Can a gay Christian honor his gay-condemning father?

burden

John,

I’m a 22-year-old gay Christian, and my father doesn’t approve of the choice I made to accept my sexuality rather than pray it away. I respect his opinion and have not treated him differently because of his views, but he’s started to treat me differently. His actions are not honorable (or loving) in the slightest. It tears me up because I’ve wanted a relationship with him for years. He claims to have raised me, but it was my step-father who admirably raised me as his own son. Now, I don’t know if I want a relationship with my father. In fact, I don’t want to be like him when I get older. The Mosaic law required the Israelites to honor their parents and not curse them. Jesus himself said to love our neighbors as ourselves. I want to love my father, but I don’t want to interact with him. Is honoring parents still relevant today? How do you love someone you don’t want to spend time with anymore? Is it even possible to love a parent unconditionally and not have a relationship with them?

So let me re-run this letter below, inserting my comments to it as I go (along with page breaks not in the original to make the whole thing more readable).

I’m a 22-year-old gay Christian, and my father doesn’t approve of the choice I made to accept my sexuality [It's so weird when someone says or otherwise makes clear that they don't "approve" of a person knowing, acknowledging, or accepting that they're gay. It's like saying, "I don't approve of people getting wet when they go out into the rain," or, "I don't approve of today being Thursday." Approval just isn't ... a relative concept.] rather than pray it away. [Ah. So now we've moved from dense to dangerous. I hate it when that happens. Can I just say right now I'm terribly sorry you got the dad you did? Bad luck for you.]

I respect his opinion [Why? If I said I thought white people should own black people, or that nothing's hotter than a six-year-old in a bikini, would you respect that opinion? We don't have to respect opinions that are harmful and wrong. And that it's possible or even desirable to pray anyone's gay away is an opinion about as harmfully wrong as it can be] and have not treated him differently because of his views [good for you; that is honorable, and makes you a winner], but he’s started to treat me differently. [ugh.]

His actions are not honorable (or loving) in the slightest [again, so sorry to hear about this], and it tears me up because I’ve wanted a relationship with him for years. [You will want a good relationship with your dad every day for the rest of your life. That's a given. Don't even try to make that go away. It's a part of your DNA. You just have to accept it as something okay, natural—and fully independent from what actually happens to your relationship with your father. Nobody in a wheelchair doesn't miss the days they had working legs, but that doesn't mean they can't be happy living in a wheelchair.]

He claims to have raised me, but it was my step-father who admirably raised me as his own son. [So now I pretty much basically entirely hate your dad. It's Beyond Douchey to try and take credit for raising a kid someone else did. Holy cow, man: how big a dinkwad is your dad?]

Now, I don’t know if I want a relationship with my father.  [Well, of course, you have a relationship with him, and always will. But I know what you mean: you don't know how you want to proceed with that relationship. My quick advice in that regard is to back away from him as kindly and utterly as possible. Be nice; be polite; try to keep him from being as crazy as you can; and stay away. Tip-toe around him the same way you would a patch of quicksand] In fact, I don’t want to be like him when I get older. [I think it's safe to say that's a wise choice—and that you're also in virtually no danger of that happening.]

The Mosaic law required the Israelites to honor their parents and not curse them. Jesus himself said to love our neighbors as ourselves. I want to love my father [again: you do love your father—in the primal, immediate, eternal, inviolate way every human being loves their parents and siblings, and you will always love him in that way], but I don’t want to interact with him. [Whole different category of concern. You can love your father to death and still be perfectly aware that hanging out with him isn't doable for you. Part of being alive is loving people who don't love you back. You just have to, for and within yourself, emotionally manage those relationships. And the way to handle such a relationship is to: (A) accept that it exists exactly as it is, and (B) accept that you cannot, in any way, ever, change the other person.

