Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sexual Education: School Responsibility

This week's post is coming several days late not because of dereliction of duty (I may have been a bit behind on writing), but primarily because I have spent the past few days without a solid internet connection on my laptop. I finally was able to use my cracked iPhone screen to locate a successful solution via Google, so hopefully this will not be a problem in future. (The problem, it seems, was some nonsense about needing to flush the DNS, whatever that means.) Anyway, thank you all for your enduring patience, and I hope within the next few weeks to have some news to share with you all, which should further explain my tardiness in writing this week.

Photo credit: All-free-download.com

Today I'm beginning a three-week series on sexual education. I'll be dealing with three answers to the following question:
Who has the responsibility of teaching sexual education to children and adolescents?
This week, my answer is school. Why do schools have a responsibility to teach sexual education? I believe the responsibility comes from two primary factors: law and a need for basic knowledge.

Law

Many states have legal policies mandating sexual education in schools. In such states where sexual education is mandated for schools, it seems redundant to say that schools have the responsibility to teach sexual education. (There are, as is noted in the above link, many states in which parents can opt out of sexual education for their child. I'll be addressing this more in week 3 of this series, but in such a case, the school would no longer have a responsibility to provide sexual education for that child.) The next factor into why schools have this responsibility, however, is the primary factor, and, I believe, the source for the legal policies previously mentioned.

Basic Knowledge

In order for our society to function well, all of our citizens need a basic level of knowledge. This reasoning is why we in America have mandatory education, We expect that our fellow citizens are able to read, write, and perform basic math. We also--whether we know it or not--tend to expect that our fellow citizens have a basic level of knowledge regarding sexual activity. When we see a young girl who is pregnant or hear that a young guy has gonorrhea, we often judge that young person for not using adequate protection, forgetting that in many cases, these people may simply have been poorly educated on issues of sexuality. Because some children and adolescents do not have access in the home to adequate sexual education, schools ought to be teaching sexual education in order to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

I believe that little else on this topic needs to be said, and because this post is almost 3 days later than usual, I'm not going into as much detail as I usually would. If you have any questions or concerns, however, I would be happy to discuss them. You can contact me on my Facebook page, Families of Faith (link in the side bar), or comment on this post.

Spoiler alert for next week's post: Churches have a responsibility to teach sexual education!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Finding Comfort When an Unbeliever Dies


My Bible study group this week was discussing a friend who was in mourning, and in the course of the conversation, we reached the topic of the death of unbelievers--namely, how believers can find comfort when an unbeliever dies.

Losing a loved one is devastating. For believers, though, we know that we do "not grieve as others who have no hope." (1 Thessalonians 4:13) We will meet our believing loved ones at the resurrection and worship God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with them for all eternity.

What happens when the loved one that died was not a believer, though? How can we possibly find comfort knowing that our dear friend or family member will not be with us in eternity?

There is no easy answer for this question, and most of us will struggle with it for our whole lives. However, keeping in mind the following points can help us from sinking into complete despair during this time.

Know that Christ grieves with us. John 11 records the story of the death of Jesus' friend Lazarus, and verse 35 says so simply, "Jesus wept." If Jesus wept at the death of even a believer that he would raise just a few moments later, how can we not be assured that he grieves with us at the death of an unbeliever?

Cling to the promise of the Word. God says in Isaiah 55:11 that His "Word shall not return to [Him] empty, but it shall accomplish that which [He] purpose[s]." While we should never claim that we know someone is saved if they were not a confessing believer, we know that the Holy Spirit works even to the moment of death. Even the thief on the cross was told, "Today, you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) Find comfort and hope in the fact that God can change even the most hardened heart up to the last moment it beats.

Be assured of God's goodness.  We all deserve death as the punishment for our sin ("the wages of sin is death"), but God has provided a means for escape from death through His Son Jesus Christ ("the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.") (Romans 6:23We know from 2 Peter 3:9 that God "is patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." Even though there is pain and death in this life, God is not the author of it.

