By / Oct 26

My mom, grandma, and I were shopping for clothes for my 9th birthday. For the first time, I had strong opinions about what I wanted to wear, and everything I liked was on the boys’ side of the store. That year, I had stopped going by my name and had asked my teacher and friends to call me “Tom” instead, as in “tomboy.” In 1988, that’s what girls who acted like boys were called. Everyone around me saw it as a phase I would grow out of, and in fourth grade, I did. Not because I fully accepted being a girl, but because I had to start wearing a bra. There’s nothing like puberty to convince you of the reality of your biology.   

As I grew up, I still felt more masculine in many ways than I did feminine, especially by cultural standards. I wanted to watch sports and hang out with my guy friends. I was very black and white in my thinking. I couldn’t figure out how to wear make-up. I never felt like I fit in when the girls talked about crushes or their feelings or what I considered to be “drama.” And if I was part of a group, I took charge. It all made me feel different from most of the girls I knew. 

As I grew into my 20s and 30s, I figured out why I always felt like an outsider. All the characteristics that didn’t make sense to me finally did when I learned more about neurodiversity and characteristics of those with autism, dyslexia, and ADHD. I found myself on this spectrum, understanding that the quirks I tried to hide and overcome were, in God’s sovereignty, a part of who I was.

As God told Moses in Exodus 4:11, “Who placed a mouth on humans? Who makes a person mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will help you speak and I will teach you what to say” (CSB). Although disabilities are a result of the fall, God uses them in our lives to produce Christlikeness. They weren’t part of his original plan for humanity, but they are part of his plan for 1 in 5 people now. But even as we (rightly) normalize disabilities and neurodiversity, we can’t let society convince our young people that their neurodiversity is tied to a mistake in their gender identity.  

Recent study finds connection between transgender identity and neurodiversity

If my shopping trip had taken place in 2021 instead of 1988, many would peg me as transgender. I would have been tempted to classify myself in that way instead of coming to understand that I was on the neurodiversity spectrum. That’s why a recent study caught my attention. This study, released in 2020, found “elevated rates of autism, other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric diagnoses, and autistic traits in transgender and gender-diverse individuals.” Journalists explained, 

“People who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth are three to six times as likely to be autistic as cisgender people are, according to the largest study yet to examine the connection [641,860 self-reported individuals]. Gender-diverse people are also more likely to report autism traits and to suspect they have undiagnosed autism.”

The study’s findings that relate to girls and young women held particular interest for me. There are many characteristics that are true of neurodiverse girls that are typically associated with being masculine — especially during the school years. These include:

  • Challenges with social skills
  • High IQ
  • Concrete, black-and-white thinking
  • STEM skills instead of language/fine arts skills

Considering that girls often receive autism diagnoses later than boys, it’s likely that a young girl who identifies with these traits may be more tempted to think of herself as being transgender because of the differences she is struggling with, rather than considering she might be neurodiverse. She likely — in light of the frequent conversations that occur in culture and social media where so many girls spend their time — knows more about society’s acceptance of a spectrum of gender identification divorced from biological sex than the spectrum of neurodiversity. As she’s figuring out what these differences in her personality mean for her personhood, it can be a very confusing time for the struggling girl and her family, especially as the world’s answer to gender confusion is embracing transgender ideology.

There’s an opportunity for the church to support and encourage these families during this confusing season. We need to draw near, not push them away because we are unsure of what to do. 

How can the church respond? 

Numbers and studies report facts, but they don’t tell the full story. They can tell us what, but they can’t always tell us why. So when we read studies like the one cited above, we must look through our biblical lens, beyond numbers and profiles to see the people represented. How can we draw those who believe they are both neurodiverse and transgender into a relationship with their Creator, the lover of their souls? How can we show them their biological design is for their good? Here are three ways to start: 

First, avoid teaching gender roles and expectations that aren’t biblical. If a girl can’t see herself on the checklist of biblical womanhood she hears at church, our society gives her one option — she isn’t a girl. But we can see spectrums of femininity and masculinity within the gender binary. We can teach those spectrums to our children while staying faithful to gender differences.

On Saturdays, I drop off my teenage son at musical theater rehearsal and come home to watch football. Our interests, skills, and even appearances don’t change our God-given sex. There is beauty and purpose in our diverse expression.  

Second, welcome those who are neurodiverse. If a family has a member with autism, they are eight times less likely to attend church than a typical family. And surveys show it’s even less likely for adults with autism to attend church. Churches should take steps to be more welcoming to those with autism and other disabilities, breaking down barriers to the gospel and to inclusion in the church family. (Read: “How special needs inclusion changes the culture of the church” for more on the topic of accessibility). We need to show the children and teenagers in our church families that they don’t have to fit into behavioral boxes to be accepted. It’s okay to struggle with social skills, sensory input, or even reading out loud. Church should be a safe place to be yourself in the years when you’re figuring out what that means.  

