A discussion of LGBTQ issues Friday morning by the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission so far highlights a national convention at Gaylord Opryland of Southern Baptist educators.
Shifting cultural norms, court decisions and the perceived acceptance of LGBTQ people in public life led a panel of SBC affiliated ministers and writers to emphasize a careful strategy of civility, dignity and compassion for all people without compromising Southern Baptist teaching.
The panel was delayed by the surprise appearance of more than fifty protesters of the pro-LGBTQ group Faith In America outside the conference room doors. The protestors, some of whom were parents with children and infants and some wearing clerical gear, held a silent vigil during the panel discussion while being monitored by a sizeable hotel security detail.
Sam Allberry, the founding editor of Living Out magazine who self-admits to same-sex attraction, took the floor to address the subject of bullying up front. Allberry admitted to the audience of around 150 SBC educators that bullying of LGBTQ kids does happen inside Christian communities and is very much wrong. He emphasized in his opening remarks that the Christian gospel can be shared without bullying anyone, especially children and teenagers who self-identify as LGBTQ inside and outside the faith.
Pastor Dean Inserra of City Church in Tallahassee joined the conversation to explain, in his opinion, that humanity has always had distinct gender and sexuality from day one. Inserra believes that G-d made all of us distinctly male and female, and to alter, deny or minimize our given gender goes against the Christian gospel. He believes that a big part of Christian discipleship in our culture today is to include the discussion of gender as a part of G-d’s design. Inserra said that SBC church congregants all over are asking questions about gender as a result of recent events and the church needs to talk about what is happening in our culture.
“This is not the random hot topic we need to take on,” Inserra said. “This is how we understand the (Christian) gospel.” He believes SBC children’s ministries should be discussing the gender issue because the framework of the Christian bible is primarily understood by looking through the lens of gender.
ERLC Research Fellow Palmer Williams took the discussion over to the subject of respecting the dignity of LGBTQ people when discussing the topic.
“I don’t see issues, I see faces,” Williams said when talking to LGBTQ people and others about LGBTQ subjects from a Christian perspective. Williams believes that the Christian gospel emphasizes that all of us possess a G-d given dignity, with an inherent worth and value which needs to be emphasized when talking with kids about LGBTQ subjects. But she also believes that Christian educators need to talk from a Christian perspective to SBC raised children about LGBTQ issues or they will pick up their ideas from the secular culture which is often at odds with Christian teaching.
Dean Inserra was asked by the moderator what he felt Christian parents should tell kids in conversations about LGBTQ issues. Inserra told a family story in response about how his fourth grade son found out from a close friend that he identified as a transgender male and was born a biological girl.
First thought: “Here we go!” Inserra said to the good-natured laughter of the panel audience…
The pastor said that, when talking with his son about this at the time, he wanted to teach the values of compassion and clarity to him about his friend. His son’s friend was still his friend and what he was told will not change that for him. But he emphasized to the audience that it was a big deal for his son, or anyone’s child, to be told that someone who has been your close friend was of the other biological gender. Inserra’s parenting advice from dealing with this: tell your child to call your friend by the name they prefer, but make clear that when you child comes home...they always know that the friend will always known by their biological gender and never otherwise.
It is a loving and respectful act to address your friend by the name they prefer, Inserra said, but to remember that “you are not keeping the second commandment if you are violating the first.” Inserra said that Christian theology believes that the commandment were ranked by Jesus of Nazareth for a reason. “If we are going to go against what G-d has said, you are not loving your G-d.”
This segued over to a panel discussion about the purpose of marriage. The panelists agreed that the Church failed over the last few decades to teach the purpose of marriage in the Christian sense. There was a feeling that secular culture had come to its current state as a result of this failure, but the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage two years ago has led to more Christian families to sit their kids down and talk about LGBTQ issues from their perspective.
From there, the discussion turned to the issue of self-identifying LGBTQ children inside SBC families.
Pastor Allberry took the lead at this point. He observed that often times when working with parent of self-identifying children, the parents tend to “react instead of respond” to this revelation. Allberry feels that parents of LGBTQ children often see self-identification as a personal failure upon their parts, crushing dreams of grandchildren and more.
“I have met too many Christian parents who wish, frankly, that their child was heterosexual and ungodly,” Allberry said. “We need to be really careful here.”
