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Lifesaving Advice for Parents of Gay Teens

Let’s get right to it: parenting is difficult. It’s not like keeping a plant alive or caring for a puppy. Raising kids is beautiful. And painful. Fraught with joy and worry and uncertainty.

In my work with parents, I’ve met many with a teen who just came out. These parents love their kids. And these parents, and their kids, are in pain. You may be the parent of a teen or young adult who recently shared with you that they experience same-sex attraction, that they’re gay or lesbian or bisexual. And you’re trying to figure out how to do the best you can with what you’ve got.

But it’s tough.

Sound familiar?

The parents I’ve met probably have similar stories to a lot of you.

  • Before your teen shared about their attractions, you probably didn’t have a chance to teach your child to think carefully about their God-honoring sexual stewardship for all people.
  • You didn’t read blog posts like this one, so you didn’t know how to talk specifically about LGBT+ topics in compassionate and theologically accurate ways with your kid throughout their childhood.
  • Over the decade before your teen shared, you and your church were probably silent at best and homophobic at worst.
  • Then your teen shared about their attractions and you realized that your gay kid had waited five years after they began to experience same-sex attractions to tell you.
  • If you reached out to pastors at your church for help, they were probably just as ill-equipped to support your child and your family.
  • If you sent your child to a therapist or parachurch ministry, they might have made things even worse, even if they knew what they were doing, because your kid felt like a strange hospital patient who needed specialized care, sent away from the friends and church family they worship with and take communion with.
  • Your child probably didn’t know of any gay Christians in your church who are thriving according to God’s wisdom to give them hope.
  • Your kid probably didn’t see many straight people thriving in lifetime celibacy or in a mixed-orientation marriage, so it was difficult to imagine either of those options could be good for them.
  • You might have argued with your teen about whether their attractions are a phase.
  • Or argued about whether they could come out to their friends.
  • You might have gotten bogged down in arguments about what words they could use to describe their attractions.
  • Many of you had tough conversations when your teen shared that they’ve adopted a revisionist sexual ethic that asserts God affirms and blesses same-sex marriages. Or your child might have shared that they aren’t a Christian at all anymore.
  • You found yourself having to navigate same-sex dating. Do you let your teen date people of the same sex, as long as they don’t have sex? Do you have, seemingly, a different standard for your gay child than for your straight child, and not allow them to date at all?

And all the while, your teen has been steeping in bad theology through their phone, connecting with other gay people through dating apps, and airing your family’s dirty laundry in an echo chamber of similarly-minded peers.

You’re starting from behind in a race to save your child. Now what??

Four suggestions

  1. It’s not your fault, and it’s ok to mourn
  2. Pray for a miracle
  3. Do what you can
  4. Change your church for the next generation

1. It’s not your fault, and it’s ok to mourn

It’s not your fault on two levels.

One, it’s not your fault that your child is gay. There is no scientific evidence for the theories that less-than-perfect relationships with parents leads to people developing same-sex attractions. Regardless of how good of a parent you were, your kid was going to one day realize they are experience attractions to people of the same-sex. Parents, we just don’t have the power to make our kids experience or not experience any kind of attraction.

Two, it’s not your fault that you’re starting from behind. It’s not fair to blame yourself for starting from behind. Your parents didn’t have these conversations with you. No one handed you a book when your kid was born to teach you how to have conversations about sexuality and sexual attraction. Your pastor didn’t sit you down when your first kid was five years old and prepare you to say and do what you needed to for your teen to share earlier and with different results. Your parents or your pastors should have prepared you for this, but they didn’t. And to be clear, they should have. But they didn’t.

My guess is that you did the best with what you had. You’d probably be the first to admit that that wasn’t good enough. But I want you to hear from me–someone who teaches parents for a living, someone who was married to a gay man, someone who has kids nearing puberty who are experiencing crushes–I know that you did the best you could with what you had.

I know that if my ex-husband’s parents could go back and learn earlier, initiate conversation earlier, respond better, they would. In a heartbeat! They love their son. And he loves them! He knows they did the best they could at the time, and they have a positive relationship today. I bet the same is true of you, and I hope one day you get to hear the same things from your child.

