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For all of us, it’s no secret that pornography is everywhere on the internet. And with the startling rise of mobile devices, and their ability to hook us to keep looking at them, then the problem with pornography is only getting amplified. We have to begin asking ourselves hard questions.  We have to protect our children—and yes, even ourselves.

Click here to read more about what Cooper is talking about on his blog: “Is it Time to Walk Away from Our Mobile Devices?”

The proverbial kid in the candy store is a striking portrait, and so is our obsession with mobile devices, porn, and the Internet. Permeated by a wonderland of mobile devices with varied apps and social media platforms, the internet via our smart devices has become a major highway to porn.

As parents, we rightly yearn for the details of helping our children deal with porn and manage their devices: the filters and accountability software to use, screen-free zones in the house, etc. The concern for managing technology, however, is asking how to rightly eat the candy.

But I’m concerned that we’ve refused to acknowledge that the candy might be laced with cyanide.

I’m concerned that we’re not questioning the assumed blocks of our 21st-century existence.

I’m concerned, because if we’re not asking deeper questions, pornography usage, which is closely connected with smart devices, will further rise like an overwhelming wave to consume our children.

On January 6, some of Apple’s shareholder’s, owning some $2 billion in stocks, sent Apple an open letter urging them to address recent, scientific findings about the addictive and harmful effects of smartphones among teens. The science is pretty compelling. Consider also Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google who has launched a new initiative for more ethically-conscious tech in light of his own knowledge of how the industry works to manipulate our time. Check out his TED talks here and here and some of his articles here, and here. If our devices seem designed to keep us coming back for more like a Pavlovian dog, and if pornography is as ubiquitous as we all know it to be, let’s pause.

More basic than management of our devices is the worldview by which we live. As parents, along with ways to help our children manage the Internet and their mobile devices, are we coming to terms with our own worldviews — and helping our kids come to terms with theirs — which oftentimes assume an enslaving normality?

If our devices seem designed to keep us coming back for more like a Pavlovian dog, and if pornography is as ubiquitous as we all know it to be, let’s pause.

Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

Implicit in His words is a love for Him than surpasses anything else on this planet. In the wake of Him, every minute detail of life, even the thing that seems so indispensable, is to be filtered through this question: will this contribute to me following Jesus?

One of the goals, then, of discipling our families is to help cultivate in them a love for Christ that will enable them to formulate worldviews which are radically oriented around the Kingdom of God. To be sure, evil doesn’t begin in the candy store; sin begins in our own hearts. But the candy store can play a significant role in how our flesh roams. Assuming, then, that there’s more to be done than managing our devices, let’s turn our attention to the candy itself.

Question the Closeness of the Internet

In helping both ourselves and our children avoid pornography, what’s a more basic worldview question than, what are the best filtering and accountability options?

It’s this: is having the Internet so close to us all the time facilitating our walk with Christ? For the child, and the parent, who is struggling with porn and tempted constantly, the answer is an emphatic no. In light of Christ, we must have the courage to act on that answer.

But even if we and our children are not so engaged with porn, shouldn’t we all be concerned with having such a potentially destructive force in our hands at all times? Because of our own weakness, the addictive design of the smart-phone, and the prevalence of porn, perhaps we should all question the accessibility of the web in our lives. What if we actually removed our capabilities to access the internet on some of our devices altogether? What if, through our use of filtering software, we implemented times throughout the day during which we can’t access the Internet?

To be sure, evil doesn’t begin in the candy store; sin begins in our own hearts. But the candy store can play a significant role in how our flesh roams. Assuming, then, that there’s more to be done than managing our devices, let’s turn our attention to the candy itself.  

Question the Smartness of Smart Technology

Maybe we should also thoughtfully ponder the role that smart technology plays in our lives. Let’s bring our phones, our tablets, our watches, our TVs, and everything else that we can use before the feet of Jesus. Perhaps the better question is not, “how do I manage this device?” but rather, “should I even have this device?” Before we rejoice that we aren’t like that guy over there looking at porn regularly on his smartphone, we should also remember that we are more like that guy than we would often care to admit. It only takes one moment of weakness, and we are very weak. It might be time to regress to a dumb phone.

