Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents' Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens

Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents' Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens

by Tom Gilson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780825443961
Publisher: Kregel Publications
Publication date: 02/27/2016
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,107,437
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Tom Gilson is the Vice President for Strategic Services for the Ratio Christi Student Apologetics Alliance. He is the monthly Worldview and You columnist at BreakPoint, and has written articles for Discipleship Journal, Touchstone Magazine, and Salvo. He blogs at Thinking Christian and The Point. He enjoys canoeing, sailing, and long walks in the woods. He lives with wife Sara and their two college-aged children in Lebanon, Ohio.

Read an Excerpt

Critical Conversations

A Christian Parents' Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens

By Tom Gilson

Kregel Publications

Copyright © 2016 Tom Gilson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8254-4396-1



Bigot. Hater. Intolerant. Christian.

Christians were rarely labeled that way when I was growing up. We sure are today. The gay marriage movement has branded Christianity with that image, they've branded you and me with it, and, worst of all, they've stuck those labels on our Christian sons and daughters. To be a committed, believing Christian in today's world, especially the world our youth live in, is to be considered an intolerant bigot.

On television, in the classrooms, in political debates, in music and film, and all over the Internet, the message is relentlessly repeated: If you're a Christian, you're a hater. Christian young people have too few places of refuge from that cutting criticism. They can't help wondering, If that's what it means to be a Christian, do I want it?

Many teens answer that question with a no. Although survey results differ in their details, all researchers agree that at least half of all youth brought up in Christian homes will walk away from the faith when they leave home for college or career. Some studies indicate that as many as three-quarters of Christian youth abandon the faith. These are our children. They're teens who come out of strong evangelical homes and churches. They could be your children.

My wife and I have a twenty-four-year-old son and a twenty-year-old daughter. They used to ask us for help with their homework. They asked us about math or geography or science — questions they were expecting to face on tests at school. There was another test they faced regularly, though it never showed up in a class syllabus or agenda. Every student in public school faces this test at least weekly, and every student who listens to music, watches TV or films, or surfs the Internet does, too. This test has items like,

Why can't gays get married?

Who says gay sex is wrong?

I heard someone say the Bible doesn't really teach there's anything wrong with homosexuality.

What about the two men sharing the house down the street? They're great people. I don't see anything wrong with them — doesn't their relationship count, too?

And on it goes. If you haven't heard your teens asking questions like these, it isn't because they're not being tested on them. On Facebook and on film, on the school bus and in the lunchroom, these challenges are unavoidable.

The Turning of the Tide

Can you believe how quickly the world has changed? Today's teens face moral pressures that never entered our minds, and they're navigating relationship complications that never invaded our nightmares. When our daughter, Lisa, was in ninth grade, she told us about having a female friend she liked a lot — and then she quickly interjected, "But not like that, you know." I had great same-sex friends in high school, but I never had to say to my parents, "But not like that." Even that disclaimer has become morally suspect. On television it would almost certainly be followed by the iconic Seinfeld line, "Not that there's anything wrong with it."

Same-sex couples kissed on the cover of Time on April 8, 2013; transgenderism made the June 9, 2014, cover; and in June 2015 the US Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage should be considered right, proper, and normal. Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner's photo appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair shortly after that, and ESPN honored him/her like a hero for it.2 We've descended to the level where immorality is no longer a matter just of practice but of hearty approval (Rom. 1:32). Our children face a tough choice: they can deny Scripture and, arguably, common sense, to chime in with culture and voice their own approval for deep wrongs; or they can take a positive, biblically moral stance, no matter what their friends, teachers, and the media say.

Signed Up for the Job

I'll bet you don't remember signing up for this when you became a parent. You've got the job anyway. Maybe you're banking on your church covering these hard topics for you and your family (and honestly I hope you would be right about that), but most churches aren't taking up the challenge, and even fewer are doing a good job of it. (Your pastor or youth leader might find this book helpful, by the way.)

Even if your church is one of the few that's teaching youth about this, you're still the parent. No one else can match your impact on your child's long-term spiritual health. The Bible makes your responsibility quite clear. Deuteronomy 6:1–7 says,

Now this is the commandment — the statutes and the rules — that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son's son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

There's no guaranteed formula for keeping children spiritually strong, wise, and faithful, but the Bible and experience both indicate that parents' involvement is the number one factor in children's lifelong faith and spiritual development. The National Study on Youth and Religion, a long-term research program led by Christian Smith, has been following several thousand American young people from their teen years into early adulthood, exploring almost every facet of their spiritual, social, and academic lives. His team's findings on young adults are strikingly consistent. Of course every child is different, and group trends don't tell individual stories. Still it's clear that the path we want our children to follow — from church-attending youth to spiritually alive young adult — almost always involves parents with strong faith freely expressed in the family setting. Conversely, the path from highly religious teens to least religious adults virtually always includes spiritually uninvolved parents.

