Three Must Reads After the Transgender Accessibility Directive

Last week, the Obama Administration issued a directive to America's public schools regarding transgender bathroom/locker room accessibility.  The President has ordered every school district in the country to allow students use the bathroom or locker room of their chosen gender identity rather than the one that aligns with their biological sex. The directive does not have the force of law, but it comes with the threat that funding will be removed from school districts that do not comply.

Since that time, a wealth of information has been written on the subject. Even though it's not our Friday Links day, I wanted to point to three articles that I've found to be incredibly helpful:  

First, Andrew Walker has written a very helpful piece on how Christians should respond for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He encourages civil disobedience on behalf of local districts and state governments as well as advocacy with public officials on the part of Christian citizens. One of his encouragements is for Christian parents to establish a tipping point at which they may choose to abandon the public school system altogether. He asks:

What actions taken by your local school will be sufficient for you to re-evaluate public education? Is having a teacher reprimand your child for his or her belief about marriage, sex, and gender acceptable? Will you allow them to be in schools where bathroom policies are based on gender identity rather than biological sex? Are you uncomfortable with a biological male having access to the restroom and locker room that your daughter uses?

I think Walker's questions are good ones. I'm certainly not comfortable with what is happening. Honestly, a form of separatism may be the best option in the future. But pulling my daughters out of public school also feels like a compromise of my convictions. Christian families like my own who have chosen the public education option recognize that the worldview our children are taught in the classroom clashes with what is taught at church and home. But rather than insulate our children from a secular culture, we desire to teach our kids to live with Christian convictions in the midst of that culture. Our desire is to prepare them to live as Christians in cities and work environments that operate on the basis of secular values. For us, this is what it means to raise them to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16)--to not be of the world but be in it and on mission to it (John 17:14-19). Nevertheless, Walker's piece is really thought provoking, and I encourage you to read and consider it.

A second article is by North Carolina pastor, Brian Hambrick, who wrote about how he is processing the issue with his boys who attend a public school. One of his key concerns for his boys is that they be biblically informed and personally compassionate: 

I want my boys to be both thoroughly versed in God’s original design and increasingly equipped to care for others in a broken world... My boys love biology, so we talked about how gender is ingrained in every cell of our body as either an XX (female) or XY (male) chromosome. They love to ask, “Whose nose do I have? Whose eyes do I have?” Tying the conversation to something they were familiar with and enjoy was an important way of making it less awkward.

We emphasized that we should never make fun of someone who is suffering. We should never call people names that make them feel embarrassed or shamed. Whenever we hear people doing these kinds of things to others, we step in and help the person who is being picked on. We don’t have to agree with someone or understand their experience to love them. We believe that everyone is made in the image of God and deserves our honor and respect. If they’re hurting, we try to represent God’s compassion. If they’re sinning, we let them know of God’s forgiveness through the gospel. If we’re not sure, we listen and ask questions.

I love this post, because family discussions can be pathways to helping our children think and express their feelings about these issues in a way that is not reactionary but rather helps them own a strong biblical worldview for themselves. 

Finally, I was taken back to an older article that pre-dates the administration ruling. In this 2014 post, Amy Julia Becker asks four questions about transgender identity.  I was reminded of this post, because Amy asks all of the right questions here. She explores a central theological issue--how our understanding of gender relates to Jesus' incarnation and thus to the gospel itself. She asks what the Bible itself teaches about masculinity and and femininity and whether the Bible leaves room for varied expressions of gender that corresponds with our biological sex. Finally, she asks what radical hospitality and generosity look like as the relate to biblical sexuality. Here are a few of the gems:

Christians believe that God created us as persons, and that each of us bears the image of God (an image marred by sin, but an image nevertheless). Further, we believe that our bodies, minds, and spirits are integrated and ought not to be divorced from one another. Jesus' incarnation—his willingness to become a human being—affirms all the more the importance of bodies . From this vantage, transgender identity seems to signal brokenness—discord between the physical and the emotional self.
Some of the confusion about gender identity in our culture arises because of narrowly constrained gender norms (i.e., girls wear pink and boys wear blue). Many of these norms are fluid, culturally bound, and change over time. And yet God creates male and female in his image, with the implication that men and women, in their physical attributes and gender identity, are intended to complement one another so as to better reflect the character of God. On the one hand, I want to be careful not to assume traditional gender norms simply because they are traditional (i.e., men can't be nurses or women can't be in the army). On the other, I want to understand for myself and for my daughters what it means to be a woman—and for my son, to be a man—before God.

I hope you'll read and carefully consider each of these posts and that they will help us be families who know our times and know what God's people should do (1 Corinthians 12:32).

How will same-sex marriage impact children's ministry?

Question: What is the role of the children’s ministry when kids ask about the topic of same-sex marriage? Are there certain Bible truths you stress for kids that would make this issue less confusing when they encounter it later? How would you respond if several children raised the issue during your teaching?

In the fall of 1997, I headed off to college. I planned to room with a high school friend, but, during that summer, he confessed to me that he’d been hanging with a number of gay friends, and he was struggling with same-sex attraction. He called me out of respect, because he wanted me to know before we were roommates. I was repulsed, took a posture of judgment, and, we ended up not rooming together. I’m convinced now that my repulsion and judgment was ungodly. And the sad irony was that I was also struggling with all kinds of sexual sin. My orientation was different, but my depravity was no less.