At the very least, it is time to admit that these devices are beginning to own us, and our kids, and we must no longer be passive in allowing our children and us to keep on deepening our addiction to them.

Christians have always questioned the foundations of the culture in which they lived. Instead of accepting those assumptions as normative, I want my children, and myself, to bring those assumptions of our modern culture into the light and ask hard questions of them. Are we helping our kids form worldviews that perceive the supremacy of God in Christ as the ultimate point of life? Are we helping them to experience an alternate life, a life filled with actual human beings, actual relationships, and true, sacrificial love? Or are we simply digesting the norms of our culture, without thoughtfully vetting them through a Christ-centered worldview?

Jesus knows that anything we give up on this side of eternity will be nothing compared to what is now given to us in Him and what will be given to us by Him when we reach the other side. As we start the New Year, if we centered the discussion around our devotion to Christ, with His splendor, glory, and superior beauty, and asked hard worldview questions of the assumed pillars of our 21st-century existence, we might stand out, for example, at restaurants as people who engage others and are not consumed with our screens. We might find a measure of sanity concerning porn. And, most importantly, we might become more thoughtful, intentional, and devoted followers of our Lord.


Cooper talks more about this on his accompanying video: Is it Time to Walk Away from Our Mobile Devices? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

“Is it OK for my son to play dress-up like a princess and dance?” asked Bob, after one of our parenting seminars. Bob, who looked like the former college athlete he was, and his wife were concerned about their five-year-old son and some of his behaviors. At the same time, Bob didn’t want to squash his personality or crush his son’s spirit. He also worried that his son might be bullied because he did not fit into traditional cultural stereotypes.

Here’s some advice I gave these parents:

Affirm and Validate

True gender differences and gender roles come from God our Creator. But every culture has certain gender-specific stereotypical standards. The problem is that, since Genesis 3, every culture’s ideas on gender contain fallen elements. So, before we guide our sons away from behaviors we don’t like (or the sub-culture in which we live, like the church, deems unacceptable), we have to ask if a biblical line is being crossed.

All our little guys, whether or not they present any atypical gender behaviors, need us to envelop them in love and affirmation. We need to affirm them first of all for who they are. They need to hear, “I’m so glad God sent you to us,” and “I love you!” before we affirm what they do.

Often parents are worried when their sons have different temperaments, talents, and interests that are not stereotypical for boys. Dads need to deal with the idol of having a son just like them—a chip off the old block. Therefore, affirm and validate to your son that his personality and gifts are from God. Tell your son that God’s purpose for him is to bless the world and build up his Kingdom through his unique giftings.

We want to help our little guys find safe ways to integrate into the world of boys, which eventually becomes a world of men.

Dad, if you’re the guy who loves sports, then you’ve got to let “it” go as a must for your son. Instead, explore what your child’s personality, gifts, and passions are, and then support them, develop them, and cultivate an appreciation of them. So, a father who loves football and has a son who loves art, dance, and drama needs to show up for recitals or performances, appreciate the inner complexities of his son’s fine art with him, and support and celebrate his efforts and successes.

Protect and Guide

Bob and his wife have a good idea of their young son’s personality but not a clear sense of his giftings and passions yet. Dads like Bob fear that other boys may bully their sons when they see their atypical gender behavior. And this is a very valid concern. We have to protect our little boys from bullying and shaming. So we have to be engaged, stepping in to stop verbal or physical abuse by other boys while avoiding a tendency to overprotect.

But protecting your son is not isolating him from other boys and boyish activities. This is where gentle guidance comes in. We want to help our little guys find safe ways to integrate into the world of boys, which eventually becomes a world of men.

With my son, we’ve tried most of the major sports, dabbled in martial arts, put him in a choir, started trumpet lessons, and tried art classes. At nine, we are still discerning his top gifts and cultivating his passions. Sample lots of boy-related and general kids’ activities, but be wary of requiring your son to remain in an activity he doesn’t like.

Now, remember, Bob had a specific question about dress-up and dancing. And in helping your son grow up, there are times when you need to gently guide and redirect his behaviors and help reshape some of his attitudes. My son held my hand and clung to me like glue when I first started taking him to Cub Scouts. He was feeling overwhelmed and anxious in a loud, crowded place.

