Culture

Of Parental Rights: My Letter to Fort Worth Independent School District Board Members

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Cowtown, Texas (a.k.a. Fort Worth) is generally a fairly quiet place to live. For nearly a decade, I have called this place home. Three of my four children are native-born Texans. While every city has its warts, I have thoroughly enjoyed the slow-paced, down-to-earth culture of the place where the West begins.

However, in recent days there have been developments within our little slice of Texan paradise that have made me wonder if I am living in New York, Los Angeles, or (gasp) Dallas. Just last week news headlines started appearing that the Fort Worth Independent School District had enacted new guidelines regarding transgender students and bathroom/locker room use. Such guidelines never appeared on a FWISD meeting agenda, nor did the school board seek public comment. The new guidelines seem to be the work of Superintendent Kent Scribner. Yesterday, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick called on Superintendent Scribner to resign.

The gist of the guidelines follow the same pattern that Target has recently touted in its bathroom policies. There are also provisions related to private bathroom facilities, athletic teams, and school counselors. In essence, FWISD schools are now to allow students to use whichever restroom matches the gender with which they currently identify. Students may play on athletic teams of the gender with which they identify unless that sport is regulated by the University Interscholastic League (UIL), which states that student athletes can only play on gender-specific teams according to the gender listed on the student’s birth certificate.

There is also a significant statement in the section entitled “Privacy and Confidentiality.” In this section, the guidelines read:

All students have a right to privacy. This includes keeping a student’s actual or perceived gender identity and expression private. School personnel may only share this information on a need-to-know basis or as the student directs. This includes sharing information with the student’s parent or guardian. When contacting the parent or guardian of a transgender student, school personnel must use the student’s legal name and the pronoun corresponding to the student’s gender assigned at birth unless the student, parent, or guardian has specified otherwise.

Since the FWISD school board meets again tonight, I have sent the following letter to my specific board representative as well as the board president, first vice president, and second vice president. Even though there are many different approaches for addressing an issue like this, I have focused on the parental rights angle. I hope you find this letter helpful.

Dear School Board Member (specific names used in actual letters):

As a resident in FWISD District 6 and a parent of 4 children, I am greatly troubled by the new transgender student guidelines. Without any opportunity for public comment nor any opportunity for constituents to contact their school board members, FWISD has enacted politically-motivated, controversial, and potentially damaging policies. Of particular concern is the section of the guidelines that notes the following:

“All students have a right to privacy. This includes keeping a student’s actual or perceived gender identity and expression private. School personnel may only share this information on a need-to-know basis or as the student directs. This includes sharing information with the student’s parent or guardian.”

I have four school-age children. Their well-being and livelihood is the responsibility of my wife and myself. No government agency, school employee, or educator has the right to usurp my authority as a parent. Parents should always be informed of issues that happen at school. The school should never intentionally withhold information from parents. This is government overreach at a most egregious level.

For this reason, I respectfully ask you to call for the school board to rescind these new guidelines immediately. At the very least, the entire school board should suspend the guidelines, take up this issue with great caution, and receive input from the constituents whom they represent. Action like this on the part of the school board contributes to a culture of distrust for the school board on the part of Fort Worth’s residents.

Thank you for your time and service to our community. If you would like to discuss this further, my contact information is listed below.

Evan Lenow, Ph.D.
(Contact information included in original letters)
If you would like to contact members of the FWISD school board, their names and emails are listed below. Remember to keep it succinct, direct, and respectful.
Jacinto “Cinto” Ramos, Jr. – jacinto.ramos@fwisd.org

Tobi Jackson – tobi.jackson@fwisd.org
Christene Chadwick Moss – christene.moss@fwisd.org
Theophlous Aron Sims, Sr. – ta.sims@fwisd.org
Judy Needham – judy.needham@fwisd.org
Ann Sutherland – ann.sutherland@fwisd.org
Norman Robbins – norman.robbins@fwisd.org
Matthew Avila – matthew.avila@fwisd.org
Ashley Paz – ashley.paz@fwisd.org

To find your specific board member, a map is available here and the list of board members by district is located here.

