What Target May Have Overlooked

Last week, Target, the “go-to” store for what you need, announced that – “In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways. Most relevant for the conversations currently underway, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.” Right now this is a hot topic in our culture and one that surprisingly appears to me to lack the clarity on all sides needed. In turn it has become simply another “divisive issue” to go to war about between liberals and conservatives, organizations representing Christian morality and those championing inclusivity. I don’t think it has to be that way.

Obvious Differences

Let me start be recognizing I don’t expect we will ever bring both sides together to hold hands and sings songs. There are clear and obvious differences as to one’s belief systems, presuppositions, and authority. Behind these actions and the sides we take are both very personal beliefs and strongly held convictions. These don’t get uprooted by social activism or convincing arguments. But honor and dignity for every person created in the image of God, whether stated that way or not, is something we can agree on. We should be able to recognize that both sides hold strong beliefs related to their commitment to the authority of the Bible or the authority of “no discrimination tolerated”. DA Carson in his excellent little book The Intolerance of Tolerance so aptly points out a day when tolerance actually meant we respect each other’s opinions and beliefs even while strongly opposing them. We should be able to interact with opposing ideas and the actions corresponding to those ideas with honor, respect, and yes … tolerance. This does not mean we check or brains at the door, nor our obvious presuppositions based on theology, culture, or family values.

Protection For All

This is probably the point I am most confused about regarding this decision and ones like it. As a pastor of a church that champions the supremacy of the Scriptures I actually don’t have a problem with attempting to honor all people in retail stores through creative solutions that make everyone feel honored and cared for. The problem and obvious oversight appears to be when you make a decision to do that for one person or group that then puts another person or group in danger. How is that inclusivism done well? I don’t think the issue or problem we should be focused on is about whether a transgender person can select which bathroom to use, but those predators that will take advantage of this decision to openly prey on the vulnerable. I suspect that an individual born male who has transitioned to female might already be using the bathroom or fitting room labeled women. Perhaps without issue, controversy, or causing anyone to feel uncomfortable. The decision made by Target may be affirming that they are supportive of this choice and certainly that makes the transgender community feel supported. But what about those predatory individuals who now are given license to enter the bathroom, fitting room (and in some cases locker room) to take advantage of our children? If indeed the goal of Target is, as they stated – “Everyone deserves to feel like they belong. And you’ll always be accepted, respected and welcomed at Target”, then why in fact does that not apply to everyone including the most vulnerable in any culture – the children? Perhaps we can do better at thinking this one through … together.

Clearly Other Options

I have been known to go into the women’s bathroom from time to time. It’s true. At Starbucks, and other places, where single bathrooms are used, if the men’s bathroom is occupied and the women’s is not … well, yeah I sneak in and used the bathroom that doesn’t correspond with my gender. Without being crude, yes … there is a difference in the two bathrooms, but it’s not as if a man and women can’t use the same toilet. We need to be careful to not get too “up in arms” over the morality issue with those who clearly hold an opposing position. We might also want to recognize that in many cases stores have created “family bathrooms” for us dads who were alone with our young daughters in the store and needed to help them as they were potty training. It may mean that public establishments need to think more consistently about how to create appropriate options for everyone so that everyone feels safe and dignified. As a Christian, I care about Biblical morality, but I’m not that interested in having that intensely personal and immensely important subject over a urinal.

These are tough subjects, and they aren’t going to get any easier to discuss. But we would all be well served to not try to change people’s hearts by public attack. We must care for the vulnerable in our society. We must do our best to treat everyone with dignity and honor, especially those we disagree with. We must be willing to disagree and clearly make a case for truth. We must do all of that in a way that is salt and light to a world in need of a Savior!

Talking To Your Kids About Gender

It really was the case that from the minute Michelle and I got married we had great Godly people around us modeling marriage and family. By the time we were preparing for our first child to enter the world we had watched moms and dads around us closely, taken a couple parenting classes, and drilled our close friends as to the “keys to successful parenting”. But nothing really prepared me for the conversation I had with a few of my kids the other day.

Friday mornings are Dunkin Donut time with our three middle-schoolers. Some mornings we just hang out, other mornings we read theology for kids, or mom takes the girls and I take the boys and we talk “boy talk” or “girl talk”. This past Friday as my son and I sat in one corner, a young man who I had counseled a number of times in previous years came over and said hello to me. It took me about thirty seconds into the conversation before I realized who I was speaking with. This young man was now identifying himself as a transgender woman. I had heard he had made this decision but hadn’t yet bumped into him since this decision had been made. We chatted briefly and shortly thereafter we left to get the kids to school. Once we got in the car I tried to keep conversation going hoping that my kids wouldn’t press in and ask too many questions about my previous encounter. Of course they did … this is 2016 and my kids go to public school, we have a television in our home, and they are generally pretty observant teenagers. I hadn’t rehearsed this “lesson” in my parenting arsenal. Talking to my kids about transgender issues wasn’t in the parenting class Michelle and I took years ago. But here’s what I said:

God Creates Gender

I reminded my kids that way back in the early pages of Genesis it says that God created gender … “male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). We don’t get to choose our gender. Whether someone is a male or a female is in the creative power and wisdom of God. Someone may struggle “feeling” male or female, but that doesn’t make him or her a gender different than God created him or her. In the beginning God determined that two different sexes were the perfect expression of the image of God. That in the man and in the woman God’s image is displayed, both as an individual and in the way they relate to each other as same (human), and as distinct (gender). One is not better than the other, nor did God design a way for mankind to switch between the two genders.

