A little less than a year ago, the word “deepfake” was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The term surged to popularity as deepfake videos and technology were reportedly threatening to manipulate elections. If you aren’t familiar with deepfakes, the dictionary defines a deepfake as “an image or recording that has been convincingly altered and manipulated to misrepresent someone as doing or saying something that was not actually done or said.”
Thanks to a host of new and developing technologies that can replace faces, manipulate expressions, and generally morph anyone into anything, deepfakes are no longer created only at the hands of computer and technology wizards, but even our kids are getting into the game. Be aware, because this will be happening more and more.
Of course, our main concern is that these technologies will be misused in ways that promote lying, deception, and what the Bible calls “bearing false witness”. . . a sinful act that God detests along with all other sin.
As we’ve thought about the youth culture concerns related to deep fakes, two come immediately to mind. First, deepfakers can lift anyone’s photo off social media. . . photos of adults, teens, and even the smallest of children. . . and turn them into pornography. Second, deepfakes can be used to bully, threaten, and even blackmail innocent parties.
Today, this we ran this piece on deepfakes on our 1-minute daily Youth Culture Today podcast. . .
As you consider where this might all lead, read the words of Proverbs 6:16-19 : “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
Parents, this should give us pause regarding our incessant posting of our children’s photos online. We also need to be warning our kids to be careful about what they post, while also warning them about becoming deepfake perpetrators. This also reminds us that those who now recommend a no-smartphone policy for kids until they are 16 are actually offering sound advice.
And just in case you missed it, a story broke at the beginning of the week which offers a peek into the devious ways even parents are now using deepfakes. . .
A few years ago a friend told me that in the coming days we would, as leaders in ministry, be challenged in new ways by questions about sexuality and gender. He described what was coming as an issue that was going to be very sensitive, for the simple reason that it will involve ministry to and with divine image-bearers wrestling with questions about sex and gender in light of the fast-emerging cultural narrative. His prediction was correct. Perhaps no issue has been more pressing in our youth ministry world and ministry world in general over the last couple of years. Much has changed.
As with all cultural realities that emerge with the advance of the course of this world and the spirit of the times, Christians are called not to adapt the Word to the cultural moment, but to see, understand, and respond to the cultural moment under the light of God’s Word. Why? Because it is the unchanging authority which serves as a set of corrective lenses, helping us to see how to best love and respond to real flesh-and-blood human beings with grace and truth.
As I’ve done following all of our cohort discussions, I asked members of the cohort – all youth workers – to scribble some thoughts that I can post for others to see. I hope you will find these helpful. . .
While I thought that DeYoung’s argument was very good, I had one quibble about his second point, Repression is oppression. I think there is an important distinction between repression and suppression, whereas repression has taken on a more technical nuance to mean a subconscious flight from unwanted impulses / desires / memories, suppression is a conscious decision to reject, turn away from, repent of those impulses, desires, etc. I think Christians can affirm repression as a problem which needs counseling, but suppression as a healthy way of fighting against indwelling sin. When we make that distinction, we can help our non-Christian friends to a) see that we all suppress things that don’t fit with our telos (desserts / gluten / violence) and b) can affirm the importance of therapy for a very real problem of repressed memories, etc. It’s a good apologetic move to notice that distinction.
Being Human by Barrs and Macaulay was my first introduction to the mind/body dichotomy. On that note, again, having a good anthropology (that we are a spirit-body nexus) helps us to see that Death in the fall is any severing of all levels of that nexus – the spirit departing the body in physical death is the antitype for the male mind rejecting the anatomically male body (or female, etc). In other words, in our therapeutic culture, having the ability to speak to the psychological disorientation students feel through the lens of the fall is helpful.
I thought this line was dynamite: “You have to convince yourself that this [transgender] is something that you are, not what you feel, because if it is who you are it isn’t a decision.” Kids really need their peculiarities to be who they are. In a world where you can be anything and everything you want (Absolute Autonomy), it is fascinating that, like any good idolatry, choice and decisions are incredibly scary. Keep worshipping at that altar and it will rob every choice from you. – Matthew Beham
As we’ve been having these conversastions about transgendrism as a cohort, I’ve been thinking through broader ministry to families and the conversations we should be pushing parents to have with their children, well before their teen years. We talked about the narrative of Scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration) and how an understanding of God working through history frames how we respond to issues today. Are we equipping our parents to lead their children in these conversations? And are we having these conversations with students in our ministry? As a dad of an almost 2 year old, it is easy to fear what cultural pressures she’ll face as she grows up. How can I prepare her? I think the story of God and His people has to be the most important thing. If she understands the gospel as more than a one-time response she makes as a child, but as a daily repentance and surrendering, maybe she’ll be well equipped later in life.
It can seem like it’s too late to help teens understand this sometimes, like culture has already shaped them. But we can’t give up. They’ll be parents in a few years shaping the next generation of teenagers. Obviously we need to engage the practical conversations on gender and identity etc…but the gospel is the greatest news of all time and informs all of these discussions. – Jeff Travis
Some thoughts regarding the transgender topic. Page 17 of the Transformed document touches on the need to have policies in place in advance. When I participated in the Symposium On Traditional Biblical Sexuality last year (at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), this was perhaps one of my biggest takeaways. If it hasn’t happened already, it’s only a matter of time until situations such as transgender bathroom use, accommodations on a retreat/summer camp, baptism or participating in other sacraments come into play in your ministry settings. Taking the time now, ahead of time, to write out official policy statements at the church level (yes, senior pastors will need to get on board!) that address these types of topics (some may have to be at a larger umbrella level… we can’t necessarily predict each situation) with biblical truth will serve us well in the future. It allows us to write out well-reasoned and grace-filled responses based on Scripture that we can point to when needed. I actually think this approach to the “ideology” helps us show proper grace to the individuals when the time comes. We don’t have to spend our efforts running around scrambling to figure out how to address the particular situation, we can fall back to our official policies and spend time ministering appropriately.
How this looks in each of your ministry settings will look different. Some denominations already have some guidance in place, some policies may be “internal” documents, rather than published documents, they do not all need to look the same. Regardless, I urge you to consider doing the work to write one sooner, rather than later. -Chris Wagner
The book Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey is a great apologetics book covering topics related to sexuality and beyond. Highly recommend.
That I can remember, Parenting with Words of Grace by William P Smith is one of the best books I can think of related to the topic of having healthy grace-filled relationships & conversations with children/teens – conversations where we point them to truth while also listening well, pointing them to grace, and inviting them to a deeper relationship. So I thought of this book because it fits this theme of listening well and creating safe space for students to speak up that has been consistent in our last few cohort conversations. Obviously this book approaches the subject from the perspective of parenting, but the principles are more broadly applicable to our relationships with teens as youth leaders. It’d be a great book to get in the hands of volunteers and parents, too.
One possible “first principle” that occurred to me is our need for authority in our lives. I’ve found that the students who struggle the most to accept the Bible’s teaching on some of the topics we’ve been discussing are students who have adversarial or broken relationships with authority figures in their lives and are thus less likely to trust what they hear from adults, an institution like the church, etc. – Linda Oliver
Thinking through the conversation surrounding not just transsexualism, but also the larger narrative of LGBTQ+ can seem to be overwhelming for many. The reality is that many students are facing much of this conversation head on as they seek to navigate the culture as it happens. The question we as leaders, volunteers, and parents must understand is “how do we lead well and point our student to Jesus?”
Reflecting on this conversation and the sensitive nature of it, it is important to remember that Christ calls us to love others even as we share truth. That doesn’t mean we water down our truth to share love, nor does it mean we simply state truth without thinking about how it could affect someone. Instead we should understand that “there is no dichotomy between truth and love. For the Christian truth is love and love is truth. If you are not being truthful, you are not being loving. And if you are not loving – you are not truthful (Preston Sprinkle).”
