Providing Safe Places for Parents

One by one they started opening up to each other. Their stories had similarities. Yet each one was different. As the parents who had gathered in this living room began to share their feelings, I realized I could only imagine what this journey had been like for them. But when they started talking about their son or daughter who is gay, I understood. Listening to fathers’ hearts, expressing their love for their daughters and sons, and mothers sharing their desire to stay in relationship with their children no matter what, I remembered the power of my own parents’ neverending love.

The power of God’s unconditional love being experienced through parents’ love.

That’s made all the difference in my life.

Last week I met with people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the launching of a support group for parents of gay daughters and sons. These are Christian families. Most have grown up in churches that could be described as conservative in their theology to varying degrees. For the vast majority of these moms and dads, it has been a difficult journey, a painful path of realizing that the children they’ve raised are different from them in their sexual orientation. Part of the pain comes from the fact that the difference in sexual orientation conflicts with their Christian faith.

But much of the pain for these parents comes from the isolation they feel in not having any safe place to share their feelings.

“It was two years after learning that our son was gay before we felt comfortable in telling the people who were closest to us – our small group at church,” one mother said. 

After listening to parents’ stories, one of the first things I ask them is, “Do you have anyone at church – any friends whom you’re close to – that you feel like you could talk to about this?”

Most often the answer is “no, we haven’t shared this with anyone.” 

Unfortunately, the stigma that remains in Christian communities for anyone who experiences same-sex attraction – and for their families –is so great, we dare not share this part of ourselves with anyone in church. As a result, we have families sitting all around us who are carrying what they feel as a tremendous burden – especially upon first learning their child is gay – without any support from their brothers and sisters in Christ. The very place we’re commanded to “bear one another’s burdens.”

So until we get past the shame of talking about same-sex attraction in our churches, we must create venues in which parents can share their feelings and connect with others who can relate to their experience. That’s why groups like this are so important.

Maybe we don’t need to have all the answers to provide a safe place for parents to open up. Maybe we just throw some cookies and lemonade together and invite people over to share their stories. Maybe they’ll hear a story that resonates with theirs and encourages them. Maybe they’ll exchange phone numbers.

Maybe they’ll feel a little lighter when they leave.

A little less alone.

 

 

 

7 Thoughts

  1. Loveis, thank you for your kind words to me. I’m afraid my two years of promiscuity made maintaining a friendship with my ex-wife impossible. We maintain some contact but not in person. This ties in with my concern for gay youth today in conservative denominations like Churches of Christ who teach that celibacy is the only option that is acceptable to God.

    Celibacy in terms of one’s sexual orientation comes at a high price. I was 52 before I ever acted on my sexual orientation. Denying as illegitimate and sinful such a fundamental part of who I am either caused or greatly exacerbated my mental illness. There was always a big part of who I am that I had to keep hidden from others at all cost. It has often been said that men have sexual thoughts on average every six seconds. That has always seemed something of an exaggeration to me but it might not be too far off the mark. Feeling badly about one’s thoughts that many times a day 7 days a week, 365 days a year, year after year after year, over time destroys one from the inside.

    There were definitely times when, as a closeted gay man, I had a close devotional relationship with God and an active prayer life. During those times I could be fairly successful at banishing homosexual thoughts and fantasies from my mind. But even that provided no escape. During those times my dreams would turn more to homosexual themes. Those dream fantasies were more powerful than any fantasies my conscious mind could invent. I entirely understand why so many gay Christian men have committed suicide. They come to feel that there is no escape.

    There was another development that I could not have foreseen when I married my ex-wife in my early 20’s. The sex drive of young men is so strong that even many gay men can have sex with a woman. But, in my case, that became more and more difficult when I was in my 40’s. I suspect this is true for most gay men. As we age our sexual drive inescapeably becomes more and more focused on our true sexual orientation. A gay man who marries a woman while he’s in his 20’s or 30’s may well be able to maintain an active heterosexual relationship. But he likely won’t be able to do that in his 50’s and 60’s.

    So the young gay Christian man who marries a woman with the pure intention of pleasing God may feel betrayed by God as he grows older. I know I did. I did everything “right” for forty years after becoming aware of my homosexuality. I even avoided computers because I knew the temptations they would bring. Yet in the end I was left with a death wish. I’ve worked through those feelings of betrayal by God now. God has been good to me and given me a wonderful partner and a very supportive church with all the Stone-Campbell traditions I dearly love. But my heart goes out for other young gay Church of Christ men who may be making the same mistakes I made.

