If Your Child is Gay

Parents, when you discovered your child was gay what did you think? What have you heard parents, siblings, friends, pastors, leaders, etc. said? This is a question that naturally arises in Justin Lee’s heartfelt book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. Before I get to that question, and to the advice Justin Lee — a gay Christian (let’s not debate that expression just yet) — gives to parents, I want to sketch a bit of Justin’s life experience, and I would say his experience represents many gay and lesbians who grew up in stable, loving, Christian homes:

Justin was known to his high school peers as the “God Boy” because of his devotion and Christian commitment; he realized in puberty that he was not attracted to girls the way his friends were; he wondered if he was delayed, then he realized he was attracted to guys, then he prayed and wept before God pleading with God to make him straight. He had a girlfriend, with whom he could not become intimate; he hid behind respecting girls as he struggled to come to terms with his sexual orientation and as he fought to become straight. He began to come out to others, eventually working out an arrangement with his youth pastor who got his parents to the pastor’s office where they divulged Justin’s sexual orientation. His parents naturally struggled but they immediately let him know that they loved him and would continue to love him. He says he was fortunate. Justin’s story is crystal-clear honest and can be a very, very helpful book for anyone who wants to comprehend how “torn” a human can be in coming to terms with homosexuality.

When Justin tells the story about how he came out to his parents he paused to offer some advice to parents about what not to say, things that parents, siblings, leaders, pastors, and friends either say or are tempted to say or hear others say, and I’d be interested in hearing if you have heard other parents et al say such things:

1. Don’t tell anyone! This protects public reputation at the expense of personal integrity.
2. You’re not like those people! Straights have stereotypes running about in their heads about what gays and lesbians are like, but the facts show that gays and lesbians are as diverse as straights. This kind of expression leads the child to think he or she is being associated with negative stereotypes.
3. How could you hurt us like this? Gay children struggle, often for a very long time, with their sexual orientation and the reason they did not say anything was not to hurt parents and siblings. So, this one internalizes when the opposite approach is more helpful.
4. What did we do wrong? A common perception is that children become gay because of bad parenting — cold father, etc — but the facts don’t support blaming parents. Justin, for instance (and I don’t think this is unusual), has three siblings who are straight.
5. This is the devil’s way of trying to stop you from doing what God wants! Justin here takes on his role now in writing as evidence that what parents think will be God’s calling may in fact be different, and this of course assumes that what he is doing is what God wants him to do.

How then does a parent respond? What advice would you give?

Our next post on Justin Lee’s Torn will sketch “why people are gay?” as Justin sketches it.

Note: I don’t in general think a blog is the best place for the same-sex orientation/relations/marriage/civil unions discussion to occur, though I do think a blog can be helpful for many of us in this topic. As we do some posts on this book I will ask again that everyone stay calm, not make accusations about anyone else’s views, and see what we can do to learn from one another. Our responsibility is to love gays and lesbians well as Christians.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Stephen W

    Over the past few years I’ve completely changed my position on the LGBT issue. I’ve found that Justin’s writings (both on his own website and also Rachel Held Evans’) have been extremely helpful, insightful, heartbreaking – even if you don’t ultimately come to the same conclusions as he does. Haven’t read Torn yet, but have heard great things about it.

    What I have come to realise is that we abstract the LGBT issue away from real people to a set of principles, theological points of view and rules. I don’t see how this is particularly helpful, nor do I see it in Jesus. This is a real issue about real people who we all know. We need to keep our focus on them, and I’ve found Justin and others (Tony & Peggy Campolo in particular) are extremely good at refocussing the discussion in this respect.

    It’s also good to remember that those of us who follow Jesus are not all of one mind on this topic. There is a tendency for those on either side of this debate to start throwing around words like “liberal”, “pharisee”, “heretic” and “unloving”. The truth is that people who love Jesus and wan’t to follow him can sometimes (!) come to very different conclusions. Acknowledging with some humility that we may not have complete insight into truth on a topic like this is a good place to start.

    To which end, I believe that monogamous, loving, life-long homosexual relationships are not inconsistent with God’s will for homosexual individuals. I have come to this conclusion based on my interpretation of the relevant texts, my view of the place of scripture in daily life, my understanding of the trajectory of scripture, my personal relationship with Jesus.

    I hold this point of view with an open hand, admitting that I may have possibly got it wrong.

  • Paul W

    My only son is young (kindergarten age) and hasn’t really demonstrated much of a ual identity. I would hope that his mother and I will know and understand him well enough that however his ual identity develops that he would never have to “come out” for us.

