For parents ...
This page is written to help you with questions you may have when a loved one comes out. Let me introduce myself. My name is Dave. I am a minister of the gospel in the church of the Nazarene. I am on track for ordination but am not leading a church at this time. I am a Side B conservative Christian who God has called to minister in this area. While I don’t propose to have all the answers for you I hope to give you some help in understanding this and how Christ would want you to respond.
Father I pray that you would help the person who has come to this page on my web site. I pray you would give them a special sense of your presence and your peace. I pray you would shower your grace on them and give them direction and comfort as needed. I pray also for their relationship with the person who has come out to them and I pray your blessing and guidance on this person as well. I pray Lord Jesus that your peace, your love, your presence would be tangibly felt in this family and that you would guide them through this time. In Christ’s name, Amen
I strongly recommend that you take some time and watch this video. Its about 48 minutes long. I has no agenda other than to help you understand the thoughts and feelings of folks who are gay. I have found this to be incredible helpful and have shared it with many people who are working though this. It is also available as a DVD (link).
Since I have not spoken to you I am going to have to assume some things about you. If you are the typical conservative Christian your son or daughter coming out has probably come as quite a shock to you. As a parent it may feel like severe disappointment or the death of a dream – a dream for your son or daughter. You may also have feelings of guilt, wondering what you may have done wrong that this would have happened. But, let me assure you, your son or daughter is the same person you have raised and loved all of these years. And you are not responsible for your son or daughter’s orientation.
Your son or daughter has probably struggled long and hard with choosing a time to come out to you. They are probably fearful of how you will respond. They are probably most concerned with whether you still love them or not. I would urge you, as a minister of the gospel, not to withhold your love from them but instead love them as you always have and give yourself and them the gift of time. Hang on to your faith in Jesus Christ. Realize that while you may be surprised and / or shocked by this turn of events, Jesus is not. Jesus is already at work in your son or daughter’s life and your life. Jesus Christ still reigns and will help you both through this time. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) He is always a reliable source of help in time of need (see also Hebrews 4:15-16) .
So let’s look at some questions you may have...
I am also going to take some guesses here as to what questions or concerns you may have. Let me start off by saying that most of what you have heard about lesbian or gay people is probably wrong. This is an area that few people explore unless a close friend or relative is gay. Therefore you may be relying on some very old stereotypes. I know I was. There is also, sadly, much bigotry in this area. The challenge is to separate the bigotry we have learned from what the scripture actually says and to respond the way Jesus wants us to respond. Some of the questions that follow may seem to be very simple and perhaps you already have the answers to them. Other questions may surprise you or shock you. This is because I am trying to communicate to a wide variety of people who may visit this web site. With that in mind here are some questions I suspect you may have...
What is homosexuality? What does the word ‘homosexual’ mean?
Homosexual describes an individual who finds they are romantically attracted to a person of the same sex and not romantically attracted to the opposite sex. It is not just about sex, it’s about relationships.
Is homosexuality or same sex attractions a choice?
Same sex attractions are not a choice anymore than heterosexual attractions are. For those that are asking this question I would ask you some questions:
• When did you choose to be heterosexual?
• When did you choose to have heterosexual attractions?
I believe your answer would be that these attractions, these desires just happened. And that is the same answer that a gay person would give you.
Are same-sex attractions the same as lust?
No, although it is true that there are homosexuals and heterosexuals that do lust after others.
Is being a homosexual a sin?
Being lgbt or having same sex attractions is not a sin because no one chooses their attractions or desires. Emotions (and attractions) are not, in and of themselves, sinful. Additionally, emotions (and attractions) are a barometer of the soul. They tell us what is going on inside of us. The understanding that feelings and emotions are NOT sin comes from the heart of Wesleyan theology. The question, as with any desires, (whether they be heterosexual desires or homosexual desires) is: “What do I do with these desires / attractions?” We will talk more about what to do with these desires a bit later.
How can you say that feelings and desires are not sinful? What is your biblical basis for this??