As we think through our conversations surrounding this topic, it is so important to go back to the beginning and how God created humankind – male and female. And in going back to the beginning of Scripture it is also important to remember that each person has their own story and have experienced various feelings, leanings, and struggles. As a result, we should always be willing to hear and walk with people who are struggling with this and love them as we point them to Scripture. Relational equity is huge in these conversations because it shows your heart and your conviction to God’s Word in a way that is more helpful. We should be willing to hear someone’s story, point them to God’s design, engage in authentic conversation, and walk with them as they seek to have God’s plan worked out in their life. –Nick Mance
As we discussed this together, I was struck by the need to have a nuanced approach in response to transgenderism. We must be able to separate the agenda from the people. As pastors, we have to labor to understand and call out the lies of an agenda that is driven by telling people to attempt to change their biology in a way that is often harmful and detrimental. We must understand why this has such a powerful appeal in our culture and how the hope of the gospel speaks a better word than the hope of a transformed gender. And we need to train our students to understand how to respond to these lies. At the same time, we must approach individual people who are struggling with great compassion. We need to appreciate the fact that every person’s story is different. This requires us to have a listening, learning, and humble posture to anyone who may share with us that they are struggling with their gender. It’s all to easy for us as pastors to seek to give the “right answers” without listening, asking questions, and first of all understanding the struggle of the individual before us. Our response needs to be guided by both great wisdom and great compassion. – Kyle Kauffman
It is interesting how quickly our culture is changing around the topics of sexuality and gender. This has opened up many opportunities for parents and youth workers to respond by educating and equipping students to think about these topics through the lens of a biblical worldview. One way we can do this is by reminding students that our ultimate authority is God’s Word. Students need to know what God has said and how it applies to their lives. This can allow students to understand the foundational beliefs of Christianity and how they can live out what God has for them in their schools, with their families, and while being with their peers. – Kyle Hoffsmith
Chances are, few of our kids knew the name Addison Rae Easterling just 19 months ago. But now, less than two years later, anyone with any youth culture awareness at all knows that this 20-year-old TikTok celebrity with 70 million followers and counting, along with 5 billion views, is now an influencer and popular role model for children and teens.
A competitive dancer who started uploading her dance videos to the short-form TikTok video app back in the summer of 2019, she soon dropped out of college as her following grew and she decided to focus full-time on growing her cross-platform social media presence. Now, she’s making millions of dollars through endorsement deals and merchandising. Just last month, she graced the cover of Glamour magazine, and now her acting career is taking off.
Today’s social media-saturated world has made it possible for any kid – or adult – with a smartphone to devote time and energy to the pursuit of online celebrity status. More and more chase the dream of becoming the next Addison Rae. But they don’t realize that once one “successfully” grabs the brass-ring of a following, fame, and fortune, the empty God-shaped hole they thought such status would fill never fills up at all.
A recent Addison Rae interview with yahoo!life features this headline, “Addison Rae reveals mental toll of having 70 million TikTok followers: ‘A lot of it has to do with body image.’” While celebrity-inspiring kids might ignore or write off the disturbing realities that occasioned the headline, we should all – young and old alike – be paying attention. Read further in the interview and you’ll find that Addison Rae has sought the help of a therapist to help her navigate her own continued issues with body image, identity, comparison, and self-worth. It seems like her gnawing emptiness isn’t going away.
Among other issues raised by Addison Rae’s “success”, we need to be thinking and talking about how technology and social media are controlling and shaping (mis-shaping) us. . . and what we can do to appropriately use the good gifts of technology. In effect, how we can take control of social media rather than giving it permission to take control of us?
Perhaps one of the greatest battles we and our kids face each and every day of our lives is the battle over where to place and find our identity. And while we dabble endlessly in trying on identity after identity in an effort to emerge from the “fitting room” and be embraced by affirming/accepting eyes, there is, ultimately, only one place to find that for which we were created. It’s through a relationship with Jesus Christ, the only One who can fill the God-shaped vacuum.
In Paul Tripp’s devotional book, New Morning Mercies, I found this little poem that’s simply titled, “Identity.” I encourage you to read it, ponder it, and have your kids do the same.
No need to search for myself. No need to grasp for meaning for my life or purpose for what I do. No need to hope for inner peace, that sense of well-being for which every heart longs. No need to hope that someone or something will make me happy or give me joy. I no longer need any of these things because grace has connected me to you and you have named me your child.
One of the most basic tasks of human beings is finding an answer to the question, “Who am I?” If you read books, watch TV, or engage with film you see the how the struggle to find an answer to this question works out in our lives. . . sometimes for the duration of our lives.
Those of us who work with kids and study adolescent development know that identity formation – finding an answer to the “Who am I?” question – is one of the most basic developmental tasks. It’s fundamental to our humanity and really ramps up during the teenage years.
Answers to the question abound. Culture offers up all kinds of options and answers, many that wax and wane with the times, leading kids to follow the answer du jour. In today’s world, it seems that the great majority of “answers” coming from the culture fall into the category of “self-determination.” In other words, you are at the center of the world. And since your life is all about you, it’s up to you to determine your identity. Of course, even our best shots miss the bullseye. . . which has resulted in a kind of “fluidity” when it comes to our identities. We choose and choose and choose again, morphing and changing in search of the satisfaction we can only find when we find and fulfill our true created purpose in the world.
Os Guinness, in his book Impossible People, states it well, “People are always becoming, but they never become anything for long.”
This morning I ran across these words on identity from the great theologian, J.I. Packer. In response to the identity question asked by the Psalmist in Psalm 8:4 – “What is man?” – Packer gives clarity as to the location of the identity bullseye. . .
“I am a man; what, then, am I? Not, as philosophers and gnostic ancient and modern would tell me, a soul that would do better without a body, but a complex psycho-physical organism, a personal unit describable as an ensouled body no less than an embodied soul. I am at once the highest of animals, sin no other animal shares my kind of mental life, and the lowest of rational creatures, for no angel is bounded by physical limitations as I am. Yet I, as a man, can enjoy the richest life of all God’s creatures. Mental and physical awareness meet and blend in me fearfully, wonderfully, and fascinatingly. My task is not to dizzy myself by introspecting or speculating to find (if I can) what lies at the outer reaches of consciousness, nor to pursue endless, exquisite stimulation in hope of new, exotic ecstasies. It is, rather, to know and keep my place in God’s cosmic hierarchy, and in that place to spend my strength in serving God and man.”
When you’ve been in the world of youth ministry as long as I have, it’s easy to look into the rearview mirror and notice that there are several things you’d do the same way all over again, and then there are those ministry efforts that you’d probably do a bit differently. . . perhaps QUITE a bit differently. That’s certainly the case for me. And to be clear, whichever of these two categories my evaluative hindsight would drop all those ministry efforts into, I can tell you that the one common thread among them all was good intentions.
For those of us who were meeting regularly back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with a group of kids we dearly loved, we most likely spent time praying that they would be spared from all the growing fallout from the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Our kids were coming of age in a culture that sent strong sexual messages. They were being encouraged to embrace a sexual ethic where you could do whatever, wherever, however, whenever, and with whomever.
We wanted to see our kids live counter-culturally when it came to their sexuality. We desired to see them embrace God’s order and design for their sexuality. So, we talked, taught, and talked some more. We made use of a host of youth ministry resources that were being churned out to help us points kids in the right sexual direction. There were books, movies, music, magazines, seminars, conferences, and all kinds of special events which we had our fingertips as youth ministry “ammo” we could use to steer kids in the right direction. It all became collectively known as “The Purity Movement.” I would emphasize again that our push for sexual purity was rooted in good intentions. We utilized these resources, again, all with a deep, deep desire to love and lead these precious young image-bearers into God’s order and design for sex and sexuality.
A few decades have passed since then. And when we look back in the rearview mirror, we have the benefit of evaluating our purity message “input” back then with the “output” of long-term results that we see now. Here at CPYU, our online Sexual Integrity Initiative uses “Initiative” rather than “Purity” for reasons that are described in this helpful handout for parents. And that’s what we discussed on this latest episode of our Youth Culture Matters podcast. Our guest was Rachel Joy Welcher, author of Taking Back Purity Culture: Rediscovering Faithful Christian Sexuality. Rachel looks at the good things that have come out of those early efforts, while helping us see how doing things differently moving forward will only help our kids live out God’s glorious design to His glory! If you want to revisit your own youth group experiences with purity culture. . . and learn how to effectively lead today’s kids into God’s order and design, you can listen here.
“Why can’t you just say, ‘Because I said so’ every once in a while? It’s a lot harder to watch kids that haven’t learned to be satisfied with that statement.”
I certainly never expected that reply when I asked how babysitting went.
But I could see it: as a young child my son was very inquisitive. Trying to satiate (let alone encourage!) his curiosity took a lot of intentionality. Intentionality that had been planned well before we had children, when it was easy to know exactly the right way to parent.
So when my friend made the comment of teaching my kids to be satisfied with “Because I said so,” I laughed. It made sense.
It’s an easy answer when you’re just too exhausted (physically or mentally) to press on in conversation about what the dog is thinking or why that thing works as it does.
However, as with most shortcuts in life, what is easier in the moment becomes a challenge in the long run.
