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Spotlight interview: Dean Inserra on how we talk with our kids about sex, porn and gender identity

September 8, 2017

Dean Inserra  is the founding and lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida. He’s passionate about reaching the city of Tallahassee with the gospel in order to see a worldwide impact made for Jesus. He recently gave a talk at the ERLC’s national conference called The Problem of Porn, Gospel Hope for Parents and Teens. He also participated in a panel discussion about how to talk with your kids about gender and sexuality issues. You can find out more about Dean at citychurchtallahassee.com and you can follow him on Twitter @deaninserra.

Listen to our interview:

Carmen: Dean, welcome to The Reconnect.

Dean: Thank you, it’s great to be here.

Carmen: So, let’s start with the porn and parenting conversation. Let’s just jump in to that subject matter. When we start talking about the challenges that parents face today, parents who are Christians and they really do want to protect their kids the best they can but they want to prepare their kids as well. Talk with us about the reality of pornography in our culture.

Dean: Well, I believe that Christian parents have done a very good job protecting their kids but not a great job preparing their kids. Because pornography is coming at them. They don’t have to go and look for it. It is coming right to their mobile devices. And I’ve realized that a lot of our protection and again, I want to compliment parents for saying, fantastic job being serious about filters on phones, monitoring social media. I know families who don’t want their children bring their phones in their rooms at night once they go to sleep. I want to say bravo and encourage parents on those things. But those things while we should yes, keep doing them, only work in our homes.

They don’t work once our kids leave our homes, especially teenagers when they had their own cars, they’re going to a friend’s home and their football locker at their high school. When they’re with friends whose parents don’t have the same oversights that we might have. And the other reality, it’s pretty humbling is when they’re more tech savvy than any of us are, of being the next generation that yes, in our homes there were responsibilities but is it gonna work when they leave our homes. So, it has to go beyond just protection. You have to learn how to prepare.

But is it gonna work when they leave our homes? So, it has to go beyond just protection. You have to learn how to prepare.

Carmen: Okay, and how do we do that?

Dean: And again, it’s not full proof but there are definitely some principles that I believe need to be in place. One, we need to first see that we’re to be sending our kids into the world and we don’t want our kids to resemble the world or we don’t want them to be removed from the world. Jesus prayed, “I don’t want you to take the believers out of the world but protect them while they’re in it.” So, I think the first answer is, our job is not to put an ironclad wall around our homes when it comes to this issue. And we’re at the point of pornography where prevention’s impossible in the real world whether we teach them how live in a porn saturated society with little distinct lives in it. So, I think preparation begins, one, is with the environments we create in our home. And I am a strong advocate and I believe that creating a high view in your home of the opposite sex. Especially when it comes to how males will view females.

In our home, with the biggest rules, if you have talked to my boys right now and you ask them, “What’s the number one rule in your house?” They would immediately tell you without hesitation, “We have to respect our mom.” It’s just a big deal in our house. It doesn’t  mean I think my wife is weak. It doesn’t mean any of those kinds of things at all. It means I want my boys to have a highest view of women as possible. They can go after each other but they go after their sister, after my daughter, they’re in huge trouble. Not that she can’t have her own conversation, I’m not trying to say she’s weak. I just want them in their minds to see that she is different. And by different meaning by design.

Because when we lose gender distinctiveness, which is happening all across our culture then it does away with any outrage over women being treated as object. Because how can we outraged about women being seen as objects when now the world’s telling us, there’s no difference or distinction in gender. Then you’re left with the only value being that as long as no one’s consenting, that’s the only value that’s left. And that might go away one day too because people might say that, “Folks are just acting out their animal instincts.” Who knows where the world’s gonna go with all these type of things. But I think environment really matters. And again, it’s not full proof but I believe that, the stronger that children, young boys especially are raised with a very high view of women then, they’re gonna be teenagers who respect women. And then we’re also honest with them in that environment we’re creating in preparation that this is the real thing in the real world. It’s not a taboo subjects in our homes anymore. We have to talk about it.

Sometimes there’s a whisper conversation you have. It’s just like a once a year father-son go sit down and have the talk. The “talk” means it go away, we need to have talking that continues where we’re just aware. This is a reality in our culture, that this is not going away, it’s only going to get worse.

Sometimes there’s a whisper conversation you have. It’s just like a once a year father-son go sit down and have the talk. The “talk” means it go away, we need to have talking that continues where we’re just aware. This is a reality in our culture, that this is not going away, it’s only going to get worse.