Scripture never condemns anyone for having feelings. We are cautioned against acting on certain feelings but the feelings themselves are not condemned. Feelings and desires can play into temptation but they are not sin. If they were then Jesus would be sinful, but the bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are yet without sin (Heb 4:15) Tempted in every way as we are means just that. There is no feeling that we have experienced that Jesus did not experience. There is no temptation that we have experienced that Jesus did not experience. But Jesus was sinless. Now some may ask: What about lust? This is a valid question. But the question really is: When do sinless thoughts, feelings and desires become sinless temptations. And when do those sinless temptations move into being sinful lust? There is a line there to cross but one does not cross it by simply having feelings or thoughts or desires. Again, emotions are a barometer of the soul. We are not automatically condemned for having feelings. They tell us what is going on inside of us. Thus, those who are exploring and seeking to understand their feelings in this complex issue can be assured that Jesus is there with them, understanding them and working with them. And they need not feel bad for having these feelings.
Are people born gay?
This is the subject of an endless on-going debate with each side quoting research. The bottom line is that no one knows why people are attracted to the same gender any more than anyone knows why some people are attracted to the opposite gender. Unfortunately some Christians have latched on to some very outdated research.
Per the American Psychological Association: There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation. (see link)
Your son or daughter did not ask for these feelings / attractions. However it happened, it is a part of them. And they are looking to you for love and acceptance. You don’t have to agree with everything your son or daughter thinks, feels, or does, to love them and accept them. After all, our heavenly Father loves us without agreeing with everything we think, or feel, or do.
Is it my fault that my child is gay?
No. While there are some questionable studies out there that claim how a child bonded with their father or mother can affect a person’s sexual orientation, these studies are not supported by any professional medical organization. Additionally, while it is true that many who are ex-gay have a common experience of emotional distance from one parent or another (and some have had sexual abuse) the same experience has happened to some heterosexuals and the result was not a homosexual orientation. For a deeper exploration of this question see this article.
Are homosexuals promiscuous?
Probably no more than heterosexuals are. Our society as a whole has drifted away from the idea of remaining chaste until marriage. Additionally, movies and TV shows depict couples having sex on the first date or within a few dates, and in most all of these; it is heterosexual couples being depicted. So sexual morality is an issue across the board, whether you are talking about gay or straight individuals.
I have heard that gay people can change their attractions. Is this a possibility for my son or daughter?
I think it is quite natural for us as parents to want to fix what we perceive to be a problem in our child’s life as quickly as possible. So the idea of orientation change through prayer and/or through some special counseling can seem appealing. Many of you who are asking this question may already believe the answer to this question is “Yes”. You may even know some folks who have claimed to have changed their orientation. But how they define ‘change” is rather important. When you talk to folks who claim to have experienced orientation change you will likely find that what they mean is a bit different from what you might assume. If they are being honest with you and with themselves they will typically admit that these feelings... these (same sex) attractions... are still there... they are simply calling them something else. And while the person you are asking may seem to be at ease ... for many others ... the long term denial of these feelings can lead to a lot of ungodly shame and depression... not deliverance... not abundant life in Christ... Additionally... some folks had been guaranteed that God would change their attractions and when that didn’t happen they became disillusioned with Christianity and left the faith. Certainly... ungodly shame, depression, and disillusionment with Christianity are not things we would want for our children. These are pitfalls we need to be aware of when looking at this route.
Trying to change from having same sex attractions to having opposite sex attractions is about as easy as you or I trying to change our heterosexual attractions to homosexual attractions. Anyone (gay or straight) can make choices about what to do with their attractions but changing how you feel or who you are attracted to is a whole different issue. While it is true that ‘what is impossible with man is possible with God’ (Luke 18:27) it is also true God does not always bring the change or answer we ask for. Paul prayed three times for God to answer his prayer about a thorn in the flesh but God did not answer it in the way he expected (see: II Cor 12:7-10).