You cannot change the innate, organic love you have for some people, and you cannot change their relationship to that love. If my father doesn't love me—or doesn't seem to love me in any way that's good for me, which amounts to the same thing—that doesn't mean I don't love him anymore. It just means that he's a doink who's willfully turning away from himself the most precious thing anyone could ever offer him. How sad for him! But if he sticks with that waste of time, then I have to accept within myself that my love for him might very well go forever unrequited. And I can in fact be okay with that, as long as I know that I've done my best to make that relationship work. If I've let my father know that I love him, and that I harbor absolutely no ill-will towards him, and that if he ever starts treating me normally—if he can ever respect me enough to accept or even pretend to accept who I am, that I'll really be there for that relationship, which I want—then I am done. I've done my job. Then I can sleep at night, knowing that I have honored that relationship: that it was he who shut it down, not me. What else can I do?]

Is honoring parents still relevant today? [of course it is. we must always be honorable toward anyone, our parents included.]. How do you love someone you don’t want to spend time with anymore? [see above] Is it even possible to love a parent unconditionally and not have a relationship with them? [it's often impossible not to; see above].

One more thing: a lot of times parents at first react in a less than admirable way to their kids coming out. But most often they then come around. They usually just freak at first. That “first” can last a year or two, which is painfully lame. But just know what I’m guessing you already do, which is that it’s not at all uncommon for parents who initially freak to later not only accept but embrace their child’s full identity. And a lot of times that negative first reaction is fueled primarily by fear: they don’t want their kids to be gay because they fear being gay will hurt their kids, and be bad for them. But later, when they see that their kids are just fine being gay, they relax and return to sanity. Which is always great.

The relationship you have with your dad now might not at all be the one you end up with. As I say, all along the way be respectful, be honorable, make it clear that you’re there if he ever wants to really show up for the relationship, and start living your life as … well, as someone who is more mature than their father for one.

Love to you, buddy. Let us know how it goes.

Yours in knowing Christianity isn’t nearly as crazy as too many desire it to be,

 

John

P.S. You might also find worth your reading my Unhappy? Reject Your Loser Parents.

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. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Courtney

    Thank you for writing this, I needed to read it.

  • mike moore

    Dear letter writer,

    I think some of the most telling, and most heartbreaking, words you wrote were, “I’ve wanted a relationship with him for years.”

    It sounds like your father has been a Bad Dad for a long time and well before your coming out. The fact that your heart still wants to love and respect him is, without question, honoring him in a way he has yet to earn.

    much love to you, you should be proud.

  • Barbara Rice

    You can love and honor him for who he is (your father). But you do not have to love and honor what he is (blindly fundie). You can love someone you don’t want to interact with – in fact, it may well be better that you not interact at this point. He isn’t going to budge until he’s ready – which may be never.

    Do not forget to love and honor yourself. He may never accept you as you are and you may never have the quality relationship with him that you deserve – but that isn’t your fault. You are enough as you are, with or without his approval and acceptance.

    • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

      “Do not forget to love and honor yourself.”

      What a good word!

  • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

    I totally agree with John! Well, except for constantly insulting your dad, but that’s just John being his honest self.

    I had to accept my dad (finally in my late 30s) as who he was and not expect any more from him. He was a good dad and loves me, but we lived 1,500 miles apart and he wasn’t in contact much at all. So I was always wanting that involved, nearby daddy. When I finally let that requirement go, our relationship slowly began to grow into something beautiful. Not what I wanted, something different, but beautiful.

    I love that you want to keep loving your dad. John said it–you can’t help loving him. Just focus on being yourself, being kind, and exampling Christ to him whenever you happen to get together. But distance is fine. Probably best so that you can become who God has created you to be. :)

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

    Honoring one’s parent can mean providing distance between the two of you because it is healthier for you both.

    Honoring one’s parents acknowledges their participation in your life, from the genetic, to other interactions that you’ve found beneficial.

    Honoring one’s parent means that you give them the freedom to believe what they choose.

    But then there is the flip side. Honoring yourself.

    Honoring yourself means that you keep people close who love you for the beautiful person you are, and distancing yourself who can’t recognize your beauty or seek to negate your value because they’d prefer you to be something other then who you are.

    Honoring yourself means you embrace what God has made in you, unique, purposeful, beneficial, and find ways to find joy in life, in and others.

