Generation Z – Transgenderism in the Church

For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever”  Isaiah 56:4-6

Michael* was just ten when he moved in with his foster family. He was a victim of neglect and arrived with many behavioural and developmental issues. He was a very quiet and incredibly vulnerable child. 

He loved coming to church, especially our Friday club. He would engage in the discussions and Bible teaching and asked many questions. Michael made many friends at the church but was reluctant to get too close to anyone. He would sit on his own for much of the time building cars out of lego. Our church windowsills were often filled with his creations with “keep off” notes attached.

Michael progressed well through school and due to the great work of his foster family and wider support team, he caught up in many aspects of his life. It was a joy to see. The church loved him dearly.

At the age of 15 Michael came to speak to me in private. He wanted to tell me something that he was yet to share with his social workers, parents, teachers and foster family. I was the first to know and very touched by this. But what he told me was surprising.

Michael wanted to identify as a woman (Michelle).

With Michael’s consent I prayed with him.

I explained to Michael that God made him (Psalm 139:14) and that God does not make mistakes (Psalm 18:30) and yes, this may mean that God made Michael as a male who (at that present time) feels happier as a female (Matthew 19:12), but this does not exclude him from God’s Grace (Romans 3:23-24). I understood that such feelings are real and in direct contradiction to his biology and that having to live with such an inner conflict must be very hard for him. I told Michael that he was very brave and that I was very proud of him. Michael knew that we all loved him.

I explained to Michael that God wants him to be happy within himself (Hebrews 13:5) and what we learn from the Bible (as in life) is that changing who we are externally is unlikely to provide the inner peace that we all desire (Matthew 23:27-28). The root of any internal conflict is caused by our separation from God and thus cannot be resolved until we are reunited with Him again by faith (Romans 5:1). I reminded Michael of the good news of Jesus Christ. That because of His perfect self-sacrifice on the cross (1 Peter 2:24) every human-being can now come to God just as we are (Revelation 22:17) whatever age, race, sex or class. No matter what we have done in the past, no matter what inner conflicts we are burdened with, King Jesus has made it possible for everyone to come and unite and know God in the most beautiful and intimate way. We do not have to change anything external to know God. We just need to come to Him, openly and honestly and trust in Him (Psalm 51:10).

I reminded Michael that as a Christian I believe with all my heart that he is an image bearer of God (Genesis 1:27) and thus of infinite value and greatly treasured (Ephesians 2:4-5).

I pointed Michael to Jesus (as I would any person whatever their orientation). And I made it clear to Michael that whatever he decided to do, he will always be loved and welcomed, just like everyone else.

The following week I was in discussions with the foster family. The school and the local authority were alerted and Michael started to come to church as Michelle. She had a new outfit, wavy hair, contours on her cheeks and lipstick.

As the months past Michelle became very popular and outgoing. As a church we had to accommodate in certain ways, the hardest part for me was getting used to the name change.

That Christmas all the youth received their daily devotionals for the following year, and Michelle got to chose whether she wanted the one for girls or boys (she chose the Girl’s version). Michelle grew in confidence and asked many questions about the LGBT+ movement.

 This allowed me to share what I believe is a “better love story” (the Gospel) with the wider group.

Michelle’s willingness to come to church offered us a wonderful opportunity to speak into our changing culture and challenge many assumptions of what the Bible teaches on the subject of transgenderism and LGBT+. It gave us the opportunity to share with Michelle’s peers that God and His church value you beyond your sexual orientation, that God’s message in the Bible is one of grace and His precepts are given for the benefit of human flourishing, that salvation is based on nothing else than your relationship with Jesus and thus Hell is full of proud heterosexuals who have dismissed God’s love for them. We looked together at how other (unchristianized) cultures treat the LGBT+ community (in most cases horrifically) and we thanked God for their safety in the UK.

Although Michelle did not make a profession of faith (that I know of) she was a real pleasure to have in the group, a catalyst to discussion and a tangible testimony of the Church’s  love and welcome to all people.

Months went by and Michelle grew in confidence, church was her safe space and a number of her friends were joining her as a result.

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One Sunday Morning

Ten minutes before the service started a member from Michelle’s foster family came into the church. At first I was delighted, but I could see she was upset and had not come for the service. She asked me to follow her home “It was an emergency”. Michelle was dead, suspected suicide. She had just turned 16. 

