Friday, June 29, 2012

An Open Letter to Christian Parents of LGBT Children

I'm addressing this letter to parents whose children have come out to them or have otherwise been discovered by them to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, questioning, or otherwise "queer". I'm especially addressing those parents who are struggling with the interaction of their faith and their duties as parents to their kids of LGBT identity.

For many parents, this can be a difficult time, one that challenges their faith. After all, doesn't the Bible promise "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it"? How then can your child abandon the clear teachings of scripture for such an identity? It seems the only clear choices are either that the Bible promise is untrue or that you did something wrong as a parent.

First, you need to know that God chose you to be the parent of your LGBT child. It was a relationship He chose to work for your benefit, for your child's well-being, and for His glory. Trust Him to know what He's doing and open your heart to His leading.

Second, please keep in mind that what your child is telling you is about his or her attractions, not his or her sex life. Think back to when you were young and you had your first crush-- how tongue-tied and breathless and heart-pounding it was to be in the presence of your crush; how you thought about them, talked about them, may have doodled their name. It wasn't about sex. Indeed, you were probably too young at the time to even think about more than possibly holding hands. Just being in their presence seemed like enough for an eternity. Think about the first time you fell in love. You didn't choose who you fell in love with. It just happened. This is the same experience your gay or lesbian child has had-- only his or her first crush, his or her first love was someone of the same sex. Even though this information is new to you, keep in mind that this is the same child as before he or she came out to you. He or she has always been LGBT. You just didn't know it. He was gay when he was 8. She was bi when she was 6. Sie was genderqueer at age 11. Put aside the idea that this is only or even primarily about sex.

Third, allow me to assure you that your child's LGBT identity is not in any way your fault. Many ministries will claim that LGBT identity is due to something the parents did-- their marriage was poor, they were too clingy or too distant, too permissive or too strict, and so on. They are wrong. Your child is LGBT for the simple reason that they were born neurologically different than the majority. While there have been some studies indicating genetic and fetal development has a part, the simple fact is that human sexuality is complex and we don't fully know what causes a person to be LGBT. What we do know is that it is inborn and unchosen.

But what of Proverbs 22:6? Regardless of what science says, doesn't scripture say that this is somehow your fault?

The book Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors By Douglas K. Stuart has this to say about this particular verse:

This verse is usually translated about as follows: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." But when you analyze the words' meaning ranges closely, you find no Hebrew equivalent for the English "should." ...

(Remember: The more well known a wording in the Bible is, the more hesitant modern professional translations are to depart from it, even when they dislike it, for fear that people will not buy a Bible that has changed the wording of one of their "favorite verses.") ...

Thus with regard to Proverbs 22:6, what you can easily determine by patiently consulting a lexicon is that [al-piy] means "according to" and that [derek] means simply "way," so that [darko] means either "his way" or "his own way." The first half of this poetic couplet actually says, then, "Train a child according to his (own) way." You still find nothing about "should" here. The real point of the verse, you conclude rightly, is that a child who is allowed selfishly to do what he or she wants when young will have the same selfish tendencies as an adult.

In other words, this verse isn't a promise, but a warning similar to many others in Proverbs. So, no, dear parents, you are not at fault for your child's LGBT identity. You have not trained up your child wrong. Rest easy and do not let others heap blame on you.

I want to take a moment here to specifically address parents of trans* children. Many people accuse trans* folks of going against God's obvious will for their lives if they seek to inhabit the gender with which they identify by in any way changing their body, or adopting the dress, habits, and name of their identified gender. These people argue "God made you male/female and you shouldn't mess with that." These arguments ignore two factors. One, scientific studies have shown that trans* people are neurologically similar to those of the gender they identify with, rather than those of their genital sex. It is simplistic to claim that God's will for a person's life rests only in the genitalia he or she was born with but not in his or her brain. Second, we correct many abnormalities and birth defects without giving a second thought to whether correcting them violates God's will. Deaf children are given cochlear implants. Those with cleft palates and cleft lips have those deformities repaired. Children with holes in their hearts have those closed. We fix a myriad of issues. Now, I'm not claiming that gender dysphoria is a birth defect or a deformity, but for many trans* people, keeping the sex they were born with is not optimal in much the same way as leaving a birth defect as-is is often not optimal, though in many cases it is survivable. We seek to relieve these children's suffering. We should do no less for trans* people.