Be aware that there are organizations out there that claim to be able to help people change their orientation. They may call it something else... “sexual healing”... "sexual trauma recovery”... “reviving latent heterosexuality” … but they mean the same thing. These organizations are called exgay ministries. They typically claim to be professionally led and supported, however, the APA has questioned the validity of these treatments (see link). These organizations may include people that you respect. But people can be wrong. They can make mistakes. An example of this is Exodus International. Exodus International, an exgay Christian ministry, closed its worldwide ministry in the summer of 2013 because of these problems with attempting to change a person’s orientation. Their leader, Alan Chambers, had previously disclosed that 99.9% of the people he had met do not experience orientation change (link). This was a result of his own honesty about his journey. The ministry later issued an apology for those it had harmed over the years (link)
Exodus took many years to realize that they were not being authentic with people and were causing them hurt/harm in the process. Likewise... many have experienced hurt/ shame for many years from following this kind of ideology. (See here) I share all of this so that you might avoid these pitfalls with your son or daughter.
Can you explain these pitfalls some more and why they can be hurtful?
A big pitfall with the ex-gay path is that it often has the individual at war with their attractions and always feeling sinful. This is not healthy and can lead to internalized shame and depression. It also can have the person feeling guilty because when change doesn’t happen they are often told that they 'didn’t have enough faith’... 'didn’t work hard enough’... and/or ‘didn’t go deep enough'. These types of simplistic responses are shallow, harmful, and not true. The individual is being blamed for something that they cannot change. Along with this, sometimes presumptions about their family relationships are made that are false. This may include (falsely) blaming the parents for the child’s orientation. The reality is that there is no smoking gun... no specific life situation or circumstance that is known to cause homosexuality. See here for further exploration of this. See this link for one family's journey in this. This page covers some of the confusion that often comes out of exgay ministries. This page covers the position of several professional organizations on orientation change efforts
If orientation change is not the answer then what other possibilities are there?
It is typically more healthy to embrace / accept yourself for who you are rather than try to deny who you are and try to suppress emotions. This is something that is true for everyone. For example, for people born with unique personality traits or abilities, it is often more healthy for them to embrace / accept who they are rather than to constantly be down on themselves for who they are. This is a biblically consistent view of emotions and desires since they are not sin in and of themselves. Note that I am not calling homosexuality a mental condition here. I am comparing it to other things a person may be born with that are amoral (morally neutral).
As an alternative to the exgay route, some Christians have chosen either the Side A route or the Side B route….
What are these different sides you are talking about? I have not heard of them before.
Side A and Side B are beliefs about the morality of same gender sex. . The terminology originated with Bridges-Across (now off-line). To facilitate healthy conversation they wanted to come up with neutral terms that defined beliefs about orientation without being negative toward the other position. For example a person might believe that same-sex sex is wrong but not be anti-gay. A Christian organization (GCN) took this terminology and changed it a bit to match a more Christian world view. I have changed it slightly from the GCN position and it should be noted that the definitions are not cast in stone.
Christians who are Side A do not regard their same sex desires as sinful because they believe God made them this way, and do not regard same-sex sex as wrong. However, as Christians, many are waiting for marriage or (since gay marriage is often not legal) a committed same sex relationship. Those who are 'waiting for marriage’ might regard their desire for sex before marriage as temptation in the same way that a Christian heterosexual would who is remaining chaste until marriage.
Christians who are Side B accept their attractions / orientation but choose (because of their understanding of scripture) to be celibate. The beliefs of those who are Side B typically would line up with many conservative beliefs (though I should mention that there are those on Side A who are conservative in every way except for their beliefs about sexual orientation). Some who are Side B may go on to have celibate committed relationships. Others may choose not to have a committed relationship. This varies within the gay Side B community. Those who embrace Side B beliefs vary greatly in how they define their same sex desires or orientation. Some may look on these desires as sinful. Others may not some may regard their desires to be a byproduct of the fall (Adam’s sin). Others may believe that God created them this way. Theological background, church tradition and personal philosophy of life give a wide variety of viewpoints in this area.
Neither Side A nor Side B believes they are condemned for being gay. It is important for both sides to separate views on sexual orientation which is amoral (neither good nor evil) from views on sexual morality. Both sides have beliefs concerning when sexual activity is appropriate with Side B believing it is never appropriate and Side A believing it is appropriate within a committed relationship.
