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Reaching Kids Experiencing Same Sex Attraction
An article from Jonathan McKee at

Dynamic Image“We are confident in our theology concerning sexuality. We are equally confident that how we’ve traditionally approached sexuality, and ministering to teenagers in all stages of their sexual identity, has been unintentionally hurtful, confusing, and alienating to a whole bunch of teenagers.” –Kurt Johnston, Same-sex Attraction: One Youth Group’s Journey

Every since the release of my book Sex Matters, answering teenagers tough questions about sex, pornography, masturbation, and homosexuality, I can’t go but a few days without receiving an email from a youth worker or a parent asking me how to reach young people experiencing same-sex attraction.

As the issue has grown to be the deciding factor for many young people’s faith, the church is slowly realizing the need to act. Sadly, this has produced a polar response. On one extreme we’ve seen churches grow extremely vocal about “preserving traditional marriage.” Last month I sat in a pew across the country and heard a man giving announcements in the morning service of a large church. His voice grew louder and more emphatic as he called the church to pray for “the sanctity of marriage in this country.”

I wonder what someone experiencing same-sex attraction thought as they heard that announcement? Perhaps they reflected on the words to Hozier’s hit song, Take Me to Church:
    “Every Sunday's getting more bleak, a fresh poison each week.”
In a polar reaction to not be like this church, many churches have decided to simply conform to the world’s beliefs about the LGBT movement. Instead of changing their methodology, they are changing their theology—“Homosexuality is no longer a sin. Problem solved." Over a quarter of American congregations now allow homosexuals in leadership positions.

And that brings us back to the question at hand: how should we respond to someone experiencing same sex attraction? After all… neither of these above extremes seem to look much like Jesus.

Actually Reaching Kids Experiencing Same Sex Attraction

  1. Err on the side of grace. Even though we don’t know exactly what Jesus would say to the gay community, when Jesus walked this earth he embraced sinners. In fact, the worse the sinner, the more they wanted to be near Jesus. Tax collectors (Matthew 9, Luke 19), adulterers (John 4, John 8)… Jesus never shunned them or barked at them about their sins; instead he extended love to them. At the same time, he didn’t say, "I feel bad that you are struggling with this sin. I've got an idea... it's no longer a sin!" He loved them and let them know that God's love was big enough for them.

    The church seemed to have forgotten this, focusing only on certain sins. They have treated homosexuals as the worst kind of sinner, judging them in a way no scripture could back. Like the Christian who lives next door to a guy living with his girlfriend, and a gay couple on the other side. This Christian greets the guy living with his girlfriend every day with a smile, but he stands with a picket sign protesting his gay neighbor.


    How come we aren’t picketing the gossipers in our church?

    We need to learn God's grace for the sinner. After all… we are all sinners.

    What does this actually look like? I think Kurt Johnston nailed it in the article I quoted above. He describes it like this:

      Simply put, we believe church should be the safest place for a teenager to talk about anything, especially something as important as same-sex attraction (thank you, Andy Stanley). So, our youth ministry is attempting to be the kind of place students feel safe sharing their stories, struggles, questions, and doubts. If a teenager who is experiencing same-sex attraction doesn’t feel welcomed in our youth group, we are misrepresenting the ways of Jesus.

    Which leads in well to my next idea…

  2. We need to create a climate of comfortable conversation with our kids about God's plan for sex, intimacy and relationships. I love what Dr. Kevin Leman said when he read my new book, More Than Just the Talk. He said:

      “In a world of explicit lies, today’s kids need parents who aren’t afraid to tell them the explicit truth.”

    Sadly, many of today’s Christian parents would freak out if their kids asked them tough questions about sex, or “came out” about some feelings of same-sex attraction. Yes, these situations aren’t easy, but the more we spend time getting to know Jesus and allowing him to renew our thoughts and attitudes (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23), the more we will respond like Him.

    As these doorways of dialogue open, we need to be careful not to stick our foot in our mouth (something I’ve done countless times). Which leads to my next little piece of advice…

  3. Be shrewd and innocent. In a world where anyone who disagrees with the LGBT lifestyle is declared a “hater,” we need to be shrewd in how we answer questions about same-sex attraction (just ask Phil Robertson). Open doors can close quickly when we say something flippant.

    So think ahead about questions like, "Do you believe homosexuality is wrong?” or “Do you believe I'm a sinner?" If you are ministering to young people experiencing same-sex attraction you will receive these questions. Be prepared.

    One possible answer:

      "I believe
      I am a sinner and I need Jesus. I haven't followed you around, but I'm guessing you're in the same boat. Let me introduce you to Jesus and I think you'll find you need him too."

    Equip yourself with the knowledge to engage in “unemotional” conversations about truth. Read up about what the Bible actually says about homosexuality throughout the scriptures (not just one Leviticus passage), and be able to answer tough questions. Don’t be afraid to use resources like my new book, Sex Matters, or the Sticky Faith book, Can I Ask That?


  4. Live it. What have you done to reach out to those experiencing same-sex attraction? Have you volunteered in an AIDS clinic? Have you befriended someone living the homosexual lifestyle?

    Jesus spent so much time ministering to sinners, he was actually criticized for it (Matthew 9:11). Wouldn’t it be cool if that’s what we were criticized for?

    It’s easy to preach our love for all sinners, but our actions speak much louder than our words.

