How to Navigate Gender Identity as a Christian Teacher (Part 2)
As Christian educators, we may struggle to know how to respond to questions of gender identity. In this episode, you’ll discover how to work out a Biblical understanding of gender to interact with wisdom, truth, and love.
read the transcript:
You can watch part 1 of this conversation here.
[Linda] We're back here with Jonathan Holmes, talking about gender identity. In the last session, we talked about how our society currently views gender and sex. Then we discussed what the Bible has to say and how we can think about it Biblically.
[Linda] So, if you missed that, you definitely want to go back and listen to that first, because it really lays the groundwork for what we're about to talk about, which is “How do we live that out? How should we respond? How should we act when we encounter these questions?”
[Linda] So, thank you again for taking this time.
[Jonathan] No, thank you for having me.
[Linda] So, let's start out by talking about wrong responses. What are some things we definitely want to avoid?
[Jonathan] Right. I think one of the things, as Christians, either as Christian educators or just Christians in the public square, is that we want to stay away from stories of disgust or responses of disgust. Like, "That's so weird!", or "That's so odd!", or just a sense of rejection, of "I don't want to have anything to do with that." On the other side, I also don't think that we can just offer outright affirmation either, of "Yeah, that's fine. You were born this way. Just do whatever you want." And so, somewhere in the middle of that has to be a movement where Christians can speak truth and love, develop their convictions, and hold them with compassion.
[Jonathan] And so knowing where you lean on this spectrum of either being really turned off by that or disgusted by that because it's just different and confusing, or saying "Yeah, I think it's okay" is helpful. Maybe knowing your tendency on either side can help move you towards, I would say, a Biblical pathway of being able to speak truth and love.
[Linda] Right. Yeah, that's really helpful.
[Linda] So, let's walk through this in a couple of different scenarios. Let's start with Christian schools, okay?
Gender identity and sexuality
[Linda] In your seminar, you talked about developing the right concept of gender identity and sexuality for teens, and even for children. I would say this could be a whole additional topic, but what are a few things that would be helpful for Christian school teachers that have the freedom to talk about this from a Biblical perspective? How can we help students develop that right concept?
[Jonathan] That's a great question. Going back to what we talked about last session, that's where I think sexual discipleship is so important. If Christian teachers, in a Christian school setting, have the opportunity and the platform to talk about these issues from a Biblical framework, then I would hope that we could take advantage of those opportunities. And one of the things that we can do is put forth a positive, compelling vision for gender and for sexuality.
[Jonathan] So often we talk about these things behind closed doors, proverbially. Or we just depend on other people, or books, or pastors, or counselors, or our youth group leaders to educate our students about sex, or gender, or even our bodies. And the Bible does not shy away from that. The Bible is really honest, as we talked about in the last session, that God created us male and female; that He created a complementary between genders that's actually a signpost of His original goal and intention.
[Jonathan] And so, I think, for us to be able to talk about those things openly and honestly, but to frame them as something good, is actually a gift. And also not only are they good and a gift, but it's actually the design that God has intended for us. And so, as human beings who are dependent and made in His image, our goal is to live in accordance with who God is and what He's called us to be. The goal then is an alignment of who I am, and my sense of identity, with who God says I am and what He created me to be.
[Linda] Yeah, that's so helpful because sometimes it can just feel like a list of rules for teens, right?
[Linda] "Don't do this, don't do that. These are all the things that are out." It’s not that we don’t say that, but you're building this positive vision of “This is God's beautiful plan, and this is how we fit into it, and this is what the Gospel looks like walked out.”
[Jonathan] Absolutely. Here's what God actually says "yes" to: He says "yes" to the unity of both body and soul, and that your body can be used as a way to bring honor and glory to God. And in 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul picks that up actually. He says, "I want you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling that you have received." And he moves forward. He says, "Abstain from sexual immorality." But he doesn't just talk about sex, he also talks about work. He says, "Hey, I want you to live a life that's pleasing to me through the way that you work." And then, at the end of the chapter, he moves into talking about grief and the Lord's return. He says, "Hey, I want you to live a life pleasing to the Lord in the way that you grieve and deal with hard things."