    Honoring yourself means you have the freedom to believe as you choose.

    • Jill

      SD, this is a great checklist. And often necessary to refer back, as God has never asked us to sell ourselves short out of ‘respect’ for others.

  • Lymis

    As trite and bumperstickery as is can sometimes be, there’s a lot of truth to the sentiment of “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.”

    While, yes, there are plenty of times when you have to stand up and say what needs to be said, there are times when it’s best all around not to create unnecessary conflict.

    If you can’t be around your dad because it hurts too much, or you can’t be civil, or he can’t be civil, then one form of honoring him is to allow him the space to be a homophobe without participating in that as his target. In other words, if you’ve told your truth and offered your love, it IS honoring him to cut him out of your day-to-day life.

    John’s right, though, often parents and family come around, usually after a year or two, and usually after they realize that their tantrum isn’t changing your mind, just pushing you away. And often, they’ll hear what they need to hear from someone else – another parent of a gay child, or a gay person they already have in their lives, or sometimes, a gay person of the other gender – and then they wake up and realize the truth and start to come around.

    When I went through this with my family, someone pointed out to me that I had taken years of beating myself up, being ashamed, being confused, and hiding from my own truth – and I was the one with the direct experience of the feelings I couldn’t deny. It’s just not reasonable to expect them to turn on a dime, though often, they come around far faster than we expect.

    Think of all the other people in the world you don’t hang out with and don’t spend your holidays with and at the same time, don’t hate and curse. That’s where you want to get in your own head, while, if possible, leaving the door unlocked if they want to knock on it from their side.

    • mike moore

      aaah Lymis, you’re such a spoil-sport.

      I, literally, and probably not surprisingly, have a set of dining chairs upon which I had embroidered this quote from Alice Roosevelt Longworth:

      “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”

      • Lymis

        I love that quote, and what a great place to have it embroidered!

      • Jill

        Mike, I dearly want to see a picture of your dining room chairs now. They sound BH&G-style lovely!

        • mike moore

          hey Jill, your wish, my command … check out my FB page.

    • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

      Lovely, Lymis. :)

  • Roger you know

    I don’t know John. This advice column hit me wrong. I usually appreciate your courageous and provocative perspective, but the blue letter vibe didn’t work. Maybe it’s because the harsh dismissal of dad as a bad seed seemed over the top, especially if the writer’s perspective (he’s 22) is still in formation…

    I would hate to see reconciliation aborted if the dad isn’t as big a prick as is implied by the letter.

    • DR

      How is believing your child somehow chose his sexuality and then treating him like crap NOT being a “big prick”? I’m confused.

      • Roger you know

        DR-Developmentally, sometimes when people are 22, (actually at any age…) they exaggerate or slant the story. Dad might not be quite the ‘bp’ he seems to be and John’s initial advice seemed harsh to me, but it was tempered by the last paragraph.

        Also, it has not always been obvious to people (hope it’s not news to you) that homosexuality is not a choice. Many, many people are conditioned by many things to believe that in many cases, it is, and in their eyes a very bad choice.

        • DR

          Yes, it’s obvious that being gay is not a choice. That’s the point.

          Roger, it’s really important to believe people when they tell their story, I have no idea why you’d believe there’s any conditioning going on in this specific context. There is absolutely no reason to cast doubt on this man’s story, that you are doing so says a lot more about you than it does him. Anger is an activating agent – sometimes cutting someone who’s being awful (like his father is clearly behaving) is the best way to wak that person up.

        • Erin D.

          Maybe the dad needs to write in and tell us his side of the story! Would make for some interesting discussion!

  • Roger you know

    Second reading of the column. Maybe you did enough in the last paragraph to soften the rhetoric in the first part.

  • Allie

    I like this a lot. The thoughts about how to honor a parent who is destructive towards you are very helpful to me right now.

  • Juliet Lester Neary

    You’re pretty awesome.

  • Judi Gentry

    Great response!

  • Mark Locy

    As always, this is pretty amazing.

