Note: This post was edited with softer language regarding Dr. Moore and his article. Upon reflection, I recognized my language expressed the passion of my convictions but did not reflect my earnest hope for and belief in peaceful, thoughtful dialogue.
I first realized I was gay when I was around eleven or twelve and in the silence of that moment, I swore I would take it to my grave. I made myself promise. No telling. No telling because if anyone knew, no one would love me anymore.
The weight of that secret grew heavier over the years, attacking me like a cancer, breaking me down with grief, isolation, and so much fear. At 21, I began to slip away. I disappeared into drinking. I checked out friendships. I shut out the world. And then I passed out on the floor of a bar around 2 AM and woke up knowing it was do or die, quite literally.
The next night I told my parents. I came home from college and walked up their stairs. Every step feeling the full decade of dread pulling me back, telling me to leave, to suck it up and go home. Or die.
But I knew I had to do this. It was so heavy.
When I finally told them they were… frazzled. They were in complete shock, looking as one does after a two-ton anvil drops on their head and there were lots of tears and hugging and trembles in voices. But they were also kind of perfect. They made due, stringing together words amidst the hurricane of feelings in that moment.
They spent much of the night calling out the lies I believed about myself. When I said I felt like a freak, they said oh honey, that’s a lie. When I said I thought they’d be afraid of me, they looked at me like I was a limping puppy. They wrapped me up and said, no, pumpkin, we LOVE you.
That was my coming out experience. It took me a couple years to realize just how lucky I was.
At the Gay Christian Network Conference there were a number of parents present wearing large buttons that said Free Dad Hugs! and Free Mom Hugs! ready with arms wide open for the kids whose parents cut them out. Told them off. Said they loved them, but hated their sexuality. In a quiet room of the hotel we were at, these proxy parents held these orphaned kids. Held them close. Prayed over them and told them they loved them.
I tell you, friends, resurrection always wins, even in the dark- for that matter, especially in the dark. God is near.
I have really been trying to restrain myself here on the blog from responding to every LGBTQ-related article or statement emanating out of the self-appointed Gatekeepers (see: Southern Baptist Convention, The Gospel Coalition). But the latest hits felt like too much. Felt too dangerous. It all felt too close to home.
First, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention who is not a family therapist, who has (to my knowledge) no gay kids of his own, wrote a blog post about how parents should react to a gay son or daughter coming out to them. It was, as expected, unhelpful. But his post is nothing compared to John MacArthur’s video, in which he said that the Christ-like response to a child coming out is too shun them. To disown them. To, in John’s words, “turn them over to Satan.”
So, I thought I’d pen my own advice, from experience. This is for all the parents with closeted gay kids. These are words you need to hear.
If your son or daughter comes out to you, go to them. Hold them. Whisper your love and kiss their forehead and make them feel your love. Say it again and again and again because here’s the deal: The faith many of us were raised in told us this was a deal-breaker. That this love between you was not strong enough for this. And odds are, your kid is thinking there’s a chance you might not love them anymore and a chance that your lying if you say you do. If there was ever a moment to step up as a parent and love your baby, now is it. You don’t get a redo.
If homosexuality is something you’ve been familiar with and are theologically affirming of, then you are probably pretty comfortable here anyway and I have no further advice for you than this: Your kid might not share your theology. And you have to respect that. All you have to do is listen and share when you are asked.
If you’ve held conservative opinions about homosexuality and have long held to a traditional sexual ethic, this confession might leave you feeling impaled. It might feel like a tearing. A falling apart that you can’t stop, no matter how much you want to, and I have a few words for you.
You are okay. In this moment, you are not against your kid, and in the future, if you find yourself still in the same theological mindset, that doesn’t make you hateful or bad. It means you disagree. And you are okay.
Now is not the time to say so, though, to tell your kid that you think he’s sinful. Now is not the time, as others might suggest, to say you love your kid, but you hate their sexuality. Now is the time to say the most important truth you know. The truth that you are most certain about. Tell him you love him. Tell her you love her.
Of course, there’s a scrambling for words, sometimes these things last a long time and what else can you say with all trip wires tying around you? Do you talk about the theology stuff after the love stuff? Do you ask about their relationship status? No and no.
Here’s what you say. It is, in my experience, the second best thing to hear: You. Are. Brave.
It’s the truth, after all. My own coming out was and will probably be the most impossible thing I have ever done. I still can’t believe I did it. And there is nothing more affirming than hearing you, my boy, have guts. You inspire me. You are so, so brave.
And finally, thank them for trusting you, because you know they could’ve chosen not to. Tell them you feel privileged to know this part of them That you are happy to know them better. Remind them that you love them and then give them a kiss goodnight.
If, near the end, your own opinions crop up, here is something non-threatening to say: I admit, I have a lot to learn. I will try to learn, because you are my child.
Listen to me. I have seen the kids of parents who have followed the advice of the Russell Moores and John MacArthurs of the world and I can tell you, no one wants that to happen to their kid. No one wants to live with that kind of regret. Listen to me, this is your job. To love. And it ends there.
Now, as far as learning goes, I’m afraid you have homework. I’m not assigning you theology, I am sending you to those who have been in your shoes and know your experience better than I do.
For starters, here is the Marin Foundation Parent Network. Try calling some of these ready-to-support-you folks (my parents are on there!) and hear their stories and find that empathy and community that you need.
Check out the story of my friends Linda and Rob Robertson, who have been tireless in their efforts to support parents of LGBTQ kids. They want to bring about more understanding and grace and love to families everywhere. These two, they’re such good and Godly people.
Go check out one of my favorite blogs, Susan Cottrell of Freed Hearts. Susan has written a book about her experience as a mom of gay child and she blogs consistently about issues facing the LGBTQ community and issues facing parents. She is a wonderful woman and a gift to us all.
Watch this video, Lead With Love, which my parents also watched. It is absolutely phenomenal, I’m surprised I don’t share it more.
Rachel Held Evans, a wonderful advocate just for people in general, wrote once about how she would respond if she had a gay child. It is beautiful. Glennon Melton of Momastery did the same, which I bet money will leave you in a mess of hot tears.
Look, it’s not easy. I know that. It’s complicated and there are lots of questions, let alone feelings, and for a small amount of time you might feel completely isolated and alone. But your kid is your kid, and you love her, you love him and they need you to be their mom and their dad right now, not their theologian. Not their pastor. Their parent.
Hold them. Love them. Listen to them. Kiss Them.
And God will lead the way.