My elderly parents have chosen a church that rejects me


Dear John,

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.

Thoughts?

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:

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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.

  • BarbaraR

    “I don’t want to have people in my life who consciously choose to support… a group that condemns me.”

    I hear you. You’re really between the proverbial rock and a hard place. No matter what, you’re aware of the choice they have made and you’ll be hyperaware of it every time you see them.

    I agree with John: be the bigger person here. Making them choose is demanding a showdown, a conflict that will likely make everyone feel worse than they already do, and probably shove a bigger wedge between you.

    If they choose you – which you’ve indicated isn’t likely – their friends and the church will be in the background, a Greek chorus of disapproval; the subject will be far from dead. They’ll probably face their own ostracism, and it sounds like at this stage in their lives, they aren’t willing to deal with that kind of fallout.

    If they choose their church, how will that make you feel? Will it settle it once and for all? Will you be content with that answer, knowing that was their choice?

    You probably have friends who know the story; they probably do too. In my view, even though it’s painful, you will come out ahead by being as forgiving as possible under the circumstances and being the loving person your dad isn’t capable of.

  • barrieabalard1

    As someone who is over 60, may I gently suggest that the choice of church is not necessarily all about the son and his sexual identity? When you live in a small place, and “all your very best friends” attend a particular church, that reason is a strong one for you to attend the same church. Support systems are crucial as you age, and if having one is something the parents deem necessary (because they have no children nearby), then they need to do what they need to do.

    I fully support the view that churches should be 100% inclusive; I belong to a non-denominational Micah 6 church. But sometimes, it’s not all about *us*, you know? I can understand that now, having lived long enough to bury two parents with whom I had difficult relationships, both of whom rejected me more than once. So yes, I agree, the son should hang in there if at all possible, but I disagree with your statement, John, that “As clearly as possible he’s telling you that your emotional well-being means so little to him that he’d trade it, in a heartbeat, for membership in a church…” That might be the case. Then again, it might not. People are complex beings with complex reasons for doing what they do, both for good and ill.

    • moondoggie1960

      Very wise words, thank you.

    • gimpi1

      You’re much more forgiving than I am. But, as I said earlier, that’s not hard. Well said.

  • Andy

    Though I disagree with him on some things, I’m reminded of what Paul said about celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7, that it was fine for someone to be celibate, but that he would rather people marry than to “burn with passion.” (There’s some patriarchal, misogynistic shit in there too, but I’m ignoring that for now.) But I think a parallel can be made, as John said. It appears you’ve put up with your parents for a long time, in spite of having some rocky times. Trying to stay in their life regardless is the option analogous to celibacy. But in the same way Paul didn’t condemn those who married, I would not condemn anyone in that situation who thought it best to leave people out of his or her life who can be toxic — better to do so than to “burn with anger” towards them while being around them all the time.

  • Sean Shenold

    I was going to recommend that writer love them anyway. And then I realized that this was a little snippet from a much longer quote:

    “People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway.”–Mother Teresa

    Yeah, the writer’s folks go to a church, and contribute money to a church (a misguided one, if I may be so bold) that hates him and his husband, but . . . love them anyway. And at some point, once they begin to realize what’s going on, he might ask them, “Who is being the true follower of Christ here?”

  • cath

    Were he my father, reading your disparaging comments about him would be, for me, a fresh and unnecessary pain. Presumably, despite this man (and his wife)’s hurtful behaviour, the son loves his parents. I would never want anyone to speak of my father saying, “he’s not, wasn’t, and probably never will be strong enough, or smart enough, or mature enough, or knowledgeable enough…” or to use those insulting terms to refer to him. mho.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      then don’t be gay and ask me what I think of your father if he has spent your whole life telling you that God finds you morally abominable.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      Parents can say and do very hurtful things…things that caused rifts I’m a relationships, tjngs that can damage emotionally and sadly even physically. We do not have to respect that. We do not have to pretend its anything less than what it is. We do not have to pretend that nothing is wrong, of kowtow to their favor just because they are our parents. Respecting someone does not mean we have to put up with someone’s shit. That only means we disrespect ourselves

      That this letter writer is trying to find a means to be true to himself, and to live his life despite parental disapproval, AND be concerned for their well being and their spiritual surroundings is admirable. He knows their church could force the to choose and that is a real concern.

