My parents live in a small and somewhat isolated community and, as such, don’t have a lot of church options.
For the past several years, they’ve bounced between the local Episcopal and Presbyterian churches in their area. They like the Episcopal church quite a lot, but as it happens, all of their very best friends attend the Presbyterian church. This means that for Bible studies, small groups, social outings, and general support network, the Presby church is absolutely best church for them.
The support network of long-time friends is particularly important, as my parent’s health, especially my Dad’s, is not good. Worth noting, however, theirs are long, long, term friends who be there for them, no matter which church they attend.
I’m currently in town for my nephew’s graduation and have learned their Presby church has recently split from the mainstream denomination and is now an Evangelical Presbyterian church … which condemns homosexuality.
When I came out, my parents were horrible about it. In the 30 years since, there have been bad, rocky patches in regards to their acceptance of my sexuality and of my husband of 28 years. In the past 15 years, there have been flare-ups, especially with my Dad. But things have kind of leveled off in the past few years.
So, I’m very torn. On one hand, I know the Presby church is good for them on several levels. On the other hand, I’m really hurt they are continuing to belong (and donate much $$) to a church that pretty much hates me and my husband.
I’m in the mood to say, “Choose: It’s me or them,” but don’t think that’s fair to them. Still, I simply don’t want to have people in my life who consciously choose to support–spiritually and financially–a group that condemns me.
Ugh. I just this weekend met with a woman struggling with the exact same problem: nearly twenty years after coming out, her chronically immature Tea Partier of a dad still can’t bring himself to so much as read one article or book (like, say, mine) in support of the idea that it is not, in fact, a sin to be gay.
[Hi, guys! It's me, John. Because I know a bit about the letter writer that's not here revealed--and because as I answered his letter I was also thinking about the girl I mention above, and the trouble she's having with her father, I sort of accidentally wrote my entire response to this letter-writer as if we were talking about only his father, instead of--as he actually asks about--both of his parents. And now I don't have time to go back and rewrite what I've written. So that's my mistake. But the advice I give below applies equally to his parents as it does his father, so I'm gonna just let it stand as is.]
I counseled her the same way I’d counsel you: Kill your dad in his sleep.
Har! Patricide jokes!
Which are not funny. I know. Sorry.
So here’s the thing: I can’t imagine there’s anything left for you to say to your father. He has chosen the church he has, and (assuming he’s got his wits about him) he knows perfectly well what that choice means to you.
He’s not at all being shy about yet again rejecting you. As clearly as possible he’s telling you that your emotional well-being means so little to him that he’d trade it for membership in a church founded upon the idea—now widely discredited and at the very least open to discussion—that people just like you are unworthy of God’s (and, by extension, of course, of his own) full love and acceptance.
Now, of course, the ball is in your court. Now you have a choice: Reject your father, once and for all—which means letting him know that if he doesn’t ever let you know that he’s changed then he will die without having ever heard from you again—or continue doing what it sounds like you’ve been doing since forever, which is to hang in there, just sort of … living in that ever-grey space between “Well, I know that deep down he really loves me,” and “I have got to stop letting him treat me this way.”
Which way you fall off that fence is (duh) your call. It depends on what it costs you psychologically to be with your father; it depends, in other words, on where you are relative to the whole idea of being truly emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually independent from him.
Without knowing just how abusive your dad is to you, my inclination is to advise you to just stick it out with him until the end. You’ve come this far. It sounds to me like you’ve developed enough of your own life to not give too much a crap anymore about what he thinks of you. I wouldn’t go to his church with him or anything. But I’m guessing that at this point in your life you can live with his dickerosity.
He’s an immature, dying old man who, it sounds like, is going to take his dumbassedness right into the grave with him. Oh, well. That’s his burden. And it’s certainly been also your burden for much too long, of course. But if, when you’re with him, you can stay in that space where you’re finally just accepting him for the stubborn child that (at least on this issue) he is–if while with him you can remain in the truth that you’re the parent, and he’s the child—then sure. Be with him. Because then the cost of doing so is something you can easily enough afford.
You get to be wise, benevolent, and as patience as a saint, and he gets to be the sad bigot that he is.
Then, in the not too distant future, he will die, and you will get to spend the rest of your life knowing that you did with him the very best you could. And that’s not a bad thing to carry around of you the rest of your life.
I rarely–in fact I’ve never–given this particular advice. As you know if you read this blog, my advice in these matters runs very much along the lines of, “Ditch him. Move on. Life’s too short.” But you’re further along in your life than are most people who write me. You’ve already suffered a lifetime of your dad’s condemnation. At this point, you really are the adult to his child.
In the little bit you’ve told me about yourself outside of this letter, I know that you are a successful, mature, happily married man. You’re better than he is. You already are everything and more than he ever was or will be. That’s the truth of your life now.
So ditch your dad or stay with him: it’s all the same. That’s why if I had to vote (and given only what I know so far, of course), I’d vote for continuing to hang out with him now and again for the remainder of his life. Don’t argue with him; don’t debate with him; don’t insist he change in any way. Just be there with him, let him be as offensive as he wants to be, and … be sad, basically, that’s he’s not, wasn’t, and probably never will be strong enough, or smart enough, or mature enough, or knowledgeable enough about love to understand the incalculable value of what he spent his entire life missing out on: You.
What a shame. What a tragic loss for both you and him.
How sad it is when love doesn’t win.
I’m the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question: