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M2GT: More Than A Sexual Orientation

Shawn Harrison —  February 14, 2014 — 31 Comments

teens

Last week I shared some perspectives from my story as a gay teen. This week, I would like to continue offering some perspectives that I hope help youth workers understand how most gay teens feel inside church settings.

As an “out” gay teen, I was never invited to youth group or church. Instead, my peers who were Christians ignored the fact I needed Jesus and focused more on telling me (and my gay friends) how we were going to hell. My perceptions, then, of all church people were formed by those interactions.

Since the only thing people saw was my sexual orientation, I lived as though this was the only definitive part about me. When I walked the school halls, I heard more names like “faggot,” “homo,” and “queer,” then I did my own name. And though at times I flaunted my sexuality in order to live up to the “fanfare” I received, I knew there was more to me than my sexual orientation. I just wish others knew this, too.

However, I felt, when I walked into a room – either in school or other places where I was known, I was met with eyes that only saw my sexuality.

When I became a Christian after high school, I started attending a church where some of the people knew about my struggle with same-sex attractions. Some people even attended high school with me and were surprised to see me at their church. Though I was greeted with smiles and casual hellos, I felt I could never escape the perception of “the gay guy is here, again.”

This uncomfortable feeling caused me to not share about my gay attractions and experiences when I gave my testimony or met new people. In fact, the church where I grew up in the faith, for the longest time, only knew of a few details about my past – homosexuality not being one of them. The main two reason why I did this was: I wanted people to not reject me, and I wanted people to see me, and not my sexuality.

While this may seem harmless on the outside, I battled my attractions, addictions, doubt, fear, anger, etc, inwardly and alone for too long of a time span.

When gay teens walk through the doors of your youth room, how will you see them? How will your students see them?

I love this quote by Darrin Patrick on what it means to truly see people: To be on mission is to have a heart full of compassion for people – to see them the way Jesus did … When we look – not glance, but look – we see the person, not the problem. When we look at the person, we see that he or she matters to God and ought to matter to us. When we look, we see a person to be loved, not a problem to be handled. Only when we look can we experience compassion (Church Planter, pg. 174-175).

How we see teens who are either openly gay or questioning their sexuality deeply matters. More than anything, as youth workers – as Christians, we need to see these students as made in God’s image and as ordinary teenagers.

I am often asked by youth workers if there are specific ministries that need to be started when ministering to gay teens. Beyond forming mentoring relationships with them, gay teens need to be treated just like other teenagers in your group. Talk about Christ. Invite them to a bible study. Visit them at school, or stop in at activities outside of school. Invite them over for a meal. If they are talented with music, ask them to join the worship band – if you have one. Or if they have a gift of leadership, ask them to serve as a student leader.

[Yes, teens willingly engaging in sin shouldn't be in leadership roles. However, a teen with same-sex attractions does not automatically mean they are engaging in sin, and thus discounted for leadership.]

One of the greatest things you can do for gay teens in your ministry, church, or community, is to see them beyond their sexuality. Another great thing is to help your students to see their gay peers in equal ways, too.

Thoughts?

With you and for you,

Shawn / @611pulse

P.S. Be sure to attend my workshop, “Ministering to Gay Teenagers,” at this year’s Simply Youth Ministry Conference!

Shawn Harrison

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Shawn is a pastor, author, speaker, ministry consultant, and the founding director of Six:11 Ministries. Passionate about Jesus and people, Shawn lives with his wife and three kids in Ohio, where he helps pastor Greenville Alliance church.

31 responses to M2GT: More Than A Sexual Orientation

  1. Christianprincess February 18, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    I think you nailed it on the head. I think for most of us this is a struggle because we wrestle with where does this become condoning sin and with how do we uphold the standard of God’s Word for our teens. I think (just my opinion) the wrestle is worth it and can bring about growth in our faith, dependence on God to teach us and our students how to love, and it forces us to truly live out and analyze what we teach and truly believe. Extending love and grace to our openly gay students is as much apart of our calling as it is for all of our students.

    God bless you and thank you for loving students

  2. You had me nodding my head in agreement for most of this. That is until this statement: [Yes, teens willingly engaging in sin shouldn't be in leadership roles. However, a teen with same-sex attractions does not automatically mean they are engaging in sin, and thus discounted for leadership.]
    I find this statement troubling for a number of reasons. 1 when does same-sex attraction become sin? 2 doesn’t every one of us willingly engage in some sort of sin on a daily basis? 3 the fact that you must qualify this statement already reveals your thoughts on that students heart. 4 I find this statement (and really all of the article) to be a expanded version of hate the sin love the sinner.

