i had an interesting discussion at a youth pastor's network meeting on wednesday morning. the topic of the discussion: coming out in middle school.
a tough topic. we talked about how youth culture is drastically shifting, and how every kid in our youth ministry (that isn't home-sheltered/schooled) probably knows at least a couple homosexuals - or at least kids who they're pretty sure are gay. comparing that to just 12 years ago when i was in middle school - i knew 1 kid. comparing that to 25 years ago when many other youth pastors were in middle school: most didn't know any.
so the culture is changing - kids are talking about it more, and the world is telling them that sexuality (both homo and hetero) is certainly something that you should be curious about at an early age. they're thinking about it earlier, and middle schoolers who are already searching for their identity are suddenly determining that they are gay much more often than in previous years.
but we don't want to limit it to them simply searching for their identity. if you tell a kid who truly believes that they are gay that they're just going through a phase and that they'll be straight again in a few weeks...pretty sure that kid has a great chance of never making it back into the doors of your youth group. however, we don't want to make it a big hairy "revert from your sin" conversation.
my personal opinion is that we should treat them just like any heterosexual kid - "you're not ready for a serious relationship anyway - let alone sex - why don't you come talk to me about this when you're 16 and we'll discuss what it means for your life." cause it's true - ALL middle schoolers are not ready for sex, no matter what their sexual orientation. they're non-practicing sexual beings just like the straight kids are.
but then someone asked the question, "are non-practicing homosexuals sinning?"
i've been thinking quite a bit over the last 48 hours about that question. temptation is not a sin - Jesus was tempted in every way, yet he never sinned - but it is when individuals act on that temptation when it becomes sinful. if someone were to tell me, "adam, i'm an alcoholic, but i haven't had a drink in 3 years," i'd be celebrating, not worrying!
so when a middle schooler corners me and says, "adam, i'm gay," how do i respond? he's probably not dating and certainly isn't practicing at 11 or 12 years old, so is he sinning? how do i approach the situation - theologically, but more importantly individually with that kid? to what extent do i attribute it to an identity issue, and to what degree do i take the kid seriously and start unpacking his/her situation more in depth? i'm not sure i have answers for most of these.
these are questions i'll probably wrestle with for a long time in youth ministry. decades probably. and just when i feel like i've got it figured out, culture will probably change again and the church's approach will need to change again. but no matter what, everyone is welcome to enter the Kingdom. there will never be a day when a kid could say something that would shut them out of the doors of the Church.