Sexual Education in California: A View from Rocklin

I am a husband and father of four here in Rocklin. One of our daughters just graduated from Rocklin High School, another is at RHS, and two more will be there in the next several years. In addition, I serve as the senior pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Rocklin, where we have been for the past eight years. In our years of living in Rocklin, we have come to love the community, the people, and the commitment to the children of our neighborhoods.

It is for all these reasons that I attended the open forum hosted by Informed Parents of Rocklin this past week. You can find more information about them HERE, and a link to the slides from their presentation HERE.

There has been talk in the news over the past several years about changes to the sex education programs here in California. It is difficult sometimes to sift out the important from the unimportant in the news. But teaching our children about what it means to be male and female is something that is very important to me as a Christian, because it is so rooted in our creation in God’s image. It is for that reason that I went to the forum.

I had several concerns going into it. One was misinformation. We received a communication from the superintendent of RUSD the day before the forum, indicating that there would be exaggerations, irrelevant materials, and in some cases outright false information. Informed Parents of Rocklin has answered these claims HERE. The original communication from RUSD may be found HERE.

Another concern I had was politicization. I have no problems with people speaking their mind and asking for votes. This is a part of our process here in the United States. But I was concerned that the whole thing could be basically a setup or bait-and-switch for a Republican Party rally.

With those concerns in mind, here is what I saw and experienced.

There were between 300–400 people in attendance. The vast majority of them were “parent” age, between thirty and fifty years old. There were also people who were in more of the grandparent category. They were polite and respectful, and it was clear that these were people who are concerned and want to know more about what is going on with their children. If there were school board members or RUSD teachers present, they didn’t identify themselves as such, at least not to me.

The event was moderated by a staff member from one of our state senators. The bulk of the presentation was done by three women who called themselves moms in RUSD and a couple neighboring school districts. Their presentations, each about twenty minutes long, were factual and straightforward, with very little editorializing about the content. Their goal was first of all to inform the attendees about what is happening in our school districts in three areas:

  • Comprehensive Sexuality Education
  • History/Social Science Curriculum Changes in 2019
  • Health Education Framework

I am not going to rehearse the content of each of these areas. I would encourage you, especially if you are a Rocklin area parent, to go to their web site HERE and evaluate the material for yourself. It’s all there. They have dozens and dozen of examples from current textbooks as well as from the health framework, which will be used as the template for the next generation of textbooks. I will warn you, though. This material is graphic. It will make you uncomfortable. It might even make you angry, thinking of the children that are exposed to this every day.

There is one section that I do want to pull out from the over 100 slides. It has to do with the topic of what was called “spiritual abuse.” Here is the slide:

What is so dangerous about this concept of spiritual abuse is that it defines anything other than what the textbook holds as “normal” is now termed “abuse.” So if I say that male and female are distinct roles, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and that this is the way God created us, that is now “abuse.” This is, for the record, what has been taught in the Judeo-Christian tradition for thousands of years. This is hardly radical or weird. But I seriously fear that my teaching, either as a parent or as a pastor, could be categorized as “spiritual abuse” in the not too distant future.

I have several takeaways from this event, in no particular order.

  • What is being taught in our schools under the guise of sexual health and reproductive health education is in some cases inappropriate, in others politically motivated, and what I would call in some instances predatory.
  • It is getting harder and harder to distinguish between what is a religious or moral claim from a political claim. If I say, for example, that according to God’s Word marriage is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, is that a religious statement or a political statement?
  • How can I easily determine what, out of all of this, is actually being taught in RUSD? I know some is and some is not, but I don’t have the time or resources to sift through it all. I don’t want to be unreasonable in expressing my concerns to the school district.
  • What is the best way for me as a parent in the Rocklin school district to engage with my children’s teachers and administrators about what is going on? I can opt out of some areas, but there are others (e.g. social studies) where there is no mechanism for opting out. Does that mean pulling my children from school on that day is an act of civil disobedience?
  • How do I as a Lutheran pastor in the Rocklin area teach my own families about what is good, right and true, and how do I teach them on what they should for their own children when it comes to talking about sex, gender, religion, and politics?

I’m very thankful for the organizers of the event, and for William Jessup University and their willingness to host it. I have more questions than answers at this point. I am, honestly, angry that my own children live in a time when they may be exposed to these things in the classroom. I want what is best for them, and from what I observed, the way that California, and even RUSD, are approaching topic of sex education is both wrong and exceedingly dangerous. I want to help make things better. Who is with me?

Dad Martens

Dad Martens is one of the most important people in our lives. Even though we barely see him anymore, he has probably done more to shape the faith and piety of the “California Peperkorns” than anyone else, save our parents. Kathryn and I were in Acappella choir at Concordia, Seward, with Dad from 1988-1992(3). Over thirty years ago he introduced us to Bach, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Decius, and a host of other luminaries of the faith and of music. That same faith continues in our own children.