[Jonathan] So, it's not just about sex that the Bible has a lot of prohibitions on. It's about every area of life that God says, "From the way that you handle sex and your body, to the way that you work, to the way that you deal with hard things and grief, those are all ways that you can glorify God and actually live into your calling."
[Linda] That's awesome. Yeah, that's so helpful.
interacting with people experiencing gender DYSPHoriA
[Linda] Let's move on into talking about what we should do if we know people, whether they're students or just people in our lives, that are dealing with gender dysphoria or are transgender. We talked a little bit about this before, but can you expound again on why it is important to get to know them first?
[Jonathan] Right, right. I use an illustration that I'm sure all of your listeners in the audience can resonate with. You might have a student come in on a certain day, and maybe they're really angry, or frustrated, or irritated. And you might deal with them in a certain way that just deals with that very small tip of the iceberg. But then you start asking them questions, and they haven't gotten a lot of sleep, they lost their homework, they're coming from a broken home, they're under a lot of peer pressure, or their girlfriend just broke up with them. You realize that what you saw was the tip of the iceberg, so you start asking a few more questions, and you learn, "Oh, there's a lot more going on."
[Jonathan] Same thing with gender dysphoria. Mark Yarhouse, who's a clinical psychologist at Regent University, says that gender issues are like the tip of the iceberg. And you might want to focus on that right away, but underneath that iceberg are a lot of other issues that are going on that you, as a teacher, can explore and ask questions of. Questions of rejection, affirmation, and acceptance. "Why do I not feel connected to, or why do I not feel accepted by, this person or by this group of people?" Or "Why do I feel the way that I do? Why do I feel disconnected from my biological sex?" Or "Why do I have feelings of anxiety if I go into this room or go into this particular setting?"
[Jonathan] And so, a lot of the time, once you drill down below the surface of the iceberg and do a little bit of deep sea exploration, as it were, I think that you can begin to see some other things that are going on that are going to provide a lot more common ground that you could explore with them, rather than just having a conversation about that 10% of the iceberg that you see.
[Linda] Right. So, the temptation might be to see just that piece, and there's so much more. We can engage them on all those other issues that are less controversial, and you can really help them with. That's awesome.
[Jonathan] For instance, I had a young man, and that dynamic of boys are a little bit more oriented towards sports, being outdoors, and things like that. And he just did not feel that. He felt much more connected to the girls in his classroom, and having conversations. Deep, what he would call "emotional" conversations. And over time, all of his peers began saying, "Well, either you're gay, or maybe you're a girl." And that began to sink into his own thinking, and he actually began to question, "Well, maybe that's why I am the way that I am." And beginning to move forward, he did experience a lot of feelings of gender dysphoria. But after we moved through some of that external noise that was going on around him, it was just that sense of, "I don't feel accepted by my own gender, by my own peers.", and that sense of "Do people really like me? Do they love me for who I am?"
[Jonathan] So, sometimes just moving below the surface, I think, can be helpful in this conversation.
[Linda] Yeah, just really helping them understand, "Why do I have these questions? Where are they coming from?", and dealing with that, rather than-
[Jonathan] You need to change your gender.
[Linda] ... the symptoms, kind of. Right.
[Jonathan] Right, exactly. You might not be experiencing these things because you need to change your gender and become a female. You might be experiencing some of these issues because you don't feel accepted, you're afraid of rejection, you don't know how to relationally connect with people of the same gender, or a whole host of other things.
[Linda] That's great. Thank you.
facilitating wise conversations
[Linda] Since we're talking about conversations with students, can we pause a little bit and talk about some ways to have wise conversations with students?
[Linda] All students, whether they have gender dysphoria or not.
[Jonathan] Right. Two things: ask good questions, and listen for good answers. And it sounds a bit perfunctory, like "Okay, yeah, we know how to ask good questions." But as we mentioned earlier, sometimes we can ask bad questions. We can ask questions that are actually not helpful. And going back to 1 Samuel, Eli asks Hannah, "Why are you drunk?"
