In my last piece, I discussed my own experience as an early teenager finding myself attracted to the same sex. Now, I would like to offer a few reflections on what this means for today’s kids.
We must always start by thinking about how to actually love sexual minority kids. Loving people does not merely reduce to preaching about sexual ethics. Instead, we need to take into account the entirety of Christian teaching. We should start by examining our own hearts. As I wrote about previously, even though I’m not straight, I’ve had to deal with self-righteousness and other negative attitudes towards sexual minorities. I’m certainly not the only Christian to have heart issues responding to sexual minorities, and we need to keep our own motivations at the forefront. Even when sexual sin (which should not be confused with mere orientation) is involved, we must make sure that doctrine matters to us for the right reasons and that we are not only focusing on the sins of others.
Having framed the discussion this way, I will now turn to discussing some specific reflections from my own experience.
As I mentioned in the first part, I grew up without hearing much acknowledgment that there are Christian kids who find themselves attracted to the same sex through no fault of their own. Many of the difficulties I faced ultimately stemmed from this lack of acknowledgment. It would have been really helpful for me to have heard that this was a possibility even though I wasn’t rebellious, had healthy relationships with both my parents, and had never been abused. It would have been nice to know that finding myself attracted to other guys didn’t mean that I was uniquely broken, but that it was merely one thing that can happen living in a broken world.
It would have been particularly helpful to know that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through. Knowing of specific people with names and faces would have been immensely beneficial. I was like an awful lot of sexual minority people I’ve talked to, in that we each went through a significant part of our teenage years thinking we were one of the only people dealing with this. This is one of the primary reasons I’ve chosen to speak as openly about my sexuality as I have. I’m just doing what I wish someone else would have previously done, so that I can make things a little easier for those that come after me.
In my later teenage years, I did discover the ex-gay movement, which did involve some people speaking up about their stories. There are several reasons, though, that this wasn’t as effective as it could have been. For one, many of their stories were told anonymously or with first names only, reinforcing the idea that not being straight was something to be ashamed of. Even when they were told under real names, many of the stories were from people who had basically been sex addicts. As a virgin, I couldn’t really relate to their stories. I was dealing with the fact that I simply found other guys attractive in a way that included a sexual component, not that I was actually having sex with anyone. The biggest issue, though, was that ex-gay testimonies often lacked clarity and thus created unrealistic expectations for me. People would speak of how they were “formerly gay” or some such thing, and I got the idea that I could stop being sexually attracted to other guys. It was only later that I came to learn that what people usually meant was either that they had stopped being sexually active, or that they had developed an attraction to one or more people of the opposite sex, often leading to marriage. The testimonies were thus not particularly relevant to me, because in addition to the fact that I was not having sex, I was already attracted to women as well.
It would have been helpful to have others who could helpfully speak into my own struggles with sexual purity. When I found myself tempted to lust after women, I at least knew that I was not alone and that there wasn’t anything shameful about the attraction in and of itself. I had role models, and there was helpful discussion about how to deal with temptation. However, aside from the false promises of orientation change that I just brought up, I never encountered much in the way of helpful responses to my feelings for other guys. Now, I tend to see the attraction in and of itself as something that is not shameful and can even be a positive thing if directed toward positive ends like friendship. I see struggles with lust towards men as fundamentally similar to struggles with lust towards women, and I try to deal with them the same way. It took longer than it should have for me to figure this out, though, due to the lack of helpful discussion from others.
The key for any of this to have taken root, though, would have been for me to have actually felt safe talking about what I was going through. As I mentioned previously, I spent most of my teenage years dealing with intense fear of anyone finding out. It would have been immensely helpful to know that I could talk about what I was going through without being shunned or hated. The fact of the matter, though, is that in a polarized world where a lot of Christians say hurtful things about homosexuality, it’s hard to know how people will react or who will be safe to talk to. As I’ve discussed previously, I found it helpful when people would specifically address homosexuality in ways that indicated they cared about people like me. That was often how I overcame my fears, at least early on. In order to reach today’s teens, I think we have to take the same approach.
The least helpful thing for me was facing culture war attitudes towards homosexuality. Hearing gay people talked about primarily as enemies was fundamentally alienating, and it made it difficult to admit even to myself what I was going through. In private correspondence, Ron Belgau has helpfully proposed the question: “Would what I’m saying about sexuality have helped me if it were said about my sexual struggles when I was 14?” That question should be at the forefront of our minds as we think about how to talk about homosexuality, since there will be sexuality minority kids who hear what we have to say.
