This episode of TGC Q&A with Rachel Gilson is the second in a five-week series titled, “Gen Z’s Questions About Christianity.” Gilson answers four important questions about sexuality and gender identity.
- The negative temptation of sexual desire (0:00)
- Loving those who identify as LGBT while remaining true to biblical beliefs (3:06)
- Leading with the gospel of grace (4:11)
- Invite, listen, protect, and invest (5:10)
- Referring to a transgender person by their desired pronoun (6:23)
- Struggling with sexuality and maintaining faith (9:30)
- Confession, conviction, and comfort (10:43)
- God’s Spirit, God’s Word, and God’s people (12:26)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of sexuality.
Rachel’s recommended resources:
Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say by Preston Sprinkle
Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry
7 Myths About Singleness by Sam Allberry
- Born Again This Way by Rachel Gilson
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Narrator: You’re listening to TGC Q&A, a podcast from The Gospel Coalition. And this is a new series called Gen Z’s Questions About Christianity. In this five week series, we’ll focus on some of the toughest and most common questions the younger generation has about Christianity. How can we winsomely respond to the issues that are driving young people away from the faith? On today’s episode, you’ll hear from Rachel Gilson as she answers four important questions about sexuality and gender identity. Rachel is a writer, speaker, and campus minister with Cru. She’s the author of Born Again This Way: Coming out, coming to faith, and what comes next, where she writes about the challenge of choosing to listen to God’s words above the words of her desires.
So we’ll start with the first question, “Why are we so negatively tempted by sexual desire if sexuality is God-given and purposeful?”
Rachel Gilson: I think it’s a fantastic question, because it can kind of reveal that tension of I see in the scriptures that there is something good, and yet my experience of it is extremely complicated. It points us back to the reality that we are sinners who break everything we touch. We live in a fallen world. And so when God designed things, he didn’t design them to be experienced always the way that we experience them now and [inaudible] that already not yet that we’re probably familiar with. The fact that we are saved from the power of sin right now, we’re saved from the penalty of sin right now, but we’re not saved from the presence of the fall or the presence of sin. And so, especially with sexual desire, God designed it to be powerful because of how good it in fact is. It’s a deep part of the marriage relationship, which is a picture of the gospel itself.
And even for people who are not married, sexual desire can be a picture of how much God longs for us and how much we should long for him. The fact that sexual desire can be overwhelming, like it almost seems like you can’t distract yourself away from it, that’s supposed to be a little beacon pointing us towards God’s love. But because God designed it to be very powerful and we remain sinners, it’s part of why it can be so negative at times. Either because we’ve been hurt in the past, we’ve been abused, or because we’ve made mistakes in the past that kind of live, or honestly even if neither of those things have happened, there can just still be problems, because we’re not in perfection yet. So I think it’s really helpful for us if we do have overwhelmingly negative emotions around sexuality or if our experience is negative to find safe people to talk about that with, because God wants us to be able to look through sexuality to him. It’s not a mean trick that he’s played on us.
Narrator: Next step, our second question we received on this topic, “How should Christians love and care for those who identify as LGBT while still being true to our biblical beliefs?”
Rachel Gilson: I love this question, because it connects us right into the missional heart of God. We are all missionaries and so we should be thinking, “How can I love all people with the love of Christ, the grace and truth of Christ?” So let’s take the question and just think about the people in our life who identify as LGBT who do not identify as Christian. We want to be able to present the gospel to them first and foremost. Occasionally we can have this feeling like, “Oh goodness, I need to make sure that they understand what the Bible says about same-sex relationships or about sexuality in general.” But we don’t actually do that with other people we share the gospel with. No one needs to understand any piece of biblical sexual ethics or biblical ethics in general, kind of understand it, agree with it, apply it before they receive the gospel of grace.
We need the gospel first. And it’s that relationship with Christ that will enable us to really see what he’s saying in the Bible and begin to start applying it. At the same time, we have to recognize that there are a lot of LGBT people who grew up in churches who were really, really hurt by Christians in those churches through a variety of bad things, non-biblical things often, that were taught. In fact, there’s one big survey that showed that the 97% of LGBT people who had grown up in the church and left, left because they were mistreated. Only 3% reported leaving over theology. So that clues us in that how we act is just as important as what we believe. So I have a great friend named Bill Henson who ministers in this space. And he talks about loving our LGBT friends as invite, listen, protect, and invest.
So invite, listen, protect, and invest. We want to invite our friends into our lives. We want to invite them to hear the gospel. And sometimes it’s not going to be safe for them to come into churches, so we need to bring the gospel to them. We need to listen well. Listen without ready Bible answers to thump back. Just listen. Like tell me more about your story, tell me about your spiritual background, tell me what your hobbies… Just tell me, tell me, tell me. Listen. Listening well. We want to protect people. Sometimes we can still be in spaces where gay jokes or stereotypes are flying around. And we want to be the first people who are supporting the dignity and honor of all people. We want to be people who see the image of God in everyone and who protect that.
