Culture

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

uwqhvscg_400x400

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.

What’s In a Name?: Evangelicals and Marriage

bible-cover-pageThis post is the second installment of a multi-part series reflecting on my recent radio discussion with Brandan Robertson, spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. The audio of that radio “debate” can be found here. The first post can be found here.

In Shakespeare’s classic play, Romeo and Juliet, the “star-cross’d lovers” are destined for a life apart from each other because of a long-standing feud between their families. In act 2, scene 2, Juliet proclaims these famous words to Romeo:

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Is Juliet really right? Just by changing his name, can Romeo escape the wrath of the Capulet family for loving Juliet? Would they not still know exactly who he is?

As part of my ongoing interaction with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME), I have become intrigued with their use of the term “Evangelicals” in their name. What makes an evangelical?

The term “evangelical” is admittedly hard to define. Many have taken up the task, and some have reached disparate conclusions. However, there are some common elements that seem to mark the use of the term evangelicalism.

First, evangelicals typically stress the authority of the Bible. They believe that it is the inspired Word of God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). The first half of the doctrinal statement of the Evangelical Theological Society reflects this emphasis as it states, “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”

Second, evangelicals stress the atoning work of Christ in personal salvation. The term itself derives from the Greek word εὐανγγέλιον (evanggelion), which means “gospel” or “good news.” It should come as no surprise that a people who claim to be gospel-focused exhibit a concern for personal salvation.

Third, evangelicals tend to stress preaching and proclamation of the Word. This goes hand-in-hand with being gospel-focused people. Part of this preaching would involve calling people to live in accordance with the Scriptures.

In light of these basic characteristics of evangelicals, I find it difficult to reconcile the use of the term “evangelical” for a group of people who are promoting a lifestyle inconsistent with Scripture.

I have written in a number of places about the immorality of homosexuality, but I do not want to focus on that particular activity here. Instead, I want to focus on Jesus’ definition of marriage compared to the statement of belief from Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME).

The EME statement concludes, “You can be a faithful evangelical Christian and at the same time support civil marriage equality for same-sex couples.” They specifically avoid making a theological case for same-sex marriage and intentionally choose civil marriage as their battleground.

As we saw above, however, evangelicals stress the authority of God’s Word. If we go to Scripture, we find a very clear statement from Jesus on the nature of marriage. He says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt 19:4–6). If Jesus declared that marriage is between male and female, just as God designed it from the beginning, I find it difficult to imagine how self-proclaimed evangelicals could promote something that Jesus expressly excluded from marriage.

The reason for EME’s promotion of same-sex marriage, in my opinion, comes not from their desire to adhere to the authority of God’s Word, but instead from a hermeneutical commitment to elevate experience over Scripture. In most of my conversations with Christian proponents of same-sex marriage, they make an appeal to the personal experience of a friend who was (or could be) hurt by the church’s opposition to his desire for same-sex marriage. While I do not doubt the other person’s experience, I do question the wisdom of allowing our experience to subvert the authority of the text. If we elevate experience over Scripture, then there is no limit to what behavior we can justify.

In addition, Brandan Robertson and others have appealed to a standard of love as the reason that evangelicals should support same-sex marriage. They believe that showing love will win over those who would not otherwise want anything to do with the church. However, I am drawn back to the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13. In the midst of his extended treatise on love, Paul declares, “[Love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). Since Jesus stated that marriage is between one man and one woman for a lifetime, then we know that to be truth, and in that we rejoice. Any departure from the pattern made clear in Jesus’ words is a departure from the truth resulting in unrighteousness. In this we cannot rejoice. So EME is left with a choice. They can either rejoice in the truth of what Jesus has said about marriage or rejoice in unrighteousness. To rejoice in unrighteousness, however, is not to express love in a biblical sense.

In many respects, this conversation about a name comes down to the authority of Scripture. If that is truly a mark of evangelicals, then we must abide by what Scripture says. EME cannot consistently use the term evangelical and also promote something that Scripture forbids. To do so is internally inconsistent, unless of course they mean something entirely different by “evangelical,” a term not defined in their statement of beliefs.

Perhaps Malcolm Yarnell has already provided us some insight into their use of the term. In his book, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, Yarnell traces the changes to the word “evangelical” and concludes that “the term has lost the substantive meaning it once possessed” (xvi). In fact, he cites Darryl Hart’s opinion that “‘evangelicalism’ is little more than a marketing construct demanding a minimalist understanding of the Christian faith” (xvi).

If that is how EME uses the term “evangelical,” then it is no different than their use of “marriage” that I discussed in the previous post. Thus, it is a term with no meaning. It is a name with no substance. It does not describe who they really are.

I, on the other hand, am happy to claim the characteristics of evangelicalism, not the least of which is to stand on the authority of God’s Word.