Look forward to the resurrection. "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30:5) While we are on this earth, we will always have the pain of grief and death. At the resurrection, with the creation of the new heavens and the new earth, we know sorrow and pain will no longer touch us. Revelation 21:4 says "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

If you are mourning the death of an unbeliever, let me pray with you:
Heavenly Father, we know that we are all sinners deserving of your eternal wrath and punishment. We thank you for your great mercy that you have not given us the punishment we deserve, but have saved us from sin, death, and the devil through the suffering and death of your perfect Son, Jesus Christ. 
We grieve today the death of a loved one who did not know you. We know that this was not your will, because you do not wish for anyone to perish. We thank you for the comfort of knowing that you are good and that you grieve with us. Help us to rest in your comfort and mercy as we travel in pain through this veil of tears, until you bring us to be with you and wipe every tear from our eyes. Amen.
*All Scripture references are from the ESV Bible.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Help! My Teen Is "Experimenting"!

Photo credit: All-free-download.com
Last week I got a call from a colleague regarding a situation which had some Christian parents highly concerned. Their daughters had been texting mildly sexual content to each other. It was unclear if anything beyond texting had gone on between the girls. Today I'd like to share some tips for parents on how to address situations like this one.

Before getting into how to address the problem of your teen "experimenting", we need to clarify what we mean by that term. Experimentation, as I'll be discussing today, refers to talking about or acting on sexual behaviors with someone of the same sex while not actually claiming to be homosexual. While it's more commonly recognized among females, experimentation can be done among males or females. In media, it's particularly common among college girls, but in reality, it can be done by anyone of any age or gender.

Experimentation has become more popular in recent decades. I believe that one of the contributing factors was the 1948 development of the "Kinsey Scale", which claims that people are not strictly "heterosexual", or "homosexual", but rather they are on a scale of heterosexuality/homosexuality. Other contributing factors may have been the "free love" and "gay rights" movements.

Regardless of the origin of the prevalence of experimentation, though, many parents will have to deal with the issue at some point in their child's life. The following are some ways that parents can do so in a loving manner while upholding the biblical standard for marriage and sexuality.

Make your position clear. Not reacting to this situation would be a mistake. Oftentimes parents will say, "it's just a phase," or "they'll grow out of it" and ignore the situation altogether. If parents don't give their children guidelines for proper behavior, though, the children will never have a reason to change their behavior, or, as some would say, "grow out of it".* Teens need to know that according to Scripture, any sexual relationship beyond one man married to one woman is sinful. For information on how to guide discussions on this with your teen, you can see my previous post on Talking to Your Teen about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

Find a happy medium. While not reacting is dangerous, overreacting can be equally so. If the parents I received the call regarding were to cut off all contact between their daughters, the girls would most likely rebel by expressing even more deviant behaviors. The parents could, however, respond by setting in place rules to govern the girls' behavior, such as allowing the girls to spend time together with parental supervision, not allowing sleepovers, and monitoring phone contact.

Involve your teen. The best way to prevent the teens from rebelling against these rules is to have them involved in making them. Ask them what would best help them to not be tempted. As the parent, you have the final say in what the rules and consequences are, but if your teen was involved in the process, they will be more likely to follow the rules even when you are not there to enforce them.

Partner with the other parents. If your teen is experimenting with another teen, the parents of the other teen need to be made aware as well. Talk to those parents about setting guidelines for contact between your children and ask them to enforce them as well. If appropriate for your situation, get together with your teen, the other parents, and the other teen to discuss what is happening and what the proper response is.

Be firm. If your child will not work with you to set guidelines for their behavior, you are the parent and have a right--a responsibility, even--to set rules for them that they must follow. Make consequences clear and consistent. Regarding the other child's parents, if they disagree about the dangers of experimentation or refuse to enforce the rules you have set in place, you may have to refuse to allow your teen to spend time with the other teen without your supervision.

