Pastor John received a phone call from his friend, Rodney, who serves in ministry in another state. Rodney is a jovial guy, and John always enjoys talking with him about ministry and family. This day, their conversation was different. When John picked up the phone, he could tell right away that something was wrong. Rodney’s pre-teen daughter had always been more of a tomboy — preferring sports and skateboarding to dolls, jeans and sweatshirts to dresses. But a few days before the call she’d given him a shock. She pulled her mom and dad aside to tell them that she now identifies as male instead of female. The revelation shocked Rodney and his wife. They were left spinning.
Living in a gender-fluid world
We live in a time that grows increasingly accepting of gender-fluid identities. At time of writing, the social media website Facebook gives users 71 different gender options. In a recent peer-reviewed study, Lisa Littman, assistant professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences at Brown University, suggests that within the particular friend groups she studied, adolescent and college-age girls experienced increased popularity after coming out as transgender.“1Why are so many teenage girls appearing in gender clinics?” The Economist (September 1, 2018), accessed online at https://www.economist.com/united-states/2018/09/01/ why-are-so-many-teenage-girls-appearing-in-gender-clinics.
Because of these rapid cultural changes, conversations like the one I’ve described above aren’t going away any time soon. Gender identity will continue to be a regular topic for Christian parents. Knowing this doesn’t necessarily make it easier to process. Christian parents feel a flood of emotions when their teenage daughter announces, “I want to be known as Joe instead of Joan.” It can be overwhelming and even devastating to hear such news. When a daughter announces that she now identifies as a boy, her choice to wear a baseball cap backward may take on new meaning. Before it seemed like a harmless fashion statement. Now it raises your blood pressure.
Beyond the uncomfortable emotions involved, navigating conversations about gender and sex with our children means exploring emotional, moral, personal, and theological matters — serious subjects. Most parents feel a lot of pressure to respond perfectly. We’re afraid if things go sideways and our children choose to reject our values and beliefs, it could be our fault for not handling the teachable moment well. It’s easy to feel paralyzed by what we should or shouldn’t say and do. If we’re honest, we feel desperate and ill equipped.
That’s why I wrote A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Children about Gender. My goal in the book is to help you navigate these difficult conversations. I want to link arms with you and search the Scriptures together to learn how to respond to our children biblically as we raise them in a broken world. But before you pick up the book and begin exploring how to help our kids navigate this gender-confused culture, it’s important to confess just how weak and desperate we are.
Gender Identity — A term that is used in our culture to refer to an individual’s personal sense of identity as masculine or feminine, or some combination of each. This involves my self-understanding — how I think about myself.2Definitions adapted from Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? (The Good Book Company, 2017), 167, 170.
Gender-Fluid — A term used for people who prefer to be flexible when expressing their gender identity
Transgender — An umbrella term for the state or condition of identifying and expressing a gender identity that does not match a person’s biological/genetic sex.
We are desperate
None of us are experts. None of us have it all together. The older my kids get, the more it becomes clear I can’t control their destiny. Their future, health, will and desires for life, whether or not they will marry, who they will choose as a spouse, and even how long they will live — all this belongs to God. My attempts to control outcomes are fruitless.
Our children’s self-conceptions about their gender are ultimately out of our hands. There’s a part of me that’s afraid to write down my thoughts on this topic. What if my own children reject God’s path? I can speak truth but only God can turn their hearts. The pressures and deep emotions we feel at such difficult junctures reveal that we know the stakes. If you feel desperate, you’re normal.
But these emotions can also expose a misplaced faith. Often, we’re trusting in our parenting — our methods of discipline or the choices we’ve made about screen time and education — to ensure our kids will turn out well. You know this is true. When our kids are cute and we’re posting fun pictures of our family vacation on Instagram, we feel like we’ve made it. But when we encounter something our favorite parenting book didn’t cover, or when the parenting method we’ve trusted begins to let us down, we start to freak out.
I’m learning that this place of weakness and desperation is precisely where God wants us. When we are most vulnerable, we find Christ’s abundant strength (2 Cor. 12:9). As Martin Luther once wrote, “It is certain that a man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.”3Martin Luther, “Heidelberg Disputation (1518)” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. Timothy J. Lull, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 42. I find it incredibly encouraging when moms and dads admit they need guidance. Honest parents know they need help, and asking for it is a holy thing.
In the e-book that’s linked, you’ll find a series of six conversation topics designed to help you communicate a biblical framework for gender and sexuality to your children. My prayer is that you’ll lead in these conversations with vulnerability about your own brokenness as well as the kind of gentleness that can only come from first experiencing God’s mercy yourself. As you press into these conversations, have confidence in God’s good plans for your children. In the midst of the brokenness and confusion of this life, God is faithful to keep those who trust him and to intercede for us, especially when we are weak (1 Thess. 4:3, 8; Rom. 8:26–27).