Finally, offer stronger community ties than other tribes. What did I want more than anything as I was struggling? To fit in; to have a group of people who accepted and even celebrated me for who I was. This is a common theme for people who “come out” and are affirmed by the LGBTQ community or those who receive a diagnosis of autism and join a group of people trying to make sense of what that means. Both these communities, for different reasons, are tightly knit and committed to those who identify with them. But the ties that bind us together as Christians are even stronger than what ties other groups together. 

According to Galatians 3:28, we are called to prioritize our relationships as children of God, as brothers and sisters, above other labels we have, “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This doesn’t erase who we are; it just shows us our primary identities. 

I’m thankful for studies that show us opportunities for love and action for those who often don’t look to the church first for acceptance. I am who I am today because my parents and church continued to accept me, give me opportunities to be myself as I grew and learned what that meant, and pointed me to God’s design in his Word. I look at girls in our youth group and see so much of myself in them when they struggle with their identities and even possible diagnoses. I can point them to a God who created them with care for every detail and with a purpose for each trait and quirk, and I can show them that being a part of a church family that loves you is even better than the communities the world tries to provide.

Pray with me for those who are neurodiverse and being convinced they are also transgender. And let’s all work to point them to the hope we have in Christ and the fellowship we have as believers.  

By / Oct 13

As the world grapples with the transgender revolution, one area where the revolution refuses to subside is in the area of sports. There are now too many documented instances to count, but Christian legal advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom has put together a helpful clearinghouse of information on the subject.

As many might remember, the issue of allowing transgender-identified persons to compete in the category of their preferred gender identity rose to the cultural surface during this year’s Olympics when a transgender female (biological male) competed against other females in a weight-lifting competition. The athlete in question failed to advance, which, for some, may have put to rest the question of there being an unfair advantage in play when males competed against females.

But the issue shows no signs of going away, especially as a report from the European Sports Councils Equality Group is questioning whether innate advantages in male athletic performance can be reduced solely down to testosterone levels, which is what most regulatory bodies have tended to focus on in their rule-making.

What “retained differences” reveal 

The report offers these words summarizing their findings: “Our work exploring the latest research, evidence and studies made clear that there are retained differences in strength, stamina and physique between the average woman compared with the average transgender woman or non-binary person registered male at birth, with or without testosterone suppression.”

The language of “retained differences” is a massively revealing tell that we cannot ignore. There are admissions and clues given to us even from an unbelieving world that end up reaffirming God’s created order. It’s a sentence that also reveals why such a report needed to be written in the first place: “Retained differences” evidences an unwitting theological category for “nature” in general, and human nature in particular. Nature is a created reality (Genesis 1:26-27). The idea of “essence” speaks to there being a human nature known as male and female. And these categories, in Christian thought, are said to be immutable categories that cannot be transcended based on choice or self-willed preference. 

We know the nature of a thing by understanding its purpose, and purpose is never severed from a thing’s design. Hence, when we speak of male and female, we are speaking of those sexed persons whose bodily design bears a teleological purpose toward a particular end, namely, reproduction. As the Nashville Statement rightfully states, “the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.” The Nashville Statement’s wording testifies to the reality of an enduring gender binary. When God made us males and females, he did not make that an exclusively psychological category, but a physically enfleshed reality.

Even where testosterone is hormonally altered by medical therapies to make it virtually negligible to compete against women, that does not altogether reconfigure the innate advantages that males possess. There are more aspects to maleness than mere testosterone alone — such things as muscle, bone density, and anaerobic capacity. We cannot escape who God made us, despite our best attempts. Our true self will always shine through. The question is whether we will live in conjunction with it, or in futile opposition to it.

The underlying problem of the transgender revolution 

The report proposes several solutions to resolve transgender competition. But the attempt to resolve this dilemma will ultimately be pointless, because where you have a culture trying to suppress what is simply there by virtue of nature, human creativity will not, for long, withstand the natural flow of the universe. 

Where all interested parties in the report attempt to find supposed satisfaction in striking compromises, what it really does is reveal the underlying problem of the transgender revolution: When society takes the drastic action to separate gender identity from biological sex, it has done grave damage to the sustainability and equilibrium of gender and sex throughout virtually all segments of culture. The report seems to admit that there are no perfect solutions. It is the Christian who can help explain why that is: It is fruitless to treat nature as a malleable substance. It simply cannot be done without grave confusion and injustice happening.

This latest controversy reflects a truth of the Christian worldview: We are embodied beings whose sex is always brought to bear in our everyday life. While I might be more than a “male” as far as how I understand myself in the world, I am never less than a male. My experience as a professor, a husband, a father, and even as a friend, is an intrinsically sexed experience.

The sooner that our culture recognizes this, the sooner we can return to what is true.

By / Aug 11

This week, a federal court in Texas ruled that it is unlawful to force healthcare professionals to violate their consciences for gender transition procedures. This is good news for children, families, and Christians who want to continue serving in roles without conforming to “the latest fashionable ‘right side of history’ cause.”