      I know what is like to be estranged from parents. Its a hard place to be. I hope that it does not happen for this person. I stand with John on this.

    • Matt

      I wouldn’t call it insulting, just saying what is. Honesty isn’t always pretty. Some people really do go to their graves being exactly what they have always been, and are unable to change. It’s not wrong or bad to simply acknowledge that.

    • Psycho Gecko

      You have to remember that the parents being discussed up there sincerely believe that their child deserves to be tortured forever just because they were born gay. They think that just for existing a certain finite number of years, this person deserves the worst of infinite torment. This isn’t a murderer, rapist, or a child molester. It’s their own child, but they think he deserves the same punishment they wish on murderers, rapists, and child molesters.

      Some people take that personally.

      • Jon

        You write “This isn’t a murderer, rapist, or a child molester.”
        But, what if it was? I have had quite close interaction with each of the type of people in your list. I have seen the weak, damaged man inside each one of them, and I know that they are so much more than just the label society has affixed to them. Fundamentalism seems to exist within both the ‘Liberal’ and the ‘Evangelical’ wings of the Church. By that, I mean that people belonging to either ‘camp’ can all too often exhibit the same worrying attitude of judging and condemning others.

        I have made the most dreadful mistakes in my own life, but have experienced the most amazing acceptance from people who love God and who have also experienced his love for them. I only hope I can lose all my own self-opinionated, judgemental attitudes in return!

        • Guy Norred

          And this too. I can’t begin to fully fathom what you have been through, but I do agree that the more I know, the more I find that those who hurt others the most have been terribly hurt themselves.

          • Jon

            Ah, this is so true! Last night I was talking through some issues my son is struggling with at the moment. In passing, he mentioned that his mother cannot bring herself to trust men. I felt a real twinge at that, because I will have contributed to that situation during our 23 years of married life (we finally divorced last year, after 7 years of separation). I have not been an easy person to live with, of that I am certain. So, yes, I have hurt others (including my son, by the way, who even changed his surname because he was so angry with me). I don’t want to claim special dispensation, by the way, but at the same time it does help me to realise that my hurting of others is very much rooted in my own hurt of my early years. Another reason for me to let go of the past! :)

          • moondoggie1960

            Without judgment, but because of what you write about yourself, I would you to ask yourself: have I done all I can to make amends?

            On so many occasions over the decades, my Mom and Dad have hurt my husband and I, and then there is a reconciliation. My Mom has always apologized in a specific way, so we feel her authenticity. Whereas my Dad simply recognizes the truce, without spoken apologies. For my husband and I, it really makes his words meaningless, as he never apologizes for the specific hurt he has caused.

          • Jon

            Good question, thanks for raising it. I will ponder.

      • moondoggie1960

        I wouldn’t want you to temper your words, as your words are, sadly, applicable in too many cases.

        In my case, there is a difference. My Dad doesn’t think I deserve hell. He is, rather, afraid on my behalf.

    • moondoggie1960

      I very much appreciate your sentiment and sensitivity, but John has painted an accurate picture of my Dad. Accurate when Pops was, mentally, sharp as tack, and accurate now that he has become much less so, mentally.

  • CastleRockBear

    I could have written that one…WOW!…..

  • Mark McRoberts

    He could remind his father that he will be the one to choose his nursing home.

    • moondoggie1960

      will definitely keep that one in my back pocket :-)

    • barrieabalard1

      :)

    • Virginia Galloway

      I have remarked through the decades that the biological units (I can hardly call them “parents”) should be quietly grateful that they have four sons who, for whatever reason, are still willing to deal with them because, if it were up to me, I’d stick them into a urine-reeking nursing home and leave them to rot in their own filth. Actually, I would now only have to do that for one because the male died a couple of weeks ago, an event about which I cannot bring myself to care. [I had 15 years of intense therapy; try to imagine how bitter (really apt word) I'd sound without that process.]

