By / Oct 10

For the last couple of years, the volume has increased over concerns related to parental rights, especially at public schools. What focused for a time as concerns over in-person education and the use of masks during the pandemic has quickly returned to concerns over matters of sexuality and gender. In the wake of these concerns, Florida and Alabama have passed bills limiting discussions of gender identity and sexuality in classrooms with young children. At the same time, some school districts appear to be attempting to hide possible gender identity transitions from parents.

What are we to do as Christians, and especially Christian parents, as we navigate the world of parental rights in a pro-LGBTQ culture? How do we speak truth into the school systems in our communities and effect change where it is needed?

Let’s begin with a few affirmations.

Affirmations about God’s design for sexuality

God created humans male and female. Genesis 1:26-27 functions as God’s opening statement regarding anthropology. While the focus is often (rightly) placed on the fact that humans are made in God’s image, the second statement of that passage is sometimes overlooked. At the end of v. 27 we read, “He created them male and female.” These words in the opening chapter of the Bible are now considered controversial, but they are not unclear. In an age where distinctions between male and female are blurred, we find the clear testimony of Scripture to be that God created male and female as distinct expressions of humanity.

God created males and females as complementary in nature. Complementarity between male and female is a multifaceted concept, but I want to focus on just one aspect here—sexual complementarity. God designed male and female to be a complementary pair sexually. This idea first appears in Scripture in Genesis 1:28 where we read, “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth. . . .’” With this pronouncement following on the heels of the declaration that God created humans as male and female, we rightly surmise that the process through which mankind would be fruitful and multiply was the sexual relationship that God designed to take place between a man and a woman in the context of marriage (see Genesis 2).

God created the human body as part of his good creation. On five different occasions in Genesis 1, we see that God declared his creation to be good, culminating with the words in verse 31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good indeed.” As part of the discussion revolving around gender identity, we sometimes hear the discussion turn to demeaning the body and elevating the mind so that the body must be changed. But we cannot forget that the physical body is part of God’s good creation.

With these theological affirmations in place, how do we engage our schools on matters of sexuality and protect parental rights in the process?

How to equip your children and engage with your school

Teach your children the truth of God’s Word on matters of sexuality. Conversations with our children about sexuality can be awkward—let’s just admit it. But we can’t allow the awkwardness of the conversation to prevent us from having them. We have found, especially with our older children, that they are confronted with unbiblical models of gender and sexuality on a regular basis at school. Thus, it is crucial that they have been taught a biblical model and home and church. We need to teach them how to engage in conversations at school so they can speak knowledgably and are able to communicate with their parents when something different is being taught or promoted at school.

Be an involved parent. We cannot clamor for protecting parental rights in the schools if we are not involved in the life of the school. Volunteer in the classroom. Serve on a committee. Provide support for teachers and staff. Go to school board meetings. By getting involved, we build relationships. Most changes that we want to see come to fruition are best accomplished on the basis of a relationship with a teacher, principal, or school board member. If we are not involved, we will generally not be heard.

Vote in local elections. We tend to get excited about national elections with potential far-reaching ramifications, but most of the politics that affect our daily lives happen on the local level. High profile school board elections in districts that have already experienced controversy make the national news, but the controversial policies enacted in those districts most likely came as a result of years of inattention to local politics by the average citizen. We need to get out and vote in these local elections, and some of us may even need to run for office.

Promote biblical convictions for sexuality and gender. The biblical vision for gender and sexuality—gender identity that corresponds to biological sex and sexual expression through the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman—was not controversial just 15-20 years ago. The culture is not so far gone that we cannot restore this vision through faithful teaching and living. Our promotion of biblical convictions begins in our homes and then extends into our communities.

Protecting parental rights in a pro-LGBTQ culture begins by exercising those rights. When the world says our vision for sexuality and gender is out of date or harmful, we demonstrate it through our lives and proclaim it unashamedly.

By / Mar 18

Recently, someone in my Facebook news feed shared a video that carried the caption, “Is this real?” It was a newscast from FOX 25 in Boston that cited a German study that found that men who regularly stare at a woman’s breasts have a lower rate of heart problems, a lower resting heart rate, and lower blood pressure. The reporter closes by saying that the study’s authors recommend that men stare at a woman’s breasts for 10 minutes a day.