We All Struggle With Identity

I really want my kids to be able to navigate the waters of sexual identity well as this is a watershed issue in our day that is by no means going away. I explained how this young man I was speaking to identified more as a female. We talked about how we all struggle to understand who we are and why God made us the way He did. I reassured them that it’s normal to wrestle with these issues of identity, but that gender identity is determined by God and transgender expressions won’t “fix” what’s going on inside. To think that somehow transitioning at any level will sort out the very human struggle of one’s identity is near-sighted and will only further confuse the struggle someone feels.

Finding The Right Answers Is Crucial

Ultimately I wanted my kids to have empathy for this young man. They could see from his demeanor and physical mannerisms that he wasn’t doing very well. In fact he had told me he recently had a mental breakdown and was having some neurological tests performed to determine what was going on. I want them to fight the natural bent of their hearts to judge and snicker with the grace and compassion that arises from feeling the hurt someone else carries. I want them to deeply understand who they are before the Lord … and even if they don’t get that far, that they at least understand who God created them to be. I want them to understand that without the right answers to these questions you can begin down a path that only leads to greater and greater confusion … and heartache. The gospel-less culture around us champions being who you are, but offers only tips and tools that lead you away from being who God created you to be. I want my kids to be themselves. I want them to look different than my wife and I. I want them to have their own adventures and walk their own paths. I just want them to be equipped to find their worth in Jesus so they can help others navigate these tricky roads we all walk.

No Regret Parenting

On Saturday I officiated a funeral for a 17 year old young man who was murdered.  Amidst all the pain, confusion, and unanswered questions, there was faith, hope, and a great sense of redeeming the time.  I pray many of the students there will never be the same, never take a day for granted, and never again trust in themselves.  It’s hard not to sit in the hospital room praying for a miracle as a dad over the role of pastor.  And that’s one way that I’ve been pushed forward … as a dad with no regrets.  If that were one of my kids I’d just said goodbye to, I want nothing left unsaid or undone in my God-given place in their lives.  So, some actions on no-regret parenting I commend to myself … and to you if you desire.

1. To never let a day go by without using words to express love.

I’m an emotional man, and I don’t have a hard time with words of affirmation, but I still get tired, lazy, selfish.  I will push past those selfish times and feelings to make sure I craft heartfelt, clear, direct words of love to my children.  Should I miss a day and that be the last for one of my children, I want to make sure they have heard words from their dad of his love and affection for them.  Now I have three boys, I know they won’t always want to hear what I have to say, but I will say it nonetheless.

2. To never let a day go by without praying with my kids.

I love to pray, but I do it with people often being a pastor.  So it’s easy to again get lazy with my own family.  A late night and a quick rush them off to bed and a skipping of our prayer time together.  Nope!  It’s never too late to pray a simple pray of thanks and joy over them to our God.

3. To never preach at them without listening to them.

I like to preach, its what I do as part of my job … and I believe in the power of Godly instruction from the Word, and they need it.  But, I want soft hearts toward the Word and my instruction, not numb, hard, fakey pastor-kid hearts.  So, as instruction is needed it will be accompanied with an ear to hear.  When they do dumb things, I will do more than just lecture them, giving them both a bad taste for parental authority and missing a delightful Christianity.

4. To always help them see God’s perspective in a matter.

It’s always a fight to see life God’s way and not ours.  Always easier to think with myself at center … what a crafty lie of Satan.  I resist the insincere Christian home, and the forced “family worship.”  But thankfully that’s not what is required of me.  My marching orders are to take the everyday stuff of life and help my children see God’s hand, love, and grace in it.  I will help my children see life as worship and God’s perspective on sports, relationships, schoolwork, and work.

5. To make family fun.

I want them to see me kissing on their mom.  I want them to laugh when I do something stupid.  I want them to rejoice when one of us does something great.  I want them to care when one of us hurts.  I want them to like to be together and be disappointed when something gets in the way of that.  Now, I’m not being pie-in-the-sky unrealistic about this, because I’ve seen it with families, and I want it for mine.

I know, nothing earth-shaking here, nothing new or “radical”, but nothing like death to remind you of the great high calling of parenting and a commitment to give it your all to the glory of God.  It doesn’t happen by accident and thankful doesn’t happen by our hard work alone.  God pours grace out on homes where He is worshipped.  So pour it on dear God, pour it on!

A Dad after My Dad’s Heart,

Mark