I started to gently break his habit of holding my hand and hanging back from the other boys. I said, “Guys don’t usually hold their dad’s hand all the time unless they are in a dangerous place.” I would even leave the room to go to the water fountain so that he had to interact with the boys. He is more reserved than other boys, but over time he found his place, figured out some social cues, and began to enjoy the loud, large group meetings.

Note that I didn’t shame my son with any “Man up!” commands to toughen him up. We need to gently guide and redirect them, and that is far different than isolating or shaming them. This way we can help our sons feel included, part of the tribe of men to which they belong.

As parents, and especially dads, we need to pray for wisdom in raising little guys up to be men who follow Christ, who is the ultimate model of manhood.

And for Bob and his wife, that might mean their son grows up to be a dancer.

The Internet is a great place to learn, but it’s also a potential danger – especially for children! Pornography is just a click or two away. Children need protection and guidance for going online. Dan Wilson continues his talk about how parents can protect their family when using Internet-enabled devices while outside the home.

Click here to read Dan’s blog on this: Protecting Your Home from Porn – Part 2.

In part one of this blog, I laid out a multi-layered plan to protect your family from porn while they are at home and connected to your home Wi-Fi network.  Now, let’s get to the outside-the-home protection plan.

How can I protect my kids when they leave the home?

Outside-the-home-protection

One great way to eliminate the temptation for your kids to use their phone for viewing porn is to get them a basic phone. Do they really need a hand-held device that is more sophisticated than the information technology that sent the Apollo Space missions to the moon—especially when a unfiltered smartphone can connect to porn in mere seconds? Believe it or not, I know of some brave teens who’ve asked their dads to let them trade in a smartphone for a “dumbphone,” because they were sick of being tempted by porn.

But if your kid must have a smartphone, how can we protect them?

  1. Install Filters and Accountability Software

I spoke about this at greater length in my first post, but let me repeat just a few things here.

First, you need to buy filtering and accountability software for each Internet-enabled smartphone, tablet, or laptop that leaves your home protection.

Most of the Harvest USA staff favor Covenant Eyes, but there are other good options out there like Net Nanny, Safe Family, K9, and X3 Watch.

Remember Circle with Disney from my first post, the software that I’m currently using? Circle with Disney recently released an app called Circle Go that applies those same filter settings used on your home router to devices as they go outside the home. This can be a great way to kill the proverbial two birds with one (and a half) stone(s).

  1. Disable the Downloading of Apps

It used to be that one had to use a browser to find a website. Today, apps are the new web browsers. As you might guess, kids can use many apps to access porn. You need to go into the settings of your child’s smartphone or tablet and disable the downloading of apps so they can’t add apps on their own. If you install a filter/accountability app but don’t disallow adding new apps, your child can load an app that works around the filter/accountability app or delete the one you just installed!

The parental settings, including disabling the downloading of apps, should be password-protected. That way, when your kids want to download a new app, they have to have a conversation with you about it. In other words, we don’t lock down apps so that kids with a smartphone can only make calls. We lock down apps so that, when they want to download one, they have to come to us to do so. All this, like receiving accountability reports from your kids, facilitates dialogue.

  1. Research and Dialogue about Devices, Apps, and Media

Your child says, “Can Johnny drive us to the game tonight?” Before we say, “Sure,” we ask some questions and even do a bit of private investigative work, like calling another trusted parent for the inside scoop. So don’t take their word on how appropriate an app, artist, or movie is. Research it yourself.

Knowledge of and trust in Jesus’ power helps us parent out of dependence, trust, and faith. And that’s a good place for any of us to be.

Use Google to your and their spiritual benefit.  Go to Google and type in, “Is (blank) safe for kids?” or “Can (blank) app be used to access porn?” We also recommend Commonsensemedia.org, as a great research tool. It is the best place I can find for researching new apps, websites, TV shows, movies, etc. Iparent.tv also includes many “how-to” videos, reviews of apps, etc.  Pluggedinonline.com is also a good resource.

