Ed shares some of the resources available to help you talk to young people about faith and sexuality.
Having good conversations about faith and sexuality with the young people in our churches is so important. Too often when it comes to their experiences and questions around relationships, sex, identity and gender young people face embarrassed silence from older Christians, or well-meaning simplistic answers that are not well tuned into the ever-changing complexity of the world in which they are living.
Here are some ways we can help young people live emotionally healthy and distinctively Christian lives.
Immerse ourselves in their cultural stories
You could start a good conversation here – by asking them what they are watching, reading, hearing at school or online. Which song lyrics, Netflix series, young adult fiction, PSHE lessons, social media influencers are shaping your young people? One obvious reason this is so important is that there is not one youth (or any other) culture out there and there are many variables in play – different class, race, religious, educational, and economic backgrounds that have varying attitudes and approaches towards LGBT people. There may, of course, be a gap between what your young people are willing to share in a church context and what is happening in other contexts, so an anonymous survey might be a good way of finding out what is shaping them and what questions they have as a result.
You should also do your own research in youth culture. You could watch a film or two: Love, Simon (2018) is an archetypal teen romantic comedy-drama with a gay hero which demonstrates how normal and acceptable same-sex romantic relationships are regarded as today. As it ends, pause to reflect on the contemporary challenge of graciously articulating the Christian view that a same-sex romantic or sexual relationship is morally wrong and harmful. Watching the films Boy Erased (2018) or The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018) will help you see how young people are being given very negative expectations of how Christians and churches might respond to them if they are gay. Reading some young adult fiction like Patrick Ness’ Release (2017) will only underline this point. Listening to the powerful lyrics of Troye Sivan’s Heaven (2015) will help you see the choice any same-sex attracted teenagers in your church are being presented with.
In the UK, charities like Stonewall are producing most of the LGBT resources used in our schools: so, have a look at them for yourself. The one secular book I keep pointing people towards is Juno Dawson’s This Book is Gay (2014): it will give you a real sense of what teenagers are being told today and why – its content may shock you: but that’s the point.
Immerse them in God’s better story
Glynn Harrison’s A Better Story (2016) calls Christians to not just critique the sexual revolution, and keep repeating the same old rules on sex, but instead share the Bible’s much better and bigger story when it comes to relationships, sex, identity and gender. If you haven’t yet read his book, you should!
Those who have responded to his challenge with books for younger people include Jason Roach with his Swipe Up! (2019) and myself in Purposeful Sexuality (2021). You might need to make the content more accessible for your young people, but they both outline the big-picture, better story you should be sharing. In her 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity (2021), Rebecca McLaughlin includes the questions ‘Why Can’t We Just Agree That Love Is Love?’ and ‘Who Cares If You Are A Boy Or Girl?’ and shares her own experience of same-sex attraction. Preston Sprinkle has written the only good book I’ve found specifically written for Christian teenagers on homosexuality: Living in a Gray World (2015). His US Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender has recently developed a resource called Christian Sexuality which looks good and may be transposable into non-US contexts.
Here at Living Out we have produced a number of story videos that you might like to share as part of teaching on the Bible’s better story. Our animations are also designed to help you do this and have been created with youth especially in mind. In 2019 I was given the chance to speak to over a thousand young people (in person and online) with the title: Why Jesus is good news for a rainbow world and it says much of what we long young people to hear and live in the light of.
Mark Yarhouse has written his helpful Understanding Sexual Identity (2013) specifically for youth leaders and parents. Preston Sprinkle’s Embodied (2021) is the best book speaking into transgender experiences that we have come across. And a helpful short introduction to the topic can be found in Andrew Bunt’s People Not Pronouns (2021) which highlights the importance of considering the question of identity when engaging with matters of gender.
Live out God’s better story yourself
All of that said, you can obviously talk, listen, watch and read as much as you like, but what young people will pay most attention to is you and how you live out the Bible’s better story when it comes to relationships, sex, identity and gender. They need to see how both God’s grace and his truth have shaped your life choices whether you are married or single, gay or straight, content with your gender or confused by it. Authenticity is rightly prized by emerging generations and sharing your own experiences, questions, and how God has helped you with them will have the biggest impact of all.