“You want to shove those words back in and put the lid on. But you can’t. Your child is gay. This goes against everything you’ve been taught. It was not what you had in mind, and you instantly wonder where you went wrong.”
Photo above: Author Susan Cottrell, with two of her daughters
When you become a parent, you know to expect the unexpected. But for many Christian parents, nothing can prepare them to hear that their beloved child is gay. This is the child you have cradled, spoon fed mashed bananas, and dreamed a beautiful future for. How could this be? What will the church say? What will your friends say? What does the future hold? You can’t even get your head around this.
If you are a Christian parent, family member or friend to whom your loved one has come out as gay or lesbian, then this is for you. I invite you to sit down, relax, maybe get a cup of tea, and soak in what I’m about to tell you. My hope is to guide you as we walk for a bit through this maze of confusion, to help you find your way to wholeness.
In many Christian circles, this is not good news, and you may begin to spiral into reflection and self-searching. We’ll get to that. But at the bottom of it all, this is not about you. Most parents’ first mistake is to make it about them instead of about their son or daughter. So let’s talk about some of the major stumbling blocks for Christian parents.
1. This is not an offense against you
This is not something your child did to you. They did not “choose gayness” to rebel against you, get back at you or make your life miserable. In fact, it really has nothing do with you. You did not cause this; it’s not a failure on your part. As a younger Christian, taught that homosexuality is a sin, I believed that trauma somewhere in someone’s past caused homosexuality, even if they didn’t remember it. To my surprise, God completely shifted my understanding and revealed to me the many people who had a great childhood and are still gay. He also reminded me of the many straight people who had traumatic childhoods, yet remained straight.
Your expectations may lay shattered at your feet. But those are your expectations for your child. Quite simply, they may not be God’s expectations. Ask God to replace your vision for your child with His.
2. This orientation is not news to your child
They likely did not tell you the first time they noticed their same-sex attraction. In fact, they have probably lived with this quite a long time. They had to discover how true it was. They had to watch other young teens grow into puberty, and realize they weren’t developing the same feelings. Perhaps they dated the opposite gender to see if passion might develop, and yet none did. By the time they come out to you, they are pretty sure of what they’re saying.
You may have to work through a slate of brand new emotions about this, and your emotions will affect them, but theirs are not brand new. Do not ask them if they are sure, if maybe they want to take a little time and see what happens. Instead, consider the journey they have been through. Ask them things like, “When did you know?” “How long have you felt this way?” and tell them how you are grateful that they are including you, that they don’t have to go through this alone anymore.
3. Now is a key time to embrace your child
Imagine for a moment the courage it took to tell you about their sexuality, especially when they know it seems to contradict your core beliefs. In this moment, your child needs to know he did the right thing by telling you. You may flood with fear, doubt, anger, grief, disappointment, shame, anguish or guilt, but do not let those hinder you from expressing your unconditional love and admiration for your child. Your child will have their own list of emotions to deal with; don’t hand them yours. Give yourself time to process all of your own emotions. Be kind to yourself and your child through this.
4. They were terrified to tell you
The risk they took is very real. Some gay teens have been shamed, banished, threatened, beaten, and shunned. They know that once it is said, it cannot be unsaid. They took this chance either because they trusted you and hoped for the best, or because they could not stand to live inauthentically any longer. You have a strong child. Be proud. You have the opportunity to make the most of their trust and come through for them with the unconditional love of a parent. That’s your job as a parent and a Christian — to love unconditionally.
5. Praying, wishing and believing will not make your child straight.
If doing these things meant that homosexuality would not visit a Christian home, then we wouldn’t see it cropping up so often. I have heard countless stories of people who prayed without ceasing, but nothing changed. Picture with me the false faith-healers who pray to heal audience members’ maladies; when there is no result, those charlatans tell the poor kid in the wheelchair, “Maybe next time you’ll have enough faith to be healed.” Where does that place the blame? If anyone has ever been healed in that setting, it is God’s choice, not the one in the wheelchair. Has anyone prayed themselves straight? I don’t know. Meanwhile, countless stories of those who prayed, did everything right, followed every suggestion, and poured themselves wholeheartedly into being straight–only to experience disappointment and self-loathing. Your child does not deserve this.
