Since the launch of Mama Bear Apologetics Guide to Sexuality, we have seen dozens of questions from you, our amazing Mamas and Papas out there. We love this aspect of ministry because our calling has always been to meet you where you’re at and, through God’s wisdom, get you to where you’re going!
One question we have received more than any other can be summed up into one heart-felt need:
“We have a family member who is gay and is marrying (or has married) their partner. How in the world do I explain this to my kids?!”
These parents are serious warriors. They want to break the cycle of brokenness and have fruitful relationships with their LGBT family members and friends. But they’re also torn.
They want their kids to know and stand firm in truth, but they’re scared of the confusion that might happen when their kiddo notices Aunt Margo holding hands with another woman.
Not to mention the potential comments their little Kid’s say the Darnedest Things contestant might blurt out that would turn a nice family dinner at Olive Garden into something suuuuuper awkward…because kids, am I right?
Thankfully, there are some practical ways we can explain same-sex marriage to our kiddos that honors God and each person before our order of breadsticks hits the table.
1. Remind them of God’s design for Marriage
If there’s one thing our world has completely misunderstood, it’s the nature of marriage. We can thank sin for that huge swing and a miss.
The reason we want to reinforce God’s design is because, as Daniel Kahneman points out, the brain has trouble differentiating between what is familiar and what is true. That is the danger of normalization. Expose a person to something long enough (and often enough) and they might start confusing it for truth.
There is no bigger battlefield where Christians need to retake ground than sexuality. We can start by reminding them of the true origin of marriage.
Marriage was created by God and is symbolic of His relationship to His people, (Ephesians 5:22-23). One loving God in exclusive fellowship to His people for life.1And children? Those little heathens running around your house aren’t the accidental souvenirs from listening to one too many Barry White songs. Children are symbolic of the flourishing that only comes from being united with God. One man, one woman, mutually submitting to one another in love as unto God, (Ephesians 5:21).2From a strictly secular worldview, marriage is just a convention of society, a way to bring tribes together for the survival of a nation. Cyndi Darnell, sexologist and therapist, told USA Today that the origin of marriage was, “asset management.” Boy doesn’t that bring all the feels! It should be entered into and lived out with reverence, as a way to represent God and further the kingdom with a helpmate at your side.
Marriage isn’t some sitcom joke shared between two selfish spouses. And it certainly isn’t a primetime game show where groups of men and women try to out hussy each other for a rose.3Is it any wonder why the average marrying age continues to rise? Why people are rejecting it altogether and why divorce rates are at an all-time high? People are being sold a totally broken design and expecting an outcome that it was never built to produce. Who would want that?
Nope. The ‘telos’ or purpose of marriage helps us see, reflect, and know God better. It also helps us understand how we cannot flourish spiritually by living any lifestyle that is outside of God’s design. It is beautiful, purposeful, and is worthy of respect.
2. Tell them about the Family or Friend they are about to Meet
Yep, we’re gonna rip that band-aid right off! Jesus never treated people the way the world (and even the church at times) does. He didn’t focus merely on their sin. He treated them like human beings worthy of dignity, respect, and redemption. Which is exactly how we should treat our loved ones with same-sex partners.
This starts by simply explaining to them who they’re about to meet, which includes any spouse or boy/girlfriend, and interesting points of conversation. Do they like horses? Art? Give your kids talking points so they can get to know them as a person.
If you have pictures of them, feel free to show those too! Remind your kids that we are not reducible to our sexuality, no matter what the world says. This isn’t just common decency. It models that though we are all broken in different ways, we’re united in our need for Jesus. We can see a great example of this in Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9).
Zacchaeus was a Jewish tax collector. His cushy Roman job pegged him as a traitor to the Jewish community. He was probably skimming extra off the top for himself…right out of his neighbor’s pockets, I might add. He even had his own out-in-the-open-for-all-to-see booth.4Aka a tax collector’s booth, see Matthew 9. So, everyone knew and actively labeled him a sinner.
That all changed when Jesus came to town.
Looking up, Jesus called to our vertically challenged squirrel impersonator and said that Zacchaeus would be hosting dinner that night. This was a huge honor. Wherever Jesus stayed, the host and his family got front row seats to the greatest teacher in town. He was like the popular kid in school that almost everyone wanted to be friends with. And he chose the nerdiest, sneakiest, snitch of the school.
This didn’t sit well with the crowd. Surely there were more holy men he could have chosen! One with the decency to hide their sins! Sheesh!
Nope, Jesus chose Zacchaeus. And Zacchaeus was so moved and delighted that ‘salvation came to his house.’
Now that’s the Godly impact we should strive for!
3. Explain Civic Marriage vs. Biblical Marriage
The next thing you’ll want to do is explain the difference between same-sex and biblical marriage. This is one of the biggest questions tripping up our littles. Many kids think that since same-sex and heterosexual couples both use the term ‘marriage’ they must be the same thing.
