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CONWAY – Last month, the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts of America reversed a policy upheld for over a century. For the first time, the organization opened its membership to transgender children and youth. An 8-year-old who “was born a girl” was asked to return to the Cub Scouts due to a “major shift in policy.” “Communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently,” a Boy Scout representative said in a Jan. 31 USA Today article.

FaceBook acknowledges the transgender community too. In 2016, the social-media giant expanded their gender options to 71. Users may click “agender, gender fluid, two-spirit person” and 68 other choices. For those who don’t fit into those categories, they can fill in their own description.

Where the gay rights issue has been simmering for decades, transgender rights used to be on the “fringes of public conscience,” said Dr. Rhyne Putman, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) assistant professor of theology and culture. “All of a sudden, we’re having serious discussions about what to do with public restrooms.”

Putman will address this cultural new normal in Conway, Feb. 25 as a key speaker at the Lead>Defend conference. The Lead>Defend conference is an annual, statewide apologetics and leadership gathering for high school students, collegiates and young professionals. It’s sponsored by the College & Young Leaders Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

Putman could not be reached for an interview, but he spoke on the subject of gender confusion and homosexuality for an over an hour at a similar conference Jan 2-6 called Defend 17 Apologetics Conference held at NOBTS seminary chapel.

The church needs to address transgender equality differently than they have in the past, Putman said.

“Let me be honest,” Putman told an audience in a Jan.3 video of the conference. “The Christian church historically (over the last few decades) has not handled this discussion all that well. It’s not that we haven’t spoken truth. … We haven’t always been communicating truth the best way to people who are hurting,”

Putman said he speaks on this subject with sensitivity because “tides have turned in recent years.” He’s talking to millennials and what’s called post-millennials, the generation Y and generation Z, those tempted to change the traditional view on gender to adapt to the culture.

“There are some changing attitudes on sexuality,” he said. “In fact, I suspect a lot of people in youth groups have viewpoints on sex that are diametrically opposed to their parents and grandparents, and that’s simply because there is a major cultural disconnect.”

Putman’s answer to gender confusion– for the Christian at least– is the authority of Scripture. As believers, the biblical standard is key because “obedience to the Bible is obedience to God.” He quoted 2 Timothy 3:16. “If Scripture is inspired by God, useful for teaching, correction and reproof, it is useful for us as believers having to deal with how we think through this issue,” he said. Later, he added: “Don’t buy into the cultural narrative.”

This year’s Lead>Defend conference will be at the University of Central Arkansas campus in Conway. The one-day gathering (10 a.m.- 5 p.m.) will feature three main sessions and a number of breakout sessions. Additional speakers will be Dr. Walter Strickland from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Bob Stewart from NOBTS. Keeping with this year’s theme–”Cultural Collisions”– other topics include ‘Race and the Gospel’ and ‘Can Only One Religion Be True?’ Registration opens at 9 a.m. and cost is $25. For more information, visit CYLarkansas.com.

Lisa Falknor is the writer for the College & Young Leaders Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and the northwest Arkansas ABN regional correspondent

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