An “age” is a cultural period marked by the prominence of a particular item or a particular way of understanding the world. By that definition, our current cultural moment certainly represents a new age with respect to identity, sexuality, and gender. Never before have sexuality and gender been so persistently centered, and so drastically redefined. The numbers related to this change can be a bit shocking. According to a recent Gallup poll, the number of individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or by some description other than heterosexual and cisgender, doubled from 2012 to 2021. By far the biggest change is seen in those who have come of age as a member of Gen Z. A surprising 20% of those born between 1997 and 2003 self-identify as LGBTQ+.
Given these statistics, it is no surprise that there has been an enormous increase in the number of parents who have a child sit down with them to say that they are gay, bisexual, nonbinary, trans or queer, to name a few. Many parents struggle to respond. Especially for parents whose firm theological convictions are in conflict with outright acceptance of these identities, this part of the parenting journey can be especially challenging. While there are no cookie cutter responses sufficient to meet all of the questions and tasks before these parents, the following are a few suggestions that will lay a basic foundation for a godly response.
Cultivate Compassion and Patience
Several months ago I came across a quote by Christian author Tim Challies. It has become a foundational principle in my current parenting. Challies wrote, “Remember that your children are sinners who are beset by the fierce enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Be gentle with them and have pity for them. Don’t be yet another enemy to them.” Colossians 3:12 immediately comes to mind: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” It is important to note that this verse does not come with any family “exemption.” The attitudes we are commanded to cultivate here are not to be directed toward others but abandoned in our most intimate relationships. Interestingly, I have seen compassion grow in me as I have recently developed a more sorrowful and repentant heart. When I reflect on the world we have handed to our young people; when I admit that we, the adults, have not sufficiently protected them from exposure to all manner of evil temptation; and when I acknowledge that my own delight in all the things the digital world put at my fingertips caused me to minimize some of the harm it could cause, I feel immense sadness. As I have confessed my own failings, I find I have become much gentler and patient with those around me who are struggling to find their way.
Manage Your Own Emotions
When a child comes out to a parent, a range of intense emotions quickly arises. Some are positive — one might feel pride and happiness that a child would feel safe enough to share their deepest feelings. But disbelief, anger, guilt, and sadness are also common. Parents are frequently overcome with the fear that their child is being grabbed and enticed by something that will cause them great harm—a loving parent’s worst nightmare. While sharing your own feelings does have some place in a parent-child relationship, dumping intense emotion can quickly derail a conversation. Fear, in particular, spurs a desire to react immediately and drastically. It kicks in that well-known triad of responses: fight, flight, or freeze. While understandable, attacking, fleeing, or shutting down will not facilitate the wise, measured responses that will be required to move ahead in a helpful way. Parents should absolutely find outside resources where they can process and pray through their own feelings on an ongoing basis. The best relationships will focus not on strengthening your biblical arguments, but will focus on strengthening your soul. You will need people who can remind you that even in this situation God can be trusted, that He is a reliable source of peace and rest, and that He will equip you through the Holy Spirit to respond to your child with both unwavering truth and persistent love.
For Such a Time as This
With full understanding of the pain so many parents are experiencing, I offer a word of encouragement. I am convinced that Christian parents will play a critical role in this cultural moment, because they stand so personally in the tension of wanting to hold fiercely to Jesus and His Word, while not letting go of deeply loved children. They are being called to sink deeply into Scripture and to exercise every facet of their faith to meet the challenges before them. Nothing but good can come from that endeavor and from their example. Like it or not, by God’s will, we are the ones chosen to parent in this time. We have been placed, for such a time as this, and God will be faithful to show us the way.
Photo by Jessica Rockowitz on Unsplash
Kelly Urbon earned a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Evangel University, and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Wheaton College. She has been a clinical counselor (30+ years) working with individuals, couples and families; an adjunct college instructor; a Teaching Director for Community Bible Study; and has served in the Chaplain’s office of a Christian college, with a focus on all things related to LGBTQ and sexual discipleship. She currently provides parent coaching through Walk With Them, a supportive resource for parents who hold to the historical Christian perspectives on sexuality and gender, who have children coming out to them on the LGBTQ spectrum. Kelly attends Naperville Presbyterian Church in Illinois with her husband Todd. They are the parents of two children – a college sophomore, and a high school senior who is about to launch them into the “empty nest” phase. She enjoys walking, biking, gardening, and nurturing a tiny flock of chickens.