He hated himself because he couldn’t change himself

urbeautifulI recently received the email below, and wanted to share it with you (with permission, of course). This is how the personal dynamics of this sort of affair are unfolding in families all across the country today. I also send infinite thanks to the commenters on this blog, who—and I certainly have the emails to support this—are in and of themselves doing so much to bring peace and understanding to so many. I don’t say it often enough, but you guys rock it like Gibraltar. If you’re not already one of our commenters, become one. Join in! Every positive note rings somewhere.

We knew our son was gay from the time he was four years old. It wasn’t anything flamboyant, but just a sense that he wasn’t a typical boy. We were involved in a fundamental Christian church and school, where homosexuality was an abomination to God, and a choice to sin.

I really wanted to believe it was a choice, because I didn’t want my son to have to live that life. As time went by, I was praying every night that he wasn’t gay. When he was in the ninth grade, he had a girlfriend, and I thought, “Okay, he’s not gay.” I know: stupid.

The following year, he told me that while he used to think he was gay, now he knows that he isn’t. I ran with that, and didn’t look back. I thought, “Yeehaw, we were wrong!” But in eleventh grade, things went downhill fast. He became very depressed and began cutting himself. We took him to counseling (not a Christian counselor), and lo and behold, a month later, he told us he was gay.

We were very supportive of him; we told him how much we loved him, and would always love him. But I wasn’t fully accepting of it. I wanted to immediately pull him out of his Christian school, but he didn’t want to start a new school. Halfway through the year, he was found out and expelled from school anyway. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I homeschooled him the remainder of the year; he took his GED, and is beginning college a year early.

I have watched my son struggle his entire life to “fit in” in his Christian school. He never fit in with the boys; they started calling him gay in fifth grade, but he had wonderful “girlfriends.” I watched him come to the brink of suicide this past year over his self-loathing. He was told at church and school his entire life that he was an abomination to God, because he couldn’t help who he was attracted to. Even though he hadn’t acted on any homosexual act, he was told that just feeling as he did was a sin. He hated himself because he couldn’t change himself. He hated God because he couldn’t understand why God would make him that way if it was an abomination to Him. I watched my honor society, sweet, compassionate boy become an angry, God-hating, Christian-hating man.

I stumbled upon your books, and read UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question in one night. I was spellbound reading the stories of homosexuals and what their own families had done to them. I realized that I was living in fear; fear that my church would find out; fear that my family and friends would turn their backs on me; fear that our son would become a victim of AIDS. Your collection of stories gave me the courage and strength I needed to do the right thing for my child.

I began telling my friends and family; he told his friends, and everyone has been very loving and supportive. We left the fundamentalist church we were attending, and are now looking for a more compassionate, loving church.

I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving this mom material to read to help me truly understand what homosexuals go through. It has made me less judgmental. A relationship with Jesus is the most important thing; all of our roads to that relationship are different. I know now that homosexuality is not a choice. My son was born this way. God made him this way for a reason. I can’t wait to see the path God will lead us both down in the future. But for now I’m content, because my son is finally content with who he is, and he knows that he is loved.

Thank you, John for shedding so much light on an emotional topic. God is using for his glory.

 

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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 co-founder of The NALT Christians Project and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here). His blog is here. 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.

  • Kathy in KC

    What a great story. It’s always good when a family chooses the love for their child over hateful and wrong, misinterpreted messages from so-called Christians. There are many welcoming churches out there, like the United Methodist church I attend. In my city there are also the Rainbow Mennonites, the Metropolitan Community Church (which ministers directly to the LGBT community), and other welcoming Episcopal and mainstream Protestant churches.

    There is an abundance of scholarly literature as well which examines the Bible and what it really says and does not say about homosexuality — in a positive, affirming vein. Mr. Shore’s writing is a good place to start, and searching on Amazon will yield more study materials.

