“This is not what I expected our family to be like!”
The email from this Christian revealed a woman in anguish. A grown child had come out as homosexual, married the same sex partner, and the entire family had exploded over it. Five grown children were bitterly divided. The woman said even her church seemed split over what Christian parents should do when a child comes out as “gay.”
The email was heartbreaking, but she is not alone. Over the years, the staff here at AFA has received countless phone calls, letters, and emails from parents crushed over a child gone astray. On top of everything else, the fierce controversy over the subject of homosexuality – even in many churches – only makes the emotional agony that much worse.
Should parents embrace their kids’ homosexuality? Cut them off from the family? Ignore the issue? What happens when the homosexual child wants to bring home a same-sex partner for a family visit?
Rebels under the same roof
No Christian parent should underestimate the brutality of the spiritual warfare that comes with fighting for the soul of a wayward child. Since there is no love like that of a parent for a child, there is no pain like that of a Christian for a son or daughter in the grip of darkness. Part of this warfare is the sense of failure that Satan shoves in the faces of Christians who are forced to watch a child walk away from Jesus. Parents are often wracked with guilt over rebellious kids. Is this my fault? Does this happen to other parents?
First, it’s important to understand that parenting – even for Christians – is not a cause-and-effect enterprise. Just as the worst of parents can watch their kids grow up to be amazing Christian adults, the opposite can happen too. Even wonderful Christian parents can watch in dismay as a child walks away from the faith.
However, the Bible does acknowledge the reality of straying kids – and in an unexpected place: Paul emphasizes the importance of an orderly and peaceful Christian home when he discusses the qualifications for church leaders. He states that those who serve in the capacity of deacon or elder must manage their own homes well. When it comes specifically to the relationship between a Christian man and his children, the apostle says the father must keep “his children under control with all dignity…having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion” (1 Timothy 3:4-5, 12; Titus 1:6).
Obviously, this is discussing younger kids still living at home and not those who are grown. Still, the implication is that some parents won’t have control of their children. Some kids will be rebellious and won’t believe in Jesus Christ. The standard Paul lays out seems to recognize a painful reality: having unbelievers in the home causes no small amount of chaos. It would be difficult for a man to help church members if he was constantly at war in his own home.
Anyone who has raised a child knows how difficult it is. Most parents realize they’ve made mistakes along the way. The Bible says there are things parents should not do (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). If parents have treated their children harshly and driven them into rebellion, the parents should repent before the Lord and seek His wisdom on how to proceed.
However, it is also true that children eventually make their own decisions, suffering the consequences for bad ones. Even the wisest man in Israel, King Solomon, had to implore his son to heed the instruction of wisdom: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8). The rest of the book is filled with warnings about the consequences for rejecting divine counsel. Once our children reach the age where they are making moral decisions, they begin to be responsible for the outcomes of those choices.
Should I end it?
Of course, when a child makes the decision to walk away from the faith, the parents’ pain and confusion are just beginning. “What do we do?” is the question that lingers over everything else. Many times there isn’t anything to do, except pray – a powerful option, for sure.
When darkness enters the life of a Christian family, however, that’s a powerful spiritual force too. Parents have many things to consider, including other children and the effect a rebel might have on them. Part of the problem is that we do not have much scriptural material that directly addresses wayward kids.
However, there may be some help in extrapolating from other biblical principles. In fact, we find some indirect help in Paul’s discussion of what Christians should do in the case of an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:10-16).
In terms of marriage, Paul teaches that a Christian cannot choose to dissolve a union simply because the spouse is an unbeliever. Paul states that a Christian’s marriage is still intact, even if the believer got saved afterward (vv. 10-13). They are not free to divorce an unsaved spouse – or, if they do, they cannot remarry. The believer “must not send [the spouse] away.”
This seems to indicate that temporal relationships in the Christian’s life are important to God. If a Christian cannot divorce an unbelieving spouse, it seems fair to infer that parents should not end their relationship with unsaved kids.
What if my kid ends it?
Paul teaches concerning marriage that, if an unbelieving spouse refuses to live with a Christian, the Christian is under no obligation to try to force the relationship to continue. “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave,” the apostle says, adding, “the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace” (vs. 15).
