My boys attend a local public school in North Carolina where legislation around transgender issues and public restrooms was a national issue in 2016. Their school ran a CNN Kids news program on the transgender debate. They came home and said with confusion, “Did you know sometimes girls want to come into the boy’s bathroom?” I asked how that came up, and they mentioned the transgender news story. I did a web search for the video transcript.
This incident led me to think about how to have these kind of conversations with our kids. I came up with five principles and four key objectives.
Principle One: Don’t over-react to a conversation prompt; your initial response to a conversation prompt signals to your child whether the conversation is safe or alarming.
Principle Two: Do research and get what information you can about the subject before engaging the larger discussion; it is better if your child doesn’t feel like an “informant.”
Here are a few preliminary thoughts I had going into the subsequent conversation.
Principle Three: When we speak to our children we need to discuss the things that help our children navigate their current social world.
My boys were 9 and 11 years old; 3rd and 5th grade. I wanted to keep in mind their social and cognitive development as we talked. This was not our first conversation about sex and sexuality. If, as parents, we only talk about the subject of sex and ethics reactively, it will distort the message our children hear. Jesus will come across as a defensive guy. The duration of the conversation was about 20 minutes over dinner, a time when we often talk about things that happened at school.
Principle Four: Listen. The most important thing we offer in awkward conversations is comfortable, open-ended questions and silence.
With those things being said, there were four key objectives I had going into the conversation with my boys. I will share the fifth principle at the end.
- I wanted to know what they think as much as teach them what I think.
The most important part of this conversation is what I learned from them, not what they learned from me. That’s not to downplay my influence as a parent, but the most important information transferred was my awareness of how my boys were processing the information they received.
The biggest long-term impact I will have on my boys is shaping how they think as much as what they think. Conversations like these are times when I get a litmus test for how they respond to awkward-controversial subjects, how perceptive they are about moral dilemmas, the degree of impact authority figures (like teachers) have on them, and what kind of logic they use to support their beliefs.
- I wanted them to be BOTH biblically informed AND personally compassionate.
I wanted my boys to be both thoroughly versed in God’s original design and increasingly equipped to care for others in a broken world. My boys love biology, so we talked about how gender is ingrained in every cell of our body as either an XX (female) or XY (male) chromosome. They love to ask, “Whose nose do I have? Whose eyes do I have?” Tying the conversation to something they were familiar with and enjoy was an important way of making it less awkward.
We talked about gender being part of God’s design (Genesis 1:27) and that God’s design was good. I wanted them to know they should enjoy being boys and strive to grow into mature men who care for and lead their families well. I also wanted to communicate that it’s okay if they think girls have cooties right now [attempt at humor], but they should always respect women and treat them with honor.
Don’t over-react to a conversation prompt; your initial response to a conversation prompt signals to your child whether the conversation is safe or alarming.
We talked about how, because of the Fall (Genesis 3), we live in a broken world where many things don’t work the way they’re supposed to and everything falls apart. One result of this is that some people don’t feel comfortable in their own bodies; some people feel fat even when they’re very skinny, some people feel scared when there is no threat, and some people feel like they should be a boy when their body is a girl or vice versa.
I tried to make clear that it is important not to profile those who experience gender dysphoria as sexual predators. We talked about how it’s not the person who is confused about their gender that would take advantage of this law. Instead, the concern is that people who want to abuse children would take advantage of these laws.
We emphasized that we should never make fun of someone who is suffering. We should never call people names that make them feel embarrassed or ashamed. Whenever we hear people doing these kinds of things to others, we step in and help the person who is being picked on. This was the primary application of what it meant to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-40) well in their current social context.
We don’t have to agree with someone or understand their experience to love them. We believe that everyone is made in the image of God and deserves our honor and respect. If they’re hurting, we try to represent God’s compassion. If they’re sinning, we let them know of God’s forgiveness through the gospel. If we’re not sure, we listen and ask questions.
- I wanted them to learn how to honor authorities with whom they disagree.
