What Do You Do When Your Son is Gay?

After reading this power story that Susan over at FreedHearts posted, I asked her for, and received, permission to post it in full here on the QPHC blog. It speaks for itself, and sadly is not the only story of its kind. Recently some friends lost someone in a way terribly similar to this one, only without the happy parts.

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“Mom, I’m gay.” Earth-shattering words to many conservative Christian parents — tragically, many view it as right up there with, “Your child has a brain tumor.” Actually, Christians will empathize with a brain tumor, but just try telling the church your child is gay and you will find the limit of grace withheld not only from gay Christians but from their accepting families. Not only what is said but unsaid can be oppressive for a family seeking love and truth.

I do not blame the parents in these situations for one nanosecond. Lord knows, they are trying to respond, with the wind knocked out of them, in an area where the church at large allows no breathing room. Parents blame themselves and Christians blame them. Seriously. No sooner do we hear the word gay or lesbian than we brace for impact — because we know the attack is coming.

This story was posted on FB. My daughter went to school with his brother. The mother, Linda, gave me kind permission to post this  in the hope of impacting lives and preventing tragedy. This is why our response as a Christian community matters. A real person with a real story.

The photo above is of Linda and Ryan Robertson.

Just Because He Breathes
by Linda Mueller Robertson (Notes) on Monday, April 1, 2013 at 12:35am
Written on December 5th, 2012
First posted on January 14, 2013 – Ryan’s would-have-been-24 birthday

On the night of November 20, 2001, a conversation held over Instant Messenger changed our lives forever. Our twelve year old son messaged me in my office from the computer in his bedroom.

Ryan says: can i tell u something
Mom says: Yes I am listening
Ryan says: well i don’t know how to say this really but, well……, i can’t keep lying to you about myself. I have been hiding this for too long and i sorta have to tell u now. By now u probably have an idea of what i am about to say.
Ryan says: I am gay
Ryan says: i can’t believe i just told you
Mom says: Are you joking?
Ryan says: no
Ryan says: i thought you would understand because of uncle don
Mom says: of course I would
Mom says: but what makes you think you are?
Ryan says: i know i am
Ryan says: i don’t like hannah
Ryan says: it’s just a cover-up
Mom says: but that doesn’t make you gay…
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: but u don’t understand
Ryan says: i am gay
Mom says: tell me more
Ryan says: it’s just the way i am and it’s something i know
Ryan says: u r not a lesbian and u know that it is the same thing
Mom says: what do you mean?
Ryan says: i am just gay
Ryan says: i am that
Mom says: I love you no matter what
Ryan says: i am white not black
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: i am a boy not a girl
Ryan says: i am attracted to boys not girls
Ryan says: u know that about yourself and i know this
Mom says: what about what God thinks about acting on these desires?
Ryan says: i know
Mom says: thank you for telling me
Ryan says: and i am very confused about that right now
Mom says: I love you more for being honest
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: thanx

We were completely shocked. Not that we didn’t know and love gay people – my only brother had come out to us several years before, and we adored him. But Ryan? He was unafraid of anything, tough as nails, and ALL boy. We had not seen this coming, and the emotion that overwhelmed us, kept us awake at night and, sadly, influenced all of our reactions over the next six years, was FEAR.
We said all the things that we thought loving Christian parents who believed the Bible to be the Word of God should say:
We love you. We will ALWAYS love you. And this is hard. REALLY hard. But we know what God says about this, and so you are going to have to make some really difficult choices.
We love you. But there are other men who have faced this same struggle, and God has worked in them to change their desires. We’ll get you their books…you can listen to their testimonies. And we will trust God with this.
We love you. But you are young, and your sexual orientation is still developing. The feelings you’ve had for other guys don’t make you gay. So please don’t tell anyone that you ARE gay. You don’t know who you are yet. Your identity is not that you are gay – it is that you are a child of God.

We love you. We will ALWAYS love you. But if you are going to follow Jesus, holiness is your only option. You are going to have to choose to follow Jesus, no matter what. And since you know what the Bible says, and since you want to follow God, embracing your sexuality is NOT an option.