  • scotmcknight

    Paul W, what does “ual” mean?

  • RJS

    I think he is avoiding the spam filter by not using “sex”.

  • Kyle J

    Thanks for blogging this book, Scot. As much as addressing this topic online may not be the ideal format, I am firmly convinced the church as a whole has to confront it, for the good of both those in situations like Justin’s and for the good of the church’s larger witness. We can’t just ignore the topic any more.

    As to your specific question here, the best response, of course, is to just listen and avoid rushing to any conclusions. And put your kid’s interests in front of the interests of anyone else in your life.

    Like Stephen above, my personal views on this topic have completely shifted. Based on those views, I’d have to be very cautious in recommending how my child were to interact with the church in this situation–potentially looking at a new church where a more “progressive” view on gays and Christianity had been more explicitly recognized, even if that meant losing some advantages my current church might offer.

  • Philip L

    I think that Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” gives an excellent articulation of sexuality as a whole, that needs to be brought in when any Christian talks on these issues. Granted, the biggest factor in any of these discussions is whether or not homosexuality is a choice or if it is born with. Either way, JP2 (along with Christopher West) proposes an answer to the sexuality question that is unmatched by anyone else out there, and it is based out of a love and passion for theology.

  • Jeff

    A parent should sit their 8 yr old? down and have an honest talk about feelings, and that human experience a range of feelings that are normal to experience but not always is what is intended. I would tell them that because we see things around us and many times do not have the discernment to gauge how far up the range we are, that many times we need to see what God had originally intended for us to be like, so that we can bring back the feelings to somewhere in the middle range.

    It is like other natural feelings of anger, fear, and love that can become rage or apathy, cowardice or insanity, or as well taking other people for granted or be too possessive or jealous. So our sexual desire has a midrange where the low range could be only giving people handshakes, hugs, and a kiss on the cheek and the other end would be things like being aroused by someone of the same sex

  • Joe Canner

    I told her that I loved her, that she shouldn’t get too worked up about these feelings for now, and that my prayer for her (and her prayer for herself) should be that God would show her how best to express those feelings as she enters adulthood.

    What I didn’t tell her is that I am praying that her Christian friends and family will not reject her when they find out.

  • http://craigladams.com/blog/ Craig L. Adams

    I think stating the question that way really helps to clarify the issue. Obviously, we love are children and are committed to them and to their well-being, regardless of things like this. We may not understand, but we are always there for them. So many same-sex attracted people have been rejected by their families and by there churches — we know that can’t go on. We may not have all the answers, but we know that our same-sex attracted sons and daughters cannot be rejected as persons.

  • Katherinez

    Scot, I am so thankful that you are tackling this difficult subject. As I’m sure you’re aware, another popular blogger is also currently blogging about this book and I’ve been longing to hear the perspective of Christians I have high respect and regard for concerning this topic. I know blogs aren’t always the best place for such discussions to occur, but when the topic of sexuality is largely being ignored withing our churches, Christians need to find other sources to help them think through this issue. So thanks!

  • Richard

    Joe Canner (7), thanks for your candor. I’ll join in that prayer for the extended family and friends continuing to accept your daughter and for your role as an advocate and protector should the time arise.

  • Jodi

    I appreciate this article but do take issue with the final sentence: Our responsibility is to love gays and lesbians well as Christians. These are not two different groups but rather one and the same. I would have preferred it read: Our responsibility is to love gay and lesbians Christians as well. Do any of us have the ability to truly know the heart of another? My friends who are both gay and Christian have a deep and abiding faith, serve in meaningful ways and struggle with life just like the rest of us, with issues way beyond sexuality. The only action is to love and embrace one another and to trust that God is active and alive in the lives of our gay and lesbian brother and sisters just as he is with us. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I am an ordained pastor in a conservative denomination that has not been a welcoming and loving presence to gays and lesbians. I personally believe that scripture is unequivocally inconclusive on the topic and even on topics where scripture has been very clear about what God hates, like divorce, we’ve been able to move to a more gracious place with those who ended up experiencing that. Let’s humbly admit we don’t have all the answers and simply allow God to open our hearts to a wide place where we can embrace all who stand in need of God’s wide and far-reaching grace.

