April 2017 – It was a Sunday evening church service like hundreds before. But on that summer night in 1963 when I was 12 years old, something unexpected happened. After the benediction, the pastor asked the men of our church to meet him in a closed-door session.
The meeting lasted only a few minutes. On the drive home, my dad said the pastor wanted to alert our church families that two men in our community had been identified as homosexuals. He didn’t explain what that meant, but I knew it must be bad because I heard the word “sex” in there somewhere. But the danger was certain, and the warning was clear: don’t be lured into any situation with an older man.
Half a century later, it would be an understatement to say that cultural attitudes about homosexuality have changed. But what has not changed – at least for families who hold a biblical view of sexuality – is that parents could use some wise guidance in navigating such an awkward subject with their kids.
Parents may not remember signing up for this difficult duty, says Tom Gilson (photo, right) in his book Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens, but for better or worse, the responsibility rests on their shoulders.
Gilson is an author, blogger, and senior editor and ministry coordinator at The Stream (stream.org). He recently shared his insights with AFA Journal about the necessity of Christian parents engaging their teens in arguably the most impassioned moral and social issue of our day.
AFA Journal: From your perspective, what makes discussing the topic of homosexuality with teens so full of landmines?
Tom Gilson: In addition to the perennial problem of talking about sex, there is now a huge generational divide over the issue. Millennials, in particular, overwhelmingly see nothing wrong with gay marriage or homosexual practice in general. That’s the milieu in which Christian kids are living. They are surrounded with it and absorb it. That makes their parents look out of date and out of touch.
AFAJ: What do parents not know about the importance of talking to their kids about homosexuality and gay marriage?
TG: No matter how well we raise our kids to guard them from the culture’s influence on this issue, they are being influenced. Parents may think that their teens are getting what they need to know at church, but that is very unlikely. They may think that just raising them with a good Christian home example is enough. Not so.
What’s happening is that teens are imbibing a culture that clearly disagrees with Christianity. As a result, teens are thinking If the Bible disagrees with gay marriage, I don’t like the Bible; I don’t like Christianity.
To many voices in our culture, homosexuality has become a cause célèbre to be defended, preserved, and promoted. It is seen as a noble and glorious thing.
AFAJ: The title of your book is aimed at parents of teens, but do parents of younger children need to be addressing this issue?
TG: You know, if there is one thing I regret about this book it’s that we titled it for teens specifically. That said, I wrote the book thinking that teens would be the ones facing all these questions and have them on the top of their minds.
In contrast, these issues may not be priorities to pre-teens, so parents don’t need to plant questions. At the same time, I advise that parents of pre-teens begin to explore their children’s attitudes with neutral, open-ended questions like: “What are you hearing at school about the differences in boys and girls? What are they teaching you about what it means to be married?”
AFAJ: In the book, you write that addressing these difficult topics can actually strengthen a parent-child relationship. How does that work?
TG: Other than helping kids stay connected to Christ, this is one of my favorite parts of counsel offered in the book.
First, if teens believe that parents are out of touch, we can surprise them by being informed. If teens think that we don’t want to listen, we can surprise them by listening patiently and thoughtfully.
So, much of the book is actually about parents learning how to ask questions that draw out what the teen is really thinking and then listening.
It’s an opportunity for parents to show that they can respond rather than react. Parents can even really shock their teens when they ask a tough question and the parent responds, “I don’t know, but we can look that up together.” At that point, parents are teaching their kids that questions have answers. I think that’s a big win.
AFAJ: These are such important issues for Christian parents. How can parents tackle these subjects without overreacting and hitting the emotional panic button?
TG: I think there is something encouraging and strengthening in having your background knowledge in order, which is what I try to show in the first part of the book. For example, on one hand, if you know the history of the homosexual rights movement, and on the other, the reasons why marriage is biblically and socially good, then you’re not caught off guard when these things come up in conversation. Doing your homework has everything to do with being able to respond rather than react.
Parents need to expect that their kids have questions about these issues. Teens may be afraid to ask their questions because they might think their parents will think the worst of them. So parents must create a safe relationship where these issues can be discussed, even if there is disagreement.
AFAJ: How can a parent bring the gospel into this conversation?
TG: The key thing is that God is good, and His ways are good. The whole discussion comes together in the goodness of God expressed through the way He designed us to live.
In speaking to their teens, parents have the opportunity to return to Genesis 3, to the fall of man and discuss how messed up things can be in this life. Then they can say, “But you know, there is a God who knows what He intended for us, and what we need. So through Jesus, we have a Savior and guide for this life.”
Above all, I hope a parent reading through this book would be reassured of God’s goodness and then make every effort to communicate that to their children.
WISE, PRACTICAL HELP
Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens is an eminently practical and helpful resource.
The book is divided into three parts with the first offering “essential background” on the history of the homosexual movement and focus on why God’s plan for relationships is good.
Part two focuses on navigating relationships that have the potential to be divisive. These include the parents’ relationship with their teen, as well as relationships with teachers, friends, and others.
The third section offers answers to 27 common challenges to biblical truth. Examples include:
▶ You’re a hater.
▶ Why are you so intolerant?
▶ You’re on the wrong side of history.
▶ Jesus never spoke out against homosexuality.
▶ God made me this way, so how could it be wrong?
Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens is available at local and online booksellers.