“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18)
This is the tough lesson my teenage daughter learned last week. It started (as so much teenage angst does) with an unfounded rumour that my daughter is “homophobic”.
The rumour started when a friend of my daughter’s confessed to her that she was same-sex attracted; a confession she has not yet shared with her Christian parents.
In the ensuing weeks, her friend was planning to post something on social media relating to her sexuality. Upon hearing this, my daughter asked, “But won’t your parents see it?”
My daughter is a Christian and she doesn’t hide it. So unfortunately, her intent in asking this question – to protect her friend from her parents finding out – was misconstrued.
And so the rumour about my daughter “being homophobic” started.
My daughter is facing a type of persecution that I never had to when I was a teenager.
It’s a pretty ridiculous rumour really, as my daughter has several other good friends who are same-sex attracted and gender fluid (and I’ve never heard a homophobic word come from her mouth). However, the fact that these friends would hear the rumour made it all the more painful.
And the way this accusation was delivered to my daughter was also pretty awful – in the playground, in front of everyone, after the rumour had been shared with all her classmates in one subject.
Only when it reached this crisis point, did my daughter betray her friend’s confidence by asking for help to deal with the situation.
The next day, on my advice, my daughter approached her friend when she was alone and asked if she could have a private word. My daughter opened up about the rumour and asked if there was anything she had done to upset her friend and, perhaps, cause the rumour to come about.
Her friend admitted she felt my daughter was unsupportive about her sexuality, although she denied starting the homophobic rumour (even though several people told my daughter she was the source).
That afternoon when my daughter reported back to me how the conversation had gone, I told her to drop the “she said” investigation, to just let it go and forgive her friend. Her friend has long been struggling with mental health issues and this added burden a sexual identity secret kept from her parents is already too much for a teenager to carry.
Now, I realise, being a Christian is equated – by some young people at least – to being anti-LGBTQ.
As well as this discussion about forgiveness, the incident gave us a good opportunity to talk about how being a Christian can mean being a target of ridicule, even in Australia.
It certainly doesn’t compare to the persecution facing Christians in hostile environments around the world. And it doesn’t compare to the persecution that many same-sex attracted people have endured. It also may not compare to the persecution that people from other faiths feel in our country. But my daughter is facing a type of persecution that I never had to when I was a teenager.
Now, I realise, being a Christian is equated – by some young people at least – to being anti-LGBTQ. That’s a hard pill to swallow for those, like my daughter, who have done nothing to deserve this title.
Yet, while I wish I could do more to help, I wouldn’t change the position my daughter is in. She is doing the frontline Christian work that I never really had the opportunity to do: living among same-sex attracted friends day in and day out. Being in real friendships with teenagers who are working out their sexuality and its relationship to their faith, and supporting them as friends, as people. And in the midst of these friendships, being hurt, forgiving and continuing to care for each other.
There’s no easy route along this messy road, but, as I see it, this is the only path for the church of the future.
Name of author not disclosed to ensure privacy for all concerned.