What is the history of this issue?

In 2016, as a part of the implementation of Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama Administration’s Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) promulgated a rule requiring medical providers to perform and insure abortions and gender-transition procedures or face penalties. Section 1557 of the ACA is the nondiscrimination provision of the ACA, and the scope was broadened by redefining “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The regulations came to be called the transgender mandate, because it would require physicians to provide gender reassignment surgeries and administer hormones to facilitate gender reassignment, including to children, even if the doctor believed the procedure would be harmful.

In response to the issuance of these new regulations, two lawsuits were filed on behalf of multiple religious organizations, healthcare providers, and several states. The ERLC supported the move to challenge the mandate. Later that year, the District Court held in Franciscan Alliance v. Burwell that HHS erroneously interpreted “sex” under Title IX — that the final rule was arbitrary and capricious when Title IX “unambiguously refers to the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.” The District 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 narrowed the definition of “sex.” Days after the Trump administration finalized their rule, in a 6-3 ruling authored by Justice Gorsuch and styled Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court 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. 

In 2021, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at HHS announced that it will interpret and enforce the Affordable Care Act and Title IX’s nondiscrimination provision and expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The Office of Civil Rights used the Bostock decision as a justification for its redefinition of “sex.”

What was the court case about?

A second lawsuit challenging the mandate was also filed by Catholic hospital, a Christian healthcare professional association of over 20,000 healthcare professionals, and nine states, objecting to performing gender-transition procedures. Collectively, they asserted that performing these procedures was harmful. The medical professionals involved gladly served all patients, regardless of their sexual and gender identity, but contend that being forced to perform gender-transition procedures would constitute a violation of their conscience rights. 

This is now the second court ruling blocking the administration from enforcing the policy. The first ruling was handed by a federal court in North Dakota.

What’s next?

These rulings were good news for children, families, and Christians who want to continue serving in roles without conforming to “the latest fashionable ‘right side of history’ cause.”

However, the Biden administration appealed the court’s ruling, once again sending a group of Catholic nuns who run health clinics to care for the elderly and the poor back to court. 

On Dec. 15, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in this case titled Sisters of Mercy v. Becerra. Religious freedom advocates once again made the case that the transgender mandate violates the consciences and religious liberty of these healthcare providers.

The ERLC will always promote and defend the human dignity, religious liberty, and conscience rights of all people and religious organizations — within each administration, on Capitol Hill, and throughout the public square.

By / Aug 10

Every four years, the summer Olympic Games take center stage. And while impossible-to-believe feats of strength and athleticism, camaraderie, and sportsmanship regularly wow its global viewership, the Olympic platform has sometimes also thrust prevailing social and cultural issues to the foreground. In some ways, the Tokyo Olympics may have done so more than ever.

As a prime example, one of the cultural issues that took center stage this summer was the transgender debate, seen most notably in the participation of Laurel Hubbard, a 43-year-old weightlifter from New Zealand who competed in the women’s heavyweight competition. Though admittedly reluctant to be a mouthpiece for the transgender community, Hubbard, who formerly competed in the sport as a male, has garnered a great deal of attention and sparked significant controversy by participating in Tokyo’s games.

Much of the conversation on this particular controversy revolves around the question of fairness. Namely, is it fair for a person who has undergone a so-called gender transition, especially from male to female, to compete athletically in their “new” gender classification? But while the issue of fairness is critically important in sports and athletics, the truth is that fairness is downstream from the real crux of the issue. At root, the issue at hand is whether we, as a society, will continue to recognize and accept objective truth. 

A web of delusion

We are suffering from a self-deception of our own making. The widespread acceptance of transgenderism reflects the fact that our culture has traded objective truth for subjectivism. In effect, we have crowned the self the ruler of truth. And in the midst of this, Sir Walter Scott’s memorable line, “Oh what a tangled web we weave,” has become uncomfortably poignant. Our culture has woven a destructive web of delusion, allowing feelings to supplant facts and preferences to replace realities.

Human beings do not decree what is or is not true. We are not God or gods. As limited and finite beings, our duty is much more modest. We recognize truth. We share truth. We stand for truth. But we do not fashion or alter what is true. And in our culture today, perhaps our hubris and propensity for exceeding the boundaries of our own authority is nowhere better displayed than with regard to gender. 

Rejecting reality

In the case of Laurel Hubbard, we are witnessing the downstream consequences of our culture’s rejection of objective truth. Hubbard’s example demonstrates just how quickly we’re beginning to encounter the consequences of decades of emphasis on self-supremacy and self-actualization. 

Any rational person can acknowledge that it is generally unfair to ask biological females to compete against biological males in physical athletic competition. This is especially true when the activity is weightlifting. The reasons why are self-evident but bear repeating. Males and females are distinct. Among other things, males and females have different musculoskeletal makeups: “Muscle size and bulk is less in women, due to the effects of the normal sex hormones. Men, given their greater levels of testosterone, have larger and stronger muscles, with a greater potential for muscle development.” Importantly, these physiological distinctions are not able to be altered apart from serious medical intervention — and even then clear differences persist.

