Let the Children Come to Me…Except That One

January 10, 2011

Jesus said “Let the children come to me.”

Yesterday, I was watching a news story on bullying in school.  The report featured a few bullies and a few victims.  The victim who got the most airtime was a gay male student.  He had come out to his family and classmates.  He displayed unmistakably effeminate mannerisms.

And he is twelve years old.

Now, I felt like a complete jerk saying to myself that it’s no wonder that a skinny, lisping, openly gay student would be the target of bullies.  I had a tough enough time with bullies.  Even if I had been gay, I knew I didn’t need to announce it and add fuel to the fire.  And far be it from me, as a pastor and teacher to mock an obviously bright and compassionate child who must surely have a tough road ahead of him.

It was the fact of a twelve-year-old who has come out as gay that got me thinking.  We live in a time when the church is deeply divided over what rights adult gay men and women have.  Two-thousand years ago, the disciples tried to keep the little children away from Jesus.  Makes me wonder how today’s disciples would treat the children trying to see Jesus…if the children were gay.

When I was twelve, I loved “Legos.”

The first thing I asked myself when I saw this kid was, what would I say if he were my kid.  I mean, he’s twelve.  His decision to come out seemed…premature.  Sure, we had kids who came out…at my high school.  But this kid’s voice hasn’t even dropped.  How many chances has he had to see if he really is gay before he announces it?  I can say I’m a football player, but it doesn’t mean much if I haven’t actually ever picked up a football.  I loved Legos when I was twelve, (and didn’t know much about sex).  But that doesn’t mean I love Legos today, just because I did when I was twelve.

Maybe you think this kid’s an anomaly.  A one-of-a-kind, confused kid.  But as surprised as I was, I don’t think he’s that unusual.

The Wave of the Future

First of all, we seem to be in a big rush to get kids all grown up, don’t we?  By the time you’re a teenager, you’d better have a career picked out, and apparently, a sexual orientation.  I think the pressure’s on kids to “find themselves,” as early as possible, and that means more kids coming out, and at an earlier age.  I guess Christians do that too.  How many of us became Christians as kids before we really understood the sins Jesus was saving us from?  How many kids later grow out of their “Christian” phase?

Second, now that being gay is becoming more acceptable, mainstream, and very fashionable, and lots of impressionable kids are surrounded by gay culture, I believe we’re going to see a lot more kids curiously exploring homosexuality as just another thing to do, even going by the “gay” label the way other kids are “jocks” or “goths.”  For many kids, being gay will be the normal starting point, rather than being straight. 

We also now have 41% of children being born outside of marriage.  A good chunk of those kids will never have a steady father figure.  There is tentative evidence that a lack of relationship between dads and sons affects homosexual tendencies.  If that’s true, get ready to see a lot more gay children, or at least children going through a “gay” phase.  It’s ironic that so many people are worried that gay adoption will spawn a wave of gay children, when a much bigger cause might be the failures of heterosexual families.  How many children are raised by gay parents?  Now, how many children are raised by broken up heterosexuals?  You do the math.

Let the children come to me…except for that one.

The debate inside the church over homosexuality has been how do we treat these people.  I think the most vehement Christians and gays, those who claim to “hate” the other, are comfortable with such a heated debate, because after all, we’re all adults.  We can stand up and defend ourselves.  We’re comfortable throwing barbs back and forth, saying one group are bigots and the others are going to hell.

But are we comfortable being that vehement, that harsh toward a child in the youth group who believes he is gay?  How is the church going to handle this issue with sensitivity, rather then telling a generation of gay twelve-year-olds that God hates them? 

I made a prediction for the new decade a couple of weeks ago that gay marriage would be settled as an issue, making way for something else for Christians to argue about.  Maybe this is the next evolutionary step in the issue.  The church doesn’t have a history of handling the issue gracefully.  I wonder what church’s response will be over the next ten years.

What do you think?  Is this the next issue the church faces?  If it is, what do you think the cause is?  What should the church do about it?

