Widely applied no-bullying rules in public schools coupled with advocacy from gay and lesbian organizations have made some public schools a hostile environment for those who criticize homosexuality, even in a non-threatening manner.
One example in Texas: In September, a Fort Worth high school student stated in German class that his Christian convictions led him to believe homosexuality was wrong. The teacher chided him for his comment and sent him to the office, where he was given three days in-school suspension by an assistant principal. The school principal later overturned the suspension, but the case brought media attention and questions about the First Amendment rights of students.
Whether by direct intimidation by peers or school districts or the desire of students to get along, Christian students may shy away from discussing the issue. To complicate matters, some Christian teens and young adults do not have a firm conviction on the issue, which youth pastor Harlie Raethel of Houston’s First Baptist Church said amounts to tacit approval.
“They are scared. They don’t want to be politically incorrect,” said Michael Newman, founder and director of Christian Coalition for Reconciliation in Houston, a ministry created to help individuals leave the homosexual life through the power of Jesus Christ.
Newman, who lived as a homosexual until God intervened, said there is intense pressure on young people to affirm homosexuality. Those born since 1990 have been told through many outlets that homosexuals “are born that way” despite the lack of empirical evidence for such a claim. They have seen the entertainment industry portray homosexuality as normal and prevalent. For this generation homosexuality is not a moral but a civil rights issue.
Claiming homosexuality as a matter of civil rights shifts the responsibility from the individual to society, said Elizabeth Svetlik, an Exodus International representative for a Houston-area church. And students who would proclaim biblical truth about homosexuality are hard pressed to do so without being accused of promoting “hate speech.”
Svetlik, 36, struggled with same-sex attraction from her teenage years through her mid-20s and understands the turmoil students face—some as young as intermediate school age. But she also knows there is a message of redemption those students need to hear and the Christians on campus can make or break the relationships in which the message is proclaimed.
What made Svetlik’s personal experience especially untenable was the fact that she was a Christian raised in a Christian home.
She said, “Part of what messed me up…. I knew this was not right. I knew.”
No one had to tell her that homosexuality was wrong. But what she wanted to hear was that all humans—not just homosexuals—are fallen and in need of redemption.
Svetlik knew 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “…homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God,” she recited. But in all of her years of struggles she does not recall anyone continuing through verse 11.
“Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
Svetlik pointed out, “God has been healing homosexuals forever.”
And it is her hope to be a part of that process. Svetlik is married and teaches grade school music. She will receive her master of arts in professional counseling from Liberty University upon completion of her practicum and internship.
She said Christians get too caught up in trying to win an argument instead of letting the Holy Spirit’s power work in the lives of others. She said, “What I’ve come up with is that the Holy Spirit does a better job of convicting than we do.”
When students are asked what they think about homosexuality, Svetlik suggested they respond with truth and grace by saying, “I do not believe that is God’s best. I want to strive for what is best for me.”
But organizations dedicated to the affirmation and promotion of homosexuality are being established on intermediate and high school campuses across the country. In these student clubs teenagers struggling to come to terms with their sexual identities are being encouraged to embrace homosexuality.
Svetlik said that if she had been told to accept “the fact” that she was a lesbian she would have been devastated.
Students who identify themselves as homosexual and those who champion their cause need to know there is another option. Most students who have same-sex attractions have deep-rooted issues that also need to be addressed. They need to know that giving up and giving in is not the answer.
But these students, like all teenagers, want desperately to belong, to be accepted. If the only voice they hear is the one affirming a perceived bent toward homosexuality, then often that is the direction they turn.
In too many cases, said one pastor, the students are not only running toward the voices of acceptance, but from voices of condemnation.
George Jacobus, college minister at Central Baptist Church in College Station, said, “I think so often, especially with evangelicals, we are quick to call out a sin and then shun them. It isn’t what God would have us do.”
Being a friend to those struggling is the simplest way to share the truth about redemption. Students should not be ashamed to associate with homosexuals as they seek opportunities to witness to them, he said, recalling that Jesus was not embarrassed to be seen speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well.
He emphasized that the goal must remain to offer God’s restoration to homosexuals and others questioning their sexual identity.
Christian students will avoid the monikers of “hater” and “bully” as they live out the love of Christ in the lives of others. Svetlik urged students to understand that same-sex attraction is not a choice. It is a very real feeling. The sin is not in the temptation but in the choice to act upon the temptation, she said. And instead of striving to make their homosexual peers heterosexual, students can emulate the goal of Exodus International by striving to help those with same-sex urges walk holy before God.
Newman said Christian students can befriend their homosexual peers on campus without condoning their actions. He said students can walk through their struggles with them.
“God can use that to touch their hearts,” he said.
He urged Christian students to be bold in their faith and not be intimidated by those who would call them “bullies.”
“Don’t be in fear. Fear doesn’t come from God,” he said.