"Nobody can prepare you for all the issues you’ll encounter when it comes to teenagers. Whether you work with teens or are trying to parent them, chances are that you’ve already run into a few things that you felt completely unprepared or ill equipped to deal with. You’re not alone! In this hard-hitting series of books, you’ll find answers to the difficult questions you face when challenges arise. Each book presents four sections to help you process the issue and get help for your teens. You’ll be given insight to understand the issue, you’ll explore how theology intersects with the issue, you’ll get practical tips and actions you can take to help teens and their families, and you’ll find additional resources to take the help further. In this book, Dr. Steven Gerali will help you: • Understand sexual orientations, including the culture of gay teenagers • Grasp the struggles of gay teens, including coming out, bullying and harassment, and at-risk behaviors and consequences • Explore how theology informs how we respond to teenagers who struggle with their sexuality • Delve into questions that demand theological consideration, like “Why doesn’t God take this away?” and “Will I go to hell because I’m gay?” • Get tips for creating a safe environment and loving community for all teens • Find ways to help parents who are struggling with a teen questioning his or her sexuality • Minister to a student diagnosed with HIV/AIDS With What Do I Do When Teenagers Question Their Sexuality?, you’ll have what you need to offer help and hope to hurting teens and their families, and you’ll find plenty of resources for help beyond what you’re able to give."
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What Do I Do When Teenagers Question Their Sexuality?
By Steven Gerali
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2010 Steven Gerali
All right reserved.
Chapter OneUnderstanding Sexual Orientation
The Wednesday night youth group following the high school winter retreat was supposed to be a recap of the great things God had done over the weekend. The retreat had been so encouraging to Pastor Scott-it felt like just the spiritual boost the youth group had needed. Scott was prepared to show a video recap of the fun they'd all had; he'd asked a number of students to share about their renewed commitments to Christ as well.
About 30 minutes before youth group was to begin, Scott was finalizing things in his office when Kyle, a high school senior and student ministry leader, knocked on his door. He looked concerned. "Can I talk to you about something?" Kyle asked from the doorway.
Pastor Scott invited Kyle to step inside his office, and Kyle sat in the chair across the desk.
"What's going on?" Scott asked.
"Well, I have to talk to you about the retreat-something happened that you need to know about. I haven't told anyone, but I'm really bothered by it," Kyle stated.
Scott shut his office door and encouraged Kyle to continue. Kyle spoke hesitantly: "On Saturday night of the retreat, I woke up around 3 a.m. to use the restroom. It was on the opposite side of the cabin from my bunk, so I tried to be really quiet as I walked over there. It seemed like all the other guys were sleeping, but when I got close to the restroom door, I noticed two guys were in one bunk. And as I got closer ... I saw they were kissing each other, and they weren't wearing much clothing."
Kyle went on to tell Scott that he recognized both of the guys. One was a junior whose family was very active in the church. The other was a friend the first guy had brought along on the retreat-a sophomore who'd just started attending youth group.
"They know I saw them," Kyle said. "I went into the restroom; and when I came back, they were in their own bunks pretending to be asleep."
The youth group meeting was about to start. Scott assured Kyle he'd handle the matter and asked him not to spread the story around. Then he told Kyle he'd get back to him after he figured out what needed to be done.
After Kyle left the office, Scott reached for the Bible on his desk and then paused for a moment. He took a deep breath and said, "Lord, what do I do now?"
1.1 SCOPE OF THIS ISSUE
Homosexuality is one of the foremost issues facing youth ministry today. Youth workers all over the globe have witnessed students openly announce to the rest of the youth group that they're gay. During a series on love, sex, and dating, one girl, who'd been coming to church for only six months, told her youth group she was a lesbian. She assumed her experience wasn't controversial as she tried to explain how Christian principles for dating also informed her relationships.
Another youth pastor felt trapped when his best friend, who was serving as a volunteer in the youth ministry, confessed he was struggling with homosexual thoughts and desires. Most churches' immediate response would be to remove this friend from the ministry. With that being the norm, the youth worker didn't know what to do. If he told his supervisor he'd betray the confessional confidentiality of his friend. He also didn't know how church leadership would respond.
