The following blog is written by Pieter Valk. Pieter is a member of our Collaborative Team, and is the executive director of EQUIP, a Nashville based organization that helps the church to love sexual minorities.
We at EQUIP are a team of missionary consultants sent to equip the Church with the understanding and skills to better love and serve those who experience same-sex attraction. We want to help the Church become a place where LGBT+ people can belong and thrive according to an orthodox Christian sexual ethic. We do this by partnering with churches to provide teaching and strategy for pastors, lay leaders, parents, teens, and those who experience same-sex attraction.
Our hope is that if we train enough churches in enough depth, the Church we offer the next generation will be a radically different place—a place where children hear their parents and pastors talk about same-sex attraction in theologically accurate and compassionate ways. Then when, in late elementary school or early middle school, some children realize they are attracted to other boys and girls of the same sex, they no longer respond with shame, fear, or hiding. Instead, they invite their parents and pastors to journey with them because they have heard that God still loves them and has good things for them.
So far we’ve trained over 1,200 Christian leaders at 14 churches, campus ministries, and Christian universities for 2,830 hours of training. 85% of trainees feel ready to have respectful conversation about sexual ethics, 90% feel better prepared to minister to sexual minorities, and 94% found EQUIP trainings to be effective or very effective.
Why does this work matter to me? Much of my story has been striving to reconcile my same-sex attractions with my beliefs that God calls all people to celibacy or marriage with someone of the opposite sex. I grew up in a family and church that had no idea how to love me well. And the more I shared my story with friends and started doing life with other gay Christians, the more I realized they too grew up in families and churches ill-equipped to disciple them in these areas. We at EQUIP do this work so that the next generation of Christians who experience same-sex attraction grow up in a different kind of church and avoid the shame, fear, and loneliness we experienced.
Many great ministries focus on helping churches reach out to LGBT+ non-Christians, but our first focus at EQUIP are the children in our pews. On average, 5 years pass between when a teen first recognizes his or her same-sex attraction and when the teen shares with a parent or pastor. And if our churches wait until a teen comes out to talk about same-sex attraction, that’s 5 years a teen is left to make sense of tough questions alone. For me, that meant 5 years of Satan speaking lies over me, nurturing a deep shame, and teaching me destructive habits of escape.
Here’s my question for you: What will children in your church grow up hearing? When some of them realize they experience same-sex attraction, will they hide out of shame and fear? Or will they share with their parents and pastor because they know God still loves them and has good plans for them? Will what they hear set them up to embrace the beauty and burden of the gospel, leading to flourishing? Or will they experience deep pain and reject orthodoxy, or perhaps God altogether?
We shouldn't wait until teens come out to talk about same-sex attraction. Let’s talk openly in our churches about the reality of SSA among Christians, share how LGBT+ people fit in God’s story, and do so across a child’s lifespan in age-appropriate ways—not only for the sake of same-sex attracted youth in our churches, but so that we can become churches that LGBT+ non-Christians would actually be drawn to.