With the coming political firestorm over “same-sex marriage,” it’s going to be a topic kids hear about. If your children aren’t asking yet, it’s just a matter of time. As ministry leaders, we should think carefully about how we respond and find the right balance of truth & grace.
That’s why I sent the following question to several of my friends in children’s ministry. The idea is to learn from one another and be prepared to better serve children, to whom these topics can be very confusing.
Question: What is the role of the children’s ministry when kids ask about the topic of same-sex marriage? Are there certain Bible truth’s you stress for kids that would make this issue less confusing when they encounter it later? How would you respond if several children raised the issue during your teaching?
Below are the responses from our participants. I’ve also posted my suggested talking points on this issue. You can PRINT this page and carefully read through their insights. This conversation is not complete without your insight. Please share your insight in our comment section below. You are free to disagree with any or all of these writers, just do so in a respectful manner. We don’t expect anyone to agree with everything the following contributors wrote!
Response from Jared Kennedy
In the fall of 1997, I headed off to college. I planned to room with a high school friend, but, during that summer, he confessed to me that he’d been hanging with a number of gay friends, and he was struggling with same-sex attraction. He called me out of respect, because he wanted me to know before we were roommates. I was repulsed, took a posture of judgment, and, we ended up not rooming together. I’m convinced now that my repulsion and judgment was ungodly. And the sad irony was that I was also struggling with all kinds of sexual sin. My orientation was different, but my depravity was no less.
Many Christians and whole churches have lost confidence in the gospel when it comes to how they think about and respond to homosexuality. Some single out homosexuality as “the sin.” Many have strong emotional reactions to homosexuality that flow out of deep insecurity, feelings of repulsion, disgust, and threat. These reactions expose profound unbelief both in the gospel’s power to change lives and about the depth of sin in our hearts.
A children’s ministry’s approach to homosexuality begins with having a heart of hospitality. We must welcome and treat all people with dignity and respect. We should assume homosexuals are always in our midst and avoid all homophobic speech. We should repent of our stereotypes and prejudices towards homosexuals, be ready to welcome gay or lesbian couples raising children into our worship gatherings, and pray that they will entrust their children to our care.
We must remember that the world has never seen a perfect family. Since Adam and Eve, every family has been jacked up enough to be desperate for grace. Pick up your Bible, and you’ll see stories of homicide, gang rape, polygamy, concubines, incest, and prostitution before you even get out of Genesis. When we teach kids, we should be sensitive about explaining sin with age-appropriate discretion. But we should also be clear that everyone is capable of every sin. There is no sinful behavior that given the right circumstances my sinful heart will not adopt.We should help kids to see that we often act just like the sinners in the Bible’s stories. When teaching youth about sexual sin, we also must be honest about the sexual sins popular among heterosexuals (promiscuity, fornication, masturbation, pornography, lust, etc.). We should not single out homosexual sin as worse than any other type.
There are kids in your ministry who will ask about gay marriage, and there are kids in your ministry that are struggling with same-sex attraction. When the questions come, we must be clear that homosexuality is not God’s design for human relationships (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:9-10), but we can’t be simplistic about its cause. There may be biological factors that pre-dispose a child to more feminine or masculine behavior than is usual for his or her gender. There may be family factors that make it difficult for a young person to feel confident in his or her social gender role or which make opposite sex relationships unattractive. Emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse can affect a persons understanding of their sexuality. We must be sensitive about each child’s story while affirming that each child either confirms or chooses to resist homosexual desires with their choices.
Our job is to help every family understand that they are invited into a bigger story of redemption and restoration. Every family is dysfunctional, but God has good news—no matter your family’s history, baggage, or present situation—change is possible. I know this is true, because I have changed. Over the past 15 years, God has been rescuing me from a lack of compassion and ungodly judgment as well as from sinful living. All family dysfunction can be changed. Homosexuality is no exception. The gospel is the power of God that is able to change anyone. The actual process is no different than the process of change for anything else in the life of a Christian. We need to give the kids in our ministry biblical vision of family (one that moves beyond cultural stereotypes), and they need encouragement to pursue that vision with the Holy Spirit’s help and ordinary means of grace—prayer, God’s word, repentance, faith, and community.
God didn’t make boys for Bass Pro Shops, ESPN, and Old Spice, but He does want them to grow up loving Jesus and others by leading, protecting, and working with wisdom (Genesis 2:15, 19-20). God didn’t make girls for pink doilies or Pinterest, but He does want them to grow up loving Jesus as powerful counterparts and life-giving nurturers (Genesis 2:22-23; 3:20; Proverbs 31). God didn’t ordain the Cleavers or the Cosbys as the perfect family, but he did create marriage as a life-long, loving, covenant relationship between a man and a woman—a picture of Christ and his bride, the church (Genesis 2:23-24; Ephesians 5:21-33). That’s a vision worth teaching, praying for, and pursuing as we train up the next generation.