This also relates to one crucial difference for today’s kids, compared to when I was a teenager. The theological view affirming consummated gay relationships is much more mainstream than it was back then. Now kids are hearing a message that they resonate with, one that also teaches that most of Christian tradition has been wrong about sexual ethics. Furthermore, it is often the same people who are promoting the traditional teaching who say the most hurtful things about sexual minorities. It’s clear to sexual minority kids, on the other hand, that people promoting the affirming view actually care about them. I don’t think that view holds up theologically, but that simply means we have all the more need to provide a compelling alternative that addresses people where they’re at. We must actually show genuine concern for them, and furthermore we must address the many difficulties they face. For example, in addition to the kind of concerns I mentioned above, those who are not attracted to the opposite sex often face additional questions. Lifelong celibacy is often in view, and there is a very real fear of loneliness. What kind of hope are we providing? I am glad to be part of Spiritual Friendship as we work together to try to address some of these issues, and to try to provide a compelling alternative to the available narratives.
Jeremy Erickson is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He previously studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Taylor University in Upland, IN.
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I think this should be required reading for every pastor in every denomination.
I agree! Thank you, Jeremy, for sharing this.
Can I just say I really appreciate your generous inclusion of inline links.
Jeremy you hit all the key points and kept it relevant to what is going on in our society today.
I agree that showing we care about and affirm sexual minority kids is really important. I think one of the most important things we can do is for more of us to be honest and open about our own life experience as sexual minority Christians and show that sexuality is something that can be talked about. The challenge I faced as a teenager was that same-sex attraction was never discussed in my more liberal youth group because it was “people’s private business”, and in my evangelical church at uni it was talked about in terms of Biblical morality and in a very hypothetical way. At the same time small groups it was always assumed that everyone was heterosexual (problems guys face when going into bars with girls who are wearing short skirts etc.) I wasn’t brave enough to bring up the subject of my homosexual attractions so the topic wasn’t discussed. It felt therefore like I was the “only one” – it was not until two years ago at Bible college that I met a single Christian face to face who was openly gay, and even though he is more liberal than me and is now in a civil partnership it took him two years to “come out” to the community, and that was after a whole year of hypothetical discussions about homosexuality in lectures. The other thing I found as a teenager and young adult was the pressure to constantly “dodge” questions about girlfriends, marriage, and who I thought looked “hot” on the TV. It made me feel constantly deceptive, and afraid of being found out, so I became shy and withdrawn. I hope when I tell my church about my sexuality later in July this year it will at least help younger people (an adults) to know that it is okay to talk to people you trust about your sexuality and you will be cared for no matter what.
As the parent of a young woman who is homosexual, this was a very enlightening article. Particularly as I was a very vocal, conservative, and even strident Catholic mother. I felt that there was a gay agenda and often battled it at school (my kids went to Catholic schools and at times the religious ed material seemed sexually suggestive for youngsters: parent books on how to discuss fellatio with third graders, for instance as well as an introduction to hiv for third graders, information, in my view, much to adult and so I contested it).
And isn’t it ironic that I then would have a daughter who turned out gay. Because of course, I was against gay marriage (and still am). And against what I perceived as a gay agenda in the culture.
But reading all of the different articles I have read here has given me great insight. Along with reading Melinda Selmys (sp?).
I am afraid that the person I should have been for my daughter, a mother who was approachable and present, was not the person I was. When I discovered she was in a relationship, I went wild. I mishandled every aspect of our relationship and we now have very little of a relationship, which is no surprise.
Nevertheless, I am working on re-opening the lines of communication, and this site has been a balm for me; true medicine to read the thoughtful comments, as well as the honest talk about loneliness and rejection. It pains me to read this and to know how unavailable I was to my own beautiful and beloved daughter.
She is living with a woman now. Of course, I do not as a Catholic approve of this. Nevertheless, I am committed to looking not at what I don’t agree with but at the daughter I love and to working on restoring our bond. I know I have a lot of work to do. I come here, and through the tears, learn and discover. Thank you so very much for your honesty. God bless you. Keep me in your prayers. I will keep you in mine.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. I will pray that you and your daughter will be able to restore your relationship. I also appreciate your prayers.
Jeremy, you are a gifted communicator. I have learned from and enjoyed all of your posts on SF and this two-part series was no exception. I can relate to your experiences and I couldn’t agree more with your conclusions/suggestions. Thank you for your sharing and openness.