[Jonathan] Yeah. He takes an assumption, or he takes external data, and he makes an assumption and a conclusion on it.
[Jonathan] God is obviously a much better question asker than any of us are. So, whenever He's asking questions in Scripture we want to pay attention. In Genesis 4, after Cain has killed Abel, He sees Cain, and He just asks him two simple questions. He says, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?" Right? Now, He's God. He knows everything, right?
[Jonathan] He doesn't need to ask any questions. So, why do it? Well, there must be something really purposeful about asking questions that actually images God. That God is a God who moves towards us and inquires of us.
[Jonathan] And so, the way that God asks questions is that He wants to get to the heart of the issue. "Hey, I see something on the outside. Tell me what's going on on the inside. I see that your countenance has fallen." Another way to say that might be, "You look kind of sad. Why is that so? Why are you angry?" As you look throughout the narrative of Scripture, the movement is that God is somebody who is really eager to inquire about what's going on in our lives and in our hearts. And not only does He ask questions, but He also follows up and He listens. Psalm 116 says that “The Lord inclines His ear to us and that He hears us.” As teachers, as counselors, as people that are in churches, lay leaders, et cetera, one of the ways that we build relationships with not only students who are experiencing gender dysphoria, but just really any student, is that we ask questions and we listen well for answers.
[Jonathan] We're probably not a culture that does very well with listening. And so, that's a skill that I think all of us can grow in. I tell all the people I do training with, that God gave us two ears and one mouth. So, in terms of a ratio of how things are designed, I always try to keep that in mind, in terms of listening to speaking.
[Linda] Yeah. That's great.
[Linda] And last week, I recorded the interview with Crystal Kershaw, which you guys should definitely check out. It's about counseling students. I know, as a teacher, your thought is, "Well, when am I going to have time for all these conversations?" And she had a great tip. She said to invite students to come help you with something. "Can you come help me with something in my classroom?" That gives them a reason to be there, and it gives you an opportunity to engage with them, rather than just "Can you come by for 20 minutes?" That's not really going to happen.
[Linda] So, I thought that was really helpful for practically thinking, “What does this look like?”
[Jonathan] We find that to be so true at Fieldstone with a lot of our adolescent clients, to actually do activities with them. For a 14 year old boy, it might seem a little bit odd to just sit across from another person and talk for 15 minutes. But one of our counselors might play a game of chess with the person, or they might go play a game of pick-up basketball. It gives them an activity or something that they can help with that will kind of diffuse the seriousness of the conversation.
[Linda] That's great.
[Jonathan] That's a great way that I think that you can build in time for those types of conversations.
[Linda] That's awesome.
what about pronouns?
[Linda] So, the next question I have is one that I know a lot of teachers have, and it's a super practical question. What advice do you have when students ask you to use their pronoun of choice? What are your thoughts on that?
[Jonathan] Yeah. Linda, it's such a good question. It's a question that I've really wrestled with and that I've thought a lot about. And I'll just say at the outset that Christians, Bible-believing Christians who share a Biblical vision of gender and sexuality, have come to some different conclusions on that. And so, what conclusion I might come to might be different than other people.
[Jonathan] One of the things that I try to ask myself is "Who am I talking to?" If I'm talking to somebody who I know is from a Christian background, or from a background of faith, or who is even a professing Christian, and hearing, "I don't want to be this gender anymore. I am now this gender, and I want you to use these pronouns and this name,” I would probably take a little bit more of an inquisitive approach to that. I would want to ask them a little bit more to help me understand what's going on. Because I would say, "From what I understand from Scripture, Scripture gave us gender as a gift. God created us with gender, and that's a gift, and that's a good thing. So, help me understand what's going on inside." And so, I'd probably be more curious, and maybe less ready to acquiesce to that request right off the bat.