The decision to allow Hubbard to compete against biological females because of Hubbard’s current female “gender identity” reflects just how deeply we’ve imbibed this cultural delusion. There is no doubt that Hubbard, and many others, experience true feelings of gender dysphoria, “a condition where a person senses that their gender identity (how they feel about being male or female) may not align with their biological sex and experiences emotional distress as a result.” Indeed, such people deserve tremendous mercy and compassion. But validating an identity that is not merely flawed but antithetical to Hubbard’s true identity is neither merciful nor compassionate. It is a rejection of reality and a repudiation of the concept of objective truth.

Eroding the foundations

When it comes to sex and gender the answer is not to capitulate to the winds of culture. Instead, it is to affirm that which is apparent by observation, attested via biology, and most importantly revealed in Scripture. It is no accident that the first pages of our Bible clearly describe God’s pattern for human beings in the words “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). And it is equally important for Christians to affirm that gender is inextricably linked to sex. Regardless of whether a person may “feel” like a man or a woman, their gender is not determined according to feeling but according to a fixed and objective reality. Only males are men; only females are women.

Athletic competition reveals these distinctions acutely. Men and women typically compete in separate categories to ensure a fair and equal playing field. One need not subscribe to the Bible’s view of anthropology to recognize this. We can recognize the injustice of allowing biological males to compete against biological females because alongside our innate sense of fairness is our perception of these biological distinctions. 

Beyond sports, we can only guess just how damaging the eradication of these boundaries will be for both individuals and our society as a whole. What we do know is that this widespread rejection of objective truth will continue to erode the foundations upon which our common life is built. As Christians, we must strive resist the tides of culture and hold fast to the truth about what it means that God creates human beings as either male or female. These distinctions are critical, not merely to preserve the wonder that captivates us at the Olympic Games but to honor the pattern of God’s design for those he created to reflect his image back into all creation.

By / Jun 28

Beneath many—if not all—of the pressing social and cultural questions that our nation faces today sits a fundamental question about the nature and role of religion in the public square. From the often-fraught debates over abortion and sexuality issues like transgenderism to the increased discussions over online governance and the role of the technology industry in moderating public discourse, there lies a deep tension among ethical worldviews and disparate visions for the pursuit of the common good. 

Although it was published in 1984, The Naked Public Square by Richard John Neuhaus offers a deep critique of these contrasting visions and models an understanding of the public square that reveals the constant interplay of religion and politics. Ultimately, they cannot be kept separate, regardless of what some proponents of a “naked” or purely secular public square want to claim. Neuhaus defines the vision of a naked public square as the desire to “exclude religion and religiously grounded values from the conduct of public business” (ix).

Neuhaus was a prominent public theologian who served in a variety of clerical positions in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, later serving as a Roman Catholic Priest until his death in 2009. He was the founder and editor of the ecumenical and conservative monthly journal First Things, the director of the Institute on Religion and Public Life in New York City, and the author of over 36 works. 

In The Naked Public Square, Neuhaus offers a constructive critique of both the moral majoritarian movement of his day — as seen in the “religious right” led by so-called fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson — and what some have deemed “the rainbow coalition” of the religious or secular left who seek to shift the conversation of public morality away from any transcendent reality toward radical concepts of “naked” pluralism based in an expressive individualism. Neuhaus concludes that the concept of a “naked public square” is simply untenable and fails to account for the public nature of religion itself. He forcefully argues that religion cannot simply be relegated to a private matter as seen in the language of freedom of worship or belief. And this concept of religion as purely a private matter of the individual is even more prominent today than it was in the 1980s when Neuhaus penned this monumental work.

Dangers of the “naked” public square

In this second edition, released in 1986, Neuhaus seeks to build upon his original cultural critique and begins to flesh out a constructive proposal for bridging “the connections between biblical faith and democratic governance” (xi). He opens the work by exposing the rise of civil religion in his day and critiques the constant debate over the proper role of religion in public life. Much of this debate has devolved into caricaturing opponents’ views, all the while defending the moral purity for our own tribe through comparison. He wisely points out that “in principle, we should be suspicious of explanations for other people’s beliefs and behavior when those explanations imply that they would believe and behave as we do, if only they were as mature and enlightened as we are” (16). This honest and humble posture is evident throughout Neuhaus’ work.

In this book, Neuhaus traces the history of public theology and shows that many critics of religion in the public square express fear that if allowed, politics may again degenerate into the religious wars of the past. Quoting Alastair MacIntyre, he states that “in the absence of a public ethic, politics becomes a civil war carried on by other means” (99). This is a prescient critique of today’s public square based on how many of Neuhaus’ predictions have become reality in recent years with the warring factions of political tribalism — fueled by the rise of the social internet — and the almost religious-like devotion to secularism of our day. Both of these political and inherently religious tribes are at odds over what should constitute a serviceable public ethic, which Neuhaus believes is “not somewhere in our past, just waiting to be found and reinstalled” (37). It will take hard work on behalf of all parties in order to navigate the challenges ahead.

