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Rebecca McLaughlinRebecca McLaughlin holds a Ph.D. in Renaissance Literature from Cambridge University and a theology degree from Oak Hill College in London. She is the author of Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion (2019), which was named book of the year by Christianity Today, and of 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity (2021), The Secular Creed: Engaging 5 Contemporary Claims (2021), and Is Christmas Unbelievable? Four Questions Everyone Sho...more
Navigating today’s LGBTQ culture is confusing and sometimes scary to some Christians, but Rebecca McLaughlin highlights the truth of God’s perfect love and what that means for our relationships.
Dave: I recently talked to a guy—I think it was last week—and I don’t know how we got on this topic. I think he brought it up; but he said he cancelled his Sports Illustrated subscription the day they put Kaitlyn Jenner on the cover as the athlete of the year; because Bruce Jenner became a woman, Kaitlyn. They had her on the cover of the Sports Illustrated. I said, “What do you mean you cancelled it?” He goes, “This wasn’t an athletic move. I didn’t like what they did, so I cancelled. I mean, I just cancelled my subscription.” I was like, “Whoa!” I thought, “He’s telling me that; but if he would say that out loud publicly, he would get cancelled.”
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: I mean, it’s one of those things that, if you say something like that in this culture that is not the popular view—and you can pick almost any popular subject—if you are going sort of in a different minority position on it, you sort of get cancelled. We live in a cancel culture: “I’m not going to follow you, listen to you, respect you anymore.” What’s up with that?
Ann: Well, I think our culture is really shifting right now, too; and I think many of us feel like we’re walking on egg shells; we don’t want to offend. It’s not even—it can be offensive—but then the result of what we said can be volatile. If you’ve been on Twitter® any amount of time, it is a crazy world right now, where people are being attacked. I think, in some ways, it is good that we are careful with what we’re saying, and we need to be loving in all respects; but you are right. We are living in a culture that is cancelling everything.
Dave: I even read—this isn’t just in the Christian world or the religious world—I read this morning that a pretty famous broadcaster in the NBA said: “I’m done. I’m quitting; because all of our conversations are about what I cannot say publicly, because I’ll get attacked.” He goes, “I’m not going to live like this anymore.” I thought, “Wow; it’s interesting that he says we are afraid to make any comment publicly, because of being cancelled.”
Ann: And think about what our kids are dealing with on any sort of social media platform. I think, more than ever, they are really careful.
Dave: And I think our kids in the church have a lot of questions about some important issues. There is a book that came out, written by the author, who is sitting across the table from us. Rebecca McLaughlin is sitting in here with us. You wrote a book called
10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) About Christianity.
I mean, you’ve got an unbelievable pedigree in terms of PhD in Renaissance Literature and just a background in defending the faith and writing. You wrote a book that was well-received called Confronting Christianity. This is sort of the teenage version of that.
Ann: You’ve been to seminary. You have three kids; you are married. How many years have you been married?
Ann: And your kids are—the oldest is 11?
Ann: Youngest is going to be three soon.
Rebecca: That’s right.
Dave: In the book, you go through ten questions. You didn’t hide from some of the biggies. Several of them are about evidence: “How do you know the Bible is true?” and “Heaven and Hell; “Is Christianity just for me?” But you have a couple chapters in there about gender, diversity, sexuality. Let’s get into some of those; but why put those in? Do you feel like—obviously, you do—these are important questions for your teenager?
Rebecca: Yes; yes. As long as I can remember, I’ve been a follower of Jesus. As long as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to women. Because I’ve always been a follower of Jesus, it was not something I chose to pursue as a teenager or as a young adult. I’ve chosen to marry a guy rather than a girl. I think, if I was not a Christian, most likely—I mean, who knows?—but most likely, I’d be married to a woman today instead of to a man.
I think for many people, hearing that, they are like, “Oh my goodness! What kind of strange creature are you?!” It doesn’t really fit into many of our categories; because we tend to think of the church over here, and then the LGBT community over there. What we tend not to realize is there is actually quite a lot of overlap. It’s like the Venn Diagrams you learn about in middle school.