  • MG

    There are a handful of topics, this being near the very top, within Christianity today that led me to think that the professor/teacher (i.e. academia/education) are becoming better suited to disciple/love/advance the Kingdom etc., than the pastor/priest (i.e. the Church). Certainly there are exceptions, but as this post notes well, this topic needs thoughtful reflection, listening, conversation …etc., and that simply does not fit most models/settings of American Churches, where one “guy” (pastor) typically just states the “party” line and that is that; hence the 5 points listed above in this post are alive and well. And this is maybe why the only place you can even have thoughtful reflection and discussion is on blogs, or maybe a small group, or maybe in a classroom (which has been my current experience).

    Thanks for the post Scot. I too have heard great things about the book…that is I heard great things on blogs and from colleagues, not on Sunday.

  • EricW

    A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality by Gareth Moore is helping me study the question and the Biblical passages in a more open-minded and objective way than the other books I’ve read on the subject – and I have read a lot of them, including Torn – because he takes time to carefully expose and hold up for examination the unconscious presuppositions that one might be reading into the texts or bringing to bear on the subject.

    http://www.amazon.com/Question-Truth-Homosexuality-Gareth-Moore/dp/0826459498

    (I was fortunate to find a pristine copy at the local used bookstore for $12.00!)

    Moore, a Dominican, primarily examines the Roman Catholic Church’s Scriptural and Natural Law arguments against homosexuality. From the summaries and reviews I’ve read, Moore weighed the Church’s teachings in the balances and found them wanting. But you don’t have to be Catholic to benefit from reading Moore’s critique.

    E.g., in Chapter 2 ‘Homosexuality’ Moore examines and deconstructs the terms “homosexuality” and “homosexuals” in a very challenging and thought-provoking way such that you may never again view or use the terms, or the term(s) “sexual(ity),” in the same way after you read it. (There’s a reason the chapter title has the word “Homosexuality” in quotes.) And his discussion on intensionality vs. extensionality is interesting and enlightening, especially in preparation for what will be his discussion of the Biblical texts.

    Here is an excerpt:

    “What does the sexual desire of a man for a man have in common with the sexual desire of a woman for a woman, that we should find it interesting, important or illuminating to attach the same label to them both? What does a man who is sexually attracted to men have in common with a woman who is sexually attracted to women, that we might want to call both of them homosexual people? There is an obvious answer to these questions. What characterizes sexual activity between men is that it goes on between people of the same sex; that’s why we call it homosexual. Sex between women has exactly the same characteristic; it too goes on between people of the same sex, is homosexual. So sexual activity between men and sexual activity between women are both forms of homosexual sex. A woman’s sexual desire for a woman is a sexual desire for a person of the same sex, just as is a man’s sexual desire for a man; they have this in common, and that is why we call them both homosexual. A man attracted to men is a person attracted to persons of the same sex; a woman attracted to women is likewise a person attracted to persons of the same sex. They therefore have a common characteristic, that of being homosexual.

    “So much is obvious, but it does not answer the question why it should be considered at all interesting or illuminating to classify people, their desires and their acts in this way. There are those who believe that in speaking of people as homosexual and heterosexual they are being true to nature, and thus speaking in the only really true way possible. But this is not true; it is possible to look at things quite differently. Suppose that Christopher is sexually attracted to David, and Anne to Brian. Then Christopher and Anne have it in common that they are sexually attracted to a man. They might have it in common that they are attracted to men in general. Here is surely a real common quality. We might call them both androphiles; equally, a man attracted to women and a woman attracted to women we might call gynaecophiles. We could, if we chose, and with equal or greater justification, divide people in general into androphiles and gynaecophiles rather than homosexuals and heterosexuals. As a matter of fact we do not, but that is our choice, a social, linguistic fact, not our fidelity to some objective reality. It is a mistake to speak as if we can simply read off the phenomena of homosexuality from nature. In one way, we can: there surely are phenomena around which we label as homosexual. But we do so because we in our society read them as homosexual, one system of sexual classification rather than another, or rather than none at all. The relevance of all this to our subject is in part that not all societies classify things in the same way. In particular, we cannot assume without further ado that the societies that produced the Bible classified people or their actions in the same way as we do. Unfortunately, some moralists and exegetes assume that we can, therefore much time will be devoted in the following chapters on the Bible to argue that this is not so.” (pp. 48-49)

  • scotmcknight

    Jodi, the “as Christians” was with the “Our” at the beginning.

  • Joe Canner

    Richard #11: Thanks, that means a lot. :)

  • http://www.indiegogo.com/thekenfongproject Ken Fong

    As a pastor for 30+ years, I certainly have had to work with individuals and their families on this, so I so appreciate you, Scot, for stepping up and speaking out in the way you are. I am currently using http://www.indiegogo.com to raise initial funds to make doc film of my journey as a pastor to understand how LGBTQ persons can be part of our church. Our working title: We Can’t Stay Where We Are. I hope that you and your followers will pray about joining our team. I met you at the BioLogos anniversary event in Manhattan. As of today, we have raised 57% of $50K and campaign began on Jan 16 and ends on Feb 16.