Carmen: Are there times with your boys … And how old are they? So, we can kinda get a little of context here.

Dean: I have a fifth grader, who is 11 and I have a first grader, who’s 7.

Carmen: Okay, so we’re not talking about teenagers yet?

Dean: No, we’re a year away from middle school with my oldest.

Carmen: So, when you are talking about preparing them and you’re talking about the realities with the real world. Are there ever times that you kind of point out to them what the world is doing, what they’re seeing, what’s in front of them and say, “That’s not … God does not like that?”

Dean: Yes, I think the best kind of discipleship for children and for life in general, is what I call, discipleship as you go. Some families are very formal about it, they have family worship. I think all that’s wonderful. They have family devotion time, I think that’s great. We do some of that, we’re more discipleship as you go. Where we’re constantly pointing out things, constantly having conversations that which creates them asking conversations. And also, we give reason behind things. Like, this is gonna sound strange but my boys and I, we love wrestling like, WWE wrestling. We just love it. And that’s kind of our thing we do.

We watch the pay-per-views and we watch Monday Night Raw and they love it and I grew up watching it and loving it. But there’s a part of Monday Night Raw every week that has the female wrestling and they come out in, you know in not much clothes and their rolling all over the ground, I don’t want to be TMI and give visuals here, but they’re rolling all over the ground and doing things that really I don’t think a Christian male should be watching. So, when we know it’s coming, before it happens, they announce when’s the next match is going to be, we turn the channel. And they know we’re gonna turn the channel and they anticipate we’re turning the channel, they go, “Oh, women’s match.” And they turn it. And that sounds strange and some people might disagree with us watching wrestling, that’s fine. You can email me or whatever but I just want my boys to see that this is a thing. That this matters, that we’re not gonna look at women that way.

So, something as simple as turning the channel in wrestling during that time is allowing them to see that, okay this is a big deal, that the way what we view matters. Like what our eyes see really matters. And they could watch any kind of show, any kind of movie and I’ll come in, I’ll chime in, I’ll say, “Hey guys, let’s turn it. That’s not a good idea.” So that as you go discipleship are just pointing things out along the way to me is really important.

Carmen: Yeah, that’s really helpful. Hey, we’re talking to Dean Inserra, he is the founding and lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida. You can visit them online at citychurchtallahassee.com.

So when we talk about preparing kids for the kinds of things that they’re gonna encounter, pornography is as you say, it’s coming at them. It’s not avoidable. I think the other thing that’s coming at our kids that we certainly did not deal with when we were their age are all of the gender and sexuality issues, which you’ve eluded too. I mean you’ve eluded to the fact that in our culture, there is a tearing down of the distinctions between men and women and there’s also a building up of a lie related to the mutability of gender. Like a person could go to kindergarten as a boy and they next year come to first grade as a girl.

Talk with us, because I’ve heard you talk about it in another environment. I know that this is a reality that you all have already encountered in terms of the friends of kids. And so, talk with us about how as a parent, you negotiate that terrain.

Dean: Well, I was out of town and my wife called me and said that my son who’s in fourth grade at that time last year was told by a friend in his class that his friend is transgender. On the playground said that, “I’m part of the LGBT community.” And my son responded by saying, “What is that?” And he knew what he meant to be gay. He knew about sexuality because I talked to him. You know I’ve explained to him the reality of that existence. But we never talked about transgender. For some reason I guess I was just behind. It just wasn’t on my radar for him yet. And this is suburban school in a Bible Belt-ish kind of town and he explained to him that he’s transgender. That I was a born a female but now I am a boy. And I had heard a rumor that was true but it was just one of those things that it was like, “Oh no, that’s not true.” To the point where his teacher didn’t even know.

And my wife calls me and says, “Something happened today at school and Tommy came home asking a lot of questions so you need to get home pretty quick ’cause were gonna have to handle this.” My wife can perfectly handle it, she started the conversation and when I came home that next day, we went for a walk. And we just talked about the entire idea of gender, about why it matters. About how God created us male and female, about why that’s a big deal, about how the scriptural story line that Jesus and the apostle Paul both affirmed Adam and Eve as historic people. That they affirmed the creation narrative as well. And then we turned it very quickly, ’cause I don’t want to just raise children that are right on culture issues. I want to raise children who are impacting the culture and we can’t impact the culture apart from love.

