The Identity Awakening: Young people, Gender & Sexuality

Esther Bonsu-Liburd explains why it’s important for the Church to join in the conversation around gender, sexuality and identity

From the tender age of five until the age of eight, I was introduced and groomed into the perverse world of pornography by a teenager who lived in my local area. Not only that, but I also endured unfathomable sexual violence incidences that corrupted and crushed the innocence of my self-esteem, body image, gender and sexuality.

I kept the secret of my abuse confidential, as instructed by the perpetrator, and the lingering scent and decay of the vile poison of sexual violence would never be detected by my parents, siblings, aunties, uncles, cousins, friends, Sunday school teachers, schoolteachers, church family or family friends. I was hidden and hurting in plain sight. Nonetheless, Jesus saw beyond the surface of my existence, and captivated my heart at the age of 16, thus turning my mourning into dancing, and ultimately healing and restoring every fabric of my human identity. As a result of an unjust journey, my husband and I have committed our lives to engaging the topic of human identity, sexuality, gender and injustice, in order to help bring the truth of the Kingdom of God to the heart of society.

Over the past 21 years of my walk with Jesus, I have encountered thousands upon thousands of young people, hidden within plain sight within our churches, Christian youth groups, Christian youth clubs or attending our Christian events, who are facing the daily challenges regarding their self-esteem, body image, gender identity, sexuality and relationships, compounded with the influence of pornography.

Although there are a handful of Christian organisations engaging with the topic of gender identity and sexuality, there simply aren’t enough voices and resources within the field. Our desire is to empower and awaken the sleeping giant (the Church), to boldly and compassionately win and disciple a generation of young people who are seeking truth.

Society has and is changing. Sex, gender and sexuality have evolved within the western modern-day context, which stems from the 17th-18th century European Enlightenment period to the 60s-70s Sexual Revolution (also known as the Sexual Liberation Movement), to the modern-day reformation. Young people are now able to choose their gender, sexual orientation and can even identify as animals, such as ‘Cats’ (also known as ‘otherkin’). These changes can be noted in the figures from the 2021 census, which highlight that more than half of LGBT+ people are aged between 16-34.

We believe the Church should be the leading voice and thought leader in human identity, sexuality and gender. As our Father God is the ultimate Creator of all things, and mankind is fashioned in the Imago-Dei (Image of God) as in Genesis 1:27, this fundamental truth should be cascaded within the fabric of our society.

Through our research and consultations across the UK, we have identified that many churches shy away from engaging with the topic of gender and sexuality, due to the immobilising influence of fear. Therefore, young people feel compelled to seek information from alternative sources, such as social media, their peers, lessons within their schools and mainstream media outlets. Sadly, some young people feel that “the Church is closed, and TikTok is open”.

Following a training session with a group of church leaders, where we delivered a gender identity workshop, we were approached by a pastor who expressed their deep sense of gratitude and admiration for the session. The pastor then shared that their daughter’s boyfriend had requested to be addressed as ‘they/them’, which had puzzled the pastor, but he hadn’t questioned the boyfriend’s reasoning. Our session highlighted that the pronoun ‘they/them’ is used by individuals identifying as gender neutral or queer. Consequently, the pastor felt empowered to have a conversation with their daughter, thus strengthening their relationship, despite disagreeing on their points of view.

The Bible states that “My people are destroyed due to a lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6), so it is pertinent for churches to be equipped, trained and educated on the theoretical, physiological, societal, theological and practical frameworks of gender and sexuality, to aid in engaging young people. We must also create space for the voices, experiences and disclosures of young people, so they feel safe to share their thoughts and beliefs within a judgement-free zone.

With 21 years of youth work experience, I have concluded that young people will bare their souls, when addressed with compassion and aided with support. The 21st century Church must adapt its discipleship models and address the topic of gender and sexuality, or we will continue to haemorrhage a generation who no longer understand the relevance of church.

Esther Bonsu-Liburd is co-founder/CEO of ‘The RVLTN Group’ (ReVoLuTioN), alongside her husband, Pastor Mark Liburd. It is committed to inspiring people to explore pertinent societal issues to aid positively transforming society.  Esther is also a dynamic speaker. Visit www.thervltngroup.com

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