Dr. Sean McDowell is a gifted communicator with a passion for equipping the church, especially young people, to defend the Christian faith. He is an associate professor in Christian apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
In addition to speaking at conferences and events, McDowell has written many books including Evidence that Demands a Verdict (with Josh McDowell, his father) and So the Next Generation Will Know (with J. Warner Wallace).
His responses below are excerpted and condensed from his interview with Kendra White of American Family Studios for In His Image: Delighting in God’s Plan for Gender and Sexuality, an AFA documentary to be released in theaters via a two-night Fathom event in October.
American Family Studios: How has the culture’s sexual chaos impacted the church?
Sean McDowell: I think partly what this issue has done is brought to the surface a lack of biblical literacy.
Certain cultural changes have been brewing for decades about what it means to be human, about the nature of relationships, about marriage and fulfillment.
I think some people have made a fair criticism that we are not being as consistent as we need to be, and as a result, we’ve lost some of our moral authority on this issue.
AFS: How do we bridge that gap between the church and someone in the LGBTQ community?
SM: The first thing is to build a relationship with this person instead of just trying to fix the gender dysphoria.
Now, if the person asks me what I think, I’m going to be honest and say, “You know what? I think Jesus is God, and I think you’ll only be truly free if you’re willing to live the way Jesus wants you to live.”
AFS: What about the transgender person who wonders, Am I condemned to be stuck in the wrong body? Or a parent who thinks, Is my child going to commit suicide?
SM: First, I would encourage Christians to reach out and love this person the way we would love anybody. The Bible says we’re all broken in greater and lesser degrees. I’d pray for this person, and I would try to talk about who Jesus is … and how, through the Holy Spirit, He can bring healing.
I would introduce them to other people who have wrestled with gender dysphoria and found freedom through Christ, to help them see … that there’s a kind of freedom that comes from uniquely being in a relationship with God and a body of Christ that loves and supports them through brokenness. That’s true for all of us.
AFS: What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
SM: I think it’s a certain way that we have been made that reflects our Creator – creativity, higher-order thinking, the ability for developed emotions different from what we see in animals. We uniquely reflect God the Creator in a way nothing else created does.
AFS: Is there a difference in how the two sexes reflect the image of God?
SM: Sex is something biologically that we’re born with, that is determined by our body. Sex is fixed. It’s part of our nature.
God has given us certain bodies to be used in a certain way. There’s a male body, and there’s the female body. There’s no question that men are designed to protect, men are designed, I think, to lead. And I think women are designed to nurture and to care and to love.
Can men nurture and care and love? Absolutely. Can women lead in certain settings? Of course.
AFS: What does it look like to respect those in the LGBTQ community as human beings?
SM: We can do two things. Number one is stepping out of our comfort zones and building relationships with people, inviting people over to dinner, going to coffee.
But also, what we can do to love people more is to not compromise truth. That doesn’t mean I walk around as the truth police always telling people how to live. But I do know the Bible says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free (John 8:32, NASB).”
AFS: Why is the message that change is possible so controversial?
SM: A lot of studies [have convinced] some people that [sexual dysphoria] seems to not go away. That can create controversy for Christians saying, “Wait a minute, I thought everybody could change.” Well I’m not saying they can’t.
On the flip side, those in the LGBTQ community say that nobody can change, that you’re born this way, this is your identity.
AFS: Are sexual sins worse than other sins?
SM: I do think Christians sometimes are guilty of saying, “Well, unjustified divorce, not a big deal. Well, pornography, not a big deal. But homosexuality – that’s a terrible sin.” I think Christians have not been consistent about how we approach [the subject of sin].
Now it doesn’t follow that all sin is equal. The Bible nowhere teaches that all sin is equal. For example, it says that Judas who betrayed Jesus committed the greater sin.
AFS: For the transgender or gay person who’s considering this issue, give a message of hope.
SM: There is hope for you. God loves you, and you are made in the image of God. My encouragement would be to go to a pastor, go to a trusted Christian friend, and just get this off your chest. Just share with them, especially if you haven’t done so before.
Then pick up a book by somebody who’s wrestled with this, who can specifically speak to you from their own story. It will give you the hope that can set you free.
AFS: What have you learned from your debates on this issue?
SM: The arguments are pretty sophisticated against the historic Christian view. I don’t think they work, but a lot of time and effort are being applied to look at [and interpret] these biblical passages differently.
If somebody wants to find a way around biblical teaching, there’s always a way to do it. But the Bible is very straightforward about God’s design for marriage and sex.
AFS: What about the claim that gender has evolved, and theology must evolve with it?
SM: [Homosexual] covenant faithfulness, monogamous commitment, doesn’t overturn God’s design for sex and marriage. Go back to Genesis 1 – God made them male and female. Go to Genesis 2 – man shall leave his father and mother, and cling to his wife.
Also in the Bible, there was a kind of consensual [illicit] sexuality. In Romans, it’s men sleeping with other men. They’re both held guilty for this.
AFS: How do Christians defend their position on this issue?
SM: Start with the Scriptures. I’d read Genesis 1. I’d read Genesis 2. Study Romans 1 very carefully. And then I would study Matthew 19, where Jesus speaks on marriage and divorce.
When Jesus was asked about marriage, He cited both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. Clearly, God designed marriage to be one man, one woman, one flesh for one lifetime.