Boy, Girl, or Something Else? Gender Confusion Reaches Children

We live in confusing times. One facet of life that seems straightforward – gender – is rapidly becoming more confusing. In April, a controversial ad for J. Crew depicted the company’s president, Jenna Lyons, painting the toenails of her son, Beckett, hot pink. The caption below the picture read, “Lucky for me I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.” This ignited a brief skirmish between those who, disdaining  gender stereotypes, celebrated the ad and those who saw a mother encouraging her boy to paint his toenails hot pink as transgender propaganda.

Fast forward one month to the story of a couple in Toronto who have decided to raise their newborn baby without gender identity. They will keep the baby’s gender secret and allow “it” to choose “its” own identity from the toys “it” plays with to the clothes “it” wears. Naming the child “Storm”, Kathy Witterick and David Stocker announced to friends and family in an email, “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime.” The kind of genderless world Storm’s parents envision may be a pipe-dream – wishful thinking won’t change biology or anatomy – but it is a world dreamed of by more and more.

Or take the case of Andrew Viveros. Last week the transgendered teen known to classmates as “Andii” was voted by seniors at McFatter Technical High School in Davie, FL to be their prom queen.  He is the first transgender prom queen at a public high school in the United States and won the title over 14 girls who competed against him. In an article in the Miami Herald Oscar Viveros, father of Andrew/Andii, offered this advice to parents in similar situations: “Let them grow to be whatever they want to be, as long as they’re good. Let them blossom into whatever they want to be. Support them 100 percent.”

The message builds from Beckett to Storm to Andrew with increasing clarity. The individual is god. No one can restrain “my” freedom and “my” choices. “I” will not be determined or ruled by anything. Parents, institutions, cultures, norms, communities, families, and now biology and God himself have no authority over the little god of self. Of course, this thinking is ultimately ridiculous. A man may wish to be a woman or vice versa, but hormones and surgery can still not change the biological reality. You may want to have the basketball skills of Lebron James, the intelligence of Stephen Hawking, and the voice of Scotty McCreery, but no amount of self-determination or identity manipulation will change the reality that you have the basketball skills of Napoleon Dynamite, the intelligence of Larry the Cable Guy, and a voice that sounds like a hyena attacking a wildebeest. We may want to be free of the authority of our family, community, culture, and God, but we are not. So we rebel against that authority and against God.

This is how sin began in Genesis. Adam and Eve were presented with nearly limitless freedom except for one provision in Genesis  2:17, “…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” But that wasn’t good enough for our forebears. They refused God’s authority, doubted His goodness, questioned His character, rebelled against their Creator, and attempted to become gods themselves. While the results of their sin was disastrous, we have continued their project ever since.

At the heart of these stories of gender confusion is a rebellion against our Creator who “created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” God has created each of us with a gender identity of male or female; to reject this is to reject His design. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” Paul is not passing on tips for hair stylists; in this context he is encouraging the church to avoid gender confusion in the way they fellowship and worship. Men should look and act like men and women like women.

At the beginning of the music video for her song “Born This Way”, Lady Gaga announces that the current generation is a “race which bears boundless freedom.” While the idea of boundless freedom is silly (All freedom has limitations – I can’t breathe underwater, buy a Lamborghini, or even eat a cement block) it summarizes the attitude of our time. This ultimate freedom of the self to determine its identity and course and to follow its desires and urges is what has spawned the present gender confusion.

Christians have been graciously redeemed for a better way – not of rebellion against the Creator but of obedience to Him. Freedom isn’t found in self-determination but in self-surrender. Our example isn’t the person who “did it their way” but the One who “though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Our lives should declare with the Psalmist, “With my whole heart I seek you, let me not wander from your commandments” (Ps. 119:10).

As Christians, let us celebrate the Creator’s good gift of gender and not embrace the confusion. Our freedom is found in Christ and in joyful obedience to God’s design and commands; not in the freedom of becoming our own god through self-determination. At the same time, let us love those caught in the confusion with the love Christ showed to us in our rebellion. We can never look down on those made in God’s image; my sin leaves me just as guilty before a holy God as the most gender confused among us. Christ loves and died for those who struggle with this particular form of rebellion. May the Becketts, Storms, and Andrews of this world find the joy and freedom only surrender and obedience to the God Who died for us can bring.

