Answering Your Teens Most Challenging Questions
About the Guest
Author Tom Gilson, senior editor of The Stream, coaches parents on how to address gender issues, and homosexuality and marriage with their teens. Gilson teaches teens how to respond as they are faced with cultural trigger points. Gilson covers topics like intolerance and hate, civil rights, Jesus' take on marriage, and the definition of love.
Tom GilsonTom Gilson is a senior editor of The Stream, author of the new 2016 parent-friendly guide to keeping kids in the faith, titled Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality With Teens, and the chief editor of True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism. In late 2017 he released A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ, a collection of hi...more
Tom Gilson coaches parents on how to address gender issues, and homosexuality and marriage with their teens. Gilson teaches teens how to respond as they are faced with cultural trigger points.
Answering Your Teens Most Challenging Questions
Bob: Our children are hearing today, from their classmates and from pop stars—that they should be tolerant and accepting of people who are same-sex attracted. Those people were just born that way—or so they are told. Tom Gilson says, “That argument doesn’t hold up.”
Tom: Just because someone is born a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s right. In fact, if we’re going to the Bible, we are all born with tendencies to do wrong—it’s called sin. Just being born a certain way doesn’t make it right, so I would not get into that argument. I would just go straight to the question: “Where’s your authority?” It isn’t in your birth; it’s in truth that’s bigger than you.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 6th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I’m Bob Lepine. How can we, as parents, help our children think compassionately and, yet, critically about the objections they are hearing to biblical morality?
We’ll explore that with Tom Gilson today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There are illustrations in the Scriptures for us of what it looks like to grow up in / to raise children in a culture where your values are out of sync with the cultural values.
I think of what Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy, where he says, “I know what’s true about you—that you were raised by a mother and a grandmother who taught you the Scriptures from the earliest age, and that has remained core in you.” Of course, I’m thinking about Timothy. He lives in a day when they are killing Christians. Yet, his mom and his grandmother had said, “We’re going to teach you the Scriptures as you grow up,” and that’s what made Timothy the young man he was.
Dennis: They are not killing Christians today; they’re just baking them slowly. [Laughter]
I mean, and the place that they are baking them is in your child’s middle school, and high school, and college/university. I mean, the pressures and the heat are being turned up. Every parent needs to know what he or she believes around some of these most gritty issues that we are facing today.
Bob: Yes; so we all faced this issue, when we were raising our children, about what schools we would send them to and what college choices would they make. If it was 2018, and you had a senior in high school who was looking at college choices, wouldn’t you be a little nervous about the choices your kids would be exploring?
Dennis: Hey, I’ve got to tell you—when my son, who went to Harvard of the Ozarks—[Laughter]—that’s the University of Arkansas to those who are outside of the state—
Bob: —Harvard of the Ozarks.
Dennis: —who don’t know what the Harvard of the Ozarks is—
Bob: Only one school in the Ozarks; so—[Laughter]
Dennis: —but when he came back and he said, “Well, Dad, I learned in sociology today”—
—now this was 20 years ago—
Dennis: —maybe 25 years ago—he said, “I learned today there are five sexes.”
Bob: Oh, so they were still in the primitive stages.
Dennis: They were in the primitive stages. There are 60 now—6-0.
Dennis: That’s fluid, by the way; that’s not really accurate. Bob, I don’t think there is anywhere to hide from this issue. Unless you go to a Christian college and university—which, by the way, look increasingly better all the time—I think if you’re going to teach your kids how to relate to people and know how to answer their questions, they’re going to have to get out and mix it up and have their faith challenged. What I like is for it to occur while they are at home, so they are prepared; and then, you keep debriefing as they do go away to college.
Bob: And if you are sending your child to a Christian college or university, just make sure you’ve done a little exploration; because not everything that says, “Christian,” in its name has a Christian-worldview foundation to it.
Dennis: That’s exactly right, as our guest today knows well. Tom Gilson joins us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, Tom.
Tom: Thank you.