Rebecca: You have the circles that have some overlap. The way that we, in churches, have often navigated this is like ignore people, within our communities, who may experience same-sex attraction, or who may really sort of struggle with their sense of themselves as a guy or as a girl.
We’ve sort of silenced folks, or kind of come down really hard and been like, “Well, wait a minute; what’s going on here? Are you really a follower of Jesus if this is an area of temptation and struggle for you?” in ways that we probably don’t if it’s somebody, who is struggling with heterosexual desire, for example.
Rebecca: Then we’ve created this idea that it’s the LGBT folks out there. We very much, too often, I think, have stigmatized or had this idea about what gay, or lesbian, or transgender, or bisexual people are like.
I think, especially for kids growing up today, as they start to meet friends at school—or if they go off to college and have roommates or friends, who do identify as gay, or lesbian, or as transgender—they’ll go through this process of thinking: “Wait a minute! I used to think the Bible said it wasn’t okay, for example, to pursue a same-sex sexual relationship; but then I met this really nice guy who is gay. He seems to have a great relationship with his partner, and he seems like he is a really committed sort of person,”—like all of the things they may have been raised to believe about gay people don’t seem to fit with this guy. So then, they say, “Well, now, I don’t really know that I believe what the Bible says is true.”
Now, we have a hard time, sometimes, knowing what to repent of. I think the two things that we need to do, on all sorts of cultural issues right now as Christians—we need to repent and believe—that should be deep in our DNA; right?
Rebecca: That’s how we become Christians in the first place.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Rebecca: We repent, and we believe. I think we need to recognize there are meaningful things that we, as a Christians, need to repent of in the way that we have too often treated—gay and lesbian folk outside the church or people who struggle with same-sex attraction within the church—but we also need to believe what the Bible says.
I’m going to bring another area in here because they are so interlocked in people’s minds. I think, sadly, they’ve been quite interlocked in sort of the history of Christian sin. It kind of goes back to your original point of like—today, to not affirm somebody’s transgender identity, for example, isn’t just to be like a little bit dated—or “Aren’t you sweet, you, Christians? You aren’t really with the times,”—there is a sense of sort of righteous anger that will come at you—
Rebecca: —if you don’t affirm somebody’s transition, for example, or somebody saying they are trans.
Where does that come from? The more that I’ve sort of studied this, as somebody who has come from the outside from the UK, and trying to get my bearings in the US in the last decade or so—the more it’s become clear that actually the argument goes like this: “Just as the white ‘60s segregationist used their Bibles to go against interracial marriage, and the desegregation of schools—and all the things that, sadly, many white Christians did—so you, Christians, today are using your Bibles to reject and oppress LGBT folk.”
Until we fully recognize that part A of that statement is true, and until we are ready to reckon with that, we’re not really going to be able to speak with clarity, and authenticity, and love into our issues today; because for many of our peers today—and especially for our kids’ peers—the transgender rights movement today is the new civil rights movement.
The people like us, who aren’t going to affirm gay marriage or aren’t going to affirm transgender identities—this is like the new civil rights movement—it’s not just kind of an agree to disagree situation; it’s a question of deep justice—again, I think we need to sort of take that moment to repent at the same time as we believe what the Scriptures say when it comes to sexuality.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve always been someone, who is sort of primarily attracted to women. If I had come to the Scripture—like I looked quite carefully in the Scriptures; and if I had found that they said, “Yes; no, sure, it’s fine; gay marriage is certainly something that is compatible with being a follower of Jesus,”—I would have probably been quite pleased to find that. That’s not what I found; but instead, I found something more profound, and more beautiful, and more surprising, which is the very reason that God made male and female; the very reason He made sex and sexuality in marriage was to tell us the story of His love for us.
It’s not, when we see the Bible talking about Jesus as like a husband and the church is His wife—that’s not just looking around, like, “Oh, human marriage—that looks nice—I’m going to compare Jesus and the church to that,”—no; the actual reason God even made us as sexual beings, and that He even created this kind of relationship, was to give us the tiniest glimpse of Jesus’ passionate love for us. I think understanding that, then, puts everything else into perspective—whether it’s your struggle with pornography, or whether it’s your struggle with heterosexual lust, or whether it’s your struggle with same-sex desire—like, for all of us, recognizing that our ultimate lover is Jesus, completely changes the way that we think.