I want my boys to be well-versed in the art of disagreement – the ability to be skeptical or disagree while showing honor to the person with whom they disagree. I affirmed how they handled themselves in the classroom, listening respectfully and bringing their questions to my wife and me. Even when they were uncertain, they made wise choices about how to respond.
We talked about how there was a great deal of debate on this topic in our country, so that is why this was a topic discussed at school. We talked about the good values of those that want open bathrooms are standing for , that no one should be discriminated against for things they did not choose.
We talked about how one of the challenges of government is balancing personal freedom (i.e., choice of restroom) with the collective good (i.e., privacy and safety in public restrooms). I was surprised how much they were interested in and followed this point.
The main point here was that just because someone has a different view from us, it doesn’t mean they’re bad. It also doesn’t mean we’re bad if we disagree with them. It is important to know what you believe and why. It is important to be able to articulate and defend what you believe. It is equally important to listen well to those with whom you disagree and honor their leadership when God has placed them in that role.
- I wanted them to be sympathetic to the reality that even good legislation can have unintended consequences.
Our conversation may have had as much to do with politics as sexuality. It is easy for kids (and adults) to begin to think that good rules would make a good world, that the problem with the world is that we just haven’t figured out what the best rules should be. We talked about how often laws have unintended consequences.
We talked about why we don’t need better rules as much as we need a Redeemer. Jesus wasn’t just a teacher (although he was the best teacher). Jesus came as our Savior. He knew we needed a new heart, not just better thoughts.
At the end of the conversation, when my boys asked me, “So, what should be done about the bathroom thing?” my best answer was, “I don’t know. I know that God’s design of men and women is good. I know there is a lot of pain and brokenness in our world. I know I want to love well anyone God gives me the chance to befriend and that it’s not mean to think about safety in private places like restrooms. But when it comes to this law and its possible unintended consequences, I’m not sure.”
Principle Five: Our children need to hear us say that sometimes the best answer is “I don’t know” because they need to have the freedom and courage to say “I don’t know” when they’re uncertain. It also makes the things we are sure about seem more solid, if we are willing to admit our uncertainty on things that are less clear.
This was the gist of our conversation and the intentions for the various points of emphasis. I hope it’s helpful for other families as you consider how to have similar conversations.
This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.
In a Christian home, when a child identifies as gay or transgender, the hopes of a parent for their child are dashed. How do I relate to this child who is not the child I raised? How will we get along, when I cannot abandon what God’s Word says about sexuality? Where do I go for help? Chris, who leads our Parents Ministry, talks about what to do. Then, read a story from one such parent.
Click here to read a parent testimony: How I Love My “Suddenly Changed” Child
15 Feb 2018
Growing up, my daughter was everything a parent could hope for. As a child, she was incredibly bright, sweet, compassionate, blessed with talent and best of all as a child accepted Jesus as her Savior.
During the early years of high school, she suddenly changed. I didn’t know my daughter anymore.
Today, here I am with a young adult daughter, who is same-sex attracted and engaged to be married. I remember the “phone call.” I suspected something was wrong. She lived in the city, but she came home most weekends, and we used to do things together quite often. Now she was always busy.
I hoped it was a new boy, but it wasn’t. Her name is Amelia*. My daughter knew exactly how I would react and I did just that. We cried, we talked, and then cried some more. She asked if I would still love her and speak with her. I told her I loved her even more.
And I meant that. After we hung up, I threw a temper tantrum, screaming, crying, slamming doors, and pounding the floor as I lay there begging God to change what had just happened. I was physically ill, not only for “poor” me, but for her as well.
I had been in the bottom of a well for five years with her while she struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. With the help of Christ, she was liberated from the substance abuse, but all the while struggled with anxiety. I didn’t have the strength to get down in the well with her and drag her out again. God didn’t intend me to do so. This was His battle, and it was already won.
The next day I called a Christian counselor. I thank God I did. The counselor warned me that Satan would make me fearful for my daughter and the future of my family. And he did try. But I was bolstered that day with Scripture and reminders of God’s love for my family and me.