Dennis: He is the senior editor and apologist for The Stream™. Explain to our listeners what The Stream is.
Tom: Stream is a website at Stream.org. It’s a daily summary of news/commentary—information from a Christian-culture perspective on what’s going on in the world today.
Dennis: Tom and his wife Sara have been married since 1987. They have two children, and he has written a book called Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents' Guide to Discussing Homosexuality—and he changed the title—he scratched out with Teens—he said “…with children of all ages.”
I want to have a hot-potato time with you today.
Dennis: There are about eight questions that you address in the book—that I’d like to make it through as many of these as we can and just listen to how you would coach a parent to handle these questions that kids may be asking their parents or that they know they need to be asking.
Bob: Do we get to play the Woke teens, who come to you?
Dennis: Oh, you’re just asking to do that, Bob. You love it—the role playing on that. [Laughter] So, here’s the first one.
Dennis: Your kid comes back from school and says, “Dad, I was just called a hater at school today, because I hold to some things being true from the Bible.”
Bob: —“because I said, ‘Marriage should be between a man and a woman.’ I’m called a hater for that. What do I do with that, Dad?”
Tom: First thing I would say to my child is, “Are you a hater?” I would expect them to say: “No! I’m not a hater.” I’d say: “Well, let’s start with that. Let’s land there for a moment. You’re not a hater, but they’re still calling you a hater. Why do they think you’re a hater?—probably because you disagree with their position. When someone says you’re a hater, you could go to them and say: ‘You know, are you calling me a hater because I don’t agree with you?
“’What about the fact that you don’t agree with me? Does that make you a hater? Does disagreement equal hate? Of course, not; otherwise, we’re both haters.’”
Dennis: —or “Have I done anything to make you feel like I hate people who don’t believe like me?”
Bob: I’m going to be the other side of this, who says: “Okay; but you just don’t want to let people live and let live. You’re trying to tell everybody how to live their life and saying that because I love a man or because she loves her girlfriend, they can’t get married. You’re trying to run everybody’s life. That’s why I call you a hater.”
Tom: First of all, with the question of the hate, one thing that comes up with this—and I’m going to go back to this—is you get the accusation from people who don’t really know you, sometimes. Kids will have this happen too. My answer to that is simply this: “If you don’t know me well enough to know whether I am a hater, let’s pause a moment and let’s go have a Coke® at McDonalds’®.”
Bob: “Let’s go get to know one another.”
Tom: “Let’s get to know one another. After an hour or two, if you still think I am a hater, then you have a place from which to say that; but until then, you’re stereotyping. Do you believe in stereotyping?” That’s going to rock some people back on their heels.
Dennis: Now, I want to go to the question; but I want to—
Dennis: —I want to take the question—I want to address the parent.
Dennis: The kid comes back home and says he’s a hater. I’d want to ask the parent: “Are you a hater?”
Dennis: Because the source of the poison could be something that is seeping out of us, as parents—unknowing that some little jabs, some laughter, making fun of this or that—that really has no place. We’ve got to represent a Christ-like love, and that means respecting all people as made in the image of God.
Bob: Well, let’s be honest. Some of us have not done that well. We have representatives of Christians, who have been—
Dennis: Correct; correct.
Bob: —angry; Christians, who have been intolerant / who have been haters. I understand how that label can get slapped on somebody who holds a biblical view related to marriage and family.
I think what we have to do is—we have to say, “How can we hold to truth and be full of grace and demonstrate that so that the stereotype of ‘If you believe this, then you’re a hater’ starts to evaporate?”
Tom, I think your point—“Let’s get to know one another,”—
Bob: —because I think, in the context of relationships, some of that will evaporate.
Tom: Yes; it should; and “God help us.”
The hardest thing to overcome is the reality, where it does exist; and I think it’s a minority in Christendom. Maybe, I just run in the right circles; but I don’t know any Christians who are actually haters—certainly not—obviously, not actively/not visibly haters—but we have that reputation anyway. Still—yes; there is that out there. It is hard for us—it behooves the rest of us to step up our game and really show that we care and love.
