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Sexuality and Gender

Olof Edsinger, Patricia Weerakoon & Mark Yarhouse

The experience of sexuality and gender is central to all human cultures, but attitudes toward this universal reality vary dramatically across the world. Both the universality and the divisiveness of this topic make it eminently relevant for today’s global church. 

While experiences and opinions on this topic may differ, our touchstone in evaluating it is universally applicable and unchanging. Scripture challenges all cultures and every facet of human life. Issues of sexuality and gender are no exception. As we evaluate these issues, as with every other phenomenon, our ultimate authority is the Word of God.

As we evaluate these issues, as with every other phenomenon, our ultimate authority is the Word of God.

While every culture brings its own rich history and insights to the table and has its own challenges in this area, for the purposes of this article, we have chosen to focus mainly on the cultural trends of the Western world. For better and worse, Western culture disproportionately affects the rest of the world through media, film, and the exportation of internet pornography.1 For this reason, examining Western trends allows us in some ways to start upstream of many global social phenomena. The following theoretical and practical description provides pastoral and missional context for global evangelism.

Global Fruits of the West’s Sexual Revolution

To understand the current thinking on gender and sexuality in the West, one must examine the 1960s–1970s sexual revolution, which changed attitudes toward sex and gender, ultimately eroding previously held norms. Two important enablers of this revolution were medical advances which made contraception and abortion easier and safer, and changes in social attitudes which made both socially acceptable. 

Both contraception and abortion separate sexual intimacy from reproduction, therefore separating sex from the traditional and biblical understanding of families.2 These medical technologies and the associated permissive attitudes towards contraception and abortion are today an integral part of debilitating family planning programs not only in the West, but also in other areas of the world.

Devoid of any connection to transcendent purposes, all that remains is pleasing oneself

The overarching claim of the sexual revolution was that individual, familial, and social wellbeing would be maximised if individuals were given unlimited freedom in sexual expression. This made room for previously stigmatised practices to gain acceptance.3 It also facilitated a growing culture of individual self-gratification, which viewed traditional obligations to family and society as outdated ways of ‘repressing’ this individual self-gratification. This carried with it a rejection of authority figures, an impulse exacerbated by institutional sexual scandals that cast doubt on the integrity of sources of authority. Today’s ideal is ‘freedom’ from all external constraints—family expectations, societal norms, biology, and divine authority. 

On the surface, it may appear that this has led to an over-valuing of sex. Indeed, sex retains its longstanding place in humanity’s pantheon of idols. But ultimately, our over-valuing of our own authority and gratification has devalued sex to the point that its only valuable outcome is self-fulfilment. Devoid of any connection to transcendent purposes, all that remains is pleasing oneself—the love of self that the apostle Paul warned Timothy about (2 Tim 3:2).

This pursuit of self-gratification, enabled by sexual technological developments, has fed into a larger change in social attitudes. Drawing on the work of Charles Taylor, Carl Truman4 has mapped the social and intellectual processes which have led to this situation and describes them as the development of the ‘psychological man’ in a culture of ‘expressive individualism’. In this cultural context, the highest aim is to live as one’s authentic self through the identification and expression of self-defined fulfilment. Thus, in an expressive individualistic world, religion is valued only to the extent that it facilitates the fulfilment of an individual’s self-determined life purpose. 

The effects of this sexual revolution are vast, deep, and damaging:

  • Marriage rates and fertility rates are plummeting across the Western world. 
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour—the culture of casual sex, ‘hook up culture’, polyamory, etc.—is mainstream in many urban and/or youth cultures.
  • Pornography and the associated sex trafficking and pornified expectations of sex are equally widespread. Even the sacred covenant of marriage is sometimes reframed as a consensual non-monogamous relationship.
  • Same-sex sexual behaviour has become mainstream in many urban and/or youth cultures in the West. Especially in their teens, many young people identify as bisexual, as this tends to ‘keep all doors open’ relationally. In the end, however, most of these youth return to heterosexual relationships.5
  • When it comes to gender, one’s embodied biology is no longer considered a source of any absolute knowledge about oneself; it is rather an accessory to suit one’s individual feelings and desires. What started as a rare medical condition of transsexuality has in this way become a transgender phenomenon.

The Road Ahead

All of these contemporary trends run counter to the faithful, biblical sexuality that alone promotes human flourishing. Looking ahead, we foresee several possible scenarios evolving from today’s trends on sexuality and gender—scenarios that will most likely exist parallel to one another. These potential trends are important to explore as we consider ministry responses that will lead people of faith in Christ and authentic kingdom discipleship. 