  2. Your story is helpful Gary…thank you. I love being given the hope of a life that remains faithful to God…that there is a church that a gay man can call home. I hope it is a place that you feel like a vital member that can function without judgement and all that judgement can bring. I hope you and your ex-wife remain friends. I know it probably is way complex but I guess that my wish for her would be healing and the deep restoration that comes from Jesus. And with that restoration would come an understanding, compassion and heart for your story. I am a married woman who doesn’t struggle with same-sex attraction. But there are some aspects of your story that I can relate with. I have understood depression. That is a hellish place that draws hearts together no matter what your place in life is. And I see pictures of my own son in some of the things you say. When you talk about the way you fell in love with your wife (skin, smell, etc), I see that in the way he relates to women. He loves them, relates beautifully with them, they love him, etc. He is a young adult and we only very recently have found out he is gay. But I know he has lived in a world (church/school) where there was no doubt in his mind, he would NOT have had a safe place to even talk to anyone at all. He is now in college and has found a safe place. My fear is that it isn’t a place that draws him to God. He is a great kid and my hope is that he wants to be around healthy people. And I pray that he is surrounded by people of God and that His Spirit hovers heavily over him. I forget sometimes that God is at work. I walk in faith of the mystery of all of that. The interesting thing is (and this is where my husband and I find ourselves alone) I see and understand why certain public icons are such a draw to him. They give him a home…tell him that it is ok…he was born this way. And he was! I have been with him for his entire life. He was aware from a young age. He has no trauma. I don’t even pretend to argue with God of who he made him to be. Our experience with our son is this was here since he was born. Church can’t argue with us about this. It isn’t their experience it is ours. And yes there is much that I am sad of that the world pushes. That isn’t my point. Another interesting thing we see is the whole thing of, “love the sinner hate the sin”, and someone saying my son is a prodigal. Really this isn’t helpful. I don’t see my son as a prodigal I see my son on a difficult life journey where the church judges and condemns him (love the sinner hate the sin) and the world calls him in and offers love without conditions. Even in a Christian support group I suspect you hear the same type of language. When I first found out from my son I listened, I assured him of my love and I expressed my concerns (high suicide rate, promiscuous sex and him walking away from God instead of toward Him). Afterwards I fell apart. I ordered every book I could put my hands on. I searched the internet. And I’m 100 percent certain that I heard God tell me to lay the questions down. You can find the “answer” you want. Just depends on who you ask. Even in the Christian world. He isn’t asking me to find the answers (heaven/hell/salvation/right/wrong). He has asked me to LOVE MY SON…all agendas, expectations and fears put down. I would like a support group where that is the question. How do I love my son/daughter well – minus myself and all the baggage that comes with that!

  3. My concern is for gay youth today in Churches of Christ who in their desire to please God may make the same mistake I made and marry someone of the opposite sex. Whatever stance one takes on celibacy or companionship for gay persons, mixed gay-straight marriages are terribly cruel sooner or later for all concerned. Conservative Christian denominations like Churches of Christ are still prone to leaving gay youth with the strong impression that the best and most pleasing to God option for them is to marry someone of the opposite sex. I will take to my grave the burden of the grave harm that my doing that did to my family and my church family. Please, let’s let our gay youth know that that is not the answer.

    1. While I know some happily married couples where one of them experiences same-sex attraction, I know others whose stories mirror yours. So often – in earlier times for certain – we thought (wrongly) that if we just got married to someone of the opposite sex, that our feelings of attraction to the same sex would go away. Thankfully we’re learning that just isn’t the case. Unfortunately that thinking was a dangerous simplification of something so complex. Those friends of mine in heterosexual marriages are quick to tell you they still experience attraction to their own gender. Their relationships, their lives, aren’t without struggle, just like the rest of us. I wholeheartedly respect and support their decisions to marry, but I agree with you, Gary, that encouraging, promoting marriage as a way to “not be gay” is harmful. To everyone involved.

  4. Sally, I am thankful for this effort. It is needed everywhere and has been needed for a long time. I’m an openly gay man with a life companion. I’m a member now of an open and affirming Disciples of Christ congregation but I spent the first 53 years of my life in Churches of Christ and still love this fellowship very much. My parents do not approve of my decisions regarding my homosexuality but we are much closer now than we were before I came out. They have stood by me through this earthquake in my life and I will forever be grateful for their unconditional love and support. I wish they had a group available to them like the one you describe. So many in their situation have no one they feel they can talk to.

    I am also concerned for the gay youth growing up in Churches of Christ today as I did from the late 50’s to the early 70’s. I was always one of the good kids in church every time the door was open and active in every youth activity even as I became aware of my homosexual orientation by the age of 11. I took to heart the teaching and the preaching (except for the anti-instrumental doctrine. Even as a high school student I could read my Bible and see that that was a tangent without biblical support.)

    I went to a Christian college not sure of what my future would be. I didn’t think that I would ever marry. But then I met a wonderful Christian girl and I fell in love with her in every way possible except for sexual arousal. I loved not only her beautiful personality but her appearance and the feel of her hair and skin and her enticing perfume but there was no sexual arousal. We continued to date and I didn’t know what to do because I could see that the road we were on would lead to marriage.

    I finally told her that I thought I was homosexual and I assumed she would stop dating me but she didn’t. Neither of us realized the consequences of what I said. She thought it was a mixed up phase I was going through. I took her continuing to date me as a sign from God that I should marry her. I was a virgin until my wedding night in every sense of the word. I didn’t know but that marrying a woman might eliminate my homosexual attractions and fantasies. I went to see a Church of Christ counselor for several months. I don’t remember his exact words but he was fine with my marrying a woman. He at least left me with the impression that my homosexual feelings would disappear after heterosexual marriage.

    We married and had many good years especially when our children were young. There were even times when my homosexual attractions would subside but not for long. After my first major depression in college I continued to have periodic times of black depression. I was afraid we would not be able to get health insurance if I got psychiatric help so I just suffered through those times. As I got older those times became more frequent and took a toll on my marriage and my parenting.

    Around the time I turned 50 I began to have medical problems that changed my life forever. Along with them came crushing constant depression that caused me to no longer want to live. I would not commit suicide but I prayed many nights that God would take my life before morning. The physical relationship with my wife had become only a few times a year and then ended altogether when I became unable to initiate intimacy.

    During that time I unexpectedly had an opportunity to have sex with another man and succumbed to that temptation for the first time in my life. I was overwhelmed with guilt but, to my surprise, wanted to live again for the first time in a very long time. What followed was almost two years of times of extreme promiscuity punctuated by times I tried to stop. Eventually my wife found out and we finally separated and divorced.

    My life is still not easy but I do want to live now. I see a psychologist and psychiatrist regularly and have a supportive partner and church family. But I will always be haunted by how much I hurt so many people and my ex-wife especially. That beautiful Christian girl I met in college deserved so much better than the anguish and heartache I brought her. She deserved a husband who could love her without reservation in every way she deserved to be loved

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