The first time I ever heard anybody say anything about homosexuality I was probably seven or eight years old.
It was the most beautiful wedding I’d ever seen. Granted, at that age I hadn’t been to too many weddings yet, but it left an indelible picture in my head. Maybe it was because I was so young and impressionable, but maybe it just really was that beautiful.
Oversized white candles with garland glowing in every stained glass window of the church we attended. White satin bows with greenery attached to every pew. The only lighting in the whole place, during the whole ceremony, was from candlelight and it was spectacular.
But maybe I also remember that wedding because of what happened afterward.
Within just a few months, the groom left the bride for a reason nobody wanted to talk about.
It was still rare for anyone to divorce in those days – the late 1960s – but even more rare for the marriage to split because one of the couple was homosexual.
I don’t know that I actually remember any of the grown-ups I overheard talking about it actually use the term, ‘homosexual,’ but somehow I knew.
I pieced together that ‘the boy liked boys’ and so he didn’t want to be married anymore.
I watched the faces of the people who talked about him – about what he had done to the bride. Nobody ever mentioned trying to talk to him. Reaching out to him. To find out what was going on with him. I didn’t hear anything positive or hopeful or helpful in connection with him.
Maybe someone did respond like that, but the conversations I overheard didn’t mention that.
Like lots of children, I was listening and observing when nobody realized I was.
And I was learning, even then, how we respond to people.
I learned that if you find yourself in a spot like that guy, you’d better not tell a soul.
Because you don’t want people talking about you like I heard people talking about him.
I learned that ‘a boy who liked boys like he was supposed to like a girl,’ well, that was about the worst thing you could do.
Nobody ever said that to me, per se. But that’s the clear message I got.
And being a child, I never brought it up on my own. Because I saw the looks, the discomfort in their bodies, I heard the strain in adult voices whenever the subject was broached.
But what if I’d heard something different when I was eight years old?
What if the conversations I’d overheard involved reaching out to this brother – realizing the state of pain and confusion he must have been in for a lifetime – and realizing how difficult it was for him to try to walk this out on his own.
I can’t help but wonder if things would’ve been different if that’s what I’d heard.
So how do we create an environment in which children grow up hearing a more Christ-like response to homosexuality?
Here’s a start –
1. Change the way we talk about someone who experiences same-sex attraction.
In casual conversation with other adults, where children may very well be listening.
In intentional conversation with your children. Parents can share their beliefs about the morality of homosexuality without turning it into this shameful topic which leaves the impression that this is the “worst thing that could possibly happen.”
The language we use is powerful. And our nonverbal communication – facial expressions, body language, tone of voice – often conveys more than our words. But our silence is deafening. Avoiding conversation sends as powerful a message as the slurs and jokes most of us have come to recognize as hurtful. Our silence forces kids to internally process all the misinformation they receive about same-sex attraction from the sources that will talk about it, very early, before they have the capacity to truly understand what’s happening. It’s no wonder, then, that many of us end up with the mistaken beliefs we have about our sexuality. Something that God never intended for us.
2. Be willing to listen to other people’s experience, ideas and beliefs. Even if they differ from yours. Especially if they differ from yours.
Let your kids see you do that. Let them see an open mind that’s not threatened by listening to opposing viewpoints. Yes, do so in developmentally appropriate increments, but it goes a long way (particularly with teens) to let them see your willingness to give others a voice, a chance to be heard.
When I was growing up I had friends who were never allowed to visit their friends’ churches – for fear that they would be swayed from their own beliefs. I’m thankful that my parents didn’t believe that and always permitted me to attend church with my friends who went to other churches. It caused me to think more critically – to really weigh the reasons why I believed what I believed – and it solidified those beliefs more deeply.
That’s enough for now – what would you add to the list?