If a child reveals his or her homosexuality, the first thing for Christian parents to do is let their child know that, no matter what, love and grace will win the day. Mom and dad’s love will continue, regardless. First John 4:8 says, “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4).
All parents need to remember that our children (like ourselves) have heart issues. We’re not trying to put good fruit on bad trees; we are passionately praying for our wayward children that God would change the roots of the tree—that He might remove their heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (see Ezekiel 36:26).
Parents should also encourage a child who has “come out” not to define himself as a “homosexual.” It’s important to ask questions: Are you in a relationship? Is the relationship sexual or platonic? Have you acted out your feelings of same-sex attraction, or are they just thoughts you have? Parents can come alongside a struggling child and help him see that he is not “gay” simply because he has homosexual thoughts. Rather, he is struggling with homosexual desires or same-sex attraction.
The difference between struggling with homosexuality and identifying oneself as gay may seem subtle, but it is a huge distinction, and here’s why. God never created us to be homosexual. In Christ that is not who we are. In Christ we are a new creation. Christians may struggle with impatience, idolatry, lust, or pride. Christians may struggle with same-sex attraction, but that does not make them homosexuals. We are new creations in Christ.
A Christian advocacy group is challenging local laws that ban counseling aimed at making gay children straight.
Liberty Counsel, headquartered in Orlando, has filed an appeal in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that bans in Boca Raton and Palm beach County are unconstitutional.
The case is filed on behalf of counselors Robert Otto, of Boca Raton, and Julie Hamilton, of Palm Beach Gardens, both licensed marriage and family therapists. It reflects a national debate about whether “conversion therapy” increases suicides or saves lives.
The counseling works to change a client’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bi-sexual or transgender to heterosexual. In the South Florida case, the therapists use traditional talk therapy, although there have been stories across the country of counselors using more invasive techniques, such as electro-convulsive therapy.
The South Florida ordinances challenge the free speech rights of the therapists as well as the right of families to choose counseling that fits their beliefs, said Roger Gannam, Liberty Counsel’s assistant vice president for legal affairs. He said the appeal marks the beginning of what is likely to become a lengthy national legal battle.
“The issue is headed to the (U.S.) Supreme Court,” Gannam said. “Whether it’s these cases remains to be seen.”
Numerous studies have concluded that conversion therapy is risky. A report published in November in the Journal of Homosexuality found that LGBTQ individuals whose parents had sent them for the counseling as teenagers had a high rate of attempting suicide.
In Palm Beach County, the Human Rights Council, an LGBTQ advocacy group, has been working to get bans enacted in as many cities as possible, calling conversion therapy “extremely dangerous.”
“We were getting complaints from kids being subjected to this by their parents,” Rand Hoch, the council’s president, said Thursday. “The therapists tell the kids they won’t have friends or their family will disown them. Even though it’s just talk therapy, it could lead to all kinds of acting out and suicide.”
Boca Raton officials were unavailable for comment Thursday, spokeswoman Chrissy Gibson said. Palm Beach County officials did not respond to a request for comment.
The country’s major physical and mental health associations have come out against conversion therapy. The American Medical Association has a policy opposing “the use of ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy for sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The American Psychological Association advises people to “avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder.”
But Liberty Counsel argues there are children who need and want this remedy.
“These licensed therapists provide life-saving counseling to minors who desperately desire to conform their attractions, behaviors, and gender identities to their sincerely held religious beliefs,” the counsel reports.
The bans, passed in cities throughout the country, prevent therapists from offering the counseling to minors if it’s designed to lessen their attraction to the same sex or their confusion over their gender. Besides the laws in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County, ordinances have been passed in Miami, Miami Beach, Wilton Manors, West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Delray Beach, Tampa, Key West and many others.
In February, federal Judge Robin Rosenberg denied a preliminary injunction sought by Liberty Counsel that would have blocked the ordinances in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County from going into effect. She said the municipalities cited “extensive credible evidence of the damage that conversion therapy inflicts.”
Rosenberg said she had consulted decisions made by federal appeals courts that upheld conversion therapy bans in New Jersey and California. Those courts held that the restrictions affected only the therapists’ “professional speech,” not their First Amendment rights.
But Gannam said the ruling prevents a therapist and client from even having a conversation.
“The counselors don’t go in with a predetermined outcome,” he said. The laws prevent “the ability of the counselors to have an open and frank discussion.”