    There are far too many young people who still get kicked out and estranged from their families because they are gay. The reason is nearly always — I’m tempted to say “always” — religion. That seems to me to be the wrong way around, that religion should be based in love and compassion, that love for God should translate into unconditional love of one’s children and acceptance of who they are. We are not talking about a child who is a sociopath, violent, a drug dealer, a thief or even a child suffering with the disease of addiction. We are talking about the human heart, love and attraction, a trait which can’t be fought or changed without deep damage to the psyche. I hope more parents will take heart from this mother’s story and embrace their L,G,B and T children, hold them tight and help them resist bullying and hurtful church dogma that can break down their spirit.

    • Diana

      Agreed. Another denomination to consider is the United Church of Christ. Some churches take the explicit label of “Open and Affirming,” but even those that haven’t are generally very welcoming and affirming.

  • Rob O.

    Powerful story which brought tears to this old mans eyes. My prayer is that you and your son can now find the peace and happiness that you deserve.

    There was a time in my life that I went through much of what your son has experienced. Unfortunately, many of us experience similar things. The most important thing a young homosexual can hope for is understanding and loving parents….with that they have a chance. As far as church is concerned, please know that there are churches out there that “get it” and would be accepting. On the other hand unfortunately, all too many churches, even today, are very unhealthy environments for the homosexual. The first time I heard that I was “an abomination to God and would go to hell”, I was only 13. The last time I was booted from a church I was about 50.

    When I came out to my parents at an early age and told them that I didn’t believe I could continue to attend church, the one thing my mother told me was to never give up my faith…..I never did, and I believe that is the only way I survived. Eventually God blessed me with a wonderful family (long story), and today I watch my children and my grand children grow and I’m a part of their lives and I’m an openly gay man in my senior years. My advice would be to sever any ties to a fundamentalist church and seek an openly accepting and affirming church which will help enrich you and your sons lives. God bless you!!!

  • Julie Lumpkin

    To this incredible mother…I salute you! As a mom of a gay son who felt rejected by her “church”, I offer my support to you. It’s been a tough road, but being his mom has been such a blessing. I have weeded out my garden of nay-sayers, and have added more meaningful friendships to my life. I wish the same for you and your family. Please feel free to ask me anything if you wish. No question is off limits. In addition to John Shore’s great book, I also recommend that you read “Torn” by Justin Lee, and watch the youtube video by Matthew Vines. They may also help you in your journey. Hugs to you and your family.

  • Marlene Lund

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I am the mother of a lesbian daughter, who came out to her father and me when she was in high school. Our starting point has always been our unconditional love for her, and still believing that “God made her special and loves her very much.” As you said, God has a plan for our LGBT children, and I believe it is in part to bring his church to a more loving and accepting place. Like you, her coming out led me on a journey of study and understanding what the Bible really does and does not say about same-sex loving relationships, and to a place of complete peace about my daughter’s future. God’s love will win out in the end! It always does.

    • Brenda in La.

      Yes, this. My lesbian niece came out to my sister when she was in college. Our whole family loves and supports her. It’s a journey of discovering not only what the Bible does and does not say, but also of discovering we can live what we’ve told her and the rest of her generation in our family (including my children) about unconditional love. We, all of us, teach by example. The next generation, the grandchildren, 2 years to 18, has watched us and followed perfectly.

  • randy johnson

    Yay! Just felt like saying that…

  • Carol Lynn Thomas

    It’s so uplifting to hear other mothers sharing their stories. Its hard to have your child rejected and judged by the very church family that you loved.

  • Bill Prickett

    Thanks, John. Mom can be such a key to young gay and lesbians coming to a healthy self-acceptance.

  • Michael Jordan

    They make the Pharisees in the Gospel of Matthew look tolerant.

  • Jennifer Leaf

    Worth reading. I’m glad this mother was able to put her love for her child first, ahead of the expectations and judgements of others.

