Her Christian mom came out of the closet: Welcome to the new normal

welcome

Yesterday I received the letter below. It’s such a perfect example of how, in a million different ways throughout our society right now, the relationship between Christianity and gay people is working itself out. When the history of gay rights is written, everyday, grassroots stories such as this won’t be recorded anywhere. But it’s exactly this kind of rivulet that feeds the rivers that brings the water that forces the sea change.

So I just thought we’d take a moment to witness this one, refreshing, nourishing little rivulet on its way to the larger river.

Dear John,

I cannot tell you how incredibly happy I am to have found your page(s). I am 23 years old. I grew up in the Southern Baptist church; my father was a music minister and my mother was a church pianist. I was an only child.

The year I graduated from high school, my mom left my dad.

I was really close to both of my parents. They invested a lot of time and money to give me the best, most well rounded education they could. I was at the top of my class; I graduated high school a year early, and was prepared to be very successful in college and a career.

Their separation was a really dark time for me. When they divorced, I hit rock bottom. I failed out of college. I dealt with anger, confusion and hurt that I never imagined. I grew apart from my mother.

During this time I reached out for every possible thread of spirituality I thought I possessed. I would pray for God to heal my pain. I prayed for my parents to get back together. I prayed to have the strength to get up in the morning and not feel like my life was over. It seemed like God just wasn’t there. I kept reading the Bible. I kept going to church. But nothing I had learned all those years in Church was anything to prepare me for the problems I faced in the real world. Finally, I gave up on religion. I gave up on God.

My dad remarried two years after he and my mom divorced. My step-mom is a beautiful soul. I love her and my step-siblings very dearly. It was truly a match made in heaven.

Three years after my parents’ divorce, my mother and I were still on pretty rough terms. We talked and visited occasionally, but ours was nothing like you’d think the relationship between a mother and her only daughter would be.

On my mom’s 48th birthday, she “came out of the closet” to me. I was shocked. Floored. It turned out that the “friend” she’d had for months before she left my dad had actually become more than that in the last few years. They were in a committed relationship.

I went home after this revelation and did a lot of thinking. I had already abandoned the doctrines of my upbringing, so had no trouble truly and deeply in my heart of hearts knowing there was nothing morally wrong with homosexuality. I realized that for my mother to come to this place where she was finally able to admit to herself and to the world that she was gay was a really big deal, because as much as I had been steeped in Baptist ideology, she had been virtually triple-distilled in it over the course of her life. She had been going through years of self-doubt and trying to turn herself into something she was not. I couldn’t imagine what that would be like. She had been literally driving herself crazy running away from the truth.

Through all of this, my mother and I have grown much closer. We now talk all the time and visit each other whenever possible. She still lives in a small town in the Bible-belt, and life for her isn’t always easy. She is shunned by most of the people who knew her as my dad’s wife. People don’t smile or say hello when they see her around town. This woman, who gave so much of her time and love and service to her church and her community, is like a stranger to them now. And while this is hard on her, she is happier and more fulfilled in her life than she has ever been before.

She is still a Christian. She believes that the teachings of Christ are the best words by which to live one’s life. She tithes every paycheck—but instead of a local church she now gives to charities, including battered women’s shelters and the Salvation Army.

Taking this journey with my mom has brought me closer to the mind and heart of God than I could ever have been in a church pew listening to a pastor preach about hell fire. God is not a hateful, vengeful, cruel being. He is love, and kindness, and generosity. And real people of God are those things too. My mother, who is truly a servant at heart and will help anyone in need without a moment’s hesitation, is probably the truest Christian I know. And she is gay.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing the message that I have found to be undoubtedly real, one that is the love of God for all people of every race, religion, and orientation. It’s people like you, John, who are  every day fighting the negative perspective of what it is to be a Christian, who will ultimately bring about the change we want to see in the world. [Sign], Emma Turner

Thanks for those final words, Emma; I appreciate it. On behalf of all the folks who read and comment on this blog, please give your mom our love.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://nagamakironin.blogspot.com/ Michael Mock

    Yes indeed: Emma, please give your mom our love.

  • Patricia Boese

    What a thoughtful and beautiful, insightful daughter you have been to her during this time. What a journey for your mother! It gives me hope when I see more and more Christians willing to hold a candle high for their LGBT brothers and sisters. I pray that this collective light will spread far and wide and banish the darkness of bigotry that has caused so much separation in our families and communities. Blessings to both of you.

  • Regina Robbins

    Beautiful story. But as the Salvation Army is an anti-gay institution, I would suggest Emma’s mom make her donation to a less discriminatory group, such as Goodwill.