So, I told my son, “Hey, this is really important.” I said, “We’re gonna be clear on this.” But my goal for my kids when it comes to these issues is compassion and clarity. I think those two words really matter. So, I told him, I said, “Here’s the deal.” I said, “Your friend yesterday before you found out about this, is still your friend tomorrow. Like nothing changes. If you were sitting by chair in the cafeteria and you were playing on the playground together and you were talking on the media center together and walking and lying together. That doesn’t have to stop because you have this information. This is the same person they were yesterday.”

Your friend yesterday before you found out about this, is still your friend tomorrow. Like nothing changes. If you were sitting by chair in the cafeteria and you were playing on the playground together and you were talking on the media center together and walking and lying together. That doesn’t have to stop because you have this information. This is the same person they were yesterday.”

At the same time I said, “We gotta have clarity on this issue and your friend no matter how they dress, no matter how they do with their hair, no matter what they want to be identified by, no matter what their name is. Your friend friend is a girl, your friend was born a girl. God does not make mistakes, God created your friend to be a girl. As far as the name,” I think Christians can differ on this, “As far as what name the person chooses I think a name’s a name and if it’s a loving thing to call your friend the name they want to go by, I have no problem with that. But in our home, we’re gonna call your friend the name that your friend chooses to go by, but your friend is a girl and that’s reality.”

So we want to have compassion, nothing changes relationally. We need to be friends, not making fun of, don’t whisper about it everywhere. We don’t need to talk about this person and also realize that this person has quite a lot going on and we came to find out that you can talk about kindergarten in the first grade. That at this exact same school, this child as a first grader had a different name and was a female at the school. Biological female went by a female name and then by the time this child was in fourth grade, had fully transitioned in their eye. To the point where even their birth certificate was changed to a boy. I didn’t even know you can do that. So, all these things are happening, coming out as it wants. So here we are a mile from our house in the suburbs of Tallahassee and this is what’s taking place.

So we can freak out or we can sound the culture warrior alarm and we can do all those things. We can go, okay how about this? What if we’re raising children to have compassion on the issue, this is very complex. There’s a lot of emotions involve, people just deeply embedded personal issue and at the same time, what if we’re really clear and help our children see that, you know your friend is a girl and nothing can change that. Nothing can change but your friend should not have to change either. And we’ve been talking about it ever since. I just want to encourage parents out there, that it’s almost been we all have to change the conversation sometimes ’cause my son wants to talk about it all the time ’cause he’s fascinated by it. In his mind, he’s going, “How can this happen? How can this be real? How is this true?” And now that the friend told my son, the friend is comfortable talking about it now.

So, here’s my innocent fifth grade boy going to school everyday and having to engage in a transgender conversation. And I don’t know the limits to that and I’m not forced to try to figure it out as a family. Like, how much of that conversation is too much for an 11 year old. But I am trying to parent kids to live in the world not as I want it to be but as it is and there’s only gonna be more of that. So I think we have to make sure that we’re ready to have those conversations and not freak out when they come ’cause they are coming and more are going out. If in the suburbs of Tallahassee, Florida at an A rated school, normal everyday school, if that’s happening there, it can happen anywhere.

Carmen: Yeah, all right folks this conversation is with Dean Inserra. He’s the founding and lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida. If you want to communicate with him you can do so through citychurchtallahassee.com website or on Twitter @deaninserra.

Dean, this willingness to talk with folks who have varying perspectives. This willingness on your part to have perfect clarity in terms of what the scripture says and who God is and what God wants and you have a deep level of compassion for people means that you are also invited into conversations let’s say, with the LGBT advocacy media, that others might not be willing to take interviews with. Tell me what those conversations look like and why Christians who are very clear on the issues but also have compassion and are able to have those conversations, tell us why we should be talking across that particular aisle or boundary or whatever it is in our culture.

Dean: Yeah, well if we’re gonna shine our lights, we need to get to where it’s dark. And I believe the area of gender and family and sexuality right now are some of the darkest places, which so much people are wounded and there’s just so much confusion and so much hurt, anger. All the above when it comes to … Especially in the LGBT community right now. I was in a conversation recently and one thing that I learned very quickly from that conversation was that a common belief in sort of the LBGT circles, and by circles I mean more people who are influencers, who are in leadership, who are advocates. More than they’re just practicing but more on the front line of their agenda and discussion is that Christians are scared of them.

