The birds and the bees: The gospel and your child’s sexuality (Part 2)

June 2, 2014

In part 1 of “The birds and the bees,” I began outlining eight trajectories for parents and pastors to use in teaching children a gospel-centered view of sexuality. Part 2 completes the list.

3. Unapologetically champion marriage and children

I've often wondered why contemporary evangelicals are so reluctant to talk to our children about sex. I think a major reason is that we don't really know what to say, because our primary goals for our children are often rooted in self-oriented educational goals, affluence and culturally defined vocational success and respectability. In other words, I fear many evangelical Christian parents would rather their children be affluent with a college degree, than married and less affluent without a college degree. The problem with the approach of self-oriented prolonged singleness is that while singleness provides a strategic opportunity for single-minded devotion and service to God, most people have divinely given sexual longings that are to be fulfilled in marriage. We were made for marriage (Gen. 1-2). As the apostle Paul contends, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband…for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:2, 9).

Christian parents who fail to communicate the meaning and gospel significance of marriage are hastening the cultural confusion and decline of the sacred institution, and are training their children to place themselves in the path of sexual temptation. We act befuddled that a generation we have taught to put themselves first does not understand the importance of faithful self-sacrificial relationships beginning with marriage and family. If we feed our children the junk food of narcissistic self-esteem along with a side of the American dream, then we should not wonder why they do not have a healthy Christian worldview and embrace sinful self-oriented sexual fulfillment. If we are unwilling to tell our children that their sexual longings ought to be directed toward marriage then we have little left to say.

Could it be that the evangelical sexual abstinence movement has fallen short because it has simply focused on saying “no” to promiscuity without a reciprocal “yes” in championing Christian marriage? Could it be that evangelical impotence in dealing with the pornography crisis in our churches is partly because we have allowed marriage and sex to be defined in terms of self-fulfillment, rather than gospel-centric, self-sacrificial commitment? Teaching our children a healthy Christian sexuality will begin with evangelicals who stop saying, “It is good that man should be alone until his 30s after he has a good education, career and individual achievements.” A healthy Christian sexuality will begin with evangelicals who stop saying, “Don't be fruitful and multiply too much; after all, you will not be able to afford a nice home in a good neighborhood.” We must tell our children the good news that Christian marriage and the glorious gospel it represents, liberates them from the ball and chain of trying to live the American dream.

4. Unhesitatingly answer questions when asked

Do not ever act intimidated when your children ask you questions about sexuality. The world has plenty of answers and is unashamed to share them at every opportunity. We must not communicate to our children in a way that suggests the Bible does not have adequate answers to questions of sexuality. When children ask us  about sexuality, we should communicate a sense of delight that they are coming to us for an answer to important questions. Don't you want them seeking answers from you and not their friends at school or in the neighborhood?

Here are some suggestions for  dealing with sexual questions:

You do not want to answer a question they are not asking so a simple statement to make sure you know what they are asking is often helpful.

You simply want to answer the question with truth. That does not mean that you must say everything you know related to the question, but that what you say must be true.

Your child does not need and does not want a precise medical explanation to their question, but they do want their curiosity satisfied.

This is as simple as saying something like, “Is that helpful?” or “Is that what you wanted to know?”

5. Commit to read the Bible together as a family

If you read the Bible together as a family, encouraging your children to ask questions, the topic of sex will be unavoidable. At the church I pastor, we have promoted a “read the Bible together plan” for the year. Among the many reasons we chose to do this  is it forces parents to answer questions they might otherwise avoid. I told one of our staff members that when we began the readings, people with children  would start asking, “What should we do when we get to the sections of Scripture that talk about sex? Do we skip them?” It happened just like I thought it would, which provided us an opportunity to say, “You should provide age appropriate answers to their questions. Isn't it great that they are asking you these questions? It provides you a wonderful opportunity to give them a biblical framework for understanding questions related to sexuality.”

6. Be the first person to teach your child about sexual intercourse

While this is not always possible because of the way events unfold, it should be a parent's goal to be the first person to teach their children about sexual intercourse. Every parent, around the time a child goes through puberty, ought to take their child  on what I refer to as a manhood or womanhood retreat. The retreat marks the child's passage into adulthood. Personally, I have taken my children to do something they found really fun and enjoyable, and had very direct conversations with them about sexual intercourse. A wonderfully helpful tool is Passport 2 Purity a resource offered by Dennis Rainey and Family Life Today. The CDs are well produced, provide clear but not crude explanations of sexual intercourse, and serve as a wonderful springboard to important conversations parents need to have with adolescents.

The manhood or womanhood retreat is the beginning–not the end–of direct discussion about sexual intercourse and the struggle for sexual purity, and should open the door for vital future conversations. A retreat should also provide many fun moments and produce stories worth remembering for life. With one of my sons, I played the Passport to Purity CD. When Dennis Rainey began explaining sexual intercourse, my son yelled, “Dad are you listening to this guy? He is sick!” I replied, “You are about to have your world rocked this weekend son!”

7. Use direct language but avoid being crude or medical

The biblical Song of Solomon provides a helpful model for parents. Is Song of Solomon a book about the relationship between Christ and the church, or the marriage of a man and a woman? The answer is yes. Since marriage exists to picture the relationship between Christ and the church, all discussion of marriage is inextricably linked to Christ and the church. In the Song, Solomon uses the intimacy of human love to describe the greatness of the kingdom as displayed, and the love between the Messianic King and his subjects. The imagery of the Song of Solomon is unmistakable, but neither crude nor antiseptically medical. It uses direct language but retains the mystery of the gospel. I encourage parents who are teaching their children about sexual intercourse to briefly explain the medical terminology and the terms used on the street, and then explain the terms you prefer to use.

8. React to sexual sin with the gospel and not like a Pharisee or a Sadducee

A parent committed to raising up a next-generation Pharisee will respond to a child's sexual sin by asserting, “I cannot believe you would do that!” No matter the sin, the Pharisee needs to clarify that we are not the kind of people who do things like that. A Sadducean parent, well acquainted with the good life and committed to maintaining the status quo for a new generation of Sadducees, will respond to a child’s sexual sin by showing how it may damage their cultural standing and opportunities. Sadducean parents might say something like, “You don't want to ruin your prospects for the future. You have so much going for you and so many opportunities ahead.”

A distinctively Christian approach to sexual sin would center on the gospel. The parent might say, “I am not surprised at all that you have sinned in this way. It should remind you that you do not simply sin but you are a sinner. The problem with the way you have sinned is that it is an offense against God and his gospel.” The child must know that you are praying that God will use the uncovering of this sexual sin to teach them that they need forgiveness for their sins. Gospel-centered Christian parenting is not marked by self-pity when a child’s sin is uncovered and exposed. Such Christian parenting appreciates the unique gospel opportunity the uncovering of sin provides. Giving consequences for sin and pointing children to the gospel are a primary way Christian parents embrace their God-given responsibility as stewards of the gospel in their children’s lives.

Follow these truths and your child will learn about sex and how to respond to sexual urges. The only questions are who will teach your children, will your children be taught about sex and sexual longings in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and will your children be taught lessons abstracted from the gospel. Satan would love for your children to be sexually and morally pure, as long as purity is abstracted from the gospel. Any path of self-righteousness and self-exaltation is good to the evil one. Christian parents must remember that Satan doesn't hate morality; he hates the cross of Jesus Christ.

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