[Jonathan] Now, if they were just a person I didn't know, or they were not a believer, not a professing Christian, I would probably use their preferred name as much as I could, but maybe not so much their preferred pronoun. The preferred pronoun a lot of times, obviously, carries with it the gender: her, he, she, him. And sometimes in conversation we can just use the name. And the name can be, I think, a little bit of an easier way to address them, rather than using the personal pronouns.
[Jonathan] Now, that would be my personal belief because, in that moment, especially with an unbeliever, what I'm trying to do is maintain a relationship. And I don't want to disengage them, or to put an even further depth between the two of us by virtue of, "Well, I don't want to use your name." So, then I never have an opportunity to actually build a friendship or a relationship with them. So, that's why for an unbeliever or a not professing Christian, I would be more willing to use their preferred name when possible.
[Jonathan] The caveat that I would put with that is some Christians might come to a different conclusion and say, "I just don't think that I can do that. God made them a male, and they were given a male name. I just, conscience-wise, don't think that I can do that." And Paul tells us in Romans 14:23 that, "What is not done from faith is sin." And so, as a believing Christian, if you're not able to do that, I don't want you to sin against your conscience. You have to do what you think is the right thing to do, based off of what Scripture calls us to.
[Jonathan] In 1 Timothy 1:5, Paul tells Timothy, "I want you to be operating from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a sincere faith." And I think that triad of sincere faith, pure conscience, and a pure heart are really instructive for us, too, as we come to this.
[Jonathan] If your goal in talking to somebody who is transgender is to build a relationship with them, and you're able to use their name with a clear conscience, then I think that that's a good step at building a relationship. But if not, then I think that you'll probably have to reevaluate in that moment that there could be a risk of rupturing that relationship by virtue of your refusal to use their preferred name. So, you might come to me, and say, "Well, I want to be called Bobby." And in conversation, I'm like, "Well, you're not Bobby. You're Linda." And as an individual, you might say, "Well, I don't even want to talk to you. You're not even willing to call me by my name." And the relationship is done and over; there's not an opportunity for further conversation. That's just the risk that you run, I think, in that scenario.
[Linda] So, you're saying, first, you have to pray about this. You have to examine your heart. But the conclusion you've come to for yourself, and many teachers might come to, is that maybe the relationship is worth using this name. And by using the name, you're not endorsing anything. You're just using the name that they choose, just like they ask you to use a nickname, and maybe try to avoid the pronouns as much as you can.
[Jonathan] Right, exactly. And again, some people might hear this and say, "Oh, that sounds a little bit like you're trying to hug a legal fine line." And yeah, we are trying to be as nuanced as we can without sacrificing Biblical truth.
[Jonathan] Names, I find a lot of times, are less gender-specific than actual gender pronouns. You know, Chris, Sam, those might be names that could be boy or girl names. I grew up in the South, and Ashley was a boy's name, not a girl's name. And so, names, I think, are a little bit more open to interpretation, whereas gender pronouns are obviously gender-specific.
[Jonathan] But again, I think that those convictions have to be developed in community by prayer, which you rightly mentioned, and getting the wisdom of maybe your pastor or wise people around you as well.
[Linda] Yeah, thanks so much. And hopefully that gives you guys something to think about, because I know a lot of you have that issue. And sometimes there are even legal obligations, and you're wrestling with those. So, hopefully that will help you think that through.
[Jonathan] It's a tough issue. It's a good question, but it is a tough issue. And like I said, Linda, people from varying backgrounds have arrived at different conclusions.
who are you talking to?
[Linda] So, as you're talking about these different pronouns, in your seminar, you shared some couplets that I found so helpful. Would you mind sharing these with us? Because I think it's helpful in this question, and it's helpful in so many other things as well.
[Jonathan] Right. Those couplets come from Pastor Kevin DeYoung. He's written a really helpful book called What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? \And it's a book that is more oriented towards homosexuality rather than gender identity issues. But I think some of the things that he shares in one of the appendices in the book are universally applicable. And he offers some different couplets that I think are really important. What it's based on are things that you and I have already talked about: about the importance of knowing who you're talking to. And the importance of knowing who you're talking to then helps you, we would say, contextualize. Contextualize your conversation.