That’s because the question about why a shark doesn’t sleep is really only partly about ocean creatures. The real question pressing through is “Do you see me? Am I worthy of your time and energy?”
When we dismiss one, we shut down the other.
When we are intentional with engagement, we develop a culture of communication within our homes. Listening (and answering) tells your little one that you see them, that they matter, that their words matter, and that you are always willing to hear what’s on their hearts.
It is this intentional engagement in the little moments of everyday life that opens the door to greater conversations surrounding faith, integrity, and sex.
Now, before I take all the credit, this idea of engaging with our kids in the daily moments to impart wisdom and teaching is not a new concept. Over 3400 years ago, as the Israelites prepared to cross the Jordan and enter the much-awaited Promised Land, Moses took one last opportunity to remind the people where they had come from and what the Lord expected from them moving forward.
Moses taught the people that the greatest commandment ever given should be imparted upon our children in small moments of everyday life.
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
Our faith should be deeply ingrained in our hearts and then put into action in how we parent. Conversations at home, on the go, in calm moments and in the busy moments – these are the times when we share what truly matters.
Through our consistent and intentional engagement, our faith can be moved from thought to direct obedience of Scripture. And if you ask me, that’s the best place for us to live as we parent our children.
So the next time you’re tempted to dismiss the endless questions, pause. Use the opportunity to connect with your child. Yes, it can be exhausting. But it is also the better way to lay a foundation for the future. It is the first step to creating a lasting culture of communication, and gives your kids permission to come to you even as the questions get heavier; questions of peer pressure, sex, faith, and more.
This post was released on Project Six19’s website on JANUARY 20, 2021.
Among the many varied responses there are those who see this as an opportunity to demonize men in high profile ministries as abusers of power. One man like this is way too many. And, we would be foolish to think there aren’t others. . . a fact which has been proven several times over the last few months. We should know better than to say “always” or “never” when speaking about people groups of any kind. . . but we should always be aware that there are never any who are perfect and at the very least, the seed that took root and grew in who-knows-how-many-directions in Ravi Zacharias’s life is always present in us all.
Others have taken the opportunity to lean dangerously close towards the error of writing this off. . . as if Ravi Zacharias should be judged on the scale that leans in the direction of the good things he has said and done, rather than on his serial abuse of women. I’ve even heard some say that 50 or 60 years ago people would have looked the other way at Ravi Zacharias – much like people did with high-profile folks like JFK and MLK – and we should do the same. But what he has done isinexcusable and writing it off only multiplies the horrific fallout in the lives of those he victimized.
There is far more at work in this story than can be fully understood or commented on in even remotely adequate ways here. But as I think about myself and my thousands upon thousands of peers in ministry, three things come to mind.
First, sin is lurking at the door. . . and its desire is for you and for me. If you have any kind of accurate notion of your own broken humanity there needs to be no explanation or qualifier here.
Second, accountability cannot be overlooked. With Ravi Zacharias there is a perfect storm of indicators that accountability, if it did exist, didn’t exist properly. He held a place on his ministry’s board. He was the chairman of his ministry’s board. He had a vote on his ministry’s board. He had family members on his ministries board. He had his name prominently displayed in his ministry’s name. His name was prominent in his ministry’s web address. And that’s just what we know. What else was happening behind the scenes that we haven’t seen? Accountability must be had. . . not because you don’t trust others, but because you shouldn’t trust yourself. Surround yourself with others. Don’t surround yourself with yourself. And the others you surround yourself with should never be “yes-men.” Why? Because they’ll nod their heads in agreement whether you’re taking steps to life or to death. As an aside, let me say something to my younger youth worker friends out there: this is why you need to put yourself under those who are older in your ministry setting.
Third, we each need to recognize that we stand at the edge of the precipice. . . perhaps even closer to the edge than we think if we somehow convince ourselves we aren’t anywhere near the edge. Earlier this week David French released some thoughts in his compelling piece on the Ravi Zacharias story. It was titled, “You are only one step away from complete and total insanity.” The best and the brightest people I’ve known and know in ministry have all said this same thing in one way or another. I think that if you refuse to believe it, you might actually be only a half step away from complete and total insanity.
There’s so much at play in this story. . . more than you or I know or even imagine. But I what I do know is that a good close look in the mirror is required.
Yes, we want our kids to ask questions about God’s good gift of sex, gender, and sexuality. We might not be well-prepared to answer their questions, but as many parents have said to me, “It’s easier for my kids to bring up the questions rather than me!” But there’s one question that always seems to generate a period of hemming and hawing that can go on and on and on. That’s the question of masturbation.
Let’s be honest here. . . my informal surveys of an entire older generation of boys reveals they either a) indulged in auto-eroticism without borders or boundaries (“Ninety-five percent of all teenage boys say they masturbate. . . and the other five percent are liars!” . . . remember that?), b) never discussed the issue with their parents beyond hearing a one-sided “Don’t do it!”, or c) lived their lives in fear and trembling believing that they were going to go blind by the age of 19.
In today’s hyper-sexualized culture, the questions are rarely even being asked. And when a young person (or an old person) seeking to develop a healthy God-honoring approach to His good gift of sex and sexuality starts to ask questions about masturbation, most adults either go blank or have no idea how to answer. I’m fully aware that in the world of theology, and specifically youth ministry, there are a variety of perspectives on how to best answer the question.
Like all questions about sex, sexuality, and gender, this is a question that can only be answered in the context of the story in which we choose to live. If we choose to live in the cultural narrative, it’s not even a question. But for those who have been called into the biblical narrative, we need to listen diligently to that story as we faithfully ponder what God’s answer is. . . even if we don’t feel like His answer is the easiest one to accept and enlist.
One of the most helpful pieces I’ve ever read is in a post on “Solo Sex and the Christian” from my friend David White who used to serve on staff at Harvest USA. I’ve spent years trying to think through the best way to hear the Scriptures speak and how to communicate those answers to the kids (and adults) I encounter who ask the question. David’s article is, without a doubt, the most thoughtful practical theology of masturbation I’ve ever seen. It is worth a few minutes of your time. . . and perhaps you will find it as helpful as I do.
We are all sexual strugglers at some level. . . all of us. Here’s what David writes about the struggle with masturbation. . .
One of the frequently asked questions at a Harvest USA seminar is whether masturbation is a sin. There has been a lot of debate on this issue in Christian circles, largely because it’s a behavior without a condemning, biblical proof text. Although I can’t point you to a specific chapter and verse forbidding this behavior, God’s design for sexuality makes it clear that there is no room for masturbation in the life of a Christian.
As I’ve written elsewhere, there is theological significance to our sexuality. Two things are crucial to have at the forefront when considering solo sex. First, in the Bible sexual activity is always reserved for marriage. It is designed to be inherently relational, a deep knowing of and intimacy with another. Second, the goal of sex is selfless service, the pleasuring of another. This latter point is particularly clear from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, the only “how to” passage in the Bible prescribing sexual activity.
God designed sexuality to be like every other aspect of the Christian life: a turning away from selfish desires to honor God with my body and use it to serve others. Sex in Christian marriage should reflect the New Testament’s ethic in general. Describing discipleship, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is much more than a proof text for the atonement; it is the culmination of Jesus’ teaching on what it means to be his disciple.
As a solitary activity, masturbation is not rooted in relationship with another. There is no opportunity for deepening intimacy and knowing of another. Further, far from selfless service, masturbation is a picture of incarnate selfishness. To engage in this behavior is to say. . . (to keep reading, click here).
Do you know what the gnawing questions are that your students are asking about their identity? And, if you know the questions, are you equipped to guide them into understanding biblically-based answers to those questions?
Two of the most pressing questions kids are asking from birth up until adulthood are these. . . 1) Who am I?, and 2) What do I believe? In fact, both of these questions are at the foundation of two of the most pressing developmental tasks kids are engaged in. . . 1) Identity formation, and 2) Worldview formation.
As I’ve studied youth culture trends and traveled to spend time with youth workers, parents, and students over the last few years, I’ve come to believe that one of the most pressing issues of our times is the question of identity. Our kids are growing up in a world where the compelling and pervasive cultural-narrative mis-leads them into faulty and destructive identity beliefs which they will most likely hold onto for the rest of their lives. More and more kids base their identity on what they look like and what others think of them. Others are rooting their identity in sexual and gender preferences. But we know that we are called to lead them to find their identity in Christ and who they are as image-bearers of God.