Basically, we told our son that he had to choose between Jesus and his sexuality. We forced him to make a choice between God and being a sexual person. Choosing God, practically, meant living a lifetime of loneliness (never to fall in love, have his first kiss, hold hands, share intimacy companionship, experience romance), but it also meant the abundant life, perfect peace and eternal rewards.  So, for the first six years, he tried to choose Jesus. Like so many others before him, he pleaded with God to help him be attracted to girls. He memorized Scripture, met with his youth pastor weekly, enthusiastically participated in all the church youth group events and Bible Studies, got baptized, read all the books that claimed to know where his gay feelings came from, dove into counseling to further discover the “why’s” of his unwanted attraction to other guys, worked through painful conflict resolution with my husband and I, and built strong friendships with other guys – straight guys – just like he was told to. He even came out to his entire youth group, giving his testimony of how God had rescued him from the traps of the enemy, and sharing – by memory – verse after verse that God had used to draw Ryan to Himself.

But nothing changed. God didn’t answer his prayer – or ours – though we were all believing with faith that the God of the Universe – the God for whom NOTHING is impossible – could easily make Ryan straight. But He did not.

Though our hearts may have been good (we truly thought what we were doing was loving), we did not even give Ryan a chance to wrestle with God, to figure out what HE believed God was telling him through scripture about his sexuality. We had believed firmly in giving each of our four children the space to question Christianity, to decide for themselves if they wanted to follow Jesus, to truly OWN their own faith. But we were too afraid to give Ryan that room when it came to his sexuality, for fear that he’d make the wrong choice.

And so, just before his 18th birthday, Ryan, depressed, suicidal, disillusioned and convinced that he would never be able to be loved by God, made a new choice. He decided to throw out his Bible and his faith at the same time, and to try searching for what he desperately wanted – peace – another way. And the way he chose to try first was drugs.

We had – unintentionally – taught Ryan to hate his sexuality. And since sexuality cannot be separated from the self, we had taught Ryan to hate himself. So as he began to use drugs, he did so with a recklessness and a lack of caution for his own safety that was alarming to everyone who knew him.

Suddenly our fear of Ryan someday having a boyfriend (a possibility that honestly terrified me) seemed trivial in contrast to our fear of Ryan’s death, especially in light of his recent rejection of Christianity, and his mounting anger at God.

Ryan started with weed and beer…but in six short months was using cocaine, crack and heroin. He was hooked from the beginning, and his self-loathing and rage at God only fueled his addiction. Shortly after, we lost contact with him. For the next year and a half we didn’t know where he was, or even if he was dead or alive. And during that horrific time, God had our full attention. We stopped praying for Ryan to become straight. We started praying for him to know that God loved him. We stopped praying for him never to have a boyfriend. We started praying that someday he’d come back to Jesus. We even stopped praying for him to come home to us…we only wanted him to come home to God.

By the time our son called us, after 18 long months of silence, God had completely changed our perspective. Because Ryan had done some pretty terrible things while using drugs, the first thing he asked me was this:

Do you think you can ever forgive me? (I told him of course, he was already forgiven. He had ALWAYS been forgiven.)

Do you think you could ever love me again? (I told him that we had never stopped loving him, not for one second. We loved him then more than we had ever loved him.)

Do you think you could even love me with a boyfriend? (Crying, I told him that we could love him with fifteen boyfriends. We just wanted him back in our lives. We just wanted to have a relationship with him again…AND with his boyfriend.)

And a new journey was begun. One of healing, restoration, open communication and grace. LOTS of grace. And God was present every step of the way, leading and guiding us, gently reminding us simply to love our son, and leave the rest up to Him.

Over the next ten months, we learned to love our son. Period. No buts. No conditions. Just because he breathes. We learned to love whoever our son loved. And it was easy. What I had been so afraid of became a blessing. The journey wasn’t without mistakes, but we had grace for each other, and the language of apology and forgiveness became a natural part of our relationship. As our son pursued recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, we pursued him. God taught us how to love him, to rejoice over him, to be proud of the man he was becoming. We were all healing…and most importantly, Ryan began to think that if WE could forgive him and love him, then maybe God could, too.

And then Ryan made the classic mistake of a recovering addict…he got back together with his old friends…his using friends. And one evening that was supposed to simply be a night at the movies turned out to be the first time he had shot up in ten months…and the last time. Ryan died on July 16, 2009. And we lost the ability to love our gay son…because we no longer had a gay son. What we had wished for…prayed for…hoped for…that we would NOT have a gay son, came true. But not at all in the way we used to envision.

Now, when I think back on the fear that governed all my reactions during those first six years after Ryan told us he was gay, I cringe as I realize how foolish I was. I was afraid of all the wrong things. And I grieve, not only for my oldest son, who I will miss every day for the rest of my life, but for the mistakes I made. I grieve for what could have been, had we been walking by FAITH instead of by FEAR. Now, whenever Rob and I join our gay friends for an evening, I think about how much I would love to be visiting with Ryan and his partner over dinner. But instead, we visit Ryan’s gravestone. We celebrate anniversaries: the would-have-been birthdays and the unforgettable day of his death. We wear orange – his color. We hoard memories: pictures, clothing he wore, handwritten notes, lists of things he loved, tokens of his passions, recollections of the funny songs he invented, his Curious George and baseball blankey, anything, really, that reminds us of our beautiful boy…for that is all we have left, and there will be no new memories.  We rejoice in our adult children, and in our growing family as they marry…but ache for the one of our “gang of four” who is missing. We mark life by the days BC (before coma) and AD (after death), because we are different people now; our life was irrevocably changed – in a million ways – by his death. We treasure friendships with others who “get it”…because they, too, have lost a child.

We weep. We seek Heaven for grace and mercy and redemption as we try – not to get better but to be better. And we pray that God can somehow use our story to help other parents learn to truly love their children. Just because they breathe.

Linda Diane Robertson

Written on December 5th, 2012
Posted on January 14, 2013 – Ryan’s would-have-been-24 birthday

Guest Post: My road to embracing same-sex marriage

At QueerPHC, we welcome guest posts that are affirming and relevant to LGBTQ students and graduates of Patrick Henry College. To submit your own guest post, email queerphc@gmail.com.

Last week we received the following in an email from a PHC student and with the author’s permission have decided to share it anonymously. In the email the author told us, “I wanted to make available to you the  attached document detailing how I came to embrace same-sex marriage. … I didn’t always take this position, but the testimony of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters in Christ and in the human race have forced me to reconsider my views.”

Same-Sex Marriage, Christianity, and Civil Government – A Discussion 

I didn’t always hold the position I currently do. There was a time when I denounced those who embraced such a view as “culture destroyers” who wanted to remake America into some sort of libertine dystopia. But over the course of the past year, I have changed my views after much thought, prayer, and reflection.

I support same-sex marriage.

Here’s why: I believe that a distinction exists between sacred and secular spheres of
active governance.

This principle has its roots in the Lutheran “two kingdoms” doctrine. Essentially, the doctrine stipulates that individuals enjoy liberty of conscience, and that civil government
should not be employed as an instrument to coerce the soul. In some sense, it foreshadows Thomas Jefferson’s notion of the “separation of church and state.”

This need not open the doors to rampant anti-religious sentiment. Traditional Christianity teaches that all men may apprehend a civil morality stemming from the aforementioned principles of freedom, dignity, and rights, without offering endorsement to a particular sectarian framework (general revelation vs. special revelation).

Arguments against same-sex marriage fall into two categories: moral and pragmatic.
Each deserves consideration.

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The Moral Arguments

It is generally agreed (as it should be) that the torture and murder of a child is flagrantly wrong; though people may disagree as to the source of and motivations underlying such a moral proposition, its facial validity is rarely questioned. This proposition, however, may be reasonably affirmed by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and others alike. Thus, it is reasonable to suggest that “civil morality” may exist outside a uniquely sectarian framework.

To anticipate a potential objection: this in no way diminishes the veracity of specific Christian truths; it simply notes that a civil society may be governed outside of principles requiring support for a given religious system. This is implicit in the New Testament: no doubt the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day enforced some God-honoring standards of “morality” through its legal codes (do not steal, do not murder, etc.), though this in no way constituted propagation of Christianity per se.

Not once did Jesus instruct His followers to occupy the institutions of civil governance and remake them in the image of an Old Testament society. Given the immense amount of time He spent expositing His kingdom, this is a notable exclusion. Rather, Jesus spent much of his time challenging the sacred authorities of His day – many of whom sought to impose Old Testament religious standards through law (witness the role of the Pharisees in handing down legal sentences).

America was not founded to be a theocratic society; quite the opposite. Freedom of conscience, emerging from this conception of civil morality, undergirds the First Amendment and much of American public life. Due to this, the law may reasonably permit certain interactions to occur, for the sake of strengthening civil society at large, without the necessity of deriving sanction from a particular religious system.