All of this research facilitates a running tech-dialogue.  When your child has to come to you for the downloading of an app, it gives you time to research it. It also helps you begin to ask good questions of your child in the meantime: “What do your friends use this app for? What are some benefits of the app that you can see? What might be some downsides to having this app? What do you want to use this app for?”

  1. Test Your In-The-Home and Outside-The-Home Protection Plans

You won’t be doing anyone any favors by failing to check to see if things are running smoothly. Randomly test the protection systems you’ve put in place.  You may find yourself on a site that you don’t want to see, so do your checking together as a married couple or with a trusted Christian friend. Check all the devices. Something almost always doesn’t work from time to time. Nothing is foolproof.

After being as faithful and as savvy as we can to protect our kids from the sexual corruptions of the world, we must trust the Savior and Redeemer with our kids. Only He can save our kids from the sexual corruption, self, and sin within. We can trust Jesus to work in our kids’ hearts and in the sexually-broken world they inhabit until His kingdom comes in fullness. Knowledge of and trust in Jesus’ power helps us parent out of dependence, trust, and faith. And that’s a good place for any of us to be.

In all of this, we want to keep the dialogue open with our kids about technology.  We want to be talking to them about the measures we are taking to steward technology well. We want to be talking to them about both the dangers and the benefits of the technology we have. And most importantly, we want to approach them as fellow sufferers, not just sinners, in this crazy world, who can approach the throne of Jesus together for help and strength in our moments of weakness.


You can watch Dan talk more about this on his accompanying video: Protecting Your Home from Porn – Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

A few years ago my best friend from college called me in tears. Their six-year-old son typed a “potty word” into a search engine and, for three weeks, watched hard-core porn videos until he was caught.

No one wants to be an overprotective parent. Overprotective parents breed ill-equipped kids. But we must be appropriately protective. Even though boys 12-17 are one of the largest per capita consumers of Internet porn, the threat of porn exposure is very real for younger kids and girls. Almost all kids are exposed to porn in their tween and teen years. The call is clear: We have to both minister to [Catching Your Child in Sexual Sin] and protect this rising generation in the face of such a media-savvy, sexually-broken culture.

I know this will sound alarmist, but it needs to be said. Parents will harm their children if they fail to take steps to first, protect them, and then second, to help them manage their use of media and the Internet as they grow older. [Should Parents Gouge Out Their Child’s Eyes?]

This post is about taking specific steps of protection:  In part one, I will cover an inside-the-home protection plan, and in part two I’ll discuss an outside-the-home protection plan.

What ways can we protect our home from pornography usage? Our family protection plan includes overlapping means of protection. Some of these might seem like overkill, but trust me, they are necessary.

Inside the Home Protection

  1. Filter Your Router

All your wireless devices (laptops, tablets, e-book readers like Kindle, smartphones, gaming consoles, and even newer TVs) can connect to the Internet via your Wi-Fi router. Filters act like walls that prevent users from accessing inappropriate content, and filters that connect to your router block porn at the source. Routers can be filtered by installing software like OpenDNS, but another option is to get a hardware device that filters all Internet enabled devices you assign to your home Wi-Fi network.

In my home, I spent a one-time purchase of $99 on such a device, Circle with Disney. After downloading the Circle app on my wife’s phone, we customized the filter for each child and each device. We can set time limits, view search histories, block specific websites and apps, and set bedtimes, all customized to each of my four children. Other devices like this include Torch and Clean Router.  And there are more devices coming on the market in response to the need for parental oversight.  So far, Circle with Disney is working great for us.

There are, however, two things these awesome router filters can’t do. First, if your child takes her device over to a friend’s house, she can access the Internet on that family’s Wi-Fi but without your router’s protective settings.

Second, even if your child is at home, he or she can go into the settings on a smartphone or tablet and switch off its connection to your Wi-Fi. Then the cellular data plan kicks-in, and the device accesses the Internet via their data plan.

  1. Enable Password-Protected Search Engines

Some may think that if you have router protection, then this step is unnecessary. However, we advise multiple layers of protection. While there are many search engines like Yahoo and Bing, as of now, Google is the only major search engine that gives the option for password-protected parental controls (Google Safe Search).

