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4 ways to talk to your kids about gender and sexuality

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October 2, 2020

A friend sent me a link to an advice column this week featuring parents who are seeking to raise their child “gender-neutral” but are frustrated that their daughter keeps opting for a wardrobe typically associated with her biological sex. Our culture makes a lot of sex and gender today. In recent years, new words have entered our vocabularies to describe the way our gender or sexual identities align (or not) with our genetic makeup. A little more than a decade ago, words like cis, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming would have been nearly meaningless to the majority of the population. And even if you’re not familiar with these words, you can be sure that your children are or that they will be soon.

Our kids are going to grow in a world that is shot through with confusion about sex and gender and what it means to be male or female. So how can Christian parents help their children navigate this difficult terrain? Doing so will certainly be a challenge. But there is good news. Helping our kids navigate confusion about human sexuality won’t require us to learn much that is new. Instead, we mostly have to embrace something old. 

Made in his image

On our Bibles’ first pages, God tells us a lot about the way that he made us. When he creates Adam and Eve and places them in the garden, he tells us that both the man and the woman bear his image. I love the way that Genesis 1:27 puts it, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:27). The most important thing about men and women is something they hold in common—both are made in the image and likeness of God. So as a starting point, our kids need to know that God made them with a purpose. He made them to represent him in the world and to reflect his likeness in creation.

Made male and female

But in that same verse in Genesis, we learn something else about the way that God made us. Though men and women both bear God’s image, men and women are distinct. Together, they represent the two complementary halves of humanity. And this brings up a second helpful point for kids on this topic. Not only did God make them for a purpose, but he intentionally made them either male or female. It is not uncommon for kids to question, at various times and to varying degrees, why they happen to be their particular sex. Growing comfortable in one’s own body is challenging for everyone. One of the best things you can do for your child is to teach them about God’s design for men and women and reassure them that everyone feels awkward about this at times. Especially today, kids need to know it’s not freakish or weird to feel uncomfortable or to have questions.

Only male or female

One of the reasons this topic can be so difficult for parents is because we sometimes lack the vocabulary to discuss these things together. But truthfully, the basics are pretty simple. When we use the words male or female, we are talking about a person’s biological sex. A person’s anatomy and genetic (chromosomal) makeup determine whether a person is a biological male or female. So when we say that sex is binary, we mean that God makes us either male or female. And what our kids need to know is that this is not an accident. The Scriptures speak often of the special care that God takes in creating and caring for each one of us (Psa. 139:13-18; Matt. 6:25-34). A man I deeply respect once told me that as he prays with his children, he regularly takes time to pray for his sons, “I thank God that he made you a male” and for his daughters, “I thank God that he made you female.” Parents can do their children immeasurable good simply by affirming the goodness of God’s design to them.

Masculine or feminine

Because sex is binary, that means that your child will live their whole lives either as a man or woman. But this doesn’t mean that your child has to conform to various stereotypes about masculinity or femininity. Your son is a male regardless of whether he would prefer to read and practice the piano or camp in the woods and chop down trees. Your daughter is a female whether she prefers pink dresses and tea parties or woodworking and watching football. The reason we are so often confused about this though is because we’ve unwittingly embraced ideas about how our biological sex is supposed to find expression. But the answer isn’t to raise “gender neutral” children; it’s to understand the Bible’s full range of masculinity and femininity.

Though the world is confused about sex and gender, Christians can hold fast to what God has said and affirm the goodness of God’s design

No one doubts King David was a manly man. He killed both a lion and a bear to protect his father’s flock before killing Goliath the giant to protect the flock of God (1 Sam. 17). But David was more than a warrior. He was also a harpist and a poet (1 Sam. 16). If your definition of manhood excludes King David, it also excludes Jesus, who not only fashioned a whip of cords to cleanse the temple and bore the fury of God’s wrath against sin, but wept at the death of his friend Lazarus and routinely exhibited compassion for the lost and hurting. Darrin Patrick used to say that a biblical man must be tough and tender, and I think that is a helpful way to put it. 

The Bible’s depiction of femininity is no less compelling. God made men and women distinct, and a special part of his design for women is their beauty and ability to nurture and care for others. But the Bible nowhere reduces women to objects. Throughout the Scriptures we see acts of faithfulness and even heroism featuring women God used to preserve his people and advance the gospel. The Hebrew midwives defied the authority of Pharaoh. Rahab assisted the spies to help Joshua take the Promised Land. Esther’s courage saved God’s people from destruction. The Bible also recounts the faithfulness of Ruth, the fearlessness of Jael, or the significance of Mary the mother of Jesus. The woman described in Proverbs 31 has noble character, speaks with wisdom, and is clothed in strength and dignity. That is exactly the kind of portrait we should hold up for our daughters.

The beginning

There is much more to say, but my hope is that this provides a foundation from which to engage these conversations with your sons and daughters. Though the world is confused about sex and gender, Christians can hold fast to what God has said and affirm the goodness of God’s design. Aside from pointing them toward Jesus, the best thing you can do for your children to help them understand how God made them is to model biblical manhood and womanhood in front of them. Fathers should be tough, ready to protect their families. But they should also be tender, kneeling down beside the bed to pray. Mothers should bless their children with incredible nurture. But they should also model the incredible range of gifts God bestowed upon women. 

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24