This [Communitariam-naturalistic legalism] would be an uncritical, shared morality that functions as a ‘religion’.

Path One: Extreme individualistic-technocratic libertarianism 

The first of these paths is characterised by a radical individualism where self-gratification is more important than bonds of family, friendship, and community. Such a society rejects from the outset the idea that any pattern for healthy sexuality exists outside of one’s individual preferences. Here, the individual is king or queen of his or her own universe, including the area of sexual relationships. Technology mediates relationships from the most casual to the most intimate, as people look to virtual spaces and experiences for community and sexual gratification. We expect emerging technologies in sex robots and virtual sex will ultimately render the ‘other’ seemingly unnecessary for some people in well-resourced societies. The virtual nature of relationships in this scenario will put intense focus on outward appearance and promote casual, commodified sex. This path will also be characterized by increased affirmation of the pursuit of pleasure by any means—be it heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual, or polysexual. 

This way of life will inevitably lead to increased anxiety, depression, suicidality, and appeal of euthanasia; decreased fertility; and other outcomes which are disastrous for individuals, families, and society in general. From a Christian theological viewpoint, this might be understood as the law of sowing and reaping, associated with elements of active divine judgement (see Lev 18; Rom 1).6 

Another development will be the ongoing normalisation of gender ideology and the transgender movement. Medical technologies which are already in use will likely be increasingly accessible and capable of moulding the body in ways that would have been hard to believe a generation ago. We anticipate that such steps will be made readily available to younger and younger populations and will be offered not only for ‘medical necessity’, but also for perceived quality of life. While some efforts have been made to pause this progression and conduct further and more careful research on these developments, we anticipate that increased access will be the norm.

Path Two: Communitarian-naturalistic legalism 

The second scenario is the opposite of the first. It narrowly regulates public sexual identification and behaviour according to discernible physiology and strict traditional ethno-communal norms. We can see hints of this rigorous legalistic approach today, such as in Iran’s preference for sex reassignment over same-sex sexuality and in its harsh penalties for rule breaking. According to this path, dutiful, obedient conformity is more important than living consistently with one’s personal convictions about reality. It prioritises fidelity to individuals, rituals/rites, and symbols which bear communal authority. This path will be hard to maintain in any society influenced strongly by Western cultural norms, but it may attract people reacting fiercely against path one. 

This will likely produce a moralistic religiosity. Rather than a joyful, grace-filled embrace of biblical norms, the result would be an uncritical, shared morality that functions as a ‘religion’. Such ideology generally leads to the formation of a stable community for those who share that morality—for our purposes, a common sexual ethic—and will exclude those who do not associate with that morality.

Outside of that community, the perceived universality of that shared ‘religious’ morality and the pressure to conform to it will probably have negative impacts on minorities who do not share that religious morality—especially, for our purposes, people who experience genuine but perhaps unwanted non-heterosexual desires and who may not conform to the society’s gender roles. Consequently, this moralistic religiosity will increase anxiety, depression, and suicidality, thereby reinforcing prejudices that cast religion and traditional forms of community (eg the extended biological family) as only ever oppressive to personal wellbeing, which will in turn reinforce the secularists’ call to abandon religion and community in favour of the kind of self-gratification which characterises path one. 

Path Three: Neo-conservatism and an awakened interest in traditional understandings of sexuality and gender

Path three could be described as a re-evaluation of the sexual revolution. The revolution has not delivered on its promises. Instead of freedom and fulfilment, young generations have inherited intense brokenness and emptiness.7 As some young people come to terms with that reality, we may witness a backlash against these ideologies, particularly in areas where they prove inconsistent with scientific knowledge and objective reality (eg the encouragement of gender reassignment therapies for minors and the denial of the humanity of foetuses). If so, Christians and non-Christians may find common ground in their rejection of mainstream cultural values. Elements of this co-belligerence already exist amongst those who are resisting and seeking to limit the most extreme forms of gender ideology held by some advocates in the contemporary transgender movement. 

This movement is already strong in parts of Western culture and could be a central aspect of the future as people are disappointed and hurt by the libertarian individualistic-technocratic path. A subset of this group will be people of faith who are navigating questions around their own experience of same-sex sexuality or discordant gender identity and who are trying to find ways to live their lives according to biblical standards for sexual behavior, as a witness to God’s provision. Their lives will be ‘a long obedience in the same direction’, as Eugene Peterson once put it. We see this path as a smaller, quieter, embodied existence—a counter-narrative to the prevailing narratives noted above. Communities of faithful witnesses to God’s work in their lives will continue to live counter-culturally to the messages of sexual self-actualization.

