A Recent Conversation on “Victory”

VictoryI was talking recently with a friend of mine who is in youth ministry. He shared that he feels good about the way the youth group is inviting of all kinds of kids. He has worked hard to create an inviting, grace-filled atmosphere. The challenge, he said, was in helping kids who experience same-sex attraction find “victory.”

“We pray together and these kids will be really sold out for Christ. They are actively engaged in our worship together. I meet with these kids and minister to them. I know that they want victory. They go after it hard. But even after many months, they seem to be still dealing with homosexuality. I don’t know how to coach them to a place of victory. They may not be in a same-sex relationship; they may not act on their feelings, but they still have the attractions. One guy said to me recently, ‘I just don’t know how to be attracted to a girl.’”

“In your church culture,” I asked, “How is victory defined?”

“We would say that a person has victory over same-sex attractions when the attractions go away, when the person has heterosexual attractions,” he said.

“What would it be like in your church culture, in your youth ministry, if victory were talked about more in terms of growing in Christlikeness?,” I asked. “What if sanctification was the primary focus, rather that the current focus on attractions?”

“I don’t know,” he shared honestly. “That’s not the way we’ve thought about it.”

“What I’d like you to think about is whether placing so much emphasis on change of attractions ends up putting more pressure on these kids and on their expectations for the specific ways God should be working in their lives. In my experience, while some kids may end up experiencing some movement either away from same-sex attractions (and in some cases toward attraction to the opposite sex), most will likely not experience as much change as they had hoped for. So, while you don’t want to discourage them in that, I think it might be helpful to frame ‘victory’ around the kinds of things God promises to each of us—that He is committed to bringing us further along in spiritual maturity, in Christlikeness, and I wonder if there is room in your ministry for that to occur independent of whether attractions change. It seems to be a more attainable goal, and I think there is less risk of shame. I wonder about whether those expectations for victory end up making the kids feel like it is either their fault for not having victory, or that it is God’s fault in a way that makes them want to give up on their faith altogether.”

“Yeah, I see what you’re saying,” my friend said. “I don’t know how that would be received. That’s an interesting shift, and I can see why it might be important. But why wouldn’t God bring the kind of victory we talk about?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But I do know many people—folks a little older than the teens in your youth group, who have talked about their same-sex attractions as more a part of their life as they know it. Some might say it is like Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ –something they asked God to talk away, but they still have it. They have tried to find meaning and purpose in it; they have tried to find ways to bring glory to God through it.

Others have talked about their same-sex sexuality as a distinct part of who they are as a person. They see themselves as maybe more creative and able to relate to different kinds of people than others might. Some are what we might describe as gender atypical, by which I mean their experience of being male or female does not always fit into the cultural stereotypes we have for masculinity and femininity. They very well might not experience these differences as deficits. Some might still wish they had attractions to the opposite sex, but they have come to terms with their attractions in a way that has led to some peace, some resolution in their heart. I don’t know that they would use the language of ‘victory’ to describe that resolution, but maybe that language would resonate with them.”

6 thoughts on “A Recent Conversation on “Victory”

  1. Good answer, sorta. Inhale, well I just might as well come out with it.

    I think you should have been more direct. Given more straight up facts about how unlikely it is that the youth will have a change from gay to straight. You kind of generalized that and I think it would have been better for you to be more specific as in something like “less than 0.5% of completely gay young men will ever experience any movement at all towards heterosexuality, and actually they never stop being gay”

    I think you should be more direct in giving the youth pastor some statistics. I think if you would have given him the statistical truth he would have been more inclined to change his focus. Your answer was kind of generic without imparting any hard data for him to latch on to and for him then to understand. I think this youth pastor would be more willing to re-define “victory” if he knew exactly what the odds were under his definition. Why don’t you call him back in a couple weeks and see how his counseling is going?

    Before he called you he REALLY thinks that people can Pray Away the Gay. This what you told him I don’t think is clear enough, ” most will likely not experience as much change as they had hoped for.” If I were the guy I would hang up and think, “Well “most don’t” but that must mean *some do* so I am just going to have the kids pray harder”. It is your use of the word “most” that I think is very imprecise and should be changed up to instead be accurate with statistics and facts. Once realizing the straight up facts, the odds if you will, I think people would be more willing to listen to you.

    I actually interact with a whole slew of young pastors from time to time and virtually ALL of them believe that it is possible for gay people, through Christ, can change their sexual orientation, and this SHOULD BE their goal. A lot of them are Youth Ministers also. There is real ignorance there. What they really need IMHO, is facts and figures. And then I like the rest of what you said, about changing the focus to be more Christlike. I thought that was good, in line with your background and beliefs. (I believe differently I think God loves gay people just the way they are). But according to YOUR faith that was a good response. It must be hard for you, having done the research and knowing what you know, and having compassion for *all* people, yet having your faith teach you that gay love consummated in gay sex is a sin. I don’t envy you or Warren.

