By / Oct 6

“Adult men are typically stronger, more powerful, and faster than women of similar age and training status,” states a new official pronouncement of the American College of Sports Medicine. For most of human history, such a claim would have been too obvious to be noteworthy. But the rise of transgender ideology has led many people to attempt to deny biological reality. However, when we look at the science of physiology, the difference in athletic ability between men and women becomes impossible to ignore. 

The ACSM says the primary goal of their consensus statement, which focuses mainly on adult male and female athletes, is to “contribute to the public dialogue by providing the latest scientific knowledge and subject matter expertise on the sex differences in athletic performance, while assisting with evidence-based solutions and ensure an equitable and fair solution for all.”

The primary finding in their statement is that biological sex is a determinant of athletic performance: adult males are faster, stronger, and more powerful than females. The fastest and most powerful males outperform the fastest and most powerful females. “For athletic events and sports relying on endurance, muscle strength, speed, and power, males typically outperform females by 10%–30% depending on the requirements of the event.” The largest sex difference in performance occurs in sports that rely on muscular power, such as weightlifting and jumping.

This biological differentiation in athletic ability occurs between childhood and adulthood. Before puberty, the sex difference in athletic performance between girls and boys is minimal. But exposure to high levels of naturally occurring testosterone in males at the onset of puberty (around 12 years of age) shifts the balance and is the primary determinant for the large sex difference in athletic performance during puberty and in adulthood. 

Why testosterone creates an athletic imbalance

A key reason for the difference is testosterone. Testosterone is a powerful, natural anabolic steroid that increases about 20–30-fold in males during puberty and is 15 times higher than in adult females. This gives boys and men a distinct advantage because the direct and indirect effects of testosterone in males (relative to females) during puberty has numerous effects on athletic performance. Some of the effects of testosterone during puberty include:

  • Having more muscle on the body. Muscles are what help you move, and having more muscle usually means you can move more easily or with more strength. 
  • Having less fat in comparison to other components like muscle or bone. Less body fat can mean more efficiency in movements and less weight to carry around.  
  • Higher hemoglobin concentration and mass. Hemoglobin is a substance in your blood that carries oxygen to your tissues. Having more of it means your muscles get the oxygen they need more efficiently, which is helpful during exercise. 
  • Larger ventricular mass and myocardial contractility. These terms refer to the heart. A larger ventricular mass means a bigger heart chamber to pump blood, and better myocardial contractility means the heart muscle can squeeze more forcefully to pump blood. Both help in circulating blood, and oxygen, throughout the body. 
  • Larger airways and lungs. Bigger airways and lungs allow for more air (and thus, oxygen) to be taken in and distributed to the body, which is essential during exercise.
  • Greater body height and longer limbs. Being taller with longer limbs can offer advantages in reach and stride, which might be beneficial in some sports or physical activities.

But what happens when testosterone is added to female bodies or suppressed in male bodies? According to the study, adding testosterone to female bodies results in: 

  • some increase in muscle mass and muscle fiber size, 
  • increased hemoglobin concentration and mass, 
  • improved strength, 
  • and better endurance performance. 

Suppressing testosterone in adult males can result in: 

  • decreases in muscle mass, 
  • and increased fat mass. 

However, for up to three years after suppressing testosterone, the loss of lean mass and strength is not as low as it is in adult females. Boys and men who undergo partial or complete male puberty followed by testosterone suppression also retain some advantage in power and endurance performance over biological females, at least up to two years after the suppression.

The report says that “muscle memory” may also play an important role in those who have been have previously been exposed to high levels of testosterone (e.g., male puberty) and who undergo suppression of testosterone but retain the ability to increase muscle tissue in response to resistance training.

The “science” of sex differences is on the side of biological reality

The ACSM points out that this is not a policy statement or recommendation about the inclusion of transgender athletes in cross-sex competition or how athletes should be categorized for recreational or competitive sports. Instead, it is meant to be an overview of the state of the science in the field. Yet those who claim we should “trust the science” will be all too eager to ignore such commonsensical findings since it contradicts transgender ideology. 

Nevertheless, such findings should strengthen our resolve to maintain separate categories for males and females as being essential to preserve the integrity and essence of women’s sports. Women’s sports have historically provided a platform for female athletes to showcase their skills and achievements, and allowing biological males to compete undermines this tradition.

Bans on transgender athletes in girls and women’s sports are necessary measures to protect the sanctity, fairness, and opportunities of women’s sports. Christians should uphold God-given, biological reality, protect women’s opportunities, and preserve the sanctity of women’s sports by supporting such bans. And we can do so knowing that “science” is on our side.

By / Dec 22

Marriage and the family unit were established by God at the very beginning of creation as the first institutions. Genesis 1 and 2 shows us how God fashioned man and woman in his image, brought them together as one flesh, and gave them the charge to be fruitful and multiply, or bear children. God works in many ways, but it’s through marriage and family that some of his greatest blessings abound to the world and bring about flourishing.

Because of the importance of these God-ordained institutions in preserving and prospering our society, the ERLC will continue to advocate for policies that maintain and protect these essential aspects of life together. God’s ways are for our good, whether or not our culture recognizes this to be true. While marriage and family will not be perfect in the midst of a fallen world, it’s our responsibility as Christians to continue to champion God’s design and see it upheld for the good of our neighbor. 

Sexual Ethics event

One of the ways the ERLC carried out this aspect of our mission this year was by devoting significant attention to sexual ethics. Specifically, we addressed this topic in the month of June because of its unavoidable cultural designation as “Pride Month.” 

Jason Thacker hosted an online event called, Discipling Your Church For a World in Sexual Crisis, which featured Andrew T. Walker, Dean Inserra, and Katie McCoy, and sought to equip churches and individuals to understand this current cultural moment and engage in these important discussions. In addition to this event, we featured much-needed resources on the topic of sexual ethics including:

House Passage of the Adoptee Citizenship Act

Another way we sought to promote the health of families was through legislation. Prior to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, the administrative steps required of families adopting internationally were unnecessarily burdensome. The process included applying for and moving through a lengthy naturalization process for their children, in addition to the lengthy and costly adoption process. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted automatic citizenship to all foreign-born children brought to the United States who had at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, that act only applied to adoptees under the age of 18 when the bill was enacted, leaving an entire population of adopted children without full U.S. citizenship. The Adoptee Citizenship Act closes the loophole to provide immediate citizenship to these children already adopted by U.S. citizens yet left out of the previous bill.

The ERLC has supported the Adoptee Citizenship Act for years. We have been engaged with a broad coalition invested in child welfare to urge members of Congress to swiftly pass this bill and secure permanent citizenship for the thousands of impacted adoptees. In March of 2021, the ERLC wrote a coalition letter to the House of Representatives urging them to swiftly pass this vital piece of legislation. 

In February of 2022, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1953, the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2021. An amended version of the bill passed the Senate, but the House disagreed with the Senate’s amendments and left the bill in limbo. The House’s bipartisan action on this bill is a promising first step, but we urge members of both houses of Congress to agree on legislative language and pass this crucial bill.

The Equality Act

One of the greatest legislative challenges the ERLC has engaged with is The Equality Act. In February 2021, the House passed The Equality Act (H.R. 5.)—a bill that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal civil rights law. The bill would curtail religious freedom protections, hinder the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals, undermine civil rights protections for women and girls, and ultimately steamroll the consciences of millions of Americans.

The Equality Act would also gut the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The removal of this act would force faith-based child welfare organizations to abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down by the state. The Equality Act would also force healthcare workers and pro-life healthcare providers to participate in and provide abortions. 

The ERLC has worked tirelessly to defeat this bill. We have partnered with a broad coalition of more than 85 faith-based nonprofits, religious entities, and institutions of higher education to highlight the dangers of H.R. 5. We have raised these concerns with members of Congress and the administration through coalition letters and countless meetings with members, administration officials, and their staff. We have also engaged in public advocacy against the bill by producing a suite of resources available on our website to inform Christians and the broader public about the pernicious threat of H.R. 5. 

We will continue to lead efforts to oppose the Equality Act and any similar legislation introduced this Congress. As we do so, we will advocate for a public square solution that protects and upholds the dignity of all people and their rights, while ensuring that religiously motivated individuals and institutions are free to live and act according to their deeply held convictions.

Advocacy against SOGI provisions

The ERLC has also spoken out against the Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX, which would expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI). These dangerous federal guidances would allow biological men to participate in collegiate women’s sports and would penalize institutions that fail to expand the definition of sex to include SOGI. The ERLC submitted public comments urging the department to alter this proposed rule. 

In addition, the ERLC has also spoken out against the Department of Health and Human Services’ addition of sexual orientation and gender identity language to multiple nondiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act. This rule would mandate gender-affirming care and would impede the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals. The ERLC submitted public comments to the HHS urging them to alter this proposed rule. 

In all of these challenges, the ERLC will continue to advocate for the recognition of God’s good design for biological sex and for the protection of religious liberty.

By / Oct 11

We live in an age experiencing the disastrous effects of the sexual revolution. Confusion over basic concepts such as man, woman, and marriage are but the latest divergence between a culture committed to radical individual autonomy and a church committed to Scripture’s teaching. Local congregations daily face questions of gender dysphoria, same-sex unions, and on basic concepts of what it means to be a man or woman. The ERLC seeks to come alongside and assist pastors and ministry leaders to answer those questions in light of Scripture’s clear teachings with resources like these and future projects.

Below, we have given a basic theological framework from God’s Word for approaching questions of gender and biological sex. Additionally, there are some practical guidelines for churches to consider in updating their bylaws to ensure that they are afforded as much protection as possible under the law. It is our hope that at both the theological and practical level this resource will be helpful to you as you serve your congregation. 

A theological framework of sex and gender

God created you. At its most basic level, the fact that we are created by God means that we are limited by the design that God has given us (Gen. 1). Recognizing that we are created by God means accepting that we do not have absolute control over our bodies and how they are to be used (Is. 29:16). They are to be used in accordance with God’s design and purpose. When we attempt to usurp God’s design, we repeat the sin of Adam and Eve who desired to be more than just “like God” but rather to become God (Gen. 3:5). Remembering that we are created and therefore finite grounds our theology of the body and gender (1 Pet. 1:24). 