Our kids are in a war, outwardly assailed by the world and inwardly wrestling with lust, selfishness, confusion, and shame. If we abdicate talking about these struggles, and if we simply neglect to protect them, we leave them isolated and vulnerable in this war.

The big point here:  You must set and guard the password for using any search engine. Why?  Because search engines have become the highway that leads to pornographic websites. Just type in a word and it’ll take you right there. Without a password-protected search engine, even the small image icons will present hard-core porn.

Everything mentioned so far restricts access to inappropriate content on the Internet, but you will need one more, crucial element to your family protection plan.

  1. Install Accountability Software on All Devices

Accountability software is a program that records all the websites a device visits. Accountability software will email a report of Internet use to an accountability partner; it’s the hall monitor of the Internet. Router protection only filters and blocks (and that is not foolproof), so we recommend accountability software as well.

A filter is simply mechanical, but accountability is relational. An accountability report invites discipleship conversations with your kids that you can talk not only about their Internet behaviors, but also about their heart and walk with the Lord, as you see what is most important to them via what they are accessing on the web. Adults need honesty too with peer accountability partners, their brothers and sisters in Christ.

There are a lot of great companies offering accountability software: Covenant Eyes, Net Nanny, and many more. The big point here is to actually check those accountability reports. Accountability software only works when accountability in relationship is in place.

Our kids are in a war, outwardly assailed by the world and inwardly wrestling with lust, selfishness, confusion, and shame. If we abdicate talking about these struggles, and if we simply neglect to protect them, we leave them isolated and vulnerable in this war.

So, use everything we’ve mentioned in this post to move toward your child’s heart and encourage them with the grace and hope of Christ. They need that in the face of their hyper-pornified culture.


You can watch Dan talk some more about this on his accompanying video: Protecting Your Home from Porn – Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

The Internet is wonderful, but it’s also a dangerous wild-west of pornography and other inappropriate content. Just as you wouldn’t send your young child on a trip all alone, you shouldn’t do the same for when they log online. They need appropriate guardrails. Dan Wilson talks about three keys steps every parent needs to take in this two-part video and blog.

Click here to read Dan Wilson’s blog on this:  Protecting Your Home from Porn—Part 1

Seeing the gender struggle

One of our sons announced, almost as soon as he could string together sentences, that he did not want to be a man when he grew up. By the time he was four, he covered his head with yellow T-shirts and flicked his imaginary blond hair over his shoulder.

His dreams, both sleeping and waking, featured him in sequined dresses dancing on stage, with no one in the audience knowing he was male. For years, he wanted to wear fingernail polish, dresses, high heels, and feather boas.

His voice was high and his mannerisms were extremely feminine. He screamed his hatred for his body, “Why can’t someone just cut ‘it’ off and put in a hole instead?” He fantasized about what he had never heard of: gender reassignment surgery.

Our homeschool, all-male-except-mom family wasn’t expecting this. We weren’t expecting a son who kept sneaking into my dresser to try on my lingerie. We weren’t expecting a son who wrote stories about himself dancing with a prince at a ball. We weren’t expecting self-portraits with cleavage. We weren’t expecting a son who took down his curtains to fashion an evening gown.

In 1992, when our son was seven years old, I (Nancy) made calls and sent letters to Christian counseling organizations across the country, willing to pay anything if someone could help our son. One person said, “There’s nothing you can do about problems this serious in a child this young.” One of these organizations gave me a phone number. The receptionist there brightly chirped, “We absolutely can help your son.”

“How?” I clung to the phone.

“We do gender reassignment surgery.”

I quit making phone calls.

Seeing the sin

If our son had been born with a hole in his physical heart, we would have repaired it. What would be wrong with fixing this hole in his soul? Our son’s anguish was clouding our understanding of Scripture. So, we read the Bible with him, hoping to gain a God-honoring perspective on gender. Instead, our son wanted to be Delilah.