[Jonathan] So, he says "If we're speaking to cultural elites who despise us in our beliefs, we want to be bold and courageous." And I would tell Christians, especially the educators that you're seeking to reach, that there's no need to be ashamed about the Biblical teaching about gender. There can be a boldness and a courageousness that says, "This is what Scripture teaches, and it's good. It's right. It's not old-fashioned. It's not weird. It's not puritanical. It's not any of those things. It's actually good. God said that it's good." And so, we want to be bold and courageous when we talk to people like that.
[Jonathan] He says, "If we're speaking to strugglers who fight against gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction, we want to be patient and sympathetic." And so, as we've already mentioned, for people who genuinely are struggling with that sense of dysphoria, or dissonance, or "something is not right inside", we don't want to just stereotype them, or malign them, or call them crazy. We want to be patient and sympathetic. We want to reach out to them.
[Jonathan] He says, "If we're speaking to sufferers who have been mistreated by the church, we want to be apologetic and humble." Bullying is a major issue for the transgender community. And for transgender youth or adolescents who have been bullied, as Christians I think that we can build bridges of rapport with them and say, "That's not right. We're sorry that you went through that. We're sorry that you've had that experience. That's not right."
[Jonathan] He goes on to say, "If we're speaking to shaky Christians who seem ready to compromise the faith for society's approval, we want to be persuasive and persistent." And some of us might be at different spots in our own understanding of this, where we might be tempted to say, "I don't know. That sounds too hard to handle, and it would be a lot easier if everybody could just do whatever they wanted to." Maybe do what was right in our own eyes. And I think when we're having conversations like that, we want to be persuasive and persistent that what God's Word says is true and right, and it's good. And we want to be persuasive to say, "Listen, this is the right way."
[Jonathan] He says, "If we're speaking to gays and lesbians ..." Or let's say transgender people as well. "... who live as the Scriptures would not have them live, we want to be winsome and straightforward." And that balance of both winsomeness and straightforwardness, we might say is just speaking truth and love. Right? We want to be honest about our convictions, but we can do it in a compassionate way without compromising our convictions.
[Jonathan] And then finally, he says, "If we're speaking to belligerent Christians who hate or fear homosexuals or transgender people, we want to be upset and disappointed." And there's just no room for that type of hatred or disgust with the Biblical ethic of love. And so, we rightly want to confront that type of behavior when we see it.
[Linda] That is just so helpful, especially in understanding the different audiences. Especially, "Am I talking to a believer, or a non-believer?" And that's just going to change not what you believe, not what is true, but how you go about that conversation.
[Jonathan] And you see that type of contextualization with Christ. When you see him interacting in the Gospels, he doesn't just have one sermon that he just pulls out of his back pocket to just preach to every single person. He preaches the same message. It's a message of grace, that we're sinners and that we're in need of redemption. But He articulates that out, and preaches this out, and lives it out in a hundred different ways. Conversationally, publicly proclaiming it. A lot of different ways based off of who his audience is.
[Jonathan] So, there's not a compromise on the message, but there's a right understanding of, "Who am I talking to? And what's most beneficial in the moment?" That I think all of us can learn from his approach there.
[Linda] Right. And our goal is keeping that right testimony, and building relationships.
[Linda] What are some general principles we can keep in mind as we seek to have the right testimony in conversations with people?
[Jonathan] Right. I think one of the things is that we want to make sure that our relationships are built to build bridges for the Gospel. That we're not using our relationships to win debates. We're not using them to influence people into a specific position per se. There are a lot of people who might have what we would say a "Biblical view" of gender and sexuality, but who might not know Christ. And so, our primary goal is that people would know Christ, that they would treasure Christ, that they would love Christ, that they would be disciples of Christ. Out of that, we hope and we pray that understanding of gender and sexuality comes from that. But we want to make sure that the Gospel is always primary, and so we want to allow that to guide our conversations.