This isn't just about taking your kids to church with you and praying before meals. It's about interaction. The Fuller Youth Institute conducted research on what makes faith stick. (It's reported in a family-friendly way in Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids by Dr. Kara E. Powell and Dr. Chap Clark.) The authors tell us "the core of Sticky Faith is developing a clear and honest understanding of both the gospel and biblical faith" in students. That makes sense; but where will that understanding come from? Very few gain it from their parents. Powell and Clark cite research showing that only "12 percent of [churched] youth have a regular dialogue with their mom on faith or life issues. ... It's far lower for dads. One out of twenty kids, or 5 percent, has regular faith or life conversations with their dad. ... When it comes to matters of faith, mum's the word at home."

Powell and Clark found that when parents have honest and transparent conversations with their children about faith, kids typically come out stronger in the long run. That's a clear teaching of the Bible, and it's well supported by experience. Why then do so few parents take the initiative?

Obstacles Parents Face

I suspect there are three main reasons parents don't have more faith conversations with their children, much less deep discussions on tough topics like homosexuality. I'll start with the easy one first.

1. We don't have time to talk. I can guess what you're thinking right now: If that's the easy reason, what are the hard ones? We never have time to talk! Here's the thing, though: faith conversations don't need to be long sit-down sessions — indeed, most of the time they shouldn't be.

In our family we've done it both poorly and well. What's worked best has been a mix of methods: quick grab-and-go conversations while the kids are getting ready in the morning or while we're driving them to school, along with longer discussions once in a while over meals. Simply making faith conversations a part of the routine can go a long way. Powell and Clark offer pages of great suggestions along these lines in Sticky Faith.

2. We're not sure what to say. Faith questions can be tough, and, these days, the ones we're working on in this book are probably the hardest of all. I'm confident you'll find Critical Conversations to be helpful in preparing you for these conversations. It might even prepare you (see chapter 7) for a big win with your teen when you least expect it: when you don't have an answer to what they're asking.

3. We're stuck on hold. Face it: some conversations are hard to start. We're unsure of ourselves. We have history with our teens, too. In our mind's eye we can see them rolling their eyes at us even before we get started. We see the discussion turning into a lecture (from our teen's point of view, at any rate) and then into a fight.

That's certainly one way it could go. Still, most children would jump at the chance to have their parents take their difficult questions seriously. If our teens don't seem interested, it might be that they don't sense we're treating them or the questions seriously.

I've found that if I'll watch a show with my kids, I can talk with them about its spiritual implications. Or if I take one of them out for breakfast or lunch, they'll tell me (eventually) what's on their minds. As we're heading out they might wonder out loud, "Is this going to be one of those talks?" And of course, if it's "one of those talks" every time we go out, that's counterproductive. We need to do fun things together without an agenda, too. But they do love it when they find out their dad cares for them enough to have a serious conversation with them about serious topics.

How To Use This Book

This book is meant to help you as a parent, and it does so in a way that's different from most others you've read. It's divided into two distinct sections. Parts 1 and 2, chapters 2 through 8, are organized the way most books usually are, with chapter-length discussions on major topics. Part 3 is where Critical Conversations is unique. It may be unlike anything you've seen in any other parenting book. It's filled with brief, intensely practical Wow-I-could-use-this-right-now! sorts of information. (I'll say more about part 3 shortly.)

Here's an overview of the whole book. First, since it's important to get a broad perspective on these topics (otherwise the specific details make little sense), part 1, chapters 2 through 4, sets forth that big-picture view of the LGBT controversy.

This introduction is chapter 1. Chapter 2 describes the lay of the land, revealing how gay-rights activists took advantage of weaknesses in Western culture's moral structure to manipulate us into the strange conflict we are now in, leading to their decisive win on gay marriage.

In chapters 3 and 4, I examine the biblical case for natural marriage (marriage between a man and a woman) and the standards of sexual morality that have ruled Western culture for centuries — in theory, that is, if not always in practice. I include support from other sources along with the Bible. After all, while Scripture is persuasive to those of us who know that it's the true Word of God, others often regard it as little better than "a bronze-age book of fables." For that reason these chapters include information to explain why God's commands are good — in terms that can help you explain it to nonbelievers as well as believers.

In part 2, chapters 5 through 8, I reflect on parents' and teens' relationships from multiple angles. Chapter 5 speaks of keeping God our number one life priority in all truth, wisdom, humility, and conviction. Chapter 6 deals with our relationships with our teens, with helpful principles for keeping conversations healthy and productive, even on a hot topic like this one. Chapter 7 offers guidance you can give your teens regarding the way they relate with their LGBT or pro-LGBT friends and classmates. Chapter 8 covers territory having to do with their teachers and school administrators — not only how your teens can best deal with them, but also how you can best relate with those authority figures in your child's life.

Finally, part 3 — a section unlike any you've probably seen before — examines how Christians can defend our beliefs confidently and winsomely in the face of twenty-seven anti-Christian gay-rights slogans, stingers, and other common challenges. These are short, pithy kinds of messages of the sort that our teens encounter everywhere: on bumper stickers, billboards, buttons, placards, posters, and of course Twitter, Facebook, and other media. These challenges can seem powerful: they elicit strong emotional responses, they call forth our sense of justice, and they speak to our core values of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Or at least on the surface they do; what's behind the message isn't always what it first appears to be.

Each topic in part 3 (they're too short to be called chapters) pre sents a moment's worth of informed thought, focused on one particular message, to give you a tool rack of ready questions and answers to discuss together with your teens.

These topics are brief and completely modular. You can read through them in sequence, you can skip around from topic to topic, or you can simply keep them handy as reference material for when a particular issue comes up. Before you dive into any of them, though, please be sure to read the introduction to part 3 beginning on page 96. It has crucial information on how to use that part of the book, especially "Tips for Talking with Your Teen."


How Did We Get Here?

What hit us?

Have you wondered about that? I know I have. Others have, too. Matthew J. Franck, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, tells about hearing a pair of professors, both of them at least seventy years old, holding forth on the supposedly obvious justice of same-sex marriage. Something struck him as "remarkable," he says.

Both gentlemen expressed the opinion that the cause of same-sex marriage was obviously just, that opponents of the cause were obviously reactionary and benighted, and that this was plainly the new civil rights struggle of our time.

Yet it struck me that if denying same-sex couples the "right to marry" was such an obvious and gross injustice as to merit such energetic claims today, why had it never occurred to either of these august scholars decades ago, at the beginning or the middle of their careers? In the books of proud advocacy each had published, say, twenty or thirty years ago, there was not the slightest hint that American public life was disfigured by this particular injustice.

Redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships simply didn't occur to them, because it didn't occur to anyone. Yet that day they espoused that view with the fervor of men who had always thought so, and for whom it was unthinkable to believe otherwise.

The article is titled "Same-Sex Marriage and Social Change: Exceeding the Speed of Thought." It's an apt title. What happened to make same-sex relationships so "obviously right" that the Supreme Court would legitimize them as marriage? How did Christians become "haters"? And how did that happen so fast?

The story isn't pleasant, but it's instructive. Gay-rights leaders haven't played nice in their campaign for social upheaval.

Setting the Stage

It goes back to the sexual revolution of the 1960s — a huge social upheaval that had virtually nothing at first to do with homosexuality, yet laid the foundation for all that's happened since. Today's gay-rights activism would have been literally unthinkable apart from the '60s. Popular media had long fueled the idea that romance and sexual expression were at the pinnacle of all human good, but it was in the '60s that young people really took that distorted message to heart. It was also the decade when sex became a matter of recreation, disconnected (mostly through contraception) from childbearing, and thus also from marriage.

Once there was a time — it's almost hard to remember now — when sex and childbearing were tightly linked to one another. Couples sharing intimacy couldn't ignore the possibility of children, so sex was always about "the two of us, and the kids we can expect to come along after sharing this kind of intimacy." The pill changed that dramatically. Children could be eliminated from the equation, so for many people sex became a matter of "just you and me, babe."


Excerpted from Critical Conversations by Tom Gilson. Copyright © 2016 Tom Gilson. Excerpted by permission of Kregel Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Sean McDowell 11

Preface 13

1 Introduction 17

Part 1 Essential Background

2 How Did We Get Here? 27

3 What Marriage Is 34

4 Marriage and Morality in the Bible 44

Part 2 Navigating the Rocky Relationships

5 Relating in Truth, Love, and Strength 55

6 Talking with Your Teen About Tough Questions: Basic Principles 66

7 Relating to Friends 77

8 Relating to Teachers, Administrators, and Professors 85

Part 3 Practical Help in Handling the Challenges

Group A Regarding Intolerance and Hate

"You're a hater." 98

"You're homophobic." 101

"Why are you so intolerant?" 105

"How can you think your morality is better than others', or that you're better than other people?" 108

"Anti-this, anti-that: you're just anti-gay!" 111

"Why won't you just let us be?" 115

"If you're homophobic, maybe you're a closet gay or lesbian yourself." 117

"Hate is not a family value." 119

"You're harming LGBT people with your intolerance." 120

Group B Regarding Social Policy

"You're on the wrong side of history" 126

"Some day, Christians will be embarrassed over opposing gay rights, just like you're embarrassed over Christians who opposed civil rights." 130

"You're a bigot." 136

"You're against equality." 141

"Christians just want to discriminate against gays." 144

"We didn't choose to be gay." 148

"We can't help who we love, so why not let us love them?" 150

"Same-sex marriage takes nothing away from traditional marriage." 153

"Gay and lesbian couples can be just as good parents as straight couples." 157

"What's done in the privacy of someone else's bedroom is none of your business." 160

"Stop imposing your religious beliefs on us!" 161

Group C Regarding God and the Bible

"Jesus never spoke out against homosexuality." 164

"If God is love, why would he be opposed to committed, loving relationships?" 167

"God made me this way, so how could it be wrong?" 170

"Marriage in the Bible wasn't always one man with one woman." 172

"Why do you say no to homosexuality, and yet eat shellfish and we, mixed fabrics?" 174

"The New Testament isn't talking about committed, monogamous same-sex marriage." 177

"You're just like the southerners who used the Bible to defend slavery." 183

Afterword 187

A Vision for Marriage in Our Culture: Ten Essentials 189

Resource Guide 193

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