This week, I am pleased to welcome my friend Hunter Leavine to the podcast; we have just written and have released a book on gender for parents (which you can get here). On the episode we discuss why we wrote the book along with some thoughts on why the church struggles to discuss these topics in our culture today.
Brian: Hunter, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who you are, what you do, how you got here?
Hunter: Yeah, absolutely. I’m the student director at City Church Tallahassee. I’m also married to the kids director at City Church as well, so my household’s life kind of revolves around the next generation of people within the church.
Brian: Nice. How did you get involve with City Church?
Hunter: I actually got invited by a friend when I was 16 years old, so I didn’t grow up in a church, necessarily. We were kind of in and out. My family moved around a little bit, and by the time I was in middle school, we had pretty much given up on going to church altogether. A friend reached out to me, and invited me at 16 years old. It was a church plant about 100 people, and I’d been there the past eight years. I’ve seen it grow too. We just had our Easter service last week, and that was about 5,000 people.
Brian: Awesome. So you came to the church, grew up in the church, and now you work at the church?
Hunter: Yes. It’s kind of an interesting scenario too to be working youth ministry. I always joke and tell our parents that the youth ministry when I first got involved at City Church was actually me pretending to be a college student with two friends. We were the only high schoolers in a church plant, and now I’m married to a kids minister. It’s kind of an interesting thing to be a part of now kind of in retrospect.
Brian: Nice. So you and I have written a book on gender and it’s part of a series called “Building Foundations.” Could you tell us about the series and the book at a high level?
Hunter: Yeah, let’s start off with the idea behind the series. Over the course of a child’s life, it’s important to build biblical foundations for them. That’s what they’re going to live off of the rest of their life, hopefully. So as parents are working with their children, the idea is to strategically teach them God’s word as they grow up, and also be proactive.
If you think about the idea of a foundation, you want to be really proactive, you want to do it well the first time, because if you don’t do well laying the foundation, then you have to go back to it, it’s going to be costly, it’s going to take time, it’s going to be confusing. One of the things that we’re really passionate about, especially at City Church (and this is a resource created for City Church first and foremost to help our families) is to help parents lay the best foundation they can as they disciple their children in God’s word.
Brian: So how does the gender part of the series come into play with that?
Hunter: I think it’s really an important topic. Obviously, it’s starting to be talked about more and more on the news, and 30 years ago, it probably wasn’t something that people even thought about, and I think that was because mostly culture would reinforce what scripture would say when it comes to gender. So parents, I don’t think, had to be as proactive, they didn’t think they had to be as intentional when it came to teaching their children about gender because what they were going to see on TV and what they were going to experience throughout their life and in the desk next to them is going to reinforce what the Bible teaches.
But now we live in a world where that’s not necessarily the case. What they see on TV, and hear in music, and hear on the playground is going to be completely different in a lot of ways than what scripture teaches, and so we believe this is kind of an issue that’s kind of new to our generation that we’re having to tackle. There aren’t a lot of resources out there for families on this. This is something that’s quickly growing. You hear about it on the news all the time. Legislations starting to talk more and more about it. We wanted to bring God’s timeless truth to this current day issue and really try to help parents lead their children through it well.
Brian: That does seem to be an interesting challenge. As time goes on and we get further and further away from when scripture was written, we have more and more challenges. As you look back at church history, it’s interesting that at certain points, the church started talking about things, and it’s not like they were new, but it was a response to culture and changing traditions around them.
Parenting’s a tough job today where there are constantly more ways that biblical foundations are being threatened in what you’re trying to teach your children. So our goal here, I think it’s fair to say, is to help give parents a resource. So, could you talk a little bit about how this is a resource but also talk about what it’s not.
Hunter: First and foremost, this is not a book to tell parents how to parent. This is a book to help parents parent well. This is not us trying to be experts and tell parents how to do their job, this is us trying to be a supplement in a support to what they’re doing in their homes. We work with hundreds of families at City Church.