33 responses to Let the Children Come to Me…Except That One

  1. What makes me mad is that everyone makes it their business to comment on the gay kid/pregnant kid/kids sleeping together when really, it’s none of theirs other than to pray. And not praying out of pity either. Of everyone who “speaks the truth” in a church, how many are ACTUALLY speaking the truth out of love?!

    (I don’t include this blog in that group of people btw…reading that back makes it seem like I’m having a go at you!! I’m not, promise)
    Lulu recently posted..So that was 2010

  2. Reading this, I just have Jesus in my head saying “Love one another as I have loved you. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” And he was talking to the church/his followers, saying that how we love one another is what draws others to Him. I don’t think we do this very well.
    I think that you’re right in saying we expect people to know who they are and what they want to do at a young age. And it doesn’t help that because the media is so sexualised, that children and young people see way more ‘sex’ than there is actually happening. They can grow up thinking that if they haven’t had a partner before they’re 16 there is something wrong with them.
    I think the church needs to be aware of what is happening with the youth, especially those in their midst, and be able to have open conversations without judgment with the youth and the parents in their congregations.

  3. Pope John XXIII said, “Be kind. Only be kind, and you will become a saint.” He wasn’t talking about something that happens in a ceremony, he was talking about the sainthood we are called to by virtue of our baptism and living faith.

    Be Kind, especially to the little children. Also, it is possible to know you are gay at 12. It’s possible to know long before puberty. Be kind, only be kind.

  4. I think we need to begin a major shift in the church towards training our ministers, lay people, and congregations what to do about homosexuals and homosexuality. A trained and knowledgeable people will be better able to handle the issues you brought up in this post without yelling and bitterness. I truly don’t agree with Lulu at all. People want (or at least need) to hear the truth, and praying alone doesn’t speak it to people. We need a trained church who will know how to lovingly redirect a question that is designed to make me look like a hater to an answer about Christ accepting the children, but not leaving them where they are.
    Dan Smith recently posted..Afghanistan- Part II

  5. I think the issue at hand is why do we judge when it’s not our place. I would of thought the same thing.
    God’s point to us is this, so I think, is that I love everyone! That doesn’t mean I condone everyone’s lifestyle.
    This openly gay student has a terrible lifestyle, if acted upon, and God does not condone it at all. But He loves this child the same as all others. He lusts just as much as the rest of us, he sins like the rest of us. It just is a heated debate as it’s only been an issue the last 30 years or so.

    I feel the same way about the stance on Women in the church, it has only been an issue since the 60′s and if that long.
    Culture is driving what we think or battle in Church, we should be driving what Culture thinks!

  6. I’m pretty sure I didn’t know anything by the time I was twelve, sure I thought I did. But really, I just didn’t. Same goes for this kid. He probably thinks he understands everything, but he doesn’t. I know enough individuals who define themselves as homosexuals that I think many of them would agree that sometimes as adults they aren’t even sure what they believe.

    Perhaps this gives me hope that christians aren’t the only ones who coerce children into making decisions, perhaps parents do it as well.
    SethC recently posted..Books2

  7. I’m not surprised the kid is being bullied. Kids tend to pick on other kids they see as weaker or different. It’s not about him being “gay” as much as not being “the same” as the other kids. I’m sure kids who are smaller, wear glasses, are uncoordinated at sports, etc. get picked on too.

    It’s tricky to deal with this because we’re in a culture that has those pushing the idea that homosexual activity is not sinful melding the people with the act condemned in Scripture; it’s a lot easier to just yell “bigot” at people who disagree with you that way. I think Dan really touched on a key point; the world teaches kids to frame the question in a way to make it appear hate is the result of an answer that disagrees with the world’s view of things. So kids are growing up in an environment that has people saying “if people disagree with an action you choose, they hate you.”

