The birds and the bees: The gospel and your child’s sexuality (Part 1)

May 27, 2014

As a child of the 80’s I grew up without a personal computer in my home or a cell phone in my pocket. I want you to picture with me a scene from the 80’s where a dad goes into his son's room and spreads pornography magazines around the room. When his son asks him, “Dad, what are those?” The father responds, “I don't want to talk about it. I just want you to remember two things: “Don't ever look at these magazines! Don't ever do what's in those magazines! Because if you do you might mess up your life and not get to go to college. That would be tragic because you are bright and have a successful future.”

That would be the worst parental approach in every aspect for teaching a child about sexuality. First, it would create access to porn and a corrupt vision of sexuality. Second, it would not provide a positive framework to understand sexuality. Third, it would appeal to self-interest as the motivation for right sexual behavior. But is that not largely the approach of a majority of parents in our churches today? Except today's approach is far worse. Parents today do not provide porn magazines but many do provide a 24-hour-a-day virtual sex show that kids can carry in their pocket. To state it bluntly, parents who provide their children unmonitored access to the Internet are guilty of parental negligence.

Teaching children a cruciform sexuality

Taking every thought captive to obey Jesus (2 Cor. 10:5) includes sexual thoughts. The sexual liberationist abstracts sex from God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sex, for them, is about personal self-expression and self-fulfillment. Consequently, their pursuit of sexual satisfaction is a never-ending treadmill of vain experimentation. Within this impoverished worldview, pornography makes perfect sense. The Christian father who refuses to teach his children a biblical view of sex joins the sexual liberationists in abstracting sex from God, albeit from the opposite direction.

The approach of many Christian parents in teaching their children about sexuality is a combination of a Pharisaical and Sadducean theology and worldview. The Pharisees viewed the Scriptures as a collection of abstract moral laws and largely defined spirituality by a list of restrictions. Thus, a Pharisee would tell their child, “Just say no!” The Sadducees were aristocratic defenders of the status quo and what they perceived as the good life. Consequently, a Sadducee would teach their child to understand sexuality in terms of living out there cultural hopes and dreams for a successful life. Worldliness is the problem with both of these approaches.

Worldliness is not a word Christians use much anymore. There is a sense in which that is a good thing because the way many Christians have defined worldliness is at odds with the biblical testimony. We often think of worldliness only in terms of moral behavior. People with the right behavior are the good guys and inherently morally superior. People with the wrong behavior are the bad guys and inherently morally inferior. But in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul uses the term in a completely different way. According to Paul, there are those who live based on word of the cross, which is the wisdom of God. There is also the wisdom of the world, focused on personal strength, gifts and abilities. Those who are determined to view the world through the lens of Christ crucified have their identity in Christ and his kingdom. Those who live based on the wisdom of the world focus on self-interest and self-satisfaction, finding their identity in personal achievement.

The dividing line between the Christian and the world is not found in moral superiority but a crucified Messiah. We are all guilty sinners in need of a Savior. We cannot discuss sexuality on the world’s terms, and then simply attempt to tack Christian morality on at the end of the discussion, because the Christian parent’s goal is not good kids; it is gospel kids. The gospel is to redefine every category in our lives including our thoughts about sexuality (2 Cor. 10:5). Worldliness is defining the world outside the lens of the gospel and according to Paul, worldliness comes packaged in both conservative and liberal morality.

A legalistic or self-interested approach to cultivating sexual purity in your children does not work because moralism and legalism both feed the flesh (1 Cor. 6). You cannot feed the flesh and domesticate it at the same time. “Just say no, and be a good kid,” is not a Christian approach to sexuality. We do not want our children simply to have a correct view about what to say no to, but a comprehensively Christ-centered view of sexuality. A Christian approach is not built on repression but on delight, and the beauty and mystery of the gospel. Below I outline eight trajectories for parents and pastors  to use in teaching children a gospel-centered view of sexuality.

1. Sex education is vital

In God's creative act humanity is given a profound distinction as God's image bearer. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). As male and female, humans are distinctly gendered image bearers commanded to procreate. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

Scripture describes the uniting of a man and a woman in a complimentary one-flesh marriage relationship in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Marriage and the marital act of sexual intercourse are a part of God’s natural created order, but their purpose points beyond the natural order to the cosmic mystery of the relationship between Christ and the church. The apostle Paul explains the gospel purpose of marriage and sexual intercourse when he asserts, quoting Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31-32).

Marriage and the marital act cannot be separated from the mystery of the gospel. The gospel is the reason the two exist. Biblical clarity about marriage and sexual intercourse help create an environment where the gospel becomes more intelligible.

2. “Sex” is what you are, not what you have

Consider Anthony Esolen’s explanation of the meaning of the word sex and its relationship to marriage and sexual intercourse:

“The wedding is a symbol of the union of differences: the generations, certainly, and separate families, but most strikingly, man and woman. The very word sex derives from Latin sexus, denoting that which separates; it is cognate with a whole host of words for severance, such as (in English) schism, scissors, sect, shed. It is a mark of our degeneracy that the ugly term ’having sex’ has come to mean the marital act, with the once delicate term ’making love’ similarly denoted. What man and woman do in the marriage bed is not ’have’ sex; the sex, that is the separation, they are provided with already. What they do is to unite, across the separation. And unless man and woman unite — and, given their differences, it always amazes me that they can — the culture cannot survive” (Sanity & Matrimony: Ten Arguments in Defense of Marriage, Touchstone, July/August 2010).

As divinely designed, gendered image bearers, we must celebrate our gender identity to faithfully image God in the world. God makes clear in his word that our gender distinctiveness shows us something important about his nature. Thus, teaching your children a biblically healthy sexuality begins at the very beginning, with teaching them to celebrate and embrace God's design and distinctive gender roles. A parent’s example is the child's most important teacher in understanding Christian manhood and womanhood. Also, teaching children to embrace their masculinity or femininity, and praying for them in terms of their gendered identity  are important and formative.

An example would be, “God, thank you that you made Luke a boy. Help him to live for you and surrender every ounce of his masculinity to you for your glory and the spread of the gospel.” Or you might pray, “God, thank you for making Lydia Grace a girl. You have blessed me by putting her femininity in my life. Help her to delight in growing into womanhood and to serve you as she learns what it means to be a woman who honors God.”

NOTE: The remaining trajectories will be in part two of “The birds and the bees: The gospel and your child's sexuality.” This will publish Monday, June 2. 

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