We want to help equip you to lead your students into finding their identity in Christ. It’s to that end that I’ve personally vetted and curated a little identity resource packet that will guide and shape your biblically-based teaching with both students and their parents. I’ve chosen four accessible books which will complement each other as they resource you to address the identity issue in a God-honoring way.
Here’s what’s included:
What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?: Answers To The Big Questions Of Life is a book by Ed Welch that will help your students answer the “Who Am I?” question in ways that will release them from living to impress others, while living within the freedom of living for Christ. This book will not only serve to give you material you can teach, but it is designed to be read by students and even used in a small group setting.
Face Time: Your Identity In A Selfie World is written by Kristen Hatton, a mom who had to deal with the identity issue when her own daughter’s seemingly picture perfect life came apart at the seams when she sought acceptance and worth in all the wrong places and things. While the book is designed to be read by teenaged girls, I’m telling youth workers that they can teach the book’s material to both girls and guys. Kristen’s theology of identity is worth the price of the book alone, and it can serve as valuable teaching content.
Will You Be My Facebook Friend: Social Media and The Gospel is a helpful little book from Tim Chester that pastorally and biblically addresses some of the danger zones with social media, particularly as it relates to identity. Again, this is one from which you can teach.
And finally, Gender: A Conversation Guide For Parents And Pastors is a little book for those who want to teach the Bible faithfully regarding matters of gender identity. . . which is a huge topic of conversation among our kids in today’s youth culture. It’s also one that will help your parents discuss these issues in age and stage appropriate ways.
Editor’s note: This post is reprinted from the lead article in our January 2021 CPYU Parent Page. . . a monthly subscription resource available for youth workers to distribute to parents. To learn more about the CPYU Parent Page and to subscribe, click here.
Don’t like what you see in the mirror? You’re not alone. It’s not surprising that the top two New Year’s resolutions have everything to do with what we see in the mirror: exercise more, and lose weight. While it is important that we teach our kids to take care of their God-given bodies, they are growing up in a culture where we are obsessed with our outward appearances. Our obsession is less a matter of balanced stewardship, and more a matter of all-consuming idolatry. What we look like has become the foundation on which so many build their identity. I recently read that as of 2017, the “wellness” industry was a $4.2 trillion market, which was up from $3.7 trillion in 2015.
While these messages educate our kids from the moment they emerge from the womb, the time when these messages exercise their greatest persuasive power is when our kids hit puberty. . . which in today’s world starts for many when they are still in elementary school.
Do you remember what it was you were feeling and experiencing when your body was transitioning from childhood to adulthood with what seemed like breakneck speed? It happened for me during my Junior High years and I was consumed with two questions: What is happening to me? And, what do I do with what is happening to me? I can’t imagine what it’s like to navigate puberty in today’s world. Television, film, and social media is pounding them with thousands of images and messages daily, each one contributing to a set of appearance standards that become the benchmark for being normal, acceptable, likeable, and lovable. Parents can and must help kids navigate this confusing new transition of rapid physical growth by playing the following roles:
Be sensitive and affirming as your teen’s body changes. Our children need parents who will openly explain and discuss what is happening to their bodies. Most of these changes occur during the middle school years, when group acceptance is of the utmost importance and when peers – because of their own impulsivity and insecurities – tend to be most cruel and insensitive. A loving and sensitive parent can serve as a buffer in the midst of the type of ridicule that could scar a child’s self-image for life. While dealing with these pressures will still be difficult for your child, your positive input will serve to build resiliency into your teen.
Offer your teen a godly perspective on the changes that are taking place. In addition to modeling the unconditional love and acceptance of Christ during the physically awkward years, Mom and Dad should temper the social pressure to be preoccupied with outward appearance. Take the time to teach your children about the inward qualities of godliness. Be sure you provide an example void of obsession over your own appearance. It’s important to be about the business of developing your own inward character in a Godly direction. You too, are who you are, not what you look like.
Understand the sexual temptation your teen faces. In centuries past, when puberty arrived at a later age and marriages took place when children were younger, pre-marital sexual temptation was present but not as intense. Kids were able to answer the pressure with some resilience thanks to a commonly-held understanding of sexual parameters, right and wrong, and the expectations of society-at-large. The ever-widening gap between sexual maturity and age of marriage has made it difficult for our kids. We must live and promote a Biblical sexual ethic so that they might experience the God-given gift of sexuality in all of its glorious and enjoyable fullness, in the context of a monogamous, life-long, heterosexual marriage.
Ongoing open communication with your kids about their new bodies will not only temper the culture’s message with Scriptural truth, but it will strengthen your relationship with your child.
Here we are, just a little over six months into 2020, and already we know that this will go down in our own histories as a year filled with unexpected challenges. The first half of the year has brought monumental lifestyle changes and interruptions thanks to a pandemic, along with the challenges of dealing with our culture’s long-standing inequalities. In addition, political divisions are widening. If you’re like me, you’re wondering what surprises the second half of 2020 will bring. It seems like we’re all already living in a thick and confusing fog.
As I’ve been thinking back to the late 1960s and my own years of early adolescence, I can’t help but notice how similar 2020 has been to what we experienced during those days of cultural change and unrest. Those years were challenging years through which to parent, and the same holds true for those of us raising kids today.
While the issues are complex, let me suggest just one very timely spiritual truth we must teach our kids in the midst of this time where our differences have occasioned discord and hate. It’s a lesson I believe can help us all as we live in a world where civility can so easily diminish when people disagree on how to understand and handle issues like the current pandemic, politics, and racism.
The spiritual truth we must teach is one that is foundational to who we all are as human beings. . . a commonality that exists in spite of our differences. It is a truth that was revealed at creation and the beginning of time. Take a minute to read the Creation account, paying special attention to Genesis 1:26-28. This is where we learn about how all humanity has been created in the image of God. To be created in the image of God means that He has endowed us all with dignity and significance. Not only does this matter for how we view ourselves, but it matters deeply for how we view and treat others. Theologian Gregg Allison tells us that the doctrine of the image of God means that “all people should be treated with respect, with appreciation for God’s excellent design. Racism, sexism, classism, and ageism are categorically excluded.”
As the summer unfolds, our temptation to see those who might disagree with us on the issues of the day as “less than” ourselves will continue. In response, here are four practical steps you can take to instill in yourself and your kids a view of all people that will derail hatred that comes when we dehumanize those who are different, while moving us in the direction of loving God by loving our neighbor.
First, pray to see all people through God’s eyes. Our vision is clouded by our sin, our histories, and our circumstances. Pray for clear vision.
Second, when you are tempted to diminish the value of another, remind yourself that he or she is, like you, an “image-bearer.” The father of lies wants us to deny the image of God in others.
Third, treat all others with Christ-like respect. While legitimate disagreements might exist, show the grace and kindness of Jesus Christ in all of your interactions.
And finally, denounce the diminished view of other human beings wherever you encounter it.
So the female rapper Cardi B has us all thinking. She’s got us all talking. And as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most-Influential-People of 2018 (labeled by Time in that list as a “pioneer”), her latest single release has landed in big, big ways in a youth culture that’s primed and ready to be influenced and led. More on that in a bit. But first, this. . .
As a long-time pop culture watcher, junkie, and even pop culture lover, there’s very little I encounter that’s surprising. If you are a careful observer of cultural undercurrents, you can develop strong hunches regarding how emerging beliefs will soon spread and ultimately manifest themselves in outward behaviors. Yesterday, I was reminded of that fact when I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 1977 Francis Schaeffer film series, How Should We Then Live, is now streaming for free on Amazon Prime. Schaeffer has long been one of my culture-watching heroes and mentors. And when I quickly opened up and watched the first couple minutes of the last episode in the series, I was reminded again of Schaeffer’s brilliant Scripture-guided skill for discernment. . . to see things as they really are. . . and it was astounding to me how well in 1977 he was describing what is happening in our world today. But even after listening to and being trained by so many sharp culture-watchers, Cardi B’s newest single, “WAP”, has my head-spinning with surprise and sadness as I think about where we are as a culture and how we’ve gotten here.
So before jumping into some initial thoughts sparked by Cardi B’s latest release, let me give you a little who and what background if you’re finding yourself a bit behind in this conversation.
First, the who. As far as the music scene goes, the 28-year-old is a relative newcomer. In just a little over three years, the self-described Catholic who speaks of her strong relationship with God has gone from relative obscurity to being seen as Hip-Hop’s Reigning Queen. Truth be told, at this moment she might just be the most influential female on the music scene. She is a multiple-award-winner (way too many to list here) who is a life-style influencer and icon in everything from fashion, to gender definition, to identity, and to sexuality. If she’s new to you, you can eliminate your ignorance with a quick search on the Internet. In fact, check out her page on Wikipedia for an updated overview.