Like a skilled surgeon, Neuhaus dissects the political moment of his day and shows the fundamental issue with religion in the public square is not an issue of Christian truth “going public,” which he points out is an essential element of Christian faith (19). Rather, he critiques the substance of the claims made by both the politicized fundamentalism and the utopian dreams of the naked public square of secularism. He argues that both pose a grave threat to human flourishing and the preservation of democracy as a whole. Whereas fundamentalism can lead to a paving over of conscience and may even devolve into forms of totalitarianism (99), secularism removes the “agreed-upon authority that is higher than the community itself” (76). The naked public square then becomes a place where “there is no publicly recognizable source for such criticism, no check upon such patriotism . . . therefore criticism becomes impossible and patriotism unsafe” (76). 

Neuhaus later proposes a new way in this debate that seeks to reorient the public square as one based on a transcendent reality, one that seeks to honor the real differences in worldview and groundings of morality through the framework of democratic values and a robust public square of reinvigorated discourse.

The morality of compromise

Neuhaus’ vision for the public square draws criticisms from both sides of the debate. To the ire of secularism, he refuses to grant that religion is simply a private matter that shouldn’t be allowed in the public square. Instead, he argues that it is also at odds with the religious right by stating that religion dogma cannot go unchecked in this democratic experiment. He articulates a vision of compromise and tolerance in the public square that seeks to understand both religion and democracy in their proper forms — a vision that is much more robust than critics often ascribe to him. For Neuhaus, compromise doesn’t equate with weakness or giving up on deeply held beliefs but rather engaging in a robust dialogue over important issues and seeking a workable solution for all parties. He states, “Compromise and forgiveness arise from the acknowledgment that we are imperfect creatures in an imperfect world. Democracy is the product not of a vision of perfection but of the knowledge of imperfection” (114).

Neuhaus goes on to argue that compromise “is not an immoral act, nor is it an amoral act” because the person who makes a compromise is making a moral judgement about what is to be done when moral judgements are in conflict.” He rightfully critiques the terminology of “two-kingdoms” in popular public theology and proposes a “twofold rule of God” that “underscores that it is the one God who rules over all reality, and his will is not divided” (115). This ensures that the public square is not devoid of a transcendent grounding for morality. Though, some on both sides of the divide will argue that Neuhaus gives away too much in the debate to the other side and that his middle ground approach is ultimately untenable in the increasingly hostile public square.

Neuhaus’ vision of compromise picks up on the idea of true toleration that has been popularized by some today as a path forward in these divisive times of polarization and tribalism. In his view, compromise is not about giving up truth or abandoning principle but recognizing that there are multiple moral actors present in any given decision and the need for humility in a workable vision of democracy. It means that “having set aside the sectarian and triumphalist alternatives, one acts with moral responsibility in an arena that requires compromise” (124). He later describes this project as one true democracy that understands that there “will always be another inning, another election, another appeal, another case to be tested” (181). It is understandable why this particular vision would be unsettling to both sides of these public debates because it means seeing the humanity of your supposed “enemies” and working toward a common future.

In seeking to lay out this vision for religion and democracy in America, Neuhaus describes a “very large number of Americans who feel they have for a long time been on the losing end have come to believe that the winners are trying to deny them their innings” (181). This is also one of the prevailing issues of today and bears acknowledging that particular communities — especially those of color — have actually been historically disenfranchised. But given Neuhaus’ context and intention of this volume, he does not particularly highlight the plight of these communities in his vision for the public square and discourse. While this is a weakness of the argument presented, it does not invalidate the principles that he lays out for his constructive proposal for the public square. He simply shows that those who hold a “pragmatic and provisional view of the democratic process” would understandably be alarmed by his proposal. Neuhaus rejects this pragmatic vision of the democratic process and argues for a more robust public theology.

Overall, Neuhaus offers a credible and healthy alternative to the warring factions of society and the outright secular rejection of religion in the public square by showing that these disparate visions of religion and democracy are simply untenable by their very nature. In the preface to the second edition of The Naked Public Square, Neuhaus writes that many critiqued the first edition of this work because it lacked a substantive proposal for applying the vision he articulates. While this second edition does move toward that type of proposal, it still lacks a detailed outworking of his vision for the public square. But Neuhaus believed others would be able to develop that type of proposal as they built upon the foundation that he laid out for an alternative understanding of the relationship of religion and democracy in the public square.

By / Jun 24

The actor Elliot Page, formerly known as Ellen Page, cried in a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey. She had asked Page, “What brings you joy after transitioning from identifying as female to male?” 

“It’s the little things,” Page replied. 

