Christianity is a major religion in America, making it all but guaranteed that, even if your immediate family is not Christian, your child will encounter Christian beliefs from family members, friends, media, or even in school.
But if your child might be queer, how can you navigate that situation in a thoughtful way with the presence of Christian beliefs so prevalent?
The number of youth who feel safe in acknowledging their queer identity is rising: a nationwide survey identifies over 10% of youth acknowledge as queer, while a CDC survey conducted during the pandemic finds the number at closer to 22%. One in six GenZ adults identifies as queer.
Those are a high numbers, which means the likelihood of having a queer or questioning child is rising–and the likelihood of your child having a queer friend is almost a certainty. To experiment with gender identity and sexuality children don’t have to be queer: that experimentation is common for young children, and more prevalent in adolescence.
Some Christian messages can be interpreted as conveying the idea – “hate the sin, love the sinner.” If a friend of your child or a family friend is queer, being able to understand and defend against judgmental attitudes, couched as biblical objections to the existence of those people could prove important and validating, so that the child doesn’t feel isolated. If your child is queer and a family member identifies as Christian, it that validation can be essential.
As a queer individual from a fundamentalist Christian family, I have done extensive research on the biblical passages, often referred to as “clobber” passages because they can be used to ‘clobber’ queer people.
A conversation with Carolyn Kittle, who has a master’s degree in Gender Studies and is the Youth and Newcomers Pastor at Blue Ocean, an Ann Arbor church now well known in the evangelical Christian world for its LGBTQ+ affirming policies, is the foundation for some insights shared throughout this article.
Here are some suggestions for ideas to consider and ways to approach this sensitive topic.
Identify the openness of your Christian family/friends.
If there are Christians in your life who may not be open to considering alternative points of view, whatever you say may not matter. If that may be the case, focus on firm boundaries– “This is how our family handles communication around this topic. I expect you to do the same, or at least not conflict with what we’re doing.” If those requests and boundaries are not honored, consider taking additional steps like: specific chats with your kids, supervising, limiting or suspending visits with those individuals.
If the Christians in your life are open to considering alternative points of view–
Recommend biblically-based resources.
If friends or family believe in the Bible as the infallible and inerrant word of God, you must meet them where they’re at for them to be able to understand things from a queer perspective. You must start from the perspective of taking the Bible itself seriously.
A helpful resource for this is A Letter to My Congregation: an evangelical pastor’s path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian, and transgender into the company of Jesus, by Ken Wilson (cofounding pastor of Ann Arbor’s Blue Ocean congregation). Written by a pastor whose emotionally tumultuous journey from anti-queer to queer-affirming is almost guaranteed to resonate with Christians, it is exclusively based in and deeply respects the Bible. Wilson is still serving at Blue Ocean, a congregation which made waves in the evangelical world when he began moving his church toward full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people based on his fervent study of the Bible.
Another great resource is the podcast Almost Heretical. Founded by a Bible scholar and a former pastor rethinking their evangelical beliefs, it brings a new appreciation for the Bible and its scriptures. In particular, these two podcasts are poignant: Episode 65: “LGBTQ: The So-Called Divine Ideal,” and episode 66: “LGBTQ: Why do People Marry?”
Keep the goal of connection forefront.
If the person who seems judgemental of LGBTQ+ folk is a family member or friend that you wish to remain a part of your lives, prioritize the relationship with them. Kittle recommends seeking connection while also being clear about your own (and your family’s) boundaries. “Don’t hide who you are and what you believe, and also don’t push it. Instead of insisting that someone adopt a perception of the situation similar to yours, perhaps say, ‘I see this issue differently from you: here’s how I see it. We can keep talking about it, or talk about something else.” Let them know that you want to maintain a relationship with them, and that coming to a place of resolution (while not necessarily full agreement) about queerness is important to you.
Go through the biblical passages with them yourself.
It takes a bit of emotional energy to engage with well-meaning, but homophobic, individuals. Summonsing the energy to stand in the gap between your queer child/friend and Christian or other well-meaning friend to assist them in working through ambivalent LGBTQ+ beliefs, can create a valuable ally role.
This is a brief summary of refutations/ considerations to be applied to biblical passages to assist as an ally. These are ways to interpret the passages and to differentiate them from a caring, consensual LGBTQ+ relationship:
Genesis 9:20-27: Noah and Ham: clearly about incest and/or rape, not loving consenting queer relationships.
Genesis 19:1-11: Sodom and Gomorrah: about rape–again, clearly not a consenting or loving interaction. When Sodom and Gomorrah is mentioned and condemned in other Biblical passages, it is not for homosexuality: it is for “lying, pride,” and “haughtiness”.
Leviticus 18:22, 20:13: same sex relationships: cultic homosexuality among prostitutes or among Canaanites, and pedophilia. If this first prohibition against male homosexuality is to be taken at face value, it is followed directly by prohibiting sex with a woman during her menstrual cycle, and wasting semen or having any sex that doesn’t directly seek for a child: therefore birth control, period sex, and masturbation can be interpreted as equally sinful with homosexuality; and, the passage only condemns male homosexuality: women aren’t mentioned at all; which presumably ties in with the comments on procreative sex and “wasting semen”.
1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:10: New Testament “vice lists”: male prostitution and/or pedophilia; the word “homosexual” is obscure and other texts strongly imply pedophilia or prostitution, or possibly “power rape” done by soldiers to the losing side of a war; “homosexual” is an English word which only originated a few hundred years ago.