Dave: So when you say repent—because there is a belief also that: “Okay, we use the Bible in justice, in civil rights, in slavery,”—you name it.
Rebecca: The problem with the ‘60s segregationists was not that they were too Christian. It was that they weren’t half Christian enough. It wasn’t that they would cling to their Bibles too hard; it was that they were actually completely failing to read their Bibles—or reading it in such an extraordinarily selective—I mean, the kind of interpretive gymnastics that you have to do to justify segregation from the Scriptures is actually about as drastic as the kind you have to do to affirm gay marriage from a Christian perspective.
If we read the Bible, we find that it pulls us in one direction when it comes to racial equality and justice and in a completely different direction when it comes to same-sex sexual relationships. I think, in both cases, we need to come back to the Bible. When I say, “repent and believe,” I mean: “Look at what the Scriptures say. See where our lives, or attitudes, or our treatment of others, doesn’t align with what the Bible says. Then believe what the Bible says is true.”
What’s really fascinating is that even—and this is a point made by a non-Christian historian called Tom Holland in the UK—even the very basis on which folks, who were gay rights advocates, for example, or transgender activists—the basis of their arguments is to say: “Look, all human beings are equal. Those who have been historically oppressed and marginalized shouldn’t be trampled on, but they should be protected. There is sort of this individual uniqueness to everyone and this equality that is regardless of who you are, or where you are, or where you come from, or what you’re doing.”
Where do we get those ideas? They are actually straight out of the Bible. They are not just self-evident truths that all human beings are created equal; that’s a specifically Christian claim. So folks on both sides, in our current conversations about gender and sexuality—whether or not you realize it—are sort of standing on Christian ground. We just haven’t looked down to see the sort of moral soil beneath our feet, which is only there because of Christianity.
Ann: Let’s talk about this practically. When your kids come home from school—and they say: “Oh, my friend has two moms,” or “My friend just said she came out; she said she’s gay today,”—talk about how you dialogue with your kids about those conversations or how our listeners could have that dialogue, in a very loving way, but a really honest and biblical way.
Rebecca: Yes; yes. One of the super helpful things for me—because my kids absolutely come home—they have a non-binary friend, who has two moms, for example. One of the things I am able to do is to talk them through the stories of several of our Christian friends.
- I talk them through my friend Rachel’s story, who is on staff with Cru®, who came to Christ out of a lesbian atheist background when she was an undergrad at Yale.
- I tell them my friend Lou’s story, who grew up in the church, who has always been attracted to men and really not to women at all, and is living as a single man, serving the Lord with all his heart in our community at church.
- I’d share a bit of my story which is less exciting in some ways than Rachel’s. [Laughter]
I want them to know that Christians aren’t different because we necessarily have different patterns of attraction, or different struggles, or different whatever. We are different because Jesus has called us, and that within Jesus’s family, we are going to believe different things and do different things than folks outside.
I’m going to encourage them to love their friends—regardless of who they say they are, or whether they have two mums, or two dads, or one mum and no dad—that actually our disposition always needs to be to love. The part of loving someone/the important part of loving someone is pointing them to Jesus and telling them about His exclusive claims on them. If and when one day they put their trust in Jesus, a whole lot of things will need to change in their lives.
Dave: Now, when you say—we’ve talked about repent, and I think we’ve talked about believe—I want to make sure I understand the believe part: “Believe what?”
Rebecca: Believe that sex only belongs in male/female marriage for Christians; and that actually, same-sex sexual relationships, consistently through the Scriptures, are seen as not being appropriate for God’s people. But here is the thing—I like to say this, sometimes, a little bit provocatively—because folks will sometimes say, “The Bible condemns same-sex relationships.” I say, “No, it doesn’t. The Bible actually commands same-sex relationships at a level of intimacy that we Christians hardly ever reach.”