One thing my daughter knew, I spoke honestly with her all her life. I was encouraged by friends to continue being who God made me, her mom, and I chose to do just that. When we had hard conversations, I used words with her like, “I’ve never had a same-sex attracted daughter, and I don’t know how this is supposed to go.” Today, I may think a situation should be one way and tomorrow God shows me something different. I always listen to her side, and in love tell her, that while man changes his mind as he pleases, God never changes, and I won’t reject His word.
The counselor warned me that Satan would make me fearful for my daughter and the future of my family. And he did try. But I was bolstered that day with Scripture and reminders of God’s love for my family and me.
I want to show my daughter and her friend the love and mercy Jesus showed me. I don’t deserve it, but He gives it to me anyway. My daughter’s friend is welcome in our home, but there are boundaries. We’ve discussed and agreed to them. Because of this difficult discussion, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner together. We agreed to continue having difficult discussions and refrain from connecting the dots for each other.
I continue to encourage my daughter in every way I have in the past—in her career, hobbies, and especially how I see Christ still working in her life. I love laughing and sharing funny stories with her. She is very creative and has an incredibly different view on life. I love that about her and let her know it.
God challenges me to keep my eyes on Him and life eternal in heaven, not my daughter’s sin. This is about who I am as a believer and how He wants me to live. I get it now. I still cry and feel afraid. Then I remember I was not created to be fearful. God gave this dear child to me as a blessing, and I trust Him. He is ever faithful.
*All names and identifying information have been changed to protect the privacy of this family.
In a Christian home, when a child identifies as gay or transgender, all the relationships in the family are upended. Suddenly, conversations and discussions become landmines that, when stepped on, explode in hurtful and angry words. How can parents navigate a home filled with tension and deep disappointment?
Click here to read more from Chris at this blog: “The Biggest Impact You Can Have on a Wayward Child”
The biggest heartache for a parent is to watch their child determined to go their own way. Turning their back on values they were raised on; turning toward beliefs and people that encourage him or her to embrace a whole new way of life.
A life that renounces what a follower of Jesus should look like.
This is what Joe and Maria were facing with their daughter, Jamie. They talked with me at the beginning of their daughter’s third year of declaring herself to be transgender. Two years of contentious discussions, on and off, had progressed downward to a chilly silence. Jamie has made it abundantly clear that this topic is off the table. Nothing substantial is ever discussed anymore.
Jamie has made up her mind to discover what this new identity of being transgender means for her. Next year she’s off to college. And Joe and Maria are desperate to find a way to break down the high wall that exists between them and the daughter they love.
If you have a son or daughter that has adopted a gay or transgender identity, you probably know what Joe and Maria are going through. It is flat out difficult to love a child that is bent on pursuing their own way. Parents are at a loss about how to lead their child to Christ when all of their efforts to speak truth are met with resistance. Even hearing the word “Scripture” may cause your child to cringe, let alone consider a passage or verse for them to mull over.
How can you possibly have a voice in your son or daughter’s life when they won’t talk to you?
I don’t want to minimize the pain of this situation, but I do think there is a way to move forward—toward your child—that will have an impact whether they acknowledge it or not.
1 John 4:10-12 (NIV) gives a strong message of hope to parents who have a child that is determined to pursue a gay or transgender identity.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Likewise, your relationship with your child will show the kind of God you represent. This kind of love goes beyond words; it is incarnational, embodying in the flesh the character of God through action.
This is familiar language to us, but take time to contemplate verse 12 again. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” Your words may have little impact on your child, but the way you love others—and them—is the way God has designed relationships so that they might see Christ—through you.
2 Corinthians 5:20 (ESV) similarly puts it this way; “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” As a parent, the title ambassador is one of the most prominent roles you play in your child’s life!
Ambassador is a hope-filled word for parents! Yes, for many parents the primary means of helping a struggling child is by speaking, carefully sharing and sprinkling God’s Word at opportune times. An ambassador does speak.
But it’s not the only thing they do. Though an ambassador speaks on behalf of someone else, it’s their entire being that also communicates what’s important. Their attitude and demeanor, all “speak;” they all point toward who they represent.
