LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A youth camp for gender non-conforming boys – a retreat for prepubescent young men who behave in ways that are feminine – was posted in Slate.com this summer.
The camp provides a place for parents and children to feel “protected” as these young boys act out in ways that they wouldn’t normally do in public. The article pictures boys wearing dresses, parading down runways, and putting on makeup – all of it with their smiling parents looking on in approval.
The article – and especially the pictures – are grieving for more reasons than I will enumerate here. But there was one particular line from the report that stood out as uniquely revealing:
“Although it is unknown if the kids at the camp will eventually identify as gay or transgender – or even if the way gender and sexuality are defined throughout society will evolve – the camp allows the kids to look at themselves in a completely different way.”
The utter moral confusion of that one sentence is astonishing. According to this author, it’s not just these boys’ gender that is unknown. It’s also the very definition of “gender and sexuality” that is still up for grabs. It is an unwitting admission that the sexual revolutionaries and gender revisionists don’t really know where they are trying to lead us. Yet they confidently call us and our children forward to follow them over the cliff.
This is exactly where the Christian vision of humanity has so much to offer people like the ones profiled in the article. The Bible puts solid ground beneath our feet so that we don’t have to guess at what it means to be male and female – so that parents don’t have to sow even more confusion into their child’s bewilderment.
The spirit of the age tells us that gender is nothing more than a social construct – a set of behavioral patterns and tendencies that we absorb from our culture and upbringing. In this way of thinking, gender norms are arbitrary and fluid. Thus to raise a little boy to be a little boy can be cruel and abusive if that little boy wishes to behave like a girl. Gender is a choose-your-own-adventure story, and the parent’s job is to get out of the way and let it happen.
The Christian vision is so very different from this and so very freeing and affirming of what we were really meant to be before God. In the biblical view, every single person is created in the image of God. God did not make us into undifferentiated genderless automatons. On the contrary, he made us male and female (Genesis 1:26-27), and that fundamental biological distinction defines us.
Gender norms, therefore, have their roots in God’s good creation and are revealed in nature and scripture. The task of parenting requires us to understand those norms and to inculcate them into our children – even those children who have deep conflicts about their “gender identity.”
But the parental vocation is not an easy one. We are a fallen race. That means that we – as well as our children – are born with deep-seated antipathy toward what God made us to be. There is a brokenness in our bones that groans to be healed. As the Psalmist has it, we have all been brought forth in iniquity and conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5).
A parent’s job, therefore, is not to “get out of the way” but to get in the way of every disposition or habit that threatens to derail what God made children to be (Proverbs 22:6). Parents who refuse to correct the destructive tendencies in their own children aren’t loving their children. They’re failing their children (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
And therein is the singular tragedy of this story. Camps like the one profiled above teach parents to abandon children to their fallenness. They celebrate the very brokenness that Jesus died on the cross to forgive and to heal (1 Peter 2:24). They confuse and distort not only gender norms but also what the role of a parent is – to know the truth and to teach their children to walk in it (3 John 4).
To miss this is to miss everything about what it means to be a parent. And it is to miss everything about what it means to be created in God’s image as male and female. In short, it is to miss everything that is most important about life.
As the sexual revolutionaries rally with cries of “liberation,” they are steadily leading us and our children over a cliff. Are you going to follow?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Denny Burk is associate professor of New Testament at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)