      One of my brothers recently took it upon himself to castigate me for my refusal to be reconciled with those people. I figured out pretty quickly during our exchanges that the only response he would have found acceptable was a whimpered “You’re so right and I’ve been so wrong!” Since I’m not wrong in believing that the profound physical and emotional abuse I experienced throughout my childhood–all done, as the female smugly informed me when I confronted them about this as an adult, to “teach [me] the fear of God”–has permanently blighted my life, I was unable to oblige him, so now he’s expunged, too.

      I have tried to structure my adult life along the lines of “Living well is the best revenge,” and I’ve mostly been successful: I have many friends, some small acclaim in my particular academic community, and a strong and joyful relationship with God. Getting to this point was immensely difficult, and I will not allow my brother (whom I love–he’s just drunk too deeply of the Koolaid) to put that toxicity back into my life.

      Sometimes, for the sake of our sanity, we have to shove the hurtful ones out of our lives. I frequently feel like an amputee because there’s an important part of me missing, but I had to remove that part in order to make it stop poisoning me. I wish my situation were different, but it isn’t and won’t be.

      Thank you, John and Mike.

  • HappyCat

    Love isn’t always easy, especially in situations like this. I would explore what my boundaries are and articulate them. “I’m glad you have a church that supports you. But I cannot attend with you.” And..”Brad is my husband of 28 years. I will not stay if you insult him or our relationship.” And then stick to it!

  • Jon

    Oh dear me. Without reading the other comments on here, I have to
    confess that your “advice” left me feeling in some way soiled. I am
    disturbed by your anger, your childish jibes and name-calling. I kept
    reading, thinking that at any moment I was going to reach some sensible,
    wise, supportive words. Didn’t happen, of course.

    Shame, because
    you are just as entrenched in your views, just as bigoted, just as
    hurtful and spiteful as all those in the various ‘camps’ you so clearly
    despise. I long for sensible discussion and advice in the
    non-evangelical church, but experience as much bile and fury as any put
    forward by the ‘fundamentalists’. A friend of mine recently wrote to me
    with a very thoughtful statement of his position on evolution. It was
    great, except for the fact that he referred to “the trendy, liberal
    Christians” who think differently to him.

    As long as we find it
    necessary to place ourselves in any particular ‘camp’ or ‘tribe’, or
    follow your advice about how your correspondent needs to “get down from
    the fence”, we will be blinded to the Truth. Why do we struggle so much
    to extend towards each other the love, patience and kindness that we
    ourselves expect God to display towards us?

    I personally would
    offer your correspondent some words of comfort, about how his own
    maturity and wisdom is from God, and will sustain him through the hard
    times ahead. Wisdom is a gift, so how can those who lack it be mocked?
    This man needs help and guidance about how he can continue to love and
    respect his parents, in the face of their obvious harshness towards him.
    He really doesn’t need what you have suggested; an attitude of
    bitterness, self-righteousness, self-aggrandisement, judgementalism and
    mockery.

    • Matt

      The letter writer has lived 30 years–and probably a childhood–being told that he is not well and good just as he is, yet he continues to have concern for his parents (“…my parents’ health is not good…”). He certainly cares enough to ask for advice from someone he trusts. I consider him to be a man of profound compassion with much respect toward his parents. Sometimes that’s just not enough. I wish it were.

      As an aside, what is with the arrogant Christian’s love for the word “bitterness”? It pops up all the time. Is it some trendy new code word that means “lacking the blinding light of God which so obviously fills me”?

      • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

        “Don’t be bitter” is code-speak that fundies routinely use to chastise those within its camp that they are pressing to stop complaining.

        • Sheila Warner

          Parent-adult child relationships are dicey when there are deep divisions involved. It doesn’t just have to be about sexual orientation. It can be other theological nonsense thinking. I have both with my dad. I try to hang in there with him, though. I think the fact that I have deep affection for all people regardless of orientation, bothers both my parents. But, believe it or not, it’s the challenge to fundamentalism in general that generates the most heat.

