How to Minister amid Transgenderism

Transgender_symbolVirginia pastor John Pouchot ministered in evangelical congregations for more than a decade before he first encountered a family dealing with transgenderism in 2013. After Pouchot led a man to faith in Christ, his extended family began attending church and Pouchot learned the man’s high school-aged niece wanted to be a boy. Despite counseling the girl’s parents to the contrary, she underwent hormone therapy and began presenting as a boy. The experience left Pouchot convinced pastors like him will encounter transgenderism—and its root condition of gender dysphoria—with increasing frequency in the years to come and must be prepared to respond.[1]

Christians trained to counsel those struggling with gender confusion agree with Pouchot’s assessment and have offered suggestions for pastors and laypeople seeking to make a difference among those who do not feel at home with their God-given gender. In at least some cases, the following actions should be undertaken in conjunction with help from a trained, Christian mental health professional.

  1. Recognize the difference between struggling with gender dysphoria and identifying with the opposite gender. Gender dysphoria is the technical term for the condition of not feeling at home in one’s body in terms of gender. One response to gender dysphoria is to present as the opposite gender, but that is not the only response. As with same-sex attraction, gender dysphoria is often an unwanted feeling that is battled by those who experience it.[2]
  2. Listen. Often, simply talking to those struggling with gender identity and listening to their stories will begin a restoration. As North Carolina professor and counseling pastor Brad Hambrick put it, “Not having an immediate next answer may feel a little frail and helpless to the pastor.” But “that is the kind of [response] that [can lead a struggling person to] say, ‘You get me.’”[3]
  3. Help struggling people manage their dysphoria “in the least invasive way possible.”[4] In many cases, this is as simple as compassionately befriending a teenager until he or she “outgrows” feelings of gender dysphoria—as 70-80% of children reporting “transgender feelings” do. In no case, is so-called gender reassignment surgery appropriate. Not only is such surgery a sinful rejection of God’s good gift of gender, secular researchers have concluded it tends not to alleviate mental distress. A Swedish study found that a decade following gender reassignment surgery, “the transgendered began to experience increasing mental difficulties,” including a twentyfold increase in suicide rate.[5]
  4. Urge individuals who have identified as the opposite gender to admit their sin and ask God for forgiveness. While experiencing unwanted feelings is not a sin, responding to them by shunning the Lord’s providential gender assignment is (cf. Genesis 1:27; 1 Corinthians 6:9). Without a doubt, turning from transgenderism often involves dealing with past emotional wounds and complex medical realities. But such actions should come in addition to confession, not in lieu of it.
  5. Help those who have identified as the opposite gender transition back to their God-given gender as much as possible. At minimum, this will involve dressing as the appropriate gender and ceasing hormone therapy. For those who have undergone gender reassignment surgery, it likely will mean concealing surgical alterations as much as possible. When financial and medical conditions permit, some types of surgery may be reversed. The transition also will involve deciding whether marriage or chaste singleness is the most appropriate path forward.[6]

This list is not exhaustive. And as with many struggles, the road to healing can be difficult, with sinful temptations from the past reemerging from time to time. Yet Christian therapists have reported “huge success” in battling gender dysphoria, including a success rate of nearly 80% for transgender people who want to change.[7]


[1] David Roach, “Transgenderism Is Growing Ministry Focus,” Baptist Press, May 4, 2016, (accessed August 1, 2016).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Mark Yarhouse, “Understanding the Transgender Phenomenon,” Christianity Today, June 8, 2015, (accessed August 1, 2016).

[5] Paul McHugh, “Transgender Surgery Isn’t the Solution,” The Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2014, (accessed August 1, 2016).

[6] Roach, “Transgenderism is Growing Ministry Focus.”

[7] Bob [last name omitted intentionally], “Steps for Healing,” Help for Families Website, n. d., (accessed August 1, 2016).