God created you with a body. Contrary to popular understanding, our bodies are inseparable from who we are. We are not souls trapped in a body (1 Cor. 6:12-20). The Christian church has long understood and upheld the worth of the body, looking at both the creation account of Genesis where God declares the world good and the Incarnation of Christ where a perfect and holy God took on flesh and blood (John 1). As Christians, we must not fall for the lie of culture that our bodies are to be changed to meet our self-perception (2 Cor. 10:5).

God created humans male and female. In the opening pages of Genesis, the author tells us that humanity was created in God’s image and created male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). We often focus on the former, but the latter declaration is just as important. The author’s description is an acknowledgement of distinction and difference between the two. Men are not women, and women are not men. Yet, we should not overplay these differences in an unbiblical way because, as the next chapter reminds us, there is nothing more like man than woman (Gen. 2). Still, those differences are there and part of God’s design. Neither is more important or carries more of the image of God, and both are necessary to fulfill the command given to steward creation and multiply. As Christians, we recognize the ways that God has designed both men and women as distinct, yet equal expressions of humanity. 

God created male and female to complement one another. The opening pages of Scripture remind us that we are made in God’s image, and that men and women are to complement one another (Gen. 1:26-27). At its most basic level, this complementarity is revealed in biology: both man and woman are needed for sexual reproduction. It also reveals itself in a range of social and relational aspects (Eph. 5:21-33). At its core, complementarity glorifies God and is a reminder that we are created, finite beings who are unable to live in existence without others (Gen. 2:18). Though our current context seeks to blur the distinctions between men and women to the point that they are interchangeable, Christians recognize that each gender has something that is distinct and special. Neither can exist without the other (1 Cor. 11:11-12). 

The Fall affects how we perceive our bodies. The effects of sin have broken every part of creation. This includes our own self-perception and understanding (1 Pet. 1:14). The presence of disorders such as gender dysphoria (when a person’s perception of a mismatch between their gender and their body causes distress) is one example of the way sin has warped our understanding. Christians must recognize that sin is able to powerfully deceive, even to the point of thinking that bodily mutilation is the way toward happiness (Eph. 4:22). In contrast, Christians must offer a word of hope and a reminder that our bodies are good gifts given to us by God, not obstacles to be overcome. 

God meets those broken by the sexual revolution with compassion and grace. We are repeatedly reminded that God has compassion for those who have been broken by sin. The pages of Scripture are filled with the story of a God who cares for those who have been deceived, abused, and mistreated by society and culture (Jonn 4; John 11). Christians must recognize that the sexual revolution has been built upon empty promises. Many people have been (and will be) left hurt, confused, and at the end of their rope, looking for hope and answers: those who were deceived to think that casual sex was meaningless, our bodies could be changed as we saw fit, and that their gender was unimportant to who they were. The response of the church is to be the same as the response of Christ: “a bruised reed he will not break” (Matt. 12:20). We offer the same grace and compassion given to us and seek to restore those who have been broken by the lies of sin. 

COMING SOON: Downloadable, printable version of “A Theological Framework of Sex and Gender” for use in your church or ministry.

The importance of bylaws 

The ERLC worked with Alliance Defending Freedom to create a resource guide for churches to update their bylaws in light of challenges related to sexual orientation and gender identity lawsuits. Below are the five areas where churches can provide clear frameworks outlining their faith and religious convictions to protect themselves so that they can continue in ministry that is faithful to God’s Word and brings about gospel transformation. You can read the entire guide here.

Statement of Faith (p.5): The Statement of Faith should serve as an encapsulation of the foundational theology of the church or organization. In addition to the usual topic of salvation, doctrine of sin, or church polity, a statement of faith should include the position of the church related to matters of gender, sexuality, and marriage. Because these issues now regularly confront churches, it is imperative that churches and religious organizations clearly put forth their belief in marriage’s foundational role in society, that it is rightly restricted only to one man and one woman, and that gender identity flows from and is inextricably connected to biological sex. 

Religious Employment Criteria (p. 11): Churches and religious organizations should strongly consider creating a religious employment requirement for all employees so as to avail themselves of the full weight of First Amendment jurisprudence. Under the “ministerial exception” churches and religious institutions are able to take religious belief into consideration when hiring and firing without penalty under non-discrimination laws. By clearly defining roles according to their contribution to the organization’s religious mission, and having employees sign the statement of faith, they can protect themselves from legal challenges.  

Facility Use Policy (p. 14): A fear of many churches is that they may be required to grant use of their facilities to couples who may wish to use them for a wedding ceremony the church would not sanction or other events. In general, churches are free to grant access to their facilities as they wish because they are private property. However, they can further protect themselves by creating a clearly defined facility use policy that identifies the religious nature of the building and restricts use of the facility to those who act in accordance to your beliefs. 

Formal Membership Policy (p. 16): While many churches have an informal process of affirming or recognizing church membership, their legal protections are increased by formalizing the process. In ideal circumstances, their written process should cover the procedures for becoming a member, procedures for church discipline, and procedures for disfellowshipping or excommunicating a member. Each of these helps to provide a legal framework protecting the church and providing clarity to members of the expectations of membership and the processes that can be expected in times of discipline. This can be especially helpful if a member objects to the church’s implementation of disciplinary measures. 

Marriage Policy (p.18): In addition to the statement of faith which clearly outlines the church’s theology of marriage, churches should create a marriage policy which outlines the parameters under which pastors, ministers, or staff will solemnize a marriage. This marriage policy may include not only a statement on belief of marriage as between a biological man and woman, but also another statement on the use of the facility for marriage ceremonies. Additionally, churches may consider adding a provision that only members will be able to use the facilities to provide a further layer of protection if the church has a requirement that members affirm the church’s statement of faith. 

COMING SOON: Downloadable, printable version of “The Importance of Bylaws” for use in your church or ministry.

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By / Oct 5

On Aug. 4, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a proposed rule that would significantly reinterpret the Affordable Care Act’s Section 1557 nondiscrimination provision by expanding the definition of “sex” to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy-related conditions. Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a nondiscrimination provision that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability under any federally funded health program or activity, executive agency, or entity under Title I of the ACA.

Following the announcement, HHS allowed 60 days for organizations and individuals to comment with concerns. The ERLC submitted comments raising our concerns with the proposed rule. As that comment period closed Monday, HHS is obligated to respond to each of these comments before putting forward a finalized rule.

How has Section 1557 been interpreted historically?

During the Obama administration, new regulations expanded the scope of section 1557’s nondiscrimination policies by redefining “sex” to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and termination of pregnancy. The regulations raised a number of significant issues regarding religious liberty and freedom of conscience. For instance, physicians would be required to provide gender reassignment surgeries and administer hormones to facilitate gender reassignment, including to children. The regulations even required medical professionals to perform abortions in violation of their deeply held convictions.

In response to these new regulations, five states and three private healthcare providers filed suit to challenge the final rules. In Franciscan Alliance v. Burwell (2016), a federal district court held that HHS erroneously interpreted “sex” under Title IX and that the final rule was arbitrary and capricious, while Title IX “unambiguously refers to the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.” The court further ruled that the final rule’s failure to include religious exemptions likely violated the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

In 2020, the Trump administration finalized a rule reversing the Obama administration’s regulations on Section 1557 and narrowing the definition of “sex.” Days after the final rule was issued, the Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County that expanded the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” for the purposes of employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This year, the Biden administration reversed the 2020 rule, then reinstated and expanded the Obama administration’s 2016 rule using the Bostock decision as a justification for its redefinition of “sex.”

Why is this change problematic?

While HHS allegedly plans to comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and all applicable court orders involving section 1557 regulations, it is unclear what this proposed rule means for religious healthcare professionals and insurance providers. Medical professionals and providers could be forced to administer or cover gender reassignment treatments if they provide the same underlying treatments for other conditions, regardless of their objections to the treatment for religious or moral reasons. That is, if a physician performs hysterectomies for cancer patients or hormone therapy for patients with hormone imbalances, HHS may force that doctor to administer those same treatments for patients seeking gender reassignments.

This rule also expands the legal definition of “sex” to include “pregnancy-related conditions”—a term that prohibits discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth, termination of pregnancy, or lactation.” While the exact implications of this expansive terminology are still unclear, advocates are concerned that the administration could again weaponize the “termination of pregnancy” language to mandate healthcare providers and other organizations to include abortions and abortifacents in their plans. The government should never fund abortions nor force healthcare professionals to violate their dearly held pro-life convictions. Pro-life appropriations riders such as the Hyde, Weldon, and Church amendments should always be included in the annual budgetary process and strictly followed by executive agencies like HHS.

How has the ERLC responded?

The ERLC has submitted public comments laying out our concerns with the proposed rule and urging them to reconsider making these changes. This proposed rule would have deeply concerning ramifications for life, religious liberty, and the good of our neighbors if enacted. As ERLC’s Jason Thacker said when the proposed rule was introduced, “No matter how quickly our society shifts on the fundamental issues of life and human sexuality, people of faith should not be forced to participate in or promote the myth that we can create our own realities outside of God’s good design for human sexuality and flourishing,” The ERLC will continue to monitor these changes and look for additional opportunities to raise our concerns and advocate for the recognition of God’s good design for biological sex and for the protection of religious liberty.

By / Jun 23

Fifty years ago, President Nixon signed into law Title IX Education Amendments of 1972, a landmark policy for women and girls. Title IX states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

This important policy was intended to provide equal opportunities for men and women seeking to participate in activities and educational institutions receiving funding from the U.S. government. One of the most notable ways Title IX has benefited thousands of women is their ability to equally participate in sports. Catherine Parks writes, “many young girls now have the hope of competing at a collegiate level with all the benefits Title IX provides. The ability to earn a scholarship and compete at this level can be life changing. Women are more likely to attend college and graduate when offered an athletic scholarship.”

