“We are confident in our theology concerning sexuality. We are equally confident that how we’ve traditionally approached sexuality, and ministering to teenagers in all stages of their sexual identity, has been unintentionally hurtful, confusing, and alienating to a whole bunch of teenagers.” –Kurt Johnston, Same-sex Attraction: One Youth Group’s Journey
Every since the release of my book Sex Matters, answering teenagers tough questions about sex, pornography, masturbation, and homosexuality, I can’t go but a few days without receiving an email from a youth worker or a parent asking me how to reach young people experiencing same-sex attraction.
As the issue has grown to be the deciding factor for many young people’s faith, the church is slowly realizing the need to act. Sadly, this has produced a polar response. On one extreme we’ve seen churches grow extremely vocal about “preserving traditional marriage.” Last month I sat in a pew across the country and heard a man giving announcements in the morning service of a large church. His voice grew louder and more emphatic as he called the church to pray for “the sanctity of marriage in this country.”
I wonder what someone experiencing same-sex attraction thought as they heard that announcement? Perhaps they reflected on the words to Hozier’s hit song, Take Me to Church:
“Every Sunday’s getting more bleak, a fresh poison each week.”
In a polar reaction to not be like this church, many churches have decided to simply conform to the world’s beliefs about the LGBT movement. Instead of changing their methodology, they are changing their theology—“Homosexuality is no longer a sin. Problem solved.” Over a quarter of American congregations now allow homosexuals in leadership positions.
And that brings us back to the question at hand: how should we respond to someone experiencing samesex attraction? After all…neither of these above extremes seem to look much like Jesus.
Actually Reaching Kids Experiencing Same Sex Attraction
1. Err on the side of grace. Even though we don’t know exactly what Jesus would say to the gay community, when Jesus walked this earth he embraced sinners. In fact, the worse the sinner, the more they wanted to be near Jesus. Tax collectors (Matthew 9, Luke 19), adulterers (John 4, John 8)…Jesus never shunned them or barked at them about their sins; instead he extended love to them. At the same time, he didn’t say, “I feel bad that you are struggling with this sin. I’ve got an idea…it’s no longer a sin!” He loved them and let them know that God’s love was big enough for them.
The church seemed to have forgotten this, focusing only on certain sins. They have treated homosexuals as the worst kind of sinner, judging them in a way no scripture could back. Like the Christian who lives next door to a guy living with his girlfriend, and a gay couple on the other side. This Christian greets the guy living with his girlfriend every day with a smile, but he stands with a picket sign protesting his gay neighbor.
Really? How come we aren’t picketing the gossipers in our church?
We need to learn God’s grace for the sinner. After all…we are all sinners.
What does this actually look like? I think Kurt Johnston nailed it in the article I quoted above. He describes it like this:
Simply put, we believe church should be the safest place for a teenager to talk about anything, especially something as important as same-sex attraction (thank you, Andy Stanley). So, our youth ministry is attempting to be the kind of place students feel safe sharing their stories, struggles, questions, and doubts. If a teenager who is experiencing same-sex attraction doesn’t feel welcomed in our youth group, we are misrepresenting the ways of Jesus.
Which leads in well to my next idea…
2. We need to create a climate of comfortable conversation with our kids about God’s plan for sex, intimacy and relationships. I love what Dr. Kevin Leman said when he read my new book, More Than Just the Talk. He said: “In a world of explicit lies, today’s kids need parents who aren’t afraid to tell them the explicit truth.”
Sadly, many of today’s Christian parents would freak out if their kids asked them tough questions about sex, or “came out” about some feelings of same-sex attraction. Yes, these situations aren’t easy, but the more we spend time getting to know Jesus and allowing him to renew our thoughts and attitudes (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23), the more we will respond like Him.
As these doorways of dialogue open, we need to be careful not to stick our foot in our mouth (something I’ve done countless times). Which leads to my next little piece of advice…
3. Be shrewd and innocent. In a world where anyone who disagrees with the LGBT lifestyle is declared a “hater,” we need to be shrewd in how we answer questions about same-sex attraction (just ask Phil Robertson). Open doors can close quickly when we say something flippant.
So think ahead about questions like, “Do you believe homosexuality is wrong?” or “Do you believe I’m a sinner?” If you are ministering to young people experiencing same-sex attraction you will receive these questions. Be prepared.
One possible answer: “I believe I am a sinner and I need Jesus. I haven’t followed you around, but I’m guessing you’re in the same boat. Let me introduce you to Jesus and I think you’ll find you need him too.”
Equip yourself with the knowledge to engage in “unemotional” conversations about truth. Read up about what the Bible actually says about homosexuality throughout the scriptures (not just one Leviticus passage), and be able to answer tough questions. Don’t be afraid to use resources like my new book, Sex Matters, or the Sticky Faith book, Can I Ask That?
4. Live it. What have you done to reach out to those experiencing same-sex attraction? Have you volunteered in an AIDS clinic? Have you befriended someone living the homosexual lifestyle?
Jesus spent so much time ministering to sinners, he was actually criticized for it (Matthew 9:11). Wouldn’t it be cool if that’s what we were criticized for?
It’s easy to preach our love for all sinners, but our actions speak much louder than our words.
JONATHAN MCKEE is the author of over a dozen books including the brand new More Than Just the Talk and Sex Matters. He has twenty years of youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide. Read more from Jonathan at JonathanMcKeeWrites.com.