Dennis: Okay; so, here’s the next question: “I was attacked today, saying that I’m homophobic. Is it the same answer, pretty much, as what you just talked about?”
Tom: It helps if a child knows what phobic means. It’s an irrational fear or aversion to something that should not cause that reaction. There are no kids in the world today, who have been raised in a godly home and with a godly perspective like we were just describing, who are homophobic. I may have overstated that a little bit; but in a godly home, you learn to love; and in our culture, you learn not to have a bad attitude towards homosexuals. There is no real homophobia among Christian kids, who are raised in a godly manner—I really don’t think so.
What they need to say is: “No; that’s just not me. I don’t have a fear. I don’t have an aversion. I do disagree. Now, that’s not something you should medicalize with a name like that.
“That’s just—it’s called disagreeing, not having some pathology.”
Bob: So, the follow-up—the kid, who says, “You’re homophobic,” and the teenager says: “No; I’m not. I don’t hate gay people. I’m not afraid of gay people.” They say, “Well, do you think homosexuality is a sin?” Okay; now, we’ve got to answer that one honestly.
Bob: The person says: “Well, yes; I think it’s a sin. I think it’s an offense before a holy God.” “Well, see, you’re homophobic!”
Tom: There we have to define terms—three of them: sin, holy, and God. At that point, you’ve got to plan on it taking a while.
Tom: It’s not going to communicate immediately; it’s not going to solve the problem in a short time.
Bob: This is not a Snapchat® / Twitter®—
Tom: No; it’s not.
Bob: —kind of conversation; right?
Dennis: What I would say is—I would not quite agree with you that there are no teenagers who don’t have a problem here; because they are still little human beings who can err on the side of their own selfish, pious—
—we’re not raising little robots here. They’ve got to learn how to love people who aren’t like them and who don’t believe like them as well.
Bob: Self-righteousness is still stuck in all of our hearts; right? [Laughter]
Dennis: No doubt about it!
Bob: So, we’ve got to be dealing with that.
Dennis: Okay; here’s the next one.
Dennis: Here’s the argument: “You’re just on the wrong side of history. Your beliefs are archaic. That was then; this is now.” What would you say to your child if he came home and said that?
Tom: Well, for one thing, it’s very difficult to predict today what history will say 50 years from now. It’s just an empty argument. The turn of history that has brought us to this point is, in the case of gay morality, 20 years; in the case of gay marriage, less than that; in the case of transgender, it’s just been the last 5 years—so this is not a trend.
Plus, there are examples in history of “the wrong side of history” that turned out not to be what it appeared to be.
In the early 20th century, there was a strong movement towards eugenics—the sterilization—the forced sterilization of the feeble, and the mentally feeble, the unfit, and also people of color—and that was the trend of history. You can find it in Scientific American as that is the scientific answer, but it was wrong.
Tom: We know it now. Isn’t it possible that this is wrong?—and we just—we move forward 50 years, and we discover: “Yes; that was wrong.”
Bob: Is it not right to say that, at the height of power and sophistication in the Roman Empire, the Roman Empire began to embrace extra-biblical moralities?—so homosexuality and abortion—these were practices during the high-point of Roman civilization before it declined. History has been here before, and it didn’t turn out so well when people were on the “right side” of history before.
Tom: It’s really a shaming kind of a question.
It’s almost a bullying kind of question. It has no real content to it / it has no real substance to it, but it is a good way to make someone feel embarrassed. We ought to also let our kids know that an empty question is an empty question.
Dennis: There is a book that came out in the last year called When Harry Became Sally.
Dennis: The premise of the book—not from a biblical standpoint / just from a practical science and from what is being measured today—that many of these behaviors that are being authenticated and applauded are harmful, that we are going against the biology of how God made male and female.
Back to the point we’re making here, we don’t know where this discussion and dialogue is going to end up.
