LGBTQ kids who grow up in conservative evangelical families tend to have father wounds because evangelicals view LGBTQ people as given over by God to a reprobate mind for the degrading of their bodies and therefore eternally condemned.
The challenge many conservative evangelical parents face is whether they should simply confront their LGBTQ children or attempt to heal the relational division to whatever degree their consciences allow, despite their deeply held convictions.
Because Andy Stanley prefers to work toward healing, he is participating as one of the voices in a conference meant to bring evangelical parents and their LGBTQ kids into a “quieter middle space” where they can have conversations toward healing.
As Mohler’s opinion piece began circulating on social media, evangelicals predictably piled on.
“Dr. Charles Stanley must be rolling over in his grave,” one person posted.
“I’m sure his dad would be so disappointed in this! Not sure if he’s a real child of God,” another mourned.
“He sure isn’t following in his Father’s footsteps. His earthly father’s or his Heavenly Father’s,” asserted another. “He is a false teacher.”
“They want Andy to feel the shame of his father’s theoretical disapproval.”
In addition to condemning LGBTQ kids, the common theme in these judgments is the hurt of unearthed wounds between fathers and sons. Who knows how Charles Stanley, who passed away earlier this year, may feel about Andy’s decision to speak at a conference? Evangelicals are certain they know. And they want Andy to feel the shame of his father’s theoretical disapproval.
But while conservatives may want to distance themselves from helping LGBTQ kids and parents work through their wounds, what they don’t realize is the father wounds many LGBTQ kids carry are the same father wounds at the core of what it means to be a conservative evangelical complementarian Calvinist.
Mark Driscoll’s ‘father wounds’ critique of young Calvinists
One of the most scathing critiques of the young conservative Calvinists came from Mark Driscoll in a radio interview in 2019. Driscoll, who had been promoted by Tim Keller, John Piper and the men at The Gospel Coalition and became the face of the Acts 29 church planting network, surprisingly spurned the five-point Calvinism he once held to.
“That whole Young, Restless Reformed — God is Father but he’s distant, he’s mean, he’s cruel, he’s non-relational, he’s far away. That’s their view of their earthly father. So, then they pick dead mentors: Spurgeon, Calvin, Luther,” Driscoll said. “These are little boys with father wounds who are looking for spiritual fathers, so they pick dead guys who are not actually going to get to know them or correct them. And then they join networks run by other young men so that they can all be brothers. There’s no fathers. And they love, love, love Jesus because they love the story where the son is the hero because they’re the sons with father wounds.”
“They love, love, love Jesus because they love the story where the son is the hero because they’re the sons with father wounds.”
Trevin Wax wrote for the Gospel Coalition that he was “surprised by this interview, primarily because Mark went on to repudiate Calvinism after painting Reformed theology with a broad brush. But also because, while making a valid point about how father wounds can influence one’s theology, Mark didn’t address the ways his ministry benefited from the phenomenon of absentee and passive fathers. It would be much easier to connect fatherlessness to Driscoll-fanhood than to make the case that all Reformed theology is really about a distant, angry, ‘non-relational’ God.”
Wax may have picked up on Driscoll’s “little boys” language when he pointed to Driscoll’s “How Dare You!” sermon in which he pointed his finger and sneered, “You change now, little boy. You change right now. You shut up. You put your pants on. You get a job. You grow up. And maybe one day, you can love a woman. It’s for men, not for boys.”
For Wax, this sermon was an example of Driscoll being “the dude who, unlike your wimpy father, will get in your face and tell you the truth.” He claimed Driscoll’s venting of wrath “was compelling to younger men confused about the meaning and purpose of manhood.”
Considering pastors as spiritual fathers
Younger followers of Jesus considering their leaders to be their spiritual fathers is a tradition that goes back to the earliest Christians. In 1 Corinthians 4:15, Paul says, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Many young men in my generation grew up amid the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, the purity culture of the 1990s, and the Left Behind culture that had us terrified of Y2K. Most of us who got caught up in the Young Restless and Reformed movement had distant fathers. But the distance didn’t tend to be due to absentee and passive fathers, but due to patriarchal fathers who never had processed their own father wounds, who were looking elsewhere at some ideal patriarchal man we never could measure up to and who treated us and our mothers in spiritually abusive ways.
“We were starving for the attention and affirmation of pastors who would play into our insecurities about a high and holy God.”
As a result, we were starving for the attention and affirmation of pastors who would play into our insecurities about a high and holy God, but who would let us be more ourselves in areas of entertainment, music style, dress code or the consumption of alcohol.
As he reflected on Driscoll’s words, Wax noticed this too. “Collin Hansen touched on this desire in his 2008 book Young, Restless and Reformed, when he described younger Calvinists referring to John Piper as a father figure. One young lady talked about Piper as being like ‘a dad’ to her, although they’d never met,” he said.
Wax must have forgotten about the language in 1 Corinthians 4 because he asked, “What does it say about God as Father if young people think ‘father’ is the appropriate term for a prominent preacher with whom they have no relationship?”
Still, Wax conceded, “Caricature and bluster aside, Driscoll was right to see father wounds as an important element contributing to the popularity of Reformed theology.”
Wax said the father wounds many of my generation held led to a “lingo of ‘boot camp’” throughout evangelicalism. “The atmosphere of ‘telling it like it is,’ being ‘confronted by the truth,’ and ‘doing whatever it takes for the kingdom’ had massive appeal to a generation of young men.”