Remember the Gospel. No sin is too great to be forgiven. When repentance comes, don't withhold grace from your child. Consequences do not have to be removed when you forgive them, but make it clear that they are still loved and accepted. Their identity is found not in what they have done, but what has been done for them--the atonement for sins by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, given to them through the Word and Sacraments.

Is there anything you would add to this list? As always, feedback is welcome!


*It should be clarified that while people may "grow out of" experimentation, sexual orientation is not generally something that one "grows" into or out of. Anecdotal evidence may indicate otherwise, but scientific studies seem to indicate that sexual orientation is innate. (Read this article on a study by Professors Richard Pillard and Michael Bailey for more information.) My intention in this post was not to address the issue of parenting homosexual/bisexual children, but to discuss the issue of heterosexual teenagers that are experimenting with same-sex sexual behaviors. In future I hope to write on parenting homosexual/bisexual children, but nothing is in the works as of yet.

If you have questions on the official LCMS policy on homosexuality, you can read this pamphlet by President A.L. Barry or see the LCMS Frequently Asked Questions section on sexuality.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Our Love Story (and What You Can Learn from It)

Photo credit: Captured by Kathy K
With Valentine's Day coming up, I thought I'd use this week to share the story of how my husband and I met, dated, and married, as well as how our story can be a positive example for singles that are looking to be married.

During my first week at college (Concordia University - Ann Arbor), I made friends quickly. By the end of my first week, I already had developed relationships with several of those that would be part of my friend group through the next four years and beyond. I wanted college to be a time of trying new things and branching out, so when one of those friends mentioned they were going to a meeting for the theater group, I tagged along.

I walked in, took a seat, and looked around. Across from me sat Andrew Gumm, the man that I would one day call my husband.

This isn't a story of love at first sight. To be honest, I don't even recall noticing him that day, aside from as the clearly-much-older-than-me student director with the basketball shorts and bushy beard. He made a much more distinct impression a few days later, when I started volunteering in the scene shop, which he was in charge of. And at that point, he kind of frightened me a bit. Add the bushy beard and basketball shorts to a half-crazed grin and power tools (I think he was trying to frighten the new recruits...plus he really likes power tools), and you have one scary picture.

Still, we spent a lot of time together for the next semester. His roommate and best friend (who happened to be dating my roommate) was Tom in The Glass Menagerie (our fall play), my best friend played Laura, and my roommate was one of the stage managers. Andrew was the student director, head stage manager, and head of scene shop, and I was the costumes manager. One of his close friends (playing Jim in in the play) was the older brother of one of my close friends (who worked in the scene shop). We spent a lot of time together with our mutual friends. When we weren't working on the play, the theater group was going to Steak n Shake or having game nights. Neither of us looked at each other as more than a friend--we were both interested in different people at that point--but we had a solid friendship.

When the spring semester came, he began his student teaching and wasn't going to be able to be involved in theater as much. By that point, I was starting to think about dating; I didn't necessarily want a serious relationship, but several of my friends were dating people at that point. I thought it would be fun to start spending time with someone and casually dating. Andrew was the first person I thought of, not as someone that I could ever be seriously interested in, but as someone that would be fun to spend time with and get to know better.

I started inviting him to spend time together in smaller groups. He came to my dorm to play games and talk, and he would come into theater when I was working (being on student teaching, he wasn't working much in theater) and talk to me while I worked. Before I knew it, I had developed feelings for him.

Because I was unsure of how he felt, I tried to deny my feelings while still keeping our friendship. The day spring break started, I invited him to ride up to the airport with me and my grandparents as I left to visit my parents. When I saw him coming up to my dorm that day, though, my heart was racing. We were going to watch a movie before my grandparents arrived, but we ended up talking. About five minutes before my grandparents showed up, he asked me to go out with him. Excited, but not wanting to get my hopes up, I asked him what he meant. "Well, as my girlfriend," he said, which I replied to with an enthusiastic "yes". The next few minutes were a blur of blushing, awkwardly looking at each other and away, and laughing, until he took my hand. Which quickly ended when my grandpa walked up and knocked on the window.

While I was gone on spring break, we texted almost non-stop. We talked casually, like we had when we were just friends, but we also talked about life goals and serious issues--things that could make or break a relationship. The more we talked, the more I realized we had in common, and the more I realized that I could see myself with him in the long term. I was quite sure that I wasn't in love with him at that point, but I knew I could love him.

Over the next few weeks (and all through that semester), we spent time together one-on-one and with friends, played games, watched movies, and spent a lot of time talking. One night, just about three weeks after he asked me out, we were texting, and he said something both thrilling and shocking. The text read "I guess I'll have to be getting a ring sooner than I expected." Sure I misunderstood, I asked him what he meant, and he clarified that he'd be buying me an engagement ring eventually.

I met his parents the week of his graduation, a little over two months after we started dating. He met my parents that October when they came to visit me at school. That Christmas, he came to Germany with me, and during his Christmas visit he asked my dad's permission to marry me. He proposed in March, 13 months after we started dating, and 16 months after that--about 2 1/2 years after that first day--we stood before God, our friends, and our family, and pledged to be true to each other until death.

We've now been married for six months and four days. In May, we're expecting the birth of our first child, a daughter named Abigail. These past few months have been challenging, but we both know that this is just part of a cycle and things will get better.

Andrew and I made many mistakes in our relationship, and I know we will make many more. I could write a whole post on what not to do based on our example, but today I'm just going to focus on what we did well that might work for others. This is not an exhaustive list of how to find a spouse, nor is it a guarantee that any relationship that does this will work out. These are just the aspects that I feel were most important to the success of our relationship.

We were friends before we dated. I am a firm believer that a solid friendship is vital to a good relationship, especially a marital relationship. We knew each other quite well even before we started dating, so we were able to tell if the relationship was even possible. We learned about each other before becoming emotionally involved, so if one of us had found any non-negotiable traits in the other, we could have ended the relationship before it started, saving ourselves a lot of heartbreak.

Our friends were an integral part of our relationship. Before we were dating, we spent a lot of time together with friends. After we started dating, little changed there. We spent time one-on-one, but we also still spent a lot of time with our group of friends. Because of this, we each saw how the other interacted with friends, and we were able to maintain a healthy social life, as well as having a solid support base. If the relationship had any major warning signs that we didn't notice, our friends would have been there to let us know.

Our families were involved. Because we were both living far from our parents (his were in Wisconsin, mine were in Germany, and he and I were at school in Michigan), they weren't able to be as involved as we may have liked. However, the first day he asked me out, he met my grandparents and spent two hours in the car with them, only one hour which I was present for. We spent holidays with each other's extended family (he came to Ohio for Easter with my family--minus my parents--and I went to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving with his family). He met my parents as soon as possible, and he spent an entire week with them over Christmas before he proposed. He also showed deference to my father's authority by asking him for my hand in marriage. Because our families were involved, we had extra accountability; they reminded us of proper behavior and were able to confirm that the relationship was a good fit.

Once we got serious, we got really serious. We didn't spend a lot of time in that in-between, "we like each other but aren't sure where the relationship is going" stage. As I said before, he first mentioned marriage just three weeks after we started dating! While we were together for over a year before getting engaged and for 2 1/2 years before getting married, we knew from a very early point where the relationship was going--to marriage. There was no uncertainty on that front that could have led to heartbreak.

Our faith is the center of our relationship. When I said that these were general guidelines that don't apply to everyone, I may have been slightly misleading. The others were negotiable; this one is not. A Christian should never begin a relationship that does not have Christ at the center. "A threefold cord is not quickly broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:12) "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers." (2 Corinthians 6:14) Not to say that someone who became a believer after being married should divorce their spouse who does not believe; rather, a believer should not begin a relationship with an unbeliever. For more on this, see 1 Corinthians 7:12-16

Married couples, is there anything you would add to or take away from this list? Singles, what are your thoughts? How do you structure your dating life?