So what do you do when you encounter homosexuality in your church? You may have read these scenarios and immediately thought of a simple solution. If you did, then you may not be aware of the complexity of this issue and the immediate and eternal repercussions of your responses. Alternative sexual lifestyles and the ideologies that accompany them are becoming part of the fabric of our society. Today, media introduce homosexual themes, relationships, and lifestyles as being commonplace. Students are challenged to engage in homosexual activity so they can present themselves as "well-rounded" sexual partners and also learn if they enjoy the experience. Many Universities have gender neutral housing which allows a male and female(one of whom may be gay) to live in the same room or on a gender neutral-floor that shares the same bathroom facilities.
It isn't difficult to find people with strong views about homosexuality. There seem to be two militant, polarized views that mark the ideological spectrum. On one side there are many homosexual men and women who believe they're pioneers, suffering the scars of an uphill climb to change the antiquated, hateful views of society. Any opposition to their views is labeled as homophobia, a violation of civil rights, or discriminating hate. These voices are passionate and emotional about their cause. Some of them believe they have biblical support for their views and that their opponents take Scripture out of context or read more into it than what's actually there.
On the other side of the spectrum, we find people who believe they're the last bastions in the fight for moral decency; therefore, they must actively oppose homosexuality on all fronts. They protest at rallies against legislation supporting same-sex marriages; many voice their disgust and disdain for homosexuality in any context with the hope of cleansing a corrupt society; and some of the more extreme members carry a perceived prophetic message of "God hates Fags" and "Fags go to hell." Any opposition to their view is labeled godless, heretical, or an act of religious persecution against someone taking a stand for biblical truth. These voices are just as passionate and emotional about their stance as the other group. And, not surprisingly, they also believe they have biblical support for their views and that their opponents take Scripture out of context or read more into it than what's actually there.
Both perspectives believe that convincing people to adopt their views will bring freedom and healing. Both groups view anyone with a middle-of-the-road perspective as compromising the truth. And for both sides homosexuality becomes an issue of "rightness." This polarization puts teens in an incredibly difficult place; especially teens who struggle with homosexual urges, have gay friends, or wrestle with an understanding of homosexuality.
The thought of a "middle" perspective on the issue of homosexuality may raise some red flags for you-especially if you see the issue as being black-and-white. You may wonder if I'm going to invite you into a state of neutrality without conviction. I'm not. But I am going to ask you to keep reading with an open heart and mind.
Teenagers throughout the world struggle to find answers regarding homosexuality. This struggle takes many forms:
Teens are already working to formulate their sexual identity. Feelings of same-sex urges and attractions can add more uncertainty to the process.
Teens are bombarded with the message that you cannot be gay or struggling with homosexual urges and still be a Christian. So Christian teens who are gay feel unwelcome in the church. This rejection perpetuates a crisis of faith and belief as teens feel as though God also rejects them. And gay non-Christian teens also experience rejection by churches and youth ministries when they attend.
Teens, both gay and straight, struggle to see the church as a place to help them resolve their confusion and formulate their convictions regarding homosexuality. They see the church's convictions and practices in conflict with each other. They may notice the same thing within the gay community. Both groups claim to be embracing communities, but they fail to embrace a person who has different beliefs or who questions the community's convictions.
Christian teens who believe that homosexuality is wrong live in the tension of how they should respond to gay friends and still be faithful to their convictions.
Openly gay teens also live with the tension of how they should respond to Christian friends who may oppose their convictions.
Some teenagers face issues with parents who've come out. This complex situation is multilayered and can be incredibly painful for teens.
In order to get an accurate read, I thought it would be good to have firsthand accounts and actual student voices inform this book. So I contacted 230 youth workers and asked if they could put me in contact with students who were wrestling with homosexuality in some way. The response surprised me; stories poured in from all across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Japan, and Australia. Throughout the book you'll see quotations from these students. Names and locations have been changed to protect anonymity, but the words are entirely from teens.
