“There are two kinds of people — those who live hoping God will make them happy and those who live to make God happy.” Sy Rogers
Sy Rogers, a leading evangelist for healthy sexuality in the church, died on Sunday, April 19, 2020, at 63 after battling kidney cancer for eight months. He defeated cancer once before and had been in remission for five years.
A gifted communicator, Sy’s teaching ministry spanned over three decades and reached across six continents. He was a popular conference speaker in evangelical circles and his seminars and speaking events were conducted interdenominationally for leadership events (National Youth Leaders), Bible colleges (Biola, Christ for the Nations, Azusa Pacific, Regent), youth festivals (Parachute Music Festival in New Zealand), counselor training, women’s conferences, and men's events. Sy was also an award-winning talk show host. In 1996, Sy was selected by Christianity Today as one of “50 Up and Coming Evangelical Leaders Under 40.”
For the last two decades Sy was an apologist for sexual integrity and healthy relationships. He preached in a wide variety of influential pulpits, from Southern Baptist to Presbyterian to Pentecostal, including Ed Young’s Fellowship Church (Dallas, Texas) to Jentezen Franklin’s Free Chapel (Gainesville, Georgia) to London’s Kensington Temple to Australia’s Riverview Church. Most recently Sy served as a teaching pastor at Life Church, the largest church in New Zealand, for six years starting in 2012 while maintaining his international speaking ministry.
Growing up with sexual abuse and gender identity confusion, after years of childhood bullying he embraced a gay identity and was a practicing homosexual before he went on to be diagnosed transgender. His life changed course when he became convinced of God’s unconditional love and converted to Christianity, abandoning his plan for sex reassignment surgery. Looking for work and finding none, Sy volunteered to serve in a prison ministry. “God never ran out of things for me to do,” he said of his inauspicious beginnings in ministry in 1980. Sy met his eventual wife Karen, who served with him in the prison. They lived cross culturally on three different continents with Sy in full-time Christian service the next 38 years.
Despite his journey out of homosexuality in 1980, getting married in 1982 and starting a family three years later, it seemed Sy could never do enough to satisfy his detractors. He often quipped, “I find it remarkably ironic that, of all the men in the world, God picked me as His public example of redeemed manhood. How very like God to choose the person that no one else would. But God’s version of public relations is different.
In the late 80s Sy’s first foray into vocational ministry was as the director of a local parachurch ministry in the fledgling ex-gay movement of Exodus International, which is now defunct. His Orlando, Florida based ministry provided pastoral care and support groups for clients with unwanted same-sex attractions. From 1988-90 Sy served one term as president of the Exodus network. His former organization, now called Exchange Ministries, is still in operation today and currently based out of First Baptist Orlando.
In 1991 he was one of 25 pastors on staff with the dynamic Anglican church, Church of our Savior in Singapore. While there he pioneered the work of sexual redemption, founding a recovery ministry that is still in operation today, called Choices. Then Sy’s family migrated to New Zealand in 1998, where his itinerant teaching ministry was launched, but not before he spent a year with the evangelistic ministry of No Longer Music. Sy performed as the lead vocalist in a Christian rock operetta that played in major secular night clubs around the world.
Eventually Sy and his family returned to Orlando in 2001, where he worked as a full-time itinerant teacher for the next 11 years, traveling four to six continents per year. In 2012 they returned to New Zealand when Sy went on staff at Life Church as a pulpiteer, dividing his time between the church and his global itinerant ministry.
Often remembered for his gay history, Sy’s teaching ministry transcended the homosexual issue for the past two decades. In his later years, he mainly spoke about sex in the larger context of conversations on God, sex, culture as in this message given in 2019 at Substance Church (Minneapolis). Sy was an evangelist for the character of God, always pointing people to the Bible as their source for God’s opinion, “I’m not in a ministry of trying to change people. I don’t have the power and it misses the point. I am in a posture of inviting people to journey with God,” Sy said at Fellowship Church. “It matters who you listen to.”
His story was featured in a series at Fellowship Church, called Mythbusters, and in his own DVD, titled "One of the Boys," as well as numerous media interviews and articles, including Joni Lamb, Harvest Times (Singapore), The 700 Club, Reality magazine (NZ), Good Morning Australia, and Last Days Ministries (the late Keith Green), and featured in several books written by authors such as Philip Baker and Dr. D. James Kennedy.
Upon hearing of his passing, Priscilla Shirer, commented on Instagram describing Sy’s death as a “huge loss for the Church ....and for any of us who knew him. His message and ministry were INCREDIBLY unique. His brilliance was astounding.” Jentezen Franklin described Sy as “one of the most informed and skilled speakers we have ever hosted.” Hillsong founders Brian and Bobbie Houston wrote, “Sy was truly one of the kindest people you could ever meet. He exemplified grace and freedom and a passion to always bless others.”
Sy is survived by his wife, Karen, daughter Grace, son-in-law Steve, and two grandchildren, ages 8 and 4. His body will be laid to rest in a private burial service on Monday and a public memorial will be planned at a later date when covid restrictions are lifted. To date thousands have visited his online memorial to commemorate the life and legacy of Sy Rogers.
Dr. Julie Hamilton is an advocate for healthy sexuality. She works as licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in South Florida. A former assistant professor of psychology at Palm Beach Atlantic University, Dr. Hamilton speaks on connecting with God and others as well as homosexuality and gender confusion.