Developing Gender Identity In Your Children
About the Guest
Jim Elliff, talks with Dennis Rainey about leading your children to faith in Christ.
Dennis and Barbara RaineyDennis and Barbara Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Their 43+ years of leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries. Together they have spoken at over 150 Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways and authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples, Staying Close, A Symphony in the Dark, and Barbara’s most recent, Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife...more
Dennis and Barbara Rainey talk about the increasing need for parents to talk to their children about sex and sexual identity.
Developing Gender Identity In Your Children
Bob: Men and women are created by God with equal value and equal worth but, as Barbara Rainey points out, there are some things women can do that men will never be able to do.
Barbara: Only women are designed by God to conceive and bear children and that sets them apart from men. They’re life-givers, but they’re also nurturers. Women are prone to nurturing life in other people or in other things. It’s not that men don’t do that—there are a lot of men who are pastors who nurture life in their congregation—but it’s a unique calling in a woman’s life to be made to give life and to nurture that life after it’s born.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, January 30th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. As parents, we have to help our children understand that when God created them as either boys or girls, He had more than just biological function in mind. That’s controversial, but we’re going to talk about it today.
Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
If you were sitting down with a group of parents today and you were saying. “One of the issues you’re going to have to address as you raise your kids is the issue of their identity.” I think what we’re going to talk about today is where they would go immediately because, in our culture the issue of gender identity—sexual identity—that’s right at the heart of how we think about ourselves in this new century.
Dennis: And you better know how to help your child address the issue—not after it happens—but before it happens. Barbara Rainey—my wife of 46 years—It’s been all great sweetheart—
Dennis: Every year better than the previous one.
Barbara: Yes, they are getting better.
Dennis: You hear that announced here on the radio, didn’t you? [Laughter]
Dennis: You wrote about it in your book, Letters to My Daughters.
Barbara: I know I did.
Dennis: I told you that you should have made me look better in there, but you didn’t.
Barbara: I didn’t.
Dennis: We’re talking about another new book we’ve written called The Art of Parenting.We’re covering one of the four major areas that the book is built around. We believe that parenting Biblically has four Biblical components: One—teaching your child how to relate to God and to one another. It’s the great commandment: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor.
Number two—the second component—is that of character. That’s choosing right and not wrong. It’s the book of Proverbs—living a wise life and not a foolish one.
Third area we’re talking about today and have been all this week so far, is the area of identity—and today we’re going to talk about sexual identity.
The last component of parenting is one we’ll talk about here in a few weeks, which is teaching you child how to have a sense of mission and purpose—to be about what God has for him or her all their lives.
But I want to come back to this idea of sexual identity and I want to read a story by Jackie Hill Perry. She is a spoken word artist.
Bob: She’s going to be a guest on FamilyLife Today coming up in a few weeks.
Dennis: That’s right. She told a story that is a present tense story about her own struggle growing up around her own sexual identity. Rather than tell it, I want to read her words.
She says, “I understand how it feels to be in love with a woman—to want nothing more that to be with her forever—feeling as if the universe has played a cruel joke on your heart by allowing you to fall into the hands of a creature that looks just like you.” She goes on, “At the age of seventeen I finally made the decision to pursue these desires. I enjoyed these relationships and loved these women a lot, and it came to the point that I was willing to forsake all, including my soul to enjoy their love on earth.”
“At the age of 19, my superficial reality was shaken up by a deeper love, one from the outside—one that I’d heard of before, but never experienced. My eyes were opened and I began to believe everything God says in His Word. I began to believe that what He says about sin, death and hell were completely true.” She concludes with this, “God put this impression on my heart. He said, ‘Jackie, you have to believe that My Word is true even if it contradicts how you feel.’”
“Wow!” she writes, “This is right. Either I trust in His Word or I trust my own feelings. Either I look to Him for the pleasure my soul craves or I search for it in lesser things.
Either I walk in obedience to what He says or I reject His truth as if it were a lie.”
Bob, I think she nails it because I think we have a generation that is living life according to their feelings. They really don’t know what they believe and what they’re committed to from the Scriptures. This is why parents have to listen up. You all need to take your assignment about educating, training and equipping your sons and daughters to know how to navigate one of the most treacherous subjects they’re ever going to face on the planet—the issue of sexual identity.
It all begins at birth. It’s not long thereafter, that’s when sex education begins.
Bob: I’m thinking—back a generation ago—when we were talking about helping boys understand what it means to be a boy and girls understand what it means to be a girl.