  • David

    Great response, John! I’ve been living the same BS with my father for almost 30 years, though he was out of my life completely from 2 to 16 and has only been on the periphery since. His wife (not my mother) apparently scolded him 11 years ago about the distance with me due to his rigid Pentecostal beliefs; however, he has not tried to be closer, and I gave up about 8 years ago. After all, I don’t go to the hardware store for milk.

    • Rob B

      “After all, I don’t go to the hardware store for milk.”

      That may be one of the smartest things I have ever read, David.

      I will remember it always.

  • Dave Bowling

    Awesome response! (the only appropriate words I could think of at this time.)

  • Brian

    Perhaps it’s best to honor his step-father for now, and give his dad time to come around?

  • Matt

    It’s as others have said: Sometimes the best way to honor your parents is to step back from them. It means different things to honor them as a 6-year-old and 22-year-old, but a lot of fundies don’t make that distinction. It would be unhealthy for you to absorb every opinion your father had, even if he didn’t react the way he did about your coming out.

  • Kathy in KC

    Jesus asks us to love our enemies. Pretty tough. I’m estranged from my whole family, not because of LGBT issues but other stuff. It’s hard. I think of course this man does not have to be like his father, he shouldn’t even think about it. If he feels love toward the man, then fine, it’s a feeling and that’s OK. But if he doesn’t, the that’s OK too. No reason to feel guilty about it. I don’t love my mother, haven’t since I was maybe 6 or 7. She was mean and abusive, and that’s just how it is. Jesus wants me to love her, but I’m not there yet. I just feel sorry for her. She’s virtually alone now because of her decisions that have estranged her from nearly everyone still living in her family, including me. I will never be like my mother, I am not like her, I have never been. I am completely different. I am glad for that, and grateful. I am everything she is not. I am happy to have an active volunteer life and give back to my community and others. My mother was selfish and criticized me for giving even to my foster children. I have never turned away from my mother and remembered her on every holiday despite the nasty letters from attorneys etc. Let God decide, I am not qualified.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.steffenhagen?sk=wall Soulmentor

    That young man expressed a wish to NOT become like his father. Not to worry. Just saying that indicates he is already well beyond that ever happening. His father’s behavior toward him is…..well, a behavior. Behaviors are not inherited. They are learned and chosen….or not. They are something you DO….or not. You choose them…..or not.

    Young man, you have already made the choice. You need not fear becoming like your father. Oh, and to honor someone, does not mean you have to like them or hang with them or even respect them. It just means being NOT mean or nasty toward them. I’ve learned that life is so much easier if you’re just nice toward others. Often, that’s all you can do, and it takes no real effort and costs nothing and guess what…..you feel better for it.

    At your age, your angst is understandable but your ability to begin to own it and try to understand it all has already put you ahead of the game. You’re gonna be just fine.

  • tavdy79

    “The Mosaic law required the Israelites to honor their parents and not curse them. Jesus himself said to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

    In Jesus’ parable of the good neighbour, the neighbour in question wasn’t the Levites or the priests who passed by on the other side of the road while the man lay dying, for fear of touching a dead body and being rendered ritually “unclean”; it was the Samaritan who stopped, tended to the man’s wounds, brought him somewhere safe, and paid for his care while he recovered. That is who Jesus told us to love: the person who proves their goodness in their actions towards you. One of the key points of the story is that a neighbour does not have to be a Christian, nor does a Christian have to be a neighbour.

    I would suggest that the same approach could be taken towards your father and step-father. Which has proven himself to be a true father to you, one worthy of being honoured? That doesn’t mean you mustn’t act honourably towards your genetic dad; rather it means that if you do so you are going beyond what Jesus explicitly instructs, and in the process expressing several of the fruits of the spirit (love, patience, goodness, kindness and self-control) plus generosity and forgiveness. You are being a good neighbour.

  • Roger you know

    I also think there is a lot of confusion in this about what ‘love’ is. The ancient Greeks had at least 4 words for it, as many of the readers of this blog may know. Storge love (familial love) can certainly ebb and flow, and it is very possible to stop loving a parent. Agape love, self-sacrificing love–this would be crucial if the writer would continue to love his dad.