As we dug through the rubble of our son’s gender brokenness, we saw his sin. His unbelief that God could help him live as a man. His rebellious demand to be what he wanted to be, not what God made him to be. We also saw our sin. Our fear that God might not work the transformation for which we prayed daily. Our proud and rebellious accusation, “Millions of children bond with their biological sex. How could God keep such a good gift from our son?”

Seeing gospel opportunity

In 1993, after reading an afterword in one of Larry Crabb’s books, I wrote to seek his help. Dr. Crabb urged us not to think of our son “as having a qualitatively different struggle than any boy learning the joys of manhood. Think of it as a continuum and [your son] is at the far end of the struggle, but still on the same continuum of all boys.” United with Christ, we believed God would give us the same courage we were calling our son to embrace as, together, we lived for Christ, rather than for ourselves:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. (2 Corinthians 5:14-16, ESV)

In place of fear, the love of Christ began to control us. God gave us eyes to see our son by faith and celebrate glimpses of God’s grace at work.

We saw God’s truth as our confusion became conviction that, not only was our son’s gender a gift from the King to be lived for His glory, so was ours. We saw God’s power as our son took broken but beautiful steps of faith.

Dr. Crabb also gave this advice: “Pray together as husband and wife about how the picture of MAN and WOMAN can be lived out clearly, not by trying hard to do so, but rather by expressing joyfully the deepest part of who you both are…” Living out our genders became a joyful current, and we prayed that our son would be swept along in the beauty and symmetry of God’s good design for male and female.

Seeing God together

We helped our son illustrate a book we wrote outlining simple teaching about biblical manhood and womanhood. Later, we wrote a chapter book [1] that gently wove the theme of biblical manhood into its child-sized plot. We used cloth dolls to tell stories of children living out their genders for the glory of God. We built a castle for our son to sleep in, as a reminder that God was his protection amid what was for him a terrifying prospect: becoming a man. We fasted and prayed that our son would see his gender as hallowed, rather than happenstance. We laid hands on our son while he slept and spoke blessings over him. We recruited two dozen people who prayed daily for our son and our parenting. We cried—often.

And we saw God. We saw God’s truth as our confusion became conviction that, not only was our son’s gender a gift from the King to be lived for His glory, so was ours. We saw God’s power as our son took broken but beautiful steps of faith. We saw God’s mercy as the treasure of the gospel worked in and through jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7). We saw the goodness of the God who “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). We saw God’s glory, and that became enough.

Beyond seeing

As our son moved through his teenage years, he became more masculine. Recently, he said, “I’m so glad you didn’t turn me into a girl.” Instead, his struggle with same-sex attraction became the frontline of his fight. He remained involved in church and shared his struggles with his pastor. As he matured, his heart orientation toward God and His Kingdom strengthened. After moving to another city, he found a Gospel-centered church where he is involved in a strong small group. He is fighting his fight, but it is still a fight.

If our son, however, now claimed to be our daughter, our story of seeing God’s glory and becoming satisfied with Christ alone would still be a good story. It glorifies God when Christian parents teach their children that gender is a gift from the King to be lived for God’s glory—regardless of the outcome.

We don’t simply show mercy to children who hate their gender because we hope the mercy will change them. God calls us to delight in showing mercy because it glorifies the God who shows extravagant mercy to sinners. Working for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23) may involve spending oneself and seeing no fruit. Mercy that flows from the love of God shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5) glorifies God even if we never see results from that mercy. “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Seeing beyond

“Now we see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We fight for glimpses of God’s glory in His Word and His world. One day, however, our faith will be sight. We will see Him as He is and be changed to be like Him (1 John 3:2). Our present sufferings—anguish for a child who struggles with gender, marital conflict over how to disciple a child who longs to change genders, hurtful comments made by others, dread over a child’s future—will work for us a weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). We will enter the glory we fought to glimpse. And it will be more than enough.

Chuck and Nancy Snyder, with permission from their adult son

 

[1] Lions for Ajax, to be published by Shepherd Press.

 

Updated 5.23.2017

With the legalization of gay marriage, Christians more often find themselves invited to same-sex wedding ceremonies. This poses a dilemma for believers of whether to attend an event that celebrates a life-union that God nowhere approves of in Scripture.