Back decades ago, it was a very different conversation than the one parents are dealing with today. In part, Barbara, because there were some gender stereotyping going on back then that was not healthy—where we said, “This is how boys should act or think, and this is how girls should act and think.”
We got a little too compartmentalized and a little too boxy and put some artificial, arbitrary markers around those things. But today, we are questioning whether gender is just a construct in our brains or whether it’s really tied to our biology. Parents are stymied about how to deal with this.
Barbara: They really are and it really is a very different arena than what we had, because we were deciding what we believed girls could do—primarily it was what girls could do and couldn’t do. Because when I grew up there were no sports offered for girls in my high school. When our girls grew up there were some sports offered for girls in high school but not all of them. There has been a shift over the years.
Today, almost all sports are available for girls. But it’s not just, “What girls can do.” It’s, “Are you a girl or not?” and, “Are you a boy or not?” The pendulum has gone way, way, way the other direction. Our children know of couples in their communities who are same-sex couples who are raising children, or couples who are male and female who are raising their children to choose who they want to be. They’re naming their children neutral names so that they can be either a boy or girl when they grow up and decide what they want to be.
Bob: We’ve read stories online about moms and dads who are purposefully withholding any gender differentiation from a child so that when that child gets older they can decide how they want to express their gender. That’s a very different approach than what the Bible seems to teach us about God creating us male and female.
Dennis: Yes, in Genesis 1:27, God speaks and He doesn’t stutter. He said He made
them “male and female.” Three times in a matter of 22 words he makes it very clear He created two sexes to reflect His image—who He was as Almighty God.
I’ll never forget talking to Stephen Kendrick, the movie producer, author and a good friend, who made this statement to me. He said, “The God who made you, is the God who has the authority to define you.” I really like that.
Barbara: I do, too.
Dennis: Because we want to self-identify. You know what that is—that’s nothing more than Genesis chapter three, the rebellion of Adam and Eve saying, “You know what, I know better than God—I will define myself. It doesn’t matter that you said, ‘male and female He made you.’ I’ve got feelings and those feelings are,”—back to what Jackie Hill Perry was talking about—“they’re more legitimate than God’s Word.”
What parents have to do is they have to do this dance. I’ve got to tell you, my hat goes off to parents today who are attempting this. You have to teach the Bible but have tremendous compassion and train your children to know how to love people who don’t think and believe like they do. They’re going to grow up in a culture—increasingly—that is not going to stand for them taking a hard stand based upon what the Scriptures teach.
I used to have a little slide I used. It was a picture of a pair of parents taking a baby and tossing a child over a fence to a bunch of wolves. It was the picture of the world. The world will educate your child if you don’t. I can testify to that. I didn’t find out about the birds and the bees from my mom and dad. I found out from Jimmy Fletcher, eighth grade believe it or not—that was a long time ago—walking in the snow, he told me and I could not believe it.
It’s not the way a young man or a boy needs to find out, or for that matter a young lady either. I think that sacred privilege occurs when we take our children’s hands in ours and we explain to them the Maker of male and female also made this mystery called sex—and it really is wonderful in marriage.
Bob: Barbara, this issue of a child’s gender identity or sexual identity—and I understand there are folks today who would say those are different—that gender’s in your head and sex is your biology—it can get very tricky—in fact, this section in the book was—wasn’t this the last section that you wrote and the one you struggled with the most?
Barbara: I think it was actually, now that you say that. It’s because it’s challenging to know how to address it. It’s challenging to know how to talk about it. We didn’t want to say something in print that would be misinterpreted or communicate the wrong thing, so we worked really hard on it.
Bob: When you’re sitting down with parents today who say, “We want to teach our daughters how to be girls and our sons how to be boys,” I always flash back to something my son heard at a youth group retreat when the speaker said, “You know, boys and girls are different. Guys like sports and girls like to read books.” [Chuckling] Well, my son liked to read books--
Bob: —and didn’t like sports all that much. He came home thinking, “So—
Barbara: “What’s wrong with me?”
Bob: —am I a girl?” We want to make sure we’re not presenting cultural stereotypes about maleness and femaleness, but the Bible does indicate that there’s more to it than just our biological make up.
Barbara: Yes, the Bible makes it really clear that He made us different. One thing that I did is I spent a lot of time just reading Genesis one and two and reading what God did when He made Adam and Eve and how were they different before sin entered the world.
It was really instructive—what God said to each of them and how He related to both of them equally—that they were both created with equal value and equal worth— but they have differences.