Those on Side C on the other hand are questioning or uncertain about what to do with their orientation. They are still searching for answers. This is sometimes called questioning.
And finally there are those who believe their same -sex feelings and attractions are sin and thus seek to change their attractions this is called Side X. This can lead to depression and self loathing which are not helpful. (See earlier discussion..also see links ..here and here)
I should mention that apart from these websites the "sides" are not familiar terminology though the terminology is spreading. But I have fond this terminology to be very helpful in having respectful conversations with regards to sexual orientation.
Wouldn't it be better for gay and lesbian folks to have a heterosexual marriage? Won’t God just make it all work out?
This is called a mixed orientation marriage. Some have tried to do this. And some have succeeded. But for others it often ends in much heartache and divorce with the straight spouse wondering all along what was wrong with them that their marriage partner just couldn't relate to them and loves them. I know of several mixed orientation marriages that have failed because of this. Therefore I would be hesitant to push anyone down this road.
What about celibacy?
Well those who are Side B believe this to be a biblical response and there are gay Side B Christians who have chosen this direction.
Realize what we are asking lgbt individuals to do... We are telling them: You can never have a 'significant other'. You can never have sex. You can never have a family. You can never have someone to share your life with. The heterosexual single Christian (living a chaste life) never knows when that significant person will come into their life. But for the lgbt Christian, we are saying that they can never have a relationship. Some have called this cruel.
I am not speaking against the Side B viewpoint in sharing this. What I am trying to do is help you to gain an empathetic viewpoint so you can better understand your own son or daughter and their questions. It has been my experience that because we heterosexuals cannot easily relate to same-sex desires we can tend to be less understanding and empathetic about it. We have never considered what it would be like to be born with desires and attractions that are different than everyone else's. We've never thought about what it would feel like to try to come to terms with this while being condemned by our own church. Thus there is a need for us as Christians to come along side those who are gay and seek to empathize with them and understand their unique journey and life experience.
I thought you would tell me my son or daughter could change and that this would all is a passing phase. –Are you saying it is permanent?
I would be hesitant to call anything permanent but orientation change is, for the most part, 99.9% unlikely. This does not rule out your son or daughter going through a questioning phase in trying to understand what their true feelings are. I don’t know your son or daughter to know how long they have struggled with this. For most people, they only come out after many years of questioning. This can be a long journey. Some are certain of their orientation. Others change their minds as they journey and go through phases where they decide to be Side B, then Side A and then back to Side B again. Some, on their own, do explore the ex-gay route (also called Side X). Usually, by the time a person comes out they are typically rather sure of their orientation.
My son or daughter wants to or has a romantic relationship with a same sex partner and has made it clear that he / she do not believe gay sex is wrong... I guess you would call this Side A. I can’t believe that he/she is abandoning their faith in Christ.
I would be careful not to assume that they are abandoning their faith. Many who are Side A maintain all their Christian beliefs with the exception that they do not believe that same sex sexual relations are sinful. I have visited Side A churches. I have found these churches to be very welcoming and very friendly. If you were to visit them you might be surprised at what you find. They believe in the same Jesus you do. They believe in the same trinity you do. They believe in the same virgin birth that you do. They celebrate the same resurrection that you do. They believe in the same justification by faith that you do. They sing much of the same songs that you do. They have communion like you do. They sing about the blood of Jesus washing away sin just like you do. They take offerings, have prayer meetings, and have bible studies just like you do. They have both traditional and contemporary services. Other than the fact that they are lgbt there is little to no difference. I will admit that I have seen some (but not all) Side A churches believing that there is more than one path (other than Christ) to God. But there are some straight people who believe that as well
Do you believe that lgbt Christians that act on their attractions (have sex) are automatically going to be condemned?
