Tenderly Tackling Transgenderism

During one of my recent workshops, a parent asked: “How do we disciple our children about the current transgender movement?” Even though I knew it was coming, I had to take a deep breathwhich reminded me to pray.

 

It was not the first time the topic had come up; I doubt it will be the last…and it is massive. Let’s look at how we might navigate these conversations—be forewarned, this is not a short post.

With historic roots in feminism, partnered with postmodernism and the sexual revolution, the Trans movement is uniquely pernicious—though no longer subtle in its means and aims. As a natural trajectory of post-modernism, which claims that truth is something we make for ourselves, its highest goal is to find your [own] truth.
One secular blogger puts it this way (and it is eye-opening):

  1. Remember that admitting your truth to yourself can be the hardest part.
  1. Get as clear and sober as you can emotionally before speaking your truth.
  1. Know that others will have their own version of the truth.
  1. Be prepared for your truth-telling to make you feel vulnerable.
  1. Understand that truth-telling disrupts the status quo.
  1. If speaking your truth threatens your physical or emotional safety, get support.
In this photo taken June 6, 2015, Andii Viveros, 21, of Davie, Florida, applies makeup while preparing to host an LGBTQA youth prom in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Viveros identifies as a transgender female, (having received parental support in transitioning), fought for transgender rights in high school, sometimes violating the school's code of conduct by wearing dresses. Viveros, though a biological male, was elected prom queen in high school and is now studying sociology in college. (AP/Lynne Sladky)

What I have only briefly detailed above demonstrates the need for nuanced thinking and a careful approach. For example, not all outcomes of feminist philosophy have harmed culture. Some results, in fact, have been corrective and restorative to our Father’s design, reminding humanity of women’s value as co-image-bearers before God: The two sexes are different and equal.

With that in mind, along with an appropriate sense of my position and mission, I need to say two things:

  1. A massive secular cultural phenomenon such as this needs something more than a blog post to lay it bare.
  2. Before I make my own offering, I want to point to two excellent resources by Carl Trueman: Strange New World and The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. The former is rather lighter than the latter (written for the layman instead of the scholar).

 

Either one of Trueman’s books provides the tools we need for broadening our understanding through historical and philosophical lenses founded on ultimate biblical Truth.

For my part, I want to try to focus on the discipleship aspect alone, and I want to approach it with a view in mind that we are facing diverse contexts as parents, friends, teachers, school administrators (remembering that “neat” categories on paper do not reflect the complexity of our relational contexts). Carefully discern and engage your own context with a realization that it is probably some intersection of the following:

1.     Family with children involved in a conservative homeschool community or Christian private school in which God’s design for our sexuality and gender roles is presumed and taught.

2.     Family whose children are involved in public school where conservative Christian values are no longer normative and a diverse array of sexual orientations and gender identities are accepted and even promoted.

3.     Family who has a child or other family member struggling with single sex attraction, gender dysphoria, or other sexuality and/or identity struggles.

To illustrate from my own life, my family lives in the intersection of #1 and #2. Either I or my children personally know half a dozen young adults who are either currently questioning their God-given design or have fully embraced a transgendered lifestyle.

In this photo from Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, Theo Ramos, 14, meets with an endocrinologist in Miami. Ramos, a biological female "felt like a boy" when in fifth grade, but every month the pain of menstrual cramps reminded Ramos of the reality of the gender assigned at birth. (AP/Lynne Sladky)

 Even as I outline tools to undergird our children’s thinking with the Truth, I want to emphasize the need to speak that capital “T” Truth in love. While we cannot plan for every circumstance or know the depths of our children’s hearts, we can seek to point with our words, actions, and attitudes to the Father’s transforming grace and love. This necessitates nuanced thought; nuanced emotion; nuanced action.

 I am unable to give complete historical and cultural background, nor a full treatise on what the Bible says about our God-given sexuality. I am not even able to post with a view in mind to walk step by step through how I might talk to one of my children hypothetically struggling with gender dysphoria. In fact, if my aim is to build or restore relationship and truly love someone deeply, I would need to use very few words at all and work to actively and compassionately listen. If this is your story and experience, my first thought is to remind you to pray and seek the Father. He has even these crazy-seeming times in His hands. Next, here are some excellent articles recently published in WORLD Magazine (here and here) in which you might wish to soak. Helena Kerschner’s blog posts include her own story and a thoughtful interaction with a parent. Instead of repeating her words, let me commend her blog to you. She outlines the tools she recommends for a compassionate, godly approach, and I heartily agree.

My blog will focus on training our children in truth and helping them to understand sin and the various ways humans attempt to justify or excuse it. Remember: It is vital that we also train them in love: to exercise the type of compassion that seeks to restore one caught in sin as if in a bear trap (see Galatians 6:1) and coach that person regarding how that might look in his or her own relational spheres.

Today, as I focus on what it means to train up our own children as believers, I want to be as transparent as I can about my thinking, feeling, and doing—but I need to emphasize that I am learning. Thinking about my own thinking—also known as “meta-processing”—is one of the benefits of blogging. I welcome you on this journey with me:

As words around us become increasingly muddied, I am attempting to exercise great care and increased precision in my word choice. I hope to resist integrating secular euphemisms born of man-centered ideologies (see Janie B. Cheney’s excellent article speaking of the destructive nature of ideologies) into my own speech, writing, and even thought process. To that end, I am making the effort, when discussing the “transgender movement,” “identity politics,” “gender dysphoria,” and “transgenderism,” to define words as they appear within their ideology, then to define them from a Christian perspective. I place emphasis on the ism in transgenderism. It is truly a secular humanist ideology, denying God’s authority, revealing humanity’s rebellious heart as we once more take forbidden fruit into our own hands. These words above come out of a concerted effort across multiple sectors to promote an unholy agenda, a godless worldview, and to make us (believers) so used to it that we barely stop to consider. As Abigail Dodds recently wrote, secular culture is “Normalizing gender confusion.” 