Women’s sports and the transgender movement

The 50th anniversary of Title IX is worth celebrating for all that it has meant for women and girls and their ability to fully and fairly participate in sports. However, in recent years, equal athletic opportunities for biological females have been repeatedly compromised by the participation of transgender athletes in women’s sports.

In 2020, three star female track athletes lodged a high-profile lawsuit targeting their Connecticut conference’s policy allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s sports. The defendants alleged that two biological males won 15 state high school championships over three years, stripping biological women of crucial advancement and scholarship opportunities. In 2021, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, but the athletes are appealing the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. 

Transgender atheletes are also challenging the integrity of women’s sports on the collegiate level. In March 2022, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas won the NCAA 500-meter freestyle championship. Thomas, a biological male, competed on the men’s swimming team for two years before joining the women’s team after undergoing a year of hormonal therapies. Thomas struggled to break out while swimming against men, but the swimmer quickly dominated national competition after switching to compete against biological women. Controversy swirled around Thomas’ status on the women’s team, as multiple female swimmers protested and team parents raised concerns over lost opportunities and championships for their children.  FINA, the international swimming governing body, responded by banning male-to-female transgender swimmers from competition unless the transition occurred before the onset of puberty.

At least 13 states have banned biological males who identify as women from competing in women’s sports. States are beginning to recognize the irony of forcing female athletes to compete against biological males: these policies are explicit reversals of the very Title IX antidiscrimination measures meant to secure equal opportunities for women. Biological males enjoy a natural advantage when competing against women, and proposed redefinitions of Title IX protections discriminate against young women by expecting them to overcome those disadvantages.

Department of Education’s proposed changes

Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced proposed changes to Title IX regulations that would have sweeping effects on the original intent and purpose of Title IX. The department stated that it intends to prohibit discrimination “based on sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity.” In short, the department wants to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI). This is significant because it would allow for biological men to participate in women’s sports, particularly at a collegiate level, and would penalize institutions that did not expand the definition of sex to include SOGI.

The department’s proposed Title IX regulations will be open for public comment for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register. The ERLC will submit public comments on this proposed rule.

Why does this matter to Christians

It is becoming increasingly clear that issues of gender identity and sexual orientation will continue to be debated in our culture. Given that, Christians are, and will continue to be, confronted with difficult situations in their schools and universities that revolve around transgender athletes. As these challenges arise, Christians need to know how to respond. We uphold the design of our Creator, who chose to endow men and women with equal value, yet distinct physical attributes. In this context, our intentional physical make-up as men and women, boys and girls has implications for the way we perform in athletic competition, and those differences should be acknowledged and valued.

The important protections that Title IX offers girls and women are in jeopardy if additional steps are taken to allow biological men to compete in female athletics. The blurred line in the definition of sex is going to lead to the deterioration of women’s sports all together. Christians need to be firmly grounded in what the Bible  teaches about biological sex and be ready to give an answer to the neighbors, family members, and larger culture around us. As we watch our daughters and sons train and compete, we should rejoice at the beauty of God’s design for creation and seek to teach our children and those that God has put in our path to disciple that every one of us is loved and purposely created to point to the One in whose image we were made. 

How the ERLC is involved

The ERLC is supports the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act. This act would clarify that it is a Title IX violation for schools that receive federal education funds to permit biological males to participate in female sports. We call on Congress to protect women and girls by ensuring they are given a fair opportunity to compete in athletics. 

The ERLC is also strongly opposed to the Equality Act. In addition to being detrimental to the issue of women’s sports participation, “the bill would curtail religious freedom protections, hinder the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals, undermine civil rights protections for women and girls, and ultimately steamroll the consciences of millions of Americans.”

We will always affirm the biological differences between male and female reflected in God’s creation and uphold the Southern Baptist Convention’s position on gender identity stated in its summary of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message, which says, “Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation.”

ERLC Interns Daniel Hostetter and Cooper Shull contributed to this article.

By / Jun 6

Editor’s Note: Among many of the most pressing ethical issues of our day is deep confusion over what it means to be human. From questions over abortion and racism to technology and sexuality, human anthropology lies at the heart of contemporary cultural debate. In light of the ongoing sexual crisis seen throughout our society, certain realities that once seemed common sense to most are being challenged in what is a failed quest to define our own existence and live independent of God’s created order.

As part of the ongoing research efforts at the ERLC, the following article, as well as the corresponding piece, “What is a man?”, offer a detailed look at these central questions in light of theological anthropology and philosophy. Each article is followed by a response from the corresponding scholar in hopes to further robust dialogue on these important questions of “what is a man” and “what is a woman” rooted in truths that cut to the heart of the important ethical questions being posed today.

As many a man has discovered, most women don’t like being called “emotional.” The term is at once a dismissal and a putdown, an implication that she is melodramatic, irrational, or even unhinged. Ironically, men are equally as emotional as women; they just express their emotions differently. Despite cultural stereotypes, the presence or intensity of feeling does not exclusively belong to women. Nor does the presence or intensity of a feeling exclusively define women. A woman’s emotions are not the sum of her identity. She is more than her feelings. 

Every person is more than his or her feelings. Personal identity is not determined or proven by our emotions or perceptions. Yet, when we attempt to determine or prove gender identity, that is precisely the measure our culture employs. To be woman, today, is a feeling. 

And this feeling is an irrefutable proof, whether it corresponds to one’s biology, and whether it changes throughout one’s lifetime (or even one’s day).1Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018), 203. Apart from one’s feeling, the medical community has no physiological, legal, medical, or physical criteria to verify a person’s gender identity.2Pearcey, Love Thy Body, 197. It is a self-reported, self-verified, and self-sustained identity. As Ryan T. Anderson describes in his work, When Harry Became Sally, the belief that a biological male can be “a woman stuck in a man’s body” presupposes that he knows what’s it’s like to be a woman, despite his male body, male brain, male reproductive capacities, and male DNA.3Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement (New York: Encounter Books, 2018),104. Even more, it also presupposes that he can separate his biological body from his gender identity. 

In other words, the physical self becomes irrelevant to determine a person’s true self. For someone with gender dysphoria, one’s sense of gender is misaligned with one’s biology. The body is a hindrance to authentic self-expression. The condition causes intense psychological distress, often causing gender dysphoric persons to seek relief through social, hormonal, and surgical changes. These changes can be anything as transient as clothing and hairstyles, or as irreparable as cross-sex hormones and organ-removing procedures. 

Recent data suggests gender confusion is affecting young women and girls at alarming and precipitous rates. Girls who identify as transgender have increased from 1/2,000 in 2008 to 1/20 in 2022.4“The Controversy Over Trans Teens,” The Week, October 24, 2021; accessed May 16, 2022; available from https://theweek.com/life/1006253/the-controversy-over-trans-teens. Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, Abigail Shrier notes the phenomenon of gender dysphoria among teenage girls runs deeper than sudden identity confusion: “For these girls, trans identification offers freedom from anxiety’s relentless pursuit; it satisfies the deepest need for acceptance, the thrill of transgression, the seductive lilt of belonging.”5Abigail Shrier, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters (Washington D.C.: Regenery Publishing, 2020),xxx. 

An entire generation of women and girls is searching for an answer to the question: What is a woman? And in a secularized, hyper-individualistic culture like ours that elevates sexual and gender identity as our true selves, they have little more than feelings to guide them.6Carl R. Trueman, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution (Wheaton: Crossway, 2022), 74. For a more detailed and academic treatment of Trueman’s research, see The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020). As gender dysphoria spreads at alarming and precipitous rates, some suggest that Christian compassion would compel us to support someone’s gender transition, even if as a temporary measure to give therapeutic relief. 

The Bible and the body

In For the Body, Timothy Tennent claims the body is not just a biological category; it is also a theological category, one that reveals its Creator. “[T]he body makes the invisible mysteries of God’s nature and redemption manifest and visible as a tangible marker in the world.”7Timothy C. Tennent, For the Body (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Reflective, 2020), 14. Like all of God’s creation, the human body reflects design and purpose; every part has a function, every cell is complex. 

Scripture portrays the body as good and essential to our identity (Gen. 1:26-29). If it were not both good and essential, the Lord would not have assumed a physical body (Heb. 2:13), nor would he have resurrected bodily (1 Cor. 15:3; Rev. 22:20), nor would he fulfill the redemption of his saints with a new, physical body (John 6:40; 1 Cor. 15:52; Rom. 8:23).8Tennent, For the Body, 25. “Our created bodies all point to Christ’s incarnation, and in turn, his resurrected body points to our physical, bodily (not just spiritual) resurrection at the end of time….If our bodies are untrustworthy and only serve to mask the true self that is within, then the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth cannot be trusted as a reliable means for God’s most profound self-disclosure in history.” Our bodies are not accidental or incidental to our identity as those who are created in God’s image.  

How does our biological sex relate to our gender identity? The Creation narrative gives us a clue. Genesis 1-2 tells, then re-tells, how God created humanity. Chapter 1 describes humanity in relationship to the rest of God’s creation. God made mankind—the culmination of his creative work—in his image (Gen. 1:26-29). It describes the first human beings as a male (zakar) and female (nequeba).9Tennent, For the Body, 19. Tennent also notes the entire Creation narrative is a series of binaries. “The entire creation account is set up around divinely instituted binaries. The dominant pairs or binaries in the account are ‘light and darkness’ (or ‘day and night’), ‘earth and sky,’ ‘water and land,’ ‘sun and moon,’ and ‘male and female.’” (19). This refers to the sexual difference between male and female. It also demonstrates that biological sex is binary.10This claim also considers the reality of intersex persons. Intersex refers to a biological state in which a person possesses both male and female reproductive organs at birth. The condition is the result of a chromosomal irregularity in utero. Estimations of the intersex population vary; one source claims it is as high as 1.7%, but a later study found a more precise definition of intersex conditions to be much lower. See Preston Sprinkle, Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say (David C. Cook, 2021), 117-120. As with all persons born with genetic irregularities, intersex persons deserve compassion and care. However, it is in error to conclude that congenital reproductive abnormalities disprove that sex is binary. See Deborah Soh, “Myth #1: Biological Sex is a Spectrum,” in The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths About Sex and Identity in Our Society (New York: Threshold Editions, 2020). Chapter 2 describes humanity in relationship to each other, what today we would call gender identity. Instead of finding male (zakar) and female (nequeba), we find man (ish) and woman (ishah).11“Researchers identify 6,500 genes that are expressed differently in men and woman,” Weizmann Institute of Science, March 5, 2017, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170504104342.htm. The Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel reported over 6,500 genes that are expressed differently in men and women, many of which are entirely separate from sexual reproduction such as the skin and the left ventricle of the heart. The male and the female relate to one another as a man and a woman, respectively. 