Dean Inserra stepped in…
PHOTO: Dean Inserra & Palmer Williams, photo courtesy of Kelly Hunter and ERLC
“When it comes to sin, we need to be provoked but not offended. Why should an unbeliever act like a believer when...we have the Holy Spirit and we still act like unbelievers,” he said to much laughter. “That makes no sense.” Inserra reminded the SBC audience that LGBTQ issues are about “brokenness” in the Christian theological sense and they needed to always keep that issue in front. He ended the story about his child by telling the audience that he reminded his son that Jesus of Nazareth died for his friend too. Inserra said that the LGBTQ conversation cannot be separated from the reality of human brokenness and the realization of this should lead Christian believers to have compassion for LGBTQ people.
The panel then talked about how to handle self-identifying LGBTQ kids and teens who feel the lack of parent affirmation for their “choice” shows a lack of love. They agreed that a good response would be to remind anyone who wrestles with LGBTQ issues over a period of time that the parents also need time to process this information themselves. They generally agreed that “love” in modern culture has been either sexualized or sentimentalized by most people. They agreed that it was possible to love a child without affirming a decision to identify as LGBTQ...because, in their opinions, to do so would be to commit a Christian sin.
John Stonestreet, President of the Chuck Colson Centre and the BreakingPoint radio show was asked how the conversations on LGBTQ issues change as kids age. Stonestreet said that church educators need to help kids see what the sacrament of marriage is really for and why mommies and daddies live together, making the message appropriate for the stages of age. He said that it is ok to teach kids, age appropriately, about their body parts, what they are for, why they exist and matter to us.
As to secular culture, he said that as kids get older they need to understand that culture is most powerful today where it is loudest. He told the story of his kids recently spotting a teaser trailer for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” film. The trailer was good, he admitted...and his kids wanted to see the movie. Then they found out from the news media that there was supposedly an LGBTQ moment in the film.
His response: go ahead and take his kids to see the film.
“I have perhaps received more hate mail...when I said I was going to take my daughters to see Beauty and the Beast on my show,” he said to laughter. Stonestreet feels that all parents should do something like this with their kids...mainly because they will see LGBTQ people and culture in real life one day and this would provide an opportunity to talk to the kids about it from a Christian perspective.
“I thought it was far more dangerous for their worldview for them to miss this, and not to see it,” Stonestreet explained. He wanted to let them to let them conclude on their own that the behaviour was not right. “It’s when this goes from being abnormal to normal, that’s the power of (secular) culture has on hearts and minds.”
He said that kids are growing up assuming living an LGBTQ lifestyle is normal now, and their parents need to point out otherwise. We want our teenage kids to be able to identify what is not right for themselves.
The final topic discussed was how to handle public schools and self-identifying LGBTQ children as Christian parents who do not find LGBTQ culture acceptable.
Palmer Williams suggested the best action was to be actively involved in schools and school boards. In a kind and respectful way, explain to school officials what their views are and how they raise their children to respect and live within them.
“Title IX actually doesn’t require schools to integrate bathrooms,” Williams said. “That’s a fallacy.”
The transgender issue is working its way through the courts and will probably be at the highest level soon, she said. But for now the best way to influence their point of view on this issue was to work at the local levels.
Pastor Inserra opined that all people who have to fight LGBTQ issues need to be encouraged because secular culture now think of them as bigots. They are fighting a popular culture that sends their kids to the same schools who think otherwise.
Going back to the story about his son’s transgender classmate, he said that soon after the revelation that his son’s good friend was actually a biological girl, his son had to watch his transgender friend come into the boys room with him and go to the bathroom...his son knowing the full time that the friend was a biological female.
“We were not concerned for his safety,” Inserra explained. “We were concerned for his privacy in that moment.”
He said that in their house, they never say that transgender people were monsters or there is a safety issue with transgender people using the bathroom they feel they should be using. The conversations revolved around the privacy issue. They called the school about it and were told that his cisgender son could use a private bathroom in another building on campus if he was uncomfortable sharing the public bathroom with his transgender classmate. School officials told them that they really could not tell the children which bathroom to use anymore.
“My son who is a biological male has to go to a different bathroom in a different building to accommodate a biological female identifying as a male,” Interra explained to respectful laughter.
“That is the reality now,” he said. “We need to send our kids into that world as equipped and encouraged as much as possible, and at the same time we might have to rethink our approach to all of this.”
COVER PHOTO: Moderator with Sam Allberry, John Stonestreet, Dean Inserra, and Palmer Williams. Courtesy of Kelly Hunter and ERLC