Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Issue of gender and gender confusion - responding pastorally.

The linked post highlights the need for Christians to recover their voice not only on the nature of marriage but also gender.  Gender in today's culture is viewed as a personal choice rather something given by God, wired into our genes.  This post doesn't answer the question as much as point out the unusual questions poised by issues in our culture and challenges the church to come up with compassionate responses based on truth found in the Scriptures.
At the conclusion of my talk, a youth minister from a small church in the area approached me for advice on how to deal with a perplexing pastoral situation he was facing. A young girl in his youth group had recently decided she wanted to become a boy. My usual reaction to a conundrum like this would be to advise the girl of what the Bible teaches about how God created us as male and female, how Christians must embrace what God made us to be, and how God has a design for her life as a female. But there was more to this young girl's story than a spontaneous desire to change genders. There was an additional detail that would turn my usual response on its head.

This particular girl had been born with a rare biological condition that made it difficult at birth to determine whether she was a girl or a boy. The condition is known as "intersex," and intersexed persons are born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit the typical pattern for female or male. Until relatively recently, the most common medical treatment for intersex has been for doctors to recommend a gender, to encourage the parents to embrace that gender, to surgically reshape the genitals and reproductive organs accordingly, and to advise parents not to express any ambiguity to the child about their selected gender. The young woman in question had undergone such surgery as an infant but now as a teen felt she wasn't really a girl after all. She felt her parents had made the wrong choice about what sex she was, and now she was in the midst of an identity crisis. She wanted to become what she felt she was born to be. She wanted to be a boy.

So the youth minister asked me, "What should I say to them? How do I minister to this student and her family?" I confess I was at a bit of a loss to answer his question. Not because I didn't know what the Bible teaches, but because I didn't know what intersex was. As I struggled to apply Scripture to a condition I'd never even heard of, it occurred to me that at the heart of this minister's query was a question about sex—not sex narrowly conceived as sexual acts, but more broadly conceived as gender and sexuality. At the root of his difficulty was a desire to know how the Bible's normative teaching about manhood and womanhood speaks to this difficult situation.

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