CT Blog

Embracing Our Transgender Neighbors on God’s Terms

We should seek their well-being—but also prepare for strong disagreement on what that entails.

Transgender questions today carry an urgency unimaginable even five years ago. Most churches and Christians find themselves exposed due to their lack of theological and pastoral preparation. What does the Bible have to say about living life in a gender-nonconforming way? What can faithfulness to Christ look like for a person who desires—who might even say needs—to live such a life?

Into this infant conversation comes Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians, by Austen Hartke. Coming from a mainline Lutheran perspective, this volume stakes its ground in predictable places hermeneutically. But this does not negate the importance of the work, which clarifies the theological and pastoral fault lines on this topic.

Hartke’s identity is as important to the book as his arguments. Hartke was “assigned female at birth,” which is how trans people and their allies describe a person’s biological sex. He experienced gender dysphoria in youth, and the decision to transition from a tomboyish girl to a transman came slowly. Hartke wondered if there was place in the church for someone like him who didn’t agree with every piece of Christian doctrine, who was gender-nonconforming, and who identified as bisexual.

He eventually answered yes to these questions and found his place in the mainline church, being baptized in 2008. He went on to graduate from Luther Seminary’s master’s program in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Studies, winning that institution’s 2014 John Milton Prize in Old Testament Writing. Hartke runs a successful YouTube series called “Transgender and Christian” and is increasingly sought after at conferences and events. He seeks to help “other ...

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Guess Who’s Coming to Church: Multiracial Congregations Triple Among Protestants

Sociologists evaluate the progress and future of the evangelical push for church diversity.

The multiethnic church movement is working: Protestant churches in the US have become three times more likely to be racially diverse than they were 20 years ago.

The percentage of Protestant churches where no one racial group makes up more than 80 percent of the congregation tripled from 4 percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2012, according to new research out this week from Baylor University. Evangelicals and Pentecostals show even higher levels of diverse churches, up to 15 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

Overall, nearly 1 in 5 of all American worshipers belong to a multiethnic congregation.

These findings—based on data from the most recent National Congregations Study—confirm a trend many evangelical leaders have pushed and prayed for, but research also indicates there is more work to be done to keep up with shifting demographics in the US and ensure the changing numbers reflect a healthy, biblical approach to diversity.

“Congregations are looking more like their neighborhoods racially and ethnically, but they still lag behind,” said Kevin D. Dougherty, Baylor sociologist and the lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. “The average congregation was eight times less diverse racially than its neighborhood in 1998 and four times less diverse in 2012.”

Dougherty and co-author Michael O. Emerson, provost of North Park University, also suggested that “American congregations may be growing in diversity without altering the social conditions that inhibit full racial integration.”

Most multiethnic churches (71%) are led by white pastors, and over the years, their makeup has remained half white. (Previous research from Dougherty ...

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Keeping the Trinity Personal

Defending the oneness of God shouldn't nullify the Bible's claims about the mutual love of Father, Son, and Spirit.

“Holy, Holy, Holy” is one of the most well-known hymns in the English language. The famous hymn, inspired by the Nicene Creed and sung in countless churches each Sunday, ends with the familiar line “God in three persons, blessed Trinity!” But as beloved as this song is, how well do we understand this familiar line? What do we mean when we say God is one God in three “persons”? Does that mean three different personalities? How do these persons relate to each other? And how do we square this with the biblical affirmation from Deuteronomy 6:4 that “the Lord our God, the Lord is one”?

What does it mean to say that the Trinity is personal?

Don’t Take This Too Personally

Over the past several years, evangelical theology has been racked by a battle over the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS). On the one side are theologians arguing that obedience and submission are felicitous ways to describe the Son’s eternal relation to his Father. Others object that talk of “functional subordination” flirts with (or, worse, hooks up with) Arianism.

This debate implicates longer-standing disputes about the meaning of person in Trinitarian theology. For some, a divine Person is, in the words of Stephen Holmes, professor of systematic theology at the University of St Andrews, an “instantiation of the divine nature.” To say that the triune Persons are “persons” doesn’t imply that they’re personal or have personality in anything like the common modern sense of the word. Holmes puts it starkly. For Augustine and the Cappadocian fathers of the Eastern church, “all that is truly ‘personal’ (knowledge, volition, action ... ) [is ...

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Does Your Church Have Enough Samaritans?

Samaria has always been as fruitful a venue for the gospel as it has been a repulsive place for God’s people to initially consider engaging.

Jesus’ final words on earth are in Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

I think most churches do reasonably well in equipping members to reach their Jerusalem – those in close proximity like neighbors, co-workers, fellow soccer parents. And in Judea – people residing in other parts of the country or world, but who are mostly like us – relatives, fellow employees in other locations, or the guy in the seat next to you on a plane.

And we engage lots around the ends of the earth these days, as record numbers of us head off to Haiti, Guatemala, or Africa on short-term mission trips.