Likewise, your relationship with your child will show the kind of God you represent. This kind of love goes beyond words; it is incarnational, embodying in the flesh the character of God through action.
To put it bluntly, the biggest impact you can make in your child’s life is not in what you say. It is in the way you show love for them.
Let’s get specific
Let’s consider some specific steps you can take to become this kind of ambassador.
- Examine your heart.
Sometimes, if we are honest, we can be poor ambassadors of Christ. This particularly happens when we are in pain, and the pain and hopelessness we feel bleeds into our attitudes and behavior. But looking at whatever log is in our eye first is always the path God sets out for us.
Start with some attitudes and behaviors you need to put off: anger, impatience, harsh words, and the like. Allow Colossians 3:5-17 to guide you toward attitudes and behaviors to put on: compassion, kindness, humility, patience, etc.
Now think deeper: what does your behavior reveal about where you are putting your trust? When you are filled with fear, do you try to take control through words or actions? Can you see that behavior like this is an attempt to merely fix what is wrong with your child? Does your child see love (I trust in God) or control (I need to trust in myself) in how you act toward them?
- Love in surprising ways.
This may be one the hardest things to do: be interested in what they are doing. Many parents are afraid of knowing things and afraid that asking is equivalent to approving. But staying interested in their life communicates that you still love them. It also expands your vision of your child, which may have diminished only to the issue that divides you.
So, ask how their friends are doing, what are their plans for the weekend, how school is going, if they have enough food in their dorm room, how they are really doing, and take time to listen and show you care.
Then, do something together: go out to dinner, take a bike ride, go shopping, see a movie, and find a neutral activity that you both can enjoy. These types of activities communicate that, in spite of the issue that divides, you still love and delight in them. Conversations may remain superficial, but God can use these activities to soften their heart and reveal His love for them through your kind gestures. We have a God whose kindness wins our hearts to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Finally, think outside the box! Don’t be afraid to joke around with them. Send them a funny meme or picture they would laugh at. Text your son or daughter out of the blue to share something funny. Humor is an effective way to release tension and even demonstrate love for someone in a nonjudgmental way.
There is a silver lining in this weighty burden of walking with a child that identifies as gay or transgender. That silver lining is this: God is using this situation to draw you closer to himself and conform you to look increasingly more like Jesus. If you allow Him to work this transformation in you, from the inside out, you will produce good fruit.
By God’s grace, they will see this fruit, and your child may see the love of God more clearly through your life, and return to him and his ways.
Chris talks more about this on his accompanying video: How Do I Represent Christ to My Child Who Won’t Listen to Truth? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
02 Nov 2017
I, like every other father in the world, have a perfect daughter. My four-year-old princess is the only girl among four children. In theory, I know that my “perfect” daughter is a sinner. In reality, I actually believe that somehow she miraculously dodged the infection of original sin. At least, that’s the best rationalization I have in the fantasy-based, biased view I have of “daddy’s special girl.” Given her long, Shirley Temple curls, radiant smile, and warm personality, can you blame me?
This sentimental conception of my precious daughter works fine now as she currently emerges into “big girl” phase from toddlerhood. However, this naiveté will present major problems for her if I cling to it as she starts to enter school.
In my years of youth ministry, I have watched parents struggle to accept the realities about their maturing children. It’s hard. It’s sad. It’s a source of grief. We mourn our babies growing up and progressing toward adulthood. But here’s the truth: children do not remain babies forever.
I often have observed parents resisting this struggle in conversations about pornography and Internet protections. I tell all parents in all talks about technology in our church that they need an Internet reporting device on any screen to which their child has access. Just checking the Internet history is insufficient as 70% of kids admit to erasing history or concealing online activity from parents.¹
More times than I can count, I have suggested to parents of middle school boys that they install a filter and reporting device on their children’s phone and tablet. Too often, I have watched in amazement as parents suggest that their 14 or 15-year-old boy isn’t interested in things like that yet. He’s still so young.
I understand the struggle. I do not want to admit that my precious angel ever could have an interest in pornography. I can hardly imagine the thought of her receiving a sext solicitation from some teenage punk—and caving to the pressure. However, two sources tell me that I should not be so foolish.