      • Jon

        Well, this morning I started writing a response to your reply (for which I thank you, by the way), but found that a mobile phone is not ideal when fingers are not as agile as once they were. In any case, my reply to you would have been less measured and thoughtful than it perhaps should be.

        I am sorry that I have come across as arrogant and naive. I think probably I did have a sort of “I know better” mindset, and that is not helpful.

        I suppose I have some experience (don’t all of us?) of growing up in an environment of scathing disapproval from my parents and sibling sisters. My brother and I were adopted as a sort of matching pair in the early Sixties, when adoption procedures were far less rigorous than they are today. This lack of rigour meant, in our case at least, that we were adopted into a family of two existing daughters by two adults who were fundamentally unsuitable to be adoptive parents. I was three years old, and my brother 18 months older. Right from the very beginning we were told that our birth mother had put us into care because she didnt want us. We were treated as though we were flawed beings in some way, who had, by God’s divine intervention, been salvaged from our hideous existence and placed into a wonderful world of Godliness. We were fundamantally unworthy and we would never fully appreciate “how much the girls have given up for you”. My father beat me with his Army swagger stick, punched me and slapped me. My mother would throw my brother around the room, banging his head against the wall and screaming into his face that she hated him.

        I have never ever felt that I truly belonged anywhere in the world, apart from my boarding school – until I was expelled at the age of 15 because of my intense relationship with another boy. My brother left home as early as possible, also failing dismally in his educational career. He became an alcoholic at a very young age, losing job after job after job. I also was unable to hold down a job for long, and found myself constantly seeking solace and acceptance with other young men of my age (I was in the Army for a while).

        So…quite a massive amount of guilt, failure and pain in the lives of the two of us. And yet, so conditioned were we to see ourselves as unworthy people, our sense (misplaced) of gratitude and indebtedness took many years to subside. My brother even kept a photo of Dad in his kitchen, after Dad passed away in 1999. I was astounded to learn this, bearing in mind that Dad used to creep into his bedroom at night when drunk, and feel him up under the bedclothes while I lay awake and nervous on the other side of our shared bedroom.

        Therefore, I don’t believe that I am writing into this situation entirely unqualified to do so. It has taken me many, many years to come to terms with our treatment (and my two sisters still act as though I owe them more than I could ever repay). It has taken me many years to even approach forgiveness of my adoptive parents and, indeed, my birth mother. But I am glad to have made the progress I have made, because if I had not been able to see that they were both flawed but good people, then I fear that fantastic damage to me would have been done. They each had the most emotionally-deprived childhood experiences from their own parents (think English stiff upper lip attitudes, fierce corporal punishment and never a single word of encouragement or love in the early 20th century).

        My adoptive mother was a committed fundamentalist Christian, who exhibited all of the Pharasaical traits and not the tiniest bit of love. Despite this, my journey did eventually lead me to an awareness of God as a loving, caring entity. My earliest “Christian” certainties have all been completely annihilated by life’s experiences. My own dear son came out to me when he was about 15, and I am ashamed even to this day of my initial reaction. (Actually, as a divorced man who is terrified and suspicious of women, maybe I envy his freedom to embrace his sexuality while I remain ambivalent about my own!)

        Life now seems to me to be all about change, change, change. I hope it brings growth to me too. Thanks for reading, and Peace to you all.

        x

        • James Walker

          your story is heart-breaking. thank you for sharing.

          • Jon

            James, thank you for your kind and gentle response; it was hard to write that stuff down, yes. But…I really didn’t want to tug heart strings – just show a little bit of why my original post might have come across as ‘holier-than-thou’.

          • James Walker

            being able to talk about all the “stuff” that was done to us and taught to us by people who earnestly believed they were doing “God’s Work” without drowning in the weight of how it crushed us and ate at our spirits is a grace that only time and practice can give us.