I think the other thing that really helps too, is to understand that the reason that God made two—he made male and female—is that it takes both of us together to reflect who God is. That’s why He calls marriage a picture of Christ and the church—it’s that relationship between a man and a woman ultimately in marriage that more fully represents the character and who God is.
Women have some strengths that are God-designed and God-ordained that men don’t—and there’s overlap in all of them—but women tend to have greater strengths in some areas and men have greater strengths in some areas. That’s not to say they’re mutually exclusive, because they’re not.
It’s keeping an open mind to, “what were God’s original intentions in the beginning?” and not looking at what the culture does or making generalizations like that speaker did
when your son was at youth camp.
Dennis: I can tell you this. I think we worked close to 40 hours on this chapter because it’s filled with land mines. What we wanted to do was say no more than what Scripture teaches—but no less. We didn’t want to apologize for the design that God made.
Let me just tell you—you can read the chapter and decide for yourself—but here’s what we said was the essence of raising a boy to become a man: We believe that men were designed by God to be warriors and protectors. It doesn’t mean that a woman can’t be a warrior—can’t be a protector, of course mothers do those things—but we believe that God designed a man to be a protector and a warrior.
Secondly, men were made to initiate and lead with love and self-sacrifice. They weren’t to be dictators but they were to deny themselves—to give up their lives for their wives.
They put women ahead of themselves and help women become all that God wanted them to be.
The third area is men were called to be providers. They were designed by God to provide for their families. Does that mean that a woman can’t provide? Of course not.
These three descriptors of men, we believe, is what God designed in man originally—before the fall—that even after the fall, God really gave him the responsibility to carry out. We believe there is a difference between men and women.
Barbara: We saw also by looking at Genesis 1 and 2 thatthere are some interesting uniquenesses in women—that again, are not 100 percent exclusive to women—but do set them apart from men. One is that women are life-givers. We know that because men can’t conceive and bear children. Only women are designed by God—
—to conceive and bear children and that sets them apart from men. They’re life-givers—but they’re also nurturers.
Women are prone to nurturing life in other people or in other things. It’s not that men don’t do that—it’s not that men can’t do that—there are a lot of men who are pastors who nurture life in their congregation—but it’s a unique calling in a woman’s life to give life—be made to give life and to nurture that life after it’s born.
The other one that we saw uniquely in Genesis is that women were fashioned to be helpers. It’s interesting to me that God called Eve that, even before she was named Eve. God said he would make a helper for Adam. Helper is part of the way we define a wife and what a wife does. It’s interesting to me that God called Eve helper before she was married to Adam.
I think there is an intuitive sense in women that we are helpers—that we are completers,
and that as I mentioned earlier, together a woman and a man in marriage reflect a different quality—different picture of who God is than we can alone. I think that’s a part of how God made us as women—it’s a part of our DNA—it’s a part of our wiring and our makeup that God made—that is different from the way He made men.
Bob: So the mom who’s listening who says, “I hear what you’re saying but I’m not going to teach my boy to be a warrior, and I’m going to teach my daughter to be a leader. You say those are masculine qualities—I’m just not buying into that.”
Barbara: Well, I can answer that because I think it’s absolutely true that women can be warriors—I fought for my children. I fought to keep my children pure and untarnished as much as I possibly could by the world by excluding certain music and putting limits on screens and devices and phones and monitoring relationships.
I think that’s what we try to say in this chapter in the book is that this isn’t something that’s only available for men or this isn’t something that’s only a part of being a woman. It’s just that there are maybe different proportions or different strengths within that.
Dennis is called to be a warrior and a protector, but I’m still a warrior and protector, too, in our family with our kids. It’s not saying that they’re exclusive. I think that’s where we get into trouble is saying that these qualities that God built in us are exclusive. That’s where we set up boxes and we make things rigid. But we trust that God made us different as men and women and we allow to flourish what is there.
Dennis: Men and women are of equal value—and yet they are different. For us to take what God has made and to try to mix them together and homogenize the sexes without recognizing what God was imbedding in young men wanting to call them up and call
them out to be the protectors of their families—and to call a young lady to be a nurturer—a life-giver and the nobility of that. There’s nothing second rate about that if she doesn’t become a leader.
Read our book. Take a look at this chapter but then decide, “What do we think the Bible teaches and what are we going to build into our children,” and then stay consistent with that all the way until the end. I’ve got a feeling if you look all the way out to the end, you’re going to see there really is a divine design in boys and in girls that honors God but it is different.