But now let us return to that parenthetical statement up there. "Remember: The more well known a wording in the Bible is, the more hesitant modern professional translations are to depart from it, even when they dislike it, for fear that people will not buy a Bible that has changed the wording of one of their 'favorite verses.'"

I want you to think about that. I want you to consider that maybe the clear teachings of scripture aren't what you think they are. The simple fact of the matter is that Bible translators are human. They come to their task with biases, both personal and cultural. And they are also swayed by the need to have their translation accepted by eventual users and purchasers. Anything that deviates too far from previous understandings and cultural norms is likely to be rejected, and their translation job with it.

Before you speak to your child about the clear teachings of scriptures, I encourage you to study the passages in question. Consider their contexts-- both the people to whom they were written, the culture they were written within, and the original textual meanings. Don't automatically accept that the English translations are correct. Please, dear parents, don't drive your child from his or her faith, from your love, or from your home by rejecting them based on a handful of scriptures. I have included a few resources below.

I believe when you have studied God's word, that you will find there is no shame in your child's LGBT identity. It's no more sinful than dark skin or blue eyes or left-handedness or being ADHD.

So what should you say to your child?

First, you need to assure him or her of your unconditional love. God's love is unchanging, regardless of what we have done or not done. As much as you are able, your love for your child should be likewise. Do not withhold your love out of some sense that your child can or will change their sexual orientation to win it back. If you have already spoken hurtful or unloving things, honestly seek your child's forgiveness.

Second, you need to make sure your child knows that you appreciate the honesty and trust he or she has shown you and that you are willing to do more listening and less talking. This is not about you. This is not about what the church or the neighbours or your maiden auntie will think. This is about your child learning to live inside the body they were created to inhabit. For any person, this can be a hard journey. For a child who is somehow different, it can be even more difficult. Suicide statistics for LGBT teens are frightening, but the one bright spot among them is that LGBT teens with supportive families are far less likely to give in to despair than those whose families reject them. Be that family. Allow him or her to share struggles and joys and hopes and dreams. Allow this to be something that brings you together, rather than separating you.

Third, reassure him or her that you are on this spiritual journey together to understand God's will for your family. This is not a time to preach, but a time to seek. Seek together and remember to listen more than you speak. I know there's a temptation to rush here, to either completely reject the idea that same-sex relationships could be moral or to abandon those scripture passages altogether for the sake of your child. Please, don't feel pressured to rush. Make sure your child understands that this may take time, but that you will not abandon your love for him or her. Your support for your child is important, but so is your faith. Take the time to nurture both.

Fourth, as a parent, you can and should hold your LGBT child to the same standards to which you would hold a cisgendered (that is to say, someone whose physical sex and neurological gender match up) and straight child. By remaining open and honest as a parent, you can uphold values of love and respect in romantic relationships, regardless of whether those relationships are opposite sex or same sex. But! This should not be the focus of your parenting any more than it is the focus of your relationship with your straight children. Sexual orientation and gender identity should not be cause for mistrust.

Fifth and last, it is understandable that you might experience a period of grieving for the lost dreams and hopes you had for your child, for an imagined future that will never be. Just simply by virtue of being a gender or sexual minority, your child is going to face more difficulties in life. But in truth, none of us have ever led a "normal life" because there is no such thing. Now is the time to give those dreams a good, hard look, grieve them for a while, and then set them aside to embrace a hope for the future based in your child's newly disclosed truth. The dreams may change in ways large and small, but if you are there for your child, they are more likely to be realised.

Some reading or watching you can do:
What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality by Daniel Helminiak
The Best Case for the Bible NOT Condemning Homosexuality by John Shore
Ron Goetz on the Clobber Passages
Ron Goetz on Translator Bias
ReligiousTolerance.org's Review of the Views on the Bible and Homosexuality
Homosexuality and the Bible, a review of two perspectives by Loren L. Johns, Professor of New Testament at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary
The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality video-- long, but worthwhile.
Two movies I highly recommend are For the Bible Tells Me So and Fish Out of Water, which were both available on Netflix streaming at the time of this writing.