But when is the last time you were challenged to reach into Samaria? Oh, and by the way, where is Samaria, again?

Where is Samaria, Anyway?

For Jews living in Jesus’ day, Samaria represented those half-breed ‘dogs’ to the North who were in love with their pagan idols. stories like The Good Samaritan that might have a nostalgic ring to our ears came off to first-century Jews as a contradiction of terms at best, and repulsive at worst. Perhaps synonymous to: The Good Criminal.

For most of us, the terms good and criminal do not belong together. So, now we’re getting the point.

Samaritans represent the outcasts—the people we are most repulsed by and want nothing to do with. For Jonah, it was the Ninevites, not because he was afraid of them, but because he was afraid God would forgive and bless the scumbags (Jonah 3:10-4:2)! And even though we have lots of precedence for God using those who’ve broken the law in some pretty heinous ways—i.e., Moses, ...

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What Transgender People Need from Conservative Christians

We’ll never reach them with biblical truth without first understanding their experiences.

Back in February, a juvenile court judge in Hamilton County, Ohio, pronounced a stunning ruling in the history of American family law. Judge Sylvia Sieve Hendon awarded the grandparents of a transgender 17-year-old boy (i.e., an individual who was born female but understands himself to be male) permanent custody of their grandchild because the child’s parents would not permit the teenager to begin hormone treatment, citing religious objections. The child had been placed in temporary legal custody of Hamilton County Job and Family Services after a 2016 hospitalization for depression and anxiety had resulted in a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Many details remain sealed by court order, but enough information has been released to suggest that the tragic circumstances of the case might perhaps have been avoidable had the parents responded differently.

Today, most experts estimate that transgender people account for about 0.5 percent of the population, which means that an average church congregation of 200 people likely contains at least one person who experiences gender dysphoria. For this reason, evangelicals should pay attention to two recent books that address transgender ideology from a conservative perspective, holding that God has created human beings in his own image, as male and female (Gen. 1:27). The two books are God and the Transgender Debate: What the Bible Says about Gender Identity by Andrew Walker, the director of policy studies at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment by Catholic public policy expert Ryan T. Anderson.

Applying the Bible

In God and the Transgender Debate, Walker has a very specific goal: ...

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Global Religious Freedom Takes Its Biggest Hit in Over a Decade

Christianity is the biggest religion in the world. It's also still the most restricted.

Christians around the world face mounting political and social pressure over their beliefs, as government restrictions, nationalist parties, and harassment aimed at minority faiths continues on a global upswing.

Religious antagonism saw its biggest surge in over a decade in 2016, with the world’s two biggest faith groups—Christians and Muslims—ranking as the top victims of political restrictions and social hostility, according to a new Pew Research Center report analyzing religious freedom in 198 countries and territories.

Christians reported incidents of harassment in more places worldwide than any other tradition: 144 countries in 2016, compared to 128 countries in 2015 and 108 in 2014. Incidents include discrimination, verbal assault, physical attacks, arrests, and the destruction of religious sites.

Islam, the world’s second largest religion, is close behind Christianity: Muslims suffered harassment in 142 countries in 2016, up from 125 in 2015 and 100 in 2014.

The Pew report comes just weeks after the US State Department reviewed an annual assessment of religious freedom across the globe.

“The state of religious freedom is dire,” said Sam Brownback, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, last month. “We have work to do. We must move religious freedom forward—we must defend it in every corner of the globe.”

Religious restrictions ramping up

Pew’s overall findings correlate with Brownback’s disappointment: Religious repression is pervasive and rising.

“When combining measures of government restrictions and social hostilities, more than four-in-ten countries (42%) had high or very high levels of overall religious restrictions in 2016,” ...

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One-on-One with Pastor Choco DeJesus on ‘Move into More: Limitless Surprises of a Faithful God’

We settle for less because there is a challenge that comes with seeking more.

Ed: When you write about being marked by God for more, what kind of more are we talking about here?

Pastor Choco: The more that I'm talking about is not materialism. The more I'm talking about is what the Bible says in Corinthians that eyes have not seen, ear have not heard, and mind cannot conceive what God has in store for you. As a young man of 14 years old who had just come to Christ, it was prophesied over me that God was going to take me into larger places and I was going to be a leader of influence.

At every level of growth throughout the years, I saw new challenges. Years later, things came to fruition of what was prophesied over my life. The more that I'm talking about is that with God there are no limits. He has no ceiling for you regardless of how old you are. God has something more in your ministry, whether you are a pastor, a leader, or something else. He's got something more for you.

Ed: It seems that sometimes we settle for less. Why is it part of our nature to do that?