FOX 25 in Boston did run this story on their newscast back in 2011, but quickly did a mea culpa after viewers pointed out that some version of this internet hoax has been around since 1999. Yet here we are three years after this video aired and 15 years after the original hoax made its way around the internet and some of us are still wondering out loud if it’s true.

Viral videos are all the rage right now. Everyone I know has shared an hilarious or outlandish viral video of some sort. Recently I’ve shared rednecks using a chain link fence gate to shoot off 8,500 fireworks at one time, bad lip-reading of NFL players, and Minions playing soccer. I actually frequent Facebook less and less these days because my 2/3rds of the posts friends share are videos that I don’t have time nor the interest to watch. (Anyone else hate Facebook’s autoplay?) And of those on which I might be interested in wasting a few minutes of my short life, I no longer trust many of them to be authentic thanks to the rise of fake viral videos.

As with all emerging technologies, it takes time for the ability to create new content in a new technology to become ubiquitous. The first thing to become cheap on the internet was email. As a result earliest internet hoaxes were shared via forwarded email from one person to the next. Universities hosted the servers that made up the backbone of the internet. It was a cheap perk for universities to give students free email accounts and those students, fueled with spare time, a penchant for trouble, and long list of friends waiting to be suckered, happily engaged in the popularization of mass-email hoaxes. One of the earliest websites on the internet was dedicated to separating the proverbial wheat from the chaff.

Despite the almost immediate rise of email hoaxes, fake content generally did not apply to regular web pages. In the early days of the internet, it was really hard to create a website. You had to go to Network Solutions to get a domain name (paying $35 a year), find a provider to host your site (paying an often-steep monthly fee), and have the proper UNIX coding to ensure that when someone typed that they ended up in the right place. And then after all that, you had to actually code your content in this language called “HTML” or get someone else to do it for you (along with the opportunity to pay even more $$). A basic website in 1995 easily cost the unexperienced person hundreds or even thousands of dollars to set up the first time. And then you had to maintain it.

Those barriers to entry meant that the content you found online (outside of email) generally had a level of trustworthiness to it. After all, no one wanted to spend that much money or go to that much effort just to play a prank on folks. That reality slowly changed as AOL and other early mass internet providers created the ability of regular people to easily and cheaply create their own web content on the company’s own servers. Soon after, the barrier to creating your own website with your own domain name fell as well giving way to today’s standard where you can now have your own site and content for just a few clicks and even fewer dollars. Now a website content’s trustworthiness is not in the fact that it exists, but is instead based on the brand that runs and maintains it.

This pattern of ‘high trustworthiness due to high barriers of entry’ giving way to ‘low trustworthiness due to low barriers of entry’ is now underway with online video. And it’s not simply because shooting video and posting it online has become easy for anyone with a smartphone to do. It’s also because it has become extremely simple to edit those easily-shot videos into something completely fabricated.

The video that started undermining my faith in the medium was this viral YouTube sensation uploaded back in 2011 showing a man on a security camera struck by lightning twice on the same sidewalk in less than a minute. I was hooked.

The feeling you get later when you learn that something you believed to be real is actually a fake is akin to betrayal. When I saw the man struck by lightning twice, I made an emotional investment by believing what I thought I was seeing and saying to myself, “Wow, that’s amazing.”

Then I went a step further. I shared this video with lots of friends on social media. Soon a kind soul directed me to this video by a visual effects expert with a technical frame-by-frame deconstruction of the original debunking the whole thing. Embarrassed, I deleted it from my social media accounts and swore to myself about how stupid I had been for not checking its authenticity first. Not only had I been betrayed, but now countless people also knew I had been suckered. Anyone who has ever been betrayed by a friend, romantic interest or business associate can attest that it’s bad enough to be betrayed, but worse to know other people watched you waste your trust so easily.

Now there are countless fake viral videos out there that people regularly share believing them to be true such as the clumsy waitress that falls through a window (windows don’t break like that), there’s the kid who lies in between the railroad track rails and driven over by a train (which has been removed from YouTube presumably because of concern over kids actually trying this and dying), the rich girl who freaks out over her dad buying her the wrong color car (a Domino’s Pizza viral campaign), and my favorite, Hamas forgetting to remove the explosive vest before heading off to bury a would-be suicide bomber.