[Jonathan] I'd say another thing is just making sure that we get to know the whole person. And again, we've talked about that before. I had a good friend at one of our campuses at Parkside who was a well-known football coach in our area. Saturdays he would play his games and Sundays he'd come to church. And he said Sundays were always the hardest day for him because the only thing that anybody ever wanted to talk to him about on Sundays was, "Hey, how was the game on Saturday? Did you win or did you lose?" And he would often tell me, "I'm more than just a football coach! I have a family, and I have likes and interests. There's a lot more to me than just my job or what I do."
[Jonathan] And the same thing, I think, can go for gender identity. Again, going back to that iceberg illustration. A person might be struggling with gender dysphoria, but there's a lot more that you can talk about. Don't use that as the only point of connection. If you do, you're going to fall off the iceberg pretty soon. You're not going to have very much real estate to travel. And so, I think, developing a wide base for relationship is important.
[Linda] That's awesome. And for those of you that teach in public schools, you might be thinking, "Okay, I'm supposed to keep the Gospel as the focus. But I'm not allowed to share the Gospel." But keep in mind that every relationship you build, God can still use. Right?
[Linda] It is a piece. When you hear people's testimonies, there are so many pieces in there. And if the Gospel is still the goal, God can use you as a piece in that puzzle. And you never know. Sometimes, students graduate, you reconnect, and then you have the freedom to share.
[Jonathan] Then let me share an encouragement for the teachers in your audience on that point. In Mark, chapter four, in the parable of the sower, Jesus is giving this parable, and He says, "There's a sower who goes out, and he's sowing seed." And the seed is the Gospel. It's the message. And He talks about all of the different grounds that it falls on: thorny ground, rocky ground, good soil. And we normally think of it primarily from the perspective of the sower sowing the seed, and what type of ground. But a lot of times, like you were saying, a teacher might be somebody who is pulling rocks away from the seed to allow it to flourish, or who might be pulling thorns away from a seed to allow it to not get choked out, or who might be heaping some fertilizer, and water, and sunshine on top of the seed. And again, we might not be the harvester, but a Godly teacher who loves his or her students well, might be a component in that student's life that might reap a harvest years down the road. That can be an encouragement for all of us. Ultimately, we might not know the impact right then of how God uses our conversations and our words. But down the road, I think oftentimes God uses those things in a person's life.
[Linda] Thank you for sharing that. This is so encouraging.
what should we say?
[Linda] This last section that we want to talk about, is particularly more for Christian teachers in public schools.
[Linda] So, first of all, how should we interact? We've already talked about this a lot, but with the student that has gender dysphoria, keeping in mind that we have these limits. For example, you were telling me earlier about this website that has some detransitioning stories. Is that something that might be wise to share with a student?
[Jonathan] Right, right. I do think that it would be a good option. Because again, sometimes culture can say, "This is what you're feeling. You're feeling this sense of dysphoria. This is the answer." And I think that there are probably other ways that that dysphoria could be addressed. And one of the issues that I think presents a little bit of a troubling statistic, especially for transgender youth and adolescents, is that they have significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidality than their cisgender peers. So, their peers whose biological sex and gender identity are lining up.
[Jonathan] And so, one of the difficulties that we can gather from that data is that maybe there's a narrative that's being sold to some of these children of, "Okay, this is what you feel. And if you move forward and get this done, or identify like this, then you'll be happy. You're going to be okay. You won't be depressed or anxious.” Or “you'll be accepted. You'll be loved. You'll be happy with who you are if you do this." Well, they get on the other side of that, either the hormone therapies, the counseling, the change in name and gender, and they realize, "I actually still have all of these struggles. What do I do with that?"
[Jonathan] And so, I think, as a teacher, what you can do in a very helpful way, and in a way that is in keeping with whatever ethical guidelines are in place as a teacher, is to say, "You know what? Are there other things or other opportunities that you could explore? Have you ever thought about counseling or talking to a religious leader? Are you involved in a local community of faith where you could talk to an individual just to get another perspective?" I think that that can be helpful.