Declining to attend seems like an easy solution. But because it involves friendships or family connections, the matter can be quite complex. The issue is more difficult if the wedding involves a child or other close family member. (For additional insights, read our mini book, Your Gay Child Says “I Do.”)

Reaching a decision will involve careful theological reflection, an understanding of your relationship with the one(s) getting married, and earnest prayer. Here are some things to think about that we hope can help you make a wise decision.

The space for this article is not sufficient to adequately examine the scope of Scripture on this matter, but here are three scriptural principles that should guide you.

                    Reaching a decision will involve careful theological reflection, an understanding of your relationship with the
                    one(s) getting married, and earnest prayer

  1. Be in the world but not of it. Knowing how to engage with the world is important for Christians. Being set apart from the world (who we are and how our lives reflect who we live for) is demonstrated by our living in the world. Loving and investing [time] in our neighbor is the means by which the world comes to know God.
  2. Freedom in Christ. 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 and Romans 14 are key passages where Paul argues for the freedom of the believer to engage with others in society, centered around the contentious issue of that day: eating meat from an idol’s temple. For Paul, (Christian) freedom involves examining issues of motivation, concern for the impact on other believers, and the context of the situation (see 1 Corinthians 10: 23-33 and Romans 14:20-23). Freedom in Christ enables us to think through how our actions affect others.
  3. Faith/conscience. Paul’s conclusion in Romans 14 is that we decide on issues such as these based on conscience, and that if one remains unsettled, then it is wiser to not participate because it “is not from faith.” Christians can stand on both sides of difficult issues, so the freedom we have in Christ to discern how to live strategically in the world should move us to extend grace to those who decide differently.

After examining Scripture, which must be the basis for all decisions, here are some relationship issues that can guide you in making a decision.

  1. What is your current relationship to the person getting married?

Are they a casual co-worker, friend, distant relative, or someone with whom you have a closer relationship (like a family member)? Has the invitation been given to everyone in your office, department, or family? Or, has it been given to you because you have a closer relationship? These factors can help you determine how best to respond. For example, if the person is someone with whom you have a good friendship, then you are in a position to speak directly to him or her about the issue of attending. If your friend knows you are a Christian, then this becomes another opportunity (or maybe the first!) to discuss your faith and how that influences your decision.

  1. What would you be trying to convey by your attendance?

Some people make the distinction between supporting the person, whom they love and care about, and supporting the event, of which they don’t approve. In making this distinction, it can communicate that attendance is not an implicit approval of their marriage. This is a meaningful distinction. We do this constantly in our other relationships, communicating our differences but remaining involved in each other’s lives.

This distinction may depend on how vocal you have been about your faith. What kinds of conversations have you had? Do they know you are a Christian? Do they know your views about homosexuality? If so, your presence could actually “stun” them or really mess up the categories they may have about Christians like you? Christians, living intentionally by the gospel, can sometimes be confusing to people, causing them to rethink their positions and perhaps see new and bigger realities. That’s a good thing.

If you feel that attending would lend weight to your Christian witness, then you might go. Your attendance would be in line with your desire to pursue a relationship because you care for them, and you want to keep the relationship open to have further opportunities to share the gospel with them.

  1. What are you concerned about if you decide to attend?

Are you afraid that your attendance would communicate your approval? Or, are you afraid of explaining why you feel you cannot attend? Are you afraid you would not know how to act or how to talk with other guests, most who would support the marriage? There can be lots of fear involved in making this decision. Ask the Lord to guide you regarding all these issues. Fear or anxiety about disappointing someone is never a good motivator to make a decision. A better question is this: What response might cause further openness to the gospel?

  1. If you decide you cannot attend, could you substitute something else?

If you reach the conclusion that you cannot attend, you might consider an alternative response. For instance, giving a card or gift would still show your care for them and acknowledge that this was an important day for them (it was, but you don’t necessarily have to join in on the celebration).

If you are close to the person or couple, but still conclude that you cannot attend, then consider taking them out to lunch or dinner. Of course, this may be an uncomfortable get-together, especially if the person will feel hurt by your absence. But a quick follow-up may go a long way toward bringing understanding and another opportunity for you to share your faith. Another decision some people make is to not attend the wedding (because of the nature of wedding vows) but to attend the reception (if this is, of course, agreed upon by the wedding couple).