Most American Christians would be outraged – and rightly so – if a Muslim majority attempted to legislate shari’a law as a binding standard for civil governance, or if a Scientologist majority sought to require engrammatic audits for all Americans. This is likely because all Americans, deep down, recognize the necessity of this sacred/secular distinction: though some may desire that their personal convictions become law, they would resent another individual attempting to do the same. True religious freedom, paradoxically, calls for a secularized view of civil morality (though one that respects the necessity of the transcendent, which offers a grounding for the aforementioned freedoms, rights, and dignity inherent to man).

This might manifest pragmatically in the following example: though the Bible expressly forbids the marital union of a believer with a nonbeliever, civil society does not. I know of no individuals who would seriously advocate that the government prohibit interfaith marriages from occurring, despite the fact that such marriages directly conflict with the teachings of biblical Christianity.

I believe same-sex marriage should be viewed in the same light.

The pragmatic benefits of same-sex marriage will be discussed in subsequent paragraphs; this speaks solely to the moral question. I believe it is illegitimate for a secular civil government, purporting to espouse religious freedom for all, to hand down legislation based on specific sectarian tenets. It is because of my commitment to defending the rights of religious believers in a pluralistic society, and the concomitant value of freedom of conscience, that I reject the morally-rooted argument against same-sex marriage.

On to the practical arguments – which are manifold, and deserve thorough consideration.

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The Pragmatic Arguments

Bad For Children: This, in my mind, comes closest to a compelling argument against the legalization of same-sex marriage. After all, I’m inclined to favor the research indicating that children probably do best when raised by a married mother and father.

The arguments raised by LGBTQ advocates against the extensive work of Mark Regnerus are, frankly, unconvincing; I find it reasonable to hold that the lack of data on stable two-parent same-sex households is more likely to suggest a lack of such households than a serious research flaw.

That said, I still support same-sex marriage, and here is why: if the “children’s best interest” criterion is employed as a justification for disallowing LGBTQ persons to marry one another, this criterion would have far-reaching implications for the existing heterosexual marriage framework.

I find it inconceivable that two married lesbians or gay men would automatically constitute an inferior parenting arrangement when weighted against the heterosexually inclined households that are currently permitted to rear children – an alcoholic single parent in an impoverished community, bad foster parents who show little love and concern for their temporary progeny, and any number of others.

Somehow, participation in the LGBTQ community is automatically more of a disqualifying factor for child-rearing than these? I cannot fathom how two married, monogamous LGBTQ partners are automatically inferior to any other arrangement, and are accordingly disallowed from adoption, etc.

Unless conservatives favor a centralized administration that determines who is and who is not qualified to have and raise children, this argument is deficient.

Bad for Heterosexual Marriage: I have never understood the merits of this argument. If marriage is beneficial for heterosexual couples (due to its promotion of stable, monogamous relationships for the rearing of children), there is no logical reason why expanding marriage to encompass LGBTQ persons would harm this objective.

This is a poor argument, at best.

Procreative Function of Marriage: This is the new defense being offered by supporters of traditional marriage – that male/female sexual relationships, in the context of marriage, have a uniquely procreative context.

As has been noted at length by various commentators on the topic, this fails to include the infertile and the elderly within the definitional penumbra of “marriage.” Unless it is believed desirable to disallow heterosexual marriage to those incapable of procreation, this argument does not hold water.

Redefining Marriage: This argument stems from the belief that a fundamental social institution should not be redefined for political purposes. Even a cursory look at the history of human civilization, however, indicates a patchwork of cultural traditions respecting marriage (concubinage, polygamy, polyandry, and any number of others).

This in no way implicates the sacred or sacramental dimensions of marriage in a transcendent sense: I believe that marriage is a unique conjunction of souls that was originally ordained by God Himself. But this does not constitute a basis for civil government policymaking, as exposited at length above. My argument solely speaks to the question of whether or not the civil government may define the character of a marital relationship as it exists in the secular sphere. There is little doubt that it may; in America, marriage requires the consent of both parties who have reached the age of majority or received parental permission, and the signature of said parties on a marriage certificate. “Redefinition of marriage” is a scary but ill-thought-out concept – civil governments often establish varying definitions as to what constitutes “marriage” in the eyes of the law. (Consider the case of British common-law marriages).

“It’s Unnatural”: A virtually identical argument was raised during the miscegenation controversies of the 20th century. Respecting that debate, history speaks for itself. Moral disapprobation of a policy, by a group of individuals operating from a specific sectarian mentality, does not constitute a basis for its legal-political disallowance.

Religious Freedom Undermined: Religious institutions should certainly not be compelled to perform same-sex marriages, nor should private organizations be required to embrace a specific political stance on the issue.

Regarding the resulting legal quandaries stemming from anti-discrimination issues, I am inclined to consider LGBTQ rights as paralleling the rights of religious liberty, rather than those of race and gender; race and gender are immutable and immediately identifiable characteristics, whereas religion and sexual orientation are usually fixed and are not immediately identifiable. Generally, institutions are accorded a higher level of discretion in selecting their associates on the basis of shared religious beliefs, rather than shared race or gender; I would propose that a similar standard be employed in the case of sexual orientation. Thus, a Christian business opposed to LGBTQ practices would not be legally compelled to hire LGBTQ individuals, but the government itself would be forbidden from engaging in such discrimination. This seems to be a reasonable compromise that respects the rights of all parties involved.

Slippery Slope: As previously noted, monogamous same-sex relationships may be reasonably integrated into the current definitional framework of marriage. This does not automatically trigger a downward decline toward polygamy, bestiality, and incest; the issue of same-sex marriage should be considered on its own merits. And, as previously mentioned, this was an argument raised against miscegenation…and the promised apocalypse failed to materialize in that case.

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I offer no condemnation of those fellow Christians who do not share these views. This is a challenging topic dealing with the intersection of morality and civil governance, about which I believe individuals may reasonably disagree. I ask only that grace be shown in the dialogue process.

If, in our haste to defend that which we hold as truth, we become the Westboro Baptist Church…we have lost far more than just the culture war.

Thoughtfully,

[Name Redacted]
March 27, 2013

Gay and Happy: The Journey of a PHC Alumna

By Anonymous

At QueerPHC, we welcome guest posts that are affirming and relevant to LGBTQ students and graduates of Patrick Henry College. To submit your own guest post, email queerphc@gmail.com.

I’m an alumna of PHC, and I’m going to tell you how I – finally – came out of the closet. If you are at PHC, you probably haven’t heard a lot of narratives from people in the LGBTQ community, let alone happy ones, let alone from someone who shares your background.

I was home-schooled overseas; the fundamentalist, non-denominational Bible church that my grandfather founded was the locus of my social life. I never fit in with the girls at youth group and preferred to shoot hoops with the guys. Boys were my pals, not my crushes. I pushed down any inklings that I was gay. I told myself that I had more important things to think about than love, like college admissions. I remember catching myself staring at bikini-clad women on the beach. This is wrong, I told myself. Not only is it a sin, but if I tell anyone of these inclinations, even my parents, I will be seen as an abomination. And so I didn’t. I didn’t even fully admit these tendencies to myself.

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Guest Post: Straight Talk about QueerPHC

By R.L. Stollar

“This is great silliness of course, but it is the great silliness of highly intelligent and perceptive people.”
~ Alasdair MacIntyre

I committed a decade of my life to the HSLDA-sponsored homeschool debate league, NCFCA. This league was started by Michael Farris’ daughter, Christy Shipe. During that decade, I learned the importance of approaching controversies with a rational, balanced perspective. I was taught to respect opposing viewpoints and that giving viewpoints the freedom to exist was essential to both the American political experiment as well as Christian morality.

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Guest Post: The Freedom to Be

Today we have our first guest post, submitted by the Reverend Don Prange with St. James United Church of Christ in Lovettsville, Va. We welcome guest posts if you wish to encourage LGBTQ readers or share about your personal experiences at or with Patrick Henry College in connection with LGBTQ issues. To submit a guest post or to inquire whether your guest post would work on Queer Patrick Henry College, email us at queerphc@gmail.com. We’ll grant you complete anonymity if you desire, and we love interacting with new people! 

The Rev. Prange says, “My own story of simply coming out of my straight closet happened many years ago when still in a Lutheran track, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod no less, but I became involved with ‘Lutherans Concerned’ back in 1975. It was part of an on-going revolution in my faith journey that had taken me into a pan-theology of sorts. I want to share a homily from about 13 years ago when I was doing an interim pastoral role at Georgetown Lutheran Church (ELCA), and that says something about my pan-theology. It still has relevance, I believe.”
The version shared below was preached five years ago at St. James UCC.

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