    I’d like you to check out this article and then maybe we can all agree that not only is that mindset hurtful to those being classified as the dinner but to the greater Church as a whole. http://redemptionpictures.com/2013/06/20/i-cant-say-love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin-anymore/

    • Obviously my iphone prefers dinner to sinners. Woops

    • Hi Alex,
      Thanks for commenting. Let me try to answer your questions in order. 1 – Same-sex attractions, in and of themselves, are not sin. Attractions can lead to temptation which can lead to sin, but the attractions are not sin. I speak more on this here: http://wp.me/pe3xf-1iO.

      2 – Yes, we are all sinners. The willingness I was referring to, though, are teens who engage in sin and have no remorse for it. Example: I had a student leader who was smoking pot with other students in the youth group. I had to remove him from leadership because he wasn’t willing to get help or see anything wrong with smoking dope with youth.

      3 – I qualified my statement because there are still some people in the church who equate gay teens with sinful sexual behavior. I’m trying to help people see past the word “gay” as being automatically “sin.”

      4 – As for love the sinner, hate the sin … I would read what I wrote here (http://six11.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/why-love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin-fails/) and my book, “Ministering to Gay Teenagers.” The phrase is wrong, and Christians need to stop using it. So, I would have to disagree with you. I don’t think this article implies the phrase (love the sinner, hate the sin), but if you feel it does, I am very sorry. That was not my intention.

      I hope this answers your questions :) Thanks again for commenting!

      • A great book that thoughfully addresses the issues you presented too is called “Washed and Waiting” by Wesley Hill. It changed forever the way I view homosexuality and sin in general- to have compassion and love for everyone. Thanks for sharing Shawn. I really appreciated the reminder to see people.

  3. I spoke with my 13 year old son’s Youth Pastor about how he would handle a gay teen. He said that he would treat that teen as a sinner. Ok. So if my son who is struggling with SSA and has already told his sister and others that he is gay, even though he is not doing anything objectionable, he would be possibly be singled out. I was shocked to hear what I was told.

    I told my son that the mistake so many people make is judge an individual on their sexual orientation and on nothing else. What is even more frightening is that my struggling son who loves going to church could be viewed as a “sinner” for feeling gay and thus nit accepted!

    • I am so sorry for this Nathan. If you think it would help connecting with your youth pastor, I would be more than willing.

      • I am not sure. I gave him your book in December and even invited him or someone from his staff to come with me to Exchange Ministries in Orlando. I even offered to take him or even his staff. I told him that Youth Pastors deal with many issues but why not come once to visit a resource that he could use!

        I was told that he had read your book and that he and his staff are taxed. Like my wife and I aren’t? He told me that when a boy came out as gay he sat down with him over coffee and after two weeks the boy left.

        My wife and I are exhausted. Not knowing and wanting my son to continue to go to church! My son always asks to go. That is important right now. Fortunately, Exchange is allowing my son to come and visit with me.

        This is a process. My wife finally had a heart to heart (usually it is me) and our son really listened. She told him up front, if you are gay, please tell us before you tell everyone else. And whether you identify as gay or straight we will love you no matter what. She even told our son that people can change. Even acknowledged that a lot of gay teens are scared and fearful that we are open for him to speak with us at any time. Now that we both have showed our love he seems more at ease and a little less sneaky. I don’t know what it means, but wanting to still go to church is good.

        • Nathan –

          The way the youth pastor at your church has responded to this issue just hurts my heart. He is in my prayers.

          You and your wife sound like wonderful parents. I hope my husband and I handle parenting as well as you two have. You are also in my prayers.

          • Gretchen:

            This is a learning process. I have come to realize that my son as a person is special. I am not going to view him based on his desires or sexual orientation. Do I have questions? Yes. Do my wife and do the right thing in loving our son? I hope so. Do I agree with my son’s views on gay rights and gay marriage? No, not necessarily.

            My wife and I look at him as a wonderful human being that is a blessing and that Gid gave to us. Someone recently said to me that when he looks and speaks with a homosexual he sees himself as the chief of sinners! Hmm, gee I am not righteous and that is why I needed Christ. I need Christ every day to live my life. My flesh is evil but my righteousness is through Jesus.