[Jonathan] Those stories of detransitioning can be helpful too, if not just for your own benefit, maybe even for the benefit of a particular student to say, "Hey, here are some people who did go through with some type of transition, and who realized it actually didn't solve the issue that they were hoping that it would solve. And there's some regret, there's some wishing that they would have tried or done something different. As a teacher, I just want you to be aware that there are other options out there other than just this particular pathway of completely changing your gender."
[Linda] Yeah. And this is in combination with all we talked about before, right? Getting to know someone, dealing with the other issues, not just the tip of the iceberg. But maybe, as the opportunity presents itself, saying, "Hey, have you considered this? Did you know that there are people who have done this, and then come to realize that they wish they would have known about this earlier? I just want you to know all the options." You're not necessarily trying to convince them if you're not allowed to, but you're just presenting, "Have you thought? Have you considered all these options?"
[Jonathan] And again, as teachers, you realize with teenagers and adolescents that their desires change often, their feelings change often. Trying to capture a stable or consistent sense of who they are is a little bit like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. And so, one of the things that you do is just be a consistent, loving presence in their life that affirms them, that loves them, that is there for them. And something like that is unmistakably a good thing that you can present that and be that for a student.
[Linda] Yeah, that's such a great reminder.
[Linda] So, we've talked a lot about how to interact with students. But there's also another side to it- of policy. And in this decade, the coming decade, schools are still trying to figure out "How do we handle this? What are our policies looking like?"
how can we advocate?
[Linda] If their opinion is asked, or if they're on a panel, how can Christian teachers wisely advocate? Even if we can't share all the Biblical side, how can we wisely advocate?
[Jonathan] Right. How can you wisely advocate for what would be Judeo-Christian values or morals? I think you're right, that question is becoming increasingly difficult to answer in our culture. And so, again, you're left with two different extremes of do we just become completely assimilated by our culture and just go that way? Or do we just completely withdraw and say, "Well, you know what? You can't really be Christian in public education anymore. You just need to completely disconnect." I don't think either of those options are necessary. I think that there's always a middle option of how can somebody have a prophetic voice and witness in the midst of a difficult culture.
[Jonathan] And so, maybe Christian teachers in public school settings view themselves a little bit in the tradition of an Old Testament prophet. The Old Testament prophets are saying things that nobody wants to hear and that nobody is listening to, and they oftentimes get reviled and hear, "Shut up! We don't want to hear from you." But yet, because of their faith in God, because of the mission that God called them to, they call forth and proclaim God's message. And so, I actually think that Christian teachers have a really unique opportunity, like you said, to be public advocates in the public square and in the public market.
[Jonathan] So, what does that look like? Well, the first thing is that whenever possible I think we want to be respectful of the authorities that are above us. Right? Scripture says that authority is good. We all live under authority. Paul tells us in Romans 13 that the government is our authority. Even when we don't like it, even when we wish our tax rates were a little bit lower, or when government officials are doing things that we don't like, we're still called to live under their authority.
[Jonathan] So, whenever possible, and when it's not in direct contradiction with what Scripture teaches us to do, I think we want to be respectful of and in submission to our authorities at our school: your principals, your superintendents, your supervisors. That's one way. It's that you live a godly life that says, "Listen, I'm not a troublemaker. I'm not trying to be divisive. I am submissive. I am somebody who follows authority and who is supportive of our authorities and our structures, but who is also able to add a different voice or a different view." I think that's one thing that we can do, that teachers can do.
[Jonathan] The other thing that I think that teachers can do is make sure that there is, what I call, "relational integrity.” If you're going to say this, make sure that your life adds up to it on the other side. Right? Make sure that the way you're acting in your classroom is bringing glory and testimony to God. Jesus tells us in John 13, "By this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another."
[Jonathan] So, the things that we're saying, are they coming from a person who we already know to be loving, compassionate, patient, gentle? Who displays the fruit of the Spirit? And I think that that relational integrity is really key. We don't want to be advocating on this side for a God that we say that we follow when in practice we are just acting like everybody else. Right? And so, I think that type of relational integrity is really important. Integrity, and maybe credibility would be the other word I'd use.