Tom: Right; there is this sense in which we don’t know. We are conducting an unethical experiment on our kids with morality—
—with raising them by same-sex parented households / with, especially in the last couple of years, with pushing gender change on them at youth. There are people, who will say that the science shows that kids, who are raised by two parents of the same sex, come out just as good as kids raised by mom and dad. Well, there is really good evidence that kids that are raised by a mom and a dad, who love each other, come out, on average, really quite well.
Second, this experiment on same-sex-marriage-raised kids has got at least 30 to 40 more years to run before we know how it comes out. In the meantime, if you ran this through your university’s ethics department: “Should we do this to kids?” they would say, “No!” This is an unethical experiment we’re doing on our kids.
Dennis: Okay; so here’s the next accusation: “Someday, you Christians are going to be embarrassed that you have opposed the rights of the LGBTQ community much like you’re embarrassed about what happened during the Civil Rights protests.”
What do you say to that?
Tom: The Civil Rights protests were really a human rights campaign. It was a campaign to recognize that all people—whatever color—are human. If a human right belongs to one person, it belongs to all persons.
Bob: Yes; somebody’s screaming at the radio right now and saying: “And the LGBT issue is a human rights campaign too. The right to marry who you love—that’s a human right!”
Tom: But it’s not a campaign for a new right; it’s a campaign for a new institution. Gay marriage is a new institution—that’s a different thing. To call it a right is to invent a whole new thing with a whole new institution to go with it.
Dennis: So, here’s another one. This is—a homosexual is saying: “Look, I didn’t choose to be this way.
“I was born this way.”
Tom: None of us chooses to be who we are. Just because someone is born a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s right. In fact, if we’re going to the Bible, we are all born with tendencies to do wrong—it’s called sin.
Tom: Just being born a certain way doesn’t make it right.
Bob: I heard Kevin DeYoung say, “Yes; you may have been born this way, but the Bible calls you to be born again to a new way.” That’s what we need to be emphasizing. In fact, it’s one of the things he says in our new Art of Parenting™ video series. As you help raise your children to understand their identity—and they’re hearing Lady Gaga say, “I was born this way,”—well, in a sense, that’s true; but that’s not where we leave it. That’s not the transformation that the Bible promises.
Tom: You’ll also hear Christians contest that and say: “Homosexuality is a choice. You just chose it.” I don’t think the science supports the idea that people choose this very often—sometimes, maybe—
—so I would not get into that argument. I would just go straight to the question: “Where’s your authority? It isn’t in your birth. It’s in truth that’s bigger than you.”
Dennis: So, what about the argument that gets thrown at your son or your daughter at school and says, “Jesus never talked about the LGBTQ community”?
Tom: Jesus talked about marriage—it’s very clear in Matthew 19:4-6: “From the beginning,”—He said that—“a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” That’s how He defined marriage. In Mark, Chapter 7—I think it is verse 20—He talks about the things that come out of a person that defile them, and He includes sexual immorality. He didn’t name homosexuality, but I doubt that any of His listeners would have doubted that that was included in there. Besides which, He didn’t mention rape. There are a lot of things that are still wrong, even though He didn’t name them specifically.
Dennis: Okay; I’m just trying to make it through as many of these questions as possible—
Bob: And these are questions that you address in the book, Critical Conversations. So, again, our listeners can get a copy of the book and kind of hear the questions and the answers.
Dennis: Your teenage daughter comes back and says, “I was talking to my friends about this and they said: ‘What people do in the privacy of their own bedroom—you should have no opinion about. Why are you even going in there with a judgmental spirit in the first place?’”
Tom: The question is: “Who’s doing the judging?” really. We didn’t start this—we didn’t say, “We want to just upset everybody’s life.” We didn’t say, “We want to intrude on everybody’s private life.”
What happened was—that there were centuries upon centuries of established moral tradition; and a group of people came along and said, “No; we’re going to change that,”—they brought that into the public eye. We had to respond in order to hold to the truth.
