BOLIVAR – Denny Burk serves as professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, located on at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and as president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW).
Burk will speak in Bolivar, Feb. 19-21, at Southern Hills Baptist Church and Southwest Baptist University, in conjunction with a conference highlighting biblical views of marriage, gender and sexuality. To learn more about the conference – called “The Gender Choice: Whose is it?” – visit www.thegenderchoice.com.
I interviewed Burk via email late last month about the impact of the LGBT movement on culture and how Missouri Southern Baptists should respond.
Benjamin Hawkins: To begin, could you consider the LGBT issues from a 30,000 foot level? How is it the case that our society is dealing with issues that little over a decade ago would have been unimaginable to most people – and especially unimaginable a century ago? What happened?
Denny Burk: A worldview called expressive individualism drives much of the cultural change that we’ve witnessed over the last several decades on issues of sexuality. “Expressive individualism holds that human beings are defined by their individual psychological core, and that the purpose of life is allowing that core to find social expression in relationships. Anything that challenges it is deemed oppressive” (Carl Trueman). This notion of the self has deep roots in the western philosophical tradition. In the aftermath of the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, however, this idea really took off and today functions like religious dogma among secular people. The result is that many people in our culture really do believe that their sexual desires and self-concept of their gender comprise their deepest and truest self.
Thus, the purpose of life is to express those “identities” no matter how much they transgress biological realities. If a man’s body says “male” but his mind tells him “female,” his mind wins. Not only that, he must have everyone else accept and affirm that self-identity no matter how much anyone may disagree with it. Any failure to affirm his fallen self-identity is considered oppressive and even abusive. Decent people do not wish to be an oppressor or abusive, so there is tremendous social pressure to accept sinful sexual and gender identities. Our culture has largely bowed to that pressure, and the collapse has happened rather quickly over the last 10-15 years.
Hawkins: It seems that the LGBT conversation has, in recent months and years, taken a turn to transgender issues, in particular. Is this correct? Why have we seen this emphasis now on the T in LGBT?
Burk: After the 2015 landmark Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, LGBT-rights proponents immediately began to focus on the “T.” It was as if they had achieved their main goal for the “LGB” in the legalization of gay marriage. Now they were ready to demand social acceptance for transgender people, as well. It all began to take shape with the splashy cover story of Bruce Jenner transforming himself into Caitlyn Jenner. Since that time, the transgender revolution has been in full swing in the United States.
Hawkins: Where do you think the LGBT movement goes from here, and how can Southern Baptists be better prepared for what we might face in the future?
Burk: LGBT advocates continue to press for the normalization of transgender expressions, and that effort shows no signs of letting up. There are some signs, however, that even some secular folks are beginning to realize how destructive this movement is. It is no longer Christians alone taking issues with the transgender revolution. With the explosion of cases of adolescent teenage girls identifying as transgender, many are beginning to suspect that transgenderism is less of a psychological condition than it is a social contagion. It is now socially advantageous for many adolescent teenage girls to embrace such an identity, and many of them are undergoing surgeries and hormone treatments that render them infertile for life and that destroy otherwise healthy organ. Even secular parents are now joining the resistance to this destructive trend. No one wants this for their children.
Hawkins: As Southern Baptist churches try to engage these issues biblically, both on a personal and public level, what advice would you give them?
Burk: We must commit ourselves to the Bible’s vision of gender and sexuality. Faithful pastors and ministry leaders who care about the Bible’s functional authority within the church are going to have to prepare themselves and their congregations for the challenges we are facing. Pastors, therefore, must commit themselves and their preaching to the ministry of the word. The people of God will be transformed by the Spirit of God as they encounter the Word of God in preaching.
We need more discipleship and more biblical grounding for God’s people. More instructing husbands about how self-sacrificially to lead, protect, and provide for their families. More exhortation to wives to affirm and support that leadership. More encouragement for singles to embrace the calling God has given them and to spend their singleness for the glory of Christ and to be fully assimilated into the life and ministry of the church. More instruction for children about what it means to be male and female image-bearers and God’s design for each. More teaching God’s people to do everything that Jesus has commanded us, not just the things that go with the grain of the ambient culture (Matt. 28:19-20; Gal. 1:10).
The biblical vision of manhood, womanhood, and sexuality is under assault right now. Contrary to what the critics are saying, the Bible’s vision of male and female is the most beautiful, life-giving, culture-reforming, gospel-inculcating vision on offer. If we are going to be faithful to Christ in our generation, we must model and declare that vision anew in the face of new challenges.
Hawkins: To various degrees on local, state and national levels, LGBT issues have presented a religious liberty threat in our society. Why is this so? How do you think Southern Baptists should respond biblically to national issues like the Equality Act and Fairness For All, as well as to more local threats to religious liberty?
Burk: For Southern Baptists, religious liberty isn’t a sidebar. It goes to the core of our confessional identity and always has. Indeed, the Baptist Faith & Message has an entire article devoted to Religious Liberty. Among other things, that article says that “The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind.” That portion of the BF&M reveals the heart of our conflicts that we face today. More and more, Christians are facing blowback from the culture and even from the federal government for what we believe about marriage, transgenderism, and a host of other issues. An elderly Southern Baptist laywoman and florist was actually sued by the Attorney General of Washington state because she refused to involve herself in a gay wedding ceremony. She did not win that case but settled. Southern Baptists must press their democratic privileges to preserve and defend religious liberty. We must take a stand here. At the very least, that means supporting candidates and public policies that advance our first freedom—religious liberty.
Hawkins: Are there any resources that you would especially refer to Missouri Baptists as they engage with these moral and religious liberty issues?
Burk: Churches need to do everything they can to prepare their congregations for the challenges we face. One of the best things pastors can do is lead their congregations to doctrinal clarity on the most contested issues. One way to do that is for a church to adopt confessional language on gender and sexuality. Many churches, seminaries, and Christian schools have adopted the Nashville Statement on biblical sexuality for just that reason. I highly recommend it to my fellow Southern Baptists. For more resources and information about these issues, please visit www.cbmw.org.