-Brian

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Why Cohabitation Distorts the Gospel and Fails to Deliver

Cohabitation – defined as people who live with a sexual partner of the opposite sex – has exploded in the United States. While thirty years ago the number of cohabitating couples was less than a million, census data in 2007 reported the number had reached 6.4 million. USA Today published in 2005 that two-thirds of married couples claimed to have lived together before getting married. Cohabitation is rapidly becoming not an exception, but the norm for American romantic relationships. The story of boy meets girl, boy dates girl, boy marries girl, boy and girl live together and have children is being replaced. The new story is boy meets girl, boy hooks up with girl, boy and girl live together, boy and girl get married and have pets (maybe children after career goals are achieved).

This presents a challenge for the church which is called to a biblical standard that seems just plain weird to the culture. The Bible lays the foundation for marriage 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.” The marital commitment precedes the physical and spiritual union of the man and the woman; not the reverse. Both Jesus and Paul quote this verse in the New Testament. Jesus also warns in Matthew 6:28, “…everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” and should be willing to tear out their eye rather than continue in sinful lust. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:18 to “flee from sexual immorality” and in Ephesians 5:3 that it “must not even be named among you.” Hebrews 13:4 tells Christians to “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.” Cohabitation breaks the biblical pattern for marriage, encourages sexual sin, and dishonors marriage.

What are churches to do? Do they embrace cohabitating couples with no questions asked or do they stand by biblical marriage and sexuality? The answer for many pastors and churches is to embrace it as normative. Others, while they may not agree with it, feel they cannot fight the cultural tide and simply give in. Still others downplay or ignore the biblical teaching so no one is offended. Complicating matters are the many Christians who are living with opposite-sex partners. Their lifestyles preach that they believe there is no contradiction between cohabitation and Christianity.

These cannot be the only options. Cohabitation is more than another lifestyle choice for Christians. It has a profound impact on the future marriages of those who do it and on the church’s ability to proclaim the gospel.

The logic for cohabitation usually sounds like this: marriage is a big commitment and trying it out first would be best to avoid a mistake. Cohabitation is a means of discovering lifestyle, economic, personal, and sexual compatibility. This seems reasonable at first; but of what other life commitments do we demand this? Do we get to attend college for a semester before paying tuition and receiving grades? Do we get to try out a new job for six months before joining and relocating? Do we get to live in a new home for a year before signing the mortgage? And with no-fault divorce laws getting out of marriage can be easier than getting out of a mortgage! Why do we demand to “fully try-out” marriage?

Not surprisingly, cohabitation fails to deliver on the promise of better marriages. The New York Times reported last year on a study by the National Center for Health Statistics. The opening line of the article says it all – “Couples who live together before they get married are less likely to stay married, a new study has found.” This is astounding. Whatever the underlying cause is, one thing is clear – against the cultural logic cohabitation does not improve one’s chances at a successful marriage and may actually hurt them. Why? Because cohabitation assumes a posture toward the other person that says in effect, “my happiness is more important than you.” Many people throw out marriage completely in favor of perpetual cohabitation so they can freely pursue many paths to personal happiness. Those cohabitating who plan on someday getting married are only a shade better. The relationship still must serve their happiness and fulfillment before they commit to the other person. If they get married and the marriage ceases to bring happiness then divorce is logical. The ultimate goal is personal happiness – not the good of my spouse or any child.

Christian cohabitation is doubly devastating because it distorts the gospel. Ephesians 5:32 says that marriage “refers to Christ and the church.” Marriage depicts Christ’s sacrificial love for His church and the church’s loving response to Christ and when Christians cohabitate they preach a false gospel to the culture. Can we imagine Christ saying to us, “I like you, but I’m not sure I want to commit to saving you just yet. How about we take a year and you come to church, serve me, and we’ll see if it works out?” Never! Christ commits to us despite our sins, failures, and foolishness, loving us sacrificially at great personal cost. We were utterly incompatible with Him yet He has chosen to love us and commit to us for eternity. That is completely lost when Christians cohabitate; each willing participant declaring to the other “you’re simply not worth the sacrifice.”

For Christians who have cohabitation in their past, repent and embrace the complete forgiveness God offers. Don’t carry guilt and shame for past decisions but experience freedom in the cross of Christ. For Christians currently cohabitating, have the courage to man up (or woman up) and commit to one another to proclaim the gospel in marriage. If economic reasons led to your cohabiting, is it really worth dishonoring Christ to save on rent? For pastors and churches, have the courage to offend some people by honoring what God has said in His Word. The beauty of Christian marriage and the glorious grace of the gospel can reach the lost. We must stand here. Nothing less than our gospel and our marriages are at stake.