    Everyone is born with a propensity to sin. Everyone’s tempted by something. Every one of us breaks something in the Bible that God calls a sin. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say that sin is sin just because someone may not like that. We should just be honest with the kids when the situation arises that it’s up for discussion. Everyone can come to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t approve of everything we do. And yes, there is a difference between who you are, things that tempt you and actions you take.
    Jason recently posted..Day 9- Sunday morning encouragement

    • Absolutely. Hate is the default reaction, if not to people you disagree with, then to people who disagree with you. If you just say “that whole group of people who disagrees with us are a bunch of hateful bigots,” then their opinions don’t matter. It will be up to Christians to break that cycle, and up to homosexuals to acknowledge that it has been broken.

  8. By the time I was twelve I had half a dozen Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editions stashed in my room. I knew for sure, 100% that I was straight. It’s not rocket science.

    • That was kind of what I was thinking. Twelve is on the cusp, but certainly not at beyond the realm of possibility of knowing that you like one sex or another. My 12 year old journals have lots of boy crushes written all over them. I was pretty sure I knew I liked boys at 12. I didn’t have to “come out” though — that’s just the default assumption.

      And I’m not sure that I think it’s fair to link “things I liked” with sexual orientation. I liked cows in high school and college. Now, not so much. I mean, they’re okay, but meh. But I DEFINITELY knew in college that I liked guys and met my now husband then. Tastes in toys and movies and food aren’t really analogous to sexual orientation.

      • You are right, the analogy breaks down at some point, as all analogies do, and I do agree that it’s possible for 12 year olds to know what they like. My point was only to say that a lot of changes happen after 12. I don’t think I’d let my 12 year old – gay or straight “date” yet anyway, so I don’t see the point of putting yourself on the gay market so early.

  9. I think we spend far too much time on issues, and not enough time on Jesus. We have a lot of baggage that we’ve brought along, and tend to single out that which is culturally not the norm. Even Paul did that from time to time. That is why we end up with church scandals from the pastor running off with the secretary to money scams and child abuse – focusing on issues, not problems.

    The message is this: there is sin in the world and only Jesus can save us from it. We need to focus on discipling those coming in. We need to preach the entire Gospel including grace, love, sin, salvation, and redemption, and yes, judgment. The problem arises when we play “Who’s Line Is It?” and start singling out specific sins – there are no points for that! The Bible is clear about what sin is; stick to the message.

    Instead we conform to the ways of the world, and the church has done that for centuries. Just about every denomination was started because of a deep need fo God not being met in the “church” of the time.

    Striving for relevance seems to be a lack of faith in the word that we are preaching.

    We cannot decide who gets to come to our church. If we do, we stand in judgment and are blind and in sin. So lets the gates swing open and bring them all, the rich, the poor, the blind, those in sexual sin, the Republicans and the Democrats. Then preach salvation and back it up with signs and wonders.

    Mark 16:20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

    Does God love gays? YES! Is that the focal point of the message? No! Salvation and discipleship is.

    I have written once about this issue, and probably won’t again.

    http://fireandgrace.blogspot.com/2010/12/gays-god-and-grace.html

    As always, great blog.
    David recently posted..Some Things that You Can Do In Church Without Making God Mad

  10. When I was 12, a part of me still wanted to be Han Solo. So no, not all prepubescents have everything figured out. However, my Sonny-as-wannabe-Rebel-Alliance-smuggler did mean that what I was interested in sparked a keen interest in astronomy and science, which was a passion and interest of mine through college. So yes, sometimes at 12 we may in fact have a clue about what will help define us through our emerging adulthood.

    I worked with a youth group in Athens, GA that had at any given time at least one openly gay male and one bisexual female in regular attendance (both in high school), and each of them would – at times – bring friends. And let me tell you: the simple fact that these kids had an environment to come to where they could just be themselves, not sit in judgement (well, as much as some of the other teens would allow; sadly, the upper-level pastors had some issues as well), and just be loved and served by me and the other adults there – it was beautiful.

    Did we at times talk about their sexuality? Yes. We TALKED about it. We didn’t debate it. We talked.