  • Sonny Bellotte

    Such a beautiful story. Not terribly unlike my own, although mine was much hindered by simply not knowing how to do it “right”. I have made mistakes. Some that can never be reversed. But all of which I know God extends grace and mercy.

    Thanks Emma for sharing your experience. I may share it with my younger daughter to help strengthen our bond, and maybe someday, someone will share it with her older sister to maybe help re-establish our relationship. But that will be up to her and God. My fingers to God’s ears.

  • Dan(Chicago)

    I can’t stress enough the importance of these stories/testimonies. The church world I was in had mastered the art of story telling and for many years I only heard tales of people leaving the church and the strict teachings that ended in a morgue or complete isolation and ruin. To this day when things go wrong I feel uneasy, remembering these stories, a part of me wondering if I’ll end up swallowing my tongue in grief(one of the more pleasant stories), or coked up in an alley hallucinating. So far no, and I’m counting on that trend continuing, with the help of many new stories! Congrats to your mom, and to you.

    • Erin D.

      The internet is a wonderful thing!! No longer are we prisoners to only the stories our parents/churches tell us!

  • Maria

    Emma,

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful letter and let us all share in the love.

    Your letter brought to mind the song that reads in part that they will know us Christians by our love. Well, we know you and your mom by your love. May it continue to grow and spread unto others!

  • Gordon

    I love the word rivulet. I’m going to add it to my favorite word list. Right below unctuous. You’re a great wordsmith, John. Thanks. And thanks for sharing this wonderful letter!

  • Lymis

    How wonderful for both the letter writer and for her mom.

  • Theresa DePaepe

    Powerful letter, John. Thanks for sharing. I love this, “this kind of rivulet that feeds the rivers that brings the water that forces the sea change.”

  • Marlene Lund

    On the one hand, such a wonderful story of understanding and reconciliation. On the other hand, such a story of pain and rejection. May God open the eyes of people from this family’s old church so they may see that He still loves this mom and is blessing her with a loving relationship. May they see that God’s love is so much bigger than we could ever imagine!

  • n.

    having prayed long and hard for my parents to finally divorce… and having ended up rethinking religion because of how my family was when they were still together, more so than because of how the family fell apart… i feel where the writer is coming from at some parts of her journey, albeit in a backwards kind of way.

    • n.

      i have wondered if my mum would have been better off having been into women, as she had spectacularly bad luck with men… and possibly vice versa.

  • http://kingmaalbert@hotmail.com Al

    As always, when I read these stories about gay and lesbian people being rejected by their “Christian” congregations I can’t help but wonder what these “Christians” go to church for anyway. It can’t be because they love Christ and want to follow His example. They seem to have a much stronger kinship with the Pharisees who always placed the following of rules ahead of helping their fellow man.

  • Carol B.

    Thank you for sharing your story Emma….your story just illustrates what we know to be true…love trumps everything!

  • Joanne Elliott

    Emma, your letter moved me profoundly. How brave & true your mother & you are. It is good to see that attitudes are finally changing. Much love to you & your mum.

  • Matt

    There is nothing better than living a life you chose for yourself. Much love and congratulations to your whole family, Emma.

  • Elize

    As a 47 year old christian gay mom, I can just hope and pray that my children will be as understanding when I fall out of the closet!

    • Jill

      Elize, I pray that for you as well.

  • Sarah Geiger-Behm

    This warms my heart. I am glad that the love of Christianity is what ended up hanging on from your childhood experiences in church, instead of the judgement and hard-heartedness that too often takes its place. It’s sad that your mother still has to deal with some of that from members of her former congregation. It reminds me of how damaging that kind of thinking is to the health of any community based on the goals of Christian fellowship or right relationship. Your mother is lucky to have you as a daughter, and as a Christian I feel lucky that you, your mother and this story of your experience are all a part of the larger story of our faith.

  • Steve

    Btw, the Salvation Army isn’t a charity. It’s literally a church. And an extremely anti-gay one at that.

    • Hannah Grace

      This is true, but they also provide food and housing for homeless people in a deeply Christlike way. Maybe there are better homeless shelters to give money to that aren’t anti-gay, and it’s probably better to give to them, but man, I’m glad the Salvation Army is there filling in the gaps, anti-gay or not.

      Let’s hope that at this time, when more children are living in poverty and facing homelessness than ever before, the Church will hear her call to provide shelter and food for them. It breaks my heart how so many Christians support a corrupt system than steals from the poor and gives to the rich. When people talk about reclaiming the country for Jesus, I know I should believe in the separation of church and state, but my God, how I wish we would care for one another like brother and sister, or like we were all one body, so that no one would go hungry or sleep on the street anymore. Oh, how I would give anything.

  • Hannah Grace

    This is awesome. Glad to see acceptance and freedom for the parents as well as the children.


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