    Please accept this as helpful criticism. I am honestly offering you this feedback in a positive way (I hope it comes across that way).

  2. I think I hear your heart in your criticism. I think we have to agree to disagree on the numbers and how to communicate them, but I appreciate your take on it. I don’t think I could say what you recommend I say; I actually think hard numbers in this area are difficult to come by (and it sounds like you would have me put them out there but keep them really small). We would be discussing here both therapy and ministry, in this context, and there are not that many well-designed studies to provide firm numbers and percentages, and there is really nothing of the kind with the population he serves: teens.

    • Mark, to be clear I just made up that number. You are right that certainly that there has not been a research study on teens. (I guess that is why you have a PhD after your name and I don’t, LOL) I think the only ones who could do that type of study would be Nicolosi. I remember reading Nicolosi stating that 75% of his practice was with teens. I found that number shocking. He said it in the Court documents if I am not mistaken.

      I read several gay blogs a day and I couldn’t even begin to count the sad stories I read of the emotional pain sexual minorities describe they had in their youth, the struggle between their natural self and their faith. It’ll just be a comment made in reaction to, usually a story about a viciously anti gay preacher. In responding to the story they share what happened to them when they were young. Every single one of them walked away from their church and religious faith. Most of them now are atheists. That is my unofficial guesstimate by reading comments.

      Honestly I wish the ministers would just plain STOP preaching from the pulpit about homosexuality, just plain stop preaching about it. I have seen so many comments from now adults, mainly men, about what that was like to sit in the pew and hear that. I think it should be at least 100:1 maybe a 500:1 ratio about preaching of the sin of watching porn vs homosexuality. Did you know that there is a VERY high incidence of preachers who view porn weekly? I was shocked, I read that on the Christian Post. I know I bookmarked it, if you would like me to go get it.

      I read a comment yesterday that really touched me, and I have seen more or less this same comment, not hundreds, but thousands of times.-

      “As I’ve always said, I know many gay couples who have been together many decades, and know of literally hundreds more. It amazes me that we can stay together despite the vast number of heavy duty forces– law, religion, society, and medicine– arrayed to drive us part.

      And I am equally amazed at the failure of so many heterosexual marriages despite those same vast forces arrayed to keep them together, including promises made to god herself.

      As I’ve also always said, and you echoed it quite fully, this is not merely about ending this
      Vicious prejudice for me. Im 62, and may not be around to see it end.This is about ending it for gay kids everywhere. They are our spiritual children, and they deserve to have what we have had to fight for.”

      It was his ending words that actually I shed a few tears over, “These are our spiritual children”. You know these mature gay men especially the men, they really really are very protective of gay youth. They do NOT want them to go through what they went through. They want things to change, especially, particularly in the churches, so that gay young people today, do not suffer like they did.

      I just wish we lived in a time already when no young gay or lesbian teen was offered “special counseling”. The same rules apply to them as applies to the straight kids about sexual relations. Why can’t a gay teen have a boyfriend? You allow straight kids to have boyfriends and girl friends and you teach them about no sex. It is this singling out and separating them and saying, “No YOU can’t have a boyfriend” when the straight kids DO have boyfriends and girlfriends. This is getting lengthy so I’ll wrap it up. One thing I learned from reading gay blogs is that the mature gay men and women are *extra protective* of gay youth, they really worry about them being harmed by the church. If you think about it, isn’t that really odd? The agreement is, that churches harm gay teens and adults. Religion is for good, not for harm. But that is the perception (I guess based on their own experiences) churches harm gay teens.

    • Here’s a thought. You’ve come across a lot of same-sex attracted people in your own research. Guestimate how many that is. Maybe 200. Maybe 300. Whatever. Now guestimate how many of them reported “victory” in the way that’s defined by this youth pastor. What percentage do you get? Take that number, and educate this youth pastor as follows…”in my own research, I’d so only x% of people ever report this kind of victory – the others, well-meaning as they may be, and as desperate and hard as they pray, have never reported this kind of victory.”

      • That’s not a bad idea, DJ. We have really only conducted research on folks over the age of 18, so it’s difficult to suggest what is likely for a 15-year-old. Others who have researched teens point to greater fluidity and/or diffusion of sexuality that may be less likely to be present once a teen moves beyond emerging adulthood. But your cautionary statement is well-intended and gets at my primary concern when people equate victory with heterosexuality.

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