Therefore, we might assume that if an older, adult child breaks off the relationship because he or she despises the faith of the parents, the parents are free to allow the decision to stand – without guilt.
The power of Christian witness
Again, in terms of marriage, Paul says an unbelieving spouse “is sanctified through” the believing partner. Even children are powerfully affected by the presence of a Christian parent (vv. 14, 16). In fact, this holy power is so influential that the apostle asks: “For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (vs. 16).
We all know that God saves people, but Paul says a Christian might “save” a spouse by their consistent and holy witness. This indicates that God uses Christian witness in a mighty way. It might seem like the path of least resistance for parents to kick out their rebellious teenagers in order to restore peace. However, they should remember that they are salt and light in the lives of their kids too, just as much as they are in the rest of the world.
Remaining faithful to God
At the center of all these controversies, however, is this simple truth: Jesus divides people. Parents must remember that. He said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household” (Matthew 10:34-36).
There is no way around this – and Christians should not apologize for it. As much as parents might want to smooth over every disagreement to “keep the peace” in the family, the subject of Jesus is quite different from, say, the issue of where to go for the family’s summer vacation.
If love for a child tempts parents to reject the teachings of Christ, they have committed a serious sin. Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (vs. 37).
Parents are in charge of – and responsible to God for – their homes. While there is a great deal of freedom for parents to set most of the house rules according to their own personal sense of propriety, wherever God has clearly spoken, Scripture must be obeyed. For example, no parent should allow illegal activities or the abuse of illegal substances in their home.
Sexual immorality too should be prohibited. What should parents do about a grown child’s immoral partnerships? Where this line should be drawn will probably be the subject of much prayer and discussion in advance of a visit from a wayward child – who has his or her sex partner in tow. Should a partner even be invited? Should the partner be embraced as a new addition to the family? Will the unmarried couple be allowed to sleep in the same room, as if they were married? These are vexing questions that might be answered differently by different Christian parents.
However, parents have a right to insist on respect for their own beliefs, even as rebellious kids often insist that others respect theirs. Christians must always remember that they answer to God above all.
Receiving the penitent with open arms.
Should the happy day arrive when a repentant son or daughter comes home, broken and full of sorrow for their waywardness, Jesus makes clear what the godly and loving response should be. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), when the father sees his child coming home on the same road upon which he left, the parent races to welcome him. True repentance is greeted by true compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness. The household of the prodigal once more is his, and the only sound is one of joy.
The day of forgiveness and restoration is just that. It must not be a day for self-righteous recriminations, denunciations, and constant reminders of past pains suffered. Such judgmentalism exists only in the heart of a Pharisaical older brother. How can such sentiments dwell in the heart of a parent whose prayers have finally been answered, when a child, once lost and dead in their trespasses and sins, has now come home?
Until that time, the forlorn parent looks down that empty road, praying for a sudden glimpse of the prodigal’s return. There is one hope that drives the intercessor:
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).
Sidebar: Standing shoulder to shoulder
There is a moment for parents when it dawns on them that their son or daughter has made the decision to head down the prodigal’s path. Now spiritual war has come to their home.
However, by definition, wars are not fought alone. Here are three recommendations for going into battle with others by your side:
- Stay close to God.
The Lord is not only a shepherd for sheep, He’s a dread champion who stands beside those enduring great difficulty (Jeremiah 20:11). While Satan will tempt the parents of a prodigal to forsake prayer, it is an indispensable lifeline that must not, under any circumstances, be neglected.
- Stay close to your spouse.
A wayward child can place a terrible strain on a family, but a father and mother must remember that they are still husband and wife. They face this battle as one, and everything possible must be done to keep the marriage healthy and the couple facing their challenges together.
- Stay close to the church family.
When it comes to the struggle of having a prodigal, part of the spiritual warfare involves feelings of helplessness, loneliness, and hopelessness. These are giants on the battlefield, and as such, they should not be fought alone. When other brothers and sisters stand shoulder to shoulder with grieving parents, they realize help has come; they are not alone, and the faith of others can bolster the heart that wavers in doubt.