A Way Forward for the Church

The church must respond to these shifting attitudes for at least two reasons. First, its response should at least slow—perhaps it may arrest or even reverse—society’s decline into self-destruction. Love of our neighbours propels us to seek their good, regardless of their attitude toward us, Christ, and his gospel. 

The second reason flows from the first. The concepts associated with the Christian framework for healthy sexuality—the idea that a God-given authoritative order exists, which is independent of our emotions and preferences—are important to the Christian gospel, because they underpin the gospel’s concepts of God as creator and of sin as a rejection of him and his patterns for life. In itself, sexual wholeness is not the gospel, but confidence in the biblical, Christian attitudes towards sexual wholeness bolsters confidence in the gospel and empowers Christians to live in ways that are consistent with the demands of the gospel, including in our sexuality.

Therefore, church leaders need sufficient confidence in the biblical view of sexuality to confidently lead their congregations

Therefore, church leaders need sufficient confidence in the biblical view of sexuality to confidently lead their congregations into that view and to contradict secular claims. Theological colleges need to provide teaching programmes which integrate the goodness and beauty of the biblical sexual ethic as presented across the whole canon of Scripture with the scientific evidence and lived experience that supports that biblical ethic.

The church also must be both aware of and sensitive to the faults of the past, where it has contributed to the kind of marginalisation and rejection of non-heterosexual individuals we characterised in path two. We must be willing to identify, challenge, and change marginalisation in the name of the one who only ever used his power to save and to serve. We are called to move towards them, not push them away.

To avoid the pitfalls of path one, the church must:

  • Distinguish the faithful church from ‘progressive’ Christianity which rejects biblical sexual morality in favour of worldly acceptance and thus becomes apostate.
  • Demonstrate the goodness and wholesomeness of the biblical sexual ethic, including the value of sexual self-control—restraining sinful sexual impulses is not ‘repressive’ but builds healthy, virtuous character. Chastity is a blessing.
  • Distinguish this biblical sexual ethic from the religious moralism of path two by highlighting the prevenience of divine salvific grace and justification by faith alone. Salvation is by grace, not works, and the sanctification of our sexuality is a gift of God’s spirit.
  • Prepare our hearts and minds for the slander and hatred we will receive as we reject the idol of sexual permissiveness and instead pursue sexual purity for the glory of God.

We urge the church to adopt the above approaches to avoid being drawn into the legalistic communitarian-naturalistic path merely in reaction to the extreme libertarian individualistic-technocratic path. The church’s response to anything must not be dictated by fear of consequences but guided by grace and expressed in love for God and neighbour. 

To avoid the negative elements of path two, it is imperative that we: 

  • Highlight the completeness of divine salvation in Christ—that in Christ, God restores even those who have sinned against the constitution of their embodied sexuality.
  • Demonstrate how the completeness of salvation in Christ precludes mere moralism—we do not locate our salvation through heterosexuality or sexual chastity, nor are we ‘saved by purity alone’ or ‘justified by heterosexuality alone’. Rather, we are saved by grace alone, and then in gratitude we lead a life of faithfulness that includes holy sexuality.
  • Welcome genuine seekers and truly repentant sexual sinners, just as Christ welcomed the much-forgiven sexual sinners of his time. These include those who feel but do not desire same-sex attraction; those who are navigating gender identity and faith, including those who may have transitioned, in what they honestly considered a life-saving measure; and those who may experience gender change regret and may or may not seek to detransition.
  • Be prepared to bear the irrational hatred occasioned by contradicting the idols of superiority and moralistic self-righteousness.

Finally, we recommend that Christians promote path three by developing culturally sensitive methods of teaching biblical sexual ethics and helping Christians develop the kind of character that can withstand the pressures and persecutions of any kind of culture, whether individualist-progressive or communitarian-conservative. Marriage courses, biblical counselling, sexual discipleship, and sound mentorship are likely to be key areas for the church to prioritise if it wants to address the confusion, brokenness, and deep needs of modern people. This can only be achieved by truly seeking to understand both the sexual ethic of our culture and the gracious Lord to whom we as Christians belong.