It was so hard to preach that morning. As I spoke I could barely look into her young friends’ eyes, knowing the tragic news that awaited them. By God’s grace the message was fitting for the circumstance.

After the service I took the teenagers outside and told them, whilst our elder prayed with the congregation. There were many tears over the following weeks and several visits made to Michelle’s family and friends.

Owing to Michelle being in foster care we had little say in regards to the funeral plans. The birth family had a right to decide but knew nothing of Michelle’s new identity and roots in our church community. Would she be buried at her place of birth, and who would they bury? Michelle or Michael?

We had to do something as a church regardless, for the sake of Michelle’s friends and foster family. We held an open air service with all of her favourite food and drinks. Her friends read poems, performed songs, we sang hymns and shared memories and I gave a short gospel presentation to those who gathered.

Two borough councils were involved in the funeral proceedings as well as the parents, foster family (who were amazing), school and the police. They all agreed that the funeral should be held at our church, but that Michael/Michelle be laid to rest at his/her place of birth.

The service was difficult to plan. We were saying our goodbyes to a transgender minor, in the care system, who had tragically cut her own life short. Owing to the birth family’s history the police were to be present and we were expecting many school children. But God worked in such a powerful way through this process. The church grew closer to many in the community that we would not have reached otherwise. I spoke on “David and Goliath” and the giants in life that we all can overcome by God’s Grace. The Lord was present.

The last five years of Christian teaching that I had given Michael/Michelle and her friends were now being put into practice. In their suffering and grief our teenagers could see God’s love tangibly expressed through His church and it has grafted them in. Most now come every Sunday and several are moving on with the Lord.

This entire experience has brought me close to many teenagers in our community and I have listened to them (Proverbs 18:13) and reevaluated my approach to youth ministry. In the extremes of this ordeal they have taught me many lessons. I hope the below findings help.

Generation Z

Today’s youth (Generation Z) are growing up in a unique time where Christianity is seen as all but dead. Without the “absolute” of God, nothing in their culture is certain, not even their gender. Without a Christian moral framework, relationships often break down, the family unit is fluid and unstable. Generation Z has the world’s knowledge at their fingertips, but little stability to build anything on. With the ‘death’ of Christianity there is no longer an absolute truth, so everything is free to question, but this has made Generation Z surprisingly open to ideas of the miraculous. For this reason they are less interested in apologetics (compared to Generation X, Y and the Millennials). 

Generation Z are incredibly compassionate but also very lonely, their relationships are mainly digital, aesthetical and superficial. They are isolated from their wider community and have limited multi-generational influences. This has starved them of the opportunity to learn important social skills (such as patience and empathy) that you would naturally develop when engaging in mixed groups (church). They have been bought by a material culture, and define themselves by what they own or consume. Generation Z crave sincere togetherness (church).

They have been taught that Christianity is an archaic and bigoted institution and directly opposed to their liberated secular world. Generation Z do not feel that they can be ‘good citizens’ and ‘Christians’ at the same time because of such false assumptions.

This is the new challenge of our youth work today. To break down these assumptions!

We do not need to argue or justify the virgin birth or undermine neo-Darwinism with Generation Z (as we needed to with the millennials), rather show them the better love story that we have (1 John 3:18).

Our nation’s youth desperately need to hear that they are not simply products of chance in a meaningless universe, they need to know that they are not defined by their mere sexual desires or by the products that they own.  They need to know that their self worth is not measured by how many instagram followers they have or what clothes they wear. Our nation’s youth desperately need the stability, consistency and accountability that church uniquely provides and most importantly they need to hear that they are eternally valued by a God who loves them to death!

When these truths are taught and practiced by the church, God’s love (revealed to us perfectly in Jesus Christ), will become as irresistible to this lost generation as it was to ours.

We continue to pray.

*The names have been changed to protect all those involved. I have received permission from the foster family to publish the above in the hope that it will help other churches and build bridges with the LGBT+ community.

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What is Truth?

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It should not surprise us that at this time in history when God has all but been forgotten, secular media has coined our era “post-truth”.