“The key for any of this to have taken root, though, would have been for me to have actually felt safe talking about what I was going through.”
Safe is a word that we as Christians would do well to consider considering how important it is to those in the LGBT community.
This is a great post. Thank you for writing!
“Now, I tend to see the attraction in and of itself as something that is not shameful and can even be a positive thing if directed toward positive ends like friendship.”
Tell me more of what you mean by directing your attraction towards friendship. I’m a student at a Christian university in the Deep South who is trying to figure out how to do that or if it’s even possible.
Here’s what I mean by that. It used to be that when I saw attractive guys, I would see that simply in terms of temptation to be avoided. So if I found myself particularly attracted to a man, I thought it dangerous to try to get close, at least until the intensity of the feelings wore off. That frustrated my social development and drove a lot of shame.
All this fear of attractive men could get in the way of developing friendships, and like anyone else I need friendships. What I have instead found helpful, especially when I’m pretty sure the other guy is straight, is to allow the attraction to drive me towards spending more time with him and getting to know him better. I think it would be problematic if I determined who I befriended primarily on the basis of my attractions (which strikes me as a rather selfish approach), but I no longer see attraction as something that has to be a negative thing when friendships are involved. It may drive me to reach out more and to have deeper non-sexual forms of intimacy, which are positive things. Over time, I generally find that the intensity of feelings subsides, but if I’ve formed a significant friendship, that persists.
I think there are more risks involved if the other guy is gay or bi, and more robust accountability is probably warranted if it’s such a guy I see on a regular basis. But when he’s straight, there’s a natural barrier to inappropriate behavior, and it’s not sinful to spend time with someone. I may have to still deal with sinful thoughts at times, but I don’t have to deny myself friendship.
Does that make sense?
I know that for me, this is the one of those things that I’ve been trying to figure out for a while. It’s been difficult to reconcile the fact that there is a reason that I’m so attracted to that one guy, and it has much to do with how I enjoy his company in addition to physical attraction. At the same time, I’ve been afraid of pursuing any kind of deeper friendship because of the fear that it could be out of ulterior motives. (Given that it’s a Christian university in the Deep South, most people identify as straight, so I feel rather comfortable in the knowledge that there likely will be no overlap of attraction.)
But what you’re saying makes sense in that there’s nothing wrong with me wanting to spend time with people to whom I’m attracted. There’s a reason that I’m attracted to them.
So, what if Jesus was gay, bisexual, or even transsexual? Would you be offended? Love harms none and fulfills the law. True love means you first love God, fear and obey him, then love others so you don’t tempt anyone to sin in the flesh or lead them astray. When I first believed and accepted Jesus at a young age, no one told me he never got married.. I just KNEW! We weren’t there to see who that special disciple he loved was. One day when we will meet him face to face I will ask him, and I won’t be offended by whatever his sexuality was. In 1st Peter chapter 2, the disciple Peter ministers to the exiles and outcasts of Israel. The first people he ministers to, right before husbands and wives, are an odd and peculiar people, who were once not a people, but now are called the holy people of God, a royal priesthood, chosen and precious. They are called out of the darkness, to abstain from fleshly lusts that war with their souls, to set a Godly example among the gentiles..to be a light of the gentiles. Jesus was the stone the builders rejected, despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows… LGBT people are also despised and rejected of men, a people of many sorrows. Has anyone ministered to them that God is their spouse? (Isaiah 53 & 54 KJV). Do you know that anyone who judges these people, or any of God’s people for the way we’re created God will condemn? Did you know there are other sins besides fornication and adultery? Idolatry.. When you give your right hand to an image like the flag, bow down to, or take pride in images, that is Idolatry (See Daniel chapter 3).. What about teaching children to worship Idols like santa clause, the easter bunny, and the tooth fairy? That’s also Idolatry. When they grow up and realize these Idols are a lie, will they think God is a lie too? How about Tattoos? (Leviticus 19:28). Yep, that’s a Idolatry also. Then there’s the Sabbath, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. Does anyone observe God’s holy day anymore? How about the clean/unclean meat laws? Foods like pork, shellfish, and catfish are unclean meats. Did you know the prophet Isaiah reveals a grim ending for people who eat swines flesh and other abominable meats? (Isaiah 66:17 KJV).Isaiah is a prophet Jesus quotes from so we should make note of this. I find it strange how people like to hate LGBT people, yet they take pride in their Idols, eat unclean meats, go to war/kill in the name of their God, and forget the traditional Sabbath. The whole Christian law has become, “Do what thou wilt, but don’t be Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender”. Something is VERY VERY WRONG! We need to seek God and his Son for answers!
