As our culture changes in regards to same-sex marriage, what should we be teaching our children? Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet offer parents advice about passing on a Christian worldview to their children.
As our culture changes in regards to same-sex marriage, what should we be teaching our children? Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet offer parents advice about passing on a Christian worldview to their children.
Bob: We are living in a culture today that is broken, when it comes to human sexuality. The reality is—none of us can escape it. All of us will experience the manifestations of that brokenness at some time or another. Here’s John Stonestreet.
John: It’s likely that the boy my daughter brings home is going to have exposure / maybe even a former addiction to pornography; right? I mean, the average first exposure is at nine years old. It’s just a—and this is the same sort of thing. What do you do then? The question is: “Has he encountered his sinfulness before the throne of Jesus Christ, and has he found grace?” I want someone who knows Jesus—right?—for my daughter.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 22nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How do we respond to the reality of sexual brokenness in our world? How can we respond redemptively? We’ll talk about that today with John Stonestreet and Sean McDowell.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You think about a mom or a dad who, this year, will welcome a baby into their family. You think about the world that child is going to grow up in and the challenges that mom and dad are going to have as they try to teach their child what the Bible teaches when the child is growing up in a culture that holds a completely different view to what the Bible teaches.
Dennis: If there has ever been a time when parents need to be biblically literate—know what their convictions are and to have a plan—it’s today.
Bob: I think you’re right.
Dennis: And we’ve got a couple of guys with us that are going to help you with your plan—John Stonestreet and Sean McDowell. These guys are both dads. They’ve got a bunch of kids between them, and they can educate you and train you to know what to do; right guys?
Bob: Both of these guys just got this look on their faces, like:
“Whoa! Hang on!” [Laughter]
John: Is this a money-back guarantee because—
Dennis: They have collaborated together to write the book, Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage.
Where would you guys start in offering advice to moms and dads, who are equipping the next generation to live their lives out in the midst of this cultural debate we have today?
Sean: We’ll the first thing I would say to parents is—to take a look in the mirror and ask: “How are they living and modeling this out for their kids?” because all studies show—that I have ever seen and my experience with students shows—that kids do not first get their ideas from the media—not first from movies / not first from school—but it’s from parents. So, if parents want their kids to grow up and value marriage—value biblical worldview—the first thing they have to do is just look in the mirror and say: “Are we living this? Are we modeling this?”
The second thing would be is—to go out of their way, as intentionally possible, to build a loving, committed relationship with their kids—
—that their kids know that they love them, they stand by them, and they care about them so deeply—because, when that relationship is there, then, it’s possible, in conversation—whether it’s formally or informally—to pass on that biblical worldview.
John: And I’d add that the modeling starts first. Worldviews just aren’t taught—they are caught. At the same time, there are moments that we have to be proactive and have this conversation. I don’t like that I’ve had a conversation about issues of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] and same-sex marriage with my nine-year-old and my seven-year-old, but I have.
I’m reminded of what the theologian, N.T. Wright, recently said about this—that we don’t always get to choose what conversations we get to have because we live in a culture. We may yearn for the good old days; but if we don’t get ahead of the conversation that the culture is going to have with our kids, then, somebody else is going to define the terms.
When you actually get into talking, one of the most important things to do is really lock-in on definitions:
“What does it mean to love? What is marriage? What did God intend for marriage to be in your life as well as in this society?” These are the sorts of conversations that—as much as possible—we can get ahead of the culture in the lives of our children.
Bob: And I presume, if you’ve had the talk about LGBT, you’ve had the talk first with them about the birds and the bees; right?
John: We’ve had conversations, yes, about—again: “Where do babies come from?” There have been various levels of specifics. There are some great resources that we’ve used, but we had the conversation with my nine year old—I’ll just give you an example. She was supposed to be in bed, and she came down. She’s like, “Daddy, can we talk?” A lot of times, that’s some of the best/richest conversations we have. She was asking about same-sex couples: “How do they have children?” And so, we talked about it.
We said: “Well, where does—every time that a baby is born, it requires mom parts and dad parts. That’s just the way that it is.” She asked, “Well, how does it happen?” Then, we got into the bioethics. We said: “Well, there is a process called in vitro fertilization.
