How Did This Dad Reconcile His Faith with His Gay Son?

There’s a beautiful story at the Chattanooga Times Free Press by Joan Garrett about a Southern Baptist minister/father, his dying gay son, and the church that got in their way:

Matt Nevels and wife Frances (Jake Daniels - Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Matt thought about the stories his son had told him in the hospital that weekend — stories of friends turned out of their families and churches, stories about bullying by people who knew their secret, stories of double lives and failed marriages — he couldn’t help but wonder who would choose to be gay.

He read and reread the Bible’s passages on homosexuality. Then he read and reread different interpretations of the Scripture. He wondered if the verses mentioning homosexuality were meant to condemn rape or pedophilia and not love relationships between two men or two women. And holes started to form in his tight theology.

He prayed to God, long prayers full of questions.

Why would you make someone like this? Why would you tell them they have to be alone?

He didn’t want to tell Stephen’s friends that they were in sin. He didn’t want to tell his dying son that his soul was sicker than his body.

So over the months, a new belief took hold. In Matt’s mind, there was no conflict between homosexuality and Christianity, and the hundreds of years of church tradition had been missteps.

It was only a matter of time before the church realized as much, he thought.

Stephen looked at his father. The room felt tight with fear and embarrassment. Matt knew his son was waiting to hear his voice, listening for reassurance.

And Matt began to cry in front of his son. Frances held her hands over her mouth and cried, too.

“Son, it’s OK,” Matt said. “We are going to love you the way you are.”

Stephen sobbed. He crawled out of bed and into Matt’s lap and Matt held him like he did when he was just a boy. Stephen put his arms around his father’s neck and kissed him on the cheek.

“Son, don’t worry,” Matt said softly. “Nothing between us is going to change.”

Those things streaming down your face are tears.

The ending of the story is a little disappointing for different reasons… feel free to discuss in the comments.

(via Boing Boing)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    @!$^@!#!$@#!%$#@!%!!!!!!!

    Thanks Hemant. Now I have to go wipe my face.

  • Mimi

    Sitting in the train on the way to work. Messed up my makeup as I can’t stop these tears. Everyone else looking & wondering what’s up w me.

  • rlrose328

    Not an uplifting story by any means… it’s sad that Matt couldn’t find a church that conforms with his views and that, in the end, he went back to that horrible church.  And that the old minister only deigned to speak to him because he was going to return to the church (probably assuming Matt had changed his mind about gays).  It’s all just so sad.

  • Wild Rumpus

    *sniff*  dammit… who is cutting the onions around here?

  • LesterBallard

    Fuck the Bible. Either all of it is the word of God (and remember, Jesus was God), or it’s just a collection of mostly shit written by fucked up human beings. All of that unnecessary sadness and grief because of that fucked up book.

    • jk

      I hear you, but so many won’t.   Why must you use such language and reject it all when there are MANY Christians who believe the Bible is God’s revelation but understand that it must be read in the light of current social and scientific knowledge.   We are open to gays and accept them in our midst.   Comments like yours tend to scare Christians and make them believe that all gays are obscene and offensive and should not be tolerated.   Your attitude about the Bible is not better than their idea about you.

      • LesterBallard

        It’s “God’s revelation” but he got so many things wrong. How does that work? How does a omniscient and omnipotent being get anything wrong?

        Scare Christians? You mean scared like that couple in Texas that was murdered? The police aren’t saying it was because they were lesbians, but if it wasn’t, I’ll be fucking shocked.

      • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

        You and other Christians should get used to seeing that kind of anger from atheist activists. The anger isn’t unjustified in the slightest once you understand where it comes from. While I appreciate that you appear to be a moderate sort of Christian, your beliefs still inform your decisions, which gives people like me serious pause.

        Despite what the Church says, faith isn’t a virtue. “Trust in God” worded differently is “Blindly accept what you are told by other people who are also blindly accepting.” That’s a formula for misery, harm and a false life.

      • LesterBallard

        Sorry. I missed your subtext. Why did you assume I was homosexual?

      • Stev84

         

        Your attitude about the Bible is not better than their idea about you.

        That you’re unable to separate attitudes about a book and ideas from attitudes about actual people is really worrying

      • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

        I understand that it hurts to be tarred with the same brush that we use to tar the really outspoken homophobes. However, people DIE because of the homophobic language in the Bible, and the Christians who preach it. People are losing their lives, often after long periods of deep despair. You should be FAR more upset about that, and you should TAKE STEPS towards fixing this problem that your co-religionists created.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Rosa/1059360979 Anthony Rosa

      …false dichotomy much? I mean, I agree with the latter idea, it’s a bunch of shit written by humans, but if you believe that a supernatural force exists (and I do not), why is the only option available that ALL of it is correct, or that one specific interpretation or use of it is correct? 

      I mean, the question’s moot, but it’s still a false dichotomy.

      • LesterBallard

        If it’s a all powerful, all knowing being, how can it ever get anything wrong? Once you accept that there is a supernatural force, anything can be anything.

        I think saying ” there are MANY Christians who believe the Bible is God’s revelation but understand that it must be read in the light of current social and scientific knowledge” is just jk’s way of cherry picking.

    • Pseudonym

      To secular historians of the Ancient Near East, the Bible is an anthology of ancient documents of considerable historical importance. That position, sadly, doesn’t fit into your false dichotomy.

      • LesterBallard

        That’s nice. Almost makes me wish I hadn’t read The End of Biblical Studies by Hector Avalos.

  • Jordan Chandler

    The father is still a Christian, and still a believer, and still prays. He didn’t rationalize his religions acceptance or rejection of his son until it hit home and affected him personally. I have no doubts that without his son’s death he would have never changed his mind.  

    • Amanda

      Sometime, that’s what it takes to cause change in a person. The fact that he did change his thoughts and accepted his son is what we should be applauding, not that it took him a while to do so.

      • Jordan Chandler

        At least he proved he genuinely loved his son. It’s disgusting how many parents admittedly love their god more than their own offspring as demonstrated by their actions when their children come out as atheist/gay/liberal/democrat etc

  • Jim

    Religion is like malaria–you get infected, you get sick, you get better, then out of the blue you relapse.  One would think that Mr. and Mrs. Nevels would have the integrity to reject a church that humiliated them and the memory of their dead son. But no, religion and integrity don’t mix. We’re all sinners so we’ve all got to grovel and debase ourselves.  Can’t you just feel the degradation?  Praise the Lord. 

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/5ICV26RJHR5X4TPDRGF5WV7HH4 Dave

      Thank you!  for crying out loud – the Baptists can’t be the ONLY game in town – how about trying out a nice new gay friendly church?  Nope – gotta go back to the Baptist church with a new preacher (from Louisiana!  -  ALL the really progressive Baptist preachers are from Louisiana ….  riiiiiigggghhhhht?)  Ugh.

      • http://twitter.com/Cafeeine Cafeeine

         The problem I guess derives from thinking said church holding the Truth for all ones life. Even when finding out they are wrong in one element, they still see it as the best option.
        This isn’t a phenomenon restricted to somewhat jaded believers either. Even former believers, now atheists, often consider the brand of faith they were raised in to be the more ‘proper’, less crazy interpretation of its holy book. I know I caught myself doing that early on. Herd mentality is hard to completely overthrow.

  • pagansister

    Did he try a UU church?  Or the Episcopal?   He did love his son, and he proved it when he found out that he was a gay man.  However, I don’t think I would have returned to the Baptist church under any circumstances.   

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    *sighs and rolls in a whole pallet of kleenex*

  • ImRike

    Yes, I had tears in my eyes; but why the hell he felt like going back to that same church is beyond me – or any church, for that matter. Didn’t he have the right idea to begin with: the bible condemns divorce, premarital sex and greed, but those are overlooked by the church while homosexuality seems to be the “favorite sin”!
    Shame on him, to fall into that same pit again! 

  • cipher

    Re: his returning to the church – I understand his reasons. He worked there and has a history with it, his other children are still members,  he still has friends there.

    And I’m glad he was there for his child, and his attitude was rather tolerant for a middle-aged Southern Baptist in the rural South in the early 90′s.

    However, there’s this:

    “Am I going to hell after I die?” Stephen would ask his father.

    “What determines if you go to heaven is that you accept Jesus Christ
    as your savior,” Matt told him. “Once you are accepted in God’s family,
    you are not going to be kicked out.”

    I am sick to death of gay evangelicals who throw out the one item on the agenda that would make their lives inconvenient, and cling, like stubborn children, to the rest. His gay son isn’t going to hell for all eternity, oh, no! – but billions of his fellow human beings still are, and he’s just fine with that. As long as he’s able to jump through the requisite mental hoops to get his kid into heaven – that’s all that matters. I suppose I should be more charitable – many of his kind would have condemned the kid to hell, and been done with it – but I find that I can’t be.

    I hear the same bullshit from gay Orthodox Jews as well. The Torah is divinely revealed and everything in it is true and binding for all time – except for the part about homosexuality. That part is open to “interpretation”. Reform and Conservative Jews who disagree are woefully misguided.

    Their religion is an absolute, thoroughgoing abomination. Either it goes, or humanity  does – and unfortunately, I’m convinced it will be the latter. But, hey – as long as they get to go to heaven and spend eternity guzzling beer with Jesus and Dubya, peering over the balcony into the bowels of hell, watching us scream and writhe in agony while they point and giggle like schoolchildren – that’s all that matters, eh?

  • cipher

    This really pisses me off. I can’t seem to let it go. His gay son is dying, so he finds a way to finagle him into heaven, but his Southern Baptist neighbor, who may be grieving over a dead atheist child – oh well, of course, he’s in hell for all of eternity! But don’t worry, neighbor – when you get to heaven, it won’t bother you any longer. In fact, it’ll be the halftime entertainment, and you’ll enjoy the show!

    And I don’t want to hear any crap about how they don’t really believe this. It’s a core teaching of Calvinism, which is one of the two main influences within the evangelical subculture (the other, of course, being Dominionism).

    Tears streaming down your face? Jesus, Hemant, you really got taken in by this.

    • http://twitter.com/jbarooah Jahnabi Barooah

      Remember that the son does not identify as an atheist, but as a born-again Christian. Religion and sexuality are complicated issues, and it would be folly to draw quick conclusions. 

      • cipher

         Remember that the son does not identify as an atheist, but as a born-again Christian.

        Yeah… that was pretty much my point.

  • Kevinacre

    A church that conforms to my views, a god that makes mistakes, understanding the word as it conforms to today’s society and climate.
    There is one true and living God. A relationship through Jesus Christ is my only way to Him. His word, the bible is perfect and is represented by the life Christ lead.
    There is a heaven and a hell that will last for eternity. If we do not have a relationship to God through Christ that changes our thinking to His truth, and His truth alone, we will be turned away from heaven.
    Jesus Christ is the truth and eternal life. Life outside of Him is error and eternal death.
    Why does a life of submissive obedience to God’s master plan seem so difficult?

    • dewNOTbelieve

      Kevin – at first I was angry about your post. My immediate response was the typical atheist “how can you BELIEVE that …” And then a light went on. YOU are the atheist’s hope for the future because YOU, my friend, are the evidence that what we are doing is WORKING. You are HALF WAY to being an atheist. You’ve rejected, denied, and tossed away the really horrible parts of your religion. Now all you need to do is recognize that you don’t need the rest any more than what you’ve already lost and you will truly be free. Good luck.

      • Kevinacre

        Yes I have grown to reject religion. Christ came to save us. Religion is as twisted as it has always been. Your religion”atheisism”, if you will, leaves our hope on man and all of our frailties. My hope rests in the Lord, my redeemer and comforter. I have faith that God, that created the universe, looked down and knew you would respond to a few simple remarks about Him. I pray that you allow His perfect love, Jesus Christ, into your heart. There is NO greater peace than to know the giver of life has covered my shortcomings as I submit to Him. Be Blessed.

        • cipher

          Your religion is an abomination, and you’re a criminal psychopath. You should be prohibited by law from reproducing.

          • Kevinacre

            Not sharing religion, sharing Christ. Hard to understand why discussions of a loving God and His son that gave His life for my corrupt nature would create a desire to have me neutered. Whether I believe in God has no effect on His authority and yet He wants to have a relationship with me. That happens through Christ.

    • Alex

      Because this life is the only one we get. To throw it away on self-loathing and worshiping an imaginary sadistic megalomaniac is the real abomination. Please spare us the bullshit about god’s “truth” and “love,” because neither has anything to do with reality.

  • hoverFrog

    There is an assumption that AIDS is a gay disease in the article. There is also a throw away line that tries to link childhood sexual abuse with homosexuality.  This line though, this line makes me the most angry: “Maybe they were afraid any kindness could be translated as acceptance.”

    To willingly go back to that, to go back to the people who wouldn’t comfort a dying man or extend a kindness to someone in mourning for their son, that’s awful. It shows how much control religion has over some people.

  • Alex

    Religion: making  douchebaggery not only normal, but expected since… since ever.


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