If you think about it, Paul talks about us being one body together. He calls his friend, Onesimus, his very heart. Imagine how awkward that would be if you were to say that to like a male friend/that “You’re my very heart.”
Rebecca: He talks about: “us being comrades in arms” “as being knit together in love,”—the language of intimacy—sure, opposite sex as well—but I think particularly same-sex closeness that we see in the New Testament, where Jesus is saying, “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.” It’s not that we don’t believe in love between people of the same sex; we actually believe in a better love between people of the same sex than anything this world has to offer us. And we believe in that because we believe in Jesus.
We know that that is a really close and important relationship; but it’s not a sexual relationship. It’s a different kind of relationship, and likewise we see friendship. I think we need to recognize that sex and marriage are actually beautiful and important gifts from God; but they have a very specific design and purpose, and that it is a different design and purpose than other kinds of relationships that also give us different glimpses of Jesus’s love.
Dave: Now, obviously, you mentioned your journey; but I’d love to know: “What was that journey like—as you realized: ‘I’m same-sex attracted; I’m a follower of Christ,’ from a young age—how did that go?” Walk us through that a little bit.
Rebecca: Oh, I didn’t tell anyone—
Dave: Yes, you kept it quiet.
Rebecca: —which I think is true of a lot of Christians. I get emails every week, or more than once a week from people—whether they are 15 or 45—who have never talked about their same-sex attraction with their Christian friends or family and are really struggling.
I think one of the things we can all be a part of is actually making it something that we can talk about; because Satan’s—one of his greatest weapons—
Rebecca: —against us is making each of us feel like: “Well, your struggle is the thing you can’t talk about; you can’t get help with this,” “Your pornography addiction is far too disgusting to talk about to your friend,” or “Your experience of same-sex attraction—nobody is going to understand—they are just going to reject you.”
I think for me, personally, I only started talking to Christian friends in my early 30s; and the reason was I was terrified, if I opened up about this, then all of my female friends would take just half a step away from me—
Rebecca: —not that they would run, screaming; I knew they weren’t like that—but that they would just take a little half step back.
Dave: Is that what happened?
Rebecca: No; what I realized was actually I had taken a half step back from them, because they were sharing the real struggles in their life and I wasn’t; and I never had. So actually, I hadn’t given them the opportunity to step in alongside me, and to be friends who knew me and loved me, and who will speak truth to me when I need to hear truth, and will speak encouragement and love to me when I need that. I think that is true for all of us.
Rebecca: Whatever our patterns of attraction or whatever our struggles with sin, I think we all need friends in the Lord; and we all need to be people, who others are going to be comfortable opening up with.
Ann: Have you talked with your kids about—let’s just say this—your kids would come and talk to you about that. Is that what you would hope is that they would open up?
Rebecca: I really hope they would; yes.
Ann: Some listeners are thinking, “I don’t know if I want my kids to open up about that, because I don’t know how I would respond.”
Dave: She knows me; I’m the withdrawer guy. I’m like, “Yes, I’d rather not know”; right? [Laughter] You would be like—
Ann: I would want to know.
Dave: And of course, I want to know; but there is a part of the uncomfortable, like, “Oh my goodness! What am I going to do with that?”
Ann: —“or say?”
Ann: I’m guessing that you would hope your kids would tell you.
Rebecca: Whatever they are struggling with—
Rebecca: —I hope that they would tell me. I hope they would have other people, as well, around them; because I think we have a profoundly important responsibility, as parents, to disciple our children; but I think, also, God puts all of us in a family that’s broader than even the nuclear family. I would want them to be able to talk with my friend Rachel, or my friend Lou, or others who can give their own angle on the same truth but who can actually walk with them/alongside them in ways that complement how I do that as their mother as well.
Ann: And talk about your response, if one of your kids came and talked to you about that, or if you had talked to your mum about that, what would you hope the response would be?