  • Lisa Ford Berry

    I have been following your blog for a while, it seems like a life time but in truth close to five years, as with most things there is a black line that separates my life – before my son killed himself and after. My son shot himself on his 17 birthday while at school. I too had a sweet, gentle, funny and oh so smart son – he was exceptional. In our case he was also a victim of homophobic bias based the perception he was gay – in the end he became a victim of a peer abuse driven bullycide. He was tormented, harassed until he simply broke. Anyway, I am glad to know there are Christians who understand that love is truly unconditional – that really is the gift of love – acceptance. Excellent article and thank you for the work you do as it has helped me on my own journey. Peace.

    • Julie

      Hugs to you, Lisa. I can’t imagine. ❤

    • Leslie

      Lisa, thank you for sharing your story with us. I have no words to say that would even begin to express my sympathy. Blessings to you.

    • harrisco

      My tears were already falling from the letter above, Lisa. Your comment just took things to another level entirely. I am just so terribly, unspeakably sorry that your son was tormented in this way. It was not right. He deserved so much better. I am sorry. Words seem inadequate to express it.

    • Lewis E. Williams

      Many blessings Lisa. Thank you.

      There ARE a lot of Christians out there who do realize that love is unconditional.

      I came so close to suicide myself as a teenager,

      because of the “Christians” that I encountered,

      so it has taken me a number of years to come to that realization.

    • Kerry

      Dear Lisa,

      I’m so very very sorry.

      No words come as my hands rest above the keyboard…

      Instead I send my prayers and love.

    • Matt

      Lisa, as others have said, there are just no words. Blessings to you and your entire family.

      • Brenda in La.

        Lisa,

        As the others, no words. Prayers.

        John’s blog truly is a good place.

  • Gary C. Bogart

    Just bought the book today about a minute ago. Big Fan. One of the best overall positive influences in my life. Thank you John, for your Pearls of Wisdom and Gentle, Daily reminders of what it means to just be a good person, to live and let live, and to Love and Let God. So thankful to know of you.

  • Leslie

    I truly hope the letter writer knows how her words are such a blessing to so many more than just her own son. For every child who doesn’t have such a loving parent, they can read her words and know that they are loved just as they are even if their own parents aren’t yet capable of that. Thank you.

  • http://www.darkforestlight.blogspot.com Helen Ann

    Thank you for sharing these stories…I believe that the more people start to realize the struggles that people are going through in the gay community the more compassion will grow. I am an odd duck in my more conservative Christian circles because I tend to champion the plight of this community – perhaps because I grew up in theatre and have many gay friends, perhaps because God smacked me in the face with how condescending it is to say things like ‘love the sinner hate the sin’ (something I used to say in an effort to align the ‘Christian Values’ I thought I was supposed to tout with the love I had for my friends who were gay). He said once ‘How would you feel if someone applied this term to you?’…After thinking for a second I realized that I would not like it one bit. Slowly but surely, through some ugly stuff in my own life (married and divorced due to my ex’s pornography addiction/double life), I have learned the damage that can be done to people and the oppressive consequences that result from a theology of conditional love and acceptance. I have learned that people must be free to walk their own journey and that my job as a follower of Jesus is to offer love and support to others….Shut Up and Love People, ya know? :)

    • Lewis E. Williams

      Helen Ann, I have two words for you: THANK YOU!!! God bless.

  • harrisco

    That letter just broke my heart on a rainy Thursday afternoon. . . . These words did it: “I watched my honor society, sweet, compassionate boy become an angry, God-hating, Christian-hating man.”

    To the writer: I am so grateful that your son made it through the torment. That compassionate boy is still here–and he has been through fire. “My son is finally content with who he is, and he knows that he is loved.” He is good to go now–he can do anything… He has been pushed down–and he got up again, compassion intact. He is made of something strong–and I think it might have come from you… Just a thought. Take pride in yourself. Take pride in this young man you raised. You have both triumphed over fear.