Here we find God’s original intent for sex and gender. In both Genesis 1 and 2, the sets of terms correspond. If a human being is a male (zakar), then God created him a man (ish). If a human being is a female (nequeba), then God created her as woman (ishah). Our biological sex indicates and informs gender identity.

Prenatal development confirms this. The male and female are comprehensive and complex. At the cellular level, there are only two biological types of reproductive cells: male and female.“12Biological sex is either male or female. Contrary to what is commonly believed, sex is defined not by chromosomes or our genitals or hormonal profiles, but by gametes, which are mature reproductive cells. There are only two types of gametes: small ones called sperm that are produced by males, and large ones called eggs that are produced by females. There are no intermediate types of gametes between egg and sperm cells. Sex is therefore binary. It is not a spectrum.” (Soh, 16-17) The first evidence of sex differentiation occurs in utero, during the eighth week of gestation. At eight weeks, a male baby experiences a flood of testosterone, which shapes his brain development.13Louann Brizendine, The Female Brain New York: Harmony Books, 2007), 15. The absence of testosterone for a female baby shapes her brain development as well. The centers of her brain that control communication, observation, and processing of emotion are larger. Female infants are born hardwired for emotional connection. 

In a female baby’s first three months, she will increase in eye contact and “mutual facial gazing” by 400%.14Brizendine, The Female Brain, 37-38. As her brain develops,15Debra Soh, The End of Gender, Chapter 2 “Myth #2: Gender is a Social Construct.” Soh debunks research that undermines assertions of male/female brain differences (41). she will process facial features more quickly and have greater sensitivity to social experiences involving faces and emotions.”16Stephen A. Furlich, Sex Talk: How Biological Sex Influences Gender Communication Differences Throughout Life’s Stages (Chatham, NJ: Bowker, 2021), Kindle Location: 811. Her brain also has larger limbic systems, affecting language, relationships, and memory,17Furlich, Sex Talk, Kindle Location: 784. as well as bonding, nesting, and one’s connection to one’s emotions.18Richard Lippa, Gender, Nature, and Nurture, 2nd ed. (Mahway, NJ and London: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005), 100-102, cites many of these studies; Simon Baron-Cohen, The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain (London: Penguin Books, 2003), devotes an entire book to the thesis: “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male-brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems” (5). The corpus callosum is also larger in the female brain, which facilitates transfer of information between the left and right hemispheres. The two areas of the frontal and temporal lobes that are associated with language are significantly larger in women than in men. All of this occurs before she can be imprinted by gendered social norms.19Sex differences in brain anatomy,” National institute of Health July 28, 2020, accessed May 24, 2022; available from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/sex-differences-brain-anatomy. “On average, males and females showed greater volume in different areas of the cortex, the outer brain layer that controls thinking and voluntary movements. Females had greater volume in the prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, superior temporal cortex, lateral parietal cortex, and insula. Males, on average, had greater volume in the ventral temporal and occipital regions. Each of these regions is responsible for processing different types of information.”

The brain and the body

These neurobiological differences guide gender behavior. Baby girls prefer to look at faces (i.e., people), while baby boys prefer to look at mechanical mobiles (i.e., motion). As young as 9 months old, boys and girls will gravitate toward gender-typical toys (girls to dolls and boys to cars, for example). As Dr. Debra Soh notes, this age is before children are old enough to recognize gender as a concept, which usually occurs between 18 and 24 months.20Soh, The End of Gender, 255 

Expressions of gender differences will vary from culture to culture; what is considered masculine or feminine in a given society or era will be different from another. But, whether a child gravitates toward, and identifies with, traits that are masculine or feminine within his or her own culture is “driven by biology.”21Soh, The End of Gender, 43. The biological differences in the brain lead to differences in behavior.22Soh, The End of Gender, 41. “Social markers for gender may change as decades go by, but this doesn’t mean children are socialized into having a gender….This doesn’t disprove that gender is biological, only that the expression of gender changes depending on what is considered male- and female-typical.” (Soh, 255) This doesn’t negate individuality or people whose interests aren’t gender-typical. And it doesn’t mean women have to conform to culturally contrived stereotypes.23Sprinkle, Embodied, 152. “Men aren’t commanded to be masculine, and women aren’t commanded to be feminine. They’re both just commanded to be godly.” Nancy Pearcey summarizes this well: “We must take care not to add to Scripture by baptizing gender expectations that are in reality historically contingent and arbitrary. . . . The church should be the first place where young people can find freedom from unbiblical stereotypes – the freedom to work out what it means to be created in God’s image as wholistic and redeemed people.”24Pearcey, Love Thy Body 218. These patterns do show, however, that God’s created our physical selves and our relational selves to be a unified whole.25Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 54, cf. 50-51. Andrew Walker elaborates: “Maleness isn’t only anatomy but anatomy shows that there is maleness. And femaleness isn’t only anatomy, but anatomy shows that there is femaleness. Men and women are more than just their anatomy, but they are not less. Our anatomy tells us what gender we are.” So, we can plainly state:

A woman is a biologically female human being

But, what if the physical body and the inner sense of gender don’t align? Which one determines who we are? Preston Sprinkle gives guidance in his book, Embodied, when he says our biological sex “determines who we are . . . and our embodiment is an essential part of how we image God in the world.”26Sprinkle, Embodied, 152.  Our created, embodied selves tell us who we are. Who we are is not determined on how we feel. The pain of gender dysphoria is real. Longing for inner wholeness is real. But the promise of peace27Littman conducted a study to explain the phenomena of an increasing and sudden prevalence of gender dysphoria among adolescents, teenagers who had previously expressed no gender dysphoric symptoms. The condition, known as “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria,” (ROGD) revealed an unexpected – and culturally unwelcome – pattern. Littman found the influence of an adolescent’s relationships directly affected her gender identity. Among adolescents with ROGD, 87% had friends who announced themselves as gender dysphoric, had saturated themselves with material on niche websites discussing gender dysphoria, or both. In other words, a condition believed to find its source and validation in one’s intrinsic sense of self has extrinsic factors. Lisa Littman, “Parent reports of adolescents and young adults perceived to show signs of a rapid onset of gender dysphoria,” PLOS ONE Vol 13, No. 8; August 16, 2018, accessed September 1, 2020; available from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0202330; internet. through hormone treatments and surgical procedures is an illusion.28Jennifer Smith, “Lesley Stahl Defends CBS 60 Minutes Episode About Transgender People Rushing into Treatment Then Regretting It: Young Man Was Castrated After Taking Female Hormones For Just THREE MONTHS,” DailyMail.com, May 26, 2021; accessed May 16, 2022; available from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9621959/Lesley-Stahl-defends-CBS-60-Minutes-episode-transgender-teens-rushed-it.html. Because the purpose for our sex and gender—the purpose for which we were made—will never be discovered from knowing ourselves, but in knowing the God who made us for himself.29This statement is not intended to dismiss the real and complex challenges of gender dysphoric persons. It is rather to offer hope that being reconciled to Christ is the way to inner peace.

A response to “What is a woman?” from Gregg R. Allison

At the outset, I express my thanks to Katie for tackling this important topic with me. I expect that she will agree that writing this essay was one of the more difficult tasks I have/she has ever undertaken! 

Among the many areas that I appreciate about Katie’s essay, I concentrate on four. First, she appropriately challenges the contemporary move that splits sex from gender. As she highlights, this shift overlooks or dismisses biological facts and elevates personal feelings or imagination, possibly leading to the claim that an XY individual is a woman or an XX individual is a man. Katie has assessed the current situation well: gender “is a self-reported, self-verified, and self-sustained identity,” and it carries the day. 

Second, from her vantage point of being a woman, Katie rightly defies a transgender woman’s assertion that he knows what it means to be a woman. I concur. No man can possibly know what it is to be a woman because he cannot experience typical female lived experiences such as estrogen-onset puberty, menstruation, the miracle of pregnancy, the bonding between mother and nursing child, pervasive domination by men, mistreatment and being demeaned by men, the fellowship of sisterhood, and more. 

Third, Katie compassionately laments the nightmarish experience of gender incongruence, which is increasing at an alarming rate. As she underscores, “the pain of gender dysphoria is real,” and her intent in discussing it is not “to dismiss the real and complex challenges of gender dysphoric persons.” 

Fourth, Katie strongly affirms the goodness of human embodiment and its essential role in human identity. This is a much-needed corrective to the Gnostic and neo-Gnostic deviations that are rearing their ugly heads in some contemporary societies. I wonder if she would affirm, as I do, “I am my body.”

This leads to my next section.  

Of the many questions I have, I offer two broad areas for further exploration. First, I would like to see more discussion of Katie’s point—interacting with Debra Soh—that masculine and feminine traits within different cultures are “driven by biology.”30Soh, The End of Gender, 41. How does this affirmation escape the error of biological essentialism or determinism? On the “nature vs. nurture” spectrum, Katie leans toward the “nature” side, as she explains that “biological differences in the brain lead to differences in behavior.” From my perspective, the “nurture” side often gets minimized in these discussions, and I would like to hear more from her on this point. 

Second, I would appreciate Katie expanding on her minimal definition—“a woman is a biologically female human being”—and address how a woman expresses her female biology beyond, for example, facial gazing, language, memory, and transfer of information from right and left brain hemispheres. I would like to hear her discuss how a woman expresses emotions, bonding, nesting, and relationships, specifically, (1) how cultural/contextual factors incise themselves into this biological substratum, thereby affecting its expression, and (2) how these female expressions (for example, of bonding) are not completely unique to a woman yet differ from those of a man. This topic is fascinating, difficult, and often frustrating, and I’d enjoy hearing more of her thoughts.  

Read “What is a man?” by Gregg R. Allison

  • 1
    Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018), 203.
  • 2
    Pearcey, Love Thy Body, 197.
  • 3
    Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement (New York: Encounter Books, 2018),104.
  • 4
    “The Controversy Over Trans Teens,” The Week, October 24, 2021; accessed May 16, 2022; available from https://theweek.com/life/1006253/the-controversy-over-trans-teens.
  • 5
    Abigail Shrier, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters (Washington D.C.: Regenery Publishing, 2020),xxx.
  • 6
    Carl R. Trueman, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution (Wheaton: Crossway, 2022), 74. For a more detailed and academic treatment of Trueman’s research, see The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020).
  • 7
    Timothy C. Tennent, For the Body (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Reflective, 2020), 14.
  • 8
    Tennent, For the Body, 25. “Our created bodies all point to Christ’s incarnation, and in turn, his resurrected body points to our physical, bodily (not just spiritual) resurrection at the end of time….If our bodies are untrustworthy and only serve to mask the true self that is within, then the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth cannot be trusted as a reliable means for God’s most profound self-disclosure in history.”
  • 9
    Tennent, For the Body, 19. Tennent also notes the entire Creation narrative is a series of binaries. “The entire creation account is set up around divinely instituted binaries. The dominant pairs or binaries in the account are ‘light and darkness’ (or ‘day and night’), ‘earth and sky,’ ‘water and land,’ ‘sun and moon,’ and ‘male and female.’” (19).
  • 10
    This claim also considers the reality of intersex persons. Intersex refers to a biological state in which a person possesses both male and female reproductive organs at birth. The condition is the result of a chromosomal irregularity in utero. Estimations of the intersex population vary; one source claims it is as high as 1.7%, but a later study found a more precise definition of intersex conditions to be much lower. See Preston Sprinkle, Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say (David C. Cook, 2021), 117-120. As with all persons born with genetic irregularities, intersex persons deserve compassion and care. However, it is in error to conclude that congenital reproductive abnormalities disprove that sex is binary. See Deborah Soh, “Myth #1: Biological Sex is a Spectrum,” in The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths About Sex and Identity in Our Society (New York: Threshold Editions, 2020).
  • 11
    “Researchers identify 6,500 genes that are expressed differently in men and woman,” Weizmann Institute of Science, March 5, 2017, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170504104342.htm. The Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel reported over 6,500 genes that are expressed differently in men and women, many of which are entirely separate from sexual reproduction such as the skin and the left ventricle of the heart.
  • 12
    Biological sex is either male or female. Contrary to what is commonly believed, sex is defined not by chromosomes or our genitals or hormonal profiles, but by gametes, which are mature reproductive cells. There are only two types of gametes: small ones called sperm that are produced by males, and large ones called eggs that are produced by females. There are no intermediate types of gametes between egg and sperm cells. Sex is therefore binary. It is not a spectrum.” (Soh, 16-17)
  • 13
    Louann Brizendine, The Female Brain New York: Harmony Books, 2007), 15.
  • 14
    Brizendine, The Female Brain, 37-38.
  • 15
    Debra Soh, The End of Gender, Chapter 2 “Myth #2: Gender is a Social Construct.” Soh debunks research that undermines assertions of male/female brain differences (41).
  • 16
    Stephen A. Furlich, Sex Talk: How Biological Sex Influences Gender Communication Differences Throughout Life’s Stages (Chatham, NJ: Bowker, 2021), Kindle Location: 811.
  • 17
    Furlich, Sex Talk, Kindle Location: 784.
  • 18
    Richard Lippa, Gender, Nature, and Nurture, 2nd ed. (Mahway, NJ and London: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005), 100-102, cites many of these studies; Simon Baron-Cohen, The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain (London: Penguin Books, 2003), devotes an entire book to the thesis: “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male-brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems” (5).
  • 19
    Sex differences in brain anatomy,” National institute of Health July 28, 2020, accessed May 24, 2022; available from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/sex-differences-brain-anatomy. “On average, males and females showed greater volume in different areas of the cortex, the outer brain layer that controls thinking and voluntary movements. Females had greater volume in the prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, superior temporal cortex, lateral parietal cortex, and insula. Males, on average, had greater volume in the ventral temporal and occipital regions. Each of these regions is responsible for processing different types of information.”
  • 20
    Soh, The End of Gender, 255
  • 21
    Soh, The End of Gender, 43.
  • 22
    Soh, The End of Gender, 41. “Social markers for gender may change as decades go by, but this doesn’t mean children are socialized into having a gender….This doesn’t disprove that gender is biological, only that the expression of gender changes depending on what is considered male- and female-typical.” (Soh, 255)
  • 23
    Sprinkle, Embodied, 152. “Men aren’t commanded to be masculine, and women aren’t commanded to be feminine. They’re both just commanded to be godly.”
  • 24
    Pearcey, Love Thy Body 218.
  • 25
    Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 54, cf. 50-51. Andrew Walker elaborates: “Maleness isn’t only anatomy but anatomy shows that there is maleness. And femaleness isn’t only anatomy, but anatomy shows that there is femaleness. Men and women are more than just their anatomy, but they are not less. Our anatomy tells us what gender we are.”
  • 26
    Sprinkle, Embodied, 152. 
  • 27
    Littman conducted a study to explain the phenomena of an increasing and sudden prevalence of gender dysphoria among adolescents, teenagers who had previously expressed no gender dysphoric symptoms. The condition, known as “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria,” (ROGD) revealed an unexpected – and culturally unwelcome – pattern. Littman found the influence of an adolescent’s relationships directly affected her gender identity. Among adolescents with ROGD, 87% had friends who announced themselves as gender dysphoric, had saturated themselves with material on niche websites discussing gender dysphoria, or both. In other words, a condition believed to find its source and validation in one’s intrinsic sense of self has extrinsic factors. Lisa Littman, “Parent reports of adolescents and young adults perceived to show signs of a rapid onset of gender dysphoria,” PLOS ONE Vol 13, No. 8; August 16, 2018, accessed September 1, 2020; available from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0202330; internet.
  • 28
    Jennifer Smith, “Lesley Stahl Defends CBS 60 Minutes Episode About Transgender People Rushing into Treatment Then Regretting It: Young Man Was Castrated After Taking Female Hormones For Just THREE MONTHS,” DailyMail.com, May 26, 2021; accessed May 16, 2022; available from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9621959/Lesley-Stahl-defends-CBS-60-Minutes-episode-transgender-teens-rushed-it.html.
  • 29
    This statement is not intended to dismiss the real and complex challenges of gender dysphoric persons. It is rather to offer hope that being reconciled to Christ is the way to inner peace.
  • 30
    Soh, The End of Gender, 41.
By / Oct 14

Sex is like fire. When it resides in the proper boundaries it gives light and heat, but unrestrained it causes great harm. Teenagers are receiving messages about sexuality every day — from the latest Netflix series, from social media, from their conversations with friends. Parents and youth workers must not overlook the value of having their own ongoing conversations with students about biblical sexuality.

Youth ministry has a legacy of urging teenagers to make virginity pledges and other similar efforts that can easily drift into manipulation. While the intent is good, since we should be teaching about sexual purity, the way we engage in these conversations matters. By now it should be obvious that we need to talk about sex in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not according to the law. It is not a matter of dos and don’ts but of helping students discover the nature of sex, the goal of sex, and the fulfillment of what sex can offer.

When youth group only talks about sex once a year, usually a few weeks before prom season, it makes sense that many students will be more shaped by the messages the culture and their peers are sending: “Sex is awesome.” “Love is love.” “Be careful but do what you want so long as the other person gives consent.” Others graduate from youth ministry with the impression that sex is inherently sinful. Some Christians even feel guilty about having sex after they get married because of the way sex was discussed during their teenage years. The solution is not to overcorrect by talking about how great and awesome sex is, but simply to be biblical.

God created us as male or female and gave us the gifts of marriage and sex to promote human flourishing. He did not need to make it feel good, but he did. It is a gift that reflects the delight and pleasure we were created to enjoy through intimacy with our Creator. At the same time, the Bible doesn’t pull punches about the dangers of unbounded sexuality. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed as judgment for their rampant evil and sexual sin. King David, a man after God’s own heart, caused great suffering in his family because of his sexual sin against Bathsheba.

Sex is a quest for intimacy

God gave the gift of sex to strengthen intimacy between a husband and a wife. The goal is intimacy — to be fully known without any fear of rejection. This is what so many men and women are trying to attain through their sexual activity, as if sex were a shortcut to it. Whether we are talking with parents or students, it is helpful and biblical to build the conversation around intimacy: God created us for intimacy with him and with each other. Sin has brought suspicion into relationships, but sex is a brief moment of joyful acceptance between two partners. Aside from the physical pleasure, this is what makes it so powerful.

This quest for intimacy also gives fulfillment to men and women who never marry. To many students, the idea of singleness can sound like a sentence to lifelong loneliness, and this fear drives them into toxic dating patterns. However, celibacy is an old-fashioned virtue worth reclaiming, especially considering that neither Jesus nor the apostle Paul ever married. Some churches treat married couples and those with children as priority members, but this should not be, and youth workers have an opportunity to teach students a wider view of human sexuality and relationships.

Sex is about intimacy, and perfect intimacy is found only in Jesus Christ who loved us and saved us while we were still enemies. God chose to redeem sinners and adopt them as sons and daughters. If he gave his life for us while we were still his enemies, then truly nothing can separate us from the love of God. In the midst of today’s sexual revolution, it is important to remember that sex is about enjoying intimacy with a spouse and yet, as good as sex may feel, it cannot deliver the type of intimacy our hearts most desire.

Best practices for discussing sex and dating

  • Always talk with parents first. Whether you are teaching in youth group or initiating a conversation with a student at the coffee shop, always talk with parents first. Many youth workers have assumed parents would be comfortable with another adult having these conversations with their kids, only to find out they were wrong. Plus, if the talk goes sideways, you’ll be thankful to have parental support while dealing with the fallout.
  • Make it an ongoing conversation. As you preach through biblical texts, make ongoing applications to students’ dating lives and sexual identities. If the only time you talk about sex is when the entire lesson is about sex, you’re missing a chance to shape the whole person.
  • Avoid a lot of joking about who’s dating whom. Laughter is good medicine, but it can also make having serious conversations awkward. Students may become hesitant to ask you about relationships because they fear you might turn it into a joke.
  • Teach about a biblical view of marriage. It can be tempting to avoid talking about marriage because teenagers are likely not getting married anytime soon. Inviting married couples of various ages to share their stories and what they’ve learned about marriage can be especially helpful for students from fractured households, because they may not receive this type of teaching (or example!) anywhere else.
  • Don’t overlook the Bible’s teaching about celibacy. Christian men and women who never marry are just as important and valuable as those who have large families. Especially in today’s culture surrounding LGBTQ+ issues, reclaiming the holiness of celibacy enables students to hear that it is possible to be both celibate and fulfilled in life.
  • Avoid damaging illustrations and examples. Many skits and examples have been used in youth ministry to persuade students about sexual abstinence. The most popular has been handing out a piece of gum for someone to chew, only to later hold up the piece of chewed gum and ask “Who wants this?” This illustration and others like it implicitly tell students who have sinned sexually that they are worthless and undesirable, both to other people and to God. The gospel, however, proclaims the love of God for sinners and his delight in giving grace to those who need it.
  • Resist talking about “sexual purity until marriage.” Married men and women also need to guard their sexual purity. When youth workers talk about sexual purity until marriage, this either conveys that sex with your spouse makes you impure or that you will not need to guard yourself against sexual sin after marriage. Rather than making it seem like sexual purity is a teenage problem, call students to sexual purity as a lifelong pursuit.
  • Consider speaking to the boys and girls separately. There are times when large-group teaching may be best, but consider ways to speak to students in forums that will minimize awkward moments while maximizing the potential for real conversation.
  • Ask students about their friends’ views. This will allow them to talk with greater comfort. It will also help you interact with the other viewpoints they’re hearing and get a glimpse of their own opinions. How you respond to this conversation will help them decide whether or not they can trust you.
  • Keep the grace of Jesus Christ front-and-center. Sex is about intimacy, and perfect intimacy is found through fellowship with God in Christ.

Excerpted from Lead Them to Jesus © 2021 by Mike McGarry. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission. To purchase this and other helpful resources, please visit newgrowthpress.com.

By / May 19

Rob was heading off to college, and he planned to room with a high school friend, Jack. But one phone call threatened those plans. As Rob drove home from youth group one Wednesday evening, his phone began to vibrate. He looked down to see that it was Jack, and he immediately thought that was odd. Jack sent regular texts, but he wasn’t much for long conversations. So, as soon as Rob pulled into the driveway, he called his friend back. The voice on the other end of the line shook. Jack had called to confess he’d been hanging with a number of gay friends. He was struggling with same-sex attraction and even same-sex sexual intimacy. He’d called Rob out of respect. Jack wanted Rob to know before they roomed together.

Rob had grown up in a conservative family and community. For that matter, he’d grown up in a conservative part of the country. Jack’s voice shook for a good reason; he knew this was a risk. Frankly, the confession shocked Rob. Repulsed, he took a posture of judgment. Rob was polite on the phone, but he didn’t go room with Jack as they’d planned. And when the two young men got to school, Rob avoided his struggling friend. The sad irony of that reaction was that Rob’s lust and sexual sin was equally disordered. His pattern of desire was different, which somehow made his sin seem more excusable, but his depravity was no less.

The Bible tells us that we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23). Fornication, adultery, homosexual behavior (same-sex sexual and romantic intimacy), and active transgender expressions such as cross-dressing and gender re-assignment are all sinful results of the fall (Matt. 15:19; 1 Cor. 6:9–19). God calls all Christians to repent from such actions by turning away from them in the power of the Holy Spirit. Homosexual lust, sometimes called same-sex attraction, and gender identity confusion are disordered desires, and they are also a result of the fall (James 1:13–15). God calls Christians to repent from evil desires by walking in confession (1 John 1:9) even though such desires may persist throughout a believer’s life.1See the excellent explanation of this reality in statements 4 and 5 of the “Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality to the Forty-Eighth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America,” https://pcaga.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/AIC-Report- to-48th-GA-5-28-20-1.pdf.

The short epistle of Jude warns against those who excuse all such immorality. Jude is a loving, spiritual father. He wants what is best for each member of God’s church. He begins his letter with regret, saying that he’d wanted to write and encourage the beloved with good news about their shared salvation. But instead, he felt compelled to warn them to fight against false teaching (Jude 3). As parents, we must be willing to speak to our children in the same way. Even when it’s awkward or difficult, our kids need warnings and encouragement to stand against sinful temptation and the world’s lies.

Jude 4 summarizes the heart of his warning:

For certain individuals, whose condemnation was written about long ago, have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

We must see what Jude is not saying here. He’s not condemning everyone who has disordered desires — or who commits sexual sin — to hell. In fact, Jude’s letter ends with hope for those entangled with lust (Jude 22–23). Instead, Jude rebukes those who excuse sin and justify them- selves (just as Rob did with his potential roommate). False teaching and immorality aren’t just out there in the world. Jude says they’re inside the church. Sin is a disease that’s inside each one of us.

Three types of false voices 

Jude warns against three types of false voices. Let’s look at each one and put ourselves under the microscope. Do we see these tendencies in ourselves or our kids? If so, we must heed Jude’s warnings and fight for our kids’ faith by speaking his words of warning to them as well. 

First, beware of discontentment. When we’re discontent, we fail to believe that what God has given us is enough. Contentment is not circumstantial. It’s theological. Any time we give in to sexual immorality or a desire to define our identity on our own apart from God’s design, we’re demonstrating a lack of happiness and satisfaction in God. Our desires are out of order, that is to say, our strong affections for self, sex, or power are stronger than our affections for God and his ways. It does not matter whether lustful desires are heterosexual or homosexual in nature, choosing to follow strong, competing sinful tendencies demonstrates our failure to delight first in God. 

Allowing a discontented heart to reign within us without confessing this as sin is dangerous. God rescued Israel from slavery and oppression in Egypt. They were given a great salvation, but they grumbled and complained in the desert. As a result, a whole generation died in the wilderness (Jude 5). Whether it’s through his examples of the fallen angels or the perverse people of Sodom (Jude 6–7), Jude shows us a pattern: discontent leads to destruction.

From an early age, kids need to work through the disappointment of not getting what they want. When a child can’t have another piece of chocolate before bed, it’s an opportunity for them to learn that their parent knows best. Help your kids learn to find satisfaction in what they’ve already received. And model for your kids what it looks like to bring your wants and desires to the Lord in prayer (Matt. 7:7–12). Don’t be afraid to pray with them for good desires you know you might not get. Then show them what it looks like to choose satisfaction in God’s answers and obedience to him whatever comes. The secret of contentment lies in depending on Christ for strength even when we are weak (Phil. 4:12–13).

Second, stop making excuses. Jude’s opponents claim they don’t have to obey God’s law, because, according to Jewish custom, it was mediated by angels (Acts 7:53; Heb. 2:2)2See other Jewish sources in Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 58. and not given directly by God himself. Jude sees this argument for what it is: an excuse (Jude 8). God’s Word is clear. They just don’t want to obey it.

We still make excuses today. The Bible is plain. Same-sex sexual lust and intimacy is sinful (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). However, some say this is harsh and would openly affirm same-sex sexual relationships even while they claim to follow the Scriptures. When read- ing a clear verse like Leviticus 18:22, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable,” they make excuses: “Old Testament law doesn’t apply today. It came from Moses, not Jesus.” But that is the same tune Jude’s opponents played.3Kevin DeYoung carefully reviews arguments like these and gives careful biblical responses in his book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).

Help your kids see the world’s excuse-making for what it is. And more importantly, help them see when they are tempted to excuse their own sin. When we make excuses, we attempt to lessen the blame or guilt we’re due for our immoral behavior and desires. Rob, in my story above, may have known from youth group what the Bible taught about homosexuality. The trouble was he’d excused his own lusts.

I can still remember when I first confessed my own struggles with lust to a friend in seminary. He asked me, “Have you practiced regular confession?” And he quoted 1 John 1:7 to me: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” I thought to myself, “Does God really mean that?” All the excuses rolled through my head. My pathway to repentance was to admit my guilt and submit to God’s authority.

Still, I have regrets. There have been times when my own hypocrisy has crippled efforts to genuinely care for others. One writer describes how this is a common problem in the church:

Many gay people sense a double standard when Christian leaders routinely (and loudly) denounce same-gender sex while quietly ignoring morally lax attitudes toward other areas of sexual ethics. In an era when pornography and serial monogamy are both common occurrences, some gay people . . . feel hurt, mis- understood, and judged when Christian leaders harp instead on the evils of the “gay agenda.”4Nate Collins, All but Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 9.

We must stop having a different standard for others than we do for ourselves. Only awareness and honesty about our own sin will empower us to speak the truth with credibility to our gay, lesbian, and transgender neighbors.

Finally, beware of sin’s empty promises. Jude says the false teachers came in like a thundercloud but never brought rain; like a dead, hollow tree that never bore fruit; like a wandering star, no use for navigation (Jude 13). Here’s the thing about sin: it talks a good game, and it can be fun in the moment, but the promises are empty.

Our culture glamorizes relational happiness. Young girls grow up on Disney love stories, believing marriage is a fairy tale of unending personal intimacy. Young men fantasize about an indulgent honeymoon. As parents, we want relational joy for our kids too. We all want the glory of fulfillment and love. If fulfillment is the goal, it can be tempting for families to accept their child’s gender transition or their desire to pursue a romantic same-sex relationship without any qualification. Some parents feel that if they don’t affirm their child’s desires and support a same-sex partnership or gender transition, they’ll be robbing their child of a life of joy.

