Godly counsel for families with cross-dressing children

Man trying to wear ladies shoes
Man trying to wear ladies shoes
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Audio Transcript

We’re returning to the theme of gender confusion. We’ve received a load of emails on the topic, and we’re slowly working through them.

You might remember at the end of last year we fielded a question from a nurse who worked in “gender reassignment” surgery pre-op and post-op. She doesn’t make the decisions; she only offers care. Should she stay or find another job? That was APJ 1881. And then, more recently, we took up an email from a young woman entertaining the idea of erasing her gender.

Today we address the gender question inside a local church. The question is from a listener named Cindi. “Pastor John, hello and thank you for this podcast! It is a place meant to receive challenging questions, and I have one to ask you. We have a young couple in our local church congregation that lets their small son wear dresses. They seem to let him choose most of what he wants to do. We, of course, see a lot of danger in this parenting method. They were asked to leave a previous church over this issue. What would be your approach to helping these parents with Scripture on this issue?”

I think the first thing to say is that situations like these do need to be addressed. In other words, we shouldn’t evade the issue in the church, but realize that in a culture like ours, especially (not only, but especially) where God’s created order of manhood and womanhood is being undermined not only by the sinful celebration of same-sex romance and the legalization of so-called same-sex marriage, but also by the so-called transgender denial that there is such a thing as God-given stable sexuality. In view of that cultural reality, we should realize that parents who encourage their girls to dress like boys, or boys to dress like girls, or let them, should be pastorally approached first with questions, trying to understand what they think, and then, if necessary, with admonitions based on Scripture.

And, of course, we are not so naive as to be ignorant that there is now and there always has been an overlap between the way boys and girls, and men and women, dress. That’s not a new thing. But it is just as true that in every culture and in every age, along with that overlap, there have been cultural symbols in hairstyles and clothing and adornment which signaled the difference between masculinity and femininity. So what we need today is to help each other (and parents in particular) to bring up the next generation in the wise and faithful use of those cultural symbols to reflect and embrace God’s beautiful ordering of manhood and womanhood.

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Six Biblical Realities

So if I were counseling parents who seemed oblivious to the importance of bringing up children to embrace their God-given sex as male or female, I would remind them of at least six biblical realities in the hope that they would gladly submit to God’s word and adjust their parenting strategies.

1. God created man, male and female. Genesis 1:26. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (Genesis 1:26–28). God did not create a generic human designed to choose his sex. He created males to be males and females to be females. Boys and girls should be taught this from the very beginning of their lives as a great and wonderful thing.

“God created man male and female so that there would be a beautiful and happy and fruitful complementarity in marriage.”

2. God created man male and female so that there would be a beautiful and happy and fruitful complementarity in marriage. Genesis 2:24, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Now God’s design of the one-flesh union of male and female in marriage in the act of sexual intercourse is a confirmation that the way he created us is not negligible. It was part of his plan for our good, for filling the earth, for our joy, our pleasure. Boys and girls should be raised toward this natural outcome of their sexuality. Whether they marry or not (in God’s providence), we should raise them with the conviction that the difference between boys and girls is designed for this beautiful outcome, the one-flesh union in marriage of a man and a woman.

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3. We should help the parents see that God takes these sexual differences so seriously that he bases leadership roles on them. In 1 Timothy 2:12, he assigns the authoritative teaching and governing role in the church to men. And in Ephesians 5:22–24 and Colossians 3:18–19, he assigns the headship of the family to the husband and father. The natural superior strength of men is drawn out by Peter in 1 Peter 3:7 as a reason why women should receive special honor as the weaker vessel, as well as another kind of honor as the fellow heirs of the grace of life. Children should be brought up with the awareness that their sexuality matters that much and in that way.

4. What follows then is that parents should, in a natural way, encourage their boys not to embrace effeminate ways of dressing or acting; and they should not encourage their girls to embrace masculine ways of dressing or acting. In most situations, these things come very naturally and a parent doesn’t need to be fastidious about them. The parent can simply redirect a child’s attention away from experimentation with cross-dressing or excessive interest in behaviors that are almost certainly going to confuse a child’s sexuality. The Bible warns boys and men, for example, against effeminacy in 1 Corinthians 6:9. You have to look at the King James version to see that most clearly. The later versions coalesce it with other translations about homosexuality, but it’s really there that boys should not be effeminate. They should move against culturally confusing hairstyles, for example, in 1 Corinthians 11:14, and Deuteronomy 22:5 warns men and women against cross-dressing. So these cultural symbols of what manhood and womanhood are become significant.

5. Therefore, parenting should take all of this into account because Ephesians 6:4 says, “Bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” And that instruction, as it regards sexuality, includes at least these previous four points.

6. We should help the parents feel there is a special urgency about these things in our day. And that if they don’t help their children in a natural and happy way to grow up into mature manhood, or mature womanhood, they may be serving a wave of cultural rebellion against God, one that is not only destructive to their children, but to the world at large.

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Courageous, Wise Counsel

Now, of course, let me say again that we come to parents first with questions for the sake of understanding, not first with condemnation, because we don’t even know what’s in their minds. We come with prayer and with an awareness that our own imperfections need to be dealt with by ourselves all the time.

“We should not shrink back from giving biblical counsel just because it’s relationally difficult.”

Few things, and we all know this, if we’ve had any experience at all, few things are more volatile than suggesting to parents that they’re not doing a good job parenting. Wow, if you want to get somebody’s dander up, say that. Wisdom and courage, therefore, are required here. We should not shrink back from giving biblical counsel just because it’s relationally difficult. Most acts of love that involve correction are difficult, but God has promised grace for every good work, and this is one of them.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Come, Lord Jesus.

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