Bob: One of the things I’ve always come back to here is general revelation. God has made boys with more testosterone than girls and girls with more estrogen than boys.
Barbara: That’s right.
Bob: We have to pull back and say, “Why did God make boys and girls with those different hormones at play?
What was His design in that?” We’ve got to be careful about the conclusions we draw, but we have to acknowledge, “There is a difference here. This is something that’s a part of divine design that’s present in all boys and all girls.”
Dennis: That’s right.
Barbara: I think a good way to summarize all of this is to go back to the story that you told, Dennis—at the beginning of the broadcast by Jackie Hill Perry. She had to come to a place of deciding, “Do I trust God? Do I trust Him and His Word and His design?”
Really it comes back to that for every mom and dad—every mom and dad listening—every mom and dad reading our book—“Will we trust God’s design and that He knew what He was doing? He gave us the children He wanted us to have and He has a plan for those children,” because really it comes back to trusting His design.
I don’t understand it. We’ve probably done a terrible job even explaining it in our book because it’s just that hard. It’s because we’re humans and we’re trying to understand the mind of God. Who can do that?
Because we can’t, our conclusion is: “We are going to trust Him. We’re going to trust God’s design—that He knows what He’s doing.”
Bob: Here’s a key question for every mom and dad—you’re thinking about your child’s gender and sexuality—Is it more influenced and shaped by the time you’ve spent in Scripture or by the time you’ve spent on social media or on blog posts or websites.
Dennis: —or with your peers.
Bob: That’s right. I think what we’ve got going on today is a culturally-shaped approach to gender rather than a Biblically shaped approach to gender. That’s where you guys have said, “If we’re going to shape our child’s thinking, let’s go back to what the Bible has to say. We may apply some of this imperfectly, but if we make that our starting place, we’re going to be in a better place by the time we’re done than if we start with what the culture is saying.”
Barbara: That’s right.
Dennis: Over the past 26 years, Bob and I have had the privilege of interviewing a lot of
great people. One of them was Elisabeth Elliot—a true hero of the Christian faith. One of the things that she said was this, “If it sounds like the world, smells like the world, thinks like the world, then it’s probably the thinking of the world.”
And if it goes contrary to the world—if it’s counterintuitive to what the culture is saying it’s likely Scriptural because the Bible’s not going to call you to emulate what the world is teaching—what the world is doing.
I just think parents need to think. They need to think this through—pray it through. It’s not going to be easy. I know this—I think these issues are among the most important this generation of parents are facing and you need to think this through and think it through very, very carefully.
Bob: Part of the way you can do that is to get together with a group of parents and do a book study. Have everybody go through a chapter at a time—your book, The Art of
Parenting. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. If you’d rather go through a video series, we’ve got the Art of Parenting video series—eight sessions—each session is about 30-35 minutes long with discussion questions and interaction that follows.
The book and the video series—we just want to mention—these are really two different experiences because the content in the video series connects to what’s in the book, but there’s a lot in the book that’s not in the video series and there’s stuff in the video series that’s not in the book. You really get the full experience when you have both the book and you go through the video series. Again, find out more about The Art of Parenting™ videos and the book, The Art of Parenting when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
Let me talk to you who are regular listeners to FamilyLife Today. If you have listened for a long time and you’ve never donated to support this ministry, or if you’re a regular listener and it’s been a while since you’ve made a donation, we would
love to send you a copy of Dennis and Barbara’s new book The Art of Parenting as a way of saying, “Thank you,” when you make a donation to support this ministry.
FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. Our mission is to effectively develop godly marriages and families because we believe godly marriages and families can change the world, one home at a time. That’s our focus—we want to provide practical, Biblical help and hope for marriages and families—that’s what this daily radio program’s all about.
Our website, FamilyLife.com provides help and hope on an ongoing basis, our Weekend-to-Remember® getaways, the resources we create—we’re here to help encourage and strengthen marriage and family relationships.
Again, if you can help us with a donation so that this ministry can grow and advance and do even more in the coming year, we’d like to say thank you by sending you a copy of The Art of Marriage™ by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com—or call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY, and thanks in advance for
your support. We appreciate you locking arms with us and being a significant part of how God is working through this ministry.
We hope you can join us back tomorrow. We’re going to talk about lies that men commonly fall prey to—Lies Men Believe. That’s a title of a new book by our friend Robert Wolgemuth. He’s going to be joining us tomorrow, and we hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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