What should I do if my child is in a school that teaches that transgender identity is normal? How should I respond if my female friend at church becomes a transgender man? These are some of the questions that The Christian Post posed to three experts in the field as Christians seek guidance on how to respond to the issue of transgender identity in daily life.
The experts include David H. Pickup, Jeff Johnston, and Dr. Juli Slattery.
David H. Pickup is a Christian and licensed marriage and family therapist. He currently operates two private psychotherapy practices in Dallas, Texas, and Los Angeles, California. He works primarily with men dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction and uses authentic Reparative Therapy.
He is the lead plaintiff in Pickup vs. Brown, the lawsuit brought against California for its new law that has banned Reparative Therapy for minors in that state. Additionally, he works as a national lobbyist for the National Therapeutic Task Force, which was successful in helping to defeat 16 out of 18 therapy bans in state legislatures in 2015. Pickup is also a speaker for the Texas-wide Faith/Family/Freedom Tour for the conservative Republicans of Texas, which has just begun to educate the public in gender/sexuality issues and their spiritual, cultural, and political effects in America.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a clinical psychologist, author, speaker and the president/co-founder of Authentic Intimacy. She earned her college degree at Wheaton College, an MA in psychology from Biola University as well as an MS and a doctorate degree in clinical psychology from Florida Institute of Technology.
Jeff Johnston works as an issues analyst, researching and writing about a variety of subjects related to marriage, homosexuality, gender and healthy sexuality. He was raised in a Christian home and was actively involved in his church growing up. Johnston struggled for years, however, to reconcile his Christian faith with his same-sex attractions and sexual addiction. While working as a youth intern at a church in San Diego, he attended a conference, "Hope and Healing for the Homosexual," which began his journey of healing and change. Since then, he has shared the story of God's transforming power with churches, youth groups, schools and the news media.
Scenario 1: My child is in a really excellent school that teaches that transgenderism is normal. I don't agree as a conservative Christian and can't afford to change schools. What should I do?
Pickup: There are many choices here, which are based on specific circumstances. If this situation includes this school forcing trans ideology onto your child, then protect your child and enroll her in another school. I believe a parent should do anything to protect their child.
If the child is not forced, then Mom and Dad need to become completely educated on trans issues in terms of causation and treatment that really works, including (in layman's terms) what ALL the research says. They need to then educate their child fully with compassion for all people who have trans issues.
Also, a parent can compassionately and firmly insist that the school educate properly, which means that the parents will need to have all their facts and research points in a row, which is easy to do with licensed doctors or therapists, before they insist that ALL sides of these issues are taught. The parents can also go through the PTA to get this done. They key is good change management through listening and communication skills in which the parent is seen as compassionate and competent in revealing these issues.
Slattery: Transgenderism is just one of the issues your child's school is teaching that conservative Christians disagree with. It is important to teach your son/daughter at an early age that a Christian/biblical worldview is different than the way the majority of the world thinks about right and wrong, how the world came about, and even things like gender. People that know and follow Jesus think about things the way the Bible teaches them. That means you might feel weird when we don't see things the way your friends/teachers do. God wants us to show His love to all people, even if they disagree with us. This should be an ongoing conversation with your child.
- Teach children that God made us male and female in His image. Both are good and valuable, but they are different.
- Explain that individuals are born either male or female, but some people become confused or are hurt and don't like the way God made them.
- We want to have compassion for those who are confused with their identity, knowing that God loves them, but we don't have to agree with them.
As far as the school teaching confusing sexual messages, Focus on the Family is a strong advocate for parental rights in education. Our informative resource, "Equipping Parents to Respond to Gender-Confusing Messages in Schools," will assist parents to respond well to their children and to their school. The website truetolerance.org has even more helpful resources when your child's school begins teaching about controversial sexual topics.
Scenario 2: A female choir member recently admitted to our church that she believes she is a man on the inside. She started dressing like a man and was asked to stop singing in the choir. She is my friend and one of our best singers. She still comes to church and insists that God still loves her as a man. What should I tell her? Should I still be her friend?
