our kids and preparing them to live for Christ in the culture they are in now and will grow up in.

Thanks for the article. As a parent whose 16 yr. old daughter suddenly came out as trans a couple of months ago I can think of almost nothing else. I stood in judgement of the other families at our school when they allowed their kids to use different names and dress in opposite clothing for dances. Now I am in the messiness of it and it feels like hell to me. So many girls at our H.S. have changed their names and pronouns at the school We call our daughter by her real name and continue to treat her as and call her our daughter. Life as we knew it ended. Now youve got some family members who are affirming her and using diff. pronouns and other family members who are fervently praying for her etc. I would not wish this on anyone. Our therapist cant try to convince her its psychological or he would loose his license. It's all so crazy.

Thank you for sharing your heart. I can't imagine what you are going through. I have walked with some families who faced this with their children and there is no easy answer for sure. I know one thing that will never change is your unconditional love for her. I wonder if you can find a Christian counselor to walk through this with you? If you haven't read the book I mentioned in the article, it might be a great resource for you. Mark is the leading Christian counselor in these matters. Don't lose heart. God loves her even more than you. His love will pursue her.

I appreciate the direction and empathy this post goes in. However, I question the insistence of using Genesis 2:21-24 as a benchmark for Trans issues. In Eden, when things were perfect, God created two sexes. We are far, far away from Eden, in fact, should we not look to Jesus and the words of the new covenant for guidance over the books full of animal sacrifice?

Thanks for sharing Mandy. If you look at how Jesus addressed the sexes and even marriage - He always put it in the context of male and female, man and woman. That being said, I believe we do live in a broken world as you referenced, where we must show grace and love to people no matter where they are in their journey. We must speak the truth in love as we point people toward God's clear design for the human race.

Good article. I respect your three classes of thinking on the subject and especially can relate to the three lens and your comment that it disregards scripture. I have a son with problems in this area and he encountered numerous people who simply twist scripture. They, I believe, have convinced him to move away from his walk with Christ and basically give up on his own beliefs. He claims to be happy, but we wonder if he can drop 30 years of living with strong beliefs and completely change. One of our major concerns is simply that he is simply fooling himself and will one day decide that his current life is not what he pretends it to be. That might be devastating to him.

Regardless, we agree that showing him unconditional love and grace while not violating our own beliefs is the Christ like way to approach this situation. In the past, the phrase "love the sinner, hate the sin", seemed simple. As you said that ministry is messy...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts - you are living it each day as you love your son and seek God's hand at work in his life. I will be thinking of you and praying for you and your family. If you'd ever like to talk by phone don't hesitate to let me know.

Thank you for the article. I am a public school teacher and a Sunday School teacher, and God has placed this matter on my heart. Right now I am praying daily for three friends of my daughters. My prayers go beyond girl vs. boy but for these teens to hear God, know God, and reach out to Him. I will be checking out the book you recommended.

Thanks for sharing and for the heart you have for the next generation.

Thank you for your insightful article. I am a Christian parent with a transgender child. It has been 7 months since my daughter of 17 informed us she really wants to be a boy. She has serious mental disorders and has been in and out of mental hospitals for the last 5 years. As a mother I am struggling very badly with this newfound identity. I genuinely believe its just another manifestation of BiPolar disorder. Your article helped me greatly. I pray my church will take this approach as I call on them for help.

D-Texas, prayers are with you and your family. Believing with you that God is at work and that He gives you wisdom as you walk with her in this. Hope you have a church family that can be by your side. And a good Christian counselor to help process for both of you.

Dale... thanks for the article. As a parent of a transgender child I was very hesitant to share with anyone from my church what was happening for fear of judgment. Having gone ahead and shared my story I have not felt a lot of judgement, but neither have I felt much support from my church ( though my family has been pretty supportive) Even my pastor has not asked me since I shared how things are going.
It has been a long hard and very lonely journey these last couple of years as I had a very hard time finding a Christian counselor who could help me with this issue. Very few people understand what it is like, and very few people seem to be comfortable talking about the issue. This article helps explain different ways of looking at the issue and it is one I can bring forward to others when the topic arises.
I struggled hard with how to deal with my daughter but God has impressed on me to love her as her mom and so I press forward trying to do this.

Wow...appreciate you sharing your story. I haven't walked in your shoes but I know it can't be easy. Praying for you for wisdom as you raise your child that you love so much. Wish I could give your family a hug. I'll make it a digital hug. Prayers and blessings coming your way.