Second, the what. . . and this is where is gets a bit difficult for me to communicate details. . . as communicating the details about her hit song and video, “WAP” , is risky business. It starts with the song’s title, which is an acronym for a vile term for female genitalia. In this case, the song’s title doesrelate clearly to the lyrical and visual themes of the song and its’ video as it celebrates and promotes a version of female sexuality that is raw, expressive, table-turning dominant, and as one affirming critic has said, “Class-A filth, a torrent of horny one-liners. . .” I do believe that in order to fully understand what’s being talked about here and to prepare an informed response, you would have to watch and listen for yourself. However, that’s your call. You need to know that the music critics are loving it. And, it seems that the music-consuming population loves it as well. It has topped the global Spotify chart, debuted at #1 on The Apple Music songs chart (highest debut ever by a female artist), debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the video garnered well over 26 million views during its’ first 24-hours. New York Times’ music critic Ben Sisario says it’s perhaps the raunchiest No. 1 single in history.
Simply said, Cardi B and her song “WAP” . . . and everything it tells us about culture. . . demands our attention.
As I’ve been processing Cardi B’s latest song over the last few days, a few initial thoughts have come to mind. At this point, they’re early in development and I’m sure they will take shape in new ways over time. But since the song is so new and having such an impact, I thought I would share just ten of my thoughts here.
First, as we always say here at CPYU, culture is a mirror. Cultural artifacts serve to reflect the spirit of the times and what the Bible calls “the course of this world.” Whether in print, on the screen, through the earbuds, etc. . . music and media are powerful forms that must “be read” if we are to understand the days in which we live. Culture shapes art, and art reveals to us the beliefs which are at the root of our behaviors. One of the great benefits of evaluating art and music is that as followers of Christ, we can eliminate the lag that so often exists between the time that ideas take root and grow, and the time it takes for us to respond by either affirming or challenging what it is we see and hear. In this case, “WAP” might not be telling us where our kids are today, but it does offer a peek into where they are most likely headed tomorrow.
Second, as we always say here at CPYU, culture is a map. What we see and hear defines the world for us. It tells us how things are and how things should be. It guides us into embracing beliefs and behaviors, normalizing them for better or for worse. Have you listened to the lyrics in “WAP”? Have you watched the video? Have you laid out Cardi B’s map that is serving to direct an entire generation of kids into how to think about and live out matters of identity, personhood, value, and sexuality? If we want to effectively lead our kids into a lifetime of embracing that which is good, true, right, and honorable according to God’s Word, then we must be able to answer the pervasive, attractive, compelling, and powerfully convincing messages coming at them 24/7 through pop culture. . . including this message from Cardi B that’s coming through loud-and-clear.
Third, wake up people. We’re not in Kansas anymore. I’ve never believed that “the good old days” were actually good old days. Human beings weren’t necessarily any less sinful and depraved in the 50’s and 60’s. Everyone had to live (here’s my Calvinism coming through!) with their own total depravity in a world broken by sin. What was different were the categories of vice and virtue. By and large, people knew and shared the lines between right and wrong. Sure, while there was a more widely-held agreement, people still chose to cross lines from virtue into vice. But it was usually done on the sly. And when it was exposed, there were typically some kind of consequences. What’s different now is that those lines have disappeared, and what Cardi B and the rest of our culture have been encouraged to embrace and are encouraging others to embrace are old vices as current virtues. What used to be condemned is now celebrated. Truth be told, Cardi B is only being true to the worldview she’s grown up with. It’s a world where we are encouraged to “follow your heart” and “do the right thing”. . . the right thing being whatever your heart tells you to do. In a world like this, why wouldn’t individuals take God’s good and glorious gift of sexuality and indulge it without borders and boundaries? One more thing. . . for the Christian, we don’t own the conversation anymore. . . and I’m not sure we ever really did. We are pilgrims, strangers, and guests in this brave new world.
Fourth, whoever speak on matters of sexuality first will set the bar and own the conversation.Parents and youth workers MUST believe this to be true. . . and act accordingly. With pop culture filling the minds and hearts of even our preschool screen-centered and obsessed kids, the lyrical, visual, and lifestyle message peddled by Cardi B and so many others is being consistently seen and heard by the most impressionable and moldable human beings among us: our kids. What this means is that we need to have what might be difficult and hard-to-frame conversations at younger and younger ages about God’s grand and glorious design for His good gift of gender, sex, love, and marriage. Home and church need to be diligent at working together to make this happen. Think of it as a process of fertilizing the soil of young hearts and minds so that the seed of God’s grand and glorious design will take root and grow, resulting in the sexual flourishing of our kids as they grow up. If we aren’t cultivating and fertilizing this soil with the Gospel, the fertilizer of “the course of this world” will do its’ job. (Check out CPYU’s free-resource-packed Sexual Integrity Initiative for help in this task).
Fifth, we need to know and teach God’s design for love, sex, and marriage. Both the culture and the culture-in-the-church are getting this wrong. The place to begin on these matters is in the Genesis creation account. What exists in the Garden at creation is God’s shalom. Things are the way they are supposed to be and the creation is set up to flourish. What exists is pronounced “Good!” by the Creator of all things, including sexuality and gender. Sex is to be embraced, indulged and experienced within the context of a covenantal monogamous life-long union between one man and one woman. (Here’s a link to a free “Parents’ Guide to Teaching Kids God’s Design For Sexuality”)
Sixth, we need to realize that the culture is promoting a “sex-positive” movement. Sadly, the cultural sense regarding biblical sexuality is that God and the Bible are “sex-negative”. In response to what is seen as out-of-date and repressive rules an regulations, the sex-positive movement is all about changing old values while promoting all consensual sexual activity as normal, healthy, and pleasurable. There are no borders and boundaries beyond mutual consent. It’s all a matter of personal preference. Cardi B is a contemporary mouthpiece for this movement. And chances are that your kids. . . even your Christian kids. . . have been so influenced and nurtured into this way of thinking over time that your conversations with them about biblical sexuality might meet with resistance. Again, they are only being true to a worldview they’ve consistently heard and they might know nothing else. Of course, parents and youth workers can and must change that for the good of our kids and the glory of God.
Seventh, there is a power play taking place in our culture. As we battle over worldviews and ways of looking at and living life, we are now beyond the point of civil discourse and discussion. Sure, that is happening in some places. But by and large our culture that celebrates and grabs for empowerment takes the power and runs with it. . . no discussion to be had. In the case of Cardi B and “WAP”, this is an expression of the move toward female empowerment in all areas of life, including sexuality. No question, there has to be pushback on the horrible and destructive ways in which men have misused, demeaned, disrespected, and abused women in our culture and our cultural history. . . sexually and otherwise. It has to stop. But there is always the danger that as the pendulum swings-away from one systemic sin, it might swing too far and land in practicing another. Be sensitive to this as you engage in conversations where those conversation happen.
Eighth, prepare yourself for conflict. . . even with your kids. I fear that to engage in civil discussion when there is disagreement is quickly becoming a thing of the past. We now live in a “cancel culture.” the dictionary defines cancel culture in this way: “Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.” In recent months, I experienced this in a personal way, all without any kind of effort made on the part of the canceler to ask for an explanation or clarification. It is a practice void of opportunity for conversation or expression of grace. A quick scan of the internet offers ample evidence of cancel culture in full bloom as pundits offer critique (many times grace-filled and reasonable) of Cardi B and her song. Labels are slapped on people (conservative vs. liberal), conclusions are drawn, commentary and analysis are taken out of context, and chasms grow. In the case of the kids you know and love, prepare for pushback as you seek to address the advance of the course of this world. And always remember that an investment in the people you know and love will require the kind of patience and grace that we ourselves have been shown by Jesus Christ. . . even when we are canceled.
Ninth, pray for those who are mapping and mirroring life. . . including Cardi B.I will stand first-in-line among those who are willing to write-off and condemn those who we believe are leading our kids and culture further and further away from the Creator’s design for our human flourishing. I confess that I desire to see these voices silenced. . . many times with little or no desire to see those voices and their messages change through an encounter with the Living God. I am continually reminding myself that all people. . . ALL people. . . are divine image-bearers. Everyone is given dignity, value, and worth. And just as I desire to see the culture swing more towards creational shalom and flourishing, so must I desire the same for individuals. We must pray for God’s grace to visit all people. . . including those with whom we disagree and even battle. . . with that grace settling on them in big ways through conversion and sanctification. This morning I encountered these helpful words from Fergus Macdonald regarding how to engage in this battle: “We dare not forget that God’s church is engaged in spiritual warfare. All our attackers are in servitude to unseen evil forces. Our priority is to pray for our visible enemies and against the ones who are invisible.”