Even though you did the best with what you had at the time, you’re still starting from behind, and you feel like you’re in a race to save your kid. There is a lot of pain that can’t be undone. The Enemy has been conspiring carefully and cleverly for a long time. You’re not overreacting; this is not the way it’s supposed to be. It hurts. So feel it. Feel your feelings. Talk to your spouse or a close friend. Find other parents of gay teens to connect with. Do some processing with your therapist. Don’t be surprised if at times you want to avoid the reality, or you are angry, or you just feel numb. Those feelings are normal. Don’t be surprised if, as you learn more and appreciate the pain of your child and this conspiracy of sin against your family, each step of deeper understanding brings a new wave of pain. And last, and very importantly, please do not mourn in front of your teen. Your child is hurting enough, and if they see you mourning, that might add to their feelings of shame. It’s easy for a teen to see you hurting and think, “I did this. They’re hurting because I’m gay. It’s my fault.” So protect your child from that by mourning privately with a spouse or close friend or support group or therapist.

2. Pray for a miracle

Second, pray for a miracle.

When I meet with parents of gay teens or young adults who are five years behind, their teen or young adult has often walked away from the faith (or seems to be walking away) because of the pain they’ve experienced around faith and sexuality. These parents often ask, “How can I save my kid?”

I often respond with something like this: “I wish I could reassure you with a list of guaranteed steps for making all of this right, but I can’t. My consistent experience with parents in your circumstance is that it’s going to take a miraculous movement of the Holy Spirit or your kid hitting a painful rock bottom for your child to even consider returning to the faith. And I hate that. I really wish I could promise you something different, but I can’t.”

No parent wishes that their child will have a painful, rock-bottom experience. So pray for a miracle, recognizing that you are starting from behind and feel like you’re in a race to save your kid. Pray that the Holy Spirit, in His infinite power, would overwhelm the barriers and entrenchments in your child’s heart established by years of pain and lie after lie from the Enemy. Pray that God would speak to your teen in an undeniable way and comfort them that He is real, He loves them, and He is worth following, even when it seems painful and unfair. Pray for a miracle.

And at the same time, I want to encourage you to hold this hope for a miracle in a healthy way. Recognize that, much more often than not, miracles don’t happen. I don’t know why, but God usually doesn’t choose to work through miracles. I say this because I fear for your spiritual health if your belief in God and God’s love for you or your teen becomes dependent on whether He provides this miracle. And believe me, gay people know this danger well. Many tied their belief in God’s love to God miraculously removing their same-sex attractions. When it didn’t happen, they were devastated, and their faith was often shattered. So beg for a miracle. But it’s probably best for your spiritual health and your child’s spiritual health if you prepare for no miracle.

Which brings us to the third point.

3. Do what you can

First, expect your teen to give you little grace because they are hurting. I’ve shared that it’s not your fault that you’re behind, that no one taught you what you needed to know, that you probably did the best with what you had, and it probably still wasn’t enough, and that it hurt your child. And it will probably be a long time until your kid can recognize all of this and give you grace. So in the near future, don’t expect any. Expect your child to lash out in their pain and probably hurt you. And please, choose to endure it without reciprocating. Choose to imitate our Savior by taking on punishment for sins you did not commit as an act of love toward your child.

Second, realize that your teen probably knows more than you, at least for now. On average, teens wait five years after realizing they are gay to tell a parent, and they’ve spent those five years pondering and reading and researching and arguing in their head and with people on the internet. They know their stuff. And remember, you’re starting from behind. So don’t pick fights about Scripture or theology or science or statistics, because you will probably lose; their arguments will be too well-rehearsed. Accept that your kids probably know more than you, at least for now.

Third, in the meantime, get educated quickly. It’s time to catch up. One thing it’d be good to learn early, for example, is to focus on the present instead of getting bogged down in the past trying to figure out how and why your kid is gay. (To be honest, there’s no answer to that question. The consensus of scientists is that it’s some combination of nature and nurture, but we have no idea what those nurture factors are.)

There are so many great resources out there. I recommend Wes Hill, Bill Henson and Lead Them Home, Laurie and Matt Krieg and Hole in My Heart, and Greg Coles and The Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender. I also humbly submit my work and the work of Equip. Our blog is full of free high-quality resources, and we offer three different virtual courses for learning at your own pace.

The fourth way you can do what you can: choose not to fight over language. Without getting too deep into this discussion, arguments about what words Christians should use to describe their attractions can be an early barrier to the important conversations. What really matters is whether your teen knows Jesus, whether Jesus is your teen’s Lord and Savior, whether your teen is willing to follow God’s wisdom for sexual stewardship. Don’t let arguments about language and terminology get in the way of those more important conversations.

Instead of getting stuck in identity language conversations, practice term-mirroring. Ask teens what words they use to describe themselves and what those words mean to them. Then choose to use their words with their definitions as an act of hospitality. This doesn’t mean you are agreeing with their definitions or identifications. It just means you’re not letting identity language conversations be a barrier to your relationship with your child or to your child’s relationship with Jesus.

Fifth, confess the idolatry of romance and the hypocrisy of the Church. The more you learn about the intersection of faith and sexuality, the more you’ll see that Americans worship romance and that Christians haven’t done much to resist that idolatry. We’ve just tried to baptize it.

The average Christian in America believes that romantic connection is the most beautiful thing God created and can’t imagine a full life without it. Not only is this belief inconsistent with Scripture, but Christians also lose all credibility when we then turn to gay teens and tell them they don’t need romantic connection to be whole people after we’ve spent a decade leading straight teens to believe the opposite. That’s when you’ll see the hypocrisy. There are almost no straight people seriously considering a life without romance for the sake of the kingdom. Why would you be surprised when your gay teen isn’t interested in considering that either?

While conservative Christians toe the line on gay marriage, they ignore what the Bible has to say about celibacy and procreation and divorce. Confess these. Admit to your teen that Christians have a problem, and what Christians currently teach is often just plain unfair.

Sixth, focus on your teen knowing Jesus, even if you have to make sacrifices. For some, this might look like attending an affirming church for a while so that your teens can connect with God in a shame-free way. For others, this may look like using words like “gay” and “queer” even though they make you uncomfortable. At the heart of it, your kid just wants to be like any other kid: to be loved just as they are by their parents, God, friends, and people they are attracted to. But that doesn’t mean you should change your theological beliefs. Sit in that tension of continuing to believe the goodness of God’s wisdom while temporarily attending a church where your teen can hold on to their faith as you catch up.

Seventh, teach and model a better sexual stewardship for all. Here’s a broad outline of God’s wisdom for everyone’s sexual stewardship. Before you jump into arguments with your teen about gay marriage and gay romance, you need to lay a good foundation.

Part one: What we were created for

God created all of us to enjoy human intimacy in the context of lifelong, lived-in family, and we find that family through one of the vocations God created: Christian marriage or vocational singleness. As you enter your young adult years, you will begin to discern with (ask) God which vocation He has given to you.

Part two: How things went wrong

Humanity’s sin has bent and broken the goodness of everything God created. We see the results of this bending and breaking everywhere. We are all broken in the area of sexuality, and none of us can do intimacy or family perfectly.

Part three: Hope

We are still able to find beauty and goodness and flourish in this broken world because God offers us His wisdom through the Bible and the Church. When we follow God’s wisdom, we’ll find the greatest joy, the deepest meaning, and the richest belonging in this life.

Eighth and finally, do what you can by providing clear boundaries for devices and dating. I’ve sat through conversations with many parents getting into the nitty gritty questions: Do I put filters and accountability software on my gay teen’s devices? Do I block the ability to download apps? Do I allow my gay teen to have Snapchat, BeRead, TikTok, Kik, and WhatsApp?  Do I demand access to review their apps and messages at any time? Do I allow them to date? What does dating mean? What can they do? not do?

First, be consistent when it comes to devices. If you’re doing those things with your straight children, then do them with your gay teen. But if you’re not checking your straight child’s Snapchat messages, then don’t check your gay teen’s messages. If you don’t have a filter on your straight teen’s devices, then don’t put a filter on your gay teen’s devices.

When it comes to dating, it gets trickier. Without getting into a long conversation about Christian dating, I think Christians at large need to have a conversation about whether casual Christian dating is really all that wise. Is it really good for our faith to date and make out with people we have no real possibility of marrying? Does the revolving door of connecting in deeply emotional and physical ways with another person only to break up six months later really prepare us to be faithful to our spouse? So maybe no Christian teen should be dating.

But your straight Christian teen is probably going to keep dating. So let me ask you this: does teenagers dating really have anything to do with opposite-sex Christian marriage? Is it really theologically connected to marriage in any way? Can you really say that straight Christian teenage dating is in any meaningful way an on-ramp to a Christian marriage for a vast majority of teens? If not, then what does the prohibition against gay marriage have to do with dating practices? If Christian teen dating isn’t really connected to Christian marriage, then what relevance does restrictions on Christian marriage have to do with Christian teen dating? If your straight teen can date and their dating has nothing to do with the theology of Christian marriage, then why can’t your gay teen date? To be clear, I do not think same-sex romance or dating is a good thing for your gay teen. But I don’t think straight teens should really be dating either.

My goal here is not to convince you what to believe about casual Christian dating. My goal is to point out the inconsistency. I wonder whether forbidding gay teens from dating but allowing straight teens to date hurts gay teens more than just allowing everyone to date.

And lastly, be a parent. You’re not going to make friends with your teen when it comes to accountability, but that’s why you’re the parent. Your teen is a teen; they are not developmentally capable of resisting many of the addictive features of their devices and of casual romantic and sexual connection. They need you to make tough decisions that they won’t like but that will protect them from pain that cannot be undone. Be a parent.

4. Change your church for the next generation

This one is painful and important. You are starting from behind. A miracle is unlikely. You’ve got a lot to learn. And unfortunately for many parents I’ve met with, they get to a point where their gay teen has grown up, is now in college in another state or has a job and their own home, perhaps in a different city. The parents don’t have as much influence on their child as they used to. Opportunities to have an impact don’t come as often. They haven’t given up on their child, but they are accepting how powerless they have become to change their child. Yet, many have chosen to use their story and their hard-earned wisdom and expertise to make a difference.

Maybe you can’t go back in time and change your family’s story, but you can get involved in your local church and change the stories of other families. How? You can teach young parents what you wish you had known. You can give back in support groups for parents who have just learned their kid is gay. You can urge your pastors to get the training they need to prepare parents. You can pressure your church to take practical steps to become a place where the next generation of gay teens thrive according to God’s wisdom. For many of these parents, this doesn’t change their family’s story, but taking action feels like they’re honoring their story. It makes meaning out of the pain, and there’s great comfort in that.

Churches where gay teens can thrive

But what does it look like to be a church where gay teens and parents of gay teens get what they need? I want to end by painting that picture in six ways.

First, in an ideal world, your children would have grown up seeing gay Christians thriving in their churches according to a historic sexual ethic and that would have given your children hope that if experiencing same-sex attraction were their story, their story would be good too.

Second, before a parent’s oldest kid is five, children’s pastors would train every parent to talk about sexual stewardship for all people and train every parent to demonstrate that they are a safe space where gay kids can share if that’s their story. Children’s pastors would train parents to teach kids that three-part outline of sexual stewardship for all people I shared above.

Third, when some kids start realizing that they are gay, they would remember that God loves them and has wisdom for their lives as gay Christians and they would remember that their parents are safe and want their kids to share with them. Ideally, those kids would share about their sexuality with parents only a couple of weeks or months after recognizing it themselves.

Fourth, because they received a healthy theological foundation and because they saw gay adults thriving in their churches, gay teens would embrace the beauty and the burden of God’s wisdom.

Fifth, without fear or shame before God, toward themselves, or with friends and family, gay teens would experience deepened relationships with God, their parents, and their friends.

And last, just like any other teen and young adult, gay teens would eventually start discerning whether God is calling them to vocational singleness for the sake of the kingdom or Christian marriage with someone of the opposite sex and they’d step into whichever vocation God has called them to because they’ve seen both modeled in their church, valued in their church, and supported in their church.

Churches that do these six things will see gay kids faithfully loving and serving their family, fleeing from temptation, and thriving in God’s vocation for them.

So, if you’re a parent of a gay teen who has come out to you in the past few months or years, if you feel like you’re starting from behind and feel like you’re in a race to save your kid, mourn that you are behind, remember that it’s not your fault, pray for a miracle, do what you can, change your church for the next generation.

I pray God gives you comfort in mourning, perseverance in prayer, wisdom in your care for your teen, and courage to help your church become better. Amen.

If you want to help your local church become that kind of place, contact me at and we’ll strategize, pray, and hope together.

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