5 things to remember when a transgender student visits your church

May 12, 2022

Several years ago when I was a kids’ pastor, I encountered my first transgender guest at church. I was not ready for the situation. No class had prepared me on how to react to a 5th grade girl asking to use the boy’s bathroom because she was changing her gender to something that made her feel more comfortable. 

That experience is becoming less uncommon for pastors today. 

In a recent study, 48% of pastors told Lifeway Research that they know someone who is transgender. According to Gallup research, 15.9% of Generation Z identifies as part of the LGBT community. Churches in areas with a high population of young people are more likely to be confronted with issues related to gender identity. If you haven’t had a transgender guest to your student ministry yet, you will soon. 

Based on my experience and my understanding of the scriptures, here are five things that you and your church leadership should keep in mind when a transgender student visits your church.

The imago Dei 

Imago Dei comes from the Latin version of the Bible, translated to English as “image of God.” This phrase has its origins 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.” This verse teaches an essential truth. Humanity’s value comes from being created in the image of God. 

This imago Dei is what separates humanity from all creation. Our intrinsic value comes from the divine nature that man and women were created to reflect. The transgender student and the 4.0 student and the star quarterback all have the same intrinsic value because they are all made in God’s image. Our churches often use Genesis 1:27 to condemn our transgender neighbors’ sin, but it also points to the wondrous truth that our worth and identity are grounded in something so much more, though not less, than being male or female. 

Despite our best attempts, the LGBTQ+ community often finds more judgment inside our churches than they do outside of them. What if, instead, they found a place that graciously shows them the truth about their value and gender? 

Your own identity crisis 

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1-3).

The reality for followers of Jesus is that we were once as confused in our spiritual identity as our transgender neighbors are, and that us to choose lifestyles in opposition to God’s ways. Hostile in our mind to the things of God and prisoners to the desires of our flesh, we, too, once walked in open rebellion to God’s design—just maybe in different ways. But God, in his mercy, offered us grace.  

There is a larger piece of our story in the life of our transgender neighbors than we often care to see. We will only find a perspective of hope and reconciliation for those struggling with gender dysphoria when we embrace the depth of depravity that God has rescued us from personally. Our churches should be distribution centers of the same grace we have personally received.

Jesus came for sinners 

Remind yourself of the mission of Christ himself: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (John 19:10). 

If Jesus came to seek and save the lost, our churches should be welcoming to people who look, act, talk, and live like they are lost. It might be time to sit down with your leadership team and ask, “Are we OK if a transgender person wants to come to our student ministry?” If that question makes you uncomfortable, you can rest assured that our transgender neighbors will feel uncomfortable and potentially unwelcome in your church. 

Remember Jesus’ words from Mark 2:17 to the religious leaders of his day who were unhappy with whom Jesus spent most of his time, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Our student ministries should be the waiting room of our community where young people suffering from the symptoms of sin can come to meet the healer. 

It’s harder than it looks 

Repent from your sins and be saved through Christ. That’s the message that most churches preach on any given Sunday. It’s the message that many of us have heard all of our lives. And it’s the message we need. But that message comes with a high price for the transgender guest sitting in your church on Sunday.  

Jesus warns would-be followers in Luke 14:28-33, 

“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” 

For our transgender neighbors to follow Jesus, they must count a significant cost. For many of our transgender friends, renouncing all that they have will feel like denying their true selves. It will mean giving up comfort in their own body, relationships, community, identity, and potentially family to be a disciple of Jesus. Our churches must be grace-based centers of encouragement, community, and refuge for those whose faith compels them to embark on such a journey marked with loss.

Parents are scared

It might be that the transgender student visiting your church is a child of one of your members. Currently, in my church, a dear friend and faithful volunteer confided in me after youth group that his child wrestles with gender dysphoria. My heart ached when I heard him describe his worry about discussing publicly what he and his wife were going through at home because of the judgment that they might experience in our church. He confessed that all he and his wife were looking for was prayer and encouragement as they sought to handle the situation in the most Christ-like manner and in a way that didn’t alienate their child from church. I drove home thinking, “Why should he be afraid?” 

There is an opportunity today for pastors to lead in creating a safe place for our transgender neighbors to encounter Jesus Christ’s life-changing love in our student ministries and in our churches. Not affirming a lifestyle pursuing sin—but embracing a sinner in need of grace and transformation. Not turning a blind eye to the biblical categories for gender—but pointing to a greater reality for identity and value than our physical bodies. Not prescribing a checklist of do’s and don’ts—but creating a welcoming community that receives people just as they are because Jesus is powerful enough not to leave them that way. 

As we welcome our transgender neighbors, we can demonstrate who our servant King by meeting sinners with grace and truth, but without fear. We live in a complex time with complex problems that will not have easy answers, but we can move forward in ministry confidently because we know our God is greater than our sin, and his gospel is more powerful than the false promises of our sexually confused culture. 

Patrick Weikle

Patrick currently serves as the lead youth pastor for United City Church. Patrick received his bachelor's in Youth Ministry and Preaching with a minor in Biblical Studies from Johnson University. He is married to Kylie Jo, and they have three children: Judah, Theo, and Phoebe Jo. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24