-Brian

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Gender-Neutral Housing Coming to a Campus Near You

This fall, Ohio University will become the 56th university in the country to offer gender-neutral housing which allows students to live in the same room on campus with any other student regardless of gender or sexuality. While coed dorms have been around for a long time, male and female students were traditionally housed in different halls, different suites, or at least different rooms. Now male and female students can live in the same room. Vice President for Student Affairs at Ohio University Kent Smith has made clear gender-neutral housing (GNH) is not for those in romantic relationships who want to live together. So with romantic relationships forbidden – at least in writing – what is the goal behind GNH?

At Ohio, the GNH plan was championed by the vice commissioner of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender commission. The Office of Student Affairs states the motivation behind the plan is to create a ‘more inclusive environment.’ At Harvey Mudd College, administrators adopted GNH in response to the requests of homosexual, bisexual, and transgender students who wanted a roommate of the opposite gender. However, heterosexual students are free to join in GNH as well with no regulation of behavior. Guy Gerbick, Dean of Residential Life at Harvey Mudd, sums up the attitude of many administrators when he says, “If we are going into a post-gender world, then the regulation of private behavior is just not practical.” Are we going into a post-gender world? The organization pushing colleges to adopt GNH is even named “The National Student Genderblind Campaign.”

The goal of gender-neutral housing is to erase gender distinctions. Male and female categories no longer matter – one is free to have sex with whoever, live with whoever, be whoever, and act however one wants without pesky cultural norms or morals getting in the way. The expansion of GNH beyond homosexual and transgendered students to any and all who want it furthers the blurring of gender distinctions and as those distinctions break down, homosexuality and other ‘alternative lifestyles’ become normal.

This reshaping of gender offers promise for a number of interests. Feminists will finally wash away any suggestion men and women possess different aptitudes. The roles of mother and father will no longer be bound to gender. Homosexual couples will be free to adopt and their families will become a celebrated facet of cultural diversity. When someone shows up with a new gender, no one will think twice about it. Moral judgments about “cohabitation” will disappear as living unmarried with members of the opposite sex becomes normal. Some celebrate these developments. Some are shocked by them. But I am not an alarmist. These are becoming reality and GNH is just another step in the process, strategically positioned at the formative stages of young adults.

Surprisingly, these colleges and universities which have been champions of feminism are now offering women up as sacrificial lambs on the altar of a new agenda. Violence against women is a serious issue on campuses. The National Institute of Justice has found that between one-fifth and one-fourth of women are the victims of attempted or completed rape in college but only five percent are ever reported to law enforcement. Nine out of ten of the offenders were known to the victim. While schools cannot control off-campus behavior, they have now given their blessing to on-campus situations which are statistically dangerous for their female students. But this doesn’t matter to GNH proponents; having respected institutions encourage the reshaping of gender norms is too important.

Gender is not a cultural construct. When the God of the universe created humanity he made them distinctly male and female. Genesis 1:27 says:

So God created man in his own image

In the image of God he created him

Male and female he created them

Thus, male and female categories derive from the design of the Creator. This is evident biologically (beyond reproductive organs and hormones, males have higher metabolic rates, more sweat glands, more lung capacity, larger hearts and faster digestion while women have more nerves in the skin, white blood cells, and longer life expectancy). Psychologically, the differences between men and women have provided comedians endless material because they are so apparent. As Bill Cosby has remarked, “Men and women belong to different species and communication between them is still in its infancy.”

The Bible goes on to celebrate God’s gift of gender by picturing the uniqueness of the virtuous woman (Prov. 31), assigning different but complimentary roles to men and women in the home and church (Eph. 5:23-33, 1 Tim. 2:8-13), and by instructing men and women to conform to cultural distinctions between genders and not to blur them (1 Cor. 11:13-16). Christians accept gender as a good gift from a loving God and strive to live it out in ways that glorify Him. Gender-neutral housing and similar efforts to erase gender emerge out of a humanist worldview that makes man the measure of all things. They are a rebellion against God’s created order, suppressing the truth in favor of a self-serving lie (Rom. 1:21-25). Gender is an annoying restraint on a little god’s right to define his or her own reality.

Those trying to erase gender will only find emptiness and brokenness in their success; but they are increasingly successful as more universities endorse their agenda. In a Los Angeles Times article reporting on GNH at Pitzer College, Lindon Pronto – a heterosexual male living on campus with a female – summarized the attitude of much of his generation when he said:

“I think those old-fashioned ways of thinking are kind of dissipating. . . . Over the years, this division between men and women, which was so big, is slowly closing.”