Page choked up recounting looking in the mirror after having a mastectomy. Page had felt deep inner distress before the surgery when wearing a t-shirt. That distress was real — so real that Page went under the knife for breast removal surgery. Page’s relief at having them removed was obvious. That is serious distress.

In Genesis 1–2, God created two distinct biological sexes in his image to reflect something of himself. But humanity’s fall quickly followed. The fall affected all of the human condition, including biological sex, both internally and externally. Within our own bodies, the chromosomes that determine biological sex have been affected by the fall as much as those that determine Down syndrome, autoimmune disease, or infertility. Intersex is the modern term for a person born with a chromosomal abnormality and/or reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definition of female or male. According to statistics put out by The Intersex Society of North America, roughly 1 in 1000 people experience an actual biological chromosomal abnormality related to gender.

The American Psychiatric Association also acknowledges a mental condition known as gender dysphoria. It involves acute mental distress resulting from a perceived mismatch between biological sex and gender identity, a person’s self-conception about their gender. This is not the same as gender nonconformity, in which someone of one distinct biological sex prefers to behave or dress in a way more closely associated with the other. It is also distinct from being gay or lesbian. Page and others who experience gender dysphoria have felt such distress that they cut off their breasts or genitals as a result.

If you are a Christian who believes God created two distinct biological sexes to fully image him to the world, how do you walk faithfully with a son or daughter who is experiencing such a mental crisis? How can we equip our kids to walk faithfully with others as well? Here are a few principles that guide me, principles that I work to pass on to my children as well.

1. Listen first. 

My children don’t struggle with listening to their friends the way that I do, so this is more of the lecture I must give myself as a parent. I often think I know the answer from Scripture upon the moment I perceive there is a problem. That is pride, though. If ever there was a situation for the wisdom of James 1:19, distress around gender dysphoria is it. James says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” 

I have often given the wrong advice — despite the best of motives to help someone honor God and Scripture — because I didn’t understand the situation. I had pride and unearned confidence in my own ability to diagnose what was going on and correct according to the Scriptures. Gender dysphoria is a particularly complicated mental health issue. The origins of body hatred to the point someone would cut off their penis or cut off their breasts are deep and complicated. 

James tells me to slow down as a parent, listen to what my child or one of their friends is actually saying, not what I assume they mean, and carefully seek to understand before responding with my own words. Kids experiencing true gender dysphoria are in a mental crisis. Listening can help diffuse the weights of conflict they feel, while advice one might give in response, even with the best of intentions, could push an already fragile teen to a scary place.

2. Ask deeper questions. 

Once the time comes to finally speak, start by asking deeper questions, not by simply dispensing advice. Kiera Bell recently won a lawsuit in the United Kingdom against the doctors who performed transition surgery on her when she was a youth. She recounts the distress she felt at the time: “I was an unhappy girl who needed help. . . . As I matured, I recognized that gender dysphoria was a symptom of my overall misery, not its cause.”

Kiera had an abusive home situation. Her deepest struggle was with self loathing after her parents’ rejection. Many who experienced gender dysphoria in their teen years report that their acute distress with their bodies lessened as they aged. As they matured in their ability to handle other struggles in their life, or they moved out of abusive home situations, their mental distress over their bodies lessened as well.

If we or our kids have friends that are in such distress, it’s worthwhile to ask how things are with their parents or their friends at school. Are they feeling rejected? Do they feel unloveable as they are? Have cutting words from those around them caused them to hate themselves? Ask deeper questions, and listen well before offering advice or attempting to “fix” the problem.

3. Pray with gospel hope to the God we can all trust.

I tell my kids that if a friend in acute distress shares their struggle, then after you have listened and asked deeper questions, the best words to respond with are those of prayer: “I don’t have all the answers, but can I ask the God who created us for help?” Their friend may or may not know Christ. But we can still pray with them in hope, which leads to number 4.

4. Speak gospel truth. 

The good news of Jesus speaks into both the inner struggles of our broken sexual bodies and the outer struggles between our broken relationships. Jesus’ body was literally broken physically so ours could be literally healed. Some of us experience miraculous healing of various physical abnormalities during life on earth, but all of us are assured an eternity at peace with our perfectly resurrected physical bodies, perfectly male or female in the image of God. While some heavenly creatures do not inhabit eternal bodies, human beings do. 

Dr. Gregg Allison reminds us in Embodied, “God’s design for his embodied image bearers is that as we are in this earthly life, so we will be for all eternity: embodied.” Our bodies matter. God did not make a mistake when he made us male or female. We may wrestle with how God made us, but Christ’s embodied resurrection gives us hope that we will be at peace with the bodies he gave us for eternity. There is no dysphoria in heaven. 

As we train our children to engage culture wisely, we must recognize the very real issues that our broken bodies in our broken world experience in relation to biological sex. And in the midst of it all, we point our children to Christ as the hope we have for redeemed sexual bodies both on earth and in eternity. Christ, too, is our source to endure in broken bodies while they last on earth as we confidently wait for Jesus to return and make all things new.

