"A Dateable girl isn't Miss Independent."
"Dateable girls know how to shut up."
"Dateable guys know they aren't as sensitive as girls and that's okay. They know they are stronger, more dangerous, and more adventurous and that's okay."
These are some of the "Rules" that my husband, my 16 year old daughter Chloe, and 13 year old son read on the website of Justin Lookadoo when my daughter came home Tuesday night and announced that there would be a "special assembly" the next day. The school provided no information about the speaker or subject, but rumor had it his name was Justin Lookadoo.
Out of simple curiosity, we consulted the websites for Richardson High School, the PTA and Lookadoo. We learned nothing from the first two sites, but were alarmed by the third. We hoped the rumor our daughter had heard was wrong. We immediately wrote the principal and other school officials to express concern about this rumor and to discover a) whether an assembly was planned; b) whether Lookadoo was the invited speaker; and c) what subject the school was inviting him to address.
As Internet-watchers already know there was an assembly, he was the speaker, and spoke to students about dating, relationships, and gender differences. Smartphone videos of the presentation reveal his opening question: "Have y'all noticed yet that there's a MAJOR difference between guys and girls? And this is true on a biological, cellular level. Because nowadays people are like (said in a mocking tone) 'Men and women are the same; men and women are the same.' NO--THEY'RE NOT." He went on to make numerous claims about gender differences (never acknowledging the existence of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or pansexual students, let alone how they might conduct their own dating relationships) and even addressed the topic of (heterosexual) intercourse.
Justin Lookadoo is in no way qualified to address children in a public school setting. Mr. Lookadoo is a religious speaker who has published religious books with a religious press. He has also published many of his religious beliefs regarding gender roles (all based on a heterosexual model in which boys and girls are to pair up) on his website. This is his professional website where one finds a press kit and books him as a speaker. Clearly, these are his professionally publicized convictions. He is certainly entitled to believe anything he likes about God and gender and if he wants to speak about that in religious venues that's perfectly legitimate, but not a public school. Again, I have no issue with people holding strong religious opinions and beliefs. As an ordained Baptist minister who teaches Bible at a seminary, I certainly do. The issue is that he has not been vetted and credentialed by any professional body to address issues related to child development. If the school wanted to address dating relationships and gender issues, why didn't it bring in a credentialed professional, such as a licensed counselor or a pediatrician? Why not bring in someone from the wonderful local outfit Girls to Women Health and Wellness?
Not only does Mr. Lookadoo lack credentials, even the most cursory research uncovers his profoundly disturbing convictions about gender displayed in his books and videos and on his website. Are the values reflected there commensurate with the values of my daughter's high school? With the values of any other high school? Why would a school give someone with views like this access to children to talk about issues related to gender and relationships? Some reporters have said to me: "Justin says he didn't mention his website or his rules during the actual assembly so you have no grounds for being upset." My response is this: Would a school dare to bring in a speaker with well-publicized controversial views on race or a track record of disparaging a particular ethnic group? Of course not! So why would they invite someone with similarly outrageous views on gender? Some views on gender roles are just plain dangerous.
It's time for Christians to "Christian up"
Mainstream and progressive Christians, I'm talking to YOU. Where is our voice when it comes to battling fundamentalist constructions of gender? We wring our hands and complain, but what are we doing to prove that a truly Biblical, Christian view of gender depicts God as creating wild diversity? The Bible shows us that from the start God created variety in regard to genders, differently-able bodies, races, ethnicities, personality types, cultures, etc. And we can't deny the fact that the Bible portrays a variety of ways to express sexuality, including celibacy. Paul's stated preference was for ALL Christians to be unmarried (1 Cor. 7:8) and Jesus spoke of "those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:12). I assume that eunuchs would be considered "undateable" for Lookadoo.
Lookadoo may have no room for independent women, but the Bible is FULL of them. What about Phoebe, whom Paul calls a "minister" in Romans 16:1 (do NOT be fooled by translations that make her into a "deaconess"--that's NOT what the Greek says). What about Junia the apostle in Romans 16:7? Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the apostles? The Samaritan woman who was the first to preach the gospel in John? And what about Anna the prophet in Luke, who was the first to announce to a wider public about Jesus after he was born (Luke 2:38)?
We mainstream Christians need to help the world see that misguided, damaging attitudes about gender do not cohere with our convictions. We need to stop being so timid and hands-off, "to each their own," and GET LOUD and GET ACTIVE. Scholars and other leaders need to start writing for wider audiences and designing websites with resources useful to the widest possible public. Become a public theologian. Take risks; put yourself out there; make bold statements. Just do it!!
Christian parents and churches: why not invent something as successful and engaging as some of these really conservative programs that target vulnerable teens? Instead of complaining about the awful versions of Christianity that are simultaneously so successful and so troubling, why not use that energy to create something huge and successful and life-giving that reflects God's passion for the flourishing of all creation? In John 14:12, Jesus proclaims: "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these." What are we waiting for??
A Child Shall Lead Them
I am inspired by and proud of all of the students who have rejected these unjust, sexist convictions that are damaging to all people, no matter what their gender. Students, you are intelligent, courageous, and mature. Keep up the fantastic work!!! From the Hebrew Bible through the New Testament, the young have led. In John 6:9, a boy offered up his 5 loaves and 2 fish. It didn't seem like much at the time, but with Jesus' help, the small faithful act turned into life-giving abundance for thousands. Yep, that's how it works.
Follow Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaimeclarksoles