How do you prepare a teen to think critically about homosexuality? To enter confidently and non-judgmentally into discussions on gay rights or the gay lifestyle?
For Christians, it is tempting to avoid the issue. It’s too controversial, in a world in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender orientations are now mainstream, accepted by the general public. And most of us, and the teens with whom we work, know and love someone who embraces this lifestyle, and we don’t want to hurt them by speaking negatively or judgmentally. So it’s easier, and safer, to remain silent.
But we can’t just avoid the issue. It is too important — for those young people who identify as homosexual; for those who may be silently struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction; for those who don’t share such feelings but who want to know how to think about those who do, who are often asking, “If that’s who they are, if that’s the way God made them, then — isn’t it okay?” What is the truth? What is right?
How well prepared are you to discuss the issue? When the subject comes up because of a news item in the media for example — when a popular teen actress is praised for her courage in “coming out” as a lesbian, or a young sportsman as gay. Or when a teen asks why two people of the same sex shouldn’t have the right to marry if they love each other. Or shares with you his or her struggle. Do you have answers? Are you “a safe place” for them to work through their confusion, to ask their questions?
Adolescence can be a confusing time. The body is changing, in ways that can sometimes cause embarrassment and awkwardness. The emotions can be in turmoil, causing pain to oneself and problems in relationships. A friend told me of her son coming to her on a particularly difficult day and saying, “What’s wrong with me? I feel as if I don’t know myself any more!” If this confusion includes wondering about one’s sexual orientation, it can be particularly acute. There is emotional pain in keeping these feelings secret, but also fear and indecision as to whether or not to talk about them. Straight or gay, we have all known such moments, weeks, years of struggling with an issue — whatever it may be — not knowing what to do. The pain is real, and deep.
Among those young people you know and work with there will be a wide variety of attitudes toward same-sex attraction.
Some teens who are struggling with an attraction for the same sex may be very disturbed by these feelings. They don’t like them, and they don’t want them. They say, “That’s just not who I am.” They want help in dealing with these feelings. Pro-homosexual activists and therapists do not speak for all who have a homosexual orientation.
Some teens may be teased and “labeled” as gay because of their appearance or mannerisms or voice and begin to wonder if maybe . . . One young man, with no one to talk to about his feelings, concluded, “If they think I’m gay, then I guess I must be.” So he joined other young men involved in the gay lifestyle — reluctantly, but he needed friends.
Some may be sure they are gay, that they were born that way. They have always had a same-sex attraction. For them, same-sex relationships can’t be immoral, because they see their orientation as part of their genetic makeup. For them, homosexuality must be as legitimate a lifestyle as heterosexuality.
Others may not be sure. In the period of development in which their closest companions are of the same sex, when they have not yet become interested in the opposite sex, they may wonder if they might be “gay.”
For still others there is no question of their own sexual orientation. But the issue may still be of great concern to them, either from a justice standpoint — “If that’s the way God made them, then they should have the right to sexual partners just like everyone else” — or just because they want to understand more clearly.
Even among those who are openly homosexual, there are many differences. Each is an individual, with his or her own set of beliefs, behaviors, and concerns.
What should your message be?
First, don’t assume anything. Be a listener. What does this young person believe? Why? What are their specific questions or struggles?
There is, however, certain information that all young people need to know, regardless of where they stand: answers to questions they are already asking or thinking, corrections to misinformation they have already received. They need to know what the Bible says about sexual orientation, and what social science research tells us.
What does the Bible say?
In the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we read that God created human beings in his own image, male and female. Male and female together reflected God, and together they were to have children and rule the earth (1:27-28). Woman was created, out of the side of the man, because it was “not good” for the man to be alone. God said that she was “a suitable helper” for the man (2:18, 21-22) — different from him, yet complementary to him. It is because Eve was created out of Adam that down through the ages man and woman should be reunited with their “sexual other” in marriage (2:23-24). Sexual intercourse is the “sign” of the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. That was God’s intention.
There are seven passages in the Bible that deal specifically with sexual relationships between members of the same sex. Four of them are in the Old Testament (the account of God’s relationship with his chosen people, Israel): two laws (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) and two accounts of men who wanted to have sex with other men (Genesis 19:4-5 and Judges 19:22). Three of the passages are in the New Testament (which tells about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the beginning of the Christian church). Two of these passages use very rare words that are believed to refer to homosexual behavior (1 Corinthians 9:10 and 1 Timothy 1:10).
The clearest and most important passage is in the New Testament, in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans in which he says that because people did not glorify God or give thanks to him, God “gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another,” men with other men, and women with other women (Romans 1:21-27).
We need to note several important points about these specific references to homosexuality in the Bible:
1. All of them refer to homosexual behavior, not to same-sex attraction.
2. All of them call homosexual behavior sin.
3. Homosexual behavior is sin because it is rebellion against God, satisfying one’s own desire in a way that denies God’s expressed intention for sexual intercourse — consummating a marriage relationship between one man and one woman.
4. Homosexual behavior happens because we rebel against God, choosing to do things our way instead of his, and he says: Okay. Have it your own way.
5. Homosexuality is not an unforgivable, super sin. This passage in Romans condemns, in the same breath as homosexual behavior: greed, envy, murder, deceit, disobedience to parents, and a host of other sins (vv. 28-31). And in his first letter to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul says that, along with practicing homosexuals, the greedy, thieves, adulterers “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (6:9-10).
But what if heterosexuality isn’t “natural” for someone, but homosexuality is. What then? We need to recognize the sin in the world, and in our nature. We all have a natural tendency to sin. Some have to fight one temptation, some another — pride, greed, lust, same-sex attraction.
Every reference to homosexuality in the Bible calls homosexual behavior sin. It is sin because at creation God made man and woman in his image (Genesis 1:27) and gave them to each other (Genesis 2:18-23). We complement each other, and together — male and female — we image God to the world. In marriage the two different but complementary beings again become one, through commitment and sexual intercourse — rejoined with their “sexual other” (Genesis 2:24).
We need to search out all the information we can find on why some have same-sex attraction, what they can and should do about it, who can help. But the picture we need to keep in mind is the one given to us throughout the Bible of God’s intention for intimate relationships.
To be continued