1.1A THE STARTING POINT
This section is critical to understanding the intent of the book and equipping you to effectively help hurting teens who are struggling with their sexuality. As difficult as it may be, the starting point must begin with care for the students-not your theological or ideological view of homosexuality.
Many believe the starting place with struggling teens is to persuade them to embrace their convictions. Those who believe homosexuality is immoral would say they're offering teens freedom from the bondage of sin. Those who are pro-gay would claim they're offering young people freedom from a cultural homophobic stigma and assisting them in discovering their true identity. Both sides would claim they're separating the issue from the teen and the teen from the issue. This is the "love the sinner-hate the sin" theory.
Yet, often both sides will embrace a teen only if he or she agrees with their convictions. If a teenager shows support for an opposing viewpoint, then that teen is written off. Christians may label the adolescent as "lost"; homosexuals might label the teen as "post-gay," "yestergay," "hasbian," or "homophobic." It seems the intention of both perspectives is about being right in their convictions and is never really about the teen.
When we lead by presenting our stance on an issue, we show little regard for the person and the struggles he or she is experiencing. We must fight the urge to lead from our theological or ideological views and instead create a safe place where teens are loved and valued.
"I think both the gay community and the church are trying to help ... both are trying to convert teens to what they see as being right, true, and even biblical." - Sarah, a 24-year-old graduate student and lesbian who serves with gay teenage groups in Georgia
Should our convictions ever guide our actions? I can hear some readers saying, "You can't live without convictions, nor should you compromise your convictions." I'd agree with that, although I'd also say that your convictions should be in subjection to the Holy Spirit and the Bible (which we'll address more in just a bit).
I'm not asking people to abandon their convictions or embrace or accept someone else's convictions. I'm simply saying that conviction isn't the starting point if you desire to help a teenager who's struggling with sexuality.
The starting place should always be to value the person more than you value your own convictions. Valuing the person is the good thing that takes precedence over the right thing, as your convictions deem it.
Over and over Jesus calls us to be GOOD, not RIGHT (Matthew 5:16; 7:17-19; 12:33-37; 25:21; Luke 3:8-9; 6:27, 33-36). Later, the apostle Paul teaches us that we're created for good works (Ephesians 2:10) and that among the fruits of the Holy Spirit that should be evidenced in a believer's life is goodness (Galatians 5:22). You'll notice that holding on to correct doctrine is not on that list. Evangelical Christians have become so concerned about compromising their theology that they'll wage a war just to make sure that everyone knows their position regarding homosexuality. There's a time and place to take a theological stand, but it seems the banner we unfold is not a Christ banner but a position banner. This makes the church a very unsafe place where students must navigate treacherous waters in isolation. It's far better for us to be known by our love, mercy, grace, and goodness than by our theological position on homosexuality.
Your views about this issue will inform the way you guide and counsel students; but it shouldn't affect the way you view them or the quality of your care for them. With that in mind, you must be open-minded as you come to a fuller understanding of what students will hear, encounter, learn, feel, and struggle through.
If you hold fast to voicing your convictions, you'll never know the teens' painful journeys. You'll never do ministry in a relational, incarnational way.
Incarnational ministry follows Jesus' example of "becoming like" (John 1:14). God became like us by taking on human flesh. We become like teens by knowing more about them and the world in which they journey than they do. If we're really honest, most of us would say we're drawn to ministry with young people who are like us-not marginalized kids. Nevertheless, if we're going to work with today's adolescents (ages 12 to 23), then we'd better become more knowledgeable, understanding, and equipped to deal with homosexuality.
Hopefully this book will give you a broader understanding of the issue of homosexuality and those dealing with it. Teenagers who struggle with homosexuality have probably searched out more theology, theories, culture, and voices that will help them than you have. The person who is the most understanding, loving, nonjudgmental, gracious, and safe is the person who's able to walk with a student through this tough issue.
Without question, the issue of homosexuality divides churches. There are many who believe homosexuality is acceptable in some form or variation, while others believe it's sin in every form. By asking the reader to be open-minded, I realize I've made myself a target. However, I've done my best to write this book in an unbiased manner. While it isn't possible to be entirely impartial, I hope I'll at least keep you guessing as to where I personally stand on this issue. And I do this to serve as an example of incarnational ministry. I want you to read the views, theologies, theories, and advice your teenagers will hear. I want you to mentally walk through their processes. I want you to learn to be quick to listen and slow to speak. I want you to be more compassionate than you were before.
The starting place is to be a learner who's passionate about students and will walk alongside them through life's journeys. This perspective will make you and the church a safer place for struggling teens.
Having said that, you must understand that this book is NOT a primer or treatise on homosexuality, nor is it meant to be a comprehensive work. That means that theories and theologies will be presented (all of which have vague interpretations) without qualification. They'll just be represented as part of what teenagers will encounter. You won't find arguments or rebuttals here. You won't be told what to think or not to think. It's my opinion that you need to research your own theology on this issue. Youth workers must put themselves in subjection to the Holy Spirit's teaching and guidance. The Spirit convicts and formulates conviction.
"I've struggled with homosexual thoughts since my teenage years. I believe homosexuality is sin, and I'd never want people to know my struggle. It seems like churches are gracious about most everything but this issue. I can't share about this ... even if I'm experiencing victory over it. People are too scared and condescending in the church. If I share that I've struggled some, I might lose my job." - Mark, a 23-year-old youth pastor from Illinois
I have a dear colleague who'd often ask people in ministry, "Are your theologies always right?" The obvious and humble answer is no. He'd then ask, "Which ones are the wrong ones?" In his wise way, he made others come to understand that we never know if we're wrong in our understanding of Scripture and theology unless we put ourselves in humble submission to the Holy Spirit's teaching. He is God, the Helper who invades our hearts and minds, renewing them constantly.
This book is about helping teenagers whose lives have been put into turmoil over homosexuality.
"I told my best friend in our youth group that I thought I might be gay. We've been friends and going to the same church since I was three. I thought I could trust him not to tell anyone. But he said he believed the right thing to do was to tell. So I got confronted by the youth leaders, and they told my parents, and it leaked out to people all over the church. It hurts. I feel betrayed and humiliated." - Randy, an 18-year-old senior in Idaho
Excerpted from What Do I Do When Teenagers Question Their Sexuality? by Steven Gerali Copyright © 2010 by Steven Gerali. Excerpted by permission.
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
SECTION 1: UNDERSTANDING SEXUAL ORIENTATIONS....................11
1.1 Scope of This Issue....................12
1.2 What Is Homosexuality?....................24
1.3 Understanding Homosexual Culture....................28
1.4 Theories of Homosexuality and Sexual Orientation....................47
1.5 GLBT Teenagers....................53
1.6 Understanding the Struggle....................74
SECTION 2: UNDERSTANDING HOW THEOLOGY INFORMS THE ISSUE OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION....................95
2.1 Basic Theological Starting Points....................95
2.2 Theology of Confession and Sanctuary....................99
2.3 Questions That Demand Theological Consideration....................99
2.4 Scripture Passages to Consider....................101
SECTION 3: PRACTICAL TIPS AND ACTION TO TAKE WHEN HELPING TEENAGERS WHO ARE QUESTIONING THEIR SEXUALITY....................105
3.1 Giving Support to a Questioning Teen....................105
3.2 Creating a Safe Environment....................109
3.3 Ministry to Parents of Teens Who Are Questioning Their Sexuality....................115
3.4 Ministry to a Student Diagnosed with AIDS/HIV....................120
SECTION 4: RESOURCES FOR HELPING TEENS WHO ARE QUESTIONING THEIR SEXUALITY....................123
4.1 Online Resources....................123
4.2 National and International Organizations....................124
4.3 Written Resources....................126