Talking to your children about sex, marriage and same-sex marriage

Roundtable contributors: Jani Ortlund, Stephanie Goeke, Krissie Inserra, Trillia Newbell and Jena Starke.

What age do you think is appropriate for addressing issues related to marriage, sex and same-sex marriage with your children?

JO: You can begin talking about marriage and proper expressions of intimacy with your child from infancy on—by showing them pictures of your wedding day and other important weddings of family and friends; telling them how marriage began in Gen. 1-2 and how good it is; displaying how much Dad and Mom love, admire and support in each other in their various roles; and making clear that God says marriage is between one man and one woman for as long as they both live.

KI: I think the issue is more about maturity and exposure. My oldest son is eight years old and in second grade at our neighborhood public school.  He has classmates with lesbian parents, and he has seen men out in public holding hands. This has raised a number of questions from him, so we have already had discussions about marriage and sexuality. These issues might come up earlier with my four-year-old because of exposure. The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open. This is not a one-time “talk.” It is an ongoing, honest conversation.

TN:  I have young children (five and eight), so we have not jumped into the deep end of the pool on these topics. Thus far, we make sure to name body parts by their proper name so it’s not strange or awkward (as if God did not design our bodies). The kids understand that boys and girls are created by God with unique differences.

SG: This really depends on your child and your child’s environment. While you want to guard against introducing sexuality and related issues to your children before they are emotionally and developmentally ready, it is an even greater risk in our culture and tech-driven world that your children will learn about sexuality from someone else. The goal should be that your kids’ first exposure to sexual information is from you, and that when questions and issues surface later down the road, they will be comfortable coming to you for counsel.  

JS: As parents, we know our kids best, and we should use wisdom as we consider when to have these discussions. Ask yourself: What is their social environment (friends, teachers, neighbors, advertising) teaching them? Have they begun asking questions? Am I reluctant to talk with my child just because it feels uncomfortable?

How would you go about explaining same-sex marriage to your children? How would you distinguish what God’s design is?

JO: You can help children understand same-sex marriage by studying God’s design for marriage. Give them lots of stories about marriage from the Bible—from Creation to Revelation. I would tell them that same-sex marriage is not marriage as God defines it. Make sure your child knows that this is not your idea that you are teaching but God’s idea from the beginning of the world until now.

You can say something like, “Many people don’t know and believe the Bible, but in our family we want to study the Bible so we can know what God is saying to us about how life works best and how to honor him. In the Bible, God says that same-sex marriage is wrong, just like having sex outside of marriage, lying, stealing and worshipping other gods is wrong.  Even if we don’t understand everything God is telling us in the Bible, we know that he is kind, wise and wants what is best for his children. So we will trust and obey his ways.”

KI: We have simply explained that there are some men who choose to be with and marry other men and some women who do the same with women. This is not the way that God has created us to be. We assure our son that God has stated very clearly in the Bible that he made marriage to be between a man and a woman, so this relationship is against God’s design.

SG: Explaining same-sex marriage and homosexuality to your children is easier if, and should be done after, you have taken the time to explain traditional marriage and biblical sexuality to your children. This will aid greatly in helping explain why homosexual expression and same-sex marriage are outside of God’s design, no matter what our culture or our laws may say. And, again, this is much easier if it is addressed by the parent, on the parents’ initiative, rather than something learned via media, teachers or peers.  

JS: I would say something like, “In Genesis, God created men and women to complement one another. In his perfect plan, he made us different and proclaims it a good thing because it follows his design for all of creation. But because mankind is sinful and runs away from God, we want to make our own rules and not follow God’s design for us. The Bible tells us that ‘people loved the darkness rather than the light.’ In other words, we don’t want to be obedient to God’s commands, and sometimes this shows up in who people want to marry.”

How would you help your children know the truth and yet not ostracize their neighbor or classmate with whom they disagree?

JO: Do not let them hear you ostracize others for their beliefs. Let there be sympathy, grace and longing for those who don’t know the truth of the Bible yet. We don’t want to raise finger-pointing Pharisees or become people who point out or talk about other’s sins—we have enough of our own sin to deal with. Let’s love our friends with whom we disagree and emphasize that Jesus died for the sins of the world, ours included.  

If a someone asks, you can tell your child to share what he/she believes, and why: “Because the Bible is God’s Word to us, and in our family, we believe the Bible and want to obey it.”  Remind your children that what God looks at is the heart; people who are living in a same-sex relationship need a new heart, just as people who are having sex before marriage need one.  Also, teach your children to pray for them.

