Conversations about gender should begin with humility

Helping parents navigate hard topics with their children

May 6, 2021

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).

Jared Kennedy

Jared is the husband of Megan and father to Rachael, Lucy, and Elisabeth. After serving fifteen years on staff at local churches, Jared now works as an editor for The Gospel Coalition, coaches children's ministers through Gospel-Centered Family, serves on the Theological Advisory Council for Harbor Network, and teaches as an adjunct instructor … Read More

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