A copy of the new guidelines can be found at the end of this news story.

Interview with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Back in November I had the privilege of sitting down with Scott Corbin from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) for an interview. The interview is now available as part of the CBMW podcast series.

Over the course of about 20 minutes, we covered topics ranging from why I chose to study and teach ethics, the nature of marriage, the place of friendship, and the work of the church.If you endure to the end, you can even here a quick synopsis of the paper I presented at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (aka, my nerd convention) about third-party gamete donation in assisted reproductive technology. Is the use of donor sperm and/or eggs adultery? Listen to find out what I concluded.

You can listen to the interview at the CBMW website or download it here.

Religious Liberty as the Foundation for Pro-Life and Pro-Family Policies

Just over three weeks ago, I spent several days in Salt Lake City attending the World Congress of Families IX. I was privileged to speak during one of the plenary sessions on the closing day of the congress. The title of my session was “Religious Liberty as the Foundation for Pro-Life and Pro-Family Policies.” Video from my session (and many others) is now available on the WCF YouTube channel.

As part of my presentation, I noted that there are three distinct areas where we can see the influence of religious liberty in support of pro-life and pro-family policies. These three areas are marriage, healthcare, and education.

In my conclusion, I noted the following:

At the end of the day, religious liberty sets the foundation upon which we can build the best pro-life and pro-family policies. However, these policies are not simply going to come about because a nation has religious liberty protections. Such policies are still dependent upon people of faith exercising their beliefs in the public square to give a convincing argument for why God’s design for life and family is the most beneficial for the good of society. It is when people of faith practice their faith in a society that respects their right to freely exercise such faith that we will see the most effective pro-life and pro-family policies.

I was honored to be a part of the program for the World Congress of Families. The mission of WCF is to “provide sound scholarship and effective strategies to affirm and defend the natural family, thus encouraging a sustainable and free society.” This was the first congress held in the United States. I attended my first congress in Warsaw, Poland in 2007.

On a personal note, it was fun to “teach” a little Baptist history to such an ecumenical group. In fact, most of the questions I received throughout the rest of the day related to church history. It reminded me how little people know about the history of Christianity and how important it is to continue teaching our history as Christians (and Baptists).

Guest Post: Opening the Sieve

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

I remember the moment very well. I don’t know the time or date, but I was sitting with my two oldest girls watching a show on our favorite network about people buying and selling houses. The next episode came on and the “couple” buying the house was two men. Before I could react with a pre-emptive, “Hey, let’s go outside!” one of my daughters said, “Why would two men be buying a house together without wives?” This began one of the dreaded conversations that a parent must have with their children, explaining to them the idea of homosexuality.

In regards to raising our children in a sinful world, a parent’s job is much like a sieve. When they are young, very little comes into a child’s life without the parent’s consent and approval. Whether it is through TV, books, or peers, we try to surround them with good, beautiful things. But over time, as our children become older, we must slowly open the sieve, allowing them to encounter more and more of the world. Sometimes it happens through some sort of media. Sometimes, through school. Sometimes, it is just standing in line at the grocery store. I will not tell you the exact appropriate time to begin discussing more worldly topics with your children. That is for you, your husband, and God to decide. However, if your children grow, which they have a habit of doing, conversations will arise, and it is wise to have a plan to engage with our kids about the culture around us.

1. Answer their questions until they are satisfied.

It takes supernatural wisdom to know when to speak and when to listen. However, God is faithful and will lead us and guide us as we lead and guide our children. When a question comes up, don’t shy away from the opportunity. Engage your child with as much of the truth as is needed at the moment. Try to satisfy their natural curiosity with pointing the conversation back to how wonderfully God created us or how much God loves us. For example, one of my kids asked a question regarding the lack of clothes a model wore on the front of a magazine in the checkout line at the grocery store. After answering her question in the most discreet way I knew how as I paid for my groceries, I turned the conversation to how our bodies are beautifully created by God and how we should adorn them in a way that honors the One who Created him. I didn’t avoid the question, but I turned the conversation to focus not on the sin of public nudity, but on our call to modesty.