But while Wax admits “Father hunger is real,” he concludes by blaming the father wounds on celebrity pastors who attempt “to seize upon this vulnerability to build a media empire.”
My own spiritual father wounds
I have many wounds growing up that are mine to hold and process in my own way. But as a result, I spent my 20s and 30s desperately looking for a pastor to be my spiritual father. I didn’t want a pastor to demean or belittle me. I just wanted to be affirmed as desirable and worth being around, and discipled.
“I spent my 20s and 30s desperately looking for a pastor to be my spiritual father.”
When I had to leave my abusive pastor in my 20s, I was devastated. The conservative evangelical churches we joined after that were so selective in who they would trust as leaders that I had to patiently wait until the pastor would feel comfortable enough to invest in me.
After we moved back home to South Carolina, we joined a megachurch where I hoped I could one day lead worship and possibly preach. After waiting patiently for about a year, I was invited to join a preaching class. But on the night I was scheduled to preach and be evaluated by our pastor, they couldn’t get to me. And then they never had the class again. So for the next few years, I occasionally would bring up my interest in the class, but to no avail.
Eventually, they allowed me to lead worship in the children’s church. Then that led to leading worship in the adult services. But when I shared the idea of developing worship leaders behind the scenes for shepherding groups, one elder shot it down as a weird idea. And then when I mentioned from the stage one morning that part of the culture we want to have is where those of us who are strong in our faith can sing for those who are struggling, I was brought into an elder’s office and confronted for speaking authoritatively despite not being an elder. I was told to sing the songs they pick and say the words they tell me to, like a dancing stringed puppet.
After years of asking, I finally got the elders’ approval to lead a worship album project as long as I raised all the money, organized and led the writing team, received no pay and gave the church all the profits. I was so excited to be able to serve the church. Finally, these spiritual fathers I had were seeing I could help them in some way.
But the night of the album release, one of the elders said the night wasn’t about the album, but was about playing hymns on a piano after the album to show our church we thought it was cool to sing hymns. He told me there never would be another album and I had to tell the donors the elders wouldn’t count their money as tax deductible.
When we finished the album, the elder told the church he wanted to give honor to whom honor is due for the album. I didn’t need any glory. But after all I did, it felt good to know I was going to get a simple thank you.
“I looked out at the congregation and my wife was crying. I was completely invisible.”
However, that didn’t happen. He thanked one of the staff members, and never mentioned me at all. I looked out at the congregation and my wife was crying. I was completely invisible. The elders were looking elsewhere.
I had no more strength in me. So I set my guitar down, walked off stage, and never have led worship since.
When your dreams don’t count
Even though I walked off the stage that day, we stayed at the church for another year. I sat through multiple elders meetings where I was confronted for walking off the stage and not staying to lift my hands and sing the hymns.
I sat there before their disapproving eyes in tears. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to look out on the congregation and see your wife crying because you’re invisible to the elders?” I asked. “And after all I did, I couldn’t even get a simple thanks?”
“What did you do?” the elder asked seemingly shocked.
“What did I do? Are you serious?” I couldn’t believe the words I was hearing.
Nothing I did mattered. The only thing they would notice was when one of their own men did the work. For the rest of us, our ideas and dreams didn’t count. And now that we’ve left this world, these men have the nerve to say we never truly were of them, for if we were of them, we would have continued with them.
A ‘God damn you’ gospel of looking elsewhere
While there are many conservative evangelicals who would hear my story and agree I was wronged, they can’t simply play the Trevin Wax card and wash their hands of spiritual father wounds when their very gospel is built on father wounds.
“They can’t simply play the Trevin Wax card and wash their hands of spiritual father wounds when their very gospel is built on father wounds.”
At the 2008 Together for the Gospel Conference, R.C. Sproul explained the conservative evangelical Calvinist gospel: “Until that moment that my sin was placed upon him, and the one who was pure was pure no more. And God cursed him. It was as if there was a cry from heaven — excuse my language, but I can be no more accurate than to say — it was as if Jesus heard the words, ‘God damn you.’ Because that’s what it meant to be cursed: to be damned, to be under the anathema of the Father.”
He continued, “And I know that every person in this room and every person outside in this hotel and on the street and across the world who has not been covered by the righteousness of Christ right this minute draws every breath under the curse of God.”
In other words, to conservative evangelical Calvinists like Sproul and Mohler, the gospel is God saying “God damn you” to everyone, then saying “God damn you” to Jesus, and then gazing at Jesus’ righteousness. Their good news is God the Father giving Jesus over for the degrading of his body and then degrading all Christians’ bodies by looking at Jesus’ righteousness instead.
The children of God in this theology never are seen. They’re never affirmed. They’re never noticed. They never receive a “thank you,” a “way to go,” or an “I’m so proud of you.” They’re simply allowed to be in the room because the Father is looking elsewhere.
So perhaps the reason men like Mohler are uninterested in helping LGBTQ kids process their father wounds, and why conservative evangelicalism is filled with young men who have spiritual father wounds, is that the men in charge of this patriarchal movement never have come to grips with the reality that their gospel is inescapably a father wound producing a “God damn you” gospel of looking elsewhere.
Rick Pidcock is a 2004 graduate of Bob Jones University, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible. He’s a freelance writer based in South Carolina and a former Clemons Fellow with BNG. He recently completed a Master of Arts degree in worship from Northern Seminary. He is a stay-at-home father of five children and produces music under the artist name Provoke Wonder. Follow his blog at www.rickpidcock.com.
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