Sexuality and the Great Commission

The arc of the biblical drama moves through creation, fall, and redemption to consummation. God has granted to us a life ‘between the times’, in which all of creation is fallen, groaning for redemption from its fallen state. Redemption only occurs in the work of Jesus, and we await the fullness of redemption in the consummation of all things. 

We are at times advised to speak less about controversial topics related to sexuality and gender and to focus more on the central truths of the gospel. We agree that there is strategic value in engaging controversial topics selectively and at appropriate times. Nevertheless, we are called to teach the whole counsel of God—everything Christ commanded us. That means teaching a biblical sexual ethic that represents the whole Bible narrative from the creation of man and woman in the garden of Eden to the resurrection narrative of the bride of Christ. And, as noted previously, while sexual wholeness is not the gospel, confidence in the biblical teachings about sexuality bolsters confidence in the gospel and empowers us to live according to its principles. 

Sexual wholeness is not the gospel, confidence in the biblical teachings about sexuality bolsters confidence in the gospel.

Christians, therefore, need to know how to obey Christ as sexed, gendered people. In addition to this, we must address destructive forces such as the pornography industry and the use of AI and technology as a substitute for intimacy. We must also identify and repent of how the Great Commission has been threatened by instances of the church’s wrongful use of power to bring harm to non-heterosexual individuals and communities, and even facilitate and cover for sexual abuse. 

The testimonies of reborn, renewed Christians will also be important to the Great Commission—especially those who, in ways akin to 1 Corinthians 6:11, can profess to having had their entire view of themselves and their sexuality changed for the better by their personal relationship with Christ. These may be Christians who were once consumers of pornography, perpetrators of sexual abuse, promiscuous in premarital or extramarital sexual intimacy, and so on, who will be able to testify that their Christ has healed their sexuality and set their lives on a different trajectory. God may enable such reborn Christians to be, as it were, out and proud for Jesus. The transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these believers can be a life-giving testimony to the saving work of Christ. 

But we also expect there to be many who live equally counter-culturally in a less public and visible way. These people are no less confident of Christ and of his love and forgiveness. But their lives, at least in the areas of sexuality, are characterised not by perpetual victory but by faithful, sometimes painful, perseverance. In their quiet commitment to Christ and willingness to overcome their internal impulses out of loyalty to him, they become an embodied counter-narrative to the messages of sexual self-actualization noted above. Their counter-cultural commitment will itself be a living witness to how costly obedience points in the direction of Christ’s even more costly, even more obedient, work of redemption.

Opportunities and Challenges for Great Commission Efforts

The church stands on Christian hope. In a world that is sexually and relationally disoriented, the Christian gospel has the wonderful, orienting potential of being good news not only for our souls, but also for our bodies and for society as a whole. Like all of God’s gifts, sexuality is supposed to be our servant—not our lord. Toward that end, we are to steward our sexuality as a marker of Christian hope. 

In terms of the Great Commission, Christian hope can be embodied and conveyed most convincingly in the testimonies of those who faithfully steward sexuality and gender. This will include those whom Christ has redeemed out of trauma, abuse, addiction, disordered sexuality, and other effects of the fall on human sexuality, and who have by his power and grace cultivated a healthy sexuality in emotionally and spiritually safe and secure church settings. 

Several hazards threaten to impede our pursuit of this hope. The first is a potentially divisive tendency to expect that God’s provision must look one particular way for all people. The second is the temptation to attribute another’s suffering or infirmity to either the person or their parents, as the disciples did (John 9:1–3). Rather than making the complexities of our fallen condition and consequent different forms of divine restoration a matter of division, let us exercise patience with each other, engage in diligent biblical discernment, and celebrate authentic divine redemption wherever and however it occurs.

We must also be vigilant regarding the allure of a celebrity Christian culture in which leaders have little or no accountability, including sexually, and regarding the challenge of leveraging technology for good without becoming subject to it.

In all of this, the church ought to practice ‘convicted civility’,8 holding firmly to Christian commitments within a diverse and pluralistic society while exercising civility, respect, and compassion towards those who disagree with our ethics and practice a different way of life. 

To navigate these tensions fruitfully, we must operate out of a renewed confidence in: 

  • sexuality within the monogamous marriage of man and woman as a beautiful mystery and a model of Christ and the church (Eph 5; Rev 19, 21)
  • a high view of singleness accompanied by practical and spiritual support for those who are single, including them in the daily rhythms of family life in the body
  • an acceptance that all humans are fallen (Gen 3) and have sinful desires not in keeping with God’s purpose 
  • the church as an emotionally and spiritually secure place for transparency and humility, where members can share and support each other, bearing each other’s burdens
  • discerning the difference between an unhealthy desire, an unnatural disposition, and an ungodly action; we must embrace the gifts of followers of Christ who have been faithfully navigating issues related to sexuality and gender, despite their desires and dispositions
  • the value of self-control in inculcating resilient, virtuous character
  • the reality of our glorious hope—the delights of glorified eternal life with Christ in resurrected immortal bodies.