P.S.. I’m transgender but have chosen to abstain from my sexuality (I’m attracted to women)… and I think I’m also Jewish 🙂
One more thing..
Consider this, and tell me your thoughts please 🙂
Let’s say that your Lord was killed, so he made you the servant of his vineyard, over all his possessions (Acts 8:26-39/Mathew 19:11-12 KJV) although you were never consciously aware of your position, due to the fact the world hated you, despised and rejected you (Isaiah 53), cast you out, leaving you desolate and alone. You were taught that you and your kind have no place in God’s house, and even women are commanded to keep silent in church, for it is forbidden for women to teach men anything, only to learn from men at home if you’re to learn anything at all (1 Corinthians 14:34/1 Timothy 2:12). Also claims women are saved in childbearing (1 Timothy 2:13-15). Really?? Here’s a link that proves sexuality and gender identity are inborn. Even the ignorant can’t ignore this.. http://www.secondtype.info/ais.htm (Isaiah 54) There is hope. One day the owner of the vineyard will return and make full restitution. Isaiah 66:5 “Hear the word of the Lord, you that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.”
Parable of the vineyard and the wicked husbandmen:
Hear ye another parable. There was a man an householder, who planted a vineyard, and made a hedge round about it, and dug in it a press, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen; and went into a strange country. And when the time of the fruits drew nigh, he sent his servants to the husbandmen that they might receive the fruits thereof. And the husbandmen laying hands on his servants, beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.
Again he sent other servants more than the former; and they did to them in like manner. And last of all he sent to them his son, saying: They will reverence my son. But the husbandmen seeing the son, said among themselves: This is the heir: come, let us kill him, and we shall have his inheritance. And taking him, they cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him. When therefore the lord of the vineyard shall come, what will he do to those husbandmen?
They say to him: He will bring those evil men to an evil end; and will let out his vineyard to other husbandmen, that shall render him the fruit in due season. Jesus saith to them: Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? By the Lord this has been done; and it is wonderful in our eyes. Therefore I say to you, that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone, shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they knew that he spoke of them.
And seeking to lay hands on him, they feared the multitudes: because they held him as a prophet.
And he began to speak to them in parables: A certain man planted a vineyard and made a hedge about it, and dug a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it to husbandmen; and went into a far country. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant to receive of the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. Who having laid hands on him, beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent to them another servant; and him they wounded in the head, and used him reproachfully. And again he sent another, and him they killed: and many others, of whom some they beat, and others they killed.
Therefore having yet one son, most dear to him; he also sent him unto them last of all, saying: They will reverence my son. But the husbandmen said one to another: This is the heir; come let us kill him; and the inheritance shall be ours. And laying hold on him, they killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those husbandmen; and will give the vineyard to others. And have you not read this scripture, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is made the head of the corner: 1
By the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes. And they sought to lay hands on him, but they feared the people. For they knew that he spoke this parable to them. And leaving him, they went their way.
And he began to speak to the people this parable: A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it out to husbandmen: and he was abroad for a long time. And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard. Who, beating him, sent him away empty.
And again he sent another servant. But they beat him also, and treating him reproachfully, sent him away empty. And again he sent the third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out. Then the lord of the vineyard said: What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be, when they see him, they will reverence him. Whom when the husbandmen saw, they thought within themselves, saying: This is the heir, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. So casting him out of the vineyard, they killed him. What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do to them?
He will come, and will destroy these husbandmen, and will give the vineyard to others. Which they hearing, said to him: God forbid. But he looking on them, said: What is this then that is written, The stone, which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone, shall be bruised: and upon whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
As you consider these things, pray for understanding. Read also Isaiah chapters 48 and 49 KJV). How is it that the barren have more children than the married (Isaiah 54)? And isn’t it an odd coincidence how Jesus was cast out and so are we? Hmmm.. Please study and don’t rely on any person to lead you, only God. The gifts of the Spirit are amazing 😉
Here is another example that God creates sexuality and gender identity. See if you can identify the mistakes of everyone involved. Examples: ..The mistakes her Father made trying to raise a boy when her gender identity was female.. The rejection and abuse from her peers.. Her own struggle to forgive those who sinned against her. The tittle is “Mercy Not Sacrifice”, but what if the correct answer is Mercy AND Sacrifice? Isaiah 56 says a eunuchs reward in the heavenly kingdom for taking hold of the covenant is greater than sons and daughters, but why would the reward be greater unless more is required? Abstaining from marriage and sexual love is not a fun sacrifice for any human who’s desire is to love and be loved, but remember, Jesus sacrificed all.
