Technology allows friendships to be spread broadly (and thinly), which means young people can easily find a niche to fit into. If they’re in public school, though, they can’t avoid being influenced by, and caring about, what the rest of their world thinks and believes. This includes being influenced by their generation’s overwhelming support for homosexuality, bisexuality, and increasingly also transgenderism.
The youth I’m describing here aren’t just “out there” somewhere. These are your teens, or at least they are your teens’ friends. There’s a good chance your teens’ friends or classmates include gay, lesbian, or transgender students. In 2008 (the most recent such study I could find), cnsnews.com reported:
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network says based on the results of a new poll, about 5 percent of American high school students “identify as gay or lesbian”; 16 percent said they have a homosexual relative; and 72 percent said they know someone who is homosexual.
It’s not likely those numbers have decreased since then. If your child is in public school, it’s very likely he or she knows, or is friends with, an openly LGBT classmate. It’s even more certain that most of your teen’s friends think it’s wrong to oppose homosexuality or gay marriage, and they’re influencing your teen with their opinions. When we ask our teens to stand with biblical beliefs on this, we’re asking them to stand practically alone.
It’s the hardest thing we could ask of them.
How can we ask it of them, then? Because we have to, if we’re going to raise them in the knowledge of the truth and help launch them into a lifetime of following Jesus Christ. Anything less would be giving in to the world’s ways, ways that lead to death.
So we must. But again, how? I believe there are five steps we must follow to prepare them to withstand peer pressure, stand with the truth, and display the love of Christ
1. Build intrinsic strength. A teen has to have her own strength to carry her through the day. Her parents’ convictions won’t do it for her. We need to explain what we believe and why we believe it. Then we need to follow through with our teens as they seek to develop their own convictions.
2. Provide external support. Your teen needs to connect with other teens who don’t think he’s homophobic or crazy. He needs a vibrant, biblically based, seriously Bible-studying youth group. He doesn’t need more pizza, at least, not that much more pizza. If your church’s youth group isn’t grappling with what we believe and why, you might want to find another one that is.
Teens need a safe place to work out how to live life in this difficult culture. Home is paramount, but church comes in close behind it. Like home, church should be a place where the truth is known and taught with conviction, yet students are free to work through their questions without being shut down.
3. Teach an attitude of love, respect, and friendship. If your teen has bought into your convictions, she might have a reputation around school of being homophobic. The best defense is also the best witness: to love LGBT classmates with the love of Christ, to be gracious in disagreement, and to be firm in conviction. My favorite reference on this is Colossians 4:5-6: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
If the topic of sexual morality or gay marriage comes up in conversation, a Christian teen should be prepared, equipped, and willing to speak the truth in love. There’s no need for it to come up in every conversation, though; and when it’s not being discussed, there’s usually no need to make it an issue. Rather, it’s an opportunity to show the love of Christ—while also demolishing stereotypes—by treating the other person as a friend.
4. Encourage concern for bullying. Look up “LGBT bullying” on the internet, and you’ll be flooded with tragic stories of students contemplating or committing suicide, dropping out of school, and more. Your teen can show the love of Christ by standing up for those who are being pushed around. In the Bible, the usual word for “pushed around” is oppressed, but it’s the same idea, and God is always on the side of those who suffer that way.
That doesn’t mean He sides with everyone’s moral choices. It does mean that He hates the strong picking on the weak. Christian teens should have the strongest reputation in school for standing up against anti-LGBT bullying.
5. Jump in where needed. Your child needs you to stay in touch with what’s happening at school. I speak from experience: Both of our children were bullied. There was one especially violent incident for which we probably should have pressed charges against a classmate.
Your teen may not be getting physically bullied for her beliefs, but shunned or shamed instead. Either way, we parents need to keep in touch with whatever might be going on. Our teens need our coaching and guidance. They need our advice on how to stand up for themselves. They might need us to ask a counselor or administrator to step in on their behalf.
This isn’t easy. In our family, we did some of it well and some of it poorly. I know this for sure: If we had not been involved, we wouldn’t have done any of it well.
Excerpted from Critical Conversations, copyright © 2016 by Tom Gilson. Used with permission of Kregel Publications.