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How can Christians navigate the challenges of an increasingly sexualized world? ERLC panelists discuss

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The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission held a panel discussion Tuesday focusing on how churches and Christian leaders should disciple their congregations regarding God’s design for human sexuality in an increasingly sexualized world.  

Hundreds joined a virtual discussion on Zoom addressing how Christian parents, ministry leaders and pastors should navigate the challenges of the sexual revolution and how they can minister to their loved ones and community members who identify as LGBT.  

ERLC is the public policy arm of America’s largest Protestant denomination. 

Jason Thacker, the chair of research in technology ethics and the head of ERLC’s Research Institute, said he has connected with some local church pastors in recent weeks who have been confused about how to handle situations when people within their congregations or people who visit their churches for the first time identify as LGBT.  

“There are questions swirling around our culture, especially in light of pride month. … I think a lot of people when they hear about biblical sexual ethics and the sexual revolution, our minds goes in a thousand different directions. There’s hundreds of questions we’re being asked … especially among our pastors and ministry leaders,” Thacker said. 

Multiple pastors who have come to Thacker have asked questions like: “I have a trangender couple,” or “I have someone who is same-sex-attracted,” or “I have a question about someone who has transitioned and is wanting to become a church member.”

Midway through the discussion, Dean Inserra, the pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida, said that visitors often question him if his church is LGBT affirming.

When it comes to the topics of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Inserra said he has seen many churches take one of two different approaches. 

“One of the approaches is churches are caving to the culture. They are adopting the culture’s views. They are just deciding that ‘love is love,’ affirming, celebrating pride month, just the full embrace of everything LGBT,” he said. 

“Or you’re seeing churches just go silent on the matter … because they know that, oftentimes in this culture, people are going to leave if you talk about that even though they believe what the Scriptures say concerning these relationships.”

Inserra is the author of the 2022 bookPure: Why the Bible’s Plan for Sexuality Isn’t outdated, Irrelevant, or Oppressive.

Inserra said the way he approaches these topics with his church is neither through an avoidance method nor by being LGBT affirming. He said it’s important that all churches begin to discuss these topics in their regular teachings.  

“For our church, we are going to talk about it because we’ve seen this sort of [remnant] that’s growing larger [with] people who actually want to know what the Bible has to say and are tired of the revolution in their face constantly. And they’re trying to raise their kids to think through this in ways they didn’t have to when they were in elementary school and middle school and high school,” the pastor said. 

“It’s not that we talk about it every week, but if you attend our church, especially if you’re a member, you’re going to … know that we believe that God made marriage between a man and a woman, sex is reserved for that sacred union and we’re unashamed of that.”

Inserra said he also hears many questions from people who might not be struggling with gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction but are seeking answers from their church about knowing how to approach the LGBT issues with their children. 

“I’m not going to hand them this intense book on anthropology. And so we’re just going to talk and walk them through how they can navigate with their kids these things that are happening right now,” Inserra said, saying that his son in the third grade has a classmate who is transgender and taking hormones.  

“I didn’t think I was going to have to have the conversation about how we’re going to talk about this, how we’re going to treat this individual, how we’re going to respond, what name we’re going to use. What about the pronoun issue? Those are the questions that people are asking us: ‘how do I handle this? How do I teach my kids about this?’”   

Earlier in the discussion, Katie McCoy, the director of women’s ministry at Baptist General Convention in Texas, who holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology, shared what she thinks is at the root of the cultural crisis facing many churches and ministry leaders. 

“I think if we could boil it down to one thing, it is a question of who we are, what our human identity is, and what are the factors that we use to construct that. When we talk about [these issues], we are saying that identity is self-created versus identity is God-given,” McCoy said. 

“The human body, according to our culture, is something that is basically irrelevant to human identity or at least incidental and that our sexuality can be without purpose or design that can guide us in how we use it.”

McCoy said what is taught from Scripture in a biblical worldview is that “the body is a distinct aspect of who we are.” 

But she said culture would say “that the body is a divisible aspect of who we are,” and the body is something people can divide from their true self and determine one’s own identity completely separate from the body.  

“Some of the challenges that come out of that are vast and far-reaching,” McCoy said. “I think of a few being: the relationship between the biological sex and gender, the relationship between gender identity and feelings, … your inner sense of who you are. What happens if that is out of alignment with your biological sex?” McCoy continued. 

“Some other challenges deal with the prevailing ideas in our culture and how they are affecting the new ethics, the new morality that we see in corporations, education, in medical practice. It is reaching all of those different spheres of society.”

McCoy said there is another challenge of “political forces at work to censor research, to indoctrinate children at a young age with specific views on gender and gender ideology.”

“Another challenge that people are asking is ‘how do we help someone with gender dysphoria? — especially children?’ Medical wisdom says that “you would agree with someone’s self-perception, not attempt to challenge that. It’s something that goes entirely unquestioned,” she said. 

“And as a result of that approach, you have children going on puberty blockers or doing things like hormone therapy or different socialization changes: changing their hairstyle, their clothes, their name.”

McCoy stressed that some schools are reintroducing children to their classmates as different genders.

“In some cases, that’s happening without parents' knowledge, certainly not their approval and then that’s a short step to cross-sex hormones and surgical procedures — most of which have irreversible effects,” McCoy said. 

Thacker said pastors and church leaders often behave as though issues with sexual ethics are not a problem that affects their churches. He maintained that many people face sexual ethics issues within the Church.

Andrew Walker, an associate professor of Christian ethics and public theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, said culture is a compilation of many different forces “that are all pressing upon individuals and institutions.” 

“Ideas have consequences,” said Walker, an ERLC research fellow. “That’s something that we tend to downplay. Ideas shape beliefs, beliefs shape behavior, behavior shapes expectations about what the law is wanting to forbid or allow for. … The dominant motif is this idea of expressive individualism.”

“I think if that’s the one category that’s going to define who we are as a civilization right now, it’s the primacy of the self,” Walker said. “It’s the idea that the self has to understand that its flourishing is tied to freeing itself of any obligations that the self does not create or doesn’t consent to on its own grounds.”

Complaining about issues of sexual ethics is not the answer for Christians, according to Walker, because there is hope “to see ourselves out of this mess.”  

“Honestly, we can complain and talk about how bad this is, and it is,” he said. “But, I actually see glimmers of the secular cracks in the foundation beginning to show because what we are seeing is human nature is not meant to be a load-bearing structure and entity like our society is assuming that it can be.”

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