I’ve been a Southern Baptist for almost 15 years. My husband and I both have degrees from a Southern Baptist seminary. I serve on staff at a Southern Baptist church. Like many Southern Baptists, I’m grieving. Over the last few years, we’ve heard, with horrific regularity, accounts of abuse at the hands of men who are called to shepherd like Christ. We’ve learned of leaders ignoring repeated pleas for action. We’ve learned of cover-ups and betrayal. And our hearts are breaking.
I’m also raising four sons in a Southern Baptist church, so I have some skin in the game. As I spent time reading the report, grieving what I already knew and angry about new revelations, my heart shifted to my kids.
A lot has been said (and will continue to be said) about what plagues the church. But the question I keep asking is, How can we cut those problems off at the root? How can we build a culture of safety, care, and value moving forward? There are no easy answers. But as parents, we can start by considering what we’re teaching our children.
I don’t know if my sons will grow up to be pastors. I don’t know if they’ll marry women who are called to ministry. But I hope they will grow up to be churchmen. And as a Southern Baptist, I know that it’s faithful men and women in the church who have kept orthodoxy in front of us since our inception.
There is much to learn from where we are both in Southern Baptist life and in broader evangelicalism, but here are three truths my husband and I are teaching our sons.
Women Are Valuable
This might seem obvious. But think about the things you value for a moment. I value my children, so I take care of them. I value my relationships, so I work hard to maintain and cultivate them. I value my home, so I don’t let it fall apart. I value my job, so I show up on time and work with integrity.
When we value something, we do whatever it takes to ensure its protection and care.
When we value something, we do whatever it takes to ensure its protection and care. We might say with our lips that we value women. But as we’ve seen in the last few weeks, our actions may betray us. Of course, there are many ways parents can teach a son to value women. We guard his eyes from pornography. When he pushes a girl on the playground, we tell him his hands are for protection, not harm. We teach him to hold his tongue and use kind words.
But we also teach a son to value women by how we support women. When his mom or sister has an opportunity to use her gifts, we praise her for it. When a girl in his class beats him in something, we celebrate her hard work. When he sees a girl at church, we teach him how to have a conversation with her—as a friend. When he gets older and has a female employer, we teach him to respect her and follow her lead. This all happens in age-appropriate ways, but the sooner our sons realize that women aren’t an object, nuisance, or threat, the sooner they can learn to value the women God places in their lives.
Men and Women Need One Another
As complementarians, we value the differences between men and women. But in teaching our children about these differences, we also must hold up the beauty of our togetherness.
God created the world to be wonderfully diverse. The people of this world come from diverse backgrounds, cultures, experiences, and ethnicities. And we’re created as either male or female. These differences share one commonality—we’re all human beings who bear the image of our divine Creator (Gen. 1:26–28). There are specific roles for men and women at times. But our creation in God’s image also gives us a framework for our position as teammates working toward the same goal: pointing to our Creator and bringing him glory.
Our children need to see that men and women were made to work together. In my church context, I bring a perspective and experience that my male counterparts do not bring—and vice versa. I need to see how they view the world, and they need to see from my vantage point. When we teach our children from a young age how to operate with a spirit of co-laboring, we disciple them into God’s design of flourishing for men and women.
Being Male Comes with a Cost
There’s privilege that comes with being male, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. My sons are smaller than I am. Right now, I’m in the position of defending them. But there will come a day when they are bigger and the roles will reverse. They will outgrow their vulnerability to some degree. I will not.
Since sin entered the world, men have used their strength and position for their own advantage. Abraham lied about Sarah and placed her in a dangerous position with more than one man (Gen. 12:10–20; 20:1–18). David stole another man’s wife (2 Sam. 11). Countless stories throughout history tell of men using their strength and privilege to keep power or to keep others underneath it. But God gave men their strength so others could flourish.
Our children need to see that men and women were made to work together.
In his book Strong and Weak, Andy Crouch explores how our culture has embraced authority without vulnerability. We can’t deny that men and women are different and that men often possess a strength and privilege that women don’t. But power and strength aren’t the problem. Jesus wielded great authority, but he used his authority to advance the good of others. He used his authority to protect and provide for his sheep. He used his authority to expose sin, even if it cost him something. He wasn’t concerned about preserving a way of life or institutional authority. He was concerned with holiness—and this took him all the way to the cross.
We must teach our sons that strength comes with a cost—humbling themselves for the protection and provision of others.
Changing the Trajectory
My dad often tells me that he wants my brothers and me to be better than he was. He wants our marriages to struggle less. He wants our sin to be put to death more quickly. He wants our family discipleship to be more consistent. My parents were faithful parents, but every generation looks back and sees what could have been done differently—and they pray the next generation is more faithful.
This is our moment as parents. We have seen too much sin and suffering to idly stand by. By God’s grace and through his Spirit, we can begin to change the trajectory. May our children be more faithful than we were, more committed to holiness, and more courageous to defend the weak.