        • Matt

          Jon,

          I struggle with knowing where to begin. Thank you for writing what undoubtedly was hard to get out. Thank you for being able to survive that. That is just incredible.

          Although I am much, much younger than you, some of what you said still resonates with me. Not feeling like you belong anywhere. Realizing that your parents, while entirely unfit, were good and deeply flawed people whose own lives were filled with suffering.

          Conditioned to see yourself as unworthy? Yes, I was too. In my case I wanted to be perfect because I felt damaged, disgusting, filled with black tar on the inside. I have an idea of why your brother would keep a photo of your dad even after what he did. I know all too well. Since I was born female, I wanted to be the perfect girl, but I never could.

          I reacted to your words the way that I did partly because that was the road I was heading down, not so long ago. It is a stubborn trait of mine to always insist on the truth, but that wasn’t allowed in my life until very recently. For a long time, my thick layer of sugary sweetness was a cover for rage too awful for me to face. I’m still learning how to manage it. I’m sorry if I was harsh. I’m sorry if my words stung too much.

          I suppose what I’m trying to say is, thank you again. Just thank you for taking the time to say what you did. I wish you well.

          • Jon

            Dear Matt,

            Thanks so much for what you have just written to me. At the risk of sounding banal, trite or fake…I do want to say the words Bless You. And I mean that.

        • Guy Norred

          Thank you for sharing this. I can’t find anymore words right now.

        • Bill Steffenhagen

          You make me weep. There is so much pain out there. Thank God for John Shore and Patheos. God, that Spirit of Love is moving strongly in America and indeed, in the world. A division seems to be happening between those who see and those who don’t. Perhaps what is happening with the Spirit is what is meant by the separation of the sheep and the goats? Not the “traditional” imagery of a heavenly separating, but a Spiritual movement right here on Earth.
          I wish for Peace to all who gather here.

          • Jon

            I think you are right Bill, and it’s really exciting. It does seem to be happening outside of the mainstream church, though. A fundamental shift in our attitude to each other seems to be underway, where we see the person rather than the sinner, maybe?

        • gimpi1

          Wow. Just wow. You have shown great grace in trying to see your adoptive parents good-side in the face of the profound wrongs they did you and your brother.

          • Jon

            I loved them, and I know I was a real problem child; swearing, bed-wetting, self-soiling, lying…they had no idea what was coming their way! Bless them, they did their best. And, actually, it must have been incredibly hard for their two existing children. A subliminal message, perhaps, of “you two are a bit disappointing and so we are going to get a couple more kids (who don’t even look like you two!).”

    • Bill Steffenhagen

      Conservative/Lutheran/Evangelical/Republican/anti-abortion/anti-gay voting parents and 3 younger siblings who all disapproved of my gay life and let me know it by rejecting a partner I had for 8 years (who finally left me in part, I suspect, because he felt rejected, in part because he caught “Religion”) and he was never permitted to share my family gatherings and holiday events. So I made it clear to them that they could then do without me as well. I haven’t been to a family event for maybe 15 years except for my parents’ funerals. I almost didn’t go to my mother’s funeral. She died thinking I was going to hell after telling me they had “nothing to learn and share” from me, but I relented and I saw my father weep for the first time in my life as a result of his joy at my attendance. So it was worth it. I never knew how he felt about me being gay because we never spoke of anything of remote substance to the day he died. I have no communication with my siblings, haven’t spoken to a brother for many years, and wouldn’t recognize some of my nieces and nephews if I passed them on the street. I could never share my life and never bonded with any of them and got to the point of simply not caring. What has been most revealing about it all is the realization that they don’t care either. Such good Christians, content not to care rather than make an effort to learn and share. So I learned to live with not caring.

      Anger, bitterness, sadness……it’s all gone now. It’s just a nothingness. A tragedy really that I don’t feel anymore. I don’t expect to have any impulse to attend the funerals of any of them who might go be fore me. I can only shake my head at how stunningly unnecessary it has all been…..by their choice.

      • Sheila Warner

        Your situation is different from the letter writer’s. I think you have done the correct thing, here.

