Recently, somebody came upon The Unseen Disciple by searching for the phrase “what a Christian should tell a gay child.” That struck me. What should a Christian tell a gay child? Well, for starters, how about “you are loved?” or “you are created in God’s image?”
Perhaps this seems flip, but it isn’t intended thus. When I realized I was gay, I was crushed, since I’d been taught my whole life that gay was an abomination, dirty, and horrible beyond comprehension—and told this by Christians. One friend, however, had more impact on me than anyone else at the time. We were on the phone long distance, and I was so miserable I couldn’t eat or sleep. He asked me to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” And to believe it.
I wasn’t a child, but a woman in my early twenties. But the point remains. It is the love of God in Christ that matters. What should one, as a Christian, tell a gay child? I don’t have any exact phrase to memorize, but I do believe the following things are essential to a truly Christian response to this very intimate revelation.
I. God’s Love
Whatever one says, it needs to be filled with the grace and love of God. This kid is, most likely, going to face a lot of hate throughout her (his) life, and beginning with the love of God, establishing that the rejection, vitriol, and cruelty is completely antithetical to the nature of the God of Christianity, would be a powerful antidote to the self-loathing that one could develop, given such treatment.
Now, say you’re a Christian, and you’re struggling with the notion of homosexuality. You think it’s not of God; you might even think it’s possibly of the devil. What good will it do the kingdom, what benefit will it give the child, were you to attack her in this moment of vulnerability? You’re the adult, she’s the child. And you’re the one who is supposedly aware of the grace and love of God because of God’s transformative work in you. By grace are you saved, writes Paul. If you wish to speak Christ to this child, then it is clear that you are to speak love.
And the thing about love—especially divine love—is that it is transformative. If you open yourself to God’s love for this child, you will find yourself changed, more able to love, more open to looking at what God through the Bible has and has not said about homosexuality. In the meantime, you will know that you’ve not emotionally damaged a child by speaking horror, condemnation, and rejection into her confused little life.
If you don’t accept that you should speak love, consider Jesus’ actions among the socially rejected. There are, I believe, two applicable principles here. First, consider how Jesus treated “sinners”, especially the woman “caught in adultery.” When society spoke rejection and hate, Jesus spoke love and kindness. It was the love of God that empowered people to change. People seldom change because they’re hated; they only hide. And repression ravages the souls of those driven to it. Of course, no child deserves rejection, regardless. Jesus said that we should never put up barriers between children and Christ. He said that it would be better for somebody who did put up a barrier to have a giant millstone tied around her neck and the stone to be cast into the sea, than for this person to face the judgment of God upon them for making such a barrier. Think about that. Jesus was so adamant about loving children and including them in the kingdom of God that he suggests that a broken-necked drowning is too good for one who stands in the way of God’s love. By speaking God’s love to the child, you give her reason to pursue a deepening relationship with God. In contrast, if you don’t, if you give her reason to think God rejects her, then you give her reason to reject God.
The only people Jesus spoke harshly to were those who purported to be God’s voice on earth, the religious leaders (who, importantly, also had substantial political clout). And his harsh words were always about how they had lost the love of God for the regulations of religion. How they put up barriers between people and God. So if you are wanting, as a Christian, to approach this gay child in the name of Christ, then the most important thing you should include in your Christian response is God’s love—God’s reckless, lavish, unfettered and unbounded love.
II. Your Love
Now it would be tragic if you were somehow able to say, well, God loves you, but I’m not going to be able to accept you like this. Tragic, by the bye, for you, not just for the child. If you are so untouched by the love of God that you cannot become a conduit for it, loving those God loves, then you are in a very sad state indeed. There is no way, if you cannot love those whom God loves, that you have even glimpsed God’s love for you.
And of course, if you somehow do disentangle God’s love from your own, then what the child will remember is what you do. As Christians, as the church, we are the body of Christ. We are, in a sense, God manifest in the world. This, after all, is what is meant by our “witness.” When people see us, they see God; when they see our actions, when they hear our words, they judge God by what they see. If you say that God loves, yet cannot yourself love, then the statement of God’s love rings hollow, meaningless, for the witness is not love but rejection.
And honestly, say this kid is gay. Say she’s recently discovered she’s gay. Or maybe that she’s known awhile, but been afraid to tell you, though now she’s finally had the courage to muster out a tentative self-divulgence. Well, honestly—has anything actually changed from before she told you? True, you now know something about this child that you didn’t know before. But she is the same child. And if you loved her before, not knowing this about her, you were loving a gay child. So now you know a little more about her. Does this justify the eradication of love? Does this justify rejection? If so, then you never really loved her in the first place (oh, maybe you were fond of her, but if it can so easily be discarded, then it’s not love), and this, too, is a sorry condition for you to be in as a Christian.
III. Boundary-Making Skills
You have lived a while in this world. You know how gays are treated, and especially how cruel children can be to each other. You probably have seen games of “smear the queer” or heard something being denigrated as “so gay!” And regarding teens and adults—you’ve watched the old 80s sitcoms, maybe even laughed at some of the anti-gay jokes. (We all have, whether we found them funny or not.) And you’ve seen the homophobic signs waving at funerals (even if only on the news), heard or read the hate speech, learned about the gay-bashing crimes, including torture and murder. You’ve listened to the commentaries about gay marriage, about how it will bring the destruction of Western Civilization as we know it.
And you know that this child is going to be, unless some miracle occurs in the next few years, marginalized and vulnerable to these cruelties. Of course, the knowledge of this whole culture of rejection and fear is far too much for a child to bear. But she needs to be prepared, to be equipped somehow. Your acceptance and love and a deep sense of God’s love will do much towards this. But some advice on boundaries is also crucial.
What I mean by this is age-appropriate boundaries. If this child is in third grade the kind of boundaries she needs to apply will be somewhat different than if she is in seventh grade. But regardless, she needs some wisdom in how to discern who to stay but casual friends with, who to become close friends with, and who to keep at a distance. She needs to learn how to recognize her inner red and yellow flags, to learn to trust her inner warning signals. (Of course, this is something any child, gay or straight, should learn!)
Whatever you can give this child towards developing a healthy sense of boundaries will work also towards developing in her a healthy sense of self. And as an added bonus, you’ll have given her reason to continue to trust you. For developing boundaries is a lifelong process. And teaching her that it is a privilege we give people to become intimate, that we don’t just allow anyone to bulldoze into our souls, will give her reason to watch you, to emulate how you set boundaries in your life. (And her watching you will give you reason to grow in Christ—personalizing Paul’s words to “follow me as I follow Christ.”)
By giving her the tools to develop healthy boundaries, you will be giving her the tools to handle whatever gay-bashing abuse comes her way later on in her life. You will give her the power to overcome hate, the strength to endure rejection, and the character to stand with dignity when those around her stoop to cruelty. You need not tell her details of what she’s up against, especially if she’s rather young or if you just don’t know. But your insight into how to separate one’s understanding of oneself as a creation and image-bearer of God from the social image of her as an abomination, worthy of ridicule and marginalization, is invaluable.
IV. Role Models
There have been a lot of gay children, throughout history, who grew up to be honorable and admirable adults. And there have been a lot of straight children who grew up to demonstrate God’s love to the socially unlovable. Find out who. Learn of the early church’s gay saints (yes, there are gay saints!). Discover who among the heroes of history were gay. And think of those who have been ambassadors of God’s love to the outcasts. Share their stories with the child. Give her heroes to emulate. Children sponge in stories of greatness. If she finds that people “like her” can also be heroic, Godly, powerful emissaries of love and grace, she will have one fewer reason later in her life to reject Christianity as antithetical to her existence as a gay person.
The best heroes are relevant heroes. Find out (if you don’t already know) what this child treasures. If she wants to be a doctor when she grows up, look for gays in healthcare and science. If she wants to be a teacher, find gay educators and ministers. Show her that not only is she loved by God and you, but that her being gay is something shared by people who were able to change the world in some way for the better. Give her a sense of community—remove any chance of her feeling like she’s the “only one” like this. Maybe she’ll not know any other gays until high school or later. But she can at least know about other gays in a context other than the one homophobes will throw at her throughout her life.
V. Biblical Discernment
Someday, this child will be confronted with the “clobber” passages, those verses in scripture that have been proof-texted as “clearly” stating that homosexuality is a guaranteed ticket to hell, and certainly cause for God’s wrath. You need to have studied them, parsed them carefully, learned what they really say when taken in the spirit of Christ and in their true cultural and textual context. You need to have done some homework when this child comes to you with bleeding spiritual wounds inflicted by a brutal Bible thumping.
There are excellent resources for you, many of which are hyperlinked to the right of this posting. If you are concerned about speaking the truth to this child, then you first need to know it. Take the time to do some careful research. Then evaluate your research for yourself. Reread the clobber passages carefully, using Hebrew and Greek lexicons. Find out what scripture really says—and doesn’t say—about homosexuality. When you understand what scripture says, you will then “be prepared to give an answer” for the faith that you have, both for yourself and for this child as image-bearers, deeply loved by God.
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There is no pat answer to give anyone who voices something so intimate about themselves, adult or child. But as Christians, we are called to represent Christ and further the kingdom of God. This means we are to show God’s love, to love each other (for it is by our love that we are known as Christ’s disciples), to encourage each other to grow in character and wisdom, to associate with those who have already “fought the good fight”, and to seek the truth of God in all we do. These five things, however one finds words and actions to communicate them, are what we as Christians need to communicate to anyone, including our gay children.