You’re busy running from one soccer practice to the ballet to an SGA meeting to make dinner, you’re so busy, and you’re doing the work of discipling your children, and you’re spending a lot of time with them, but what we want to do is not come in and try to tell you how to be a parent, we just want to help you as you try to do that in your home.
So this book is a support; it’s not some sort of manual on how to parent. It’s also not some sort of encyclopedia on every single issue around gender. That would take multiple, multiple volumes. But what this is, is just a simple, quick read to help parents think through how are they going to teach their children about what God’s word says about gender from the moment that they first start crawling around on the ground to the moment that they’re wearing a graduation hat.
There are even some helpful resources too for parents as they interact in their world as adults on the topic of gender as well.
Brian: So the series is called “Building Foundations,” and you and I have broken child’s development from crawling around to graduation into three different foundational ages. Could you talk about what those three are?
Hunter: Yeah, the first foundation is basically what you could imagine leading up to elementary school. The second foundation is elementary school. There’s a lot of things that happen. Like I said, my wife’s a kids director and so she works with this entire spectrum, and there’s so much that happens between first grade and fifth grade. It’s just incredible, so that gets its own foundation. Then we have middle school and high school kind of lumped together. That’s third foundation.
And then part two of the book is for adults, and that’s just some helpful resources to think through how they’re handling different things, whether they’re sitting in a parent-teacher meeting or whether they’re talking to someone in the bleacher next to them. How are they going to handle this issue as well?
We kind of break the foundations up that way, but we really encourage parents, no matter what age their children are, to read through it all the way and just to think about how they are going to make sure that this is laid in a way that is strategic, in a way that’s helpful for their children to understand the more complex issues around it. So we start with the basics. Who is God? What has He done? How does His creation work? And then kind of build from there.
Brian: You weren’t kidding when you said it’s a quick read. This is a small book. Calling it a book might even push it a little, right? I mean, it’s got a cover and pages and a binding, but it’s more of a booklet. It’s under a hundred pages. It’s designed so that, let’s say you’ve 10 minutes and you’re waiting in line to pick up your kid at school. You can read a chapter. Or if it’s between innings at a baseball game or at practice, you can read this book.
It’s not designed for people who are prolific readers, it’s designed for the everyday person, which goes back to as Hunter said, us wanting to equip everyday parents to do the very important everyday work of discipleship.
So, why did we write this book? Why this book? Why now?
Hunter: Well, one, I think it’s an incredibly important topic that’s coming up more and more today, so if you turned on the news this morning and you watched it longer for 30 minutes, there’s a good chance that you heard something around this area, this idea of gender. You see a lot of things happening around legislation. You see a lot of talks on television about it. At the same time, although there are millions of millions of books on Amazon, there are not a lot of books out there on this topic, and there certainly aren’t a lot of books to help parents on this topic.
This book is rooted in scripture, but it’s a strategic approach to how to teach that scripture. So we felt like, man, this is a really important issue for students to understand, for children to understand, and at the same time, we felt like there’s probably a huge need out there when it comes to parents trying to handle this because it wasn’t, just like I said earlier, something they had to think about 30 years ago, really. It just kind of naturally happened. It was naturally taught and reinforced.
That’s really why we chose to write this book, just to really try to help parents teach this well, and then also to think about the major issue isn’t just an issue around gender, it’s really an issue around scripture. When it comes down to it, there’s not just this concern that your child might have a confused idea about what gender is and what scripture teaches, but actually a confused idea about what’s scripture’s role in their our life. Is scripture authoritative? Is scripture the place that we go to to understand things in this world? I believe yes, it is.
But as a parent, you have to understand, we have to understand together that we have to teach the way that scripture interacts and kind of shapes our lives. This is a huge example of basically where we’re not just talking about gender, we’re talking about scripture because God’s word, especially if you read through the book, you can tell God’s word is very clear what he believes about gender.
But at the same time, this is one of those areas that we have to make a stance and say are we going to go with God’s word or are we going to go with what culture’s telling us? That’s kind of the bigger issue behind the book.