References: “Discussion of Homosexuality” by Anonymous; “They Blew Up Walnut Grove,” in Zombies, Football, and the Gospel by Reggie Joiner.
Jared Kennedy blogs at http://sojournkids.com. He is the husband of Megan and the father of three girls-Rachael, Lucy, and Elisabeth. He leads SojournKids as Family Pastor at Sojourn Community Church, a multi-site congregation in Louisville, KY
Response from Nicole VanderMeulen
I received the invitation to comment on this topic as I sat at a conference titled “Children, Youth, and New Kind of Christianity” held at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington DC. The event included participants from every denomination I have ever heard of and people came from countries all over the globe to attend. One major theme that emerged is that Christians have a really bad rap. Through our hypocritical, judgmental, shaming ways we’ve done way more turning people away from church than welcoming them in. This is largely due to literal interpretation of the Bible. We are so quick to speak, yet so slow to act.
My dear friends, the Bible does say that a man and woman should be together and no man should lie down with another man, but it also says that we should sell our daughters into slavery, never eat shellfish, be put to death if we work on the Sabbath, avoid contacting menstruating women and on and on. So, please, if you choose to hold each word sacred and literal, PLEASE be consistent. Your picking and choosing of what to take to heart and what to ignore really flaws your integrity. To that end, please do not believe that you have the ability to decipher what is literal and what is metaphor. You don’t.
Alternately, consider looking not at single verses or specific Biblical facts, but try to examine the repetitive themes and big truths found in our sacred book. You’ll see over and over where God and Jesus gave forgiveness, grace, and love. Don’t forget the greatest commandment, “love your God and second to that, love your neighbor as yourself”. In fact, Jesus was often found associating with prostitutes, the sick, beggars, tax collectors and the like, the people that society viewed as “wrong” or “bad”.
While this is certainly how I would help children explore what the Bible might have to tell us about homosexuality, that wouldn’t be my first strategy for addressing the subject. This conference I was attending reiterated for me the importance of helping children think for themselves rather than telling them what to think. I would probably start by asking some questions like, “What do you think about two women or two men being in love?” “What do you think God thinks about it?” “Does it matter what we think about it?” “Are there greater sins than others?” “Do we all sin?” “Is it our job to judge or love others?” “What if someone you knew (best friend, mother, brother, etc.) told you they were gay? Would that change what you thought?” “Is it ok to hurt others when we don’t agree with them?”
As I continue to pray for a world of love, peace, acceptance, and social justice, with Christians right where we have been called to be, leading the effort, I leave you with this thought. “We should be fixing ourselves and helping others, not the other way around.”
Nicole VanderMeulen serves as the Children’s Ministry Coordinator at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Renton, Washington.
Response from Amy Dolan
I was thrilled to hear the President’s comments last week on gay marriage. His words, in my opinion, were just the kick in the pants we’ve needed when it comes to serving all types of families in the church. We’ve been teasing the subject for awhile, wondering “What will I do when a family with gay parents comes to my church and wants to dedicate their child, volunteer in the ministry, and be fully participating active members in the church?” And now, with the President’s comments at the forefront of most American’s minds, we can consider the subject one of our most important priorities.
Here’s the thing: It’s time. Whether gay families are active participants of your church or not, it’s time to consider how we might serve all types of families by loving, serving, caring, helping, and training so that all parents might be the spiritual leaders and influencers that their children so desperately need.
As children’s and family leaders, we talk a whole lot about parents as the primary spiritual influencers, and occasionally we complain about parents who don’t recognize and embrace their role. As the church, we so deeply desire coming alongside parents providing training and encouragement for the long road of parenthood ahead.
But, my observation has been that this practically only applies to traditional two-parent-mom-and-dad families. Most conferences I attend, books I read, churches I observe, and conversations I have include parent training aimed at these types of families. My hope is that we’d include all types of families in order that all types of children would grow in their faith and become lifetime followers of Jesus.
Something to keep in mind: When a gay family steps into any of our churches, it’s a risk. And when that family is open about who they are, it’s an even bigger risk. Yet, when they do, and when they ask for our help in raising their children, I think, it highlights their commitment and strong desire to raise faith-filled Godly children.
Let’s listen. Let’s ask questions and listen to each family’s answers. What has their story been thus far, both in life and in faith? What are their dreams for their children? How can the church help accomplish the family’s dreams?
And then let’s serve. Let’s do our best to encourage and empower parents so that regardless of their journey thus far, they are strong and able to raise spiritually strong children.
It’s time. Time for us to be mindful as we live out our calling to the fullest, and to serve families in the church for the sake of spiritual growth for all children.