The church enters into conversations on sexuality and gender with the expectation that good—which is the nature of God’s character—will prevail. Our eschatological hope in who we will become is moving toward a final destination. Human sexuality, or the human longing for completion at all levels (eros), is a universal signal that such longing will only be satisfied in eternity. Christian hope, which is embodied in chastity in singleness and in marriage, directs us toward the eternal vision of bride and bridegroom. 


  • Harrison, Glynn (2016). A Better Story: God, Sex & Human Flourishing. London: Inter-Varsity Press.
  • Jones, S., & Jones, B. (2019). How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex: A lifelong approach to shaping your child’s sexual character. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. 
  • Patricia Weerakoon (https://youthworksmedia.net/search?q=patricia+weerakoon)
  • The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender (https://www.centerforfaith.com)
  • The Sexual & Gender Identity Institute (wheaton.edu/sgi) 
  • Stott, John R. W. (2017). Same-Sex Relationships. The Good Book Company.
  • Yarhouse, Mark (2015). Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic.


  1. David L. Rowland & D. Uribe, ‘Pornography Use: What do cross-cultural patterns tell us?’ In Cultural Differences and the Practice of Sexual Medicine, eds. David L. Rowland and Emmanuele A. Jannini (New York City, NY: Springer, 2000), 317-334.
  2. Different cultures view families differently. Some focus more on the nuclear family of husband, wife, and their biological children. Others include the extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc. But both concepts prioritise common genetic ancestry. You were related to your family through shared DNA. That shared DNA created relational obligations which were immoral to ignore. If you didn’t perform your filial duty, you were a ‘bad’ family member. 
  3. It is important to note that heterosexual promiscuity, paedophilia, gender discordant experiences, and same-sex relationships are not unique to our modern times. Rather, these phenomena were encountered to one degree or another throughout history and across cultures. Early Christian writings, such as the Didache, suggest that many such behaviours came to be denounced in Western culture through the expansion of the Christian church (see Didache, 2:2). 
  4. Carl Truman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020). 
  5. Anna Brown, Bisexual adults are far less likely than gay men and lesbians to be “out” to the people in their lives. Pew Research Center, June 18, 2019. Available: https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2019/06/18/bisexual-adults-are-far-less-likely-than-gay-men-and-lesbians-to-be-out-to-the-people-in-their-lives/
  6. This does not mean that diverse experiences of sexuality or gender are always, in themselves, a sign of divine condemnation. Jesus, while not approving sexual sin, protected sexual sinners from being punished by religious zealots, offered those sinners forgiveness in his name, and called them to repent of their sin and live a life of sexual wholeness (Luke 7:36-50; John 4; see also 1 Cor 6:10-11). Some of the experiences we are discussing are a result of the fall (or made possible because of the fall) but not the result of individual wilful disobedience. But the prevalence and celebration of these kinds of anti-relational attitudes towards sex and gender are signs of social decline which have been seen time and again during human history. 
  7. Glynn Harrison, A Better Story: God, Sex & Human Flourishing (London: IVP, 2016).
  8. Richard Mouw, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010).

Authors' Bios

Olof Edsinger

Olof Edsinger is General Secretary of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance. He is the author of about twenty books, including several on the topics of identity, sexuality and lgbtq. Through his books and his speaking engagements he has become a well-known voice in the area of sexuality and gender in Sweden and the other Nordic countries.

Patricia Weerakoon

Patricia Weerakoon MBBS (Sri Lanka); MS (Uni Hawaii) MHPEd (Uni NSW, Australia) is a medical doctor and academic. She was director of a graduate program in sexual health in the University of Sydney, and has written several books, including Talking Sex by the Book (2020) and The Gender Revolution (2023).

Mark Yarhouse

Mark Yarhouse is the Dr Arthur P. Rech and Mrs Jean May Rech Professor of Psychology at Wheaton College, where he directs the Sexual & Gender Identity Institute. He is author or co-author of several books, including Understanding Gender Dysphoria, Emerging Gender Identities, Costly Obedience, and Homosexuality and the Christian.