if your kid comes out to you

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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.

~

 

  • http://adelasteria.blogspot.com/ K. Elizabeth Danahy

    Oh this is radiant.

  • Sheri

    Hey Ben – Just wanted to tell you “You. Are. Brave. You have guts. You inspire me. You are so, so brave. AND You are loved.” I will share this blog post on my page because, well, EVERYONE should read it.

    Your words, ‘The faith many of us were raised in told us this was a deal-breaker.’ This has to be one of the most heart-breaking things I’ve read. It explains in plain English why my gay friends are not Christians & are violently opposed to even the thought of a church or a Christian. Although my son is not gay, I pray that I would be able to respond in the way of love, if he was. I do want to be one of those people at the Gay Christian Network that has a button on that says, Free Mom Hugs. Wow. How important is that!

    Ben – Thank you for sharing your story. You did it very eloquently. Thank you.

    • http://www.registeredrunaway.com/ Benjamin Moberg

      Thank you Sheri! No pressure, but you totally could be one of those parents! The Gay Christian Network is in Portland this coming January, open and welcome to all!

      • Sheri

        Thanks for the info. Do they ever have anything in Mpls or nearby states?

  • Micah Seppanen

    Really great post. I pray and hope these words find their way to the computer screen of many parents.

    Thanks for your blog. Many times your posts come in times when I’m feeling down, frustrated or overcome with grief for how the Church is handling all of this.

    • http://www.registeredrunaway.com/ Benjamin Moberg

      Thank you Micah :)

  • http://intelligentanderuditejew.blogspot.co.uk/ Hannah

    Hi Ben,

    Fab post, thanks. (:

  • http://musingsfromabricolage.wordpress.com/ Emily Heitzman

    Wow, Ben, this is so good. And you ARE brave! Thank you for being a bold and brave voice for so many others out there who need some encouragement or who don’t yet know how to speak their own voices.

  • http://www.thewronggloria.com TWG_Gloria

    A few thoughts from a mom: I had to pull my son out of the closet. He was falling apart in front of my eyes and I couldn’t just stand by and watch it. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back but to add more firepower to the arsenal you’re offering parents. We can pay attention to our children and proactively talk to them about the reaction they would get if they are a sexual minority. We can take away the wondering and the fear and the heaviness that accompanies the coming out process by circumventing most of it, at least the part of it that involves us.

    That said, once he was out my loneliness and fear as his mom were almost paralyzing. Our church is more conservative than Russell Moore’s SBC. A month after my son came out to his dad, an ex-gay “ministry” happened to be on the calendar and my suspicions were confirmed; my completely affirming stance would not be approved in that situation. I watched rather helplessly as he came out to his church friends–boys who had been over countless times for sleepovers–and one by one they dropped him, told him he was going to hell if he didn’t change.

    In a strange way, I understand why Dr. Moore gives the advice he gives. He knows he couldn’t handle the very real lack of support for the parents of gay kids in conservative evangelical churches. It’s selfish as hell of him, of course, and he shouldn’t be off the hook IN ANY WAY for his “advice.” Still, it’s easy for RHE and Momastery to say that they would be fully supportive given the community they’ve built around themselves. If anything, I think that’s one of their more important contributions. The words they would say are great; the place their children would already be in is better.

    A few thoughts from a gay daughter: I got to come out to my parents as a 45 year old married woman, mom to 8 kids, and I was terrified, too! As you might expect, they were bewildered and confused. Fortunately, they were also my parents and said that, no matter what, we would get through it. And we are. It’s bumpy for them; they would prefer not to have a gay daughter and gay grandson. They have expressed their opinion that it would be fine if I didn’t “pursue” that part of myself and I have expressed my opinion that I thought they would prefer an alive gay daughter to a dead one…and then suggested they start reading.

    I’ll not give my few thoughts as a gay mom, although there are a few of us out here who also had the experience of coming out to our children. That’s certainly an interesting dynamic!

    Thank you for writing this. I do hope it comes up on search engines as parents desperately look for help and healing.

    • Sheri

      Thanks for sharing your perspective.

    • http://www.registeredrunaway.com/ Benjamin Moberg

      Thank you so much for sharing here, Gloria. And, oh my heart, I’ll be praying for your son. That isn’t easy. It never is. But he is one step further out of the dark of shame, and that means something. Thank you for sharing your story too! Quite the interesting dynamic! Would love to see you write about that, flesh that out some more!

  • http://benirwin.wordpress.com/ Ben Irwin

    I forced myself to watch the John MacArthur video you mentioned… and then I forced myself not to throw my computer across the room.

    For someone who claims to love the Bible (more than people, evidently), MacArthur does a heckuva job misquoting it. He tries to justify shunning a gay child based on Matthew 18. Seriously? This passage is about what to do if someone sins against you personally. Even IF it could be shown that being gay was a sin, how exactly would my child be sinning AGAINST ME if they were gay? Unless, of course, this is really about throwing people under the bus, as opposed to living in harmony with each other—i.e. what Jesus actually envisioned.

    Seriously good post, Ben. I have two young kids. If either of them happens to be gay, just know that I will be following your advice to the letter. (In case you wonder whether writing any of this stuff makes a difference.)

    • http://intelligentanderuditejew.blogspot.co.uk/ Hannah

      Hi Ben,

      I agree about the video. How is that supposed to help anyone stay within their faith group or convince a ‘non believer’ to join it? And how is coming out as gay an automatic sin without actually doing anything (being gay isn’t a sin anyway) that needs repentance? I’ve seen how that attitude can lead to hurt, as one of my best friends was an ultra Evangelical (I’m ecumenical/interfaith you see) who was and still is, very observant and knew the bible and everything, but suffered the consequences (so to speak) when she herself came out a couple of years ago.

    • http://www.registeredrunaway.com/ Benjamin Moberg

      I had a “gag reflex” in watching that post (which makes me morally in the right, according to Thabitt Anyabwile). It was so horrendous, so dangerous, and I have to imagine he’s become so distant from the issue itself that all he sees are crudely drawn caricatures of gay people. MacArthur should be ashamed of himself.

      Thank you so much for your kind words Ben. I love/need to hear that this matters, because whenever I read the Russels or watch the MacArthurs of the world, I worry.

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  • http://www.edcyzewski.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    Thank you for sharing so openly from your story. We need these stories to anchor us in what love looks like.

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  • Logan81

    When I came out to my dad a couple of years ago, he did everything right. Hugged me, said he loved me no matter what, and that this changes nothing between us. After talking about it some, he followed up his words with actions, saying “We’re still going hunting this weekend, right?” That’s when I knew 100% that we were alright.

    With my mom…well, let’s just say I’m glad I talked with my dad first, and that I was 100% okay with who I was before talking with her. It could’ve been worse, but it definitely could’ve been better too.

    • http://www.registeredrunaway.com/ Benjamin Moberg

      It can be a mixed bag, everyone is allowed their journey. So incredible to hear his response about going hunting! That’s so great. Thank you for this Logan!

  • Roo James Wilson

    As always Ben, thank you. At the end of the day, it’s a pure and simple call to love…which is exactly what Jesus calls us to do. :)

  • not a wild hera

    Thank you for this. YOU ARE BRAVE.

  • http://www.tanyamarlow.com/ Tanya Marlow

    Brilliant post. I am a mother of a small child, and this is always the question in my head, ‘if he came out, what would be the ‘right’ way to react?’ I would be so fearful of saying something unintentionally hurtful at a point of immense vulnerability. This was just a really, really helpful and reassuring post. Just love. The greatest of these is love.
    Thank you.

    • http://www.registeredrunaway.com/ Benjamin Moberg

      Thank you Tanya. I’m finding that more and more parents are starting to think through this as more and more people come out. Which is a good thing. It is also why the Moores and MacArthurs are in a bit of a panic.

  • acousticmom

    Ben, thank you for this. As a mom of a gay 20-year old (and one of the button-wearers at the conference), I get emotionally wrecked by statements like Moore’s and MacArthur’s. You have encouraged me so much today. Your words hug me back.

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  • http://www.bethmorey.com/ Beth

    beautifully, beautifully said. thank you. thank you.

  • http://freedhearts.wordpress.com Susan Cottrell Freedhearts

    Beautiful Benjamin! I have no words. LOVE your blog, always. Love to you.

  • Chris Blackmore

    I care not a fig what you do with your bits, or who you do it with, but I would advise you to get rid of that religion thing before it sends you barking mad with the guilt trip laid on lonely blokes in the desert two thousand years ago.

  • Bryan Brady

    This speaks to me greatly and with love, too. I needed to hear it as someone who is struggling with same-sex attraction: http://www.thevillagechurch.net/the-village-blog/honesty-truth-and-homosexuality/

    • http://thephyseter.wordpress.com The_Physeter

      *facepalm*

      This guy has HEARD. ALL of THAT. BEFORE.

      Every homosexual has. No one who has ever ONCE been in a conversation about homosexuality, or ever read a story about politics, can avoid hearing this point of view.

      Yes, we get it: you claim your ancient book trumps medical science. Yes we get it: you want to warn people they’re going to hell, so you can save them from going there. If you’ve read anything Ben has written on this post at all, you would know that this kind of message is NOT loving, even if you think it is. It is NOT helpful. It does not help gay people “repent” or “change”.

      Look, if you are bi, and choose to only sleep with the opposite sex, good for you. That’s your business. You don’t get to assume that’s a valid choice for everyone. And Ben, I’m glad you find comfort in your religion and all, but this kind of post is exactly why I can’t accept any of the Bible anymore.

    • http://intelligentanderuditejew.blogspot.co.uk/ Hannah

      Hi Bryan,

      Well I wish you blessings in being able to come to a positive conclusion about whatever it is you are struggling about with same sex attraction. I hope you come to conclude that there is nothing wrong with LGBTQ people & that none of this is a sin and if you really are gay that you will receive support from those closet to you, but of course you need to reach your own conclusions & live your own life.

      I read the article you’d linked to. Alas it is the same old same old. Take away the idea that being LGBTQ is a sin and there is not much left to the argument. It isn’t a sin- although it would be helpful if the Evangelical Christians could make their minds as to what is the sin here- is it the orientation or some form of sex act ? (at least my own fundies are clear it is the sex act which is prohibited, like not eating pork or shellfish).

      The other matter which made me LOL (with all due respect) is this issue of idolatry, which is the most stupidest argument I hear against LGBTQ people. Sorry but how is being gay or having gay sex idolatry? How? Why? Where? What? As is the idea that all LGBTQ people are somehow consumed with ‘lust’. Again a pretty poor argument.

      Look, I have a girlfriend/partner (OK, one sounds a bit teenagerish, the other like its a business relationship!) whom I love and care about very much. I also have many friends of different religions, races, sexual and sex backgrounds; my best friends are a former Evangelical now Progressive Christian lesbian and an atheist/agnostic straight man. But in the case of my lesbian friends, that doesn’t mean to say I ‘lust’ after them, because like most people I’m capable of developing purely platonic friendships with people, of whatever background.

  • http://littledidsheknow.net/ Cara Strickland

    Oh Ben. I’m crying big hot tears now.
    I am so thankful for you and your heart and your words.
    And you are brave, dear one. Thank you for leading the way with bravery.

  • Aidan Bird

    You are the reason I keep coming back to Christianity. No, seriously, you are.

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  • Erin

    First, this is beautiful as always. I love your writing. Second, I started to write a comment adding things I wish I had heard from my parents when I came out, and it turned into a post. Sorry: http://threedollarsworthofgod.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/for-parents-when-your-child-comes-out/

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