So, what do you do when you find out your kid has cancer? Or is gay, which is arguably the same thing spiritually? You look for resources! Information… direction… support… survivors and signs of life! Whereas an LGBTQ person may spend many years sorting through their feelings and determining how they should respond, I felt an immense pressure to have this figured out immediately. After all, I wanted to love my child but did not want to dishonor God, and there was palpable tension between the way my heart wanted to respond and what the voices in my head were saying. When your newborn infant is crying, you feel confident in your instincts to pick them up; but now there was this dark cloud hovering in my mind, shaking its finger, saying, “don’t do it. Don’t be too supportive. Don’t encourage this,” and I knew there had to be more to it than my current understanding allowed.
My husband and I wasted no time in reaching out to people whom we trusted as spiritual advisors, ministry leaders and any faithful individuals we thought might have experience with this in their ministries or families. It was a research frenzy. The beginning of a master’s class that I don’t remember signing up for. If I ran into you at the grocery store those first few weeks and you asked, “hey, how’s it going?,” there’s a good chance I blurted it all out to you beside the Lucky Charms in hopes that you had experience and, even better, answers. Given a more appropriate setting, we wanted to understand not just what the Bible said, but what it meant. Specifically, what it meant for our child, who discovered early in life that she just didn’t fit the mold. She was not engaging in any “behavior” that could be faulted, but having done her own research, also did not subscribe to the traditional teaching on the matter and was at peace about the situation – relieved, in fact, that this was finally out in the open and she could be herself.
The burden for her was the lie, and fear of the consequences that telling the truth might bring.
In a faith community as relevant and robust as ours, there’s no way we were the first ones to be dealing with this, so going into it, I felt confident that we’d find connection. I knew what a wonderful, loving group of people we had access to locally and afar – people in different ministry areas who’ve invested their lives in serving others, with a tender eye toward those who are often left behind in society – orphans, teen moms, the incarcerated, etc. If there was something for them, there had to be something for us. A safe place to not have the answers, a safe place to wrestle.
What we found instead was that the system really didn’t know how to engage.
We were grateful that so many lovely people were willing to speak with us right away, and the initial responses were generally kind-sounding, but the conversations inevitably trended toward familiar quips and phrases. As if relying on soundbites from popular rhetoric, many of the responses felt cold and distant and altogether irrelevant to what we were actually dealing with. Remember, this wasn’t a general discussion about an “issue.” We were talking about our family, and this was a most tender matter.
“Well, you know, there’s no such thing as a gay Christian.”
“Gay people are welcome as long as they don’t talk about it and try to lead people into sin.”
“Shame on those public schools, pushing the gay agenda down our throats.”
“It’s better to call it ‘same-sex attracted.’ Identifying as gay is like giving in to the sin, like saying you identify as a murderer.”
“I’m disappointed to hear she has chosen this lifestyle.”’
“You are still the parents; you set the rules for what is allowed.”
“Tell her that her identity isn’t in her sexuality; it’s in Christ.”
“The Bible is very clear…”
“I hope she doesn’t get her hair cut short and start suing bakers.”
Perhaps the posture they expected us to embody was that of anger, sorrow and an unwavering commitment to draw boundaries, not only with what we would allow our child to think and do but also with how we as her parents were supposed to not think, just believe. This would have fit the paradigm, and their soundbites would have made more sense. I learned quickly that if I made any mention to there being another point of view, which we were certainly curious about but hadn’t really heard before and hoped that they could shed some light on (after all, this was a desperate situation and we were talking to seasoned pros), that this line of questioning would be promptly shut down with pat answers and heeds of warning of false prophets. This was sci fi movie stuff: we don’t talk about that. We don’t ask those questions.
There was graciousness, too, though, and I sensed that most of them were simply not prepared to be having this discussion. They wanted to be helpful, but likely did not have much to draw from personally. Through their attempts to relate, we often and awkwardly received intimate details about their struggles with lust…which they must deny in order to live a life pleasing to God. The corollary being, just as they cannot sleep around as they may wish to, our daughter should repent and ask God for help with her struggle.
But what exactly did she need to repent for? And what if she wasn’t struggling? And if the Bible is so clear, then why can’t we dive in deeper together to understand it more fully because it sure would ease our minds? And, honestly, did they even hear themselves?? Did they not see that we were the ones struggling that day, having come to them for support, and were being pushed away with every insensitive sentiment? Why did this subject seem to trigger a need to defend a theological position while turning a blind eye to our humanity?
We’ve shed many tears, on our knees, praying to God for wisdom, understanding, discernment…asking the Holy Spirit to intercede for us because at times we just didn’t even know what to pray for. Others were doing this, too, and still are; for this, I am forever grateful. But after so many experiences with others where I felt like we weren’t speaking the same language, it didn’t take long to start feeling like outsiders. We were insiders just a minute ago, but whether real or perceived, I sensed that our faithfulness was being questioned, our motivations judged, our precious child mischaracterized. Our questions were certainly out of scope.
