How to talk to your kids about sexual assault and harassment scandals

November 30, 2017

The latest news stories seem to be filled with example after example of prominent leaders, actors, or politicians who have been accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault. With these complex issues happening frequently, how can parents navigate conversations about these topics with their kids?

If we're being honest, many parents don't want to have this conversation. It's awkward. It's complicated. It's hard enough to have conversations about “the birds and the bees.” It's all the more difficult to discuss a hornet's nest like sexual assault. The reason it's so difficult is because we often don't know what to say, don't feel equipped, or don't have the confidence to have the conversation.

But every parent must be prepared to have difficult conversations with their children, even on topics like sexual harassment or sexual assault. God has designed parents to be shepherds of their homes. And what a shepherd does is protect and provide for the flock. In this case, it means providing a framework for understanding this topic. If parents do not disciple their children when it comes to sexuality, the culture will be glad to do it instead.

Conversations related to sexuality must be done in age-appropriate and intentional ways. And it is usually best, when possible, for moms to talk with daughters and dads to talk with sons. Here are several factors that every parent should highlight to their children when talking through the issue of sexual assault.

First, parents should teach their children that God designed sexual intimacy for marriage. It's not enough to have a one-time conversation about “the birds and the bees.” We need to teach our children how sexuality was created by God for our good. When it is practiced within the boundaries of marriage, sexuality leads to true human flourishing. When children see sexual brokenness around us in the culture, what they need most is to hear the beautiful picture of marital sexuality from the Bible celebrated in the home. This is not a conversation we should run from, but one that we should be faithful to have.

Second, parents should teach their children that sexual sin is an issue of behavior and brokenness. Our kids need to be reminded of the effects of the fall on the sinful rebellion of all humanity. When discussing sexual assault and harassment, it creates an opportunity to point out to our children the way selfish desires of the heart can manifest in sinful deviancy. Our children need to understand that the use of authority or power for selfish gain is never appropriate in the eyes of God, especially when it comes to sex. This also creates the opportunity to show our kids how the brokenness expressed in sexual assault leads to the brokenness of the victim of that assault, as well.

Third, parents should teach their children about the consequences of sin and the need for accountability. Sin has consequences, and clear examples of sexual sin create opportunities for our children to see the results of those consequences. Because of the public nature of both the sexual sin and the ramifications, these recent stories create an opportune time to remind our children that there are always consequences for sin, even if they are delayed.

Fourth, parents should show their children the proper way to respond to victims of sexual sin. We should model both empathy and action. We need to help our children understand why their first instinct should be to take the stories of victims of alleged sexual assault seriously. Furthermore, we need to explain why the church should be the safest place for victims of sexual assault to find help and hope in their time of desperation. Cultivating empathy and calling for action can help our kids understand the right way to respond to sin of all kinds.

Fifth, parents should show their children the difference between remorse and repentance for sin. In the Bible, remorse is described as sorrow for the consequences of sin. But repentance is sorrow for the commission of sin. When leaders or celebrities offer remorseful, half-hearted, non-apologies for their actions, it provides a backdrop for parents to discuss what genuine repentance and sincere apologies should look like. Beyond that, it creates a scenario for parents to discuss the hope that we have in repentance, while also reminding our children that forgiveness from our sin does not always remove us from the consequences our sin.

Sixth, parents should teach their children the need to protect their hearts and bodies. On the one hand, we want to protect the hearts of our children so that they might walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, while also preserving the innocence appropriate for their age. Yet, parents have a responsibility to educate their kids on how to protect their bodies from those who might put them at risk of sexual harassment or assault. So, we need to teach our children to be vigilant and to always be open with us about experiences that have happened to them. It also means we should be careful to teach our children that they don’t need to live in fear or panic about what may happen to them.

Having a conversation with their children about sexual harassment and sexual assault does not rank high on the list of what parents look forward to doing. But we don't get to choose our cultural moment or the sins that are being exposed all around us. If parents keep these key factors in mind when having age-appropriate conversations with their children, it will help them navigate a difficult topic in a Christ-centered and compassionate way.

Phillip Bethancourt

Phillip Bethancourt is Senior Pastor of Central Church in College Station, Texas. Before he was called to pastor Central, he served as the Executive Vice President of the ERLC team. He completed an MDiv and PhD in Systematic Theology at Southern after attending Texas A&M University. Phillip and his wife, Cami, have been married since 2005, … 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