      • Jon

        Dear Bill,

        Thank you for sharing this much of your story, both elegantly and movingly. I find myself humbled by your experiences. You seem to have travelled a long way on a journey that would probably have defeated me. Your obvious wisdom has been bought at such a price, but it’s been a privilege to receive some of it now. Thanks again.

        • Bill Steffenhagen

          Thank you for the the compliments. It is you who humbles me. It is good to know I have touched another thoughtful and caring spirit.

      • moondoggie1960

        Sheila’s response is on point. My parents and siblings were never that toxic, fortunately, but I’ve cut ties with other family members like yours and feel that “nothingness” you describe. Peace, brother.

        • Bill Steffenhagen

          Thank you for letting me know I have touched a kindred spirit. I am happy for you that you still have family. Peace to you also.

      • barrieabalard1

        I’m so sorry, Bill. I made peace with both my parents but am permanently estranged from all my siblings. Have not seen any of them since our mother’s funeral in 2009. Peace be unto you.

        • Bill Steffenhagen

          Thank you for letting me know I have touched a kindred spirit. Peace to you also.

      • gimpi1

        Again, wow. I had no idea how lucky I was. While both my parents were severely disabled (post-polio and rheumatoid arthritis for my mom and traumatic brain-injury for my dad) and we were dirt-poor (disability can do that), I was loved and accepted. I knew that. I knew we had each others’ backs. I knew they cared about me. They knew I cared about them.

        I was so bloody lucky. Good wishes as you move on from a toxic family. Internet hugs.

        • Bill Steffenhagen

          Thank you. All of us must keep in mind the reality that “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Sounds like you have already learned that. It is those who have not had to struggle with adversity; yes, even “christians” who do not struggle with doubt, that are the weakest among us.

          • gimpi1

            Your strength must be awesome by now. Know that you have the respect and best wishes from many of out here in internet-land.

    • Sheila Warner

      He got that advice from John. You must not have read the entire blog post.

  • Rich

    I am personally familiar with congregations like this. They shun gay affirming parents sometimes more than their gay children because they need to prove how “loving” they are to gay people. It may not be the case but consider the possibility that they are in fear of dying absolutely ALONE.

    • moondoggie1960

      Interesting that you would say this about dying alone.

      My Dad has been a Christian his whole life. While he and I have often tangled, his and my Mom’s faith has and continues to be expressed in great ways: donations of time and money and, yes, kindness, which have benefited many people’s lives — at home and abroad — in profound and tangible ways.

      And yet this man, with a deep faith and life of good works, a man who reads of Jesus and heaven daily, is terrified of dying, especially alone.

      I just don’t get it.

      • Rich

        Politics have hijacked our faith. Scripture teaches that love conquers fear. That’s dangerous to the powers that be. So they convince people like your Dad to be fearful of death — not only his but yours also. For example when Tetzel sold indulgences he used fear of loved ones in Purgatory to pay for St. Peter’s. This is how the politically powerful have manipulated people of faith throughout history.

        Please consider 1 John 4 and take comfort.

        God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

  • Rich

    Beyond the particular issues at hand the churches who have left the PCUSA promote that you can only fellowship with “like minded” people. This may be why the parents are not seeking their past long-term friends. Next week our GA will be taking up the issue of marriage equality. Please pray for us.

  • Sheila Warner

    I just got this advice from my therapist. I am straight, but gay-affirming. Also, my father and I have deep divisions between us about theology. I see my dad on occasion. I let him know I love him and appreciate that he worked hard to support our family. But we’ve also cleared the air that the divisions are there. So, rather than have regrets, I still hang in there.

  • moondoggie1960

    Hi everyone, I’m Mike*, The Letter Writer here,

    John, I would prefer to write a thoughtful and heartfelt THANK YOU for the sound & sage advice and insights you have provided, but I can’t stop Laughing My Effin’ Ass Off!!

    “killing Dad in his sleep” has been a lively and ongoing debate in our family for years, but a CSI writer/friend says we’ll never get away with it. oh, well.