Many Christians and whole churches have lost confidence in the gospel when it comes to how they think about and respond to homosexuality. Some single out homosexuality as “the sin.” Many have strong emotional reactions to homosexuality that flow out of deep insecurity, feelings of repulsion, disgust, and threat. These reactions expose profound unbelief both in the gospel’s power to change lives and about the depth of sin in our hearts.

A children’s ministry’s approach to homosexuality begins with having a heart of hospitality. We must welcome and treat all people with dignity and respect. We should assume homosexuals are always in our midst and avoid all homophobic speech. We should repent of our stereotypes and prejudices towards homosexuals, be ready to welcome seeking gay or lesbian couples who are raising children into our worship gatherings, and pray that they will entrust their children to our care.

We must remember that the world has never seen a perfect family. Since Adam and Eve, every family has been jacked up enough to be desperate for grace. Pick up your Bible, and you’ll see stories of homicide, gang rape, polygamy, concubines, incest, and prostitution before you even get out of Genesis. When we teach kids, we should be sensitive about explaining sin with age-appropriate discretion. But we should also be clear that everyone is capable of every sin. There is no sinful behavior that given the right circumstances my sinful heart will not adopt.We should help kids to see that we often act just like the sinners in the Bible’s stories. When teaching youth about sexual sin, we also must be honest about the sexual sins popular among heterosexuals (promiscuity, fornication, masturbation, pornography, lust, etc.). We should not single out homosexual sinning as worse than any other type.

There are kids in your ministry who will ask about gay marriage, and there are kids in your ministry that are struggling with same-sex attraction. When the questions come, we must be clear that homosexuality is not God’s design for human relationships (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:9-10), but we can’t be simplistic about its cause. There may be biological factors that pre-dispose a child to more feminine or masculine behavior than is usual for his or her gender. There may be family factors that make it difficult for a young person to feel confident in his or her social gender role or which make opposite sex relationships unattractive. Emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse can affect a persons understanding of their sexuality. We must be sensitive about each child’s story while affirming that each child either confirms or chooses to resist homosexual desires with their choices.

Our job is to help every family understand that they are invited into a bigger story of redemption and restoration. Every family is dysfunctional, but God has good news—no matter your family’s history, baggage, or present situation—change is possible. I know this is true, because I have changed. Over the past 18 years, God has been rescuing me from a lack of compassion and ungodly judgment as well as from sinful living. All family dysfunction can be changed. Homosexuality is no exception. The gospel is the power of God that is able to change anyone. 

I'm really thankful for and in wholehearted agreement with the words of Rosaria Butterfield and Christopher Yuan last week at The Gospel Coalition blog.

We affirm that God has ordained marriage to be the union of a husband and a wife, which Jesus himself restated in Mark 10:6–8 and Matthew 19:4–5. But even though some in our culture believe, as Justice Kennedy wrote, that marriage “embodies the highest ideals of love,” we disagree. Earthly marriage does not have a monopoly on love. God is love (1 John 4:7–19). The pinnacle of love is his love for us in Christ. Nothing is greater.

In actuality, marriage is a mystery and a reflection of a greater reality. The highest ideal of love is Christ’s love for his bride, the church. In Ephesians 5 and Revelation 21, marriage is revealed to be analogous to Christ's redemption: the marriage consummation between the bride (redeemed sinners) and the groom (Christ) shows all redeemed people are married to Christ. Only in Christ can anyone experience the full definition of love and acceptance. As important as earthly marriage and family are, they are both fleetingly temporary, while Christ and the family of God (the church) are wondrously eternal.

We have failed to show the LGBT community another option to marriage—which is singleness—lived out in the fruitful and full context of God's community, the family of God. This does not mean, as Justice Kennedy wrote, that singles are “condemned to live in loneliness,” but that singles can have intimate and fulfilling relationships full of love [within the church]. This is not a consolation prize. It can be just as rewarding and fulfilling as marriage.

We need to give the kids in our ministry biblical vision of family and singleness (one that moves beyond cultural stereotypes), and they need encouragement to pursue that vision with the Holy Spirit’s help and ordinary means of grace—prayer, God’s word, repentance, faith, and community.

God didn’t make boys for Bass Pro Shops, ESPN, and Old Spice, but He does want them to grow up loving Jesus and others by leading, protecting, and working with wisdom (Genesis 2:15, 19-20). God didn’t make girls for pink doilies or Pinterest, but He does want them to grow up loving Jesus as powerful counterparts and life-giving nurturers (Genesis 2:22-23; 3:20; Proverbs 31). God didn’t ordain the Cleavers or the Cosbys as the perfect family, but he did create marriage as a life-long, loving, covenant relationship between a man and a woman—a picture of Christ and his bride, the church (Genesis 2:23-24; Ephesians 5:21-33). That’s a vision worth teaching, praying for, and pursuing as we train up the next generation.

An original version of this posted as part of a part of a round table discussion at ministry-to-children.com