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same-sex attraction
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Same-sex Attraction: One Youth Group’s Journey

The church I serve is a wonderful mix of conservative, evangelical theology and progressive, creative methodology. Because of this, the question of, “What do we believe and how do we minister in light of these beliefs?” can at times create a lively discussion and an interesting journey. Never has this been more evident than in the current climate concerning sexuality and the church. Our youth ministry has been on a journey to love teenagers well and to help our church do the same.

Here are a few highlights on the journey (we are still traveling) of addressing same-sex attraction:

We are Trying to Create a Safe Place

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.

We are Trying Not to Label

You’ll notice I used the phrase “same-sex attraction” twice in the above paragraph. That’s the language we are currently using. We do so for a few strategic reasons:

  • We think it’s wise to eliminate the “two camp” narrative. If the only options are gay or straight, many students who are experiencing same-sex attraction will assume they can’t be straight so they must be gay. While this certainly may be true, it might also be true that they are experiencing what lots of folks have experienced at some point in their life; an attraction to a member(s) of the same sex.
  • As youth workers we are aware that the teenage years are some of the most tumultuous years a human being will endure. Sometimes, in an effort to minimize the struggle of identity a teenager will “come out” and declare their sexuality. We think “same-sex attraction” language helps a student identify their current feelings without driving a stake in the ground that they might want to reconsider in a couple of years.
  • “Same-sex attraction” helps conservatives (like me and most of our congregation) from saying stupid stuff and hurting teenagers. There are still older people in most congregations who aren’t yet ready to minister to “the gays” but have little reservations about loving everybody…including teenagers who have same-sex attraction.

We are Trying to Embrace the Tension Between Our Theology and the Changing Times

Frankly, this has been the toughest part of our journey. 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. We are committed to being faithful to our understanding of scripture while doing a better job of loving teenagers the way Jesus expects. We are Trying to “Lead Up”

Our youth ministry is on the front lines of this one. Teenagers feel way more comfortable talking about sexuality and expressing their feelings. We are trying to minister to teenagers in a way that we believe the church at large can emulate. We are nudging the conversation forward at every opportunity in hopes that we can have upward influence and help create a safe place for everyone at our church.

Our journey has been a messy one. We are getting it right sometimes and getting it wrong sometimes. We have loved well and we have loved poorly. Students have felt accepted and valued and students have felt isolated and shunned.

Our journey has been a messy one, but I’m glad we’re on it.

16 thoughts on “Same-sex Attraction: One Youth Group’s Journey

  1. Avatar
    Randy brothers

    Well done, Kurt.

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    Tim and Tasha Levert

    Not surprisingly, Kurt says in clear, concise language what many of us are thinking. My guess is Rachel did most of the writing 😉

    • Avatar
      Scott Rubin

      ^Tim, since you’re a guy who has learned quite a few things from your own wife, I’m inclined to believe your comment about Rachel. 🙂 And — I agree that this is an excellent post. Thanks Kurt

  3. Avatar

    I’ve always been very confused about this battle between church and sexuality, and in fact it’s one of the many reasons I left the church. Just because the phrase “same sex attraction” makes you and your congregation feel more comfortable, doesn’t mean you aren’t further alienating the homosexual community. What it feels like in this thought piece when you are saying “same sex attraction” is a denial of the fact that teenagers can be homosexual, and a suggestion that they are just confused in their crazy teenage years, but can possibly be “helped” through church. Isn’t the message of Jesus to love your neighbor, and not pass judgment because you are not God? Because to me, that message doesn’t come across in this “improvement” of language.

    • Avatar

      Hi Charlotte, and thanks for the comment. I hope my post didn’t give the impression that I don’t believe teenagers can be homosexual; in fact I allude to that possibility in the post and certainly recognize that many teenagers are. But I think it’s also fair to recognize that not every teenager who feels an attraction to a member of the same sex is homosexual. This post was an attempt to share how we are navigating this terrain in a way that we really do hope is loving to teenagers…no matter where they are in their journey.

  4. Avatar

    How do you handle retreats and trips when you have SSA or openly gay students?

    • Avatar

      GREAT question Mike! Currently we treat every student equally….with the same “rules” and expectations. We have a “no public display of affection” and “no hooking up” policy for EVERY student at camp, so there’s really no need to emphasize sexual identity in the process.

  5. Avatar
    Nathan Ensz

    Excellent post Kurt! Well said. I especially appreciate you writing about using “same sex attractions” lingo (verses gay and straight). This is huge and I almost wonder why I haven’t thought before in these ways. Thank you for helping the light to go on in my head.

  6. Avatar
    Joel Wilsey

    Thank you for your honesty – thank you for giving room for all – for not diminishing , dismissing not disparaging another’s journey to wholeness. . . this allows each one to find a safe place to belong.

    • Avatar

      Thanks, Joel. Like I said in my post, we’ve done it well and we’ve done it poorly. We are just trying to be a youth ministry that creates a safe place….not perfect, but safe.

  7. Avatar
    Nick Campagna

    Kurt, thanks. How would you handle the transgender student who wants to be called by an opposite ‘male/female’ name and wants to use the opposite restroom during retreats, etc… And what would be your choice of language in addressing this identity? Thanks

    • Avatar

      I’m not sure, Nick! But I do know that our response would be more gentle, loving and grace-filled today than it would have been in the past.

  8. Avatar

    Beyond changing language what else are you doing to create a safe place for students?

    • Avatar

      Because language really, really matters, we certainly are trying to change some language habits. And when language becomes less hostile, rhetoric driven and compassionate the overall atmosphere begins to change….so we are counting on that. But we are also trying to listen more than we speak, to “preach” less and actually dialogue more. We are working to make sure we don’t have unwritten rules and spiritual measuring sticks for one group of students that we don’t have for others, etc. Baby steps.
      Our goal: Church should be the safest place for a teenager to talk about ANYTHING, especially something as important as same-sex attraction.”

  9. Avatar

    Do you allow same sex dating within members of your youth group?

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Same-sex Attraction: One Youth Group’...

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