            God is using my 13 year old wonderful son with SSA, in teaching me more about true love in Christ and applying the scriptures then most sermons that I have sat through.

  4. Terrific article! Thank you!

  5. Shawn –

    Thanks for this post. These are great tips and reminders.

    Our church teaches that same sex attraction is not a sin, temptation is not a sin, acting on the temptation is. Even though this is true, there are people who either don’t know or, for whatever reason, don’t show that they know.

    I hate to think of all the kids and adults who have been hurt by sheer ignorance. We are called to love.

    Thanks for the encouragement to involve all students in leadership. I have had a couple of gay student leaders as well as a couple of adults. They were all striving for holiness and closer relationships with Christ. Like all good leaders, they were an asset to the ministry and we would have been less without them.

    Thanks again and my God continue to bless your ministry and all you serve.

  6. Excellent article :) coming from my perspective as a young adult, I think you have a great point. I love the perspective you have, because we tend to focus too often on soneone’s sin and not what God has done in their lives. And I think the point you made applies to everyone, not just students struggling with their sexuality. People want to be seen for who they are not what they’ve done or are doing. As a teen I struggled with depression and self-esteem issues, and contemplated suicide in several occasions but to this day my closest friends/family/church family don’t know that side of me because I am afraid of being judged for it. There is a lot more to me than my past. A lot of teens today have the same issue. They don’t want to be judged and they desperately need to be loved! I love all the articles you write and I look forward to hearing more!

    • Thank you, Lydia, for being open here. I praise God for the work He is doing within your life, and may it continue to empower others and bring Him glory. You are so right, this post applies to more than just gay teens. Appreciate the encouragement!

  7. Thank you for your thoughts. This is a subject that is heavy on many hearts. The statement you made “see them beyond their sexuality” is IMHO huge! This is where we have lost the battle on the subject. We have allowed ourselves to get caught in an argument over whether homosexuality is a sin or not. That is not the fight we should have. Let the Holy spirit convict hearts on that. If we (The Church) would instead stand up for people on the truth, they are defined by more then their sexual desires. That is something we can win on! The media and the some of the vocal gay community would like to define people by gay or straight. That is like defining myself by what I am attracted to in a woman, just silly! We know the truth. Our identity & value is determined by our Creator, and by Jesus who paid for us. Dealing with the activity of homosexual lifestyle that is another challenge that I really know that I am in over my head… We as a church are in for a challenge to love people while holding on to truth. Recently I had someone tell me this is the divorce issue of our time. We have lost the battle over right or wrong… now we need to figure out what we are going to do with people who come in the door and love Jesus but don’t see the sin. I pray we are able to figure it out with out making a road block for people Heaven, and experiencing God on this side of eternity …

  8. Thanks, Shawn, for your honesty and vulnerability. I appreciate how succinctly you captured how the Gospel is for everyone. A good and timely reminder for us all.

  9. I agree with everything you have said. I do find it strange that as a “church” we get all up in arms about homosexuality, but have no problem with people living together (and serving). As the church we have for many years picked and chosen what Sin we find worse and get in groups and keep the us 4 no more mentality. As youth pastors, sponsors, and parents we just need to realize that there is a lot of “stuff” out there that we do not (and will never) understand, However we need to just keep listening for how God wants us to help in these situations.
    And thanks again Shawn very good read.

  10. Thank you Shawn for speaking with truth and love. I had volunteered in various youth groups for around 15 years and one of the things that grieved me so much was pretty much wherever I moved the leaders using derogatory gay terms to razz the students. “That’s throw was so gay” or “Don’t be a homo” and the like, I am ashamed to say that I never said anything until my last year in the youth ministry and sometimes joined in the mocking. I never told anyone that I have SSA even though I am happily and faithfully married. I think I hid behind the mocking because I was afraid of the reaction I would get if I was exposed, but as I realized I was more than my sexuality, I finally realized I am ok just as I am. I left the youth ministry after trying to address this and facing a cultural unwillingness to challenge the mindset. Thank you for your courage.