And tenth, “WAP” serves as a powerful reminder of our responsibility to teach our kids skills in biblical media discernment. The Christian faith must be integrated into all of life, including the media choices we make and how we make those choices. We’ve been trumpeting this message here at CPYU, and over the years tens of thousands of kids have been trained by their youth workers and parents in the 3(D) process of Discover, Discern, Decide that is taught in our How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart 3(D) Guide To Making Wise Music Choices. You can learn more about this resource and this process here. It is a skill that when learned will serve our kids well for the rest of their lives. (Here’s a link to a helpful podcast on media discernment: Sex & Christian Parents: Biblical Media Discernment)
So, what now? As you respond to Cardi B and “WAP” in the midst of this teachable moment that’s dropped into our youth ministry and parenting laps, don’t forget to exercise diligence by doing the following:
Know God’s design for all of life by immersing yourself in His Word.
Live His design with reckless abandon in your life.
Teach His design to the kids you know and love.
Ask lots of clarifying questions. Listen before you speak.
Be patient. Cultural and individual change do not happen overnight.
Show the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ as you tell your kids the truth.
And now. . . I’m going to watch Francis Schaeffer. . .
If it doesn’t happen, who is going to be more disappointed? You? Or your kids?
That question haunted me in a personal way as I rode past a high school football stadium during the last week of July. Coaches and players were assembled on the field for workouts in preparation for a season that might or might not happen due to our current pandemic. I rewound 17 years to my own son, and I began to wonder how he would have responded if his last year of high school football had been shut down. Then, I began to wonder how I would have responded as his dad. Truth be told, I don’t know that it would have been easy for me to take it all in stride. . . which I’m afraid reveals an aspect of my character that’s not very attractive.
The reality is that just about every extra-curricular activity in which our kids engage is in jeopardy. Sports, concerts, clubs, academic competitions, and other areas where our kids have a chance to shine might not happen. And what that means is that our parental opportunity to shine through our kids and their talents might disappear as well. I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.
In his book Parenting: Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, Dr. Paul Tripp includes a chapter on the topic of “Identity.” Dr. Tripp states the “Identity Principle” this way: “If you are not resting as a parent in your identity in Christ, you will look for identity in your children.” While expecting our children to be successful and do their best is not a bad thing, far too many of us are harboring parental hearts that are more focused on our children achieving the kind of success that makes us look good, rather than on the child who is required to deliver it. The result is that we crush and embitter our children through the weight of our pressures and expectations. When that happens, God bless our sons and daughters.
The remedy to this is to rest in our identity in Jesus Christ. If we are not finding our identity in Christ, we will to find our identity in something in the creation. . . possessions, vocation, accomplishments, and even our children. Simply stated, this is idolatry. As Dr. Tripp remind us, only Christ is able to give us the identity, peace, and meaning that our hearts seek.
So, how can you know if you are living to find your identity through your children rather than in Jesus Christ? What are the signs that your parenting is driven more by what you need from your children rather than by what God wants to do through you in your children? Dr. Tripp shares these five “sure indications”:
Too much focus on success. You want your children to succeed because you need them to succeed.
Too much concern about reputation. You rely on your children and their performance to polish your reputation as a parent.
Too great desire for control. You control situations and people to make sure your children succeed and enhance your reputation.
Too much emphasis on doing rather than being. You focus on your child’s physical, social, and educational accomplishments rather than on their heart.
Too much temptation to make it personal. You focus not on how their behavior is viewed by God, but on how their behavior affects you.
Parents, take stock of how you’re parenting. Are you putting undue, spirit-crushing pressure on your kids, or are you seeking to find your identity in Christ?
Two of social media’s most negative effects are 1) How it can become a time waster for both those who post and those who are consumed with reading posts, and 2) how social media is uniquely suited as a playground to indulge our sinful natures in impulsive “speak-before-thinking” ways that lead to all kinds of trouble. . . including glorification of self rather than glorification of God.
In Proverbs we read these wise words: “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20) and “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).
While I am far from consistently hitting the mark, I endeavor to follow the wisdom of Proverbs whenever I’m using social media. Here are some steps that you might find helpful as you take a purposeful pause” before hitting “send”, “post”, “tweet”, or “reply.” Share these steps with parents, kids, and your church staff as a way to promote healthy social media use as an act of worship. . .
For me, my conscious first memories of engaging in the simplest of ways with the topic of love began in Kindergarten. Every year when I was in elementary school, I would spend the evening of February 13 punching out two-dozen Valentine’s Day cards from perforated sheets, signing them with my name, and stuffing them in envelopes. . . each one addressed to a different member of my class. Back then, we used those little dime-store cards to send the same message to everyone. . . male and female as I remember it. . . “Will you be my Valentine?”
Now that I’m grown-up, I often think back to those days and wonder if our willingness to throw our meager and meaningless little expressions of “love” around might have contributed in some way to the widespread confusion about the nature of romance that seems to have gone viral throughout our culture. When I look around at our cultural expressions (movies, TV, music, etc.) and personal practices (premarital sex, cohabitation, sexual identity issues, polyamory, etc.) I wonder if anyone even knows where to go to gain a clear understanding on matters of love, sex, and marriage.
Sadly, we’ve forgotten that love, sex, and marriage all have their origins in God’s good creation. We have to start with the Creator and His design. These days, the culture isn’t doing that. Sadly, many in the church aren’t doing that either. The Creator of humanity has given us love, sex, and marriage as a gift. In Genesis 2:24 we read, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” When understood in this light, we see that our current cultural beliefs and behaviors are not what they’re supposed to be.
We must take the time to teach the kids you and know and love God’s good truth about His order and design for marriage. Don’t wait. Whoever has the conversation with kids first sets the bar and owns the conversation. Will it be the culture? Will it be you?
Theologian John Stott reminds us that we need to see that Genesis 2:24 tells us that marriage is a relationship with 5 facets. Share each of these with your kids:
-Marriage is meant to be heterosexual. It is between a man and a woman. . . nothing more or nothing less.
-Marriage is meant to be monogamous. It is a relationship reserved for one man and one woman.
-Marriage is meant to be a commitment. A man is to leave his father and hold fast to his wife. What’s missing in a relationship where a couple simply chooses to live together is a commitment.
-Marriage is meant to be public. The leaving from parents is a social occasion where a couple commits themselves to each other in front of family and friends.
-Marriage is meant to be physical. A couple becomes one flesh by consummating their commitment to each other through the act of sexual intercourse, something God’s given them to indulge with each other exclusively!
The culture is educating our kids 24/7 on the nature of love, sex, and marriage. Are you telling them the truth?
The headline took me back a few years to some things we had written and recorded on this growing trend toward polyamory moving in our culture from vice to virtue. Specifically, we took at look at Polyamory back in the October 2014 edition of our monthly CPYU Parent Page. Here’s what I wrote. . .
The New Monogamy
Last March, an article in Rolling Stone magazine caught my eye. . . and made me grieve. Alex Morris reported on “Tales From the Millennials’ Sexual Revolution” and some troubling values, attitudes, and behaviors that are becoming normalized among our kids as they transition into adulthood.
Unlike the traditional understanding of monogamy where a man and woman are joined together and pledge their faithfulness to one another in marriage, this new monogamy exclusivity really isn’t about exclusivity or faithfulness at all. Rather, partners enter into a marriage, or even cohabitation (who gets married anymore?), with a “primary partner.” Then, they share and even celebrate the understanding that there will also be one or more “secondary partners” who are willingly and openly embraced and acknowledged. Why? Because the “primary partner” will not be able to meet all of one’s emotional or sexual needs. Sure, a version of this has been around for a long, long time. But it used to be called an “affair,” “cheating,” “adultery,” or just plain old “sneaking around.” Now, it’s being called “normal.”