  1. Do one or both parties claim to be Christians?

Someone once said, “We shouldn’t expect Christian behavior from non-Christian people.” If the person or persons getting married are unbelievers, this doesn’t mean you have an unhindered green light to attend—but if someone claims to be a Christian and yet is in rebellion to God’s design and intention for how his people should live, and is celebrating it and inviting others to join in, then that is another matter.

Many would argue that even if one of the parties is a confessing Christian, attending would be entering into their delusion that the marriage union is fine with God and is sanctioned by him. But some will make the distinction that attending is not the same as approving.

As you can see, these are hard issues! Your decision must come from wrestling with Scripture, drenched in prayer, and discussed with close friends or family members. But know this: Your wrestling with this is itself evidence of your heart wanting to do the right thing to honor Christ and to open doors for the gospel. Realize that there is no ONE answer to this, but there is one thing you can count on: Like Jesus, you’ll probably be misunderstood regarding the implications of any choice you make. So, when you make your decision, know that you have made it on the basis of what will honor God, and be at peace on that basis.

Updated 5.12.2017

This is one family’s story about being caught in the middle between family and faith, finding hope and strength with other parents in Harvest USA’s Parent Support Group.

 Click here for Chris’ article, “Caught in the Middle Between Family and Faith,” about the impact on parents when a child comes out. 

We were directed to the ministry of Harvest USA from a counselor shortly after finding out about our child’s struggle with same-sex attraction. Like many parents hearing such news for the first time, we were confused and shocked. We felt like our lives had been turned upside down. We didn’t know where we should turn for help or what we should do.

What do we “get and give” while being a member of this support group?

We learn a great deal about God, about ourselves, and about what our children are going through. It was so hard at first to comprehend that one of our children could be struggling with their sexuality. We wished that our child’s sexual identity could change with counseling or reasoning from God’s Word. We came to understand that simple or easy changes were not going to happen, but in the fellowship of the group we are reminded that God is sovereign over us and our child, that he is in control, and that our world is not collapsing around us. God is our deep comfort, and one way he does this is through our brothers and sisters in the group.

We feel connected; no longer alone. We are able to talk with other parents as well as get God’s perspective as we look into his word. To be hurting in isolation is so painful. To have other brothers and sisters in Christ come alongside and share their stories and experiences with their own children gave us hope and strength during a difficult time.

We feel safe. The group is a safe place to cry, to be able to release our feelings, and to not feel like we’re the only ones dealing with such feelings.

We pray and are prayed for. It feels good to know that others are praying for us and our child, and that we could pray for them too. Praying for others in the group and coming alongside them helps us to get our attention off of our own child and to engage with others who need prayer and support too. In the entire group experience, but especially during prayer, we come to live out what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

We learn how to love with Christ’s love. The staff at Harvest USA has helped us see how God wants us to respond to our children and how we should engage the culture on this issue with compassion and truth. We’ve gained new insight into how to demonstrate God’s grace and love to our children.

We are changed. God has used this group to change us as parents. Scripture teaches us that God uses everything that happens to a believer for his or her good. Our struggle with our child’s same-sex attraction has deepened our love for our children and has made us more sensitive to this issue that is so much a part of our culture today. We have learned that we all struggle with sin and that sin originates from idols that we hold dear to us. Same-sex attraction is no different from any other sin; it originates in our hearts. Understanding the frailties of our own heart and also our child’s heart helps us to respond to our children and our culture as Christ would.

We find God to be a deep refuge. The Parent Support Group at Harvest USA is a refuge, a conduit of God’s grace in a culture struggling to understand and deal with sexual identity as God intended it to be. As it says in Nahum 1:7, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (ESV).

To find out how a Parent Support Group can be started in your church, or if you want to consider joining ours in Philly, contact Chris Torchia at chris@harvestusa.org.

For more support for parents and churches, contact Brooke Delaney at brooke@harvestusa.org to find out how your church can host our “Shattered Dreams/New Hope” one-day seminar.

Updated 5.22.2017

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