  11. Hi Shawn,
    I really appreciate you addressing this challenging topic in a sensitive and thoughtful way. I work with Jr. Youth at my church and as far as I know (but I don’t know all the kids that well) none of them are struggling with this issue. However, I myself have wrestled with the question of how to treat gay friends and family members. I have two practicing lesbian aunts as well as a cousin and a friend from university. My family members are not believers so I can pray for them and show them love, and talk to them about Christ, but I cannot hold them to Biblical standards. My friend from university, however, does claim to be a believer. I have more problems with knowing how to deal with her than with my non-believing relatives. She is now ‘married’ and has a child. I have no idea what to say to her, and I have pretty much stopped talking to her. I feel so awful for her. Is there really anything I can do?

  12. This past Sunday, a kid from our former youth group, whom we had for 8 years, announced on Facebook that he was in a relationship with a guy. Having taken a vested interest in his life and his family, while we were ministering there 3 years ago. We left the end of his junior year in high school. I am so saddened by this news, he is on my heart constantly because we love him and his family. I don’t think it was a coincidence that my simply youth ministry emails are discussing this subject this week. ;)

    Sin is sin, we are all sinners, and God has the final say in our eternity. Thank God for Jesus’ blood which covers a multitude of sins. (Including my own) I totally believe Jesus calls us to love people and to let HIM deal with their heart. Which each of us is responsible for our own actions, thoughts, ect….

    My question is, what is the correct response? I see a lot of “Congratulations”,”Happy For You”, “Be You”, comments on Facebook in responses, even from church members. My heart is sad and my prayers for him and his family are without ceasing. What I am thinking is “I Love You, no matter what!” being 5 hours away and not really having anymore than a Facebook connection, at this point, I am not sure I have the right to say anymore.

    On a side note: I also have a Christian friend whose Christian husband just moved out and is already looking for a relationship online. What I want to do, is go to him and hit him over the head with a frying pan and say “What are you thinking?” As a Christian I think this is a perfectly acceptable response LOL! :) I believe the Bible speaks clearly in this situation on how to deal with another Christian.

    For me, to love someone who is gay is easy, especially outside of church. As Christians we are called to love people, meet people where they are. My last question is, as a christian, to another christian what is the appropriate response? How can I show love, without saying “good for you, be happy and enjoy this relationship?” which I cannot say at all…

    P.S. Thanks for broaching a subject that has been ignored for too long, especially in religious avenues.

    • im right here with you LaDonna….I want to handle these situations with the right balance of compassion and love without giving them the impression that I condone it…..what does one reply? what do we say? congratulations feels wrong, be you….to postmodern….I struggle with this all the time. I had a mild debate in my Preaching Class last night about this subject and the diffuiculites of teaching on it. it of course opened a can of worms and much was said. I was the only one falling on the side of allowing people from the same sex community to serve within our churches. I feel strongly that we should welcome them in, allow them to give of their gifitngs and serve God along side of a community of believers. wouldn’t we rather them stand along side of us, loving and serving? wouldn’t we rather them be lifting his name up in worship and be close enough that we can provide for their needs and pray over their lives? wouldn’t we rather they be close to the community of beilievers, where they can be affected constantly by the love of Christ? how can life change happen when they are cast out? how can their hearts be open and prepared to allow the word to reform their lives when we wont even allow them the chance to grow spiritually? they deserve the chance to move along in their faith, to learn and grown in the scriptures, and to serve and give of their time and talents…doing this is how we all get started. this is the path we begin that pushes us to wrestle with our own sin and stop ingnoring God’s calling on our lives and our behaviors…..shouldn’t they be given the same benefit and chance to hear the voice of God? im passionate about this for many reasons. im not saying that we hand over our pulpits and allow teachings that are in direct conflict with the Word, but I am saying that we must stop pushing people out of our churches bc we don’t agree with their lifestyles.

    • Hi LaDonna,
      Thanks for commenting! Saying what your wrote, “I love you” is a good response. I would even add, “Keeping you both in my prayers,” “Here if you guys need anything,” or even just asking him how things are going in life – whether it’s with his boyfriend, job, or even faith. My question would be, how would you respond if this was a relationship between a guy and a girl, and the relationship wasn’t God-honoring?

  13. Thank you for this. The greatest thing is that this is coming from someone who was able to experience it. Sometimes people try understand this but they never do because it isn’t something they actually lived. I couldn’t agree more with what you say. My fiance and I are the youth leaders at our church and we always try look past these kind of things because what matters is that we look at that person just like any other, someone that needs to be saved. Gay discrimination in the church is a big problem and it saddens me that most of the time it isn’t handled how Jesus.

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