“Here is what happens…” And it was so interesting—her reaction. She just looked at me and she said: “Well, wait a minute. They’re pretending that they can have children, but they really can’t?”
So, again, these thought processes and encouraging them to actually think—but there has to be kind of a baseline; right? There has to be this backdrop: “Here’s what marriage is. Here’s what it should be.” With that, very clear in their minds, it’s a lot easier to kind of show: “Is that really counterfeit or is that really genuine? Is that the real thing or is that not?” There is no substitute for them having that mental/emotional picture of what the real thing is.
Dennis: Sean, what about you? How have you had these conversations with your kids?
Sean: Something my parents did—which my wife and I really try to do—is just to impress upon our kids that any question is okay. They can ask us anything, and we won’t shame them. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll go look it up and we’ll find it for them—but I want to create a culture, in our family, where we can talk about anything.
So, my son, who is ten—when he was seven, and I was tucking him into bed, he said, “Daddy, who is Jesus praying to in the Garden?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, Jesus is God; right?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “The Father is God; right?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Was He praying to Himself?” I said, “Go ask your mom!” [Laughter] No, I said—
My seven-year-old asked me recently—she heard a comment—I don’t remember where—about homosexuality: “Well, what is homosexuality?” The thing my parents did, which we try to do, is—not to just have the talk about sex one time—it’s about taking little opportunities that come up and just using them, whether it’s 30 seconds/one minute, and then moving on.
So, we’re watching a movie with our kids recently. This comment came on that I’d forgotten about—and my son’s like, “Well, what is that?” I paused. I said: “Well, this is a term that’s a derogatory term that people use to degrade sex. Sex is something beautiful and is good that God has made. Unfortunately, some people choose not to follow God’s plan.
“They use words like this to make something that is beautiful seem like it’s dirty.” I hit play, and we moved on.
Bob: So, a seven-year-old comes to you and says, “What’s gay?” Do you say, “It’s when two people, of the same sex, love each other,” because that’s not exactly the definition; right?
Sean: Yes. There’s a lot of confusion about the word, “gay.” I think if my son came to me—so, he’s ten—and he says, “Dad, what does it mean to be gay?” the first thing I would ask back is—I would say—“Why do you ask that question?” I want to know where he’s heard this. I want to know what he’s thinking. I want to know where it comes from and make sure that I’m answering the question he’s actually asking because he might be asking a very, very different question.
Bob: Might be asking about the gay ‘90’s and what was going on back then. [Laughter]
Sean: Yes, who knows? So, I always try as much as I can to remember to get information first; and then, just in my mind, think, “What is an age-appropriate way—to a ten-year-old—to answer this?”
John: You know, there’s a question that we teach—Sean and I teach high school and college students.
We tell them, all the time, when they are talking about apologetics issues, to ask the question, “What do you mean by that?”—right?
I remember this lady, once on an airplane, found out that I was a Christian. She’s like: “I’m an atheist. Prove me wrong.” So, that started a three-hour conversation. She’s like, “How can you believe in God?” Instead of defending it, I said, “Well, what do you mean by God?” She’s like, “Grumpy old man with a beard in the sky who can’t wait for you to do something wrong so He can strike you with a lightning bolt.” I was like: “Good heavens! I don’t believe in that God. I’m not going to defend him.”
It just reveals how important the definition of words are; right?—so, fighting for those definitions. When my daughter comes to me and says, “Hey, Daddy, I love that boy,” my question will be: “What do you mean by love?”—and also—“What do you mean by boy?” and “Where is he?” But that’s another question. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes, which boy is it?
John: Yes. See, sometimes, when we are talking to our children, we are using the same vocabulary but not the same dictionary; right? If they’ve heard these words from culture—if they’ve heard these words from a movie, or from a friend, or from some book they’ve picked up or something—
—we need to know what’s in their minds about these definitions so we can properly define the words.
Bob: So, your daughter says, “Daddy, what’s a lesbian?” what do you say?
John: Well, you know, because of where our kids are—and we’ve talked a lot about the good and the wholeness of the family—we’d say: “It’s when two women are trying to have a relationship that mirrors, like a husband and a wife; but God made it for man and woman to have that relationship. A lot of times people try to do things their own way—just like we all do in areas of what we call sin. And this is another one of those areas.”