Rebecca: I think the terrifying thing, in particular about this struggle I think—I’m sure it’s, to some extent, true of any struggle you might be bringing to your parents—but I think that worry that: “I’m suddenly going to be seen as like completely other,” or “There is something really wrong with me, and that I can’t be loved in the same way that I was loved before.” I think, whether it is a child or a friend, who shares this experience with you, the first thing is to just affirm that you love them. This hasn’t made you love them any less for you to know this about them.
This is actually a pretty normal experience. I mean, the statistics show that about
14 percent of women and 7 percent of men experience some degree of same-sex attraction, though actually, only 1 percent of women and 2 percent of men are exclusively attracted to their same sex. Folks, like me, who are primarily attracted to women, but actually it doesn’t mean I can’t make a marriage to a good man work; it’s actually the largest category of folks, who experience same-sex attraction.
So help them to understand that they are not sort of one strange person amongst this massive crowd of other people, who’ve/the thought has never crossed their mind. Then give them some good resources; there are some great books that have come out recently on these questions.
Ann: Rebecca, thank you.
Dave: Thanks for being here.
Bob: One of the great resources that Rebecca has in mind on this subject of same-sex attraction is a book written by her friend, Rachel Gilson. Rachel has been a guest on FamilyLife Today, wrote a book called Born Again This Way. We’ve got her book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. We have links to the podcast episodes with Rachel.
I know this is an issue for so many moms and dads today as teenage sons and teenage daughters are wondering: “Am I gay?” and “If I have same-sex attraction, what do I do with that?” Rachel’s book deals with that specifically; and of course, Rebecca’s book deals with it, in part, along with other questions that teenagers are facing today.
We’re making Rebecca’s book available this week to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount. The book is called
10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask. These are good, important, healthy questions—not questions we ought to ignore—but questions we ought to deal with, head on.
As moms and dads, we need help in knowing how to help navigate our teens through the minefield that is in front of them. Rebecca’s book does just that. Again, we would love to send you a copy if you are able to support the ongoing mission of FamilyLife Today. Our goal is to effectively develop godly marriages and families. This radio program is a part of how we do that—we have events and resources; we have our website; podcasts that are available—all of this is made possible because listeners, like you, make it possible through your donations.
So again, if you can help with a donation today, be sure to request your copy of Rebecca McLaughlin’s book, 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask. You can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation. The website, again, is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to donate. Our number is 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, this is a month when traditionally our thoughts turn toward Thanksgiving, not just the holiday, but being thankful. Here, at FamilyLife, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for. David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife, is here with me. David, this has been a year where much of our traditional ministry has been challenged because of COVID. Yet, we have seen God continue to work through the ministry of FamilyLife in some pretty remarkable ways.
David: Yes; those of you, who know us, know us likely for our Weekend to Remember® getaways or for FamilyLife Today and other resources we bring; but one of the things we are passionate about that is described in our mission statement of: “Effectively developing godly families who change the world one home at a time,”—we are passionate about helping families disciple families—their own and the families in their community. So we, for a long time, have created resources that allow people to pass on the timeless truth of the Scripture and the gospel to homes around them.
This year alone, over 300,000 people have gone through one of our FamilyLife small groups that has been facilitated by someone, who gets a passion to host a group and impact people around them. It’s encouraging to see what happens in the US, and a number like that; but I just got an email this past week of a group of people in the Philippines, trusting God for a movement of godly families in the Philippines. They took one of our latest small group resources, Vertical Marriage, and gathered a group of people; and dozens of leaders, all over the country, have been leading Vertical Marriage small groups in churches in the Philippines. That’s what our heart is for; that is what our mission is about—is to have families discipling families—living out Jesus’s call to fulfill the Great Commission.
Bob: Those of you, who support this ministry financially, you make all of this possible; so thank you for that. Thank you for partnering with us in helping to effectively develop godly marriages and families; and we always look forward to hearing from you.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when our friend, Ray McKelvy, is going to be here, along with Ron Deal. Ray shares his story of growing up, not knowing his biological father, and then having his mom and stepdad divorce when he was a child. There was a lot going on in Ray’s family that affected him and, later, affected his marriage to Robyn. We’ll hear all about that tomorrow. I hope you can join us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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