And of course, the bigot words that get thrown out sometimes or not sometimes, oftentimes, I know it’s what we call a bigot. I mean who wants to be called a bigot. And that’s a hard thing for our children as well, is when your teaching children to believe in biblical marriage, when your teaching children to believe that this is man and this is a woman and then they’re called a bigot just because of basic Christian belief. Who wants to be called a bigot. I’m 36 years old, I don’t want to be called a bigot. A 16 year old is not gonna want to be called a bigot. And when they’re being linked because their views on biblical marriage is the equivalence of a KKK member, this is really complicated because they’re two very different things.

So, one need to realize that we’re not gonna be able to win on the side of making it pleasing, making it sound better than it is, making it sound like were four, something different than we are. We’re just not gonna win on that. So, we can try to make it as smooth as cool or as compassionate as we possible can and that’s gonna change the idea that at the core people who think that to not accept their lifestyle is to not accept them. It’s going to always result in, at the worst, you being called a bigot. And your best day your gonna be called misinformed, brainwashed, crazy, something like that.

So, I’ve learned that there’s this belief that we are scared. That there’s some kind of fear. Maybe that’s where the words homophobia and transphobia come from. And we have to communicate to this community but that’s not true and we’re gonna prove it to you. Though we might disagree strongly but we’re gonna prove to you that we can love you as a person without accepting how you live. Now, you might say, “That’s impossible, if you don’t accept me then you can’t love me.” And our response needs to be, “We’re gonna prove you the opposite. We’re gonna love you right through. We’re gonna be your friend right through.” Like I told my son about the transgender issue, “Friend yesterday, friend tomorrow. Nothing’s gonna change.”

I heard Sam Allberry, the author and theologian, recently at the ERLC national conference say that the same is true with our children, “If you’re my son yesterday, you’re my son tomorrow. Regardless of what you tell me. Regardless of what sins you confess to me.” And I think we have to bring the exact same thing, compassion and clarity into those sort of conversations. I sat across the table from an LGBT advocate just recently, it was just the two of us and the person asked me, “So, do you think I’m a sinner?” That’s easy to blog about that, it’s different to sit across the table from someone who may ask you that question. At the same time, what a moment, I’m not trying to have a conversation and I told her I said, “Yes, I do but you’re LGBT position is the least of the reasons of why I think that because it goes way back before this. Now, do I think that’s a sin as well practicing that? Yes I do, but that’s not I want to focus on right now.”

And I had the chance to walk through God’s design and how we have, straight from God’s design, not because of the LGBT issues, it’s because of the human sin in general. And what that looks like, what it means to restore to Christ. So, with regards to your questions, I had the chance to infiltrate gospel into that. If we’re trying to win an argument, we’re not gonna reach people. Now, there are arguments that the bible makes, you know we’re to give an answer for the hope that we have, we’re to correct, rebuke and encourage, all of those things. So, it’s not that arguments is bad but if our goal is just to win an argument, and I get worried about that. A lot of Christian conversation today is really trying to use war language. It’s the Great Commission a culture war? I just don’t know if it is. I think the Great Commission is the disciple making war in the culture. And that’s if they’re declaring war on the very same people that Jesus came to die for.

So, in those conversations, I just think that we have to be unafraid to have them. We have to know going in that, it is not gonna be pretty, it might not be argumentative but it’s not gonna be pretty. And that, the world is being so conditioned right now to equate believing differently about sexuality than the culture is telling us. I’m trying to equate that with something that we saw on Charlottesville recently.

Carmen: Yeah.

Dean: That’s a scary place to be for a Christian. Where a belief in biblical marriage equates you with hatred and bigotry. And we’re raising kids now in that world. So, we have to overcome that and not be afraid of that and plow through that and prove people wrong.

Carmen: Well, I’m glad you are in not only the ministry that you’re in and the position that you’re in to speak to not just these issues. Like I really appreciate that you talk to people, you’re not talking about issues, you’re talking about people. And I think that that is the gospel reality. Jesus didn’t talk to issues or talk about issues, he talked to people as Christ.

So folks that is all the time we have got to have with Dean today. But I’m sure we will have the opportunity to talk with him again. And again, it’s Dean Inserra, you can follow him on Twitter @deaninserra and you can check it all out at citychurchtallahassee.com.

Hey Dean, thanks for joining us today on The Reconnect.

Dean: I’m glad to be here. Thanks for the work that you’re doing.


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