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They/Them or Your Majesty?

The Youth Pastor and Sexual/Social Ethics

A family member has invited you to his wedding, where he will marry his true love, who happens to be another man. What do you do? How do you decide?

One of the students in your group informs you that she now identifies as non-binary and requests you use “they, them” pronouns when referring to her. Do you have to follow her instructions? How will the other students respond if you do – or don’t?

The ascendancy of LGBTQ+ culture confronts Christians with a battery of fresh and novel moral issues – gay weddings and trans identity among them. Let’s examine these from your point of view as the leader of a Christian youth ministry. How do you respond, and how can you involve your students to help them make sense of this cultural moment?

The Starting Point

The Christian worldview lays a foundation for our moral choices. While the Scriptures speak directly to marriage and gender identity, choosing how to respond can be challenging.

An effective way to invite openness among your group is to share examples where you have been challenged in your faith and made difficult decisions. Let them know not only what you decide but also how you decide. Your example will be significant as they mature and face increasingly complex situations challenging their faith.

To Go or Not to Go: The Same-sex Wedding Invitation

The Christian worldview guides us to understand marriage as a sacramental institution joining a man and a womanin a covenant relationship with God(Matthew 19:4-6; Malachi 2:4).For this reason, marriage is to be honored by everyone (Hebrews 13:4) and the marriage ceremony represents more than a legal or social transaction; it embodies deep and lasting spiritual truths (Ephesians 5:31-32). These truths underline God’s high value of traditional marriage, so we must acknowledge that same-sex marriage does not conform to biblical teaching.

As a result, there are two significant reasons to decline the invitation.

First, attendance at their wedding is not a morally neutral act. It indicates your affirmation and celebration of the wedding (unless you plan to speak up when the officiant asks, “Does anyone have a reason this couple should not be married?”  Not a good idea).

Second, as a youth leader, do not forget that you speak for more than yourself. Wherever you go, whatever you say, you represent the church that has put its trust in you as a leader.

If you have an ongoing relationship with one or both of those getting married and you want to continue the relationship, express your regrets to them (“I am unable to attend”) and offer to have them over for dinner or meet them for coffee or some other casual get-together where you can affirm your relationship with them and continue your ministry.

In the meantime, invest time learning how to interact with those who have chosen alternative lifestyles. Christopher Yuan, Rosaria Butterfield, Rebecca McLaughlin, and others provide substantive advice from their experience. The Identity Project from the Colson Center also gives practical advice on responding to various LGBTQ issues. You will significantly benefit from the preparation these resources provide.

They/Them or Your Majesty: The Preferred Pronoun Conundrum

The gender identity phenomenon seems to have exploded onto the scene just recently. In fact, rooted in enlightenment thinking, the belief that the “real me is who I am inside my body” has a long history. The “coming out” experience is seen as a courageous declaration. A person reveals what they believe is their true nature with the expectation that others will not only acknowledge their identity but celebrate their bravery.

Rosseau’s famous statement, “Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains,” expresses the Romantic Period (1780 -1900) assessment of how society stifles the honest expressions of the “real self.”  We hear, “Stay true to yourself,” “You do you,” “Live your truth,” “Don’t conform, transform,” “Own your story,” “Be bold, be you,” and so on. Social media is awash with calls to embrace your unique identity and live by your values, attracting countless pre-adolescent and adolescent youth.  

So why are pronouns such an inflammatory issue? When people no longer publicly identify with their biological sex, they ask to be referred to by third-person pronouns matching their expressed identity (or any other pronouns they choose). The pronoun choices provide affirmation for their gender choice; not using their chosen pronouns is to be seen as disrespectful or even socially and psychologically violent. Those who go to the trouble of choosing pronouns are serious about what it means to them (except the Michigan University students in 2016 who requested pronouns such as “Your Majesty,” “The Exalted King,” “Princess,” and “Maharaja,” among others).

I don’t think they could get away with that today.

Many schools, universities, businesses, and organizations require students or employees to respect others’ chosen pronouns and forms of self-identification to create an inclusive and supportive environment.

Christians are divided over whether to acknowledge a person’s preferred pronouns. Some are concerned that not using preferred pronouns diminishes any further meaningful conversation and ministry.  Others reason that using a pronoun that does not match their biological sex is affirming their false self-identification.

Bypassing the need to use preferred pronouns is possible – use the person’s name instead of pronouns, for example. Also, English has many alternatives to gendered nouns and pronouns (the word “they” has been a gender-neutral singular pronoun since 1795!).  Search online for discussions and suggestions on gender-neutral communication.

When a Young Person “Comes Out” to You

Many youth pastors report they have been approached by a student who has confided in them they are gay or transgender. Your role in the lives of your students might be the deciding voice to help them choose to follow Christ faithfully.

Be compassionate and kind. This student is taking a big risk coming to you – a good sign. Don’t immediately go to the Bible and quote passages on homosexuality and sexual immorality unless they ask. Almost all youth know these passages or at least what the Bible teaches about sexuality. There will be time to look at the other passages soon enough. Instead, help them focus on how they want you to help. Confirm that God knows they are struggling, and He will be with them.

Thank the student for confiding in you and promise confidentiality.  Ask meaningful questions about their feelings. Why do they feel they have same-sex attraction? How long have they been feeling this way? Have they talked to anyone else about their feelings? . . . friends at school? . . . teachers? . . . their parents?  Let them know you will stick with them as they face this challenge.

Bring in the parents. Many times, students going through puberty and adolescence are greatly influenced by social media, friends, and other classmates who are vocal about their sexuality. Your students need a calm voice and kind support to guide them through troubling years. They also need to know it is okay to struggle, but they are not walking alone, even at home. Ask if you could meet with them and their parents and be prepared to equip the parents to walk with their child through the next weeks and months.  

Here are two good articles you can share with the parents.

Seeing Through the Eyes of Christ

You and their parents are the front line of defense against harmful and destructive ideologies targeted at our youth. Sexuality is not who they are, but what they do; how they live out who they are. You can never tell them enough about how precious each is to their heavenly Father. As we sing to God, “I am who you say I am.” His unconditional love and acceptance never diminish. They can ignore but never evade His presence in their lives. Pray daily for them and their families and friends. Pray for protection and guidance from our Lord.  

Above all, be careful not to ridicule or diminish youth who struggle with gender issues, even in a joking manner. Your youth are immersed in a pro-LGBTQ environment constantly through social media and friends. The growing anti-Christian attitudes among many youth are, in part, the result of Christians making light of and dismissing those who openly announce their new sexual identities.

Active proponents on social media need our prayers, too. Remember, they are not our enemy; they are victims of the enemy.

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