This has been a journey that has now come down to our 7 year old grandchild who is shared custody with dad and mom.Mom decided she was gay and married her partner...now they say our grandchild is trans who is 7. They have called meetings with the school and pushed issue of now calling him her/she and a new girl name. I would appreciate your prayers...my comment to grandson I will love you no matter what...he is 7 being taught by gay moms yo stand up to adults like us grandparents his dad ect. We take him to church every other weekend and now hope to have a meeting with our pastor...not sure how our church will react...praying asking God in His mercy to rescue our precious grandson!

Thanks for letting us know about your precious grandchild. Keep the grace lens on and share the truth with love. As much as you love your grandchild, God loves him so much more. Praying with you that God will bring him out of this in His time.

Your article is well intended but lacks the inclusion of the demonic realm.??? We are fighting principalities and powers on high who want to take our inheritance...our children. Forget the psychological mumbo jumbo and start using the weapons of warfare..i.e. deliverance and not be without knowledge. He has given us ALL things not some things. Once we go down the psychology lane we forget that it was all done at the cross. IT IS FINISHED but if you do not know the word you will be finished. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty to the pulling down of strongholds

Thanks for this article - explaining the 3 lens is very helpful. As a parent of a transgender child I too have walked a very difficult road for the last 4 years - very few in my church community have even asked about my daughter after I shared my story, even my pastor has not asked again. I have found few resources over the years to help me deal with this- and it has been a very lonely journey despite being in a community of Christians. Initially I looked through the first lens, but with time I have come to see things through the second lens, and it is a much better place. What very few people understand is that for me was it was like your child had died and this new person is in their place. And this only covers the tip of the iceberg of this whole issue with all its struggles. I am in a much better place these days despite the ongoing pain, and God has been good and there have been blessings along the way.

Thank you for sharing story with us. Praying with you that God will bring you lots of wisdom, comfort and support.

Thank you for your article. Our daughter was adopted at 17 months after experiencing a lot of early trauma. She was always a girly girl until she reached puberty. She hated her newly forming body. We have worked with well-versed Christian counselors for the past four years. She turned 18 this fall and moved out, her senior year, in the middle of the night. She claims she is transgender, a female trapped in a man's body. Until four years ago, she showed no signs whatsoever of this being an issue for her. We have a deep faith and I am on staff at a church. She knows what we believe and why. She has our unconditional love but she does not have our support for the lifestyle she is choosing. We raised three children, have six grandchildren and are still raising her two biological brothers that we also adopted. This is extremely hard on everyone. We believe God's word in that the foundation we laid with her will draw her back. We pray for her protection and the healing of her mind. She will always be our daughter and we all call her by her given name, not her newly chosen name. I truly don't know how families survive this without the Lord. She tells us we need to 'get over it' and accept her new 'life.' Easier said than done.

Thanks for sharing. I can't imagine the heartbreak this must be causing...especially as parents. I prayed for her just now. And praying for wisdom for you and your family - If you haven't read the book - Gender Dysphoria - by Mark Yarhouse, I highly recommend it - He is one of the leading Christian counselors in the country in this area. It's probably available on Amazon.

What people don't get is that this might be a part of a bigger and hidden agenda. The name "JAZZ" means 666 to the elites. J=1, A=1, and Z=8. When you add them, you get 666! That's how they code things up in secrecy. Another example of this: F=6, O=6, and X=6.

Her parents might be satanists connected to the elites. JAZZ has even had his penile-vaginal surgeries to consummate the decision. At one point, he was trying to date men under guise until his mom told him that was inappropriate ON LIVE TV(saw a clip of that). Was this done to gain more sympathy to this cause by calming the fears of detractors to the reality of mixing with heterosexuals?! Who knows. And, it's my belief that this tr@nsociety(the commoners) believe that they are true gender opposites. This means they will go after heterosexual only men or women in disguise. Listen, I'm under the belief that most of Hollywood is reversed, too. Every time you watch your TV; this is what you have been watching. It's my sincerest belief that this has been the satanic catch orchestrated by satanist direction in TV. No matter what you watch in mainstream TV--whether that be gospel, romance(imagine the sickness in that), action, family, or sports...--it has been LGBTQ+ in nature.

Actually, in the book by Dr Yarhouse,Yarmouth, you cite,he recommends an integrated approach in using all 3 lenses accurately.We have a non- binary child and it has helped.Perhaps reading the whole book would be helpful for anyone navigating these new waters.

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