    Years after the fact. I’m still in touch with 2-3 of these kids, and although I can not say that I “changed” them, i do know that I challenged them…in terms of their spirituality, not their sexuality.
    Sonny Lemmons recently posted..To my readers- thank you

  11. I think the church should love the children, all of them, even the bi-curious ones. And I think the church should help them. I don’t know how, but we need to.

    nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com
    Charlie Chang recently posted..The F word

  12. It is absolutely possible that this young man has accurately identified his sexuality at such a young age. Particularly for boys, self-identification can happen when very young – sometimes as young as eight or nine. It may be unusual to come out at such a young age, but with the growing exposure to gay and lesbian figures in the media, it’s not shocking.

    It is also absolutely possible that his self-identification will change over time. Having no “test” or “true/false” determinative for sexual orientation means that it is possible for such identifications to change. *However* – it is very dangerous to assume that this will happen. Assuming that a youth’s sexual orientation will change can become another way for the church to condemn the “homosexual” for not changing quickly enough. Denying someone’s self-identification can easily just become more fuel for the bullying fire.

    A side note: if you are interested in welcoming gay, lesbian, and bisexual people into your church community as themselves, and do not require chastity or change from them (which as I can see from the comments is not a universal desire), it is better to refer to “gay” or “LGBT” (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans) people, than “homosexuals.” “Homosexual” is out of vogue in the community, and is generally used by churches and philosophies which condemn the lifestyle.

  13. A few thoughts…

    1) The church could and should be LEADING the culture, bringing great light to all the issues, not just the ones defined by those outside the church.
    2) In order to lead, you have to LOVE. How else to expect to capture the hearts and minds of individuals? Jesus LOVES people, which causes them to come toward Him. The Church can do this. It’s our mandate, anyway.
    3) The church has a really bad habit of being on the defensive as a means of engaging the various cultures in our world. Per my point #2, we could be on the offense. When we see the issues through the eyes of Love, Grace, and discipleship, we can shed the ridiculous robes of “Irrelevance”, “Ignorance”, and “Hatred”. There are congregations trying this, but we need more on board.
    4) We absolutely have to stop giving the anti-Christian crowd the ammunition to define us by our own negative actions. History cannot be changed, and a good reputation has to be earned.

    While we simply cannot retreat on the issues that are plaguing our societies, we could be doing SO MUCH MORE to wipe the muck of our own sin from the windows of our hearts, and let Jesus shine through. He’s genuine. He loves unconditionally. He also never compromised when it came to sin. People are drawn to him nonetheless. But even after the miracles they hated him at the cross, and He continued to give everything for love. That is our paradigm.

  14. My personal (ivory tower) opinion on how the church should deal with this sort of issue is that it should be treated as sin. Since each of us is a sinner, we should each be held to the same standard. That means if a person (in whatever capacity) is tempted to sin, s/he should flee that temptation. Occasionally we each will mess up. If confession is made and true repentance sought, then the person should be welcomed within the church community. If the person doesn’t confess/repent and the sin comes to light, the process defined by Jesus in Matt. 18 should be followed.

    The problem with my ivory tower is that we have a set of “big” sins that we’ve defined for ourselves – adultery, fornication, embezzlement, homosexuality (i.e., money or sex). Lying is ok, as long as it doesn’t involve money or sex. Gossip is ok. Coveting, envy, pride, gluttonousness, etc., all ok. Convincing someone that it’s ok for a celibate gay person (someone who is tempted, but who is fleeing that temptation) to serve in (or even attend) a (mainline Protestant) church right now would near impossible. Convincing someone that it’s ok for a wildly overweight person to serve would be a no-brainer. Yet one shows a HUGE amount of self-control (one of the fruits of the spirit) while the other shows a lack thereof (unless, of course, there are medical issues involved).

    And what do we do with those who have yet to be convicted by the Holy Spirit about that particular sin? Perhaps God is drawing them to Himself, but He’s working on something else in their lives right then? Because again, we’re drawing a line in the sand – THESE sins/sinners are ok, but THOSE? No way, man!

    Real life is WAY too messy.

    I think we need to find a way to change the culture of the church so that sin is seen as sin (black and white), and not that there are gradations of sin. At the same time though, we need to find a way to do so without sitting as judge and jury over our brothers and sisters.

