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.