What’s our vision for churches? That they would pass Equip’s Gay Teen Test.
Our Gay Teen Test asks whether what gay teens in your church hear and see sets them up to fail or flourish. Does a mix of silence and hypocrisy in your church lead teens to reject a traditional sexual ethic and, often, God altogether because of their confusion, shame, fear, loneliness, and hopelessness? Or does your church courageously lead compassionate conversations about God’s love and plan for all people, setting up gay teens to embrace the beauty and the burden of the gospel?
There’s five parts to the Gay Teen Test:
1 – Is your church a place where everyone is thinking theologically about their sexual stewardship?
Most churches today lead straight Christians to assume that they will get married, teach that we need romantic companionship to be happy, and ignore the Bible’s teachings about lifetime celibacy and divorce. This leads to high divorce rates and a void of theology and practice of lifetime abstinent singleness among straight Christians. But then we call gay Christians to a higher standard of sexual stewardship by allowing straight Christians to misuse marriage for their romantic fulfillment while asking only gay Christians to consider celibacy.
Instead, a church that passes the Gay Teen Test is a place where everyone is thinking theologically about their sexual stewardship, so LGBT+ Christians find fellow cross-bearers in their straight brothers and sisters. These churches teach that God first calls everyone to a period of abstinent singleness during which we discern whether we are called to a lifetime vocation of celibacy or a lifetime vocation of Christian marriage with someone of the opposite sex. These churches teach that every Christian has the same inherent capacity for both vocations and every Christian, gay or straight, should offer the question of celibacy or Christian marriage to God.
2 – Does your church talk publicly about the challenges LGBT+ Christians face so that they know it’s safe?
Particularly in churches that avoid the topic of God’s love for gay people, the average church-goer doesn’t know how to have compassionate and theologically accurate conversations with friends. As a result, gay people don’t know whether it is safe to share their story. Churches that sit the fence on this topic hurt gay Christians because their indecision limits their ability to invest in something better.
Instead, a church that passes the Gay Teen Test talks publicly about the cultural questions in the intersection of faith and sexuality. With compassion and theological accuracy, they explore the following questions: How does same-sex attraction develop? What part did God play and why? Does same-sex attraction change? How should gay people meet their intimacy needs? How do LGBT+ people fit in God’s story? How is God’s invitation to LGBT+ people good? As a result, everyone in your church knows how to love LGBT+ people well and reflect the love of Christ in conversations about sexuality. Plus, LGBT+ people in your church still in the closet will know what you believe, your love for them, and that it is safe to share their story.
3 – Does your church make sure every child knows that God loves gay people and has good plans for them?
Most churches wait until a kid shares that he is gay to address the topic of homosexuality. This is a problem. On average, teens wait five years after first recognizing their same-sex attraction to talk to a parent or pastor. That’s five years that a teen makes sense of these questions alone. Most often, this means that a teen has either developed shame, depression, and suicidality or adopted a progressive sexual ethic (and often both).
Instead, a church that passes the Gay Teen Test talks about same-sex attraction in age-appropriate ways across the lifespan. Before a teen realizes he or she is gay, the teen hears that gay people don’t choose who they are attracted to, that they have nothing to be ashamed about, that we won’t try to fix them, that we don’t love them any less, and that God has good and beautiful plans for them. Then, when teens realize they are gay, they quickly share with their parents and pastors, inviting them to help them learn how to steward their sexuality in God-honoring ways.
4 – Do pastors and lay leaders in your church know how to minister to LGBT+ Christians well?
Unfortunately, many parents and pastors first react to a teen sharing about his attractions by sending him to a therapist or a para-church ministry outside of the church to “fix” him. Parents and pastors don’t know how to minister to gay teens well, so they outsource the care. The shame and loneliness of gay teens is amplified because their challenges are treated as weird problems that need special treatment. They are told to make sense of a key aspect of their personhood away from the church family they worship with, pray with, and take communion with.
Instead, a church that passes the Gay Teen Test is a place where pastors and lay leaders know how to minister to LGBT+ Christians well. They’ve done what it takes to gain the competency to provide pastoral care to gay teens. While licensed counselors still may be included to help address clinical levels of anxiety or depression, these churches recognize that same-sex attractions are not a mental illness to be cured. Parents and pastors help gay teens integrate their faith and sexuality in ways that lead to thriving in this life and deep relationships with God and friends.
5 – Is your church a place where LGBT+ people could thrive in celibacy or Christian marriage?
A lot of churches may have the right beliefs about sexual ethics, but the pathways for sexual stewardship they offer are inviable. They are places where no one is thriving in celibacy or the complexities of marriage with someone of the opposite sex. Essentially, they are walking gay teens to a desert, giving them a shovel and a bag of seeds, and then commanding them to thrive. In response to the ways many have misused mixed-orientation marriage, the pendulum has swung the opposite direction and many churches teach that celibacy is the only option for gay people. But these churches never teach about lifetime singleness, there are no models in their church for doing this well, and they don’t invite straight people to consider celibacy. It begs the question: if we aren’t offering celibacy to straight people, do we really believe it is good?
Instead, a church that passes the Gay Teen Test is a place where LGBT+ people could actually thrive in celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage. These churches teach about the theology of celibacy in Scripture, adults are modeling thriving in lifetime singleness and they are celebrated in the church, and the church invites all people—gay or straight—to discern whether God is calling them to celibacy or marriage. Most importantly, these churches are places where celibate people can find the same depth of family that married people find, whether that be through intentional Christian communities of celibate (or celibate and married) people or helping celibates move in with marrieds to be a part of their family. Then, these churches teach about the possibility of mixed-orientation marriages for gay people, cautioning against getting into these recklessly while highlighting the beauty and brokenness of real stories.
Scoring your church
So how did your church do? 0 out of 5? 1 out of 5? To be honest, I’ve never met a church that scored higher than 2 out of 5 on the Gay Teen Test. And that’s why Equip does what we do. There’s a lot of work to be done. For many pastors, reading this list is overwhelming. How could a pastor ever find the time to score a 5 out of 5 in between writing and delivering sermons, baptizing members, providing pastoral care to congregants, officiating weddings, running staff meetings, speaking at funerals, making sure your church stays in budget, and responding to complaints about the music or a theological point or the color of the bulletin?
Pastors don’t. That’s why Equip exists.