    A church that actually followed my ivory tower ideal would spend all their time in church discipline.

    No answers here.
    Princess Leia recently posted..Shoeboxes!

    • Great point PL! It seems to me that the Church needs a greater understanding of sin, and the Good News of the Gospel in relation to what Jesus did about the issue of sin. While it’s most certainly a black/white issue (Sin is bad, and should be avoided, period), society tends to foster reactions by nursing an ignorant understanding of sin (inside AND outside the Church).

      As a historically Gospel-exposed society (i.e. Western Civilization) we really need to sharpen our theology on this topic. The result would be a very clear understanding of sin, but also a floodgate of relief and inspiration flowing from a right understanding of Salvation, Grace, & Sanctification. I’m confident that flood would extinguish a lot of the pointless bickering we’ve been doing within society.
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    • “Convincing someone that it’s ok for a celibate gay person (someone who is tempted, but who is fleeing that temptation) to serve in (or even attend) a (mainline Protestant) church right now would near impossible.”

      Just for clarification, I believe this assertion is incorrect.

      United Methodist: Partnered gay and lesbian people are allowed to belong to churches, and permitted to serve as pastors if they are celibate.
      Evangelical Lutheran (ELCA): Ordaining people in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships” since 2009. Debate continues, not all regions call such pastors, but the national rules allow their ordination.
      Presbyterian (PCUSA): Debate presently ongoing as to the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian people, but celibate gay and lesbian people are allowed to serve.
      Episcopal: Ordaining partnered gay and lesbian priests for several years now. Debate continues, not all regions call such priests, but the national rules allow their ordination.
      American Baptist: Call for celibacy among gay and lesbian members and preachers.
      United Church of Christ (UCC): In accordance with the denomination’s structure, beliefs are varied, but national rules allow for the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian people.

      Although, reading your statement again, you may have meant that it’s near impossible to convince someone who is *not* mainline Protestant that a celibate gay person can serve in a mainline Protestant church (which, as stated, is true); someone outside of the practice would not be able to see the Scriptural and Spirit support for such actions. If this is what you meant, than I agree.

  15. As products of our generation and society, it may seem that we are pushing our kids to be “grown” too fast, but I see an entirely different side of things. I think our culture coddles immaturity in a lot of “adolescents.” The age range for adolescent in the US is between puberty and 25+ years old. How many “guys” graduate from college and then move back in with their parents? Biblically (and historically, if you go back far enough) there is no such thing as an adolescent. You are a kid, and then you are an adult when you are ready to take on adult responsibilities. That is what a bar mitzvah was, a proclamation of a boy entrance into “manhood”— and do you know what that reenforcement of one’s adulthood does? It fosters young adults who can handle making decisions and goals and sticking to them and achieving. It’s sometimes the key difference between a responsible 15 year old young man and a flaky 25 year old boy.

    The other benefit of this? Parents are the ones who should proclaim, “you are my son, and I am well pleased with you”. and before that even, they are the ones who should be instilling values in their children, not leaving them to “figure it out themselves” or “find themselves”. This whole idea of a child being left to figure out things on their own is ridiculous.

    This is just another result of the ever-increasing deteroriation of the family structure. and for that I have no suggestions– what can be done?

    • P.S. my housemates were watching some old episodes of Full House earlier and I never noticed as a kid that there are definitely gay overtones to that show. Probably because I didn’t know what gay was back then.

  16. Watching a TV show “Glee” one espiode really spoke volumes to me about gays and the church and do we love as Christ loves us. The episode was of the boy Kurt who is gay and an only child being raised by his father (mother has passed away). His father had a heart attack and some of the kids trying to comfort Kurt while his dad was in the hospital expressed prayer and attending church with them. Kurt said “no, I don’t feel excepted in church” He felt lost has to how to deal with his pain and fear of possibly losing his dad and going to God was an option he felt rejection instead of comfort and support. At the end of the show he did go with a friend and it was good. My point even though this was TV speaks volumes about who we are as a church. Do we show Gods love and grace so that our neighbors know they are welcome no matter what their life is about? Or do we look at our community/neighbors and say hum,come with me to church, except for you I don’t think you will be accepted?
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  17. First, this isn’t aimed at Lisa even though it’s after her comment. :) Didn’t want you to think I was attacking you.