Dennis: Well, I like the way both of you guys are handling this. You’ve got to admit, sometimes, when you don’t know the answer—and it is okay to say, “Time out.” Just say, “I’m going to go ask somebody who can help me answer the question,” or have a follow-up question to find out what they’re really asking.
Well, I know—because you guys have written this book, Same-Sex Marriage, you have been pounded with questions that are practical—whether it’s from parents who are raising kids, whether it’s single people who are wanting to know how to relate to someone who has same-sex attraction issues that they are facing.
So, what I’d like to do is—I’ve got about a dozen, here—that you deal with in your book. I’d like to handle these as staccato as we can. So, that means Bob and I need to really be careful to not add anything to what you say. So, here’s the first one: “What if a gay friend announces their getting married? How do you handle that?”
Sean: Well, the first thing you say is “Gosh, I’m thrilled to see that you are happy.” Romans 12:2 says, “Be happy with those who are happy. Mourn with those who mourn.” I think, for the sake of the relationship, you can show that you have concern and care and you’re glad to see the person happy; but that’s very different if they invite you to attend the wedding.
I think there are some areas in which Christians can disagree on how to handle issues related to same-sex marriage. Whether you attend a wedding or not, it’s ultimately up to somebody’s conscience, before God, and their understanding of Scripture.
Personally, for me, I would have a hard time going to a wedding because the nature of what a wedding is—as a public proclamation and support of a certain relationship. So, I couldn’t attend the wedding if I was invited; but I found that, if that relationship is really built there with a person, chances are they will understand why you object and choose not to go.
Dennis: But Sean, what if the person getting married to another person of the same sex is a colleague at work and this may be a career-limiting move?
Sean: Well, I think these kinds of issues we need to anticipate ahead of time. If we are getting asked that question, on the spot, and haven’t thought through ahead of time, we are probably going to make a decision we will later regret.
For me, as a Christian and my understanding of Scripture, I could not go or perform a same-sex wedding—period. I wouldn’t do that regardless of the cost.
Bob: So, John, what if the person, who is inviting you to her wedding to her lesbian partner, is your daughter?
John: Well, I’ve thought about that. That would be an enormously painful moment.
I talk to dads, all the time, who ask me that question. I think, again, because of the nature of what a marriage is—I’d have to say, “No.”
I’d have to find as many ways as possible to show my daughter that I love her / that I’m not writing her off—even find ways to honor her partner, as someone made in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect. This creates other questions, like, “What happens at holidays?” and things like that. It would be enormously painful not to walk my daughter down the aisle if this ever happened; but at the same level, truth is what truth is. We’re going to have to make some awkward decisions.
As much as we can couch these tough decisions in a lot of love and strong relational capital, then, it’s going to be a lot easier to do this and move past it in the relationship with a son or a daughter.
Bob: So, a mom or a dad, who would say: “Look, my daughter knows where the two of us are on this issue. She knows we don’t approve.
“We’re going to go to the wedding and be a part of the wedding. She’s not going to think, because we’re at the wedding, that we’ve all of a sudden flipped. She’s just going to know we are there because we love her and we honor her,”—you would say that’s a conscience issue for parents to make. There’s not an absolute, out of Scripture, that says: “Yes, you can,” “No, you can’t”; right?
John: Well, I understand that’s the nature of marriage to be—those who attend are our witness. So, that’s my crisis of conscience. But Sean and I, in the book, start with 1 Corinthians 9, which is a passage about meat sacrificed to idols.
John: Paul is very clear that idolatry is wrong, all the time. The question was: “Can you eat meat that was sacrificed to idols?” Some Christians of the time, who realized idols weren’t really real—they had no issue / others did. Paul said you have to do it in your own conscience—and that’s where all of this comes from.
Now, let me start here—a conscience cannot be clear if it’s not, first and foremost, formed by truth; right? So, we’ve got to know what’s true. Idolatry wasn’t up in the air. It wasn’t a subjective morality-thing about whether you should—that was always wrong; okay?
God is very clear on what marriage is in the Scripture. The church has been very clear on marriage and sexuality throughout its history. That’s clear. How we live and work in this has to be a matter of clear conscience.
Dennis: I want to go back to one that would precede Bob’s question. What if your son or your daughter comes to you and says, “Dad/Mom, I’m gay”?