If you have a boy, I promise you, that boy really wants to look at pornography. Porn is an incredibly powerful temptation for your son. Statistics suggest that your daughter has enough of a temptation to look at pornography that the risk warrants protecting her.
First, statistics tell us that the rate of teens accessing inappropriate material online is rampant. In the United States, 93% of boys and 62% of girls have looked at pornographic videos online before the age of 18.² And 54% of young people ages 18-22 admitted that they engaged in sexting while they were minors.³
The second (and more reliable) source, which warns of the risks and temptations of teenagers, is Scripture. The Bible does not paint a pretty picture of the human condition. Jesus said that “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). Not “people have a mild attraction to” or “people stumble from time to time,” but people love darkness.
James writes that temptation is not simply evil wooing us from the outside. He said, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (James 1:14, emphasis mine). Our sinful nature wants to be tempted because it is inherently attracted to darkness. He does not say that the flesh tempts some people but that it tempts “each” and, thereby, every person.
Here’s what I am saying about your child’s inherent sinfulness as it relates to sexual sin and technology. If you have a boy, I promise you, that boy really wants to look at pornography. Porn is an incredibly powerful temptation for your son. Statistics suggest that your daughter has enough of a temptation to look at pornography that the risk warrants protecting her.
As challenging as accepting this reality may be, your children—like my children—have not escaped the effects of the fall. They have a natural affinity to sin sexually. Of course, your child needs you to be their champion and cheerleader who believes the best in them. Simultaneously, your child also needs you to be the responsible adult who realizes that his or her sinful flesh can lead them into very damaging places if they are not protected. If parents cannot accept their child’s inherent sinfulness and take action, then they will endanger their child.
Jesus said “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). He exercises hyperbole here in telling people to exercise whatever means possible to distance themselves from temptation and sin.
While Christ’s words here pertain to our own sanctification, this principle can be extrapolated to parenting, as well. Technology opens doors to sexual sin for your child—so close them. Install a filter/monitoring system on every device and apply parental controls.
Parents, I plead with you, do not be naïve. Protect your child.
³Van Ouytsel J; Ponnet K; Walrave M. “The associations between adolescents’ consumption of pornography and music videos and their sexting behavior,” Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2014 Dec; 17(12): 722-8.
We are getting an increasing number of requests from parents, pastors, friends, and others in the the church for good, biblically sound resources to help understand and address issues of transgenderism. There’s a lot of good stuff scattered around the web, and we’re trying to collect some of them into a Resource Page. https://harvestusa.org/transgenderism-resources/
The Resource Page is being updated as we come across more articles, sermons, blog posts, etc., that we believe are helpful from a gospel perspective. So check back from time to time. Just click the link to the page above. We hope what we have gathered will help you think biblically and compassionately.
02 Dec 2015
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more support for parents and churches, contact Brooke Delaney at email@example.com to find out how your church can host our “Shattered Dreams/New Hope” one-day seminar.
26 Nov 2015
Ryan and Jen’s kids have always been active in church and school, involved in extracurricular activities, and have great friends. Their parents have modeled godly living to their children from a very early age. Like most parents, they hope to see their kids finish school, start a career, and raise a family. They don’t expect anything out of the ordinary since the children have never given them cause for worry.
Their son, Bobby, just finished his junior year of high school. He has always been a quiet kid but performed well academically and is naturally obedient. One day, when Jen asked to use her son’s phone, she discovered that Bobby was visiting gay porn sites. When Jen asked Bobby about the porn, Bobby became very withdrawn. After more questions, he finally confessed, “Mom, I’m gay . . .” Jen was in disbelief.
Jen wondered how her son could possibly be sure that he was gay. She thought he must simply be a confused teenager. The truth is that Bobby has wrestled with these feelings since middle school. He tried to ignore these desires but always found himself longing to be in a relationship with another guy. Ryan and Jen hadn’t the slightest clue that their son struggled in this way.