  • larue

    Great words of wisdom for this young man. Please know that you can not possibly please everyone, or even a few people for that matter. Just live life the best you can. Don’t worry about things that you can not change. Love him, but love yourself also. Be the best person you can be. Even though it may seem like he can not possibly change, he definitely can. I have seen it myself. Know that many love you just the way you are.

  • Tim

    A few finer points about honoring one’s parents:

    Check a good concordance on the 10 Commandments passages on this subject in Deuteronomy and Exodus–you’ll find the connotations of the word used are slightly but significantly different–the one in Deuteronomy, if I remember this right, is more about respect (which is something we should show everyone, anyway) and the one in Exodus is more specific and narrowly economic (i.e. don’t stop feeding your old, disabled parents so they can die and you can inherit their land or your kids will do the same to you). Both have something to teach, but neither requires you be present in his life.

    Second, the comments about Jesus and Good Samaritan are thoughtful, but I would also ask you to look at the story of the Prodigal son for the father’s reaction. Loaded though it is with Jewish legalist superstition, the image of the father upheld in the parable is amazing, even when the father believes his son is/has been/is going to be deep in sin.

    Third, another passage for you to chew on–Jesus’ message that for him we would lose people. If your Dad doesn’t come around he likely will see it as “I stood up for the good word and lost my son over it, holy-am-I”, but what Jesus was talking about was being his disciple–being like Jesus, and Jesus never disowned or told anyone to disown anyone over “sin.” In fact, the very opposite–people who were sinful disowned their follower-children and siblings because Jesus’ love, acceptance, and not-in-the-mold-ness was so radically different. If loving yourself and the rest of your human family results in losing your genetic father, I guess Jesus warned us that such things would happen.

    I guess what I want to say is that what John has said is theologically sound. The Bible is a beautifully complex patchwork of lessons and puzzles that should help us get closer to God. As such, there is seldom a simple answer, and when there is it is always “Love everybody more.” I think what John and the rest propose here is the most loving thing you can do, for the time being.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Whoo-hoo! I’m theologically sound!

      Finally I can die.

      (But seriously, thanks Tim.)

      • Lymis

        Wait! If we declare you heretical, you’ll stick around longer?

  • kerry

    When i became an adult..the choices in my life have been mine..I am no longer obligated to make my parents happy-their happiness is their choice just as mine is my choice. I am not obligated to obey them when I became an indpendant adult.

  • robert

    Dear Letter Writer….

    John made a number of good points and I have little to add save this… life goes on a lot longer than you can imagine and people sometimes surprise us…

    31 years ago, when I came out to my mom… she pretty much disowned me (my dad was surprisingly ok with me being gay)… when ever we did talk, she was “not nice” eventually, for self protection, I disengaged and barely talked to her and did not see her (or the rest of my family) for five years.

    I was angry and hurt … and realized that my life was better not communicating with her.

    Eventually… I tried talking with her again and then after a huge fight on the phone… I asked her… “is this hate the only thing we have left”… and she said “God, I hope not.”

    We both stepped away from the edge and have been able to build a relationship over the last 15-17 years… My mom is not a Christian bible thumper… she is a classic new england catholic… and appeared to be “liberal” but she could not accept me being gay… Now, she does… in exactly the same way that she believes that Jews, Muslims and even Born Agains… are all loved by God… In the end, every single straight person in my family had to make the same decision… to believe that I was loved by God and that the church got it wrong on gays… and every single one of them did…

    Good luck…

    Also enjoy and love your real father… the guy who raised you.

  • http://juliehiggins.co Julie Higgins

    This sort of stuff is vitally important to understand for any number of issues in a world of shifting social mores and understandings.

  • Jill

    “Part of being alive is loving people who don’t love you back. You just have to, for and within yourself, emotionally manage those relationships. And the way to handle such a relationship is to: (A) accept that it exists exactly as it is, and (B) accept that you cannot, in any way, ever, change the other person.”

    John, you make me cry with the beauty of your words. But you knew that.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Well, thank you for that, Jill.


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