22 comments:

  1. Well written and presents useful, well thought helpful understanding. Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. You're welcome! And thanks for commenting.

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  2. Thank you. I wish my parents had this in their hands 40 years ago. It would've made life easier for everyone.

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    1. Indeed! I've heard the same thing from so many of my lgbt friends. Nowadays, there's so much information out there that it seems like it should be easier for this next generation, but it's almost too much information -- so daunting for parents! So I was hoping to bring a small island of calm amidst all the noise and pressure to rush.

      Thanks for your kind words!

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  3. Well said, Lynette. I like your blog--gonna post a link to this on my FB page. You go girl!

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  4. How fortunate some parents will be to read this sage advice. When I came out at 38, I was the homeschool mom of 2 teenagers. My church, a reformed southern baptist congregation, announced my "sin" to the entire congregation. My husband was instructed not to speak to me and they funded a lawyer for our divorce for him. I was made to leave my home and all possesions and lost custody of my 2 children. I left 23 years together with my 9 year old car, my clothes and 3 pieces of furniture that I had inherited.

    In another public worship service, my church prayed for my death. My mother and her family would not speak to me (except when she called me a "militant lesbian bitch" for not wanting to stay in the closet. She also called me a "despicable human being" and my ex-husband was invited to all family functions while I was left without support.

    I genuinely thought that when I realized that my sin wasn't being gay, but rather lying about it, telling the truth would set me free. I had no idea of the wretched misery that was in store for me.

    That was 4 years ago. One child is in college, the other went back and asked the judge to give me custody and she moved in with me and my partner and continues to thrive. I had to go to college for the first time and I am a junior with a 3.86 GPA. Things are so much better now but the rest of my life will be without a mom because she refuses to have a gay daughter.

    I just want to let the parents out there know that it's okay to take time to process this information. It is NOT okay to name call, try to shame your child or to act like they have some responsibility to change. You can no more change your sexuality than you can your eye color.

    1 Corinthians 13:13 "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." If love is greater than faith, love your child. You will not be disappointed! You will not miss out on having them invite you into their private world! You will not miss out on watching them accomplish things and taste success! You will not miss out on being sought out for wisdom and input. You will not miss out on having them dote on you and honor you. Love your children!

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story!

      I wanted to apologise for not deleting the homophobic bigot's rant to you sooner. I've been rather busy this weekend and this is the first time I've visited the page since it was posted.

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    2. I believe the reply from Stephen Hartley below is intended for you.

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  5. You're a great mom, and this is a great post. Thanks for being transparent and honest.

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  6. We appear to have attracted a homophobic, antisemitic bigot who likes to post sexually explicit materials on a blog that is read by the general public, including potentially my 14-year-old son, his friends, my 21-year-old offspring and hir friends, whose ages range from 14 to somewhere in their 20s, my quite-conservative parents, members and staff from my church, and junior high and high school students from my church. This will not be tolerated. I apologise to those inadvertently exposed to this mouth-breather's hatred.

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  7. The courage it takes to come out - after living a lie for so many years. You are to be congratulated. None of us were put on earth to judge others those that do commit a sin themselves.

    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story. I always love the ones that end.....happily ever after

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    1. Thank you for your encouragement.

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  8. It is wonderfully written right up to the paragraph on trans*. Please, if you're going to write about transsexuals use the word transsexual. Trans* and transgender are 'umbrella' terms refer to different groups of gender variant people. I am a transsexual. I am not a cross dresser, drag queen, gender queer, intersex, etc.

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    1. I intended to use the umbrella term and not just reference transsexuals, but all gender-variant folks.

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  9. You and your readers might find this a hope-giving video; it's a portrait of transgender Episcopal clergy and lay leaders: http://youtu.be/QzCANWGsEdc

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  10. Downright excellent. Could save lives! :-D This is now on my (quite long) short list of resources:

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/matthew-equality-winkel/resources-for-those-who-dont-quite-get-it-yet-and-those-who-must-debate-them/10150873255220178

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