_________________________

For further discussion of the term evangelical, see Malcom B. Yarnell III, The Formation of Christian Doctrine (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), xiv–xvi; and James Leo Garrett, Jr., “Who Are the Evangelicals?” in Are Southern Baptists “Evangelicals”? eds. James Leo Garrett, Jr., E. Glenn Hinson, and James E. Tull (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1983), 33–63.

Words Have Meaning: Defining Marriage in the Marriage Debate

same sex marriage graphcThis post is the first installment of what will be a multi-part series reflecting on my recent radio discussion with Brandan Robertson, spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. The audio of that radio “debate” can be found here.

Words have meaning. In order to have a conversation with another human, there must be some sort of shared language by which ideas can be communicated. This language can include everything from words to sounds to non-verbal expressions. The key, however, is that it has to be a shared language. If it is not, then communication will be misunderstood or not received at all.

In my discussion with Brandan Robertson of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME), our shared language was clearly the spoken English language. In that language we used terms that have easily recognized meaning. However, it became clear early on in the discussion that we were using one particular word in a different way. That word was “marriage.”

As part of the discussion, we were both asked to define marriage. On behalf of EME, Brandan said:

We do not take a single theological view on the sacrament of marriage. . . .

Civil marriage is a marriage solemnized with a civil contract by the government without a religious ceremony. It is a legal status afforded by the government to individuals who contract to live with one another and form a family unit with one another.

Let me offer a few observations about Brandan’s definition. First he used the word to define the word. He said that “civil marriage is a marriage. . . .” This is a subtle, but circular way to avoid defining a term. It exacerbates the mystery of the word because it never defines the word. If civil marriage is a marriage, then what is marriage?

Second, he inserts another similar term into the definition without offering an explanation of what he means. He says that marriage is “a legal status afforded by the government to individuals who . . . form a family unit with one another.” What is a family unit? Historically, a family unit is formed by marriage and expanded through procreation and the rearing of the next generation. In this instance, though, Brandan has excluded procreation from his definition of marriage because same-sex couples are biologically inhibited from procreation. The act of procreation requires a man and a woman. Thus, it is probably a safe assumption to say that Brandan does not believe procreation and the rearing of the next generation to be a public good of marriage. I could be wrong on this point, but it would require Brandan to offer a definition of the family unit to prove so.

Third, Brandan’s definition of marriage diminishes it to a legal status afforded by the government. Limiting marriage to a legal status actually diminishes the importance of marriage. If marriage is just a contract affording a legal status, why does the government make it so hard to get a divorce? If marriage is just a legal contract, then is it more significant than my cell phone contract? I have agreed to enter into a relationship with AT&T for cell phone service, but breaking that contract is relatively easy by comparison. Even if EME only want to talk about civil marriage, there should be recognition that marriage is much more than simply a contract that grants a legal status.

Fourth, even though Brandan and EME claim no single theological position on marriage, they are still making theological commitments. In their very name and the words of their statement of beliefs, they declare that Bible-believing Christians should support marriage for same-sex couples. This requires at least two theological commitments. First, it requires that one not view homosexual behavior as a sin. If it were a sin, like any other sin we read about in Scripture, Christians should not encourage and support others in the practice of that sin. Second, it requires a hermeneutical commitment to prioritizing experience over Scripture. EME constantly returns to the refrain of justice or fairness. However, such calls are based upon personal experience, not the Word of God. In a future post, I will work out a biblical understanding of justice that demonstrates that these current calls for justice come from a weak theological perspective of God’s attribute of justice.

In contrast to Brandan’s definition of marriage, when asked to give my own definition, I said:

Marriage is a comprehensive union of a man and a woman in an exclusive, monogamous, covenant relationship designed to endure for a lifetime and directed toward the rearing of the next generation.

As I mentioned on the radio, there is no fear on my part admitting that my definition of marriage flows from a theological context. I believe we can see all these elements of marriage in Genesis 2. I also believe my definition is consistent with Jesus’ teaching about marriage in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 and Paul’s teaching on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5.

In addition, I also believe that my definition of marriage is consistent with the government’s civil understanding of marriage. Marriage laws in civil society have historically limited marriage to a relationship between one man and one woman. The relationship is considered to be on-going until death unless the individuals take legal action to end it. Marriage laws limit the age and consanguinity relationships of those who can get married in large part due to legal consent and procreation. All of these limitations are consistent with my definition of marriage. I believe my definition actually offers a more robust understanding of marriage even from a civil perspective.

Even civil marriage is much more than Brandan offered in his definition. But as an evangelical, I also declare from the rooftops that marriage is not simply a civil ordinance—it is a creation ordinance instituted by God. Since God is the one who created it, he is the one who has the right to set the parameters. I, for one, am not ashamed to admit that.