In the past generation, many conservative Christian parents have been confounded by the news that their child is gay or lesbian.
But recently, an increasing number of parents have been stunned by the unexpected announcement that their offspring identifies as transgender.
Assemblies of God ordained ministers Linda A. Seiler and Brenna Kate Simonds are working full time to provide biblical responses for parents and their sexually confused children. Seiler is an AG U.S. missionary with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries while Simonds is a missionary associate with Intercultural Ministries. Seiler also is a board member with ReStory Ministries, an AG-endorsed nonprofit that equips pastors as well as families struggling with homosexuality and gender identity. Counselor Joe Dallas, a longtime leading Christian voice on LGBTQ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer — ministry, also is a ReStory Ministries board member.
Both Seiler, 48, and Simonds, 46, both found a path to sexual healing. When they struggled with their sexual identity a generation ago, conservative churches and Christians tended to view their predicament judgmentally. Back then, many church leaders taught that if a sexually confused young person prayed enough, improper sexual emotions would vanish. But that rarely happened.
Such a message normally isn’t effective today, in part because multiple LGBTQ groups are so affirming of those who question their sexual identity. Heroic praise is widespread in American culture for those who leave heterosexuality behind.
Societal pressure for LGBTQ acceptance is at an all-time high. Indeed, some states have passed laws facilitating the transition of a confused youth to the opposite sex.
“In lots of places, if a minor is experiencing gender confusion or same-sex attraction, a counselor is legally obligated to be affirming, even if the young person expresses discomfort about the confusion or attraction,” Simonds says.
When Simonds became director of the Boston-based interdenominational Alive in Christ in 2004, the ministry primarily helped those dealing with same-sex attraction. But gender dysphoria — when someone is persistently uncomfortable with his or her biological sex — has risen to the forefront.
In the past half century, much of academia has been encouraging of early-onset gender dysphoria.
“From an early age — even in kindergarten — children are taught that gender identity is not fixed,” Simonds says. “When kids question their gender, they often experience a level of acceptance from people struggling with the same thing.”
But the newest trend is known as rapid-onset gender dysphoria. Girls who have shown no signs of being dissatisfied with their gender, after puberty suddenly and without warning decide they must change their sex. Parents frequently are blindsided by the revelation.
Lisa Littman, assistant professor at Brown University, coined the term rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) in 2018 after researching teens who announced a transgender-identification. She discovered the onset tended to happen to those belonging to a peer group, where multiple or even every friend expressed gender dysphoria and identified as transgender simultaneously. Littman, who also is a physician, reported that parents noticed an immersion of their child in social media, such as binge watching YouTube transition videos and excessively spending time on Tumblr, Reddit, or Instagram, before the announcement. In addition, the youth became increasingly sullen, withdrawn, and hostile toward parents. Meanwhile, Littman reported, most clinicians had no qualms about fast-tracking the gender transition, even without evaluating the mental health of the teens.
Littman concluded that vulnerable individuals may interpret vague feelings as grounds to make the transgender move, viewing it as the only solution to their situation.
Abigail Shrier, author of the 2020 book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, points out that in previous decades, gender-confused girls might fall prey to anorexia and bulimia. Now, however, she notes that because of cultural acceptance and online social dynamics, girls are more likely to seek hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery as the answer to their troubles,
Seiler, who is Chi Alpha national field specialist in applied theology and culture, notes that until a decade ago, the desire for a girl to become a boy in her mid-teens seldom occurred. Today, Seiler believes social media is to blame for entire peer groups perceiving an inability to cope with their birth sex.
“They don’t feel as though they fit in or measure up with the image of beautiful feminine girls,” says Seiler, who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. “Uncomfortable with their body, they don’t think they are supposed to be a woman.”
Seiler’s observations are more than theoretical. She struggled with gender identity confusion from young childhood well into her adult life. She began contemplating sex assignment surgery in 4th grade as a means of relieving sensations of being a male trapped in a female body. Not until age 32 — after an arduous 11-year journey — did her unhealthy draw to females and desire to be male resolve.
“We’ve seen an incredible rise in the ROGD phenomenon,” Seiler says. “Lots of parents are calling us asking what they can do when their teenager suddenly comes out as nonbinary or trans.”
Dallas, 67, notes that ROGD hasn’t been approved as a diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, but it is part of a trend for youth to embrace an identity even if they express doubts. He believes girls who do so may feel a sense of chic empowerment. Teens have an acute need for identity, which leads to the status it affords, says Dallas, who is based in Tustin, California. Dallas experienced repeated sexual abuse starting at age 8 by an adult male, which led to years of his gay activism in his 20s.