No, I do not believe they are automatically going to be condemned. If people were automatically going to hell because their sexual morality didn’t lineup with scripture then many of the people in the Old Testament, people that God called righteous, would be condemned to hell as well. Some examples of these would be people like Abraham with multiple wives and concubines (Genesis 16:1-3, 25:1-6) and people like King David who also had multiple wives and concubines ( 1 Samuel 19:11, 25: 38-43, 2 Samuel 3:5, 11:2-3, 11: 26-27, 3:1-4, 5:12-16). I am not saying that sexual morality is unimportant. Scripture indicates that holiness is tied into our sexual morality (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8) and that we are called to be holy.
Rather than pick on this one issue (homosexuality) we need to realize that there are many things that (straight) Christians do that do not honor God such as failure to tithe, divorce, remarriage, sex outside of marriage, smoking, cheating on taxes – working under the table, abortion etc. Not all Christians agree on what would honor God and some would disagree with some of the things I just listed.
There are Christians (heterosexual) in classes I lead that are not living totally according to what I believe is in God’s word. Although this concerns me I am not worried about them losing their salvation. The reason I am not worried is because I can see that they are growing in Christ.
Additionally, if you are from a faith tradition that believes in eternal security I am surprised you would even ask the question. I do not believe in eternal security but I also do not believe that any of us has arrived yet at perfect Christ likeness. We are all works in progress. God is not finished with any of us yet. We are all on a journey to become more and more like Christ (Phillipians 1:6). Wesleyans call this journey ‘ongoing sanctification' or 'growth in grace'. The lgbt Christian is journeying in Christ just like the straight Christian is. As long as we are following Him according to what we know, I believe we are secure in His salvation. However, if God convicts us in any of these areas mentioned (and other areas not mentioned) that we are sinning and we fail to repent then then I believe our security in Christ could be at risk (James 4:17) (Hebrews 10: 26-29).
So the lgbt Christian’s security in Christ is based on the same thing as the heterosexual Christian’s security. Both should be following Christ to the best of their understanding and ability.
It sounds like you are affirming the Side A viewpoint. Is that right?
I am affirming God's grace to the folks who are Side A and to the folks on all the sides. God’s grace was at work in the Old Testament even with those whose behavior many of us would find unacceptable - but God called them righteous and holy. And God’s grace is at work in the lives of Christians today who are seeking to follow Christ ..... in your life …. in my life …. And in the life of your son or daughter. I believe that orientation issues should be resolved inside the fold, inside the safe harbor of the church. I dialogue with gay and lesbian people online every week. Their journey in Christ and in figuring out where they should be... Side A... Side B ... Side X... Side whatever .. takes years... even a lifetime. Likewise straight Christians are on a spiritual journey to figure out God's direction in their lives. Both gay and straight Christians need the fellowship of other believers to assist and encourage them in this spiritual journey. Unfortunately the church is often not a safe harbor for lgbt individuals. As a minister of the gospel I believe that this needs to change.
But isn’t having homosexual sex a willful choice? And won’t God judge accordingly?
Well that is an interesting question. After all, God is judge and He will judge all of us one day. But if God judges the way you are implying it will not be a good day for the church. How will God judge those who willfully choose not to tithe? (Failing to tithe is robbing God. Ref.) How will God judge those who willfully choose not to serve Him? (Jesus said if you love him you will obey him. Ref.) How will God judge those who are not being chased until marriage? (Fornicators will not inherit the kingdom. Ref.) How will God judge those who have willfully chosen to divorce? (Jesus said: What God has joined together let not man separate. Ref.) How will God judge those who have remarried after divorce? (Jesus calls remarriage adultery. Ref.) And how will God judge those who have gone beyond His word and have willfully vilified and slandered gay and lesbian people? There is plenty of judgment to go around if that is what you want.
As for me, I take a more gracious position. Especially since we are warned in scripture that we will be judged in the same way we judge others (Matthew 7:1-2). People are complex and come to Christ from many different backgrounds and situations. If it were not for the mercy of God we would all be condemned. The question is not so much where the person is at in life. The question is where they are going. Every one of us who names Christ as their personal savior is on a spiritual journey. As we offer ourselves to God, we allow Him to mold and shape us. He is the potter, we are the clay. None of us has been completely shaped by God yet. We are all a creation in process, an identity in process.
What can I do for my son or daughter?