Sean: Well, the critical thing for parents to do is to anticipate this question ahead of time. Years ago, when I was about 12 years old, my dad was leading the kind of national campaign to wait until marriage to have sex—the Why Wait Campaign. While he is speaking, and writing, and doing all these books on this subject, my hormones are starting to kick in; and I’m starting to notice girls.
And I remember—I asked my dad—I said: “Dad, what would happen if I got a girl pregnant? Would I wreck your ministry?” And my dad had already thought through how he would respond if I said that to him or really did get a girl pregnant. He looked me, right in the eye, and without hesitation, he said, “Son, I will love you no matter what.
“People will call me a hypocrite, maybe; but it wouldn’t undermine my ministry. That doesn’t matter, and I will stand by your side—period.”
On this issue, parents, ahead of time, need to think through, “What am I going to say to my son or my daughter if they say, ‘I’m gay,” “I’m a lesbian.’” I would essentially say the same thing—I would say: “I love you. This doesn’t change anything. I will stand by you and support you, and this does not change our dynamic. I will be with you to walk through this—period.”
Dennis: What if your daughter comes home—she’s been single through her 20’s. She’s now 30. She said, “Dad, I’m in love with a guy who has struggled with same-sex attraction.” What is your response there?
John: Dennis, I think it’s going to be very difficult, for any student anywhere or any young adult anywhere, to grow up in this culture and be able to escape it sexually-unscathed in one way or another. So, to me, it’s the same question. I mean, it’s actually likely that the boy my daughter brings home is going to have exposure / maybe even a former addiction to pornography because the average first exposure is at nine years old.
This is the same sort of thing: “What do you do then?” The question is: “Has he encountered his sinfulness before the throne of Jesus Christ, and has he found grace?” I’ve had to wrestle with this because I kind of grew up in an environment where a lot of times you heard this mantra, “Be virgin/marry a virgin. Be virgin/marry a virgin.” I sort of think, “Do I want my daughter to marry a virgin?” If I had kind of the perfect world, yes. But what if it’s someone who has blown it, one way or the other, but has encountered Jesus Christ—knows his sinfulness and now knows his position—because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross? I want someone who knows Jesus—right?—for my daughter. I think that’s got to be the same thing, either way.
Bob: So, in a situation where a daughter says, “This guy used to struggle with same-sex attraction,”—part of the conversation, I think, you’d want to have is: “You know that struggle may not be over. It may be something that you carry—you just need to know—going into marriage—that the marriage bed may not cure same-sex attraction and that may be an issue for the rest of the marriage.”
Don’t you think you have to have that conversation?
John: Of course; absolutely. But I’m going to have that conversation, whether it’s same-sex attraction or opposite-sex attraction.
Bob: Or pornography or whatever.
John: The marriage bed doesn’t cure men’s opposite-sex attraction either.
John: So, the idea of sexual obedience—and again, I think in the context of this strong relationship with my daughter / strong relationship with the future son-in-law—so that we can have these sorts of conversations.
Dennis: And I’m going to break my own rule and just say one thing here. If that occurred, I’d want to make sure—depending upon the depth of the problem—perhaps, if it had been acted upon repeatedly—I might suggest that, before they move toward marriage, they get some counsel—they sit down with someone, other than her mom and me, and talk to someone who can truly speak truth into it and guide them, going forward.
Bob: Alright, let me ask you about this one because this is happening to more and more parents. Your son or daughter comes home from high school / comes home from college and says: “You know, I’ve been looking—
—“in fact, I read this book by this gay Christian guy. I really think that what I’ve been taught all these years—what you’ve been teaching me all these years is wrong. Have you seen these verses? I think you’ve had the wrong interpretation on them.” How do you deal with that, as a mom or a dad?
Sean: Well, the first thing is to not freak out. The first thing is not to: “Ah! Oh my goodness! How can you believe this?”—which is just going to create a greater gap between you and the child.
The second thing that I’d emphasize now is—we’ve got to be ready for this conversation before it takes place. How has the relationship been built with that kid first? Have you talked about these passages? Have you talked about interpreting the Bible? I mean, have you helped your son or daughter build a Christian worldview?