Honestly, though, if you were us, wouldn’t you feel the need to explore this too? I mean, think about what’s at stake. Think about the implications for a 13-yr-old who is told that God may have made her with – or perhaps allowed her to have, as a result of the fall – a certain orientation, but that her very existence is the proverbial short straw, and she can never have what the rest of us enjoy and celebrate, even if she has the same capacity and longing for love and self-sacrifice to another. If this is indeed how we understand the Bible, then I guess I would have expected the responses from our faith leaders to resemble the types of responses they might give to any other poor unfortunate soul who, for any other reason, tragically:
- Bears the weight of lifelong aloneness with no hope of change.
- Cannot have children, grandchildren, etc.
I could easily recall the Facebook posts of the individuals we had spoken with, and how they were full of photos of their beloved spouses, children, grandchildren… with beautiful, poignant paragraphs written on special days to honor these loved ones. If you asked any of them what the greatest blessings in their lives were, they would most definitely say their families. It is obvious and it is understandable. I can testify to the treasure they’ve found; it is my greatest earthly treasure as well. And yet, this is the very thing that was being carelessly written off as a “lust-adjacent” problem for my daughter. Erase every engagement, every wedding, every spouse, every pregnancy, every child, every grandchild from those photos, every ode, every anniversary, every birthday, every handmade gift, every recital, every prom, every graduation, every hand to hold for decade after decade until the time comes to depart this world, and also be despised for wanting those things…and then you have a rough starting point for understanding what a traditional teaching of Scripture might look like for a person in the church today.
This cannot be written off easily. I was beginning to see my husband and I as members of a jury, becoming more objective as we collected and evaluated the available information in pursuit of a clear determination that would permanently impact the way we parented our child, and potentially our relationship with her. To convict, we needed evidence, beyond the shadow of a doubt.
We started to think beyond our daughter’s experience to that of other LGBTQ Christians as well. If, in our traditional understanding, we grasp that this is a tragic circumstance for some people, who did not choose it, then how are we supporting them within the church? First, where are they? Why don’t we hear about them or, better yet, from them? Where are the role models living this life of victory that my daughter can see? I don’t mean, “well, I heard of somebody like this before,” or, “there’s a woman who wrote a book who does this,” but shouldn’t there be quite a few accessible representations of people living this experience, just as we know of many recovered addicts who spend their lives investing in others who are not there yet?
If 4-ish% of the population identifies as something other than straight, then that’s about 1 in 25. That’s one person in every couple of rows of seating in a church. There are many faithful Christians who are living for the Lord, and if 1 in every couple of rows is living faithfully to the traditional teaching on homosexuality, wouldn’t this be a fairly common occurrence? If they are out there doing this thing, and God is richly blessing them (as is usually the testimony of those who willingly lay their lives down for the sake of the gospel), the body of Christ would benefit from hearing this and witnessing their freedom and joy. The good fruit would speak for itself.
And if we agree that it is the church’s responsibility to support all the parts of its body, then, once we know who these people are and acknowledge their fixed state of aloneness, we have to ask ourselves: how are we committed to their emotional and physical well-being? Have we ‘adopted’ them into our families to enjoy close, intergenerational relationships that they certainly crave? Do we consider who will care for them as they become aged? Are we willing to sacrifice our own convenience to be family to them? Have we bothered to ask them what their journey has been like and what they need? And back to the first question, do we even know who they are?
I felt this was sort of like asking a person with seemingly healthy legs to submit to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives because there is just something inherently wrong with their type of legs, but then not making the environment accessible – no ramps, no wide aisles, nothing on the low shelves. Could someone do it? Possibly. But they’d better be pretty sure that this is how it had to be…and even then, could they do it without resentment and pain? Would it yield good fruit?
Maybe part of the problem is that the church at large doesn’t have an infrastructure to support these folks. Maybe the shame soundbites keep them from admitting that this is where they’re at, so we don’t know, and have never been forced to think about how we ought to retrofit the place. Or maybe this is a commitment that many just aren’t able to make. “Take up your cross and follow me” assumes that it’s a cross one can bear. “Stand there and hold this thing until it crushes you” is quite a different calling. So which is it?
Growing weary with the realization that other people didn’t have it all figured out even if their job title suggested otherwise, or that maybe we just weren’t willing to accept it, I remembered one more person we hadn’t reached out to yet.
Things were about to get interesting.
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