Brian: It was interesting to me in writing this that looking at our culture today, they make this issue of gender seem very complicated, right? You might not even have a perspective that’s valid if you’re a certain gender or you identify as a certain gender. You have feminists and transgender activists and then there’s homosexuality, and everyone has their unique input on this, or so they say. A Christian can be left saying, “Okay, what’s the truth? This seems really complicated. How do I address all these different concerns?”
While I wasn’t gender confused coming into this, I did think, “gosh, how are we going to address all of this?” But what you said is exactly true. When you go to God’s word, you see it’s not complicated at all. This is actually remarkably simple. Now, how we take these truths and translate them into conversations with different parties, that may be somewhat difficult, but how we train our children up to believe the foundational principles in scripture is actually remarkably simple if we just take the time to do it.
Hunter: I love that. It’s also kind of what you said. Look, hey, God’s word’s not complicated. What complicates it, oftentimes, is us and our lack of willingness to be obedient to it. As pressure continues to increase and increase and increase, I think there’s more and more pressure to leave faithfulness to God’s word, and so oftentimes, the complications has nothing to do with the Bible and everything to do with the sinful people reading it. I think this will be a helpful resource to navigate those waters in this topic.
Brian: I just want to underscore something you said a minute ago. From your and my perspective, the concern is not that most children are going to struggle with gender identity. Now I do think, most people will struggle with some form of identity issue, which we do kind of touch on in the book, but the issue isn’t that they’re going to be transgender, the issue is that this might be the issue that’s the wedge between them and scripture.
It’s interesting, we’ve seen this on homosexuality when a Christian child or even just person has a relationship with someone who, let’s say is same-sex attracted, identifies that way, it’s very easy for that relational component to sway them to change their mind about what the Bible says. Would you agree with that?
Hunter: Yeah, absolutely.
Hunter: I couldn’t agree with that more. Loving people doesn’t mean always affirming what they’re doing. I think that’s one of the issues, too, that kind of makes all of this so challenging for parents, is that affirmation and love are not synonyms for one another.
You can love people, and at the same time, not affirm their thoughts, not affirm what they believe. I do think that for the Christian, they have to get to the place where they’re willing to say, “Hey look, I love my friends and family who are struggling with this, but at the same time, I’m going to show them love, and I am going to love them. I’m not necessarily going to affirm everything they believe and everything they say.” I think that’s also kind of something to get thrown into that mix to think about and consider too.
Brian: Yeah, that’s a great point, and speaking of love, you have said in the past, just us two sitting around talking, that you think the church lost the war around the word love. Could you talk about that?
Hunter: Yeah, so this really occurred to me last year at the Super Bowl when Coldplay did this huge, incredible halftime performance, and then they had this huge display in the stands that said “love.” A lot of times, in our culture, what’s happened with the word love is that people have taken that to believe that you’ll never disagree with people, that you’ll just accept and affirm, everything they think and they say and they believe.
Now the exception would be if you disagree with them, right? Because if you disagree with them about something, then all of a sudden, you’re hateful, you’re bigoted, they don’t like you, they think that you don’t like them. But it’s this idea of love being this huge kind of catch-all: we’re just going to accept and affirm everything.
I think a lot of times in the church we kind of act that way, too, where we haven’t done a good job of explaining that sometimes, out of love, you have to stand firm in God’s truth. Somewhere along the lines within the past few decades, I really think that we’ve lost touch in a lot of churches with that, that yes, Jesus loves you, yes “for God so loved the world.” Absolutely. But at the same time, Jesus was very firm in what God’s word says. Jesus did offend people with the truth. One of the most loving things that you can do, if not the most loving thing that you can do to somebody, is to tell them the truth and point them to God.
So, I think somewhere along the way, we kind of caught up in this kind of “Super Bowl halftime” vague idea of love rather than the love that’s shown in scripture, which is very truth-focused, is very Christ-centered, is very concerned about God Himself and not just about making people feel good about themselves. So, I think that’s a big issue, too, that kind of plays into all of this.