Romans 1:26–27: Paul: the Roman Isis cult. Paul is referring to idolaters who engage in idol worship of Isis and animals (hence the “giving over the nature of God for animals” in that passage)–cultural context and vast Isis popularity when Paul wrote Romans points strongly toward exclusively describing the Isis cult. The passage could also refer to the goddess cults that encouraged male priests to castrate themselves, which Paul could have referred to with: “men giving up desire for women”. Here again, homosexual behavior between women isn’t condemned: Paul says “women gave up natural love for unnatural love”, which could mean unnatural acts with men or any number of other interpretations. Some biblical scholars think it very likely that the passage is describing specific heterosexual acts.
Place emphasis on the things that ARE more frequently mentioned in the Bible than anti-gayness: like love, respect, and tolerance.
Whether or not your Christian family is able to acknowledge the interpretations behind the seven anti-gay biblical texts outlined above, it is difficult to deny that both the Old and New Testatment speak far more to the virtues of loving everyone, seeking to include them in the congregation, and leaving judgment to God.
In a passage of the New Testament, Jesus speaks to the congregation about trying to condemn a woman who committed adultery–a clear biblical sin condemned many times in the text. His approach was to chide them for trying to judge and penalize her, not to uphold their right as a church to judge and cast her out.
Kittle says, “I would base any Scripture passage analysis against these sayings: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself, and love does no harm to your neighbor.’ Rather than judging others, ask: ‘Is this interpretation and translation helping me to LOVE more, or to JUDGE more?’”
Kittle also points out Bible verses that say: “Don’t let the foreigner say, ‘I am excluded from the community,’ and don’t let the eunuch say, ‘I am a dry tree’–the Lord has created something better than sons and daughters and given you a lasting name for all time.” She asks: “How can Christians ignore the inclusion in these verses? ‘My house will be a house of prayer for ALL people.’ It’s not just for cis men and cis women. The verses can be read in harmful and unaccepting ways, or there are ways to interpret them that can affirm a more inclusive or valuing diversity of creation.”
Biblical interpretation is not simple.
Kittle urges folk to realize that the Bible is a confusing, sometimes seemingly contradictory text. “There are a lot of verses I find provocative that people ignore,” she says. “A verse in Jeremiah says, ‘The Lord has created a new thing on earth: a woman becomes a man.’ People say it means a woman will inherit like a man, or surround a man–but no: it says a woman will become a man.”
Kittle further explains, “Another argument or interpretation on gender, and less about marriage, is from Genesis, where the Bible mentions that men and women were created, as well as day and night, birds and animals–but it doesn’t mention amphibians: reptiles that go on land and sea–and it doesn’t mention sunrise and sunset: just light and dark. No one looks at a sunset with thoughts of ‘It’s an abomination because it’s BOTH light and dark.’ Just because something isn’t mentioned in the Bible or the creation story, doesn’t mean that it should be dismissed or is worthy of being condemned.
Draw gentle attention to the fact that inerrantly interpreting the English versions of the Bible can lead to misinterpretation of the original text.
A problem with interpreting biblical passages is that taking the English translation of the Bible as word-for-word inerrant can be misleading. There are many reasons why–even if the Bible as originally written was the inerrant word of God– over thousands of years, scribal rewrites and translations to different languages encourage an interpretation of the text with some leeway on inerrancy.
Those who have learned a foreign language know that it is impossible to directly and perfectly translate from one language to another, let alone an ancient text. Even if we think we clearly understand what the Bible is saying, there is always space for historical context, imperfect word translations, and language evolution that can be considered.
There are instances where the Bible’s authority is not accepted word-for-word concerning treatment of other social issues.
Do we base all our modern theology on slavery, women, and war on the Bible’s general teachings? Christianity, throughout much of history, has often been on the wrong side of slavery, feminism, and war.
The Bible, for example, doesn’t condemn slavery–in fact, in some verses it urges slaves to stay slaves and obey their masters–yet all reasonable people today condemn slavery as being immoral.
LGBTQ+ is a similar social issue, where queer people are now the ones rising up and demanding to be treated as full and accepted humans. Even though the Bible seems to accept, or in some cases, even support slavery, those verses are often ignored or explained as “products of their time”. Perhaps LGBTQ+ discrimination is also a product of its time.
Protect your child.
It can be difficult for anyone to hear someone criticizing or damning a part of their identity. It can be harmful and create lasting negative impact for children to hear those things from adults in their lives. Your child is almost guaranteed to hear anti-gay sentiments, but they don’t need to hear it from their own family.
At Blue Ocean, people in the LGBTQ+ community share, speak at, or are involved in the classes they teach on LGBTQ+ affirming views, but Kittle says: “It can be traumatizing for queer members to listen to conservative non-queer people hash out these issues, and we’re very open about that. Even straight cis-gendered people can feel triggered by people touting traditional teachings.”
Find Your Community.
For local Christians looking to support the LGBTQ+ community, an accepting church, like Blue Ocean, can be helpful. “We offer a lot of classes,” says Kittle. “We just finished a series on LGTBQ+ Scripture: An Affirming View. That’s primarily led and taught by allies and we’re really clear that this is mostly allies teaching and how they’ve changed their mind. We also recommend that people listen to LGTBQ+ voices. We’re here to learn and listen.”
Kittle also recommends that parents consider joining a group of parent allies: parents of kids who have come out, and allies that want to learn more. The group centers around how to better support the children and evolve the parents’ views.
Kittle adds, “A lot of our congregants come from more conservative backgrounds and are trying to navigate their evolving beliefs with their conservative families. We incorporate that into sermons, helping people navigate holidays and such.”
Ultimately, Kittle urges folk: “Listen to your heart: what feels right in your heart. Not just these “supposed to’s’ or should’s.”