    And “dickerosity” is my absolute favorite new word. I’m submitting it to the OED.

    Which means, as I sit here laughing, I would like to underscore in words that which you have just given me in spirit: a sense of humor about this whole fucked-up mess. And laughing really helps.

    Seriously, I’ve been letting your letter sink in, and you’re right, about pretty much everything. With that said, (you know me, so you better sit down for this) I’m going to take your advice. All of your advice. Which I never do. With anyone.

    And, inspired by all of you awesome commenters here, I’m expanding things a tad.

    I went to the Evangelical Presbyterian site and printed this, http://www.epc.org/about-the-epc/position-papers/homosexuality/ , the EPC’s statement on homosexuality. I got out a big pink (of course) highlight pen for certain key sentences, and put it on their refrigerator door with the note, “this hurts.” I figure, “what’s wrong a little guilt trip, every now and then.”

    48 hours later, it’s still on the fridge, although no one has yet to say a word about it. This deserves a shout-out to my Mom, who I am now learning did not understand how anti-gay this church is.

    AND, if you guys are still reading this, I’d like to pose a question: John knows I’m very confrontational with anti-gay people … I keep thinking I should go to this church one day and stand up and say, in essence, “most of you have known me, hugged me, said you loved me, for 40 years, etc, etc, etc … now, you’re no longer my friends, and you all ought to be ashamed.” Thoughts?

    (Interestingly, I’ve only known of one other person to do such a thing: my usually awful Dad. Back at the time when Colorado was posed to pass the anti-gay Amendment 2, my parents happened to be at some mega-church in Colorado Springs. When the Pastor reminded everyone to get out and vote for Amend. 2, my Pop stood up, told them they should be ashamed, and then my parents walked out in the middle of the service, prompting dozens of others to walk out as well. I know it has more to do with his political notions of church&state … same reasoning when he voted against Prop 8 … but, I still love him for it. People are strange.)

    Finally, if John will bless this: I LOVE the cranky-face photo of the old couple on this post … but I’m attaching a pic of a couple that looks very much like my parents … because, sometimes, it’s the really nice people who can cause the most hurt.
    _________________________________

    * Wasn’t trying to anonymous today, but I somehow I logged-in with the Disqus account I use for my sex, surf, drugs, bikes, and rock’n’roll rants. So, I’m busted now … you guys will keep my secret, RIGHT?!

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      You do realize that you have a forum full of fans now.

      And I promise to put my brain into full colander mode.The way I things these days, like my work keys in the locked ladies rest room at work….again, or where my phone, keys, shoes, glasses are…your secret….you had one?

      • moondoggie1960

        secret? what secret?

    • Rich

      I am angry but at different parties than John. I am angry at people who ask me to deny and shun my own flesh and blood. If you can find affirming parents, feed us the information like you have here and let us drop the bomb for you.

      • moondoggie1960

        if I find them, then John and my friends (I hate to think in terms of cyber-buddies) like you will be the first to know. xo

        • Rich

          Harvey Milk underscored the importance of GLBTQ people coming out of the closet. It is as important if not more important that the affirming parents of GLBTQ children do the same. My church sounds a lot like your parent’s church. The difference was when we were considering leaving and joining a non-affirming denomination those of us who had GLBTQ children stopped them. It is not an accident that your Mom was unaware that the EPC or ECO is gay hostile. These organizations and other so-called evangelical renewal organizations often hide their true intentions.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      So good to hear from you, Mike. The whole time I was answering your letter, I kept thinking how true it is that I’m not about to tell you anything you don’t already know. But it was nice to do this … online mind-meld.

      Hey, you asked:

      I keep thinking I should go to this church one day and stand up and say, in essence, “most of you have known me, hugged me, said you loved me, for 40 years, etc, etc, etc … now, you’re no longer my friends, and you all ought to be ashamed.” Thoughts?

      If I may, I think you should do that. I think it’s right and fair and good for you to speak to this congregation, and I can’t imagine (well, sadly, I could) that they wouldn’t let you.