Our culture is moving closer and closer to full-scale acceptance and normalization of what’s known as “polyamory.” The word combines the prefix “poly”- meaning “many or several” – with the Latin word for love, “amor.” In other words, those who embrace polyamory believe in having several emotionally and/or sexually intimate relationships at one time, and doing it all out in the open, with the approval of everyone involved. After all, if its no longer seen as a vice but now a virtue, there’s no reason to even consider hiding anything. This takes the commonly accepted practiced of premarital promiscuity and amps it up to new levels, where it’s not only something that’s expected and celebrated before marriage, but is now accepted and celebrated after marriage. In other words, your kids are now swimming in a cultural soup where relational and sexual faithfulness and exclusivity in marriage might soon be seen as an archaic throwback to a time that was . . . well. . . just plain old-fashioned.
Whether they call it polyamory or not, every one of your students will encounter this trend, and some will even embrace it. How can we equip our students to think about and respond to polyamory and the new monogamy to the glory of God through being faithful to God’s will and way?
First, you need to talk about the new monogamy. Don’t ignore it or hope it will go away. Engage with your kids as you label, define, and describe polyamory and the manner in which it is sneaking into our culture.
Second, set the bar high for marriage. As Christians, we must always return to God’s Word if we hope to understand his design and intent for the institution of marriage. Marriage is a an exclusive covenantal union between one man and one woman.
And finally, bring the light of God’s Word on marriage to bear on this new understanding of monogamy. Help them to critique the new monogamy to help them see how far it falls short of God’s design for love, sex, and marriage.
I’ll be sharing more perspective on marriage that we can teach our kids in coming days. Stay tuned.
It’s not at all surprising that a host of news outlets and researchers are reporting a spike in the use of online pornography during the current Covid-19 pandemic. People of all ages. . . children, teens, and adults alike. . . are hunkered down during the stay-at-home quarantine with extra time, stress, social distancing, loneliness, and boredom on their hands. Consequently, the temptation for those alreadyengaged with pornography is to run to this fallen expression of God’s good gift of sex with greater frequency. And with people of all ages able to access their devices due to increased time, the playground of the internet offers greater opportunity for pornography to find them.
This perfect storm has been seen by pornographers as an opportunity to build their audience. As an example, the world’s largest online porn site, Pornhub, made their exclusive subscription-based premium content free for 30 days. Consider this sad fact: during the 3-week pandemic shutdown in India, porn use increased 95%. In the end, it’s not only Covid-19 that’s going viral, but sexual immorality and the scourge of pornography as well. It’s frightening to think about what the fallout might be.
For parents and youth workers this is a moment that cannot be overlooked or missed. First, we need to help our kids understand that sex, sexuality, and gender are all good gifts from God. Second, we need to help them understand what to do when, not if, they encounter pornography. . . if, by chance, they are one of the few innocent and naive kids left. Third, we must equip ourselves not only for the aforementioned tasks, but to handle the temptation we will experience and face not only now, but for the rest of our lives.
Here are some resources we’ve put together than can help. . .
First, check out our Sexual Integrity Initiative. The website is loaded with all kinds of free resources to help you point your kids away from sexual brokenness and towards sexual flourishing.
And third, carve out some time to listen to this latest episode of our Youth Culture Matters Podcast. . . which features a conversation with Michael Cusick about how to navigate the issues related to increased pornography use during this pandemic.
Last night I finished reading Rachael Denhollander’s sobering book, What Is A Girl Worth?, which tells the story of her courageous leadership in exposing the systemic sexual abuse of young female athletes by Dr. Larry Nassar. I can’t recommend this book enough. For those of us who might be ignorant of the breadth, depth, and fallout from the epidemic of sexual abuse, this book is an eye-opener.
What many don’t know about Larry Nassar is that in addition to molesting hundreds of victims through his medical practice, he was also deeply addicted to pornography. Not only was he convicted on multiple accounts of sexual abuse, Nassar was also convicted of having over 37,000 images and videos of child pornography on his computer.
As we’ve worked to understand and respond here at CPYU to the growing glut of pornography that is accessible, affordable, and largely anonymous, we have learned that as with all types of human brokenness we need to respond with a three-fold strategy.
First, we need to be prophetic. . . bringing the light of God’s Word to bear on the realities that exist. What do the Scriptures say about the issue of broken sexuality and pornography? And, how do we talk about pornography with our kids? Second, we need to be preventive. What can we do as responsible adults. . . parents, teachers, youth workers, pastors, etc. . . . to build the borders and boundaries that will keep our kids and ourselves from undoing God’s good design for our sexuality through sin? And finally, we need to be redemptive. What steps should we take when we discover that a kid we know has wandered into the dangerous world of pornography? (Many have found Tim Chester’s book, Closing The Window: Steps To Living Porn Free, to be very helpful!). And by the way, it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.
I was reminded again this weekend of one of the most powerful preventive steps we can take to provide for our kids’ well-being while protecting them from harm. In an article in the November 2019 edition of First Things, “How To Regulate Pornography,” Terry Schilling writes these words: “A thirteen-year-old with a smartphone in 2019 has greater access to pornography than the most depraved deviant could have dreamed possible two decades ago. . . Not only has pornography become more accessible, it has become more diverse and perverse, as cultural vanguards and even mainstream institutions have promoted sexual fetishism as a new sort of societal norm, if not overtly, then with a wink and a nod.”
While Schilling is right about the difference between then and now, she does shoot a bit on her age estimation. The fact is that in today’s world, the tipping point where more than half of our kids have their own smartphone is now age 11. And what about those kids that have their own smartphones at the age of seven or eight?
We have to ask. . . If we really care about our kids and their well-being, why would we walk them by the hand right up to the doorway into online sexual brokenness by giving them access to the internet through their own smartphones?
The conversation continues. . . and so it should. . . because these things do indeed matter. (Here’s what I wrote on Monday). And lest you think that all those who care are only singling out the few minutes and participants we saw on Sunday night, that’s not true. What we saw was a brief and wide-open peek into a widely-held and fast-spreading cultural narrative that’s so deeply embedded in our world and ourselves that it is largely invisible. We know that’s the case for the simple reason that when it is brought to light, the push-back is that it doesn’t even exist. . . or if it does in fact exist, it just doesn’t matter.
I’ve been tracking with the back-and-forth on social media. This morning, I ran across some insightful and heart-felt words from my friend Mindy Summers. Mindy is a young wife and mother who six years ago began a ministry to people who are making a living in the sex-industry. The ministry is called “SoLoved.” Mindy and her team don’t desire any attention, and I asked her permission to share the focus of the ministry and her words. She says, “We are a team of women and men (prayer & security) who reach out to women here locally within the sex industry. Our entire goal is to build relationship & sisterhood with the ladies in the clubs. We want them to know they are loved, valued, seen & that we so enjoy who they are. Every month we bring gifts, homemade treats, handwritten love notes and homemade meals to each club. It has been a true honor & joy. Our vision statement is this: ‘Ministering to women in the sex industry, helping them see they are valued and dearly loved by Jesus, and believing for lasting freedom for their lives.’” Mindy and her team are living the Gospel.
Here’s what Mindy posted the day after the Super Bowl. Her words are filled with hope, truth, and compassion. . .
After I put my babies to bed tonight I ventured online to see this halftime show everyone was talking about…
As I watched two incredibly talented and beautiful women…my eyes welled up with tears.
This is the thing- I am not sheltered. I spend hours in strip clubs every month. Hours. I’ve been doing this for nearly 6 years. I’ve seen a lot of stuff. Our SoLoved team desires to build relationships with the precious women within the walls of these establishments. They are treasures. Most of them are there because of childhood trauma & abuse, lack of opportunity and/or manipulation or coercion. They didn’t dream of this. It isn’t empowering…it’s where they are and they are doing the best with what they’ve been dealt.
…and the men. The men who go…most of them are sorting out their own brokenness within these walls. Porn addiction, broken relationships, loneliness, power trips & addiction are many of their stories.
The supply for the USE of women is due to the demand. The demand is 100% fueled by a hyper sexualized culture.
This all seems expected within the walls of a strip club, right? Sad…but expected.
If that isn’t heartbreaking enough…this. Tonight on a Superbowl halftime show…two super talented women chose to share their God given talents with the football fans by pole dancing and thrusting with little clothes on. In front of the whole world. The moves, the poles, the song lyrics…the sex industry was glorified as empowering tonight.
Let me tell you. That is a LIE. These two ladies choose to shake their tails for the world to gawk at…but there is nothing empowering about women being the recipients of the onlooker’s sexual attention. They have body guards to walk them off the stage. Most women just get a can of mace.
We say we are tired of rape, sexual assault and young girls being told their body is what gives them value…BUT THEN we go and we INVOLVE YOUNG GIRLS in the very scene…at a football game…and the crowd goes wild & we clap and praise it.