Pickup: All interventions should begin with love and understanding. When it begins with this, then there is much more of a chance that the emotional defense mechanism will drop, the delusion will drop, and then the emotional trauma that causes trans feelings will come up.
If this person is simply certain or adamant on their beliefs of "God made me this way" philosophy, (for which there is no scientific or scriptural evidence), then all one can do is to love them and continue the relationship just as we would do for anyone with any issue with whom we do not agree from scripture or science.
In theory, loving them as a person but holding to your own value system might work to help this person see a healthy path. Conflict resolution is much more doable within this framework, which will lead to lower anxiety and therefor more realistic thinking. In the end, love works even if we don't agree.
Slattery: It is your church leadership's responsibility to sort through the issues of who's in the choir. Yes, God still loves her regardless of how she understands her gender and so should you. I would really encourage you to stay her friend and show empathy for how difficult this is. That doesn't mean you are agreeing with everything she says or chooses. A couple of great books to check out are Mark Yarhouse's Understanding Gender Dysphoria and Glenn Stanton's How to Love Your LGBT Neighbor. Both books will give you solid, practical advice on how to navigate these sensitive issues from a biblical perspective.
Johnston: Paul tells us, in Romans, that each one of us was deeply loved by God while we were weak and sinful. We are encouraged, as believers, to have that same love for others. You can't really love someone when you are not in relationship with them. So if you want to influence your friend toward the truth, maintaining that relationship is important.
Rather than telling your friend something, it might be better to start out by asking questions and listening to her. Many who struggle with transgender issues have experienced deep pain, rejection and suffering. They wrestle with self-hatred and with not accepting their bodily reality. You can demonstrate God's love to this struggling woman, even if you disagree with her. Real love may also call you to deep prayer for her. We know people who left transgenderism after years of struggle; prayer and love from Christians were key components in their walk toward wholeness.
Scenario 3: My pastor says transgenderism is a demonic spirit while some people say it's a mental illness. What should I tell my friends who say people are just born this way?
Pickup: The research and strong anecdotal evidence indicates there is no biological truth (which is also an evidence of God not creating transgenderism) to inborn causality. In every case of dysphoria there is found deep trauma that occurs in very early childhood in which the family security system has gone awry and is intolerable during the gender identity phase. In short, Trauma = attachment disorder.
It's very hard for parents or the whole family to admit or discover that there were such debilitating and deleterious issues put onto a small child. Also, pastors do not have biblical evidence to prove there are demonic spirits that are in a person. They don't really know for sure because they're not inspired directly from the Holy Spirit, and this doesn't match the inspired Word.
Slattery: I don't think you need to "tell" your friends anything. First listen and then pray. This is a very complicated issue that involves both spiritual and mental health. Not everyone fits the same mold. But we are all born with some brokenness, including potential brokenness in our sexuality and/or gender.
Johnston: Let's start from a different angle: How did God design us, and how do individuals grow into a healthy sense of themselves as male or female, masculine or feminine?
When children are born, we don't arbitrarily "assign" them a sex. We recognize (except in very rare instances) that they are male or female. It's one of the first things we announce: It's a girl! Or, it's a boy! God made us male and female, in His image.
But infants don't recognize themselves as male or female; they grow into their sexual identity. In healthy development, they embrace that identity, understanding more of the goodness of their masculinity or femininity as they mature.
For those struggling with gender dysphoria, it's likely that a variety of things disrupt that process. When sin entered the world, every aspect of our humanity was affected, including our relationships, sexuality, sense of identity and bodies. Sin taints our thoughts, choices and emotions. And we live in a world where real spiritual entities are at war with God and work to negatively influence humans.
All that to say, there is no single "cause" for gender dysphoria. It is most likely a combination of many different, influencing factors, unique to each person. The good news is that God is able to bring healing, transformation and deliverance. With His power and grace, individuals have been set free from transgenderism. Others find help living out their Christian faith even if the struggle persists. This is usually not a simple or easy process, but real healing exists.
Scenario 4: I am a conservative Christian woman living in a liberal city that allows men who believe they are women to use public women's restrooms. I am very uncomfortable with this arrangement and can't afford to move out of the city just yet. What should I do?