As we’ve seen with linguistic theft, just because the same word is being used, it doesn’t mean that we’re using the same definition. Marriage is no different. This is why it’s important to distinguish between the two.
Biblical marriage is God’s design of one man, one woman, joined together for life. It was designed for the purpose of being a living symbol of God’s relationship to His people. It can only reflect God and His nature when that design is followed.
Civic (or civil) Marriage is the joining of two people together as recognized by a government official. Civic marriage is defined and regulated by the government and shifts depending on culture. Since the Obergefell v. Hodge ruling on June 26, 2015, all 50 states must allow for and recognize same-sex marriages.5This can also be called ‘civil marriage’ but the standard definition of marriage with or without religious connections. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/obergefell-v-hodges-ruling-same-sex-marriage-legalized-nationwide
All biblical marriages are civic, but not all civic marriages are biblical. Sure, they’re similar in numerical pairing (so far). They both get into arguments about coffee tables deep in the bowels of an Ikea warehouse. But only biblical marriage distinctly models the relationship of God and the church. 6This explains why some Christians have no problem with the concept of same-sex civic marriages. They aren’t the same as biblical marriages so what’s the problem with allowing two people to marry? Others contend that losing the sacredness behind the word “marriage” opens the door for anything union between a person and whatever they’re in love with to be allowed. After all, a man in Japan already married an anime hologram. A woman once married the ghost of a pirate. Perhaps in a few years we’ll see a rise in college guys marrying their Xbox! Regardless of where you stand on the issue, what’s important is for your children to recognize and understand the difference between God’s design and man’s counterfeit.
This distinction de-mystifies why same-sex marriage is legal while we as Christians uphold God’s original design and purpose of biblical marriage. It also gives you the perfect opportunity to discuss how civic laws do not supersede God’s commands. Kids (especially teens) need to understand that government laws do not magically become biblical loopholes just because the judicial majority agrees that something is now a-ok.
4. Encourage your Children to be Respectful and Loving toward other Image Bearers
As Hillary wrote in the last chapter of the MBA Guide to Sexuality, we all have a cross to bear. Perhaps it’s something everyone can see, or maybe it’s psychological. Despite our struggles, what we all have in common is that each one of us is made in the image of God, aka the imago Dei.
Now there is a huge difference between being made in His image and acting in ways that reflect His image. The world loves to twist these two but it’s important to see the difference.
From the moment of conception, we have the imago Dei woven into the fabric of our being. But free will and sinful nature mean that there are times when we will act in very un-Christlike ways. From what we do with our bodies, to our very thoughts.
Acknowledging this distinction levels the playing field in two ways. First, regardless of the cross we bear, we all must humble ourselves at the feet of Jesus.
Second, it means that we are to treat each person with the respect and dignity that comes with being made in God’s image. Meaning that we think, act, and speak in a way that points people to the beauty and redemption found only in Him.
You can help reinforce this with your kiddos by reading passages like John 4:4-42 and Luke 19:1-10 together. How did Jesus treat the woman at the well and Zacchaeus? How was this different from everyone else in their community? What examples do we see on how to treat others while remaining faithful to God?
For older children and teens, you can probably go deeper: What does the world say about sin and love? How have you heard your friends, media, and pop culture define/describe these words? Are those definitions consistent with the biblical worldview, Scripture, and the nature of God? What worldview does their definitions reflect? 7James W. Sire, author of The Universe Next Door, said that a worldview answers eight important questions about the world. Use these questions (not every one will be relevant in every conversation) as prompts whenever you engage other worldviews: What is real? What is the nature of reality? What is a human being? What happens after we die? Why is it possible to know anything at all? How do we know what’s right and wrong? What is the meaning of human history? What life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview? How does Jesus model how to be faithful to God and truth while still loving one’s neighbor as yourself? What are some ways that you can model Jesus’ example?
If you’re visiting family (or if they’re visiting you) and your kiddos have questions, suggest that they ask them to you privately first. Some questions will be perfectly fine to ask in company. The rest are better to discuss during the drive home. As you talk, remind your kiddos that even though their cousin, uncle, aunt, or family friend has decided to be united with a same-sex partner, they are still worthy of love, prayer, and respect as a human being made in the image of God.
For those of you in the midst of this family dynamic, can I just take a moment to say that we at Mama Bear are praying for you! Thank you for loving those around you like Christ! Thank you for being a loving Christian influence in a world full of compromise. Thank you for raising your children to love those around them like Jesus. It won’t always be easy. There is sure to be push-back. But through Christ, we can do all things to His glory, amen!
Amy Davison is a former Air Force veteran turned Mama Bear Apologist. She is currently a grad student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary studying apologetics and philosophy. She and her husband Michael (also former Air Force) have been married for over 15 years and have 3 kids. Amy is the Mama Bear resident expert on sex and sexuality, and she’s especially hoping to have that listed on her Mama Bear business card.