Living in the middle is place filled with tension. Parents want to help their child, but often the message they hear is that they must affirm their child’s decision.
Many Christian parents share Ryan and Jen’s experience of a child self-identifying as gay. Cultural messages about sexuality are influencing young people to define their sense of self and identity with their feelings and emotions. When a child embraces the identity as a life direction, in contrast to Scripture’s view of sexuality designed by God, parents and family members are thrown into crisis. They feel caught in the middle between their love for their child and their convictions to stand firm in what God says. Living in the middle is a place filled with tension. Parents want to help their child, but often the message they hear is that they must affirm their child’s decision. Anything short of that feels like a crushing rejection to their child.
It’s a difficult path for parents to walk, and they will need understanding and support, especially from their church community, to help them. Here are some ways pastors, church leaders, and friends can do so.
Where to begin?
Parents in this situation struggle to know how to make sense of what they are feeling, much less what to do. Helping them to identify some common initial reactions and know how to guide them will help them move forward.
Many parent’s first reaction is shock, which is often followed by anger. Why is this happening? Why are you doing this to us? Questions and strong emotions like these are understandable. Helping them to channel them well is critical.
The first thing is to encourage them not to direct anger at their child. It took a lot of courage to say what he or she said, and while it hurts, it’s still better to know than to be kept in the dark. Healthy relationships require honesty. Help them to acknowledge their child’s courage. If they have already expressed anger at their child, encourage them to go to their child and ask forgiveness, modeling humility and repentance. The relationship will need this healing.
Then help them deal with what might be anger toward God. Why are you letting this happen to us, God? Haven’t we been faithful in raising our children? Encourage them to express such troubling questions to God, as their own relationship with him requires honesty also. Suggest that they read the Psalms, which can provide them with a God-given language to voice their powerful and tumultuous emotions in a way that still directs faith back to him. This will be a safeguard against bitterness taking root. God is strong and loving enough to hear our words of pain, and even to identify with them.
Parents will grieve over the fear they have of losing the life they anticipated for their child. They will grieve the loss of the son they thought they knew, along with the hopes and dreams they attached to him. Because the child’s revelation feels like a deathblow to the family’s future, give them space to grieve unreservedly and without judgment. Weep with them (Romans 12:15). Validate the pain and loss they feel. Having the support of friends in their moments of grief will help them to move toward their child, learning to love him as he is, in this new reality, but with new eyes of faith. Adjusting to this new reality will be difficult to do. Help them to see that continuing to love their child, just as always, will be an important connection to God that can give hope for the future.
Guilt and Shame
Almost every parent will think that they have failed in some way, asking where they went wrong. Ryan and Jen began to believe that maybe they could have done something, if only they had known how Bobby felt when all of this began – but they didn’t realize what was going on, and now they feel like terrible parents for missing it. The feeling of guilt may be consuming. It will be helpful here to listen to their anguished questions, and point out that such questions, though legitimate, may have no answer, nor could they have known what was kept secret. To get stuck here will only hurt them further. What counts now is to live in the present and release these questions to the One who does know all the answers.
Because parents fear others’ opinions and judgement of their parenting, shame will often accompany guilt. There is a feature to sin and suffering where shame attaches not only to the individual, but also to those who are associated with him. It is not uncommon that parents will feel marked by their child’s decision or actions. Invite them to speak their emotions and not feel ashamed for wrestling with such thoughts and feelings. Shame pushes us to hide in the shadows and stay away from others. But isolating from others is spiritually dangerous, so help them to remain connected to their church community. Sadly, families that keep silent and isolate themselves over this situation are more likely to resolve the tension they live in by changing their view of Scripture and affirming their child’s gay identity. Staying in the middle is very hard to do, and faithful friends are critical in helping them find a measure of peace in the midst of that tension.