So dear young girl- I bet you are super confused. We tell you that YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY. We tell you that what’s inside is what needs to shine. We tell you that you have a MIND AND A SOUL. We tell you to take self defense classes, carry mace, watch out for date rape and don’t let a guy pressure you. BUT THEN…we entertain you with pole dancing, thrusting, hyper sexualized lyrics & seductive facial expressions…and we clap for it.
We tell you that women can do anything. Women are equals. Then we bring out two influential women to entertain us…with what? Sex.
Don’t buy into the lie. Women do have minds. They also have self respect. The things that are done in bedrooms and inside strip clubs should never be performed on a stage for strangers and children to watch. And you know what…I’m sorry that this is how things are. You deserve a better world. A world where women are empowered and can use their God given talents in ways that don’t scream sex. Because again…that’s not why women are here.
So dear girl…be proud to be female & don’t for one second believe the lies. Keep offering your gifts to the world in meaningful ways. Be kind. Be a friend. Dance. Paint. Sing. Play. Lead. Learn. Grow. Serve. Think. Do hard things. Change the world.
Again- I’m sorry that you live in a day when you can’t watch a football game without hyper-sexualization. How sad for us…all of us.
I know there will be some who shrug me off as judgmental and want to rave about how talented these superstars are…and let me just say…yes I know they are talented. No doubt. As for the judgmental part- my heart is not out of judgement…but concern for young girls and the messages we are sending about women. God help us.
(If you’d like to contact Mindy directly, you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org)
I’m really not sure how to put into words the cascade of thoughts, confusion, concern, and sadness that began last night shortly after Shakira took the Super Bowl Halftime stage. . . and which have continued up to this moment.
My years in youth ministry and culture-watching have, I hope, been marked by growing skills in both the exegesis and interpretation of Word and world. At least that’s what I have endeavored to move towards. And, I hope that the fruit of that journey has been an ability to develop some kind of discernment that might reflect a growing commitment on my part to things that are good, true, right and honorable. It’s a journey that I’m still on and one that I believe all followers of Christ are called to pursue. I say this purely as a precursor to sharing some thoughts sparked by my ongoing study of Word and world, specifically how that all played out in an unsettling manner between halves last evening.
In case you are tempted to miss the significance of last night’s halftime show, remember that culture is both a map and a mirror. It serves both directive and reflective purposes. As a map, it tells us what to believe and how to live in the world. It’s an especially effective map when its pop culture forms are consumed by children and teens. . . who are in developmentally formative years which make them especially vulnerable to blindly following the maps with dedication and without question. What we watched last night was not at all benign. It served as a signpost pointing in a certain direction. As a mirror, last night reflected back to us our collective cultural heart. . . at least what the entertainment moguls desire and expect our collective heart to be. If we’re not all there yet, we at least know that our cultural leash is pulling us in that direction. As William Romanowski has written, “Culture refers to the way that we define and live in God’s world. It is a collection of ideals and beliefs, values and assumptions, that makes up a kind of master plan for living an interpreting life.” Last night that “master plan” played out on the halftime stage.
Rather than using this space to jump into a complete overview of the lives, careers, and worldview messages communicated through the entertainment brands known as Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, here are some thoughts prompted by last night’s cultural moment. . .
First, let’s never diminish or deny the reality of talent and where it ultimately comes from. We saw great talent on display last night. There were the players who have been given athletic talent. The performers. . . Yolanda Adams, Demi Lovato, Shakira, and Jennifer Lopez. . . those ladies can all sing! There were dancers who have been given the ability to move. . . something that I’m totally void of myself! The list of talented people who went into making last night’s Super Bowl game and broadcast a reality is long. . . coaches, producers, owners, administrators, graphic artists, videographers, marketers, etc. . . . all of them incredibly gifted and talented. And lest we forget, when all of them develop and pursue their talent, they are imaging the God who made them by exercising their creativity. The result might not be God-glorifying, but the talent in and of itself always is. Which leads to the next thought. . .
Second, let’s never forget that talent always moves in a direction of glory and praise. Our creativity. . . whether in work, play, academics, or the arts. . . always points in a direction of glory and praise. When talent moves in a direction that promotes the beauty of human flourishing, it gives honor and glory to God. It serves as a signpost where human eyes are not invited to stop and stare, but where human eyes and the hearts they lead to look beyond the creation to the Creator. But when it invites us to settle on the things of the world, the flesh, and the devil. . . then talent leads to the spread of cultural beliefs and behaviors that undermine our human flourishing and are ultimately idolatrous.
Third, we must endeavor to teach our kids how to discern media’s messages and maps. Here at CPYU, we’ve been relentless in our three-decade pursuit to help youth workers, parents, and kids alike learn how to process media critically and Christianly. Our popular tool to facilitate this is our How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart 3(D) Media Evaluation Guide.
And this is where I jump off into my great concerns and sadness over what was mirrored to us last evening. . . and the map that was laid out before the hearts and minds of children and adults alike. My thoughts during the halftime show unfolded in a short series of three social media posts.
When the children came on stage I couldn’t help but think, “Isn’t having children in this halftime show some kind of abuse?!?
A few minutes later I registered by dissatisfaction with Pepsi for their sponsorship of the halftime show: “I’m giving up Pepsi products.” And yes, I will be doing that.
And finally, I wrote these words: “I am currently reading Rachael Denhollander’s book, What Is A Girl Worth?I’m going to send copies to Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.”
If you are unfamiliar with Rachael Denhollander’s story, she was one of the main victims and whistle-blowers over physician Larry Nassar’s systemic molestation and abuse of young girls. As I’ve read, I have been reminded of how women are objectified, trafficked, and abused. I couldn’t help but notice the great irony last evening, as we viewed multiple commercials and messages touting the value of women. All humans are divine image-bearers. . . and we are served well when cultural outlets remind us of the value of the marginalized. But there were the reminders of the dark under-belly of the Super Bowl. . . an event that is now recognized as one of the main hubs for sex-trafficking. . . so much so that the this year the state of Florida teamed up with the NFL for a “Stop Sex Trafficking Campaign.”And on the half-time stage, there were the lyrical and visual reminders of the fact that we embrace an expressive individualism largely void of sexual borders and boundaries. The hypocrisy and mixed messages were unavoidable.
What is a girl worth? Far more than we saw last night.
Rachael Denhollander shared this quote from C.S. Lewis: “A man does not call a line crooked unless he some idea of a straight line.” It’s a clear reminder of our need to focus on the straight line of God’s revealed will and way, and to view all of life. . . our own and our corporate human endeavor. . . through the lens of God’s Kingdom priorities.
Some have pushed back saying that to criticize Shakira and Lopez is not an option if you understand Latino culture. The reality is that all culture reflects and communicates deeply held values. And where those values stray from the straight line, we need to pray and humbly push for change. . . not for change that results in conformity to one’s own cultural preferences, but for change that leads to fully experiencing the freedom and joy of true human flourishing. The Gospel confronts all cultures and cultural expressions. . . yours, mine, and ours. Last night’s message to me, to you, to my grandchildren, to all of us. . . it was deeply troubling. We’ve been made for so much more.
This morning, I took the time to read and ponder the lyrics from last night’s set-list. I would encourage you to do the same. You will see the map.
One little line from Jennifer Lopez’s “Jenny From The Block” jumped out at me. . . “Put God first.” That’s a powerful directive.
Perhaps it was timely that this morning as I continued my journey through the One Year Book of Hymns, I read about Frances Ridley Havergal and a hymn she wrote on February 4, 1874. She wrote “Take My Life and Let It Be” as an expression of “the blessedness of true consecration.” As I read the text of this old familiar hymn (see below), I was struck by what it really means to “put God first.” It’s a complete reorientation of everything. I made a list of what Havergal included in her hymn: life, time, hands, feet, body, voice, mouth, money, mind, will, desires, heart, love. . . everything. . . “Take myself – and I will be/Ever, only, all for Thee/Ever, only, all for Thee.”
As we pursue that end, let’s make sure that it is the One true God, His will, and His way that we have in our sights.
Take my life and let it be Consecrated, Lord, to Thee. *Take my moments and my days, Let them flow in endless praise.
Take my hands and let them move At the impulse of Thy love. Take my feet and let them be Swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my voice and let me sing, Always, only for my King. Take my lips and let them be Filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold, Not a mite would I withhold. Take my intellect and use Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.
Take my will and make it Thine, It shall be no longer mine. Take my heart, it is Thine own, It shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour At Thy feet its treasure store. Take myself and I will be Ever, only, all for Thee.