Brian:So, you’re saying that the church uses the word love, and doesn’t define it well. Culture uses the word love, and so our student think, “Oh. They’re saying the same thing. They’re using the same words.” Is that kind of the issue you’re hitting on there?
Hunter: Yeah, absolutely, we have to define the term. As crazy as it sounds, everybody thinks they know what love means. The 12 year old buying his girlfriend a teddy bear, and the man married for 50 years; everyone thinks they know what love is, but a lot of people have different definitions for what love is, and they definitely have different ideas of what love lived out looks like. I think that’s a huge component to the issue that we see here is that I think a lot of people are afraid that if they disagree, they’re going to come off as unloving.
At the same time, we should disagree on things and try to seek to figure out what the real truth is. That seems like something that if I love someone and care for them and they love me and care for me, that we should both care that we get it right, that we understand it.
So that’s definitely a big, kind of hot topic issue that’s talked about throughout the book as well.
Brian: Okay. I want to highlight one thing you said as we wrap this up. You said a lot of times, even in the church, we don’t have kind of a Christ-centered definition of love. What that brings us to is in this book where we’re writing about gender and the concerns about it, we do make the point, and this is an incredibly important point, which oftentimes Christians probably miss at times, which is: any specific issue is not the biggest issue. A person’s struggle with gender identity or same-sex attraction or lying or gossip is not the biggest issue. So what is the biggest issue and how do we address that in the book?
Hunter: Yeah, I think the biggest issue is the same no matter what you’re struggling with that area. We are people who desperately need the gospel. We need to understand that we’re not perfect people, that we do make mistakes, that we don’t always get things right, that we have offended God, that we’ve rebelled against God, that we need Jesus to stand in our place with His perfection and to take on our punishment, and that we need to repent and believe and not just believe that Jesus loved us and not just believe that Jesus was the Savior, but believe that the work of God throughout all of history and redemption is true, and that He’s given us His word for a purpose, and that purpose is so that we can better know Him, that we can better love and glorify Him.
I think that we need to make sure that we’re understanding that if we’re going to believe in Christ, if we’re really going to live that out in our lives, that it is going to interfere with our lives. That’s something that my pastor at City Church says all the time, that following Jesus interferes with our lives. The biggest issue is if we believe that Jesus is who He really says He is, we’re going to be okay if our neighbor thinks differently of us. We’re going to be okay with it if we’re a little controversial on our view of gender. We’re going to be okay if our relatives disagree with us. That’s okay because of what we believe to be true in the gospel.
Once again, it’s not confusing, it’s not challenging because of what God’s word says. It’s not challenging because of our lack of understanding what it teaches. It’s very clear. It’s challenging because we’re sinful people who struggle to follow Jesus in obedience. I think that, really, that’s at the heart of my life and at the heart of every believer’s life, that that’s what we’re wrestling with is okay, if I believe the gospel, that has demands in my life, and I’m going to live it out. Really, I think that’s the heart of the issue.
Brian: Well Hunter, I just want to say in front of everyone who’s listening, it was a pleasure working on this with you. I feel like the project is definitely better off for the two of us doing it together. We’re looking to write more of these. We haven’t totally settled on topics, but Building Foundations is going to be a series. But at least for now, the Gender Conversation Guide is out, so where can people get it?
Hunter: Yeah, you can get it on Amazon where all books are found.
Brian: And we’ve got it for print, and we’ve got it for Kindle. If you are a church or a ministry and you would like to bulk-order these to maybe to give to your parents or sell in your bookstore, feel free to drop us an email or use the contact form on my website, and we would love to work out those details with you.
We wrote this first and foremost, as Hunter said, to be a resource for our church, but also for “the” church. We hope you get the book. We hope it is helpful as you disciple your children. We hope it’s helpful for you too as you navigate these conversations with perhaps people on your PTA board or sports teams.
It’s been a great time talking with you Hunter. Thanks for coming on.
Hunter: Thanks Brian.
Brian: And I’ll talk with you all next week on Unapologetic.