By / Jun 4

President Joe Biden recently issued an official proclamation declaring June 2021 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pride Month. “I call upon the people of the United States to recognize the achievements of the LGBTQ+ community,” said Biden, “to celebrate the great diversity of the American people, and to wave their flags of pride high.”

The sexual identities “Pride Month” intends to celebrate run contrary to the pattern of God’s design for human sexuality as expressed in Scripture and revealed through nature. According to article 28 of the Baptist Faith & Message, marriage — which is defined as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime” — is the sole biblical “framework for intimate companionship” and “channel of sexual expression.” As witnessed by President Biden’s proclamation, in recent decades the LGBTQ movement has gained wide acceptance in our culture.

Here is what you should know about LGBTQ Pride Month. 

What is Pride Month?

In the United States, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month occurs in the month of June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots. The Stonewall riots, which occurred in New York City from June 28 to July 3, 1969, helped launch the social and political movement known as “gay liberation.” 

The Stonewall Inn, located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, was a tavern operated by the Genovese crime family. The bar lacked a liquor license and violated many of the city’s health and safety codes (it didn’t have running water and the toilets frequently overflowed), which made it the frequent target of law enforcement. The mafia owners reportedly paid almost $9,000 a month (in 2021 dollars) in bribes to the local police, yet were still raided about once a month. 

At 1:20 a.m. on June 28, six police officers attempted to close the bar. About 200 patrons resisted, and a crowd of 500 gathered outside. When the crowd became violent, the police officers barricaded themselves inside the establishment. Rioters threw rocks and bricks and attempted to burn down the building to kill the police inside. A SWAT team quelled that disturbance, but two days later an even more violent riot broke out as thousands of protesters clashed with police. (Despite the violence and attempted murder against police, President Obama made the Stonewall Inn a national monument in 2016, and the NYPD police commissioner issued an apology on behalf of the police force in 2019.)

A year later, gay activists in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles organized marches to honor the riots and promote “gay liberation.” The next year, Gay Pride marches took place in Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm. By 1972 the marches were occurring in more than a dozen cities across the U.S. Since then, they have become ubiquitous in the U.S. and in other Western countries. 

Why is the rainbow flag associated with LGBT Pride?

The rainbow LGBT flag was a creation of Gilbert Baker, a designer and gay rights activist, who created the flag in 1978 as a new symbol for the gay libertarion movement. The original flag had eight colors, each of which had a representative meaning. “Pink is for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun,” said Baker. “Green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for serenity, and purple for the spirit. I like to think of those elements as in every person, everyone shares that.” Most of the flags today have only six colors, with the pink and turquoise removed.

Christians recognize the rainbow as the sign of God’s covenant with Noah. Where the LGBTQ movement has appropriated the sign of the rainbow as a symbol of affirmation or pride, the Bible reveals that the rainbow is meant to be a sign of deliverance from judgement. As Erik Raymond has written: “The God of the Bible owns the distinct honor, as he has long used the rainbow to illustrate his loving demonstration of mercy instead of judgment! God the loving Creator was angered by humanity’s rebellion against his will & so therefore justly demonstrated his judgment upon their sin. In Genesis 6 the Scriptures teach that instead of giving mankind what they deserve for their rebellion, he chose to save some from destruction. The mercy & faithfulness of God was demonstrated by the beautiful rainbow that filled the sky.”

Is Pride Month an official U.S. commemoration?

Three presidents have issued official proclamations commemorating Pride Month: Bill Clinton in 1999 and 2000; Barack Obama from 2009 to 2016; and Joe Biden in 2021. Donald Trump became the first Republican president to acknowledge Pride Month in 2019, though he did not issue an official proclamation.

A related commemoration occurs in October, with LGBT History Month. In 1995, a resolution passed by the General Assembly of the National Education Association included LGBT History Month within a list of commemorative months. 

Why has LGBT Pride become embraced by corporations?

During the month of June, it’s nearly impossible to find a large American corporation that is not engaged in promoting Pride Month. There is disagreement about whether the promotional activities are merely attempting to appeal to consumers or if something more nefarious is behind the marketing.

The practice is sometimes criticized as “pinkwashing,” a term used to describe the action of using gay-related issues in positive ways in order to distract attention from negative actions by an organization, country, or government. Regardless, Pride Month has become a massive cultural phenomenon that is impossible to ignore. And those who refuse to acknowledge or affirm LGBTQ causes will likely face even greater social pressure to do so in the years ahead. As Joe Carter has written: “Today, the American people fly a rainbow flag, wear an ‘ally’ pin, or change their social media avatars to show they observe LGBT Pride Month. In doing so, they show they’ve bent the knee to the LGBT cause and will not incur their wrath that will be poured out those who are not ‘affirming.’”

What is the purpose of LGBT Pride Month?

