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Year in Review: Protecting churchgoers and children

A look back at 2021 in marriage, family, and sexuality news


People vote on a motion at a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June in Nashville, Tenn. Associated Press/Photo by Mark Humphrey

Year in Review: Protecting churchgoers and children

People inside and outside the Church this year took a stand to protect the weak and vulnerable against assaults on God’s design for marriage, family, sexuality, and gender. From victims of sexual abuse to parents of transgender children, the calls for accountability grew louder—and many are starting to pay heed. Here are some of the top stories in the marriage, family, and sexuality beat in 2021.

Southern Baptists reckon publicly with sexual abuse

Sexual abuse accusations have rattled the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in recent years. In 2021, the denomination faced what could become its biggest challenge yet. Local church delegates voted resoundingly at the SBC annual meeting in June to approve a fully transparent outside investigation into the way denominational leaders handled sexual abuse cases over the past 21 years. Some members of the denomination’s key governing body, the Executive Committee, initially resisted the terms of the investigation, causing an uproar, but then approved it, prompting a wave of resignations.

Part of the public reckoning the SBC faces involves looking into some of its most celebrated figures. WORLD spent months investigating sexual abuse and harassment accusations against former Texas judge and SBC lay leader Paul Pressler. Our report addressed how a few Baptist leaders were aware of the accusations, which spanned decades, but failed to protect men and boys. It also highlighted the difficulties of addressing the abuse of men in the church.

Men infiltrate female sports and spaces

Male athletes who identify as female gained increasing access and visibility in competitions previously reserved for women. Laurel Hubbard, a 43-year-old man who identifies as a woman, became the first openly transgender person to compete in the Olympic Games in the women’s weightlifting category. Hubbard’s spotlight at the Tokyo Games was short-lived; the athlete did not walk away with any medals. In November, the International Olympic Committee revised its transgender policy to make it easier for male athletes to compete in female categories despite their known physical advantages.

President Joe Biden kicked off his time in office with an executive order indicating men would be granted spots on women’s and girls’ sports teams. That order, along with increasing instances of unfair advantage in states such as Connecticut and Idaho, prompted numerous conservative states to introduce legislation mandating fairness in women’s sports. Ten U.S. states passed laws. Female athletes fighting for fairness in women’s sports met setbacks in legal challenges against transgender participation but promised to keep fighting.

Meanwhile, pro-family groups sought to mobilize parents and find ways to halt radical transgender ideology from infiltrating public schools. School districts met increasing resistance from angry parents amid attempts to pass policies granting male students who identify as females access to girls’ restrooms and locker rooms.

Women’s rights activists are calling attention to another threat to female spaces: In California and elsewhere, male transgender prisoners are being held in women’s prisons. One advocate for female inmates said the voices of incarcerated women—and the imminent danger they face—have been lost in the debate over gender identity and prisons.

A transitioning debate

Children are increasingly exposed to LGBT ideology that distorts the truth about their bodies and biological sex. Transgender medical interventions such as puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and invasive surgeries are becoming more accessible and even encouraged by pro-LGBT facilities such as Planned Parenthood and by medical professionals who purport an “affirmation-only” approach to young people struggling with gender dysphoria.

Major medical institutions such as Sweden’s biggest gender identity center, Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, noted the spike in young teenage girls seeking transgender medical interventions. Karolinska and other international medical establishments are questioning the “affirmation-only” approach and taking more caution in treating children suffering from gender dysphoria with hormones and surgeries. But the U.S. medical establishment appears to pay little heed. Some doctors, lawmakers, and parents are organizing and raising alarms about the stifled debate in the United States over evidence-based care for children with gender dysphoria and the harms that the growing transgender medical complex is inflicting on minors.

More babies, please?

Record-low birthrates coupled with COVID-19 stress on families prompted U.S. lawmakers and family policy experts this year to propose ways to encourage young people to have more children sooner. The nation’s fertility rate reached its lowest on record in 2020. Conservative lawmakers considered giving parents monthly child allowances and reforming the current welfare system loopholes that discourage marriage and children. Simultaneously, the Biden administration proposed child tax credits, government-subsidized child care, universal preschool, and national paid family leave. But one study found that work-based solutions to the fertility crisis are counterproductive. As men and women become increasingly tied up in their value as workers, they have fewer babies or none at all. The coronavirus pandemic afforded more working parents the flexibility to work from home in 2021. Many of them liked it—but not enough to prompt a COVID-19 baby boom.


Mary Jackson

Mary is a book reviewer and reporter for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Greenville University graduate who previously worked for the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal. Mary resides with her family in the San Francisco Bay area.

@mbjackson77

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