When Christian parents of a gay teen disagree on homosexuality

When Christian parents of a gay teen disagree on homosexuality September 24, 2014

Couple Having Arguement At Home

Dear John,

If I remember right, there was a time when you and your wife held different beliefs regarding Christianity. If so, that might have given you some insight into how spouses who are parents of LGBTQ+ kids should deal with holding different views about sexual orientation and same-sex relationships, and about how it all fits together with their faith.

It seems that there are two problems to solve when parents disagree about this:

1) How can they present a united front to their children, when they don’t agree about the right and wrong of same-sex relationships, or about what the Bible says about it, or about how they should be guiding their child?

2) How can they keep this from damaging their personal relationship?

What kind of advice or guidance can you offer to spouses in this difficult situation?

About question #1: Such parents can’t present a united front to their children. Any kid old enough to know they’re gay is old enough to know if one of their parents thinks that’s okay and the other one doesn’t. Divided is divided. You can’t hand a rock to someone and expect them to bite into it just because you’re calling it an apple.

About #2: The parent who believes that being gay is a sin can stop choosing to believe that. Either that, or the affirming parent has to learn to be okay with their spouse sending their child the message that God finds them an abominable disgrace.

If the parents of a gay kid (let’s call him Chris), one of whom believes that being gay is a sin (we’ll call that parent Tom), and the other who believes it is not, asked me to advise them (and to do so using only as many words as it takes to fill a blog post), I would turn to Tom and say:

Tom, buddy, you are destroying your family. By letting Chris know that you believe homosexuality to be a sin—and however lovingly you imagine that you’re letting him know that—you are being the exact opposite of everything that a parent should be. Instead of being a catalyst for the healthy growth and development of your son—instead of being any kind of inspiration to him—you are belittling and humiliating him by sending him the cruelly clear message that not just you, but you and no one less than God hold him to be an abominable freak, a disgraceful mistake, a twisted pervert, a gross moral affront, a shameful and low creature unworthy of respect until he gathers the wherewith all to change who he is.

Which he cannot do. Because people who are born gay, Tom, die gay. And there’s nothing that you or anyone else can do to change that. Are you straight, Tom? So am I. Did you decide to be straight? Me neither. Do you think that you could turn yourself into a gay man, Tom? No? Then why, when neither you, nor I, nor any other straight or gay person, is capable of changing their sexual orientation, would you think that your son is capable of changing his?

You know the whole Pray Away the Gay movement is dead now, right, Tom? That all of the leaders of that terrible, doomed ministry have now declared that “ex-gay therapy” was a tragic mistake, that it never worked on anyone, that the entire enterprise was a sham that never succeeded at anything beyond the ruination of lives? You know that, right? (See 9 Ex-Leaders of the Gay Conversion Therapy Movement Apologize, or my own An open letter to Exodus International’s super-remorseful Alan Chambers.) If entire, huge, decades-old Christian organizations dedicated to turning gay people straight have themselves given up on that exploitive “ministry,” why would you cling to the idea there’s still any credibility whatsoever behind the idea that a gay person is really only a straight person who isn’t trying hard enough to be a good and true Christian?

Why would you hang on to the idea that being gay is a sin, Tom, when there’s so very, very much credible information out there, from Christians, saying that it’s not? Lots of Christians don’t think being gay is a sin, Tom. For the sake of your own child, whom I know you love, why can’t you become one of them?

What are you hanging onto? And what is it costing you? What is it costing Chris? What will it cost Chris?

Dude, I get horrible, gut-wrenching letters every day from young gay people whose lives are a pure torment to them because one or both of their parents believe what you do.

Here’s part of letter I got in just yesterday. It’s from a 17-year-old gay teen whose father believes that being gay is a sin:

After a while, I became re-convinced that of course, my dad was right. The Bible was right. I was in sin. I gave it up. I told them that they were right, I wasn’t gay, I needed help, etc. I thought it would make things better for me. It didn’t. Oh, sure, I could sing and teach Sunday school like I could before, but it wasn’t the same. I felt trapped. Again.

Once again, I began wanting to die.

Over the years I have received so many letters from gay Christians telling me how devastating it was for them growing up with parents like you—good, loving parents who nonetheless condemned them for who they were—that I published a book fully half of which comprises such letters: UNFAIR: Christians the LGBT Question.

Here’s an excerpt from one of those letters:

For over a year, I was deeply suicidal. I think people assume that being suicidal is a moment, an instant, an event that happens and is then either beaten or given into. For me at least, it’s never been that way. It’s the exhausting grind of living every day wanting nothing more than for the pain to stop, praying every night that you won’t wake up, and starting every morning disappointed. I’ve stood in the shower staring at my razor more times than I can count. I’ve thought endlessly about how people might react to my suicide, what would happen after I did it. I’ve scratched my arms raw and dug my fingernails into my palms so hard that I bled, all in an attempt to stop feeling like dying was the best option for me. Better to die now, while things are at least okay. Better to let them remember me like this. Once everyone finds out I’m gay, my life may as well be over. Better for them never to find out. And if this really is who I am—and I knew it was—then there’s only one way for that to happen.

That was my thinking at fifteen years old.

So you see what you’re doing, right, Tom? You’re causing Chris to hate himself. And by extension of that—simply by believing and supporting what you do—you’re giving others a justification for hating him, too.

One of the things I often hear from people like you is that just because you believe that homosexuality is a sin doesn’t mean that you have anything to do with why gay teens are four times more likely than straight kids to attempt suicide.¹ It’s by way of responding to that claim that I made the little cartoon video below. Please watch it till its end:

It’s also why I wrote the below (which my friend Dan Wilkinson kindly rendered a meme thing:

Are you open at all to the idea that being gay isn’t, in fact, a sin, Tom? Please, please, please be? Please pray about this, discern about this, talk to some LGBT-affirming Christians about this, read/watch my Taking God at His Word: The Bible and Homosexuality. Open your heart. Listen to what God’s actually saying to you, instead of to what you were raised being told that God is saying to you.

Save your son, Tom. Save your marriage. Save yourself. Help save the world.

And what if, having heard all that, Tom said, “I’m sorry, but I believe what I believe. Being gay is a sin.” What would I say then?

Then I would turn to Tom’s wife, and say, “Your call. It’s your life. It’s your child.”

[This is the latest in a series in which each Wednesday I answer a question asked to me by members of Serendipitydodah for Moms, a private Facebook group for Christian mothers of LGBT kids. (The first such post was Combatting the Downward Pull of Christian Negativity; the second Pastor tells mom her lesbian teen can’t be a Christian; the third Challenging the evil empire of anti-gay Christians, and the resurfacing of old fundie fears; the fourth Is there a pro-LGBT equivalent to “It’s in the Bible”? ) If you are interested in joining Serendipitydodah for Moms, email lizdyer55@gmail.com. If you’d like me to answer any questions/concerns you might have, email me at john@johnshore.com]

[1] CDC. (2011). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

I’m the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question:

unfair-cover-xsmallPaperback. Kindle. NookBook. Signed and inscribed by me according to your direction.

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