[Linda] Yeah, yeah. That's great.
[Linda] Just one follow up is that is in some cases, the policies are changing rapidly. There are situations where maybe a teacher is required to use a pronoun that, as we talked, maybe their conscience won't let them use. Or they're required to have books in their library, in kindergarten and first grade that particularly push a transgender narrative, and they say, "I cannot in good conscience do this." What does Christian noncompliance look like in that place?
[Jonathan] Yeah, Linda that's truly a big question.
[Linda] I know that's a loaded question.
[Jonathan] We probably need another segment for that.
[Jonathan] That's a wonderful question. Well, what does Scripture say? We do know Scripture says that, at the end of the day, we must obey God rather than men. So, if we are in a position where we are directly having to disobey one of God's commands for the sake of our employer, I don't think that's right Biblically. And so, we would need to voice our concerns, our consternation about being put into that position, to the appropriate person in charge. To say, "Religiously and based off of my background of faith, I just cannot do this."
[Jonathan] I'll give you a little bit of an analogous example. I know several Christian counselors and Christian therapists who were in secular mental health settings who have said, "I just can't counsel somebody towards making this transition, based off of my faith." And that conversation was a hard conversation. But one of the conversations that came as a result of that was their supervisor, their clinical supervisor, just said, "Well, we won't give you those kind of cases then." And so, it comes out as a loss of revenue, potentially, for that counselor. It might shrink their caseload. But it's a way where the counselor is still staying true to what he believes Scripture is calling him to, while at the same time rightly expressing to his boss or her supervisor that he or she just can't comply with something that violates their conscience. And so, I wonder if some type of conversation with a principal, a superintendent, or a supervisor could be had?
[Jonathan] We always want to start off these conversations with prayer; that’s just a no-brainer. I would say the other thing is to seek outside counsel. Get the advice and counsel of maybe fellow Christians that you know of who are within your school system to ask them how they've navigated it, how they've handled it. The advice and wisdom of maybe a pastor, an elder, or a ministry leader at your church.
[Linda] That's really helpful. So, you're not just on an island trying to figure it out yourself.
[Jonathan] Exactly, so you're not on an island. Absolutely. We're designed to live in a community of people.
[Linda] Well, thank you so much. I'm sure we could talk for so much longer. But these have been some really helpful things, and I pray it's been helpful for you guys as well.
[Linda] Anything else you'd like to share as we're finishing up?
[Jonathan] The encouragement that I'd want to give to all of you is that what you do and the role that you're serving is important. God will use your words, your life, your testimony for His Kingdom. In Galatians 6:9, He says, "Don't grow weary in doing good, for in due season you'll reap a harvest." So, I'm encouraged to be here with you, and by extension, all the people that you'll be serving this weekend. And just know that God will steward and use what you give to Him in a way that might not be known to us right at the outset, but that in the long term will bear a great harvest. So, thank you.
[Linda] Well, thank you so much. And once again, check out all the resources and links that we included in this post. And let us know what questions you have, and we'll see what we can do.
[Jonathan] Right. Thank you.
About jonathan holmes
Jonathan Holmes is the Founder and Executive Director of Fieldstone Counseling. He also serves as the Pastor of Counseling for Parkside Church Bainbridge and Green. Jonathan graduated from The Master’s College with degrees in Biblical Counseling and History and his M.A. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of The Company We Keep and Counsel for Couples and the forthcoming Rescue Plan (P&R Publishing, 2020).
Jonathan has written for a number of sites and organizations including, The Gospel Coalition, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Covenant Eyes and the Journal for Biblical Counseling. Jonathan serves on the Council Board for the Biblical Counseling Coalition; he speaks frequently at retreats and conferences. He and his wife, Jennifer, have four daughters, Ava, Riley, Ruby, and Emma. In his spare time Jonathan enjoys spending time with his family, reading, traveling and cooking/gardening.
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