This article originally appeared at Baptist News Global on September 21, 2023.
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.”