6. For teens, there are still many changes to come.
Don’t panic! Let them discover themselves. What did you know at 18 that you feel the same about today? Come to think of it, sexual orientation is probably one of the few things you were sure about. Do not require a certain life path for your son or daughter at this time when the world is their oyster. Haven’t we yet learned how crippling it is to have to please someone else? Do not tell them that it is a phase that will wear off.
Acknowledge how far they have come, that they have an exciting future, and that you will be with them every step of the way. If they discover that their orientation may not be what they thought, then they alone will discover that. Telling them you are praying that they change, or that they will likely “straighten out” as they get older, will only distance them from you. Worst of all, do not send them to “reorientation” camp. This traumatizes countless teens, cementing deep shame and self-hatred.
7. Adult children are out of your hands
Even more than teens, adult children are beyond your parental authority. You have done your best as a parent, however flawed you were. (We all were!) You must trust God with this child you have raised. Embrace them and love them as a fellow believer–Jesus asks that of you. Do not shun them or take other action, which will only alienate you from their lives. Instead, look forward to the many major life events ahead, and be there for them as you wanted your parents to be there for you.
8. Put other peoples’ responses aside
The opinion of your pastor, your Bible group, or your extended family are not as important as your son or daughter’s well-being. Put others’ opinions aside and focus on how God would lead you specifically. If you can’t say in your heart that your child is more important than others’ opinions, then seek the Lord about this and ask Him to restore your priorities.
9. Bear your son’s or daughter’s burdens
Let the weight of unanswered questions and discomfort rest on you. You are not the one being pressured to change your identity. Your child has the whole rest of the world to navigate; you are uniquely equipped to help bear their burden and so fulfill the law of Christ, as Galatians 6:2 tells us. Your relationship with your child calls for that much. Don’t press for answers or easy solutions. As with other big events in life, get comfortable with not knowing, and patiently let God reveal answers in His timing.
10. Finally, remember that we are not responsible to change people’s behavior
Not our job, even with our children, especially as they get older. If you think you’re going to make your pianist into a football player, give it up now. Jesus is not about behavior modification; He is about life, His life flowing through us. That is what grace (kharis) means — to let Jesus’ love flow through us instead of feeling obligated to fix everything. Your job is to love people, especially your child. Let God use this situation to show you what it means to love unconditionally. While we love others, God is at work in ways we can’t see.
I discuss Bible passages in depth in many posts on this blog. I encourage you to read more posts here, and look at my website’s resources page, if you like. But please understand that even if we disagree, nothing changes regarding our responsibility, our blessing as a Mom or a Dad to unconditionally love, accept and affirm our gay children – as God has done with us.
This road is likely not one you would have chosen, nor initially welcomed. But if you seek it, God will show you the beauty of the journey. Perhaps God has chosen you for such a time as this, to shine love amidst all the anger and hate (even if your beliefs about it never change). Perhaps God will work through you to restore the love of Jesus that has been so maligned to a group of people who need God — as we all do. God is good at giving us quandaries we didn’t expect, to rock our little tiny worldviews. God shakes everything that can be shaken until all that is left is what is unshakeable. Cling to God in this time, and you will discover something wonderful — for you and your family.
Susan is a prominent voice for Christian parents of LGBT children. She is an international speaker, teacher, theologian and pastoral counselor. She is the Founder and President of FreedHearts and FreedHearts Online. Her book “Mom, I’m Gay”—Loving Your LGBTQ Child and Strengthening Your Faith is published by Westminster John Knox Press. She is also the author of a healing workbook for LGBT - True Colors: Celebrating the Truth and Beauty of the Real You. She has just released full comprehensive video courses for Christian parents of LGBT children, for those who are LGBT, and for the faith community. You can find details on Susan, her books and video courses, and lots of other great resources at www.FreedHearts.org
See previous articles on Periecho by Susan Cottrell