KI: Children see things in black and white. They understand that some things are right and others are wrong and may have a hard time with those who want to blur the lines or completely disagree with them. It is important to show them how Jesus related to those who were in sin. He felt compassion for them (Matt. 9:36) and loved them in word and deed.

In our home, we are honest about these issues (in an age-appropriate way), but we stress that someone who is living this lifestyle needs to know and understand the love of Jesus. Trying to show them the reasons their choices are wrong is not going to convey that love. We must remember that our kids are taking their cues from us. If we are unloving toward those with sexual sin, we can expect our children to act the same way no matter how much we remind them to love others.

SG: Teaching through Jesus’ interaction with sinners is a great way to show how Jesus was always full of mercy yet never wavered on the truth. Additionally, a great way to instill compassion toward those with whom we disagree is to listen to and understand more of their stories and how they ended up where they are, while helping our kids to understand how to allow Scripture to shine light on those experiences.

JS: Sometimes our kids hear other kids using bad language, and they naturally want to label them “bad kids.” We remind them that our sins—lying, bad attitudes, laziness, hatefulness—are just as “bad,” and we need forgiveness just as much as they do. Jesus spent time with people who did a lot of bad things and loved them. When we separate ourselves from other people, we are saying we don’t need as much forgiveness as they do. So, when our kids see two women walking down the street holding hands, we should help them remember that Jesus came to set people free from their sin, including us.

How would you train your child to talk about these things with friends who have same-sex parents?

KI: Our son does have at least a couple of classmates who have same-sex parents, and this is a tough one. If the child wants to know what the Bible says about homosexuality, I would teach my child to point him or her to Scripture and explain it. But generally, that’s not the question that kids are asking.

Children should never be ostracized or punished for the lifestyle choices their parents have made. They want to know that they are loved and accepted even though their family is different. They want to know that God has a plan for their life. They need to know that God must punish sin because he is a holy God, but his mercy and forgiveness extend from the east to the west. They simply need a friend.

TN: I’d want my kids to be honest. I don’t want them to feel they need to hide their Christianity. With that said, I would want them to be wise and discerning. I want them to learn to share an opinion, concern or conviction when asked rather than voluntarily. For example, if a classmate is sharing, I might teach my children to start responding by asking their classmate questions instead of throwing out accusations. It’s the child’s parents who are same-sex partners. The child shouldn’t be shunned because of the choice of the parents. Ultimately, I want my kids to be gospel-minded. I pray they would remember the truth of the gospel as they learn to relate to others and would have boldness to lovingly share when and where possible.

SG: Kids should first learn how to share their faith and to share the essence of the gospel in the middle of their relationships before they are taught, or even encouraged, to address sin or differences of beliefs. Addressing sin without first introducing Jesus never goes well!

For many kids, the “experience” of their friends can cause them to question what they have been taught about biblical sexuality and traditional marriage, so it is important that parents walk with their kids through the Word and allow it to illuminate the situation.  Make sure your kids know that it is okay to be friends with these kids and that the same-sex parents may well be very nice, caring and capable parents.  If the issue arises specifically in conversation, teach your children how to state their beliefs carefully and with sensitivity, and teach them how to affirm their friendship and sincerely love their friends.

JS: Our kids aren’t always going to say the right things, and we need to be patient with them. Most importantly, it’s crucial for them to understand that behavior is the fruit of what’s in our hearts. It should surprise them less and less that people disobey God’s commands if they don’t have Jesus in their heart. Our neighbors need to know Jesus before they’ll want to obey his commands. As kids grow in their knowledge of the gospel and how God changes hearts, they’ll better relate to their friends, family and neighbors.  

This article was featured in our inaugural issue of Light Magazine. Visit the ERLC store to download Light for free and discover more resources.

Krissie Inserra

Krissie is a pastor's wife, mom, and active member in her local church and community. Read More by this Author

Stephanie Goeke

Read More by this Author

Trillia Newbell

Trillia Newbell is the author of several books including A Great Cloud of Witnesses, Sacred Endurance, If God Is For Us, Fear and Faith,and the children’s books, Creative God, Colorful Us and  God’s Very Good Idea. When she isn’t writing, she’s encouraging and supporting other writers as an Acquisitions Editor at Moody … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24