Rather oddly, “truth” is no longer defined or determined by an absolute (God), but by popular consensus (irrelevant of the facts). Any person can now publish their version of “truth” to wide audiences who can engorge themselves in the contents partiality to justify and reinforce their own personal stance and life choices. 

Those who oppose an absolute moral position (God) in favour of a relative “truth” (their own position), are the first to judge other individuals viewpoints. Thus hypocritically enforcing their “higher” truth on other relative positions (Matthew 23:13-39).

We truly live in a faithless and perverse generation (Matthew 17:17) where experts are undermined and data is irresponsibly interpreted so that “truth” can now be manipulated to adhere to the agenda of the influencer. Morality and law are no longer principles set higher than any individual, but have now been relegated to the scrutiny and subjection of personal choice. In the UK truth has become relative and chaos looms.

Two thousand years ago, Jerusalem faced the same issue. It was occupied by the pluralist Roman Empire, lead by a materialist Temple Priesthood and politicised by the Pharisees and Sadducees. All competing over their versions of “truth” and just like today, the outcome of this relativism created an unfair, unjust and deeply polarised society. 

God heard the cry of His people and in His Son Jesus Christ, He entered into this murky world of darkness, deceit, corruption and decay, with a foray of light, love and life. And throughout His ministry many came to Him to seek His approval on what really is the “truth”.

The Pharisees challenged Jesus on; taxation (Mark 12:13-17), the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-14), Divorce, (Matthew 19:1-12), Fasting (Luke 5:33-38) and class (Luke 5:32). The Sadducees asked Jesus about Marriage (Mark 12:18-27), the teachers asked for Jesus’ opinion on life priorities (Mark 12:28-34), The Priests challenged Jesus on authority (Matthew 21:23-27) and the Romans asked Him about Power (John 18:37). All in a pursuit to see who really holds the truth!

What is interesting is that Jesus never answers their questions as they intended. When presented with the options of right and wrong, Jesus always answered with Himself. Jesus always points those seeking “truth” to God (John 10:30). 

Jesus knew that in our fallen and broken state humanity can never own the truth independent of God. Because of our rejection of the absolute truth, when faced with what is right and wrong, we can only choose between the lesser of two evils. Jesus’ challenge then to those who pursue truth, is to liberate ourselves from our imperfect, fallen and preconceived notions of “truth” (John 8:32) and simply follow Him (John 14:6). For Jesus is the absolute truth.

And and this is why….. 

Truth is when word and deed meet.

Christ is the embodiment of God’s word and deed (John 1:1). There can be no higher truth! Jesus came into the world to testify to God’s truth (John 18:37) and on the cross Jesus took all of God’s promises throughout human history and actioned them in the most profound and sincere way by His death. The person of Christ is the absolute bedrock of truth.

Every word Jesus spoke was met in deed. Jesus did not simply tell us to help the poor and sick, He Himself did it (Matthew 4:23).    Jesus did not simply tell us to love one another but He Himself did it (John 13:5). Jesus did not simply tell us to love our enemies but He Himself did it, pleading to His Father in Heaven for their forgiveness, as they brutally hammered nails through His ankle bones into hard splintered wood (Luke 23:34). Even at a point of most intense pain and hardship, Jesus’ every deed met His word. Jesus said He will rise again (Mark 9:31) and He Himself did it (Luke 24:6). So when Jesus says that He loves you and is preparing a place for you, trust me, He means it!

Jesus is the very embodiment of truth, He is truth incarnate and this is why His message of love, peace and unity still offends so many people in the west today. Because the secular west would rather exchange the truth of God for a lie (Romans 1:25) to justify our own life choices, only loving those they want to love and helping only those we want to help.  This is not freedom, this is not truth.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. John 10:36-38

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General Election 2017: Who should you vote for?

We were all surprised to hear that Theresa May had called a general election, but not surprised that she found inspiration in the Welsh hills. The beauty of the Welsh countryside allows for peaceful reflection and the grandeur of the environment births grand ideas (whether you agree with them or not).

I have since been walking the hills of our Welsh valley pondering the situation and have written the below guidance from a Biblical perspective (although not exclusively for the Christian to take heed to).

As I have said before; it is best to keep politics out of the pulpit, so I will seek to remain impartial throughout, refusing to reveal my own persuasion. I do not want to alienate anyone from the Gospel because of my political opinion, especially when such concerns have little significance in the light of eternity.