But true wholeness isn’t found in temporal relationships. It’s found in Christ. Christ doesn’t guarantee that besetting conditions will be resolved simply because of faith. Rather, living as a Christian in a broken world sometimes means persistently battling with desires that are contrary to God’s plan. But we do not do so without hope of reward or final healing (Luke 18:29–30). 

Jude tells us the way broken people must fight the good fight of faith: “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 21). We remember God’s love and wait on Jesus. On the last day, we’ll see that he is better than what we long for here.

*For a more in-depth treatment on teaching your children about sexuality, grab this e-book, A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Children About Gender: Helping Kids Navigate a Confusing Culture.

  • 1
    See the excellent explanation of this reality in statements 4 and 5 of the “Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality to the Forty-Eighth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America,” https://pcaga.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/AIC-Report- to-48th-GA-5-28-20-1.pdf.
  • 2
    See other Jewish sources in Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 58.
  • 3
    Kevin DeYoung carefully reviews arguments like these and gives careful biblical responses in his book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).
  • 4
    Nate Collins, All but Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 9.
By / Apr 22

Some people argue that because babies are occasionally born inter-sex, “male” and “female” are not clear categories, but that everyone is on a spectrum with completely male at one end and completely female at the other. They also say that our bodies don’t have to define whether we are a man or a woman, but that if someone’s feelings don’t match their body, they should be able to decide whether they want to be recognized as male or female—or perhaps as “non-binary” or “gender non-conforming,” meaning they don’t want to be recognized as either a man or a woman. 

Someone who was born with a male body but later identifies as a woman would be described today as a trans or transgender woman, and someone who was born with a female body but identifies as a man would be described as a trans or transgender man. Transgender people often take new names. For example, someone called John might switch to Jane and ask people to talk about “she” or “her” instead of “he” or “him.” Someone who identifies as non-binary or gender non-conforming might ask to be talked about as “they.” So what does Christianity say about all of this? 

To begin with, it’s important for us to listen to other people and understand their feelings and experiences. When I was a kid, I didn’t want to wear dresses and play with dolls. I wanted to sword fight with my brother in the woods. My mum made me do ballet. I hated it. Someone once gave me a pink “My Little Pony” for my birthday. I flushed it down the toilet. (Don’t try this: it’s really bad for the toilet!) I don’t recall wanting to be a boy. That was never an option in my mind. But at my all-girls school, I acted every male role I could. As a teenager, I never wanted to paint my nails, wear makeup, shop for clothes, or talk about boys. Girly things weren’t my thing. 

Some teens feel like I did, except much, much more. They feel like the body they were born with doesn’t match how they feel on the inside. Some people choose to dress in ways typical of the opposite sex. They might also take medicines or have surgeries to make their bodies look like the opposite sex. If you have never felt this way, it can be hard to understand why someone would do this. Sadly, people who feel this way have often been laughed at or bullied. It is never right for Christians to mock and bully people. Jesus calls us to love others—especially if they are different from us. But Christians also believe that God made us male and female on purpose. So how should Christians think about someone wanting to change their gender identity? 

First, we know that Jesus cares a lot about our feelings. He knows us from the inside out. He knows what we love and what makes us scared or sad. He knows when we feel like we don’t fit in and when we wish we could be different. He loves us so much that he died for us! So if you are a boy, but you desperately wish you were a girl, or if you are a girl who longs to be a boy, Jesus sees you and knows you and loves you with an everlasting love. 

Second, the Bible tells us that God created everything through Jesus (John 1:3). Jesus made you. If you were born a boy, he meant for you to be a boy. If you were born a girl, he meant for you to be a girl. This doesn’t mean that it will always be easy, or that you have to do everything other people expect from girls or boys. As we saw earlier, Jesus cried, and cooked, and loved babies, and when people beat him up, he didn’t fight back. If you’re a follower of Jesus, it’s okay to be different. Unlike lots of women, I hate fashion and shopping for clothes. But my husband, Bryan, likes both those things—and that’s okay! But the Bible also teaches us that we shouldn’t always trust our feelings. We find our true selves not by following our feelings, but by following Jesus, so when our desires don’t line up with following Jesus, we need to trust him. 

Following Jesus always means trusting him with our desires, even if it’s really hard. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24–25). But Jesus doesn’t ask us to do this alone. He gives us his Spirit, and he gives us his body (other Christians) for help. So if you are struggling with being a boy or a girl, look for a Christian friend to talk to about your feelings. If you feel comfortable with your body, try to be the kind of person who could support a friend who was struggling in this way. 

How should Christians relate to transgender people? 

If you’re a Christian and some of your classmates identify as transgender or non-binary, your job is not to avoid them or make fun of them. Your job is to tell them about Jesus and show them his love—just as you would to others. Loving people doesn’t mean agreeing with all their decisions. My non-Christian friends make all sorts of decisions I disagree with. They’re not working from the same roadmap. But I can still love them and listen to them. In fact, listening to someone’s story is often the best starting point for showing love. Everyone wants to be known and understood. At times, though, loving someone means telling them when you don’t think they’re making the right decision. 

In one of my favorite moments in the Harry Potter series, Neville helps Gryffindor win the House Cup, because he stood up to Harry, Ron, and Hermione when he thought they were doing the wrong thing. Dumbledore gives Neville five points for this act of courage saying, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”1J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (London: Bloomsbury, 1997), 221.  Questioning whether it’s the right decision for someone to live as the opposite sex, perhaps even taking medications or having surgeries to change their bodies in ways they can never reverse, can be seen as being hateful in our culture today. But telling a friend that you love them as they are, and that you think the body they were born with is good isn’t hateful. All of us make decisions in light of what our friends and family think and sometimes we need encouragement from our friends to accept ourselves. 

It can be easy to think that making a change to our bodies is the key to happiness—whether it’s getting thinner, or stronger, or taller, or having larger breasts, or changing whether we are seen as a boy or as a girl. But just as it’s not hateful to tell a friend you love her just the weight she is, it’s not hateful to tell a friend you love her as a girl, or that you love him as a boy, even if our friends don’t fit the stereotypes about boys and girls that say, “Girls should be like this, and boys should be like that.” What’s more, when you think about it, if we no longer let our bodies tell us if we are male or female, those stereotypes are all we have left. Let me explain. 

What do “man” and “woman” mean? 

Earlier this year, the actor (Daniel Radcliffe) who played Harry Potter in the films of J. K. Rowling’s books made a public statement: “Transgender women are women.” When he said this, he meant that people who were born with a male body but feel like they belong in the world as a woman should be recognized as women just as much as people who were born with a female body. Daniel Radcliffe said this in response to J. K. Rowling herself saying that—while she personally thinks it’s okay for people to live in the world as the opposite sex—the bodies we are born with and grew up with still matter, and that someone who was born male should not be treated as female in every situation. Some people were very angry with J. K. Rowling for saying this, and Daniel Radcliffe wanted to make clear that he didn’t agree. But Daniel Radcliffe’s statement highlights an important question: What does “man” or “woman” mean? 

Up until recently in our culture, for me to say, “I am a woman” would mean—first and foremost— that I was born with a female body. There are significant differences between male bodies and female bodies. Even beyond what we can see with our eyes, scientists could tell whether you were a boy or a girl by examining a single cell from anywhere in your body.2See David C. Page, “Every Cell Has a Sex: X and Y and the Future of Health Care,” Yale School of Medicine, August 30, 2016, https:// medicine.yale.edu/news-article/13321/#:~:text=Humans%20have %20a%20total%20of,X%20and%20one%20Y%20chromosome.  But if Daniel Radcliffe’s claim that “Transwomen are women” is true, and being born with a female body isn’t at the heart of what it means to be a woman, then what does it mean to be a woman? Does it mean wearing dresses and makeup, or wearing your hair long rather than short? Some women in our culture do those things, but no one would say that was the definition of being a woman. Does it mean other people thinking you were born with a female body? If so, then the identity of a transgender person would depend on people not knowing the truth about his or her past. 

In conversations about transgender questions, people often talk as if there is something deep inside of us—not connected with our bodies—that defines whether we are male or female more than our bodies do. But while some people struggle with their gender identity throughout their life, others who feel uncomfortable with their bodies as teenagers find that those feelings change as they get older.3There is much controversy over the exact numbers, but it seems that some significant proportion of those who experience gender dysphoria in childhood find that it resolves in adulthood. For example, a study published in 2013 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, followed up with 127 adolescent patients at a gender identity clinic in Amsterdam and found that two-thirds ultimately identified as the gender they were assigned at birth.  If there was something other than our bodies that more truly defined us as male or female, we would expect that sense of identity always to stay the same throughout someone’s life. Many people today think that Christians are foolish for believing things that cannot be measured with the tools of science. But the idea that there is a thing deep within us that tells us if we are male or female against the evidence of our physical bodies does not line up with science at all. And we are still left with the question: What does it mean to be a man or a woman, if it doesn’t relate to our biological sex? 

As a Christian, I am not surprised that our society is struggling to define what it means to be a man or a woman. Without belief in a Creator God who made humans in his image, we are left without a real definition of what it means to be a human being, so no wonder we don’t know what it means to be a male or female human. Without belief in a Creator God who gives us moral laws, we are like cartoon characters who have run off a cliff and keep running in midair for a few seconds before we crash to the ground. 

As a Christian, I do believe that there is a voice deep inside me that tells me who I am. That voice is God’s Spirit, who unites every believer to Jesus like a body to its head, or a wife to her husband. The Spirit speaks through God’s Word (the Bible) and guides his people. But from a Christian perspective, this voice inside isn’t disconnected from our bodies, because the same God who lives within us by his Spirit also created our bodies. Jesus tells us that God created humans “from the beginning male and female” (Matt. 19:4). If we’re trusting in Jesus, he knows us from the inside out, and he makes us belong even when we feel like we don’t fit. Growing up, I often felt inadequate as a woman. I still sometimes feel that way today. But when I do, I trust Jesus that he made me a woman on purpose and that he loves me just as I am. 