  • storm

    I have to admit I teared up reading this story and the comments that followed. John’s writinga in itself are powerful and uplifting – and give hope to survivors like the letter writer and her son and so many others(including me) who didn’t have the support that this community John has brought together. People who get it – and aren’t content to accept the status quo.It’s a different world now. Aworld in which there is hope again for LGBTQ people. Thanks to all of you. AMEN to that

  • Kerry

    I know I’ve shared this piece here at least once but I feel I need to post it again for the brave letter writing mama and others reading.

    http://momastery.com/blog/2010/10/14/a-mountain-im-willing-to-die-on/

    (I’ve shared your essay, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2012/04/02/the-best-case-for-the-bible-not-condemning-homosexuality/ on the Momastery site too and many other places.)

    Also, while I’m posting links, I love this hymn – something about the music showing the power of love – often brings a tear (in a good way).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rCcDke3Mug

    Keep the faith everyone – we’ll get there one day.

  • Matt

    God bless you for never quitting on your son, even though you hoped he could be another way. I can’t tell you how much comfort it brings me to know that somewhere, there are families that stand behind their LGBT children.

    (And I can say from personal experience–don’t be afraid to comment! Being one of the “regulars” has been a hugely rewarding experience for me. It takes some of the heat off John, who can’t be here all the time, and you meet some truly incredible people. New and diverse voices keep the conversation real, fresh, and rich.)

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

      Yes, exactly. Thank you, Matt. Honestly, I’m as much if not more interested in what happens in the comments section of this blog than in what happens with my particular contributions to it. I can’t DIALOGUE with what I do, really. But what I DO do takes so much time I’m basically sort of precluded from participating in the comments section the way I’d like to. But I sure do read every comment that appears on this blog. And they mean a great deal to me. I feel THIS is where this blog really happens.

      • Jill

        Truly so much a blessing for all of us here, this work you do AND this space you’ve opened. Lives changed, tears shed, anger vented, compassion shared. Lifelong friendships made. Couldn’t get any better.

  • Dana

    Thanks to all of your for your supporting comments. It is only through communication and support of one another that we can fight these injustices. Lisa, I am so very sorry for the tragic loss of your son. Hopefully, your story will give others the courage to stand up for what is right and not become a vicious homophobic bully. They will have their turn to be judged. My prayers go out to you and your family.

  • Questioning

    I have been reading and lurking here for some time but I think this is my first post. First of all, let me add my heartfelt thanks and encouragement to you John for what you are doing here. I believe it is through God and His calling to you, and you accepting that call, that lives are being changed, attitudes are changing, and hurting people are receiving encouragement and support. Thanks to all who have shared personal stories just like this one. Myself and my family were members of a denomination unaccepting of gays, part of the whole, “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach to gay interaction, which is we all know is hurtful and leads nowhere. That is until 2 years ago when my 22 year old son came to us and told us he was gay. We were lucky… he came out to his sister first. She, being the good social worker that she is, marched him into our presence and insisted he tell us. We had suspected it and I had prayed it not be so. Not just because I selfishly wanted my son to be a heterosexual, but also because I knew what he would be facing. With respect to church, we had, for some time previous to this, been becoming more and more disillusioned with our denomination and their stance on this and other things. This was an absolute tipping point, and we left…. no I really feel like we escaped, from that environment. As far as our son, he has our complete love and support, he knows this, and I am proud of the person he is becoming. He is honest, loyal, loving, supportive, hard working, smart, understanding, and patient. It is my prayer that, someday soon, stories like Lisa’s will be a thing of the past. Blessings to you Lisa.

    • http://fordswords.net David S

      Questioning -

      I have a sneaking suspicion our cyber paths have crossed before. Regardless, thanks for supporting your son. Really. He’s lucky to have you. I take such hope from your story.

      All my best -

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

      Brilliant. Thank you, Q.

  • DR

    It’s so brave to leave a fundamentalist church. It really is, it’s natural to find oneself deeply, deeply immersed in the community where our very selves are validated and loved. That you did this for your son – that you sacrificed your own friendships and needs of your own personal validation – leaves me a little speechless. What an example of parents who love their children. Man, I wish we could clone you but by sharing your story. I’m totally confident that you just did, that some parent out there saw what s/he needed to do and did it. Many blessings to you!!