First Steps: Students and Same-Sex Attraction
“I really need to talk,” one student said to me over the phone. We met at a good BBQ place and, for the first couple of minutes, caught up on life. Then he fell silent.
After an intense and awkward pause, he spoke.
“I can’t tell you what I need to tell you. But I’ve written it down for you.”
He pulled a letter out of his jacket pocket, put it on the table, and slid it across to me. I unfolded it and began to read. On page after page, he described his four-year battle with same-sex attraction.
Imagine yourself in that moment. Imagine the importance of your time together. What will you say? How will you respond?
Let me offer some initial, first steps we can take together.
Listen and Learn
If you’re anything like me, when students come and talk about their struggles, you want to do something about it quickly. And our desire to help is certainly good! Unfortunately, this fix-it-quick attitude tends to ignore students as complex people with unique stories. Human complexity puts a check on swift, fix-it-quick methods and attitudes.
What helps us take students’ complexity and uniqueness seriously is when we pause, listen, and learn from them as fellow strugglers on this journey. Let’s begin by asking questions of our students rather than trying to simply fix their broken situation. Where are they in their lives right now? How has their struggle with same-sex attraction affected their lives in the past? How has it affected their lives in the present? How can we best support them and walk with them now?
You might begin by asking this simple question: “What has life been like for you as you’ve struggled?”
Along with learning from them, we also want to be realistic with our students about what life is going to be like on this side of things. Because we live in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christian beliefs, an affirming LGBTQ community will look like home, especially when the church has done such a poor job in this area. But we also want to help same-sex attracted students see that following Christ is now, and will be in the future, truly life-giving. It’s a hard sell, but we must reveal the tension.
Human complexity puts a check on swift, fix-it-quick methods and attitudes.
We also want to give our students the ultimate, realistic goal of life: holiness and Christ-likeness, not heterosexuality. God never promises heterosexual desires to the exclusively same-sex attracted person. God wants us to seek Him above all things, even if He might leave those same-sex desires in place to drive us to Himself. Pursuing Christ above a simple, 180-degree change of desires is hard to grasp, but it makes Christ, not heterosexuality, the goal of our pursuit of holiness.
Give Them a Vocabulary for the Christian Life
Along with this realistic view of the Christian life, we must give same-sex attracted students a vocabulary for following Christ. This life is lived in daily faith, repentance, and love (Mark 1:15; Matthew 22:36-40); we must daily reorient our trust around the person of Christ, daily turn from our sins to follow Him, and daily love others by serving them. How can we practically help our students engage in these practices? The key is detailed, practical measures, not lofty goals.
Help Them Grow in Community
We must let students know that they have a community in Christ’s Church. Oftentimes, same-sex attracted students struggle to grow in openness and community because of the intense, prison-like nature of shame, other people’s judging gazes, and the church’s unwillingness to talk about these sensitive topics.
Part of our job in ministering to our students who wrestle in this way is to help them, over time, open up about their temptations, sufferings, and sins to other godly people and find life in godly community. This doesn’t have to happen right away. But as you meet with this student, instilling within them the grace of God and the identity he has in Jesus, we should be helping him to identify other people in whom he can confide, encouraging him to let in more and more light into his life. We should also help them see that, we, in fact, will be committed to loving, discipling, and walking alongside them in this journey. In other words, helping students grow in community begins by embodying community personally with them.
Help Them Grow in Love and Ministry
Same-sex attracted students, like the rest of us, have been given gifts to contribute to the building up of the Body of Christ. Let’s help them discover, develop, and use those gifts in love and ministry, helping them to cultivate their God-given uniqueness to build up the Kingdom. We need to be aware, however, that many times, same-sex attracted students’ gifts will not match the gender-stereotyped norms of the culture in which they live. This is more than okay. The question is: what gifts has God given them, and how can they, in turn, use them for His glory?
It’s a blessing when any student approaches a student minister for help, and it is our privilege to walk alongside them. Let’s commit to bringing the truth and mercy of Christ to our same-sex attracted students, to walk alongside them as we both move forward in the life-long process of discipleship.