She wants to meet with you. She’s part of the youth group, but she’s been more of a marginal participant. Quiet, a bit aloof, definitely reserved. You’re eager to finally get a chance to know more about her. But when you finally get together, and after some awkward and hesitant initial talk, she says it: “I think I’m gay. I’m attracted to girls.”
If you’re like most youth leaders today, your first impulse is to wonder what to say that would be helpful. You don’t want to negate her sense of self, because that’s what she experiences, but nor do you want to confirm it, as if the matter is settled. The problem you have, and what is making you uncomfortable, is that you are not like that; that is, you are not attracted to people of the same sex like she is. Her experience is so unlike yours. What can you say? Your inclination is to retreat because you don’t think you can relate to her in any way that might be helpful.
But wait a minute. You have a lot more in common than you think. You are more equipped to help than you give yourself credit for. Or give God credit.
Start with 1 Corinthians 10:12-13, a familiar passage: “Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (ESV). Now look at the context of that passage. Paul is describing the desert journeys of Israel after they left Egypt. Israel stumbled, desired evil things (v.6), worshiped idols (v.7), and engaged in sexual immorality (v. 8). They put God to the test (v. 9), and constantly grumbled against him (v. 10) because they didn’t like how life was turning out for them. What’s the lesson Paul is teaching the young church in Corinth? This: Be careful! Though you as a Christian have been chosen and loved by God, just like the Israelites, you also live in a broken world, and life will not go smoothly nor be what you hope it will be. You, too, are tempted to grumble against God and be tempted by many things to fill your empty hearts (even if they are different temptations), so don’t think more highly of yourself than anyone else, nor think that someone else’s struggles or sin is so strange and different that neither you nor the gospel can connect with them.
Paul asserts that no temptation has seized us but what is common to humanity. No temptation. There is not a temptation under the sun that is not common to fallen humanity. While you might not struggle or sin in this particular way, you have everything in common with someone who has same-sex attraction. This student is not “other” than you. She is no stranger. She is a fellow sufferer who lives in the same fallen world that you do, and that is the world that Christ came to rescue.
What about James 1:14-15? James writes, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Beneath her attraction for those of the same sex, this girl has other intense desires within her. Desires that are similar to yours: desires for companionship, meaning, purpose, identity, salvation, etc. It is these desires, usually unaddressed and hidden in the heart, that the fallen human heart twists into misshapen idols that we live for and worship. Good things that become idols that lead to actions and behaviors that feel right and that give meaning and significance to a void that she (and all of us, too!) becomes desperate to fill. Her heart tempts her to attach these desires to things that cannot give life, nor glorify God—but so does your own heart!
Can you relate to someone who wants to be loved? Can you relate to someone who feels that their identity needs to be defined by someone or something other than Jesus? Can you relate to someone who wrestles and struggles with his or her particular besetting sin? Can you relate to those who want to follow Christ but find strong, competing, sinful tendencies within themselves moving them in wrong directions? This girl is not radically different than you. Her longings and struggles, of which one of them is same-sex attraction, may be different than yours, but the seed is the same. We all come from the same parents. There are sinful and broken tendencies within all of us that are experienced by each and every one of us. Christianity levels the playing field, and connects every one of us to each other.
Without seeing the common ground between us and someone else, we erroneously separate and distance ourselves from others. We either think less of them because we would never do those things, or we think less of ourselves in terms of our ability to help. Hebrews 4:15-16 levels the ground, closes the distance, because God himself came close to us, in his humanity, so that we might intimately know how much Christ is for us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in times of need.” One of the wonders of the Incarnation is that Jesus lived a real, human life, and experienced all the desires, temptations, and sufferings that we experience. He knows what life is like; he is able to help us; he understands us; and he loves us in the midst of our struggles in a way that transforms us. We can trust him. We can rest in him.
We reflect the help, understanding, and love that Jesus gives to us by moving towards our students, not away from them. The issue I raised at the beginning is a bit misleading: it really isn’t a question about finding common ground. It’s about recognizing the common ground that we already have when we walk alongside someone who experiences same-sex attraction. We both share the same fallen, human condition, and we both have access to the same, divine help: a help that comes close to us in love and power.
28 Jul 2011
Don and Dave are college students. Don asks Dave, “What’s you major?” and Dave replies, “Business Administration.”
“What’s yours?” asks Dave, and Don says, “English Lit.”
Don then asks, “So, what’s your minor?”
And Dave says, “Porn is my minor.”
After a long pause, Don incredulously asks, “Is that in . . . the Women’s Studies Department?”
The fictional Dave in this snippet of dialogue would probably never be this honest. But a study of 29,000 North American college students revealed that 51% of men and 16% of women spend up to 5 hours each week online “for sexual purposes” [Cited in Porn University: What College Students Are Really Saying About Sex on Campus, by Michael Leahy. Moody, 2009].
And catch this: An additional 11% of men spend anywhere from 5 to 20 hours on porn per week! That is a lot of carnal study. No wonder many say, “Porn is the norm.”
Is pornification just a crisis among non-Christian students? Not by a long stretch. Every campus minister with whom I speak says that almost 100% of the men who are student leaders in their ministry have or have had a fierce struggle with porn. Likewise, they add that most of their female student leaders who are dating stumble a lot with varying levels of sexual activity with their boyfriends.
What will happen to these Christian students if this practice is not dealt with? What will be the impact on their relationships, now and in the future? What will happen to the church if most of today’s rising Christian leaders have been habitually pornified and promiscuous?
If Christian students today see little or no problem with such sexual behavior, then it means they will use sex and porn as their recreational drugs of choice, as their habitual escape from the pressures and struggles of life. Whatever the motive, the end result will be disastrous: Pornified and promiscuous behavior leads to a divorce between love and sex, between committed relationship and intimacy.
Sex becomes just another commodity for consumers to consume. Sex is used not to glory God within the parameters of his design, but for sheer personal and self-centered reasons. This consumer mindset about sex will have devastating implications for when young people do marry. Expectations about sex will run up against the all-too-familiar struggles that every marriage encounters. The odds are good that, when dealing with such marital pressures, they will use the same escape mechanisms they utilized as students—porn and sexual encounters. But this time, it will be adultery.
Broken sexuality is not victimless. Affairs and porn usage devastate spouses, and they often lead to the break-up of families. Children then become the most innocent victims of a worldview mindset, so prevalent today, that sex is merely about my pleasure and my needs. Sex, used within that worldview, is far from harmless—it’s threatening, especially for society as a whole, as more and more families are torn apart.
How do we intervene into the lives of Christian students today to try and stop this tsunami of broken sexuality? This is what I’m going to explore over the next several posts. Let me hear your thoughts as well.