Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Rep.) signed a bill into law that bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through the third grade. This bill, which has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents, has brought about intense national controversy. This is due, in large part, to the prominent role that sexuality and gender identity play in today’s cultural conversations, as well as the influence of the LGBTQ+ movement in all aspects of our society. Even as the bill was being debated in the Florida legislature, organizations and companies across the country rallied in support or opposition of the bill.
Acting ERLC President Brent Leatherwood, speaking about the bill, said, “For years, we have asked elected officials to prioritize the protection of children and to respect families in their policy-making. In general, this new law creates a framework for just that. Mothers and fathers absolutely should be the ones surfacing complex matters with their children for the first time, not someone outside the home.” But it seems that many in our culture believe that the state should encourage and teach these controversial and divisive subjects as early as possible, essentially stripping parents of their God-given responsibilities to raise their children to become wise, virtuous people.
Cultural pressure to conform
Because of the organization’s ties to Florida, Disney CEO Bob Chapek came under incredible scrutiny and criticism for not being vocal enough in support of the LGBTQ+ movement by publicly denouncing this bill. Other Disney executives and lead creatives expressed outrage over the bill, claiming it would further marginalize and harm children across the state, with some even asserting that their mission as a company is to spread gender ideology and teachings to children through their creative work. A few days after the signing of the bill, some in prominent roles at Disney even went as far as to say that they are intentionally seeking to add more characters and narratives that will model these alternative lifestyles and promote the sexual revolution with its committment to complete moral autonomy.
Disney is one of the most influential companies in the world, especially as their work often captures the imagination of younger generations. The company is Florida’s largest employer, and through their streaming service, Disney+, they have a massive catalog of family content providing entertainment for millions around the world. For this reason, Christians need to be mindful of what they are saying and evaluate the messages being communicated through the lens of a biblical worldview — just as we should be doing with the products and services from other prominent companies. From plans to create more transgender characters to stories highlighting same-sex families, some in leadership at Disney are clearly seeking to form the moral imagination of our children in ways that are contrary to the biblical sexuality and marriage.
The worldviews communicated by this company and others like them have the potential to leave a lasting impression on children and families for a lifetime. And that should come as no surprise since the things that we are exposed to on a daily basis, whether social media, movies, or news, deeply shape how we view ourselves, our neighbors, and the world around us. Entertainment, much like technology, subtly yet radically alters our minds, including the things we find morally acceptable or objectionable. The things we are exposed to matter. This can be clearly seen in the normalization of same-sex relationships through the 90s which ulimately culminated in the consequential Obergefell v Hodges Supreme Court decision, and in the ongoing campaigns from the private and government sectors to normalize a transgender lifestyle.
How parents can respond
For parents or children’s ministers, this can be an especially difficult and overwhelming reality to grasp. How are we to navigate these cultural issues and the onslaught of the sexual revolution with our children? How can we be salt and light in our world without withdrawing from the culture in which we’re called to be witnesses?
First, we must see that the controversies surrounding this bill — those related to sexuality and gender — often center on a longstanding cultural tension between the rights of parents and the role of other powerful social institutions including the state, corporations, and cultural movements. Do parents have a right to know what their children are being exposed to, and do they have a say in what their children are taught, especially if those things are contrary to their religious or cultural beliefs? While businesses are free to express their beliefs in their work, parents also have the right and responsibility to raise their children in line with their deeply held beliefs — which may mean that some parents decide on other forms of entertainment and education or at least recognize the realities at play in the midst of the sexual revolution.
Parents rightfully see the importance of raising up this next generation, but we must do so with a biblical vision of how God created every person, including our kids, in his very image. Parenting is not just simply a right to be wielded, but a responsibility to be cherished. We have been entrusted with this responsibility to nurture and train up our children in a world of competing worldviews. There is no such thing as a neutral or truly secular space, whether it be in entertainment or the public square. Everything communicates some type of worldview and every person espouses some set of moral values and beliefs.
This means that we cannot sit idly by while our children are discipled by the state, society, or even by a corporation like Disney — each with its own distinct cultural and ethical values. The worldviews that your family are exposed to each day matter because the truths we are being taught will inevitably shape every aspect of our moral framework. We must take responsibility for and think intentionally about the things that we allow our children to be exposed to — not out of fear, but out of a desire to steward our families well and raise them with a keen sense of discernment (Romans 12:2).
Second, parents must be ready to equip their children to see the beauty and freedom of the Christian sexual ethic which is rooted in the very creation of man and woman as image-bearers of the almighty God (Gen. 1:27). The cultural stories we are being exposed to each day through our entertainment choices are often contrary to the scientific and biological realities of being created as a man and a woman. Contrary to the moral autonomy championed by many today, we simply do not have the ability to choose our gender nor do we have the authority to alter God’s good design for sexuality rooted in the marriage of a man and woman. This created order is central to the Christian sexual ethic and must be part of how a parent “train[s] up a child in the way he should go” (Prov. 22:6).
Another reality of this cultural revolution is that our children will have friends or classmates struggling with these issues. Christian cultural engagement is rooted in speaking truth in grace, modeling the fact that all people are inherently valuable as created in God’s image. This type of engagement will include seeking out ways to love our neighbors regardless of their beliefs and affirming their inherent dignity, even when we disagree with them. While this will look different for each family given their circumstances, we must remind our kids (and ourselves) that people are more than simply their sexual desires or how they feel about their gender identity. Our culture often promotes the lie that your sexuality defines your core identity as a person, but the Christian ethic reminds us our identities are actually tied to who God made each of us in his image. Our sexuality is rooted in how God made us and we do not have the authority to define our own realities. This truth is actually freeing since our dignity is not tied to what we do or how we feel, but who we are. Training our children to see the dignity and value of their classmates and friends, regardless of their personal beliefs, while also speaking truth in love is one of the greatest gifts we can pass on to this next generation.
As I recently wrote, Western culture is at an interesting crossroads today, representing an especially crucial moment for our kids and families. On one hand, our society champions complete moral autonomy under the guise of throwing off all moral boundaries and pursuing our own versions of realities at all costs. On the other hand, we all recognize that truth cannot actually be relative and that our moral choices have profound consequences for us and our society. We may seek to deny objective moral truths in the name of liberation and revolution, but these false notions of reality will not and cannot last.
Parents and churches must be ready to respond to the mores of the sexual revolution that will only leave precious image-bearers — especially our children — in its wake. The sexual revolution will not be able to deliver on its grand promises of liberation, and the Church must be ready to welcome those who have been deceived with open arms of dignity, respect, love, hope, and the truth of the gospel. So while there are some at corporations like Disney that seek to capture the hearts and minds of children through the stories they create, it is our responsibility to parent our children and raise them in light of a far better and truer story. Regardless of the lies they they are sold by the sexual revolution, our Creator has a better answer. And it’s through honoring him that we will find the joy and satisfaction that we’re made for.