As you know, I think it's incredibly important to discuss controversial topics like addictions, war, and gay marriage with high school students. What's more, the recent increase in the amount of resources (books, curricula, blog posts, and the like) dealing with controversial issues like these has given me hope that more and more ministries are also discussing these (and other) controversial topics.
Given the increase in resources, the question for youth workers then becomes, “How do you decide which resources will best equip you for discussing these topics with your students?”
Here are three questions I consider when making this decision:
1. Who's the resource by and what uniquely equips that person to tackle the topic at hand? When dealing with controversial issues, I most appreciate resources written by authors whose personal stories and experiences gives them credibility about a particular issue.
2. What, if any, research is the resource based upon? Not every resource has to be research-based but I deeply appreciate those that are. Solid research helps us (and in turn, our students) put controversial topics in perspective, often widening our perspective to help us see (sometimes far more realistically than our own biased opinion will allow) what people think about an issue and why.
3. What perspective does this resource offer? When preparing to teach about controversial issues, I challenge myself to read people who's perspectives differ from my own. Doing so allows me to examine an issue from multiple angles. This, in turn, allows me to discuss the issue from various viewpoints with my students. My comfort in doing so invites students to honestly share their opinions, regardless of which side of an issue they're on. It also equips me to play devil's advocate with students, something that helps them to think critically about an issue and ultimately decide what they believe and why.
Based on these three criteria, here are the resources I've found most helpful in preparing to discuss gay marriage (and homosexuality) with high school students:
Unchristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons: Chapter 5 in this book, entitled Antihomosexual, provides solid research on the perception young adults have regarding how Christians view the gay community.
Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin: I have a huge amount of respect for the work Andy's Marin Foundation does in building bridges between the evangelical and gay communities. Andy is the real deal. The fact that he and his wife have chosen to live incarnationally in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago (a predominantly GLBT neighborhood) makes him uniquely qualified to discuss this subject, as does the fact that they've been largely embraced by the GLBT community there. Four years ago, Andy spoke at my church and what most impressed me was his humility and willingness to learn from others. In Love is an Orientation, Andy not only shares some of his experiences with the GLBT community but also provides thoughtful insights into interpreting and understanding some of the most often quoted passages on homosexuality in Scripture. What's more, he does so in a way that truly elevates this conversation.
Torn by Justin Lee: Justin is someone who self-identifies as both a gay and a Christian. As such, his voice is one that needs to be heard in this conversation. This book is captivating, both thoughtful and thought-provoking, at times heart-wrenching and yet also hopeful. In it, Justin weaves parts of his story with theology. He does so in a way that challenges people to have constructive conversations about an emotionally charged issue.
Red Letter Christians by Tony Campolo: An ordained Baptist minister and professor at Eastern University, Tony holds Scripture in high regard. Yet, he also calls himself a “Red Letter Christian.” A major proponent for progressive thought and reform in the evangelical community, Tony consistently challenges people to rethink their beliefs in light of Jesus' words. In Chapter 7 of this book, he shifts the conversation from “Is homosexuality a sin?” to “Should the religious convictions of some determine the rights and privileges of those who do not hold the same belief?” In doing so, he reframes the issue of gay marriage from being one exclusively about morality to also being one of justice.
Love is a Battlefield by Joel Mayward: When the legality of Proposition 8 went before the Supreme Court, a storm of Christian blogs erupted on every side of the issue. Without a doubt, Joel's was the most thoughtful youth ministry one I read. Regardless of which side of the issue you're on, his questions are worthy of consideration.
Rachel Held Evan's Sexuality Series: In addition to reviewing and interacting with several resources on the subject (including the aforementioned Torn), Rachel consistently invites people (with many difference voices and unique perspectives) to guest blog or answer questions on this topic. Because of the care she gives to this issue, it's one worth paying attention to – regardless of which side of the issue you're on.
Now that you know my favorite resources for preparing to discuss homosexuality / gay marriage with teens, what are yours? Why?