From its inception, the LGBT Pride movement has been about “sexual liberation.” As the prominent LGBT magazine The Advocate wrote in 2018, 

From its roots, Pride was a political act. And so is having the kind of sex we want to have with who we want to have it. That was a rebellion against the institution of monogamy and ideas about women as property. . . . Pride is the antidote to efforts to control and limit sex — which politicians are still trying to do.

For decades, Pride events have been frequently criticized (even by some LGBT activists) for overt displays of sexuality and championing of causal promiscuity. But as Alex Abad-Santos of Vox writes, that’s part of the point of Pride. “Queer history is often about resistance to norms and embracing radical existence,” he writes, “so engaging in respectability politics—the idea that marginalized groups need to behave or act in a certain way to validate the compassion shown toward them—flies in the face of those goals.”

For these reasons, it is all the more important for Christians to prepare their hearts and minds to stand against the tide of the LGBTQ movement. Christians must model Christlikeness as we bear witness to the truth of the gospel and about the beauty of God’s design for humanity. And we must do so without anger or fear, but with love, charity, and grace.

By / Jun 4

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, a Christian response to Pride Month, a major leadership change in Israel, and recent news involving the ERLC. They also cover new ERLC content including a critical abortion case headed to the Supreme Court, questions about content moderation on social media, and one city’s approach to combatting abortion through local ordinances.

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. 100 Years since the Tulsa Race Massacre. Churches are leading on racial unity.
  2. June is “Pride” Month. How should Christians think about that?
  3. A major shake-up in Israel’s national leadership. What’s that mean for the Biden Administration?
  4. A leaked letter from Russell Moore sparks conversations within the SBC about race and sexual abuse.

Lunchroom

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Love your church: This engaging book by Tony Merida explores what church is, why it’s exciting to be a part of it, and why it’s worthy of our love and commitment. | Find out more about this book at thegoodbook.com

By / May 14

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss the pipeline cyberattack that led to gas stations in the southeast running out of gas, Liz Cheney’s oust from leadership, the Gaza crisis, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church electing their first transgender bishop. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Catherine Parks with “What you can do during India’s COVID crisis,” Josh Wester and Jordan Wootten with “Explainer: The contract dispute between Kentucky and Sunrise Children’s Services,” Jared Kennedy with “How to prepare your children to see their gendered bodies as gifts for God’s mission.”

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Gas stations in the Southeast run out of gas as people panic buy fuel
  2. US pipeline cyberattack is a ‘wake up call’ for America
  3. Panic Drives Gas Shortages After Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack
  4. Cheney defiant as Republicans oust her from leadership for rebuking Trump
  5. Gaza crisis: Casualties pile up with no signs of ceasefire from Israel, Hamas
  6. Evangelical Lutheran Church elects first transgender bishop

Lunchroom

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  • Brave by Faith: In this realistic yet positive book, renowned Bible teacher Alistair Begg examines the first seven chapters of Daniel to show us how to live bravely, confidently, and obediently in an increasingly secular society. | Find out more about this book at thegoodbook.com
  • Every person has dignity and potential. But did you know that nearly 1 in 3 American adults has a criminal record? To learn more and sign up for the virtual Second Chance month visit prisonfellowship.org/secondchances.
By / May 12

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will interpret and enforce the Affordable Care Act and Title IX’s nondiscrimination provision and expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” 

Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the nondiscrimination provision of the ACA prohibiting 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. 

How have other administrations interpreted Section 1557?

Under the Obama administration, new regulations were issued that expanded the scope of section 1557’s nondiscrimination by redefining “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The regulations raised a number of significant religious liberty and pro-life issues. For instance, physicians would be required to provide gender reassignment surgeries and administer hormones to facilitate gender reassignment, including to children. They even required medical professionals to perform abortions in violation of the consciences. 

In response to the issuance of these new regulations, on Aug. 23, 2016, five states and three private health care providers filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas challenging the final rules in the case Franciscan Alliance v. Burwell. The District Court held that HHS erroneously interpreted “sex” under Title IX, that the final rule was arbitrary and capricious when Title IX “unambiguously refers to the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.” The District 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 narrowed the definition of “sex.” Days after the Trump Administration finalized their rule, in a 6-3 ruling authored by Justice Gorsuch and styled Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court 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. The Office of Civil Rights used the Bostock decision as a justification for it’s redefinition of “sex.”

What’s next?

The HHS Office of Civil Rights could begin bringing enforcement actions based on this new interpretation of Section 1557 at any time. While the notice states that HHS will comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and all applicable court orders that have been issued in litigation involving the Section 1557 regulations, it is unclear what this means for religious healthcare providers and professionals. Medical professionals and providers who serve everyone would be forced to administer gender reassignment treatments if they provide the same underlying treatments for other conditions. That is, if a physician performs hysterectomies for cancer patients or hormone therapy for patients with hormone imbalances, HHS may force her to administer those same treatments for patients seeking gender reassignments.

The ERLC will continue promoting and defending the human dignity and religious liberty of all people and religious organizations with the Administration, on Capitol Hill, and throughout the public square.