Transgenderism in the Ancient World

As Clement looked around his cosmopolitan city, the open displays of transgenderism broke his heart. Grown men wore bleach-blonde feminine hairstyles, donned see-through women’s clothing, smelled of perfume, and had their bodies shaved in public salons where passersby could observe the spectacle. Though males biologically, these men “detest[ed] the bloom of manliness,” as Clement put it.[1]

world_missionsClement might well have lived in 21st-century London, Amsterdam, New York, or Los Angeles. But he didn’t. Clement was a theologian along the Egyptian coast during the second century AD, and his experience was not atypical. Though the term “transgenderism” was not coined until the 1960s,[2] the phenomenon has existed for millennia—individuals who feel drawn to present themselves as the opposite gender. At times such behavior in the ancient world was coupled with homosexual acts, and at other times it was practiced by those who would be described as bisexual today.[3] Yet from ancient Mesopotamia to the Greek and Roman Empires, instances of gender confusion are well documented.

During Old Testament times, the Mesopotamian text Erra and Ishum described men “who changed their masculinity into femininity” as part of worshiping the fertility goddess Ishtar.[4] In the intertestamental period, the Greek playwright Aristophanes dubbed one character in his play Women at Thesmophoria a “man-woman”—presumably reflective of people he had encountered in real life—and noted, “What contradictions his life shows! A lyre and a hair-net! A wrestling school oil flask and a girdle! What could be more contradictory? What relation has a mirror to a sword? And you yourself, who are you? Do you pretend to be a man?”

By the first century AD, the Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived in Egypt, could point to “men-women” who “altered the impression of their natural manly appearance into the resemblance of a woman” and were “willingly driven into the appearance and treatment of licentious women.”[5] The first- and second-century Roman satirist Juvenal spoke of “the effeminate,” who “in their homes put long fillets [hair ribbons] round their brows” and “swathe themselves with necklaces.” Some used “damp soot” as eye makeup and tied up “long locks” in hairnets.[6] Priests of the Roman cult of Cybele were initiated through a ceremony involving self-castration.[7]

The second-century Stoic philosopher Epictetus remarked to one young man, “Are you a man or a woman? A man. Then adorn yourself as a man, not as a woman.” He added that a “man to be seen who would rather be a woman” is “a scandalous show.”[8] Clement of Alexandria’s prescription for such behavior was representative of many Christian, Jewish, and pagan writers of his time: It “must be driven as far as possible from our society.”[9]

In light of these ancient sources, contemporary followers of Jesus should not be fooled by claims that transgenderism marks the advancement of society or the culmination of movements to celebrate diversity. Of course, some might turn this around and argue that being ancient makes the practice normative. Yet such an argument falls short logically and biblically, for murder and slavery were also ancient practices, and few would claim they are morally legitimate. Far from demonstrating the moral virtue of transgenderism, its ancient roots underscore the reality that with sin, there is truly nothing new under the sun. Since Old Testament times, some men and women have responded sinfully to a psychological struggle related to their gender. Just as in Clement of Alexandra’s day, Christians today should grieve over the spiritual and emotional brokenness of these people and compassionately invite them to repent and experience the renewing grace of Christ.


[1] Clement of Alexandria, Paedegogos 3.3.16, 21. Quoted in S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G. Grams, Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 290-91.

[2] See John F. Oliven, Sexual Hygiene and Pathology (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1965), 514.

[3] Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 291.

[4] Erra and Ishum IV. Quoted in Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 234.

[5] Philo, Special Laws 1.325. Quoted in Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 286.

[6] Juvenal, Satire II, lines 82-99. Quoted in Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 288.

[7] Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 288.

[8] Epictetus, Discourses 3.1. Quoted in Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 290.

[9] Clement of Alexandria, Paedegogos 3.3.19. Quoted in Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 291.

Protecting the Victims of Rape

“Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.”

Deuteronomy 24:16 (NIV)

In the United States, the death penalty is not enforced for rape—at least for the rapist.1 Sadly, a baby conceived from rape is often in greater danger than is his criminal father. In the midst of the legitimate desire to comfort a woman who has suffered the pain of a terrible crime, some may unwittingly heap tragedy on top of tragedy. In the name of compassion, an unborn baby is handed a death sentence for his father’s sin.

infant-holding-mothers-hand-bwThis law from Deuteronomy falls in the middle of an entire chapter dedicated to protecting the weak. As God’s covenant people, Israel was to be different, not living in the same self-absorbed, greedy manner as her neighbors. God intended them to take special care of the most vulnerable people among them—aliens, widows, orphans, and especially the poor. Verse 16 continues this theme. Law codes in the ancient Near East commonly allowed for an offender’s children to be executed alongside him. Establishing a basic principle of justice for His people, God rejected that precedent and commanded His people to exact punishment only on the guilty. The innocent should not be compelled to suffer.

This principle applies clearly to the child conceived in rape. The infant is not culpable in this horrible crime, which has already victimized the woman. To make the unborn a second victim cannot be God’s desire.

Many women understand this. A majority of those who find themselves pregnant from rape choose to bring the baby to term.2 Since abortion advocates repeatedly raise the case of rape, it is important to note that conception from this crime is very rare in the West.3 Equally rare in Western contemporary culture is the level of moral heroism the victimized mother shows in sustaining rather than ending the life of the child.4 The Church brings honor to God when it honors her.

Honor, though, is not enough. The people of God are also called to surround both mother and child with care, including the basics of life, the blessings of friendship, and, if needed, provisions for adoption. Through this, the Church helps turn the mother’s eyes from a bitter past to a grace-filled future, both for the child and herself.


1 Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Montana have laws that allow the death penalty for certain categories of rape (i.e., rape of a minor), however, these laws have not been enforced since 1964.

2 David C. Reardon, Julie Makimaa, Amy Sobie, eds. Victims and Victors: Speaking Out about Their Pregnancies, Abortions, and Children Resulting from Sexual Assault (Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 2000). See also, Sandra Kathleen Mahkorn, “Pregnancy and Sexual Assault,” The Psychological Aspects of Abortion, eds. David Mall and Walter F. Watts (New York: University Publications of America, Inc., 1979).

3 Mark H. Beers and Robert Berkow, “The Medical Examination of a Rape Victim,” in The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy (Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck, 1999), See, Section 18, Chapter 244.

4 Tragically in war torn regions of the world, women suffer the double trauma of rape as a deliberate act of humiliation and degradation by an enemy.

Lessons from the Seder

Seder20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.’ 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.

Deuteronomy 6:20-25 (ESV)

Through the millennia, Jews have observed the Passover seder (feast), commemorating their deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Today, many Christian churches reenact this ceremony, but with a difference. They apply it to Christ. Working from Messianic haggadahs (Passover texts), they recite the wonders of God’s deliverance from Egypt and eat the symbolic matzoth, horseradish, egg, and apple. It is all carefully scripted, with precise actions and wording. The ceremonial stipulations are exact—the shank bone of a lamb, an empty chair for Elijah, the father’s questions for the children. There is no free-wheeling discussion, improvisation, or validation of divergent opinions. The message and format are fixed. Both are biblically and educationally important.

In this connection, Deuteronomy 6:20-25 illustrates several principles of religious instruction:

  1. Historical context is important (vv. 21-22). Those who fail to recognize the handiwork of the Author of history and the debt they owe to their heritage will live prideful, irresponsible lives. And though it is fashionable in academic and political circles to shape history for ideological purposes, God teaches that history is fixed, and only one version is true.
  2. Memorization is important. While of course there is a time for dispute and dialogue, certain bedrock statements should be committed to memory. Rote memorization of Scripture has fallen on hard times, but both the son’s questions about definite rules (v. 20) and the Lord’s provision of a definite answer (v. 21) show its necessity and vitality.
  3. Stated purposes are important. The Pharisees, not God, loved rules for the sake of rules. While teachers are not required to give an instant reason for every directive, the students must have confidence that rules are not arbitrary. Rules need good reasons, and these reasons are worth sharing (cf. vv. 23-24). Teachers who press the commands of God without highlighting the beneficent purposes of God do the Lord and their students a grave disservice.
  4. Theological context is important. False gods surrounded the Israelites, much as religious pluralism and vague spirituality surround contemporary Christians. Teachers must insure that their students understand God’s nature and authority. He it is to whom reverence is due (“the LORD”), who trounces false gods (v. 22), who commits Himself with integrity to men (v. 23), who should be feared (v. 24), and who secures goodness and life for His people (v. 24).

In the Christian Church, catechisms have played a role similar to that of the Passover seder. They too offer precise answers to vital questions. And they have proven to be a treasure on which pastors can draw in shepherding their people toward Christian maturity and articulate service in a world impatient with truth and reverence. In church, as in Moses’ congregation, it is wonderful to have sound, concise, and memorable answers available “when your sons (and daughters) ask.”

Thomas Vincent: “Make Provision for the Children”

The Westminster Divines wrote the Shorter Catechism beginning with the famous question, “What is the chief end of man?” But it was Thomas Vincent (1634-1678), pastor of London’s St. Mary Magdalen, Milk Street, who helped make it popular. Vincent added his own explanatory notes and then encouraged its use in his church. He asserted that fathers have a unique responsibility to give their children a theological education: “It is not sufficient for you to bring your children and servants to receive public instruction; but it is your duty also to instruct them privately, and at home to examine them in their catechisms.”1 The authors of the Shorter Catechism were so pleased with Vincent’s work that they added their own imprimatur and encouraged its use by believers throughout England: “[W]e judge it may be greatly useful to all Christians in general, especially to private families.”2

Father copyVincent wanted more than to be family-friendly—much was at stake. He ministered in an age hostile to the evangelical faith. In 1662 the authorities ejected him from his pastorate, probably for his refusal to submit to the restrictive measures of the infamous Clarendon Code that required strict observance of all the rites of the Church of England. For the Church to persevere in truth and purity in the face of such persecution, the next generation must know the Bible. Vincent placed this responsibility squarely on the fathers’ shoulders.

Neither Vincent’s practice nor his circumstances were novel. When the early Church suffered persecution, her leaders turned to the method of catechizing, literally, teaching “according to sound” [by ear, not by reading assignments]. Well-instructed believers would be least likely to renounce the faith under fire.3 However, the act of catechizing children did not flourish until the Reformation. John Calvin argued in 1548 that the good of the Church depends, in part, upon the catechizing of children:

[T]he church of God will never preserve itself without a Catechism, for it is like the seed to keep the good grain from dying out, and causing it to multiply from age to age. And therefore, if you desire to build an edifice which shall be of long duration, and which shall not soon fall into decay, make provision for the children.4

In seventeenth-century England, many Puritan pastors may have wondered if the edifice of the Church was falling into decay as evangelicals were forced out of their ministries or, worse, put to death for their zeal. Nonetheless, in the face of such opposition, they urged and equipped parents to catechize their children.5 Well into the nineteenth century, churches and parents considered catechisms a crucial component of their children’s theological education. Times have changed.

In the modern Church (and the modern family), catechisms are considered the ancient tools of a bygone era. Regardless of this current trend, fathers and mothers ought to reclaim the precedent set by their spiritual parents and take the responsibility that is rightfully theirs. This is for the good of the children’s own souls and, ultimately, the purity of the Church.