Content taken from 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin, ©2021. Used by permission of Crossway.

  • 1
    J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (London: Bloomsbury, 1997), 221. 
  • 2
    See David C. Page, “Every Cell Has a Sex: X and Y and the Future of Health Care,” Yale School of Medicine, August 30, 2016, https:// medicine.yale.edu/news-article/13321/#:~:text=Humans%20have %20a%20total%20of,X%20and%20one%20Y%20chromosome. 
  • 3
    There is much controversy over the exact numbers, but it seems that some significant proportion of those who experience gender dysphoria in childhood find that it resolves in adulthood. For example, a study published in 2013 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, followed up with 127 adolescent patients at a gender identity clinic in Amsterdam and found that two-thirds ultimately identified as the gender they were assigned at birth. 
By / Mar 24

[Note: In light of the subject matter of this post, I feel obligated to warn that the content and language is intended for a mature audience. My goal is not to offend, but only to edify, encourage, and proclaim the sometimes-all-too-frank biblical truth. Though I acknowledge the ever-growing porn addiction among women, I will be speaking as a man to other men simply because the problem of porn runs all the more rampant among men.]

The problem of porn has been crippling churches for years. I’m not here to pick up my stones and throw them. In the vein of what Jesus said to the Pharisees, I couldn’t begin to lob the first one. This article is for myself, my best friends, the pastors in my life, my mentors, and you, because what we’re seeing in the porn industry is unprecedented. I am writing in hopes the Spirit might prick the heart of a calloused generation and extend grace to the wounded and weary sinner. I am writing so that broken men might see the reasons why their habits will break others. I am writing because the problem of porn has led so many men astray from the assurance of God’s love.

Let’s begin with some statistics on porn. At the time of writing, Covenant Eyes reports that over 90% of teens and young adults are “either encouraging, accepting, or neutral” when they talk about porn with their friends. Of adults 25 and older, only 55% have a moral concern with the use of pornography. Even more dire are the numbers inside the church: Covenant Eyes also reports that one in five youth pastors and one in seven senior pastors use porn on a regular basis. Sixty-four percent of Christian men watch porn monthly, while 15% of Christian women do the same. 

There’s no sugar-coating it—these numbers are unnerving. What we are facing is no longer just a struggle with holiness; we are in the midst of a cultural crisis. We are in the middle of an age where secularism and church culture are often indistinguishable. Sin is seeping into our congregations, and it poses a future-shattering question that we need to address before it’s too late: “What does an entire generation of fathers and pastors raised on porn look like?”

The Church needs to face this new reality head on. Humankind has contended with the sins of adultery and lust ever since the Fall, but Paul never had to urge Timothy to stay off of PornHub or give up his smartphone. We’ve never had this kind of access before. And it is precisely because this is such a new problem that we cannot fail to consider what the long-term effects may be. I want to share three with you.

1. The sterilization of the faculties of love and imagination

C.S. Lewis lived 33 years before the internet, and he still foresaw the effects of the porn culture. In a 1956 letter written to Keith Masson, Lewis discusses the “harem of imaginary brides” in the mind of the man who seeks to selfishly satisfy his lust.1This letter is found in volume 3 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. This harem “is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival.” Today, this harem has become digital. 

The man who habitually looks to porn for his affirmation, satisfaction, or fulfillment commits severe offenses against God and violates the imago Dei. In his pleasure-seeking, man takes his portion of love and wastes it on his own selfishness. 

According to James 4:4, taking heed to the passions that are at war within us turns us into a spiritually “adulterous people.” Pornography not only ruins a man’s ability to love well; it beckons toward the formation of an adulterous heart. Like an artist with clay, over time porn has the capability of repurposing the very form of our love.

Romans 1:28–31 talks about the man who sees his vain self-pleasure as preferable to God. Paul says that these people have a “debased mind.” We ruin the mind with our sinful pursuits. Like a drug, pornography rewires the mind, turning it into a machine seeking pleasure no matter the cost.2For more on this, see Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, especially pp. 102–104. See also Steven Pace, “Acquiring Tastes through Online Activity: Neuroplasticity and the Flow Experiences of Web Users,” M/C Journal, 17(1).

In order to fight porn, we must understand and believe the fundamental doctrine of the imago Dei, because regular porn consumption reorients the male posture toward a diminished view of women’s dignity. In consuming pornography, we take one of God’s creations and sinfully abuse it. Matt Chandler reminds us of this in a sermon on the image of God:

“Pornography is the degradation of the performers as not having souls, as not having any real value, and it is consuming their emptiness and despair for our own pleasure. It is deplorable and wicked. No little girl dreams of that growing up. If we had any idea of the horrific backgrounds we were dealing with, there’s no way we would watch and be aroused. We would be heartbroken. We’d be devastated at the molestation, at the rape, at the horrific abuse so many have endured. This is an imago Dei issue.”3From “A Beautiful Design (Part 2) – In His Image,” available here: https://youtu.be/2NOjzdPkefw

These girls are often slaves by vocation, underpaid and forced into their circumstances.4See Catharine A. MacKinnon, Pornography as Trafficking, 26 Michigan Journal of International Law, 993 (2005). The effects the industry has on women reaches as far as PTSD.5Corita R. Grudzen, Ryan, G., Margold, W., Torres, J., & Gelberg, L., “Pathways to health risk exposure in adult film performers.” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 86:1 (2009), 67–78. It endangers them. If you want to protect women, look inward: rid yourself of your porn addiction, no matter what it may take. Confess to your spouse, your pastor, or your brother. Put safeguards in place to aid you in moments of weakness or temptation. Reinforce the walls of your heart that are about to cave in on themselves. For the honor of God’s creation, for the celebration of the justice he so ferociously seeks, and for the sake of the vulnerable, we should be fighting vigilantly against the problem of porn.

2. The capitulation to hyper-sexualism

Pornography chips away at the conscience. There are a whole host of tangential sins related to porn use—something I have referred to in private conversations and counsel as a breed of “hyper-sexualism.”

University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus analyzed the results of the Relationships in America survey in this article titled, “Tracking Christian Sexual Morality in a Same-Sex Future.” From this survey, we can track a trajectory for the Church as it decides how to handle the problem of porn, and it doesn’t look pretty. The survey compares trends in sexuality, comparing varying views on same-sex marriage (SSM). 

When it comes to pornography, there is a significant difference between Christians who oppose SSM and Christians who support SSM — a whopping 28.8% increase in support for pornography among Christians who affirm SSM. Additionally, an increase in affirmation of porn correlates with a decrease in faithful marriage. Churchgoing Christians who oppose SSM are 2.3 times more likely to stay together when married with kids than those who affirm SSM. And they are almost 11 times less likely to take part in what the survey calls “marital infidelity.” In other words, one’s approval of porn use tells a story about one’s larger moral system; this has major implications when it comes to marriage and one’s sexual behavior. 

Personally, I have often found that among people with persistent sexual sins of all kinds (porn use, marital infidelity, homosexuality, masturbatory habits, regular sex outside of the marriage covenant, etc.), the root of their sin is not merely an attraction to a certain person or the thrill of a specific pleasure; rather, it’s a commitment to hyper-sexualism—a desire for sexual pleasure that trumps other concerns or moral commitments. 

Regular porn consumption is a dangerous game, and it cultivates a dangerous heart.

3. The cheapening of grace

More than anything else, the problem of porn cheapens the grace of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace the “justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.” By the biblical definition, this “cheap grace” cannot exist. God’s grace is costly: It required the death of a perfect man—a man whose submission to the will of his Father was greater than the sorrows of his human nature; a man who didn’t deserve anything but the greatest glorification for his perfect righteousness. God’s grace is expensive, and using it to excuse the sins you commit while surfing porn websites is wicked.

When we abuse the grace of God, we not only mock the work of Jesus on the cross but hinder our communion with him as well. To abuse God’s grace is to misunderstand it. If I have a misconstrued view of grace, I can’t rightly be joined to the Church, or grasp the significance of my baptism, or appreciate the conscience-checking boundary of the communion table. 

It’s impossible for us to understand what God wants from us if we misconstrue what Christ did for us. If we are truly Christians, we can’t cheapen the grace of God. To do so is contrary to both the character of his disciples and the purpose for the grace he gave to us. Grace does more than save us from hell; grace is a means of God’s everlasting arms reaching out to embrace us, rescuing us from our captivity to sin, and reminding us to find our identity in him.

Grace exists for the porn addict. Grace exists for sinful men. And grace alone can save us. But it is absolutely costly. We should refuse to mock it. Christian men must combat the problem of porn until its spark can no longer light the kindle of our sinful hearts.

The redeeming hope of the cross

God didn’t leave us to fight this battle on our own. He sent his Son for our sake. The Creator of the universe cares about the problem of porn. Sinning against God — whether contemplating murder or lustfully clicking our way to a porn site — is an act of what R.C. Sproul calls “cosmic treason.” Even still, he gives us grace for even our most shameful, despicable sins. The redeeming hope of the cross is that we can’t sin our way out of God’s love. There is forgiveness in the man Jesus Christ—and his forgiveness sets us free.

John Owen wrote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you,” and he couldn’t have been more right. The problem of porn will not go away on its own. We have to fight it. We have to put on the whole armor of God. We have to mortify our sin. 

This article was originally published on April 6, 2015.

  • 1
    This letter is found in volume 3 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis.
  • 2
    For more on this, see Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, especially pp. 102–104. See also Steven Pace, “Acquiring Tastes through Online Activity: Neuroplasticity and the Flow Experiences of Web Users,” M/C Journal, 17(1).
  • 3
    From “A Beautiful Design (Part 2) – In His Image,” available here: https://youtu.be/2NOjzdPkefw
  • 4
    See Catharine A. MacKinnon, Pornography as Trafficking, 26 Michigan Journal of International Law, 993 (2005).
  • 5
    Corita R. Grudzen, Ryan, G., Margold, W., Torres, J., & Gelberg, L., “Pathways to health risk exposure in adult film performers.” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 86:1 (2009), 67–78.