2. Honor and encourage their common sense.

During a speech on the campus of Southwestern Seminary, Jennifer Roback Morse shared the idea that if we ever feel like we are constantly bombarded by liberal propaganda wanting to convince us of their lies, it is because we indeed are. The reason for this relentless battering ram of nonsense into our lives is because it takes a lot of brainwashing to overcome our own God-given common sense (Rom 1:18-32). God displays all over creation that men and women are different. In the same vein, simple human anatomy and physiology show us how same sex marriages are not natural. When my girls started asking questions after seeing the television show I mentioned before, one actually thought I was joking when I explained the situation. “That would never work,” she said. In a slightly different vein, a friend was teaching a small class of boys about how we can pray for China. In the flow of conversation, the fact arose that they abort baby girls because their culture values boys more. A smart boy spoke up and said, “That’s ridiculous. Who do they think all those boys are going to marry when they grow up and want to have families?” I think the leaders of China could learn something from the common sense of an 8-year-old.

3. Remember, God is sovereign and you can trust him with your children.

We are just recently getting into this stage of parenting. I excelled at the “closed sieve” stage. It was my delight to keep all the bad away and protect my kids. But, if my goal is to raise warriors for Christ (and it is), I must open the sieve of the world and allow my kids to get some field practice. The main thing that held me back, and still does if I allow it, is fear. I was afraid of what would happen if they saw too much or heard too much or were exposed to too much. However, once again, God reminds me that my children are not my own. I have them for a short amount of time, and then they will have to face the world on their own. It is my job to train them and teach them how to act in battle. Yes, your child might come home from school asking you about a word they heard. Or your child might overhear something on the news that they know is not right. Or a neighbor might practice a different lifestyle than yours and your child sees it. Whatever the situation, God is sovereign and trustworthy and as we do our job as parents, He will use all those hard conversations for His glory.

Conversation with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality

On September 14, I extended an invitation to Evangelicals for Marriage Equality to have a dialogue on the nature of marriage and whether evangelicals should support same-sex marriage. After a number of emails behind the scenes, I am pleased to announce that Michael Saltsman, one of the co-founders of EME, will be joining my Bible & Moral Issues class tomorrow (October 15) on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In addition to being one of the co-founders of EME, Mr. Saltsman is research director at the Employment Policies Institute in Washington, D.C. He has published a number of articles on minimum wage and employment policies. His articles have appeared in prestigious publications, such as the Wall Street Journal.

Some may wonder why I would allow someone with whom I disagree substantially on a significant issue to have an hour or so of my precious class time. In some respects, I have already answered this question in a previous post regarding my selection of books for one of my classes. I chose a text that espouses positions that I fundamentally oppose on a particular ethical issue. This is a very similar exercise. In that post, I noted:

For most of my academic career, I have heard Dr. Paige Patterson (president of my seminary) say that students need to know the arguments of the best thinkers who disagree with our positions.

Before inviting EME, I approached Dr. Patterson seeking his permission to extend the invitation. He told me it was my class and that he trusted me. In essence, I am doing what he taught me to do. This time it just happens to be live and in-person rather than in book form.

Am I afraid that my students will be swayed to support same-sex marriage? Not really. Could it happen? Anything is possible. Do they need to hear what EME has to say? Certainly. If some of my students are convinced to support same-sex marriage as a result of this conversation, then I have done a poor job of making my case this semester (granted, I still have about 7 more weeks left this semester to change any of their minds). It’s humbling to invite someone into my classroom whose goal is to convince my students that I am wrong. But it is a healthy exercise for both student and professor.

I am looking forward to a healthy discussion regarding our differences of opinion related to marriage. I have also invited all of my students from other classes to join us tomorrow morning. If you happen to be around the SWBTS campus at 8:30 in the morning, you are welcome to join us in Truett Conference Room.