In a 2016 Teachers of Vision feature article about LGBTQ issues, I wrote, “After fifteen years of educating teenagers, I know this: many adolescents struggle with confusion regarding their identities.”
What was true then is even truer now.
In his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Grove City College Professor Carl Trueman describes how so many in today’s culture (including our students) view the world and themselves.
Trueman explains that rather than seeing the universe endowed with meaning that we are to discover (as Paul describes in chapter 1 of Romans), more and more see the universe as a blank canvas, consisting of “raw material out of which meaning and purpose can be created by the individual” (p. 39).
In this brave new world, Trueman writes:
Institutions cease to be places for the formation of the individuals via their schooling in the various practices and disciplines that allow them to take their place in society. Instead, they become platforms for performance, where individuals are allowed to be their authentic selves, precisely because they are able to give expression to who they are ‘inside’...For such selves in such a world, institutions such as schools and churches are places where one goes to perform, not to be formed—or, perhaps better, where one goes to be formed by performing (p. 49).
In other words, rather than our identities being formed externally, through relationship with God, our families, and society, identities are formed internally by how one feels and then are reinforced and expressed by actions.
This is why many take these constructed identities so seriously, come up with terms like “misgendering” and “deadnaming,” and act as if these offenses are akin to saying someone doesn’t “exist.” By taking on and “performing” an identity, they have come to believe that it really does deeply define them. It’s all they have. I believe this is one reason that the suicide rate is so tragically high among those struggling with gender confusion—constructed, invented identities based on fickle and manipulatable emotional states cannot support the weight of human life and experience.
Considering all of this, Christian educators can respond in two ways.
First, we can undermine the worldview that upholds false identities by pointing out ways our God-created universe is full of meaning and citing evidence that our students were designed for a purpose.
Second, rather than simply deconstructing identity confusion, leaving these individuals with no sense of who they are, we can guide them towards a new identity where they see their value as a beloved creation of our heavenly Father.
I understand all too well the challenges involved, but I am praying that the Holy Spirit creatively leads you to help your students root their identities in the truth of who they are.
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