I 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.”