Mathew 19:29 KJV “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”
Keep this saying in mind while reading this. I can identify with her feelings of anger, shame and humiliation. Sometimes it can be hard to forgive, but it’s easier to forgive if you realize that the person sinning against you is being judged. Now all I feel is sadness and pity for those who judge a persons inborn sexuality or gender identity, and I ask God to please forgive them.
Here’s the link..
Well, my own thoughts are this: Jesus was sent to fulfill the law and prophets, not destroy it. In the Old Covenant, certain people were forbidden to make sacrifice at the altar, the holy place (see Leviticus 21:16-24/ Deuteronomy 23:1-2 KJV). Since the law has been fulfilled through Christ, now everyone can make their spiritual sacrifices to God. For people like us (LGBT), finding love means everything. Giving up sexual love/marriage is not a barren sacrifice, it’s all we have to give. For a gay person to enter heterosexual marriage, that would cheat both partners out of a fulfilling marriage and quickly lead to divorce. So the only honorable thing to do is abstain. God really is our spouse like Isaiah 54 says. That’s how the barren have more children than the married. Our purpose in the New Covenant is to set a Godly example for the world. We are a Holy people called out of the darkness, a royal priesthood, a chosen generation. We are the desolate, and our desolators keep casting us out. In the Old Covenant we were not a people, we were called an abomination. Now we have one of the most painful spiritual sacrifices of all to make for God. I think that’s what Jesus meant when he talked about the abomination of desolation standing in the Holy Place. When the desolate/barren stand in the Holy Place to make their sacrifice to God. My sacrifice is abstaining from sexual love and marriage. Did you know that being Barren was a curse in the Old Covenant? Barren curses were a result of Israels disobedience to the ordinances (Deuteronomy 7/ Exodus 23:26 KJV). That’s where most curses come from in general. In order for Isaiah 54 to be fulfilled, we have to accept God’s marriage proposal and set a Godly example for the nations (1st Peter chapter 2/ Isaiah chapters 48 – 49/ Isaiah 56 KJV). We are part of redeemed Israel (the ones God hid) and the New Jerusalem. Our mission to show the world how Jesus fulfilled the law without destroying it. In that way we have many more children than married people. It’s spiritual labor..very painful at first, but our joy comes from sharing the spirit of Jesus Christ and his testimony. No wonder many are called but few are chosen! It’s too bad we weren’t shown this earlier, but I think it has something to do with Daniels 70 week/year prophecy? Since no one ministered to us our place in the New Covenant, and many people like to cast us out, then I guess it’s our job to minister Gods law to others. Like observing the Jewish Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset), and the clean/unclean food laws. Since church marriage laws exclude us, that means those same foods that were unclean in the Old Covenant are still unclean (pork/shellfish, ect.) and we’d best avoid them. I would love to hear your thoughts on this please!
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“Loving people does not merely reduce to preaching about sexual ethics.”
I might take this a step further and suggest that loving people, at least when we are talking about young sexual minorities, should involve listening and support first and then, if at all, preaching about sexual ethics. Decades of preaching about sexual ethics has done nothing but drive many sexual minorities from the Church. Answering questions is one thing but actively seeking to preach religious sexual ethics to them is another.
Yeah, I generally agree. Listening and being ready to support people dealing with questions is very important, and it’s not always wise to bring up sexual ethics. Whether and how to bring up sexual ethics depends heavily on what kind of relationship we have with the particular person.
In the sentence you were quoting, I was mainly trying to address people who do just see showing love as a matter of preaching about sexual ethics, to broaden their thinking. I wasn’t trying to develop a complete pastoral response.
I had a few more reflections in a couple past posts, at https://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/09/20/sin-and-sexual-minorities-part-6-how-doctrine-matters/ and https://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/09/23/sin-and-sexual-minorities-part-7-of-logs-and-specks/
I don’t have this all figured out, but you do raise important points that go beyond what I discussed in this post.
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