“This is a time when kids are applauded, rewarded, and given particular social privilege for having the ‘courage’ to declare themselves transgender or any other sexual minority,” Dallas says. In an effort to find identity, youth are quick to grasp identity as transgender, lesbian, asexual, bisexual, or pansexual, but upon further examination, their actual experiences may not match the labeling, according to Dallas.
The message from much of the medical community, academia, and more liberal churches is that those grappling with gender dysphoria must make the abrupt transition or they will commit suicide.
In the late 20th century, those contemplating a gender switch had to undergo months of counseling and treatments. Now, girls can go to Planned Parenthood or other centers for “gender-affirming hormone therapy” and walk out with a testosterone prescription. Seiler explains because testosterone is a natural euphoric drug, the anxiety a girl may have felt seems to disappear, confirming the notion that she should really be a boy.
Further treatments follow, and a girl begins to grow muscle mass, her hairline begins to recede, she develops stubble on her face, and her voice deepens. Binding breasts and changing to a male name are part of the process.
“Initially there is a lot of attention and affirmation,” says Seiler, who served as Chi Alpha campus group leader at Purdue for 13 years. “But by their mid-20s, they realize transitioning didn’t solve all their problems and they want to go back. But it’s too late. The changes are permanent.”
Seiler completed her Ph.D. in intercultural studies at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, in 2020. Her dissertation features 30 case studies of men and women who experienced transformation after same-sex attraction. In July, her book for AG ministry leaders, TransFormation: a Former Transgender Responds to LGBTQ, is scheduled to be published, featuring her own story and research.
Encouraging children to prematurely embrace a sexual distinctiveness is hardly on the same level as supporting their efforts to experiment with dyeing their hair blue or wearing outlandish clothing, Dallas says. Injecting or ingesting hormones or steroids can have serious permanent consequences.
Ironically, in many states counselors such as Dallas are forbidden from suggesting to a gender-confused youth to stop dating someone of the same sex or to quit watching gay pornography.
The cultural acceptance is making an impact. According to a Feb. 17 Gallup poll, 7.1% of American adults identify as LGBT — double the percentage from a decade ago. The organization reported 20.8% of Generation Z adults — those born between 1997 and 2003 — consider themselves LGBT.
MINISTERING WITH COMPASSION
Alive in Christ, ReStory Ministries, and Seiler all provide resources to those struggling with sexuality in a culture that continues to normalize LGBTQ behavior.
“Over and over I have heard LGBT people say no one ever told them God loves them,” Simonds says. Too often, she says, they have heard up front that they are a sinner because of their unnatural sexual desires.
“The reality is we are all sinners,” Simonds says. “But those with same-sex attractions get the impression from churches sometimes that they are uniquely sinful. I want to encourage churchgoers that their gay neighbor, barista, or cousin needs to know Jesus loves them.”
Because the LGBTQ person likely has been ridiculed or criticized for their sexual behavior, Simonds urges Christians to be take time to listen to the stories of those identifying as LGBTQ, be slow to respond, and not plan points to argue.
When interacting with a LGBTQ person, it’s a good idea to express concern about past mistreatment, Simonds says.
“It’s OK to say, Thank you for telling me that, or I’m sorry that happened to you,” Simonds says. “That’s not affirming their sexual choices; it’s only affirming that suffering is a shared human experience.”
Instantaneous deliverance from unwanted sexual attractions is rare. A gradual and sometimes painful — yet more powerful — healing can be more effective in the long term. Yet reverting to past behavior is common after accepting Christ. Simonds, Seiler, and Dallas all recount how they slipped back into their former lifestyle after assuming local ministry leadership roles when much younger. However, they all repented years ago, have continued the journey, established the ministries they now run, and have been healed.
That is a reason they offer compassion while helping others who continue to struggle. They all believe the Church and parents need to be more proactive in helping children learn about sexuality in a healthy, authentic way.
“We need to better express truth to kids beyond prohibitions such as Don’t be gay or Don’t dress like that,” says Dallas, who is an elder at Mesa Church in Costa Mesa, California. “So many voices are talking about it from the wrong perspective. We who hold the truth should be talking about it the loudest to shield our kids from error.”
Bottom Photo: Linda Seiler has helped many deal with struggles similar to those she faced.