Who is Spoiling for a Fight

Who is Spoiling for a Fight June 17, 2024

There is an article going around on the app formerly known as Twitter that dovetails nicely with something I’ve been thinking about all weekend. Having raised six basically sensible and sane children, I have been mulling over what I did and if it worked. That, and the fact that I work with very young children at Church, I’ve been trying to re-learn a skill I began to develop as a young mother, which I am finding most useful for nearly all situations I encounter. But let’s look at the article first.

It’s over at Christianity Today, and it’s called “I‘m an Evangelical Parent of Adult LGBTQ Children. Now What?” The long subtitle underneath explains that “My theology is squarely orthodox. Now I need fellow Christians to help me work out a sustainable vision of day-to-day life with my children.” I had a whole lot of problems with the piece, as you might expect, but I don’t want to go into them all right now. I only have time to leap to two sections, and then to answer the question “Now What” from a parenting, human relationships perspective.

Here’s the first bit:

As parents, we’re already rooted in the understanding that God created humanity in two distinct forms that we call male and female, and that sexual intimacy is reserved for monogamous marriage between a man and a woman. Our question is how to relate to our children, especially adult children, when they choose lives not rooted in that understanding. We’ve made clear to them what we believe. Now what? I suspect that much of the reaction to Unconditional and Begg is the result of worry that open consideration of these prudential questions will inevitably result in significant theological drift with dire consequences for the church and for those to whom it ministers. It’s a fear amplified by a culture war mentality, which has been present in evangelicalism since the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the early 20th century. This mentality tends to cast LGBTQ people as our enemies in that fight, enemies to be constantly confronted with statements of truth.

First off, I wish “we” all would stop saying “we” in articles like this. This is very much the style of CT, but it trips me up every single time. Who is the “we” in “we’re already rooted in the understanding that God created humanity?” I don’t think very many people, even Christian people, and certainly not the writer of this article, are rooted in that understanding because of the next part of the sentence: “in two distinct forms that we call male and female.” The whole point is that God made them male and female. What we call male and female is the truthful linguistic reflection of God’s creative action. The theological depth of God making us male and female feels excessively trite when phrased that way. Anyway, leaving that to one side, the writer explains that he has made this “understanding” “clear” to his errant children. They understand that he believes in a traditional sexual ethic so now what?

Given that the writer lumps Alistair Begg together with Andy Stanley, I didn’t have high hopes for what he would say next, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Trying to understand, for himself, why this is such a big deal, he wonders if he hasn’t felt free to interrogate how he should relate to his erring children because even asking the “question” will “inevitably result in significant theological drift with dire consequences for the church and for those to whom it ministers.” Thus, as expected, it becomes evident that “we”–in so far as any collection of Christians still exists–have been badly defeated. The answer is embedded in the question. Yes, it is a sign of significant theological drift to ask it. The consequences are unutterably dire, witness that the writer so carefully hedges his problem so as to exclude the real answer. What is it that St. Paul says about certain kinds of sins not even being named among you? This shouldn’t be a “question.” But it is, so here we are. And no, it isn’t a “culture war mentality.” Rather, it is the reality that some Christians who have been living in a haze of theological turpitude are only just now waking up and are trying to gather together some thoughts and strategies at half past the eleventh hour that are calculated to fail, for that is the desired outcome.

The writer of the piece is still under the mistaken impression that real Christians today “tend to cast LGBTQ people as our enemies in that fight, enemies to be constantly confronted with statements of truth.” Honestly, of whom is the writer speaking? I don’t know of anyone today who is doing this. We are up a global, multi-billion dollar effort to normalize sexual deviance, an effort that is doing pretty well and is catching and destroying the souls and bodies of people who, you know, bear the Imago Dei. “We” do have an enemy. Probably more than one. And there is a real battle going on. And the only way out is to constantly tell the truth. Of course, your own child who is caught in the clutches of sin that leads to death is not your enemy, but how best are you going to love that child? That is essentially the stated question. But the writer has been careful to ask it in such a way that excludes the real answer.