  • SG

    One of the challenges I perceive is that both sides (Christians who think same sex romantic relationships are fine(open) and Christians who do not(closed)) tend to be uncivil to each other. I’ve heard the open side accuse the closed side of being closed-minded, certain when they should be open to changing their mind (dialogue is not necessarily enough) and putting their beliefs before compassion for others. The closed side accuses the open side of abandoning scripture on this issue and of encouraging people to sin. Instead of accusing each other, I think it’s important to dialogue civilly and graciously with each other and to allow people (including our children) the space and freedom to be certain or uncertain, open or closed and to continue on their journey towards understanding this issue better. I think we will have to agree to disagree about some things in the church and it may cause disunity in some situations but we should always act in love and kindness to each other (and by “love” I don’t mean “telling someone the truth because they need to hear it” but love as in “I will put myself in your shoes and talk to you in a tone which you will perceive as compassionate”). I know this sounds idealistic to those who have been deeply wounded or are angry (this is on both sides) but as Christians we are called to a ministry of reconciliation, reaching out in grace when hurt, trusting in Jesus to heal our wounds, turning the other cheek. I enjoyed hearing about the gracious interaction between Shane Windmeyer (an LGBT rights activist) and Dan Cathy (the owner of Chik-fil-a) which made the rounds on the internet this week.

  • EricW

    Movies:

    If you have Netflix streaming you can watch the movie For The Bible Tells Me So.

    No longer on Netflix streaming, but Trembling Before G-d is an interesting documentary of gay Orthodox Jews trying to keep and practice their religion. It’s a 2-disc DVD set, and the second disc is worth watching for the supplementary materials. You might be able to find it online via Hulu or Amazon or other source.

  • Rodney Reeves

    In these kinds of conversations, I’m always surprised how we tend to simplify the issues in somewhat of a binary fashion in order to make our arguments, whether gay or straight.

    So, we talk about the “L” and the “G” but what about the “B” and the “T”? It seems like neither the traditional nor the gay community want to muddy the water of “how we are made” beyond gay and straight.

  • Craig Wright

    I think that what forms conservative Christians views on homosexuality is the desire to be true to the Bible, but a thorough study of the “clobber passages” is what led me to change my mind and to accept homosexual relationships. Each passage is interesting and involved, but it doesn’t seem that the Bible is addressing the situation that we are facing today.

    The Sodom incident as explained by Genesis 6, Ezekiel 16, and Jude 6-7 is an indictment against mixing with angels.

    The Leviticus passages create a complex problem for how Christians deal with the Torah. There is a lot of confusion on this issue, and the public media exploit the problem.

    The Romans 1 passage is clearly not dealing with Christians who have a homosexual orientation and desire faithful, monogamous relationships.

    The 1 Corinthians 6 and I Timothy 1 passages have vocabulary issues.

    Then there is the issue of personal involvement with family and friends which often affects how we deal with social issues.

  • http://www.doableevangelism.com Randy Siever

    Thank you, Scott, for taking this on. I don’t know what your personal view is, but I so appreciate your willingness to lead here. From a parent whose son recently came out, let me just say this is not just another “issue”…it’s about people we love. May God have mercy on us, and may He lead us to see people like he does. (PS…Torn is one of those books that we feel very good about recommending to our friends who disagree with us. Justin did a fantastic job of respectfully dealing with the complex questions and scriptures that surround this issue.)

  • Dura Mater

    In the moment, I told my son that I loved him and I gave him a hug. Two days later, having recovered from being flabbergasted, I told him that his revelation did not change my hopes or prayers for him, which remains true.

    With regard to whether committed, monogamous, life-long gay relationships are sinful, well, I don’t know; we can’t know the mind of God. I do know that we are supposed to love each other as Jesus loved/s us, and I try to, in everything, including relating to our son’s sexuality. Sometimes, I’m even sort of a little bit successful. :0)

  • Dura Mater

    P.S. My husband, son and I all read Torn, and found it thoughtful, loving, balanced and godly. We all recommend it.

  • http://benirwin.wordpress.com Ben Irwin

    I know people who are gay whose parents responded with “How could you hurt us like this?” Or “Where did we go wrong with you?”

