Last week, I tried to address the cultural ‘gods’ of gender and sexuality. What follows is the second, more practical, half of that article. You can read part one here.
When thinking about what the Bible says on this, I think it’s important to look at what guidelines Scripture gives us about ‘gender bending’. This is talking about those who cross the cultural and acceptable norms about what it means to be male or female. Mostly, this concerns cross-dressing and male effeminacy.
Let’s look at cross-dressing first. This subject is mentioned in both Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Deuteronomy 22:5 calls cross-dressing “an abomination to the Lord”. You might be think that sounds a bit harsh—What does it really matter if a guy wants to put a dress on at weekends? Well, as we have already looked at, God created humans to be male or female. This was His perfect design. So, by blurring these God-given roles, the Israelites were sinning against God by defying His created order. Well, that’s in the Old Testament, you might be thinking, and we live under the new covenant now. So, what does it matter to us?
Am I saying that women can’t wear jeans? That men can’t wear pink shirts? (second one is questionable, in my opinion!) We have to be careful that we don’t just ignore the principle behind the Old Testament commands. Remember, the principle is that we shouldn’t hide our gender or pretend that we are something we’re not. So, if you’re dressing in certain way to hide the fact that you are a man or a woman, then that’s a problem. If, like me, you just prefer to wear jeans and jumpers, that’s fine. But if someone claims to be a Christian and yet is still involved in forms of transvestitism, then that is a problem.
When addressing the fact of male effeminacy in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, Paul is talking about homosexual behaviour. This again is rooted in his understanding of the created order. God did not intend for there to be homosexual relationships. He made male and female. Paul is talking about those who display feminine behaviours. The issue is men who are pretending to be women; those who do this in their behaviour and also in their relationships. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that any man who is maybe a bit sensitive, shows their emotions, or who likes chick-flicks are effeminate. This verse is linked directly to homosexual relationships.
How Should Christians Respond?
The bottom line is that if we claim to follow Christ, then we need to submit to Scripture, for that is where we find our guidelines. The Bible is unambiguous on these issues. That is the plain and simple fact of the matter. Now, that will not make us popular with certain people in our society, and sometimes it might be hard for us to swallow. But if we start messing about with what God’s Word teaches, thinking we can ignore certain bits, where does that stop? How will we know when to draw the line? You either believe all of it or none of it! It’s not like the pick and mix at the movies, where we take the soft chewy sweeties and avoid the sour ones.
Sticking by Scripture will almost certainly mean that we will have to have hard conversations with people. These conversations might make us unpopular. But the Bible never promised us an easy life. Now, obviously we have to be wise about how we have those conversations. I’m not suggesting that on Monday you go into the office and stand on the desk and start preaching. When in conversations with those in our sphere of influence who are struggling with any of these issues, we need to listen to them, show that we care about them, and gently point them to what the Bible teaches. After all, we know that obedience to God’s Word will ultimately bring life to people. And it is possible to disagree with someone’s lifestyle and still be their friend and care about them (shocking, I know). Somehow our society has let that one fall by the wayside. They can’t compute that we would fundamentally disagree with someone but still want to be their pal.
We also need to remember that the gospel puts everyone in the same boat. No one is special. Jesus treats all people the same, and so should we. The gospel should also challenge them as it did us when we first heard it. We need to be clear about the cost of discipleship for everyone. Each one of us has to say ‘no’ to our deepest longings. The gospel is about self-denial, whatever that looks like for each person. If we aren’t open about that, then those suffering with this stuff (or anything, for that matter) will think it’s unfair.
We should unashamedly show the goodness of God by calling people to adhere to what He says. The things that are prohibited in Scripture are there for a reason. God isn’t a killjoy. We need to explain the reason behind the commands. Our understanding of sexual ethics needs to fit within the comprehensive narrative of the Bible. Think about it, the Bible begins and ends with a marriage. The vision we have of marriage is good news. Ultimately, we want to point people to Jesus. When someone has an issue with what you are saying, remember that their issue is, at its basic level, an issue with Jesus. We are called to follow Jesus, no matter how it looks to those around us. They may think we have lost the plot. They might call us narrow-minded or bigoted, but our duty is to Jesus.
Finally, we need to have confidence in the gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Rom. 1:16). No one is beyond redemption. Don’t be afraid to share the gospel with those around you. We can sometimes think that the gospel won’t be effective in this community, but that just isn’t true. We are called to proclaim the gospel to all, no matter their sexuality or lifestyle choices. It’s God’s job to save them.
How do we talk to our children and young people about this subject?
This could be another article in its own right, so for now, I’m just going to give you some brief bullet points.
- Be age appropriate. This subject is no different from any other subject they may ask us about.
- Speak openly. One of the worst things we can do is to avoid certain topics because we are embarrassed about them. We taught our girls from an early age that no question is out of bounds.
- Explain what the Bible says. All those things I have mentioned already, but obviously in a simpler form.
- Keep your prejudices to the side. We want our children and young people to be influenced by the Bible, not by our own sinful prejudices. We want the Bible to form their worldview.
- All people are made in God’s image, and we all stand before Him on the same playing field. Teach children that, and show them the beauty of the gospel.
How can we wrap all this up then? This is such a complex and emotive issue that it can seem very scary and overwhelming for us. How are we meant to navigate all these issues with the children and young people under our care? As we look at the world around us, things seem to be getting more difficult when it comes to gender and sexuality.
We hear of schools teaching things about same-sex relationships or schools that have genderless bathrooms. Or there have been stories of those who now identify as a woman who have been sent to a male prison and want to switch to a female one. Should we just keep our children at home, so they don’t have to face all these things? Our job as parents, youth leaders, aunties, etc. is to point our children to God as he is found in the Bible. We want them to have a biblical worldview. We want to give them the tools to weigh things up themselves.
Our children won’t always agree with us—shocking, eh?! They are living in a totally different culture and are having to face issues that, even 20 years ago, I didn’t have to deal with. Our job isn’t to produce little versions of us. We are to raise up and teach the next generation so that they can believe the gospel themselves and then bring it into the culture that they are living in.
The bottom line is that no matter the gender or sexuality of a person, their biggest need is to come to Christ in repentance and faith. That is no different than any other person on the planet. Let’s pray that the Lord will help us proclaim this truth faithfully to our children, as well as those we come into contact with on a daily basis.