While there is deception and betrayal around us every day, fake viral videos in social media occupy a unique place. They are attractive to people of all ages and stages, they are often difficult to recognize as false, and they are so compelling that they beg to be shared with others. When shared, the lie often turns and bites the person who shared it in a very public and personal way. Every online social circle these days seems to have at least one person whose apparent mission in life is to publicly castigate anyone who shares fake social media content without having done an exhaustive search of Snopes, Urban Legends, Urban Myths and Truth or Fiction first.

Additionally they are visual and directly confuse your visual sensory perception. This is fundamentally different than the breakdown in trust that has existed since the Fall around the true or false nature of words. Words, whether spoken or written, do not directly communicate with the sensory perception other than to merely pass through on their way to being assembled by the brain where they are judged by the ideas they communicate. But when you lose the ability to believe what you perceive through your senses in the first place, especially when perceiving what appears to be an everyday life situation, your mooring on reality becomes tenuous. Imagine how awful perceiving reality would be if magic tricks were constantly being performed around you but without the limiting context of a magician or a stage. It would be simpler to just go crazy.

The prevalence in our culture of fake visual content will have a subtle but real impact on how we share our faith with others. The greater the doubt people have about the veracity of what they are perceiving via a particular sense, the more isolated people become, uncertain of what to believe when faced with some new information. Whenever you have to apply additional tests and verification methods to ensure what you are perceiving is actually real, you lose the desire to both pursue and know reality because getting to truth requires so much work.

A key difference between fake viral videos and any other visual manipulations is that theirs is no limiting factor that helps us differentiate between falsehood and reality. Whether it be in a movie, on a stage or the manipulator himself having an official title, there has always been a point where the false image stops and reality takes back over. With fake visuals masquerading as truth, you cannot be sure what to believe.

Eventually, the current craze over viral videos will fade. We’ll have gotten tired of them and have reached the point that we feel like we’ve seen it all. One more medium will have been saturated with an overabundance of once-compelling content that no longer entertains us.

But the assault on the once-believable medium of visual perception will have a coarsening effect of our ability to perceive truth. Not only will a method of communicating will have been co-opted, but thanks to social media, we will have all been personally and publicly betrayed by it. The quest to believe a message as truth and trust someone as authentic will be a bit harder. Rather than do the extra work to ensure we are correctly perceiving truth, it’ll be easier to simply pick a form of entertainment and allow our mind to turn to mush.

By / Feb 11

“How do you respond to people who locate the gay rights movement within the civil rights tradition?”

When a friend asked me this question in a Sunday School class that I was teaching a couple weeks ago, I was fighting the clock, and felt slightly frustrated because I could not, on the spot, figure out how to answer him concisely. So I rambled through a desultory answer. I hate doing that.

Ten minutes after class was over, the concise answer crystallized: It all depends on your anthropology. If you have no distinction between humanity created and humanity fallen, you will have a hard time maintaining the distinction between ethnicity and sexual orientation from the standpoint of the civil rights tradition. If you have little to no concept of Genesis 3 in your anthropology, then, yes, homosexual rights absolutely belong in the civil rights tradition.

I couldn’t help but tweet it: “Does gay rights = civil rights? Depends on your anthropology. If evolutionary materialism, yes. If both Gen 1 AND 3 true, not necessarily.” (And you can insert any number of things in the place of evolutionary materialism: moralistic therapeutic deism, positive thinking spirituality, Oprah-esque self-actualization, etc.)

The civil rights tradition of the 1960s, to a Christian way of thinking, is grounded in the fact that all people are made in God’s image. Think of Martin Luther King Jr’s claim: “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” Ethnicity, on this account, is a basic and created element of the human person. Ethnicity belongs to Genesis 1, you might say. It belongs in the “creation bucket.”

Yet historic Christianity affirms this and also acknowledges that other basic facts about human beings grow out of Genesis 3, things that belong in the “fall bucket.” And not just external things, but the deepest things: our very nature has become corrupt. A good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bad, Jesus said. And apart from being born again, all of us have a bad nature (even though we remain capable of good).

Historically, many Americans, whether Christian or non, had more room in their anthropology for something like the fallenness of human nature. Just think of James Madison’s mixed anthropology in the Federalist Papers. Yet best I can tell, the general public’s anthropology today is far less mixed. We prefer to think of humans as basically good, even if, yes, they might do bad things from time to time.