    So much energy is spend trying to come up with a non-biological (or non-genetic) explanation for homosexuality, and these efforts typically focus on the child’s upbringing. Justin does a good job, I think, highlighting the shortcomings of the “nurture” theory, but is it any wonder so many evangelical parents blame themselves when their kids come out of the closet? As if their kids came out of the closet in order to hurt them. And as if you can guilt someone into being straight.

    The other one I’ve heard used is, “Don’t be gay,” as if it’s a light switch that can be turned on or off. I suppose what most parents mean by this is, “Don’t identify yourself with that group” or “Just don’t be public about it.”

  • Dano

    So much to consider. I am one who views this issue from the inside. I can tell you that I understand why some teens, who come to identify themselves as gay, take their lives. “It gets better” Are you sure? A future estranged from my peers, family, family of God, and quite possibly, God Himself…. what would there be to live for? This unbearable thought process could extinguish anyone’s thirst for life.
    While I would never harm myself in this fashion, I recognize that It has always been an emotional, physical, and spiritual struggle for me, which can trigger self destructive behaviors in more subtle ways. Longing to fit in, to feel like I think I should feel, to think like I think I should think, and conform to that which I’ve been taught is “holy”.
    I loath the term gay Christian. I’m a Christian. Period. Granted, my “same gender attraction” is always fighting for top billing, but I recognize the folly of this is similar to that of those espousing the term “African american” (No i wont delve further into that, but its the same, distracting from the latter which should not only supersede the former, but make it inconsequential.
    I often find myself becoming defensive against those who say they are correcting me, in my “spiritually erroneous” views, out of love. I so rarely see humility. Its so easy to condemn us who struggle with something they don’t struggle with. So I will often ask what they DO struggle with. Thats when I truly find there is no love, no response. But then I become just as self righteous when I throw their overt acceptance of divorce and remarriage back at them. They see no correlation between the inconceivable idea of a heterosexual spending the remaining years of their life alone and what they expect of me. I already know i don’t want to be like me. Now I don’t want to be like them either. No one is helped, no one is humbled, no one bridges the gap. No one is reconciled.
    As i get older, I get more desperate to understand, more worried about getting it wrong. More anxious as my days tick by with no clarity. Feeling like I will always be looked upon by others, if not myself, as a second class Christian.
    In the mean time, I try to keep a balanced view, an open mind, an objective perspective. To those who say sexual orientation is permanent, I say an omnipotent God can fix anything He deems as unacceptable. To those who say I cannot be saved and be “gay”, i say God is Sovereign, he will bring glory to Himself, directly through this, or in spite of it. Sometimes God heals, sometimes He doesn’t. Should the one who is not healed accept and embrace his infirmity? Should others shun him or mutter to themselves:”If only he had more faith”?
    Yet somehow inside I believe that my days shall eventually see understanding, freedom, reconciliation. And if not…. For now I see in part, but then face to face I shall know even as i am known. Gay, straight, single, partnered or married for life; Lord. i am your child.

  • Scott

    So far, Joe (8); Randy (22), Dura (23) are the only qualified respondents to Scot’s question: “When you discovered your child was gay what did you think”? Thank you. all, for answering.
    Dano (26), perhaps you are to be thanked most of all. For me to offer my opinions on this matter would never require the courage, grace and humility you have offered all of us by sharing your heart as you have done.
    Knowledge of God carries the potential for Godly wisdom, only when mingled with suffering.
    Let us sit with Joe, Randy, Dura and Dano – and listen to what they have suffered. And then add knowledge. And then, seeking God together, find wisdom and walk in love.
    That just might become attractive to those who are without hope…

  • EricW

    @27 Scott:

    It drove me to read the literature on the subject from both/all sides, Christian and non-Christian.

  • EricW

    Initially, I think we reacted in the typical conservative Christian way, taking the traditional Christian viewpoint. Continuing to love, and then accept, but not willing to agree. I’m not sure that we are in so much disagreement anymore these days. I’ve written a couple short blog posts on the subject: http://theoblogoumena.blogspot.com/search/label/Homosexuality

  • http://werenotportugal.tumblr.com Tiago Cavaco

    “even on topics where scripture has been very clear about what God hates, like divorce, we’ve been able to move to a more gracious place” – LOL.

  • EricW

    “even on topics where scripture has been very clear about what God hates, like divorce, we’ve been able to move to a more gracious place” – LOL.

    “I hate divorce” is possibly an incorrect translation of Malachi 2:16. Also, God divorced Israel (Jeremiah 3:8).


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