Love them ... Jesus still does. I have spoken online and elsewhere with many gay Christians from both sides of the debate. While I may indeed disagree with some of the theological positions, most of what I hear is very sincere and I do not doubt that Jesus is loving, embracing and guiding these Christians just as He guides you and me. It would be good to remember that we are not saved by perfect knowledge; we are saved by faith alone, by grace alone, and by Christ alone (Martin Luther). Once we are saved, the rest of our life is an ongoing journey of understanding and following what Christ wants.
How do I come to terms with my feelings on this?
Much of what I have written here gives you facts and resources... with cautions about quick fixes such as exgay ministry methods and/or mixed orientation marriages. I have also shown you a non-condemning view that relies on God’s grace (which is something we ALL rely on).
I would also recommend the video: Through My Eyes available at this website. I believe you would find this very helpful in better understanding the unique questions and struggles that Christians such as your son or daughter may have when they come to realize they are gay or lesbian. I have also recently (Jan 2011) reviewed a new film entitled "Lead with Love". This film shares insights from several families whose son or daughter came out to them. It can be found here.
I realize that the emotional struggles that you may be having over this are not easy to cover on one web page. You can email me if you like by using my contact page. I would be happy to talk to you.
Additionally, a website that I believe you might find helpful is Family Acceptance. They are what I would call a gentle Side A site. Family Acceptance shares more about the emotional struggle that these parents went through when they found out their son was gay rather than attempting to get you to change your mind. They are very open and honest about their struggles and the different routes they attempted. Their son also shares his story on their website. Check out the Our Journeys page on this website. It has people's stories from a variety of perspectives.
I would also recommend that you to find a supportive group or friend. You may have to look a while to find such a friend. Some people are no open to talking about this or may not be a good resource.
For a Christian perspective you could also read the parents family and friends forum on GCN (here) . (You can read this part of the forum without becoming a member.)
Should I challenge my son or daughter's beliefs about sexual orientation and if so how?
Before I answer that .. you may notice I put this question towards the end. I did that on purpose. Most gay folks like your son or daughter are already well aware of church teaching in this area. They have likely already worked through the bible passages on this. So, what I have tried to do on this page is focus on empathy in helping you to understand your son or daughter. Though there are times our children can upset us .. as parents .. we still want to be in their corner and understand them. (The DVD: Through My Eyes is very helpful here)
Theology without empathy is bad theology. So in answer to the question of how / whether to challenge or question your son or daughter's beliefs we want to start with empathy first. Be aware that theological debates can quickly become heated and perhaps take us down a path we do not want. So I would recommend you learn more about this yourself first. When God first led me to study this I had many ideas and approaches that I thought would be helpful. It did not take long for me to see that my knowledge was limited and even inaccurate. I go over the basic theological perspectives on this page. You will note that I keep the tone of my writing rather neutral but I still give specific points. It can be hard for us as parents to keep our tone neutral especially if we are intently concerned about our children's moral decisions. But becoming angry and upset does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20). So it is best to wait to have any theological discussions until you feel you are ready to have them in a spirit of calm and peace. The security we have in Christ can keep us from getting anxious in these discussions. Remember that Jesus is walking alongside your son or daughter in this. So we want to join in that alongside walk. And Jesus is walking alongside you as well so do take comfort in that. Even if you and your child do not come to agreement it is still fully possible to keep your relationship with them. One example of a couple who has different views on homosexuality but are able to get along well together are Tony and Peggy Campolo. Tony Campolo is an ordained Baptist minister. But he and his wife have different views on homosexuality. You can hear them talk about this here. I hope you find their discussion helpful as an example of having peaceful conversations.
Sometimes we can get anxious and want to cover everything right away. But you can rest in the mercy and grace of God. So grant yourself the gift of time. For many families, it takes them several years to work through all of this. But take heart. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He will work things out according to His purposes (Romans 8:28). He has begun a good work in you and your child's life and will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:4-6). If you have further questions feel free to contact me.
I pray that God would light the path for you and your son or daughter as you travel this road, that he would comfort you when you are distressed and grant you peace.