The broken, the sheep, the wolves
Sometimes, the victimizers are also victims
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Imagine four men with me, if you will. I’ll call them Adam, Ben, Cal, and Dave.
Adam was a teenage porn addict and clergy abuse victim. He grew up to embrace the gay lifestyle, where he both suffered and caused terrible pain. After years of self-hatred and abuse, he returned to his family’s Christian faith and began a painfully slow journey of recovery. Today, Adam lives a quiet life and does occasional outreach at the fringes of the gay world. He will never fully heal in this life, but at least he is saved and safe in Christ.
Ben would like you to call him Betty. He blogs and vlogs with a special focus on trans issues. If you write an article showing sympathy to people who regret their sex change, he will come into your replies and harass them for liking it. He has probably already reported you to Twitter for hateful conduct, if you didn’t block him first.
Cal is a former prostitute, but he hasn’t talked to anyone about it for 40 years. In fact, he’s hardly talked to anyone, period. He says he’s not ashamed of who he was, but he’s not happy either. When he’s not watching TV on his phone, he’s living in the past and missing his old boyfriend. He has never been religious, and he won’t go to church, but if you’d like to pray for him, he won’t say no.
Dave was an evangelical pastor’s son. When he came out gay to his family as a young teen, they were shocked, but they still loved him. He grew up to disown them and spend several years in a gay-affirming church, eventually becoming Buddhist. Today, he is active in his local gay community and continues to disparage his family’s church, encouraging other young people like himself to follow his example.
Four very different stories, four very different men, none of whom are hypothetical. I have personally encountered all of them. I could tell other true stories too, no two of which would be exactly alike.
Carl Trueman, in a recent podcast, encourages Christians to distinguish carefully between the victims and the perpetrators of the new sexual revolution—the people who are being “destroyed” and the people who are destroying them. We should handle the former tenderly, but we should handle the latter “ruthlessly.” With some people, it is possible to be too gentle, too ready to assume good faith. On the other hand, Trueman points out that it is possible to forget many people are suffering, and not all of them have the singular goal of destroying Western civilization.
Trueman is correct. Christians must equip themselves to recognize and engage many disparate characters, in many disparate contexts of public engagement, discipleship, and outreach. The activist watch blogger is not the lonely ex-prostitute is not the rebellious teenager. Some people are driven to make society participate in their confusion, but others might prefer to avoid society altogether. Some people have exhausted themselves with a full life of pain, while others are young, on the brink of corruption.
This is a sober addition to Trueman’s point: It is possible for one person to play both roles in his life. Some sex-change surgeons are themselves trans. They victimize as they were once victimized. And indeed, all kinds of sexual deviance depend for their propagation on a continuous cycle of victims turned perpetrator. They depend on the fact that once someone has been corrupted, he is often ready and willing to corrupt others in turn. So, even while we offer hope and compassion to young people who are testing sexual boundaries, we must do so in the sad knowledge that we might ultimately have to protect others from their influence.
Today’s victim may be tomorrow’s perpetrator. Today’s lost sheep may be tomorrow’s wolf.
I can’t put it any better than Kevin DeYoung, in this sermon from 2015. In a digital age, we have to remember “that at any moment, any person is listening.” We could, in a single sermon or essay or tweet, be speaking simultaneously to “the convinced, the contentious, and the confused.” We could be speaking to people who understand the Christian sexual ethic and need to be strengthened in their adherence, as well as people who actively want to weaken that ethic, as well as people who are in distress and unsure precisely what they want.
This makes it imperative that we do not fumble our message on this most vital of issues, nor give it second-class status behind other foundational Christian doctrines. How will we support the weak if we are not strong? How will we lead the blind if we cannot see?
Weakness weakens. Uncertainty is contagious. In the days to come, let us be remembered as the ones who did not speak with an uncertain sound when our voice was most needed.
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