Dennis: So, here’s kind of the—I don’t know—this is kind of the hardest card somebody throws at a follower of Christ:
“Hey, your God is supposed to be a God of love. Why would God not allow two people, who really love one another, just to be happy and to experience marriage, for instance, and some of the privileges of marriage?”
Tom: God is a God of love, but not everything that goes by the name of love is love. I think, if I asked you to name some things that someone called love but really weren’t, you could come up with that.
Tom: Is it love when someone stalks another person?—that’s not really love. Just using the word, “love,” doesn’t get you through this. You have to know what’s really love. Real love is love that’s in line with what’s true—what’s eternally true / what’s in line with God’s understanding of love.
Bob: Well, it’s often being expressed there—and I think that’s a great answer—but when you say, “Well, your God is a God of love,” you’re assuming that love means:
“I let people do whatever they feel like doing whenever they feel like doing it.” Well, that’s not love. Parents don’t do that—they love their kids, but they don’t let their kids do whatever they feel like doing whenever they feel like doing it. Yes, God’s a God of love; but for Him to say, “This is wrong,”—that’s a loving thing to keep you from harm / from danger.
Dennis: Well, I’ve done a little bit of thinking about a number of these issues in the last few months because Barbara and I have been working on a book called The Art of Parenting. One of the areas we talk about is the issue of identity—and it is emotional identity, spiritual identity, and sexual identity. I know that parents must be in the game.
Dennis: They must be helping their children embrace, I believe, a biblical worldview and the value of human beings—that the Bible opens with God identifying male and female, who are made in the image of God—huge worth / huge value.
People, since the beginning of time, have gotten off into all kinds of ditches and embraced wrong beliefs. What we have to do in our age is, I believe, help our kids know how to think rightly, first of all, about themselves but then, also, think rightly about others and really treat them with dignity/respect as image-bearers of God. Also, realize that your love for them might end up being the love that breaks through to introduce them to the person of Jesus Christ so they can have forgiveness of sin.
Dennis: Tom, I want to thank you for your book. When I picked it up, I thought, “That’s a gutsy book that you’ve written there”; but I like your answers and how you’ve decided to help parents answer these questions when they face them with their kids—much needed today. Thanks for being on the broadcast.
Tom: Thank you!
Bob: I think the reminder for all of us is that we need to be having these kinds of critical conversations with our young people as we are raising them.
We need to keep pointing them back to our source of authority for the answers to those questions, and that is the Bible. That’s where you continue to point us, Tom, in the book, Critical Conversations, which we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. The book is available for you to order from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com; or ask about the book, Critical Conversations, when you call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY.
You know, this week kind of marks the halfway point of summer, at least for some people, where school is going to start up here in the next five or six weeks. I know others will wait until after the Labor Day holiday. I’m not trying to rush your summer—I hope you’re having a great summer.
The summer months, for ministries like FamilyLife Today, can be challenging; because, as people are in a different rhythm of life in the summer, one of the things that often happens is that contributions to ministries like ours decline.
We’re seeing that happen, again, here, at FamilyLife®. I want to come to those of you, who are regular listeners, and ask you if you would make a mid-summer contribution to support the ongoing work of this ministry.
Our mission is to effectively develop godly marriages and families. We believe that the kind of conversation we’ve had today—and that we have every day, here, on FamilyLife Today—we believe that those can be helpful conversations for you as you navigate life as a husband/a wife, a mom or a dad, or any of the family relationships that you have.
You can make a donation to FamilyLife Today, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Again, we appreciate those of you who do partner with us in the ongoing work of this ministry. We always love hearing from you.
And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend.
And I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about how we live out what Titus 2 calls us to—older women mentoring younger women / older men mentoring younger men—but how do we do that in a way that doesn’t feel clumsy or awkward? Well, Barbara Neumann and Sue Edwards will be here to talk about making mentoring more organic. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We’ll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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