    I think a part of the problem here is what constitutes “acceptance”? Some will say acceptance is allowing anyone to come to their church, treating them like a human being should be treated but also disagreeing with choices they make in their life. That includes their decision to pursue homosexual relationships.

    Many on the other side of the issue will say acceptance only comes when you don’t say anything against decisions they decide to make or actions they choose to take. If someone says they’re engaging in homosexual sex acts then you just have to smile and either encourage them that what they’re doing is fine or just not say anything at all about the Bible’s opposition to it. (And it’s not just homosexual sex we can mention here; the attitude is also very pervasive for hetero couples having sex outside marriage.)

    The first example will be labeled “intolerant” or “hateful” or “not accepting” by those demanding “acceptance.” The first example will think the second example doesn’t care about God’s word and is in love with the world. So where is the line for “acceptance”?

    As long as you can’t define that great line, there’s really no way for any church to succeed long term in kind of situation.
    Jason recently posted..Day 10- The simple blessing of growth

  18. Such a great topic that the church does need to face and NOT ignore! Yet we need to react with love. Thank you Michelle for your comment quoting, “Love one another as I have loved you. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” That was EXACTLY what I was thinking. I have a gay uncle who has a partner and 3 adopted children. They are members of an Episcopal Church and are loved very much by the Christian who are around them. Yes they are sinners, but aren’t we all. I am not agreeing with their lifestyle, but Jesus would have invited them to church, dinner, etc. Are we not suppose to live like Jesus?
    Meredith Moore recently posted..Dancing with God

  19. good post matt, altho it would have been great to see something along the lines of “love them” coming out (oops) towards the end of it…

    i think it’s been said a little in comments already but for me (been a pastor for the last 6 years in a vineyard student church) it is a case of focusing on the right issue – loving God, loving people and then working towards dealing with sin

    in the roughest of terminology i see it this way, it is not my job to stop people from being gay, my job is to love people and lead them to Jesus… any sin He wants to deal with is His job (after all it is the Spirit who convicts to repentance)and so number one priority must always be love and the church has definitely erred on that one

    that said, it does become hugely tricky, because – as someone who has a lot of friends who are gay and some who call themselves gay and christian – i think the bible is clear that for anyone who is part of the community who is actively living in sin, the onus is on us to challenge them by ourselves, then with someone, then with the church leadership and then after all of that, to expel them from community [imagine if the church took this seriously not just for the gay issue but for sleeping around and dodgy business dealings and gossip...]

    so it is a tough tough issue and as gay becomes more acceptible and more mainstream, one the church really needs to meet head on, but hopefully our starting place will always be love – the love of Jesus that doesn’t condemn you but that also leaves you with the message of “go and sin no more” [John 8]

    good job.
    brett FISH anderson recently posted..How to Love your Woman better part ‘Saying it’

  20. I was alittle behind in reading the blog (sorry, Matt), but this is timely for a situation I am going to be facing soon with a guy I graduated high school with. Even in HS, he was the butt of jokes, people calling him “gay” or “fag” even though he never “came out.” I never did those things, because it is not my nature. Did I think it? I don’t think so.

    Since HS, he has come out and makes no bones about the fact he is homosexual.

    I saw him the other day for the first time in probably 12 years, and was excited to see him. We made plans to get a cup of coffee to catch up.

    So I have been grappling with what to say if the issue comes up. This was a great read to get my wheels turning. I know God loves him just as much as He loves me. Now I have to love him just as much.

    I only hope on my blog I will have the guts to put something like this out there for people to read. Thanks again, Matt, and the commenters as well.
    Lazarus recently posted..Wet Spaghetti ReminderGet the Surgery!!!

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