Why do we call him Dad? We call him Dad because he was a father to us when we went to college. He taught us how to be adults, how to share the faith, how to play Schapfskopf, how to make (and eat!) Brötchen, and he even taught us how to take correction. I can remember more than a couple times when Dad’s temper at a choir was just the right thing at the right time. It’s a lesson every father must learn, sooner or later. But those brief moments of heat were nothing compared to the light and joy of watching him direct us in the proclamation of the Gospel all over the country and over Northern Europe. 

This was the first time I saw Dad since Mom died after a frustrating battle with Alzheimers. We didn’t actually talk about her in our short visit, but her presence was undeniably there as well. 

We named our son Richard Edmund, because God’s gift of faith comes through God’s gift of music, and we were privileged to be mentored under one of the very best.

Our daughter, Renata, will be going to Seward this fall, where she will (among others) study and learn under another one of Dad’s musical and spiritual children, Dr. Kurt von Kampen. If she has half the experience that Kathryn and I did, then she will be blessed for a lifetime. The music department at Concordia has never been better, and men and women such as von Kampen, Jeff Blersch, Joe Herl, and Elizabeth Grimpo are among the best that our church body has to offer to the future. I am, admittedly, just a little bias.

If you are a ‘Pellacan who sang under Dad from 1978-1998, I would encourage you to stop by and see him in Lincoln. You’ll be glad you did, and it will draw you back to the best times of your life. He’ll love to see you, and might even give you a Bier if you ask politely. 

We love you, Dad.

What Lutherans Can Learn: The 2019 LookUp Conference on Mental Health

Anyone who knows me knows that I care deeply about mental health. I have suffered from clinical depression for a long time now, probably over fifteen years. It is something that I have written about, spoken on, and generally beaten the drum at any given opportunity.

So it was a special treat to speak at the 2019 LookUp Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana, this past week. Underwritten by the Lutheran Foundation of Fort Wayne, this ecumenical conference brought leaders from many different churches and walks of life together to ask the question of where the Christian Church can and should fit in as we address this ongoing epidemic here in the United States. My thanks to Marcia Haaff, Rev. Dennis Goff and their amazing staff for putting this on. I was a sectional speaker, and was able to give a Lutheran perspective on faith, mental illness, and where we as the church can fit in.

But what was really great about this conference was how much I was fed and encouraged along the way.

There were two keynote speakers, neither of whom did I know much about. The first was Dr. Warren Kinghorn, a professor of psychiatry and theology at Duke Divinity School and the Duke University Medical Center . The second was Kay Warren, wife of Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Southern California. Neither of these people were on my radar before this event, but I have to say, they were both fantastic.

Kay Warren speaking at the LookUp conference in 2019.

Kay Warren is not exactly the type of 21st century Christian I tend to seek out. But with the suicide of their son in 2013, things have changed for Warren and for Saddleback. I’m sure there is a lot more to the story, but her encouragement was that we as Christians care for those in need, period. And there are few people or groups more in need today than those with mental illnesses. We have something to offer as the Church which few groups today can say. We can offer hope. Hope is a rare commodity in the world of mental illness, so the fact that we can provide it puts us in a remarkable place.

Dr. Warren Kinghorn

For me, though, the real gem was Dr. Warren Kinghorn. Dr. Kinghorn’ s thesis as I understand it is pretty simple. One of the key factors in health and healing is the need for community. That might mean family, work, social groups, or the church, but people thrive when they belong. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about mental health, addiction, or the myriad of other factors which make modern living complex. The more human beings are separated and isolated, the worse it is for them. We are created to be together. As we hear in Genesis 2, “It is not good for man to be alone…”

What I find fascinating about this simple but profound observation is that we as Lutherans might have a voice on this that is often missing in modern theological thought. Most of modern Christianity today has lessened or even removed the concept of sin. But for us, sin means separation. It means separation from the God who created and redeemed us, and it means separation from each other. It should not surprise us when sin and the consequences of sin (illness) mess everything up, top to bottom.

In our preaching and teaching about sin, one of the things I have come to believe we need to reflect on more is how forgiveness is not so much an individual act, but it is one that creates connections. We are reconnected to God and to each other through the forgiveness of sins. This creates Koinonia, fellowship, and it is in this fellowship with God and each other that we can heal, and even thrive as human beings.

So how do we as the Christian Church do this? I’m just starting to think through all of the implications, but here are a few thoughts I’m knocking around. I hope you will do the same with me.

  1. We as the Church need to see forgiveness and our reconnection with one another as two sides of the same coin. This does not denigrate or lesson the role of forgiveness. What it does is put the therefore behind what happens through the Gospel.
  2. When we see our work as the Church in purely academic or pragmatic categories, we are missing out on the very thing that we have to offer for the life of the world. It is altogether too easy today to think in terms of education, or entrepreneurship, or other horizontal categories, and think that’s all we are and all we have as God’s people. May it never be so among us!
  3. In reaching out to the people on the margins, we are not going down some weird road of social justice, we are instead seeing that we need them as much as they need us. We are one body in Christ. Caring for one another in our mutual weaknesses is exactly what makes us who we are as God’s people.
  4. By trying to understand and find ways of partnering with other entities or groups on mental illness, we demonstrate to the world that we are here in their midst, we are here to stay, and that God is here to actually care for people, not take things from people. This is hard for us as Lutherans, because our understanding of the distinctions between the church and state, for example, can easily convince us that we shouldn’t try to work together. What do we have to fear?