Ok, so here’s the second bit I want to unpack:

It is good to speak truth, yet adopting a permanently confrontational posture makes it impossible for us to heed the apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Roman Christians: “So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18, ESV). And while searching for answers to these practical questions of relationship has, for many, been but a stop on a journey away from orthodoxy, that’s not the only possible outcome. The task at hand is one of correct practice (orthopraxy), which requires discernment, and discernment is a naturally fraught enterprise. What makes it fraught, of course, is our fallibility. For while God’s Word is wholly trustworthy, our application of it may not be. Sometimes we choose to be lenient when we should be firm, or severe when we should be flexible. Regardless of our spiritual diligence and good intentions, there’s always a chance we will make the wrong choice. Add to this the sobering awareness that even correct choices can result in pain for those we love, and discernment becomes downright daunting.

It is, indeed, “good to speak truth.” Only I don’t like the word “Truth” by itself like that. You can’t “speak truth.” You should tell The truth. Be truthful. In your day-to-day life, don’t lie. Don’t lie to yourself, to God, or to your children. Lying is bad. “Truth” is not some sort of amorphous cloud that can be spoken if you have thought about it long enough. You either speak true things that are consummate with reality and the Word of God, or you lie. It isn’t your job, necessarily, to deliver “Truth” into the ears of people. Rather, when you are talking to people about subjects that concern you both, there will be many occasions to fudge things out of cowardice, to lie, to protect yourself against their disapprobation by declining to speak a truthful word out of season. Parenting is one of the most tempting opportunities for that sort of thing. Throwing in a little Bible here–in so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all–is a very Anglican way out. It’s impolite to make people feel uncomfortable. I am not an impolite person. Therefore I never have to speak on this subject.

So let me describe to you the actual “task at hand,” as he says. Here is the work of the parent, be it for a toddler, a ten-year-old, a twenty-year-old, or your benighted middle-aged-son who decides to leave his wife and run away and form a polucule.

Don’t Try To Be The Holy Spirit. The first task of the parent is not to try to be God and live in the head or even the heart of your offspring. You need to be a person who understands that you can’t control what other people, especially your children, think of you. You can only act. You can’t manage the reactions of other people.

The best way, for me, to think about this is that it is not my job to give someone else a fight–to stand in their way–when the person they’re really angry with is God. If my child, or any child, comes at me in rebellion, spoiling for a fight, it is my first responsibility to get out of the way–emotionally–of their anger with God.

Because, face it, children, whether they are adults or babies, they may be adorable but they are wicked, as I myself am. I don’t need to become weepy with love. I need to do what is best for them. That means sidestepping their anger rather than gathering it up as a precious treasure to be solved by my thoughtful and nuanced whimsy. If I take on their anger and feel it, I give them a way out of resolving their troubles with the Most High. Something wonderful happens when you step out of the way of someone’s anger. If they were expecting a fight, when they fly past you, they become disoriented because what they expected didn’t happen. They stand there, surprised, perhaps even dazed. This gives you a moment to come round the back and tell the truth clearly regarding the particulars of the situation.

In a big classroom full of a lot of little kids, when one kid is just desperate to wreck my lesson and make everyone else miserable, it is necessary for me not to get into a headlong collision with that child, to take his or her anger into myself, and to escalate. What I very mildly do is ask if she or he is having a hard time and if she or he would like to “go out in the hall for a minute.” Invariably the kid says yes, walks out in the hall, twirls around, and comes back to hear more about Jesus.

If your child comes home and says, “I’ve decided to move in with someone to whom I am not married and if you don’t affirm me our relationship will be broken forever,” I would stop, stand very still, pray for a few minutes, look deep into that child’s eyes, and say, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry. I love you so much. I guess our relationship is broken forever now. Do you want to talk about it some more? Or do you want a cup of tea?” In other words, you do not accept to carry the emotional burden being handed to you by your child. If they are spoiling for a fight, it is God who is their adversary. You keep stepping out of the way, and then coming up behind them, and telling them uncomfortable and blessed things about Jesus.

Ok, sorry this was so long. I’ve gotta run. Find me on Substack for more parenting tips!

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