So, when something like this comes up, my response would be: “Okay, this is a really serious issue. If you really want to wrestle this, biblically, let’s read this book together. Let’s talk about it because, if I’m wrong”—I would say this to my kids—I’d say, “If I’m wrong, I’m willing to change my views on this issue.” I mean, Isaiah 5:20 says, “Beware of those who call good evil or evil good.”
We need some clarity on this issue.
And when I really started writing this book, Same-Sex Marriage, and studying it—I can’t remember if I told you or not, John—but I told my wife. I said, “Look, if the Bible teaches something different than I’ve learned, growing up, I’m willing to embrace this, even if it means losing my job at Biola and my reputation.” We need to hold truth supreme. But in that conversation, you better believe I’m going to go do my homework—I’m going to do some book reviews. I’m going to go talk to a pastor. I’m going to go talk to a scholar—come back and have that sophisticated conversation, in the context of a relationship with my kids.
Dennis: Okay, I’ve got an opposite type of question, John. What if you’re at the watercooler and a coworker, who you know is a follower of Christ, makes some off-handed comment that is bashing of gay people / disrespectful of them, as human beings—what do you do then?
John: I think, fundamentally, we have to confront it. This has absolutely been one of the things that have given us a bad reputation in the culture and with those in the LGBT community.
We have been so quick to condemn sin, when we see it in that community, and we’ve been so slow to condemn it in our own community. Anytime someone speaks against someone’s inherent dignity, as made in the image of God, we do two things.
Number one, we violate that image, and that’s grave evil before God. And number two, we actually reinforce the cultural myth that’s behind this issue—that someone is their sexual identity. One of the great ways to break that apart—that someone is not fundamentally their sexual identity—is not allow jokes and lingo that happens in the Christian community to reinforce it.
Dennis: Yes, and when someone is making a joke, they’re ultimately, I think, dealing with their own pride, saying they are better than—
John: All the time.
Dennis: —another person. I like the way you answer that question, though.
Guys, I want to thank you, first of all, for your work on this book, Same-Sex Marriage. I really do think this is a book for singles, who are crafting their own theology and perspective of marriage.
I’ve got to say to you singles, who are listening: “These are tough days for you to have a good, true, biblical plumb line in place around marriage. This book would be very, very helpful for you, as you navigate your life, as a single person and think about your future.”
And for married folks and parents—as well as grandparents—I think this is going to be a great resource to really help them address some of the thornier issues that have come about around the debate that takes place and equip them to know how to be kind, compassionate and, yet, truthful.
And I just appreciate both of you guys—your ministries—and hope you’ll come back again soon and join us again on FamilyLife Today.
Sean: Thank you so much for having us, Dennis. [Laughter]
Dennis: That was totally disingenuous, and our editors will eliminate that from the broadcast. [Laughter]
Bob: No, they won’t! We have copies of the book, Same-Sex Marriage, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
Our listeners are welcome to go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of the book. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. When you get there, click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll see a copy of John and Sean’s book, and you can order it from us. Or you can order by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. Someone on our team will make sure you get a copy sent to you. Again, we’d encourage you to get a copy of the book. It’s called Same-Sex Marriage by Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet.
Speaking of helpful books, today, we are sending out, as a thank-you gift, to anyone who helps support the ministry of FamilyLife Today your choice of a couple of very helpful books. One by Ron Deal—it’s the revised and updated version of his book, The Smart Stepfamily, where Ron maps out a strategy for building strength in a stepfamily.
Or you can request a copy of Scott Stanley’s book, A Lasting Promise, which has also been revised and updated. In this book, Scott Stanley addresses the most common issues couples deal with that challenge the marriage commitment. And he talks about how you can be on the same page, as husband and wife, facing these issues. In fact, I had a friend of mine, the other day, who said this book was a turning point in his marriage.
You can request either book when you make a donation to help support FamilyLife Today. All you have to do is go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE.” When you make an online donation, you’ll be able to check that you’d like either a copy of A Lasting Promise or The Smart Stepfamily. Or you can request either book when you call to make a donation. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. And of course, you can mail a check and request either book.
Our mailing address is PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we are going to talk about what ought to be a mom and dad’s top priority when you’re raising your children. What’s the most important thing you’ll want to do, as you raise your son or your daughter? We’ll talk with Ken Hemphill about that tomorrow. 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. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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