These are just a few of my initial thoughts on the matter. I want to thank Dr. Kinghorn for his ongoing work in this area. I hope that you get the opportunity to have dinner with a few more Lutherans. I think we might need each other!

Dr. Warren Kinghorn speaking at the 2019 LookUp Conference

Sexual Education in California: A View from Rocklin

I am a husband and father of four here in Rocklin. One of our daughters just graduated from Rocklin High School, another is at RHS, and two more will be there in the next several years. In addition, I serve as the senior pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Rocklin, where we have been for the past eight years. In our years of living in Rocklin, we have come to love the community, the people, and the commitment to the children of our neighborhoods.

It is for all these reasons that I attended the open forum hosted by Informed Parents of Rocklin this past week. You can find more information about them HERE, and a link to the slides from their presentation HERE.

There has been talk in the news over the past several years about changes to the sex education programs here in California. It is difficult sometimes to sift out the important from the unimportant in the news. But teaching our children about what it means to be male and female is something that is very important to me as a Christian, because it is so rooted in our creation in God’s image. It is for that reason that I went to the forum.

I had several concerns going into it. One was misinformation. We received a communication from the superintendent of RUSD the day before the forum, indicating that there would be exaggerations, irrelevant materials, and in some cases outright false information. Informed Parents of Rocklin has answered these claims HERE. The original communication from RUSD may be found HERE.

Another concern I had was politicization. I have no problems with people speaking their mind and asking for votes. This is a part of our process here in the United States. But I was concerned that the whole thing could be basically a setup or bait-and-switch for a Republican Party rally.

With those concerns in mind, here is what I saw and experienced.

There were between 300–400 people in attendance. The vast majority of them were “parent” age, between thirty and fifty years old. There were also people who were in more of the grandparent category. They were polite and respectful, and it was clear that these were people who are concerned and want to know more about what is going on with their children. If there were school board members or RUSD teachers present, they didn’t identify themselves as such, at least not to me.

The event was moderated by a staff member from one of our state senators. The bulk of the presentation was done by three women who called themselves moms in RUSD and a couple neighboring school districts. Their presentations, each about twenty minutes long, were factual and straightforward, with very little editorializing about the content. Their goal was first of all to inform the attendees about what is happening in our school districts in three areas:

  • Comprehensive Sexuality Education
  • History/Social Science Curriculum Changes in 2019
  • Health Education Framework

I am not going to rehearse the content of each of these areas. I would encourage you, especially if you are a Rocklin area parent, to go to their web site HERE and evaluate the material for yourself. It’s all there. They have dozens and dozen of examples from current textbooks as well as from the health framework, which will be used as the template for the next generation of textbooks. I will warn you, though. This material is graphic. It will make you uncomfortable. It might even make you angry, thinking of the children that are exposed to this every day.

There is one section that I do want to pull out from the over 100 slides. It has to do with the topic of what was called “spiritual abuse.” Here is the slide:

What is so dangerous about this concept of spiritual abuse is that it defines anything other than what the textbook holds as “normal” is now termed “abuse.” So if I say that male and female are distinct roles, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and that this is the way God created us, that is now “abuse.” This is, for the record, what has been taught in the Judeo-Christian tradition for thousands of years. This is hardly radical or weird. But I seriously fear that my teaching, either as a parent or as a pastor, could be categorized as “spiritual abuse” in the not too distant future.

I have several takeaways from this event, in no particular order.

  • What is being taught in our schools under the guise of sexual health and reproductive health education is in some cases inappropriate, in others politically motivated, and what I would call in some instances predatory.
  • It is getting harder and harder to distinguish between what is a religious or moral claim from a political claim. If I say, for example, that according to God’s Word marriage is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, is that a religious statement or a political statement?
  • How can I easily determine what, out of all of this, is actually being taught in RUSD? I know some is and some is not, but I don’t have the time or resources to sift through it all. I don’t want to be unreasonable in expressing my concerns to the school district.
  • What is the best way for me as a parent in the Rocklin school district to engage with my children’s teachers and administrators about what is going on? I can opt out of some areas, but there are others (e.g. social studies) where there is no mechanism for opting out. Does that mean pulling my children from school on that day is an act of civil disobedience?
  • How do I as a Lutheran pastor in the Rocklin area teach my own families about what is good, right and true, and how do I teach them on what they should for their own children when it comes to talking about sex, gender, religion, and politics?

I’m very thankful for the organizers of the event, and for William Jessup University and their willingness to host it. I have more questions than answers at this point. I am, honestly, angry that my own children live in a time when they may be exposed to these things in the classroom. I want what is best for them, and from what I observed, the way that California, and even RUSD, are approaching topic of sex education is both wrong and exceedingly dangerous. I want to help make things better. Who is with me?