If that division is about equality, rights, respect, or opportunity than amen; but this is about more. Men and women are completely equal image bearers of God and have been created uniquely as male and female. Will we celebrate and embrace this or let it dissipate in the wake of cultural “progress”?

-Brian

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Selfish Stagnation: A New Stage for Twenty-Somethings?

A century ago psychologists identified a new stage in human development – adolescence, which our culture now accepts without question. It is taken for granted that 12-18 year olds are not ready for adult roles and responsibilities and need an additional six years of development under the careful or careless watch of parents. Now, some experts are arguing for a new stage of development for 19-29 year olds they call “emerging adulthood.” Jeffery Arnett, psychology professor at Clark University, describes this stage in the New York Times Magazine, “young men and women are more self-focused than at any other time of life, less certain about the future and yet also more optimistic, no matter what their economic background.” During this time, emerging adults face the developmental tasks of “identity exploration”, “self-focus”, and “experimentation in love, work, and worldview.”

The arguments for this new developmental stage have come as a result of the major shifts taking place among twenty-somethings. No longer are they graduating college (or high school), getting entry-level jobs, getting married, making a home, taking on responsibility, and having children. They graduate and have on average seven jobs before they turn 30. Instead of making a home, one-third lives in a new residence every year and 40% move back in with mom and dad. Two-thirds live with a romantic partner without being married, putting off marriage to the late twenties. In 1960, 77% of women and 65% of men had completed school, left home, become financially independent, married, and had a child. In 2000, fewer than half of the women and only one-third of the men had done the same. While there are some twenty-somethings who desire to achieve these things but have been prevented by circumstance, it is clear that a shift has occurred in the culture and mindset of this generation.

Sociologist Michael Kimmel explains this phenomenon in his book Guyland:

“Today many of these young men poised between adolescence and adulthood are more likely to feel anxious and uncertain… After graduation they drift aimlessly from one dead-end job to another, spend more time online playing video games and gambling than they do on dates, ‘hook up’ occasionally with a ‘friend with benefits’, go out with their buddies, drink too much, and save too little… They watch a lot of sports. They have grandiose visions for their futures and not a clue how to get from here to there.”

Acts 29 Vice President Darrin Patrick describes the problem this way:

“We live in a world full of males who have prolonged their adolescence. They are neither boys nor men. They live suspended between childhood and adulthood, between growing up and being a grown-up. Let’s call this kind of male Ban, a hybrid of both man and boy. This kind of male is everywhere, including the church and even vocational ministry…  Assuming the responsibilities of husband and father makes a boy into a man, but Ban doesn’t like responsibility so he extends his adolescence and sets his focus squarely and supremely on himself.”

Psychologists will readily admit that “emerging adulthood” doesn’t yet qualify for a developmental stage.  Part of the definition of a developmental stage is that you have to experience it to develop properly and there are too many successful people who simply haven’t. It also tends to be confined to the middle and upper class since it usually requires the support of parents. But that doesn’t stop many experts from attempting to justify a period of prolonged adolescence that is self-focused and comes with little responsibility. If it can be justified, no longer do parents or societies have to be worried that junior refuses to work a real job, move out of the basement, play less video games, watch Sportscenter only once instead of three times in a row, occasionally hook-up instead of invest in a real relationship, and avoid responsibility for anything but his or her own desires.

The consequences for the acceptance of “emerging adulthood” as a new developmental stage are huge for society, demanding new institutions, programs, and structures to support children into their late twenties who fail to pull their own weight; just as the acceptance of adolescence required. The consequences for the church would also be disastrous as portions of the congregation would be useless to volunteer, serve, give, teach, or commit, lost to self-discovery at the peak of their effectiveness for Christ.

The developmental tasks of “identity exploration”, “self-focus”, and “experimentation in love, work, and worldview,” may be part of “emerging adulthood”, but they are not part of emerging into the image of Christ. Instead of self-discovery, Jesus tells us, “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:38-39). It is in putting to death the self twenty-somethings are so eager to indulge and discover that we follow Christ. We need this generation to rise up and take on responsibility for their selves, their family, their church, and their community; showing the culture a better way instead of conforming to it. What would it look like to have a generation transformed by the gospel rise up, take on responsibility, and give selflessly to the cause of Christ instead of sleeping to noon in mom’s basement after their hook-up the night before? May we raise up such a generation in the church and lovingly help those twenty-somethings working to get there.

(Note: This is not a critique of those who haven’t married, bought a house, found a career, etc. but a critique of the selfishness, avoidance of responsibility, and lack of purpose of which those things CAN be symptoms)

-brian