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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Comments on this post

   Kate Robinson         5/8/2015 3:54:49 PM

Since Jon has not provided more insight into what he means by erring on the side of Grace. Here is some information that may be of help. There is helpful information even for those who want to continue their belief that homosexuality is a sin but want to explore alternative views of how to treat people with Grace. For those who would like to talk with others on this journey - and I mean straight people living in the question of how do we treat same sex attracted people with Grace even though your understanding is that it is a sin - then I suggest their mission is Mission: "The Marin Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit that works to build bridges between the LGBTQ community and conservatives through scientific research, biblical and social education, and diverse community gatherings." There is also an interesting movie called Seventh Gay Adventists which tells the story of some same sex attracted people and how their churches have responded both positively and negatively The Seventh Day Adventist denomination is seen as a fairly conservative or traditional denomination so how this issue was dealt with by a mixture of people is very interesting For those who want information specifically from the view point who identify as Christian and Gay then I suggest you look for resources avalable on It includes discussion from those who consider 2 views. "Our membership includes both those on Side A (supporting same-sex marriage and relationships) and on Side B (promoting celibacy for Christians with same-sex attractions). What began as an organization to provide support to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) Christians has grown into a worldwide movement for compassion with many straight members as well." For those who think Conversion Therapy or Reparative Therapy is the way ahead for same sex attracted youth - then please do your research into the problems this causes the suicide rates and failure rate etc. Yes there will be those who say that it has worked however for every person that says that, there are many many more more who have been seriously damaged. Please seek out the stories of the people who have lost their children through pushing them away from faith and to the many who have lost their children to suicide. PFLAG is also another organisation supporting people who have children or other loved ones.

   Clay         5/7/2015 12:23:57 PM

Jonathan, I think that as we youth pastors are extending the grace side of the gospel, we should be clear that same-sex attraction in and of itself is NOT a sin. We need to be careful to separate feelings from actions. There are many faithful Christians who experience same-sex attraction and who are committed to a Christ-honoring lifestyle of chastity in singleness. I highly recommend Wesley Hill's memoir "Washed and Waiting" as an example of one person's struggle to honor Christ while wrestling with the reality of same-sex attraction. It also challenges those of us with opposite-sex attraction to forge deep friendships with our brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction - a chaste life should not be a lonely life in the body of Christ.

   Kate Robinson         5/6/2015 7:17:17 PM

Sorry I need to make something clearer which I asked what do you believe same sex attracted people need to do to accept the good news, I was specifically asking about their same sex attraction.

   Kate Robinson         5/6/2015 6:40:31 PM

Jon you have asked people to reach out to same sex attracted youth and to er on the side of grace. So does that mean you do want youth groups to accept them as they are including if they enter into same sex relationships. What do you think the good news is for same sex attracted youth? And what do you believe they need to do to respond to this good news?

   Jonathan McKee         5/6/2015 8:24:28 AM

Thanks Rick, I'm glad the article will be a help to you. Our theology differs (mine is spelled out in this other YCW article here: but I'm glad we agree with the need to point kids toward Jesus, and his love and grace.

   Rick Byrne         5/5/2015 11:18:11 AM

Hi Jonathan, Thank you so much for this article. I will be adapting it for use with the high school youth group for whom I teach Sunday School, as this is a top-of-mind issue for them. I'm going to deviate through from any notion that homosexuality and same-gender attraction are sins in themselves because that's not the theology we believe as Episcopalians. The concept of loving, monogamous and faithful same-gender relationships did not exist in the time of the Old Testament, Jesus or St. Paul. This is something new that is never directly addressed in Scripture -- precisely because it didn't exist -- and we, as Christians, need to accept that this is something new, and we must apply our gift of discernment to it to arrive at God's truth. To speak in generalities -- though I can gladly engage in specifics if you'd like -- there are 3 Old Testament and 3 New Testaments that theologians generally agree refer to same-gender sexual behavior. One in the Old Testament, the story of God sending two angels to Sodom and Gamorrah disguised as men, results in a threatened gang rape -- clearly a sin for its violence and hostility to the two strangers, regardless of gender, and bearing no likeness to a loving, faithful, long-term same-gender relationship. The other two refer to parts of the 612 tenets of Old Testament Torah law which called same-gender sexual activity an "abomination." Other things referred to as "abominations" in Torah law were eating shellfish or pork, and charging interest on loans. The old laws were declared fulfilled by Jesus, and thus we can enjoy ham and shrimp, and pay our mortgage interest, without fear of eternal condemnation. As for the New Testament references to same-gender sexual relations, St. Paul's reference to them in Romans 1:26-27 in the same manner that he refers to worshipping idols and women who commit lustful acts with men. His words are harsh, but the behavior he condemns is the lust, not the same-genderedness. He makes no mention of love, commitment, or faithfulness to someone of the same sex. In the ancient world, same-sex behavior mainly occurred between adult men and adolescent boys, between masters and their slaves, or in prostitution -- all of which we abhor today. Most of the men engaged in those practices were married to women, so in the context of what First Century Jews understood about human sex drives, same-sex behavior was widely seen as stemming from out-of-control lust and vices of excess, like gluttony and drunkenness. And while Paul labeled same-sex behavior unnatural, he says in 1 Corinthians 11:14 that for men to wear their hair long also goes is unnatural. Most Christians interpret that as a reference to cultural convention -- and acceptable to us today given our acceptance of brethren with long hair, and the depictions of Jesus with long hair. The final two New Testament references that most believe to be about same-gender behavior use the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai to describe two types of people on a list of many who will not inherit God's kingdom. As with other references before, modern translations of these words clearly do not refer to people in committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships, something which the ancient world had no more understanding of than the very Internet on which we are having this exchange. All that said, this article is still incredibly useful for giving us leaders the language, advice and direction with which to guide the discussion with our teens. Lust is still a sin, regardless of gender, and it is still a sin to confuse infatuation with the love God showed us how to practice through Jesus, regardless of gender. We can teach them that in an authentic way, whether they are discovering they have same-sex attractions or not.

   Greg Aitchison         5/4/2015 7:03:40 PM

Excellent article, Jonathan. Thank you for this.


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