COLUMBIA – A packed house needed to bring in chairs at Open Heart Baptist Church here during a discussion of gender and sexuality issues, hosted by the Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) Christian Life Commission (CLC).
Bill Victor, MBC scholar-in-residence joined Desert Streams / Living Waters Ministries’ Dean Greer and Amanda Smith – both of whom have come out of homosexual lifestyles – to lead the conversation.
Victor approached the evening from the perspective of a scholar interested in truth as well the heart of a loving pastor.
“Both biblical manhood and womanhood are issues of spiritual formation,” Victor said. “That is, no matter what sex you are or gender you identify with, we are all called to Christlikeness. We are called to make disciples of all nations, and that doesn’t exclude anyone’s gender identity.”
In the prevailing culture, Victor said, biological sex is the physical, biological and anatomic dimensions of being male or female while gender is how a person experiences him or herself (or thinks of themselves). For the vast majority, sex and gender line up; however many in today’s culture increasingly argue they are wholly independent and changeable.
Regardless of vocabulary, Victor reminded the crowd that those who believe “their truth” includes a gender different than their sex are “people who Jesus died for.”
“We need to think about rising above the culture war when providing ministry and meaningful pastoral care and support.”
Victor unpacked a biblical view of God’s ideal of of manhood and womanhood. He argued that from Genesis 1 onward, Scripture affirms repeatedly that God has made man and woman for one another and that sexual desires rightly find fulfillment within heterosexual marriage (Mark 10.2-9, 1 Thess. 4.3-8, 1 Cor. 7.1-9, Eph 5.21-33, Heb. 13.4, the Song of Solomon, etc.).
“We see examples throughout the OId Testament and New Testament that suggest that the coming together as male and female, as a man and woman in marriage is meant to signal something of the relationship between God and His people (Old Testament) and Christ and the church (New Testament). This is not to say that we are only fully human if we are in a heterosexual marriage relationship either. In fact, in the New Testament, it seems as if a celibate life is to be admired and offers a life of undistracted devotion to the Lord.”
And yet, men and women live in a fallen world.
“When we look at the issue of sexuality (in a biological sense) we see that the fall can affect biological/physical/anatomical sex and gender,” he said. “…We do not affirm that every experience reflects God’s will. But we do have to acknowledge that no one and nothing is free from the effects of the fall. The world we inhabit is not as God intended. Here is where we need caution and humility again as we refer to these issues. Not all people and worldviews will see their condition or experience as being a ‘deviation’ or being outside the norm (no matter what the numbers and percentages say). We need to be thoughtful in how we reference the fall in our understanding of diverse experiences of gender identity that do not match up well with a gender binary (male/female).”
While acknowledging sin as sin, Victor called on the crowd to remember their own sin and the love they themselves were shown.
“We all face some sort of disorder (either inherited or of our own doing). But it seems that some disorders are more apparent and maybe we think they are more scandalous. Some may be more heinous because they are reflections of our own selfishness.
“Oftentimes when Christians enter such culture wars, we come armed with the Bible and an attitude of superiority and a desire to vanquish all of those who disagree with us,” he said.
“While we should react to the deconstruction of sex and gender, we should offer a reasoned response to it (we maintain certain convictions) in a spirit of mutual respect and a pastoral heart of compassion. We need to offer thoughtful responses rather than a knee-jerk reaction, particularly when there are people within our own communities who are navigating these gender identity concerns in their own lives. If we seek only to defend our turf, we may wound those on the margins who need godly, biblical advice and counsel.”
Amanda Smith and Dean Greer
While Victor’s time was devoted to the issue in general, Amanda Smith and Dean Greer brought a personal face to questioning one’s gender and identity.
Both were active in homosexual lifestyles and relationships before they accepted Christ as their savior. Though they said they still occasionally struggle with same-sex attraction to a lesser degree, they are passionate about telling others of Jesus’s ability to radically transform lives and identities. Both work with Kansas City-based Desert Stream/Living Waters Ministries, which provides help for people struggling with sexual and relational problems based on the biblical foundation of compassion, integrity, and dependence on God.
Smith grew up in a home where her mother battled mental illness and her father was her only positive role model. Though she takes responsibility for her own sin, she says that her home life played a factor in her not feeling loved and rejecting her identity and role as a woman. She cut her hair like man, dressed like a man, and even lowered her voice when she spoke, seeking that acceptance.
Depressed and broken after her girlfriend broke up with her, she stumbled across a Bible her mother had given her.
“I stared at it for two weeks, and one day I finally read it,” she said. “I fell on my face and started weeping… I finally knew that Jesus loved me.”
Smith said she experienced a “radical transformation that day.” She sought out a Bible-believing, loving church and gradually began to align herself with God’s will for her life.
“God changed my heart before He changed my clothes,” she said. “Through surrender and repentance, God has changed my life in ways that are so amazing, including changing my desire to look like a man.”
Greer’s testimony is similarly transformational. He grew up in San Francisco, the epicenter of changing sexual ethics. He came to believe his parents could never love him as he experienced attraction to other men, so he left home and jumped into the lifestyle with both feet in the 1980s. A few years later, he returned home with the diagnosis of being HIV-positive, expecting to be disowned by his parents.
“Instead, my dad assured me of his love for me,” Greer said. “He didn’t like the choices I’d made and he certainly didn’t like my diagnosis, but he loved me and told me, ‘Dean, you were made for so much more than the life you’ve chosen, and God has greater purposes for your life. You don’t have to align yourself with God’s will, but I want to help you become what God intends you to be.’ It was through the love of my earthly father I began to see the reality of my heavenly father.”
The Lord’s mercy and the local church helped him to see his identity in Christ and provided tools to grasp on to hope.
Both Greer and Smith said the church should be loving and patient with those seeking to leave a homosexual lifestyle or those struggling with questions of gender identity, while at the same time holding everyone to the high standard of the cross and repentance.