Suppose then that your anthropology has no room for Genesis 3 and the idea of a pervasively corrupt human nature. How will you respond to someone oriented to same-sex attraction? You have no choice but to affirm it as natural, created, and therefore good. “Natural”—by nature—is basically always good. “Natural” cannot be bad. Why? Because you have no Genesis 3 in your anthropology, not really, anyhow, even if you give lip service to it.

So let’s revisit the MLK quote above. If you read it from the perspective of someone with a strong concept of Genesis 1 and Genesis 3 in their anthropology, homosexuality does not necessarily belong in the civil rights tradition. It might, of course. Matthew Vines, for instance, has both buckets. He simply places same-sex orientation in the creation bucket, as in, “God created me this way.” I disagree with that, but, fine, my argument here is not with him. Rather, I want you to try reading the MLK quote above from the perspective of most (I assume) Americans today, people who really only have a Genesis 1 bucket and little to no concept of a pervasively corrupt human nature. From this perspective, the MLK quote absolutely requires same-sex orientation to be placed inside the civil rights tradition. In fact, it would be positively immoral not to affirm such an orientation as good and worth protecting.

Here’s the big lesson: if an anthropology only has a category for humanity created and not for humanity fallen (whether you can articulate that to yourself or not), there is no reason why homosexual orientation should not be protected by the civil rights tradition. You will find it nearly impossible not to affirm homosexuality as morally good. Therefore when someone like a Christian comes along and does not want to affirm same-sex marriage, or does not want to acknowledge sexual orientation as a special category for civil rights purposes, equivalent to gender or ethnicity, you won’t be able to comprehend what they are saying. It cannot but seem mean-spirited and discriminatory. After all, a person’s sexual orientation, to your way of thinking, is a Genesis 1 reality, not a Genesis 3 reality. Remember, you have no category for Genesis 3.

In fact, we can go a step further: “Without a distinction between man created and man fallen, the civil rights tradition can be employed to justify nearly every desire.” That was my follow up tweet. Here’s where conservatives start to make slippery slope arguments, where progressives cry foul, and where history, I dare say, sides with the conservatives.

In 2012, for example, conservatives would say things like, “If two men can marry, why not three men, or ten men, or a man and a horse, or who knows what else?!” Progressives would cry foul because they weren’t asking for these things, and, perhaps, the yuck factor still hindered them from considering these other permutations. But by 2014, the court decisions and feature articles in national magazines—sure enough—began to toy with these other ideas (see here, here, and—don’t read—here).

And such slippage is inevitable because the foundations have fundamentally shifted. When an anthropology has little room for Genesis 3 or humanity fallen, then every desire, every orientation, every possibility, no matter how crazy, deranged, or off-the-wall, gains access to a Genesis 1 status. Everything can be blanketed with the moral covering of “I was created that way.” You personally might not be able to imagine pursuing some other permutation, but other people might, and you’ve destroyed the moral foundations for telling them not to. You have nothing left to say.

Here’s the sad irony of it all: the civil rights tradition, once a force for so much good and born out of judeo-Christian ideals, becomes a force for new discriminations, particularly against Christianity, when placed in the hands of the LGBT lobby. My last tweet of that particular morning: “The civil rights tradition, if joined to an anthropology of humans as basically good, will lead to new forms of discrimination and injustice.”

The civil rights tradition, when it’s wed to a worldview that depletes the Genesis 3 bucket of all its content other than the mere idea of discrimination itself, must be put to work discriminating against anyone who wants to place more things in the Genesis 3 bucket. The tradition must fight against the religious person who maintains more substantive ideas about “humanity fallen,” and who dares to suggest that a person’s deepest desires or loves or ambitions might actually a property of the fall, and not creation. Such a claim, by definition, is irrational, because the landscape of this rationality, again, has no category for Genesis 3, not really.

What’s the solution? I’m not sure. I’m sympathetic to the argument that Christians should better figure out how to employ rights language, as the right-to-life movement did. But that has its own problems, and my goal here really is just to help Christians understand the landscape. Our civilization’s movement away from the nominal (and, yes, hypocritical) Christianity which so long defined it, means we no longer have the same access to Genesis 3 and the idea of a corrupt human nature. And without that, the civil rights tradition will be used in all sorts of ways its originators never intended.

If nothing else, it gives us another reason to share the gospel. The Holy Spirit is pretty good at giving people categories they don’t already have!