1 Thomas Vincent, “To the Masters and Governors of Families Belonging to My Congregation,” in The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly Explained and Proved from Scripture (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1980), vii-viii. The Westminster Shorter Catechism was not the first catechism to be published in England, nor was Vincent the first pastor to encourage parents to take responsibility for the spiritual well-being of their children. The Cambridge educated, Baptist pastor, Henry Jessey, for example, wrote a catechism especially fit for little children in 1652. It included, in addition to a section of questions and answers, memorable theological tidbits such as, “The Law was given to show our sin. And wrath that’s due thereby. That we to Christ for righteousness, and life, might always flee.” See Henry Jessey, A Catechism for Babes, or Little Ones, in Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms, eds. Timothy and Denise George (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 234. Jessey also, nicely, summarized the Ten Commandments: “With all thy heart love God above/Thy neighbor as thyself so love.” Like Vincent after him, Jessey recognized the responsibility of parents to oversee the scriptural knowledge and spiritual welfare of their children.

2 John Owen, et al, “An Epistle to the Reader,” The Shorter Catechism, v.

3 See Tom Nettles, Teaching Truths, Training Hearts (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 1998), 16. For more information on catechism in early Christianity see Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, s.v. “Catechesis, Catechumenate.”

4 John Calvin, “Letter to the Protector Somerset, Geneva, October 22, 1548,” Selected Works of John Calvin, vol. 5, ed. Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 191.

5 The Puritan Hugh Peters urged parents to use catechisms in 1630, “if ever your poor infants be driven to wildernesses, to hollow caves, to faggot and fire, or to sorrows of any kind, they will thank God and you, they were well catechized.” See George, Baptist Confessions, 16.


Repentance, the First Key to the Kingdom—Reinhold Niebuhr


First as a pastor in Detroit and then as a seminary professor in New York, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) was an influential voice for Christian ethics in the twentieth century. The cross of Christ was a particularly important theme in his thought.1 In this passage from “The Christian Church in a Secular Age,” Niebuhr explains that brokenness and repentance at the foot of the cross are essential, that arrogance is deadly, while humility and godly sorrow are life-giving. This is true for civilizations as well as for individuals.

The question is, what shall the Christian Church say to this modern culture, which began its adventure in autonomy with such gay self-assurance, which is already so deeply involved in “riotous living” and which faces so certain a doom of a mighty famine?

We must, of course, preach the gospel to this, as to every generation. Our gospel is one which assures salvation in the Cross of Christ to those who heartily repent of their sins. It is a gospel of the Cross; and the Cross is a revelation of a love of God only to those who have first stood under it as a judgment. It is in the Cross that the exceeding sinfulness of human sin is revealed. It is in the Cross that we become conscious how, not only what is worst, but what is best in human culture and civilization is involved in man’s rebellion against God. It was Roman law, the pride of all pagan civilization, and Hebraic religion, the acme of religious devotion, which crucified the Lord. Thus does the Cross reveal the problem of all human culture and the dilemma of every human civilization.

Repentance is the first key into the door of the Kingdom of God. God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble. Whenever men trust their own righteousness, their own achievements, whenever they interpret the meaning of life in terms of the truth in their own culture or find in their own capacities a sufficient steppingstone to the Holy and the Divine, they rest their life upon a frail reed which inevitably breaks and leaves their life meaningless.

Perhaps that is why the truest interpretations of the Christian faith have come in moments of history when civilizations were crumbling and the processes of history and the judgments of God had humbled human arrogance. The faith of the Hebrew prophets was thus formulated when the culture religion of Israel was threatened and finally overcome by the mighty civilizations of Assyria and Babylon. Augustine wrote the City of God when Roman civilization, once mighty enough to seem identical with civilization itself, had become the helpless victim of barbarians; the renewal of the Christian gospel in the Protestant Reformation was, historically speaking, the consequence as well as the cause of the crumbling of a once proud medieval civilization. Proud men and successful civilizations find it difficult to know God, because they are particularly tempted to make themselves God. That is why “not many mighty, not many noble, not many wise after the flesh are called.” Without the godly sorrow that worketh repentance there can be no salvation.2


1 Mark Noll, “Reinhold Niebuhr,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 842.

2 Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Christian Church in a Secular Age,” in Christianity and Power Politics (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1940), 210-212.