Lesson 2: What do I do when teenagers are questioning their sexuality?
Rev. Dr. Blair D. Bertrand
When I was in junior high, I had a girlfriend who broke up with me because I didn’t kiss long enough, often enough, or well enough. This prompted a crisis in my sexual identity (although I certainly did not understand it that way when it happened). I never questioned my heterosexuality but I did wonder if I was all right. After all, wasn’t a red-blooded male like me supposed to want to kiss longer, more frequently, better? Was there something wrong with me?
As it turns out, there was nothing wrong with me. At 17 I met the woman who is now my wife, and I enthusiastically kissed longer and more frequently (although better is debatable). Instead of kissing, the question became about sexual intercourse. Everyone in high school seemed to be doing it (although statistics should chasten my use of “everyone”), and we wondered what it meant to be Christian and sexual beings. Was there something wrong with us that we believed our Christian faith constrained us from having sexual intercourse before marriage?
My own life contains times when I’ve questioned my sexuality, just not in the way that our society often conceives of that question. In our contemporary context, to “question our sexuality” has become code for determining whether we are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. The question of orientation is important but in reality, questioning our sexuality happens in a much broader context. It includes how we want to relate to others in an intimate way. It includes how we believe we should act in light of what we believe about God.
I begin with these two confessions because we delude ourselves if we do not believe that all people, including me and including you, question their sexuality. Even now, as someone who has been married nearly two decades, I continue to have questions about how I should relate to my wife and to God. Our sexual identity is always something we negotiate in relation to our intimate relationships and our relationship with God. These two relationships, with a partner and with God, are dynamic so we should expect that over time new questions will arise.
As youth ministers, paid or volunteer, it is not our role to answer these questions for others. You cannot answer questions about my relationship with my wife and with God; you cannot answer questions about a young person’s sexual identity or relationship with God. This applies to all sides of the debates surrounding same-sex relationships. Holding a young person to your norm, whether that norm is conservative or liberal, is to hold them to something other than Jesus Christ. The norm for Christian identity is a person not an ethical principle. God’s relationship to us in Jesus Christ gives shape to how we sexually relate to each other. While you can’t answer the questions directly, as part of the Christian community, you may help me or a young person answer them faithfully.
For example, when I married I vowed to forsake all others besides my wife. This vow mirrors God’s promise to be faithful to us no matter what. God is faithful to each one of us, and in marriage I vowed to mirror that kind of relationship with my wife. For me to commit adultery would be to violate the relationship I have with my wife and with God. I am not faithful because of a rule or an ethical principle; I am faithful because I love God and my wife. All those who were there that day, and all who recognize my marriage since, have a responsibility to relate to me and my wife in ways that promote that kind of relational faithfulness. The Christian community responds to God’s faithfulness by acting in faithful ways with each other.
The example of marriage is especially clear because there are publicly acknowledged vows, but the same general constraint applies to all of us no matter where we are in understanding our own sexual identity. As we relate faithfully to God, we relate to each other in faithful ways, and the Christian community is there to promote and encourage that faithfulness. As youth ministers we have a special role to play within the Christian community. We intentionally develop authentic relationships with brothers and sisters who are a certain age. Within these relationships God becomes present to both the young person and to us. As God becomes real, particular ways of answering sexual questions become clearer.
To help a young person answer questions of sexual identity, establish an authentic relationship. Set aside all agendas so that you can see the young person for who they are in relation to God. To see others we must also see something about ourselves. We must see that we all have questions about our relationships with each other and with God. I do not need to share intimate details about my relationships with young people, but I do need to acknowledge that I have questions and that I am always answering them with my wife and God in sight.
Authentic also means hearing a young person. Whether it is coming out or wondering aloud about what is normal sexual behavior, the conversation is within a relationship. It has always been a deep honor when a young person has come out to me because it means that they believe that I can hear them. I am not gay but they believe that I can hear their questioning. They haven’t really been asking me questions as much as allowing me to overhear the questions that they ask themselves. They are asking themselves the same questions that I ask myself. What is the best and most faithful way that I can relate to my partner and to God? When young people ask this question, love them into an answer by seeing and hearing them as children of God.
Rev. Dr. Blair D. Bertrand serves Calvin Presbyterian Church (Abbotsford, BC) as their senior pastor, and recently completed his Ph.D. in Youth Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Gathering and Opening Prayer (5 minutes)
Logistics and Organizational Topics (5-10 minutes)
Training Time (20 minutes)
- What are the different questions or issues about sexuality that teenagers face today?
- Watch video
- What do you think of Blair’s language of ‘developing sexuality’?
- Often questions about sexual identity lead to ostracizing in church settings. How can we resist this tendency?
- Have you ever had someone listen to you without judgment? How did it affect you?
- Are there biblical examples of this?
Take aways (10 minutes)
- How will this impact our church, our youth, or our team?
- Hand out essay for further reading
Close in Prayer (5 minutes)