With that said, as Christians we have a responsibility to give to Caesar what is Caesars and I believe this also means that we have a duty to vote! (Mark 12:17)

We must then take time to consider carefully the best possible option, in the understanding that all human institutions are not perfect (Romans 3:10).

We must also be willing for the Lord’s sake to submit to the elected authority whoever that may be (1 Peter 2:13).

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So the question remains who should you vote for?

Every candidate will be telling you over the coming weeks that they are the most deserving of your vote. Admittedly they all have various positive attributes (depending on your world view) and I am sure all run with the best possible intentions.

The Green Party’s message may resonate with you because of the Bible’s teaching on being good custodians of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-28) and Labour’s taxation policy may share Biblical principles on giving (Proverbs 19:17). Many Christian would say that the Tories uphold certain conservative values that align more with Biblical teaching (Romans 13:1), but you can also argue that the Liberal Democrats best follow the Biblical view on social justice (Deuteronomy 10:18-19). Many Godly people may see the Bible reflected in one of the national party manifesto’s (Plaid Cymru, SNP, UKIP etc) and vote for them, or Christians may want to witness their “saltiness” and cast a protest vote (1 Peter 1:16) (Matthew 5:13-16).

The truth is, no party fully adheres to the Bible’s mandate, for perfection lies only with the Lord and in the Kingdom of Heaven (Psalm 145). Even if we had a National Christian party, we’d probably all feel that they do not adhere to our specific denominational view and find closer adherence to one of the secular bodies.

So the choice must come down to the party that you feel best reflects your Christian conviction.

There are wonderful guides that are made available for this, I highly recommend the Christian Institute dossier (when it is released), they (usually) summaries each manifesto pledge alongside Biblical principles, so you can make an educated choice.

My humble input for your prayerful reflection is that you consider not just what the party can do to make the world a better place, but how they can help you make the world a better place. (How the party can help you serve God’s Kingdom in the Christian context).

I make this point out of a genuine concern.

I have seen a growing trend in recent years of people delegating their social duty to the state (and what is more concerning Christians delegating their Christian duty to the state).

Joe Bloggs now feels that by voting Green he has done his bit for the planet whilst burning carbon through his various technology apparatus, vehicles and extra long hot showers.

Erika Mustermann equally thinks she has done her bit for our societies poorest by voting Liberal Democrat, but you never see her volunteering down at a soup kitchen, or donating funds to the local foodbank.

Alice and Bob vote Tory because they support the entrepreneur but never buy anything from the local shop.

Walter Plinge feels strongly for elderly care and votes Labour but would never think of visiting a local care home one evening a week to talk and play chess with one of the residents.

Yes! The government’s job is to drive a fairer society that gives opportunities to all, our governments duty is to keep us safe, healthy and educated but your vote does not delegate your social duty to your fellow man. Just like typing “Amen” under a Jesus meme on Facebook does not make you a Christian! Get up off your sofa on a Sunday morning and go and support your local church!

As you decide what box to tick, I pray that you will take your vote very seriously and thank God for the freedom you enjoy in our land to partake. But as you diligently contemplate your candidate’s appeals, do so under the lens of how they can help you do more for those in need as God’s means of Grace. Such a view will surely drive change and our Christian witness in our community!

Christian, vote for the party that would protect your rights to worship, to read your Bible, to pray, to meet together and evangelise.

Christian, vote for the party that would allow you to be economically better off, under the conviction of being better able to financially support your local church.

If the offer of more bank holiday’s are appealing, ask yourself will you give those days to God?

If a church of 70 people took the four extra days offered (per annum) for Kingdom work, it would give the same man hours to the Gospel as a full time worker!

Critiquing one party for their policy on the NHS whilst smoking in a small room with children is hypocritical.

Voting for a party because of their environmental policy whilst incinerating your old car tires in the garden is hypocritical.

Putting a poster up promoting a party of alleged unity when you do not get on with your neighbours is hypocritical.

Voting for a certain party does not make you more caring and charitable, if you are not caring or charitable.

Do not outsource your social duty to imperfect leaders, but vote for the party that best allows you to be a force for the Gospel wherever the Lord has placed you to serve.

I will leave you with the thoughts of Jesus’ brother James

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  James 2:14-26