Fear and Despair
A child’s coming out takes parents’ normal fears to another level. Ryan and Jen fear what their son’s declaration means for his future and how people will treat him. They fear that their son has fallen away from God, or never truly knew God. Fear loses sight of God’s sovereignty, and can give way to despair. Parents of gay children struggle to see a sovereign and righteous God on the throne when the “wisdom” of the world’s view of sexuality infiltrates their homes. They need an anchor, so keep pointing them to images that describe God the way David saw him, as one whose “way is perfect,” whose “word…proves true,” and who is “a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30). God remains on the throne even when everything in life feels out of control. God is still at work in this situation. Their child is not beyond the reach of God’s arm, as Isaiah proclaimed to rebellious Israel (Isaiah 59:1). Remind them that the timing of God’s work is perfect. So, encourage them to acknowledge to God all that they fear, and to patiently hear God speak to them through his word and his people.
In all these ways, patiently listening to how they process this experience will give them a lifeboat in a tossing sea. Their responses may not be pretty. Especially in the early stages, remain unruffled at the parents’ raw, emotional responses, leaving gracious room for what they are experiencing. Consider the Psalms as you ponder your response to them. God does not rebuke his children for expressing the breadth of their suffering to him, so neither should we chastise parents in their anger, grief, guilt, shame, fear, and despair. Rather, it is much wiser and more profitable to help them explore what they are feeling, and learn to see how God is cultivating their faith in the midst of their turmoil.
Once the initial storm subsides, parents need help navigating questions about how to love to their child while standing true to biblical convictions.
It will be difficult for parents to know how to have conversations with their son or daughter. Typically, parents will either want to make this the primary topic of conversation with them, or they may ignore the issue altogether, hoping their child’s struggle will quietly disappear. Parents in the first category can unknowingly slip into relating to their child solely on the basis of this issue. Parents panic and want to change their child because they realize the seriousness of sinful sexual behavior. Just as parents mistakenly fear that they caused their child to become gay, they can also erroneously believe they can somehow change their child, which becomes their chief focus. But they need to be reminded that the work of sanctification belongs to the Lord. We do influence our children’s lives, and we want them to live faithfully before God, but our faith must acknowledge that God is the one who is sovereign over our child’s life. God is not just after a child’s behavior; he is after his or her heart.
Those who fall into the second category believe that “keeping the peace” and not talking about it is better than speaking the truth in love. This may be out of fear to keep a close relationship with their child at all costs. Speaking into their child’s life, or keeping quiet, will be a tough balancing act. Help the parents to move beyond their fears to seek wisdom and wait for opportunities to speak, even if it may be upsetting. But remind them that to make this issue the primary focus will seriously hurt the relationship. Let God lead the way in this.
Most importantly, remind parents of their child’s greatest need: the gospel. A child’s sexual orientation/behavior can consume a parent’s vision, but parents need to remember that their child’s fundamental need is to see their need of God’s love and redemption in Christ. The goal for our children is not heterosexual happiness, but grasping an identity in Christ that becomes their chief focus in life. Looking at the situation from this perspective helps the parents see that what their child needs is no different than what everyone needs: to live by faith in Christ and learn how to follow him in obedience, glorifying him even in the brokenness of life (see Philippians 2:12).
Finally, we can remind them to continue in the assurance and hope of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This may not be the best passage to give when parents are really hurting at the beginning of all this, but over time this glorious truth will resonate with them. In the midst of our confusion, God is faithful to draw us closer to himself, make us more dependent on him, humble us in our need for grace, and strengthen us in our faith that he does care for our families. When we embrace this reality we have eyes to see that God works his redemptive purposes most powerfully in the midst of brokenness and suffering. Waiting on God and praying for a child is no guarantee that God will cause him to turn away from a gay identity, but it does guarantee the cultivation and deepening of patience, faith, and love in the parents’ hearts and lives—and isn’t that how God reaches the world, displaying his love through the transformed lives of his people?
If you want to connect with Chris, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can make a comment at the end of this post.
For a deeper examination of these issues, a few of our popular mini books give further insightful and practical help for parents, pastors, church leaders, and friends. Go to www.harvest-usa-store.com for these resources:
Can You Change if You’re Gay?
Your Gay Child Says, ‘I Gay’
Your Gay Child Says ‘I Do’
Homosexuality and the Bible: Outdated Advice or Words of Life?