Pastor Choco: I think we settle for less because there is a challenge that comes with seeking more. When there's more that you want from the Lord, you've got to show up. You've got to be able to be present. So we settle for less, for a lesser land, when God has given us the promised land because we don't want to pay that sacrifice. We don't want to go the extra mile. We don't want to be able to get our hands dirty if you will. I think that's why, as a culture, we've just settled. We've become complacent of where we're at and God is saying, "I have so much more for you if you're just willing to walk another block." I think that's one of the reasons why we don't experience ...

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It’s Not My Daughter’s Job to Teach Me About Women

I’m learning how to rightly respect the opposite sex, not because I had a child but because of ongoing encounters with Christ.

Kanye West recently released his ninth album, titled Ye. Like most of his music, this album spans from the vulgar to the deeply touching and even delves into the spiritual realm. He makes fleeting acknowledgments of God and confesses that he doesn’t know what happens when we die. Most notably, the album ends with a personal song called “Violent Crimes,” which chronicles the change in his perception of women after he had a daughter.

“Father, forgive me, now I fear karma,” he says. “Now I see women as something to nurture and not something to conquer.”

Bad theology aside, West is drawing on a common trope: In order for men to fully understand what it means to honor and respect women, they must first have a female child. He articulates the fear that a man might treat his daughter as he once treated other women, and, faced with that prospect, decides all women deserve the same protection that he now wants to provide his daughter.

Other high-profile men—from Mitt Romney to Matt Damon—have used their daughters to demonstrate opposition to patriarchy and predatory behavior. And although commentators have taken issue with men exploiting their offspring to improve (or justify) their views on women, the problem goes much deeper. Here’s why: If we’re finally coming to grips with how men have treated women over the centuries, we need more than a sense of common humanity and respect. We need a robust conception of sin to show us our capacity for evil.

By way of empathy with West and other men, I understand why having a daughter is such a life-altering experience. I love my sons and daughters equally, but the experience of loving them is distinct. When my sons were born, I ...

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Nominate a Book for the 2019 Christianity Today Book Awards

Instructions for publishers.

Each year, Christianity Today honors outstanding books of special interest to the Christian community. In the January/February 2019 issue, CT will feature the best books published between November 1, 2017 and October 31, 2018, divided into categories according to subject and genre. We will also announce the winner of our "Beautiful Orthodoxy" Book of the Year. Here are the awards categories:

  1. Apologetics/Evangelism
  2. Biblical Studies
  3. Children & Youth
  4. Christian Living/Discipleship
  5. The Church/Pastoral Leadership
  6. Culture and the Arts
  7. Fiction
  8. History/Biography
  9. Missions/The Global Church
  10. Politics and Public Life
  11. Spiritual Formation
  12. Theology/Ethics
  13. CT Women*
  14. CT’s “Beautiful Orthodoxy” Book of the Year**

*Learn more about CT Women at Christianitytoday.com/women/.

**Beautiful Orthodoxy is the core philosophy guiding CT’s ministry. It describes a mission, across all our publications, to proclaim the truth, beauty, and goodness of the gospel in a gracious, non-antagonistic tone. Learn more about the cause of Beautiful Orthodoxy from CT editor Mark Galli, in this essay and this interview. The winner of CT's Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year will be featured prominently in the January/February 2019 issue.

CT Women and Beautiful Orthodoxy are special add-on categories. Books nominated in these categories must have first been nominated in one of the other main categories. (They will be eligible to win more than once.) The add-on fee is $15 for either CT Women or Beautiful Orthodoxy, or $30 for both.

What and How to Submit:

We are looking for scholarly and popular-level works, and everything in between. A diverse panel of scholars, pastors, and other informed readers will evaluate the books. Publishers wishing to ...

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Does Evangelism Jeopardize Authentic Artistic Expression?

What an Old Testament artist tells us about aesthetic vocation.

When I was young, my mother made a wreath that was composed of natural materials—pinecones, needles, thistles—gathered from places where we had taken family vacations. Setting aside distinctions between art and craft, it has always been evident to me that the wreath possessed certain artistic qualities: an expression of her creative abilities, an intentional work with aesthetic appeal. What became equally evident to me over time was that the wreath functioned in another way.

Hanging on the wall in my parents’ living room as it has for decades now, it acts as a witness to and a reminder of our shared time as a family. Whenever I see it, I feel my feet walking on trails in the early morning, I hear the sound of metal tent stakes being hammered into the ground, I taste roasted marshmallows, and I see the faces of family members, some now gone.

Like other works of memorial art, the “memory wreath,” as my mother termed it, serves a purpose beyond mere decoration. It shapes our family’s collective memory as well as my individual memory. At a much broader level, the same could be said for the shaping of social memory through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the National September 11 Memorial, the public murals in Belfast, Northern Ireland, or the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

More controversially, this calls to mind the heated—at times even violent—ongoing debate in America over whether Confederate monuments should be taken down. One fascinating byproduct of this national discourse is the recognition that regardless of whether one believes that these statues represent a cultural identity that should be preserved or a history of racism and oppression ...

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