      But when you’re in the pulpit, or up before them, don’t chastise them. Don’t tell them they should be ashamed. Just tell them how much they’ve hurt you. Tell them how much it’s cost you, for your whole life, to know that in their hearts they cannot help but think of you as at best a second-class citizen and at worst something between animal and man.

      You know what I mean? Be as sad before them as their belief system has in fact made you. If you want to tag their shame centers, do it by going not through their heads but through their hearts. All you ever wanted was for them to love you, just like all they ever wanted was for those sitting around them right now to love them. And all they ever told you, in one way or another, was that they could not love you, would not love you, will not love you. And that’s wrong. You know it. All gay people everywhere know it. And God most surely knows it. And every single day, in one way or another, you find yourself hoping, and even praying, that one day, they’ll not just know it, but embrace it.

      • moondoggie1960

        John, you did say things I didn’t already know, and thank you for that.

        As for standing up in their church someday, I will take your advice, truly, to heart. I believe the approach you have me take will be far more effective – and really, I want to change hearts and minds (not that I don’t Enjoy being a chastising dick sometimes) and, again, you’ve laid a wonderful path to end.

        You’re a really good man.

        • moondoggie1960

          “bitch slap their hearts” …. brilliant.

      • gimpi1

        ” I think it’s right and fair and good for you to speak to this congregation, and I can’t imagine (well, sadly, I could) that they wouldn’t let you.”

        Bring your own battery-powered mike. Shout them down. Don’t let them silence you. They need to understand that their actions have been harmful, and that has consequences. Do some real bitch-slapping of their hearts, their beliefs and what their beliefs have turned them into. Sometimes strong and loud is the only way to get someone’s attention.

  • gimpi1

    Personally, I would leave truly toxic people behind. The old saw, “you can choose your friends but not your family,” is true as far as it goes, but you can choose to not trouble yourself with family-members that can’t accept you and love you for who you are.

    Anyone that puts dogma above their love for their children is making it perfectly clear what their values are, and they aren’t “family values.” They value domination and conformity, and they are willing to hurt you in the name of those values.

    I wouldn’t kill your father. But I might hurt him some. (end sarcasm) I tend to be an unforgiving bitch. I’m sure most people are better than I am at letting hurts go. (It would be hard to be worse:-)

  • BarbaraR

    Moondoggie! I had a cousin who would shout that every now and then for no apparent reason.

    I confess I couldn’t get through the entire EPC statement. (Low tolerance for idiocrity in the name of God; even lower tolerance for badly flawed logic meant to cover up hatred). But I am tickled that this column made you laugh (especially the kill dad part).

    And about going to the church and making a statement? GO FOR IT. I volunteer to drive the getaway car.

  • charlesmaynes

    this was a pretty interesting letter and issue in general- but I would advise some manner of caution (at least with the info provided to us outsiders) first- Do your parents disapprove of you? If this is yes. it may be time to shake the dust off your sandals and leave them in the rearview mirror for now. If No, then it becomes a little more nuanced…. They may get a great deal of support both practical and emotional from their church experience- and they may view the gay thing as a much smaller matter than their church. Does this give them a pass- well, no, not really…. but it also doesnt make them torquemada. it makes them pretty much like everyone else who is unsure of what gay rights signify as human rights- that takes time sadly……Another thing to say is, if you are not there to help them regularly, it becomes a bit academic- If you are a part of their support system as they enter their end of life phase- things are very different than if the only contact you have with them is on the phone or indirectly. Feeding and cleaning up after them is a pretty big commitment- (only speaking from direct experience), so If this is the case, the gay thing might be a small consideration for them compared to all the more immediate issues they might face- In my opinion, this is why Church sucks- because no one really agrees with everyone on every issue- because they cant… they commit the same “sins” as unbelievers- they lie, cheat etc…. they are imperfect, and their church, as well as EVERY church is also imperfect. So in that end- can love win? that I think is up to you- because “you” are the only one can control who “you” love.


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