And we also want to invest, especially in disciples who experience same-sex attraction. We want to say like, “How can we make sure that the gifts that God has given to you are being fully released into the church, that you are experiencing a thriving life in Christ?” Honestly, we could do a whole seminar in that, but I really want people to feel permissioned to love radically, because that is when our truth is going to be best able to be heard.
Narrator: The next question we received for Rachel was, “Should I refer to a transgender person by their desired pronoun?”
Rachel Gilson: I think the question of preferred pronouns is probably one of the most difficult to answer well in a space like this, and I mean, like in a digital question and answer type space. And part of the reason I think that’s true is because it really can come down to a question of conscience. So if you’ve done a quiet time recently in the weak brother, strong brother passages of scripture, Paul has a category for the reality that some Christians are going to come to issues and fall in different spots. And one of the most important questions there is how are we going to relate to each other when we fall in different spots? So on the one hand, some of us would feel incredibly compromised using a transgender person’s preferred name or pronouns, because it feels like we’re complicit in a lie. It feels like we’re breaking the Ninth Commandment, like we’re bearing false witness about a neighbor.
And we need to take that really, really seriously. It is never safe to go to a place that your faith doesn’t allow you to go against your conscience. And if that is your position, you have to recognize that when you are interacting with a transgender person, your inability to use their preferred name or pronoun could actually be received as very offensive by them or deeply hurtful by them. And so I would encourage people in that category to think, “Okay, well, my truth is clear, how can I communicate clearly the grace of Christ here? How can I go above and beyond to show love knowing that my posture and pronouns is going to be tricky for the person that I’m talking with?” Others of us have no problem at all using preferred name and pronouns.
We’re like, “Yes, this is a way of showing love. I am ready to do this.” And in that case, your conversation partner is probably easily going to feel loved and accepted by you. So then I would challenge you, since you have access to the heart of your friend, what would it mean for you to use that access to have truthful conversations either about who Christ is? Maybe if you feel competent about the nature of the body, even just beginning conversations of even if your friend has thought about how God relates to these questions in their lives. But no matter where we come down, I want us to be able to relate to each other with honor and respect, because the church has not had to answer these questions before and we need to have grace with each other. We know that God loves desperately the transgender people in our lives. And so we need to be thinking as a community, how can we expose them to the love that we have received ourselves?
Narrator: And finally, Rachel answers a question for those who might be struggling with aspects of their sexuality. “How do I maintain my faith?”
Rachel Gilson: Because sometimes the way the sexuality conversation can get played out is as if it’s this interesting topic, or an argument, or just something we find in biblical data or sociological data. The reality is it’s a question all of us face. It touches every single one of us personally, whether we experience same-sex attraction, opposite-sex, attraction, attraction, to everything, or even attraction to no one. And there are people who don’t experience sexual desire and even that can make them feel sort of detached. It can make them feel isolated, lonely. So sexuality is deeply intimate to who we are. I never would have made it in my experience as a same-sex attracted disciple if I had not had three things, God’s spirit, God’s word, and God’s people. I think that if we lose any of those three, we’re bound to go off track. So I need the spirit of God.
I need to be able to pour out my heart to him, to confess honestly. I need him to both convict me of sin, to warn me of temptation, but also to comfort me with his promises. I need God’s word to show me what the truth is even when I don’t like the truth, maybe especially when I don’t like the truth. But also I need to see his promises, I need to see his comfort, I need to see the bigger positive vision. So again, I realize that sexuality isn’t a trick, but that it hooks into the bigger gospel picture. And I’m only going to really discover that through God’s word. But I desperately need God’s people. The most destructive thing about sexual sin is when it causes us to isolate ourselves. And it can do this for a number of reasons, we think, “I’m too dirty for the community. If people knew this about me, they wouldn’t love me. I don’t love myself. God looks at me and he’s ashamed of me. So how can I put myself in front of other people?”
And it is true that not all people are trustworthy, but we desperately need people who love Christ and love us, so that we can help have our burdens borne together. And also so that we can bear other people’s burdens. I mean, we’re not just here to receive. We all need each other. It’s so often in my life been through receiving a promise I knew from scripture through the mouth of a friend, maybe even with tears in their eyes, that I was actually able to claim some type of peace or some type of victory. And like sometimes my life walking with Christ in this area looked like an open dumpster fire.
I’ve had real meaningful struggle, but God’s spirit, and God’s word, and God’s people have been my continual source of repentance, and renewal, and strength, and even joy. And I particularly want to say, for people today who are struggling with their sin, that if you are in Christ, God is not looking at you impatiently. He’s not looking at you annoyed. He’s not looking at you waiting for you to become the future version of yourself that he’s finally going to love. He loves you now. He is not surprised by what you struggle with. He’s not thrown off by it. His eyes towards you are full affection and warmth. And he is so for you, probably more for you than you are for yourself. I don’t want you to be crushed. I want you to be able to take hold of what he’s offered to you, so that you can actually experience that freedom and joy.
Narrator: Thanks for listening to today’s episode of TGC Q&A in our series on Gen Z’s Questions About Christianity. Be sure to tune back in next week as we bring you another episode in the series.