By leveraging vocabulary with the intent to radically redefine anthropology, removing it from biblical teleology, secular culture extracts humanity’s design and purpose in the world from God’s authority over His creation. This article from The Gospel Coalition reinforces a biblical understanding and application of the words “sex” and “gender” and breathes refreshment to our beleaguered minds and hearts. I offer it as another excellent tool for your belt.

 As I mention above, we absolutely must operate with compassion as we seek to minister to those who do not yet know the hope to be found in Christ and the joy of having our identity shaped by a good and loving Father. The challenge is to operate with the wisdom of serpents as well as the gentleness of doves. How do we observe and analyze it well, while continuing to orient our hearts, thoughts, and even our very words towards Christ?

We turn to Jesus and ask to be made like Him: gentle and lowly.

In order to speak to our young people regarding what is going on in the world, the best equipment we can give them is the tender communication of biblical truth. Succinctly: A biblical foundation facilitates cultural engagement. I have no doubt you are already providing this necessary foundation, therefore the following thoughts may simply be affirmation of practices you already employ. It is my humble privilege to come alongside and offer again some ideas—a launchpad perhaps—as you seek to faithfully train up the next generation.

As governing structure, I will make use of our three developmental stages at God’s WORLD News (Discover, Explore, Discern) which correspond closely with the classical trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric).

Specifically with regard to the topic of transgenderism, this conversation could look like:

 

 

God’s Big WORLD readers (“Discover”—or grammar stage):

1.     Catechize them. (i.e. Who made you? What else did God make? Why did God make you and all things? How do you glorify God? Where do you learn how to love and obey God?) I use this resource—but as with all extra-biblical resources, it is important to return to scripture, therefore:

2.     Show them where in scripture they learn about identity (Gen. 1:27 explicitly lays this out along with our high value as image bearers) and where the Bible talks about and defines sin (Romans 1 and Galatians 5 serve well here).

3.     Decide when they are ready to engage difficult topics. Start by defining terms through a Christian lens. A simple way to define what is going on in the world is to point to what is good and to identify to what is sin and rebellion (i.e. rebellion against the Lord’s creation order) according to biblical truth.

4.     Ask/teach them: What is the greatest commandment? (to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength) And what is the second? (to love our neighbor as ourselves) And who is my neighbor? (Read the parable of the Good Samaritan with them to coach their understanding.)

 
WORLDkids (“Explore”—early logic stage):

1.     Continue catechism work, but ask them where they see biblical foundation for the catechism’s systematic presentation of our theology. Ask them what scriptures they think of when they consider the topic of sexuality and gender identity.

2.     Ask them questions that help them lead to logical conclusions. For example: “What would happen if each of us decided to do what is right in our own eyes or what feels best to us?”

3.     Ask them questions that bring them back to scripture and to the Lord’s plan and provision: “Where in scripture do we see stories of men and women deciding to pursue their own way instead of the Lord’s design? What happens? Why do you think the Lord allowed it to happen that way? What can we learn from what we see in the biblical narrative? How does it apply to us now?”

4.     Ask them: What is the greatest commandment? (to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength) And what is the second? (to love our neighbor as ourselves) And who is my neighbor? (Read the parable of the Good Samaritan with them to coach their understanding.)

 

 
WORLDteen and onward to high schoolers (“Discern”—early rhetoric stage):

1.     In addition to the steps above, begin some research with them. Look up the words gender, sex, transgender, male, female—how these terms are defined from a secular worldview along with what is currently being written about these topics. Read this article (also linked above). Once you have read with one another, discuss what you have observed. Ask them to explain what they understand regarding the historical and cultural context of our use of these words and how our usage has changed.

2.     Ask them to compare and contrast what they read from secular sources with the Father’s intention spelled out for us in scripture regarding human identity and sexuality. Why did He make us male and female? What has He commanded of us? What has He forbidden? Where do we have freedom? Where does He require constraint? Why? (etc.)

3.     Ask them worldview/philosophy questions such as “Who is proclaimed as the ultimate authority in the life of a person who has chosen to adopt a self-made sexual identity? What is of ultimate concern to an individual who has bought into a transgender lifestyle and expression? What is their ultimate goal? (etc).”

4.     Ask them: How might speaking the truth also be loving? What is a loving way to speak truth? How do we know when to speak and when to listen?

 

It might be helpful, even with your older children, to dip into the grammar level work. Similarly, younger children may have more abstract questions that you will need to be prepared to field with loving reason and truth-filled compassion. The way I engage the hard questions is with a recognition that young children are looking for boundaries, reassurance, Truth. Fill your speech towards them with the gospel—tell them the Lord called His creation (the way He made it) “very good”; name what is broken in the world and our need for redemption; teach the provision of salvation and the promise of restoration in Jesus. Remember: There is no “unforgiveable” sin; even sexual immorality, sexual mis-identity, and homo or trans-sexuality is covered in the blood for those who are in Christ.

Let me reiterate: this is not the whole conversation. At WORLD News Group, we will keep addressing this issue and others that overlap with it in a process that we’re all a part of now—reporters, readers, parents, teachers, news coaches…

But as it is the Holy Spirit’s work to regenerate, to unite us to Christ, and to transform us by His grace, I must end this part of the long conversation as I began, reminding us all to run to the Father. As we engage the work He has given us, He will surely give us all that we need.

Kelsey Reed

Kelsey Reed