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.