By Pieter Valk. Pieter is a speaker/author, Executive Director of Equip (equipyourcommunity.org), cofounder of the Nashville Family of Brothers (familyofbrothers.org), teacher/aspiring deacon in the ACNA, and a licensed professional counselor. He helps churches love gay people and celibate Christians find family. Learn more at pieterlvalk.com.
A recent study by George Barna and Arizona Christian University found that 28% of millennial Christians identify as LGBTQ and 39% of all U.S. Gen Zs identify as LGBTQ. Nearly a third of Christian teens and young adults today see their exclusively opposite-sex attracted friends whose gender experience aligns with their biological sex in conventional ways and say, "Not me."
What does this mean? It probably doesn't mean that 28% of millennial Christians have either robust same-sex attractions, no sexual attraction, or feel strongly that they were born the wrong biological sex. Instead, several other dynamics may be at play in this dramatic shift. An increasing number of primarily opposite-sex attracted young people (especially women) seem to be recognizing their capacity for sexual fluidity. In addition, more Americans are identifying as trans as a philosophical rejection of gender norms, even apart from an experience of gender dysphoria. Whereas queerness was once a category that people tended to avoid until their experiences made it impossible to avoid, identifying as queer in America today often means finding belonging in a cultural movement, making LGBTQ identification far more appealing than it once was.
Regardless of the reasons behind these statistics, it's reasonable to note rising LGBTQ identification and guess that a majority of the next generation will identify as a sexual or gender minority in some way. Here comes the Queer Generation.
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Some Christian parents will respond by retreating further from mainstream culture to protect their children, hoping to boost the chances that their kids will identify as straight and cisgender.
But what if Christians instead discipled the Queer Generation? What if parents responded calmly, "So you're queer? Alright! God's not surprised, and His wisdom is still clear and very good for you!"
In the past, many parents have resisted their children identifying as queer. Some imagined the hardships that might come with being LGBTQ and hoped their child wouldn't have to endure that pain. Others feared that if kids became convinced they were gay, gay romance (and eventually sex) was inevitable. In many ways, these parents bought into the idea that we can't help but follow the cultural scripts associated with our sexual orientation. Gay people will have gay sex. Straight people will have straight sex. The only way to keep kids from gay sex is to convince them that they're not gay.
This strategy has had mixed results, at best. When parents insist that their kids aren’t really gay, this tends to lead kids to distrust their parents and rely more heavily on other sources of wisdom. If a majority of the next generation identifies as LGBTQ, convincing most kids that they are straight and cisgender is hopeless.
But Christian parents aren't without hope.
Instead of resisting queer identification, Christians could guide it. From an early age, parents could teach their children about God's wisdom for our need for connection in the context of community, inoculating kids from cultural scripts associated with sexual orientations. Christian parents could teach their children not to assume that LGBTQ people must do or say anything in particular because of their identity, effectively decoupling sexual orientation from cultural habits. We can offer the next generation a better script, built on God's design for us as image-bearers, regardless of sexual identity.
In short, we can disciple the Queer Generation instead of resisting it.
If you’re a parent, you can slowly offer your children wise building blocks to make sense of their sexuality beginning at an early age. In age-appropriate ways, you can explain that God created all of us to enjoy intimacy in the context of family and designed two best ways for us to enjoy intimacy in the context of family: Christian marriage and vocational singleness. You can get your kids excited about one day asking God whether He wants them to seek vocational singleness or Christian marriage.
You can also recognize the ways humanity’s sin has bent and broken the goodness of everything God created, including how all of us do intimacy and family. Your child might be negatively impacted by the broken sexuality of another person. One of your family members might have an affair, get an abortion, get divorced, struggle with infertility, or be widowed. A family member or friend might look at inappropriate images and accidentally or intentionally expose your kid to those images. Someone might touch your child in inappropriate ways. A family member or friend might make inappropriate jokes around your kid.
Your child might also experience unchosen brokenness in their own God-given and good sexuality. They might realize that they’re attracted to people of the same sex in the ways most of their friends are attracted to people of the opposite sex. Or your kid might start to feel uncomfortable in their own body; your son might not feel like a boy inside, or vice versa. Regardless of how deeply and in which ways our capacities for intimacy and family are broken, most will be tempted toward lust, and sadly most will be even further burdened by the consequences of actively indulging in those temptations.
Before puberty, you can invite your kids to share with you if they are wrestling with their sexuality or their body in any of these ways. You can reassure them that their attractions and experience of gender are not their fault. You can hope for them to share with you quickly whenever they begin to wrestle with brokenness in their sexuality. You can promise to listen, to comfort, and support them.
Finally, you can reassure them that even if they feel like an LGBTQ identity describes them best, God isn't surprised. When God put this world together and offered His people wisdom for how to steward their sexualities, He knew they’d be queer, and His wisdom for them is the same. And it's not just true—it's good! Regardless of our sexual orientation, we'll experience the most beauty and goodness when we follow God's wisdom. We'll find the greatest joy, the deepest meaning, and the richest belonging.
As future surveys and parent anecdotes report more kids identifying as LGBTQ, Christian parents can resist panic and instead disciple their children with God's love and wisdom for queer people. Parents can guide their children to share about their sexuality early, make sense of their queerness together in the Scriptures and prayer, and ultimately empower teens to embrace a traditional sexual ethic and thrive according to God’s good and weighty wisdom for a lifetime.