Twelve-year-old Seventh grade student Liam Morrison is gutsy. . . times two. Back on March 21, Liam wore a t-shirt to Nichols Middle School in Middleborough, Massachusetts that wound up getting him sent home. . . something he never expected when he pulled that shirt over his head earlier that morning. The t-shirt in question stated Liam’s beliefs that gender is a binary. . . a belief not new and unique to Liam, but a belief commonly held as common-sense truth throughout most of history. . . that is, until now. Liam’s shirt featured five words: “There Are Only Two Genders.” Apparently Liam’s shirt was not only deemed inappropriate, but it was upsetting to other students and staff, making them feel unsafe.
Liam’s second gutsy move was to step up and address the controversy at a school-board meeting, where he very respectfully read a well-reasoned speech that explained why he wore the T-Shirt in the first place, along with why he felt it was wrong to be called out and disciplined for doing so. This is the kind of calm and civil conversation that needs to happen these days. Kudos to a twelve-year-old boy for providing us with that example.
The issue of rapidly changing beliefs/behaviors regarding sex and gender is, admittedly, not at all simple or lacking complexity. Many, many different forces and variables are at play in one of the most sensitive and tender cultural issues any of us can remember. For the Christian, we can do nothing but lean into God’s Word to discover His good order and design for sex and gender. . . an order and design that facilitates our good, His glory, our freedom, and our flourishing. Besides the reality is that sex and gender are rooted in the Creator’s good creation, there are a couple of very important foundational truths that each of us must remember as we think about, talk about, and process these issues and conversations.
First, just as sex and gender are rooted in the design of the Creator, so too is the inherent dignity, value, and worth of each and every human being. This includes those with whom we agree, and those with whom we disagree. It include those who are confused about sex and gender, acting on their feelings regarding sex and gender, and promoting new and different narratives on sex and gender are all included. Everyone is a divine image bearer. The implications of this are widespread. We need to rethink how we treat others, and repent where we’ve treated others wrongly.
Second, civil discussion is a non-negotiable. Because civil discussion rarely happens on social media, these are conversations – as Alan Jacobs says – that are better had over coffee or in a living room. And because we can so easily allow ourselves to play along when others choose to converse in ways that overstep the bounds of civility, we need to exercise self-discipline. If there’s a shouting match brewing, we must not and cannot shout back.
Third, we must balance grace with truth. It is not loving to withhold truth in any situation, especially when one’s freedom and flourishing are at stake. This is especially true when children and teens who are not yet fully developed, mature, or thinking like adults need the guidance and direction of those who are older and wiser (parents, grandparents, youth workers, teachers, etc). Do you love your kids? Tell them the truth. Jesus was always welcoming to people, saying “Come as you are.” But Jesus never did nor does he tell those who come to “Stay as you are.” We are to receive grace and then “Go and sin no more.” I often tell people that we need to love kids enough to tell them the truth. Just this morning I read these words from Elisabeth Elliot: ” One of the tests of love is the willingness to speak the truth when we know the truth will hurt.” Everyone needs truth-tellers in their lives. . . myself included.
Last week, a youth worker friend sent me a text thanking us here at CPYU for the help he’s receiving in addressing these issues as he faces them more and more in his ministry. He wrote, “Hey Walt! I just did my morning run/workout and listened to Youth Culture Matters podcasts #166 and #167. Holy cow! Amazing! I thought those two were spot on! I’ll be able to use them moving forward. I literally have numerous kids going through that stuff. Two weeks ago on Wednesday night after our middle school program, I went downstairs to leave and ran into three kids who are a part of our ministry. One said she is transitioning. She is literally an 11-year-old, probably 65 pound sweet little girl. The other girl said, ‘I’m a lesbian.’ And the boy next to them, also a sixth-grader said, ‘And I am pansexual.’ This all happened within about 30 seconds of my walking down the stairs! Anyway, thank you for these podcasts and, as usual, they are outstanding.”
This is why we do what do here at CPYU. That being said, I want to invite you to listen to the aforementioned episodes of Youth Culture Matters (both embedded below). In episode #166 I chat with my friend Nicholas Black about “Walking With Those Experiencing Gender Confusion.” Nicholas always models for us the beauty of Christ-like grace and truth. In episode #167 I chat with our friend Alisa Childers about her new book, Live Your Truth. The episode is all about “Examining Modern Lies.” As always, Alisa offers down-to-earth and easy-to-understand explanations of the many, many lies we and our kids are led to believe in today’s world.