The birds and the bees: The gospel and your child’s sexuality (Part 2)
In part 1 of “The birds and the bees,” I began outlining eight trajectories for parents and pastors to use in teaching children a gospel-centered view of sexuality. Part 2 completes the list.
3. Unapologetically champion marriage and children
I've often wondered why contemporary evangelicals are so reluctant to talk to our children about sex. I think a major reason is that we don't really know what to say, because our primary goals for our children are often rooted in self-oriented educational goals, affluence and culturally defined vocational success and respectability. In other words, I fear many evangelical Christian parents would rather their children be affluent with a college degree, than married and less affluent without a college degree. The problem with the approach of self-oriented prolonged singleness is that while singleness provides a strategic opportunity for single-minded devotion and service to God, most people have divinely given sexual longings that are to be fulfilled in marriage. We were made for marriage (Gen. 1-2). As the apostle Paul contends, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband…for it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Cor. 7:2, 9).
Christian parents who fail to communicate the meaning and gospel significance of marriage are hastening the cultural confusion and decline of the sacred institution, and are training their children to place themselves in the path of sexual temptation. We act befuddled that a generation we have taught to put themselves first does not understand the importance of faithful self-sacrificial relationships beginning with marriage and family. If we feed our children the junk food of narcissistic self-esteem along with a side of the American dream, then we should not wonder why they do not have a healthy Christian worldview and embrace sinful self-oriented sexual fulfillment. If we are unwilling to tell our children that their sexual longings ought to be directed toward marriage then we have little left to say.
Could it be that the evangelical sexual abstinence movement has fallen short because it has simply focused on saying "no" to promiscuity without a reciprocal "yes" in championing Christian marriage? Could it be that evangelical impotence in dealing with the pornography crisis in our churches is partly because we have allowed marriage and sex to be defined in terms of self-fulfillment, rather than gospel-centric, self-sacrificial commitment? Teaching our children a healthy Christian sexuality will begin with evangelicals who stop saying, “It is good that man should be alone until his 30s after he has a good education, career and individual achievements.” A healthy Christian sexuality will begin with evangelicals who stop saying, “Don't be fruitful and multiply too much; after all, you will not be able to afford a nice home in a good neighborhood.” We must tell our children the good news that Christian marriage and the glorious gospel it represents, liberates them from the ball and chain of trying to live the American dream.
4. Unhesitatingly answer questions when asked
Do not ever act intimidated when your children ask you questions about sexuality. The world has plenty of answers and is unashamed to share them at every opportunity. We must not communicate to our children in a way that suggests the Bible does not have adequate answers to questions of sexuality. When children ask us about sexuality, we should communicate a sense of delight that they are coming to us for an answer to important questions. Don't you want them seeking answers from you and not their friends at school or in the neighborhood?
Here are some suggestions for dealing with sexual questions:
- Clarify the question.
You do not want to answer a question they are not asking so a simple statement to make sure you know what they are asking is often helpful.
- Satisfy the question with biblical truth.
You simply want to answer the question with truth. That does not mean that you must say everything you know related to the question, but that what you say must be true.
- Do not over-answer the question.
Your child does not need and does not want a precise medical explanation to their question, but they do want their curiosity satisfied.
- Clarify that you have answered their question.
This is as simple as saying something like, “Is that helpful?” or “Is that what you wanted to know?”
5. Commit to read the Bible together as a family
If you read the Bible together as a family, encouraging your children to ask questions, the topic of sex will be unavoidable. At the church I pastor, we have promoted a “read the Bible together plan” for the year. Among the many reasons we chose to do this is it forces parents to answer questions they might otherwise avoid. I told one of our staff members that when we began the readings, people with children would start asking, “What should we do when we get to the sections of Scripture that talk about sex? Do we skip them?” It happened just like I thought it would, which provided us an opportunity to say, “You should provide age appropriate answers to their questions. Isn't it great that they are asking you these questions? It provides you a wonderful opportunity to give them a biblical framework for understanding questions related to sexuality.”
6. Be the first person to teach your child about sexual intercourse
While this is not always possible because of the way events unfold, it should be a parent's goal to be the first person to teach their children about sexual intercourse. Every parent, around the time a child goes through puberty, ought to take their child on what I refer to as a manhood or womanhood retreat. The retreat marks the child's passage into adulthood. Personally, I have taken my children to do something they found really fun and enjoyable, and had very direct conversations with them about sexual intercourse. A wonderfully helpful tool is Passport 2 Purity a resource offered by Dennis Rainey and Family Life Today. The CDs are well produced, provide clear but not crude explanations of sexual intercourse, and serve as a wonderful springboard to important conversations parents need to have with adolescents.
The manhood or womanhood retreat is the beginning--not the end--of direct discussion about sexual intercourse and the struggle for sexual purity, and should open the door for vital future conversations. A retreat should also provide many fun moments and produce stories worth remembering for life. With one of my sons, I played the Passport to Purity CD. When Dennis Rainey began explaining sexual intercourse, my son yelled, “Dad are you listening to this guy? He is sick!” I replied, “You are about to have your world rocked this weekend son!”
7. Use direct language but avoid being crude or medical
The biblical Song of Solomon provides a helpful model for parents. Is Song of Solomon a book about the relationship between Christ and the church, or the marriage of a man and a woman? The answer is yes. Since marriage exists to picture the relationship between Christ and the church, all discussion of marriage is inextricably linked to Christ and the church. In the Song, Solomon uses the intimacy of human love to describe the greatness of the kingdom as displayed, and the love between the Messianic King and his subjects. The imagery of the Song of Solomon is unmistakable, but neither crude nor antiseptically medical. It uses direct language but retains the mystery of the gospel. I encourage parents who are teaching their children about sexual intercourse to briefly explain the medical terminology and the terms used on the street, and then explain the terms you prefer to use.
8. React to sexual sin with the gospel and not like a Pharisee or a Sadducee
A parent committed to raising up a next-generation Pharisee will respond to a child's sexual sin by asserting, “I cannot believe you would do that!” No matter the sin, the Pharisee needs to clarify that we are not the kind of people who do things like that. A Sadducean parent, well acquainted with the good life and committed to maintaining the status quo for a new generation of Sadducees, will respond to a child’s sexual sin by showing how it may damage their cultural standing and opportunities. Sadducean parents might say something like, “You don't want to ruin your prospects for the future. You have so much going for you and so many opportunities ahead.”
A distinctively Christian approach to sexual sin would center on the gospel. The parent might say, “I am not surprised at all that you have sinned in this way. It should remind you that you do not simply sin but you are a sinner. The problem with the way you have sinned is that it is an offense against God and his gospel.” The child must know that you are praying that God will use the uncovering of this sexual sin to teach them that they need forgiveness for their sins. Gospel-centered Christian parenting is not marked by self-pity when a child’s sin is uncovered and exposed. Such Christian parenting appreciates the unique gospel opportunity the uncovering of sin provides. Giving consequences for sin and pointing children to the gospel are a primary way Christian parents embrace their God-given responsibility as stewards of the gospel in their children’s lives.
Follow these truths and your child will learn about sex and how to respond to sexual urges. The only questions are who will teach your children, will your children be taught about sex and sexual longings in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and will your children be taught lessons abstracted from the gospel. Satan would love for your children to be sexually and morally pure, as long as purity is abstracted from the gospel. Any path of self-righteousness and self-exaltation is good to the evil one. Christian parents must remember that Satan doesn't hate morality; he hates the cross of Jesus Christ.