Parents often don’t know how to respond when a family member admits same-sex attraction. Here’s how you can offer Christ’s love and healing.
It’s not something many Christian parents see coming.Maybe you’ve discovered that your teenage son has been looking at homosexual pornography online, or your daughter has concluded she is bisexual. Or perhaps you’re one of the fortunate parents with a child brave enough to confide in you about his or her same-sex attraction.
Whatever your method of discovery, the news has no doubt brought on a storm of emotions. You weren’t expecting ever to have to deal with this.
Learning that their child struggles with—or is involved in—homosexuality is devastating for Christian parents. I know because in my 5-year-long tenure at Exodus International, an organization that ministers to homosexuals and their families, I’ve met many people who are affected by this issue. I am also aware of what a big deal it is because at age 16 I dropped the “I’m gay” bomb on my own family.
I know the tension, guilt and anger that can attend these issues. My parents and I went through a difficult time, never suspecting that 11 years later I would be encouraging you with the truth that God is in the business of reaching into these situations and creating new life.
I and my colleagues at Exodus want you to know that you’re not alone and that your feelings, decisions and family all matter to God. None of it has escaped His watchful eye, and nothing that hurts you is unimportant to Him. Remember to lean on Him as you take these important steps in grappling with the news that your child is gay:
Realize homosexuality can afflict any family. Homosexuality happens. So many parents with homosexual children have told me the same thing: “I don’t know how this could happen. He grew up in a Christian home; we took him to church. He was always such a good boy.”
There seems to be an assumption that bringing children up in a Christian environment makes them struggle-proof. To a degree, the expectation that if you do the right thing you should see the right results seems reasonable. Life isn’t supposed to be like this.
But in a broken and imperfect world, no one gets to choose his battles. Your son no more chose to experience same-sex attractions
(SSA) than another boy chose to feel that rush of adrenaline the first time a friend showed him a Playboy magazine. Your daughter has no better understanding of her struggles with sexual identity than you do.
Believe me: Your son or daughter did not choose to have homosexuality as their issue. If there had been any way for them to avoid it, they would have.
There are real reasons why they are led down a wrong path. The overriding truth is that homosexuality is just one of many things that can happen to broken people in a broken world. The good news is that this struggle is not inescapable, and humble assessment, ownership of personal responsibilities and clear direction from God will help you through.
Take care of yourself. You may need to put some space between you and your child to do this. As much as you probably want to focus on acquiring the right help for your child, you need to get support and resources for yourself.
You need it because you’re suffering, and your wounds matter simply because you matter. God cares about your well-being just as much as He cares about your child’s. He wants to be able to talk to you for you and for them. So get help.
Just as the young Christian with SSA usually isolates himself in a closet of shame, so his parents often close themselves off from others for fear of judgment. The church should be an environment that puts wounded individuals and families at ease; instead it is often the opposite. Most moms and dads fear the assumptions people will make about their families.
But fear isn’t the only emotion you’ll have to deal with; there will be a truckload of them, along with questions and complaints you’ll need to get off your chest. For the family that secludes itself in its crisis, the only place to turn their pain and confusion is on one another.
Clearly, that’s not a healthy solution. Finding an outlet for yourself will help your child and the rest of your family as well.
Don’t be afraid to see a Christian counselor. Many of Exodus International’s 170 local ministries and counselors offer support not only to those who deal with SSA but also to those affected by a loved one’s struggle. There are also knowledgeable, relational Christian counselors beyond our network who can be of immense help. God is doing a great work in counseling offices across the nation, so take advantage of this great resource.
The next step is opening up to your church family. This can be an even more intimidating prospect than seeing a counselor, but it’s important.
Believe it or not, your church needs you to do it. So many of the overcoming strugglers and family members I’ve met through the years have told me the same thing: When someone took the courageous step of sharing his or her private burdens with them, the Lord used it to free them up, too.
Rather than back-pedaling from the friendship, people start bringing their own secret sins, struggles and wounds to the table, and we find that we all can understand one another a little better than we thought we could. It takes courage to confront the darkness, but once the light is on, it’s not as frightening.
You don’t have to tell everybody; just start with a close friend or your small group. If you don’t have either of those in the church community, now’s the time to find them. You could probably get by for a while on your own, but with the support of Christian brothers and sisters, you can mend, heal and thrive.
Set attainable goals. In the scores of meetings, first phone calls and e-mails I’ve shared with concerned parents, I find that their primary focus is to “fix” their kid—and it’s no wonder, considering all the danger, sin and uncertainty we associate with the gay lifestyle. Naturally a loving mother or father wants to rescue their child from the consequences of such a lifestyle by keeping him or her from becoming entrenched in it.
You’ll never have peace aiming for goals you can’t achieve, and controlling your kid’s thoughts and choices is one of those. It’s what makes the teen years so hard for all parents—especially when they see a loved one beginning to stray. Parents instinctively seek more control in a season when their children are fighting harder than ever to take it from them.
Like it or not, adulthood is around the corner, and this issue might not work itself out ideally before then. Making control your goal will only create tension in the relationship, leaving everyone frustrated and distant.
A healthy, helpful and attainable goal is to keep the relationship alive, regardless of where you can or can’t find common ground. Be a parent your child can trust and talk with, one who can still see everything about the person that hasn’t changed—and isn’t obsessed only with what has. When you offer healthy intimacy and connection, it undermines the power of unhealthy desires.
If you can’t do that and choose to focus your attention on your child’s SSA struggle, you cease to be a relational influence in his life and become simply a person who is trying to make him straight—something he has probably tried on his own to be, only to conclude it’s impossible.
Am I telling you that, as a loving and invested parent, you should just ignore the issue of homosexuality? Absolutely not. But if you are to address it successfully with your child, you must not limit your relationship. Be open to the fact that this is a journey, one on which not all paths are bright and clear but on which your family is traveling together. Now you’re ready for open, honest communication.
Is an Exodus ministry right for your child? It can certainly help, but everyone in your family needs to understand what Exodus is and what it isn’t, and what they should and should not expect.
When my parents first dragged me kicking and screaming to an Exodus counselor, I know they hoped that would be the end of it, that there would be some magical technique employed by the sweet former lesbian they’d spoken to on the phone that was going to help put this issue behind our family once and for all.
Thankfully, Donna (the Exodus counselor) knew it wasn’t that simple. She was also able to do something my parents couldn’t. Sure, we talked about homosexuality from the start and got our differences out of the way; but then she put the entire issue on the back burner and just talked to me—as if I was still a whole person.
She treated me as if the other aspects of my life were still interesting, still significant, even with my attitude toward my sexuality still unresolved. This is something that many parents, gripped by panic and grief, forget to do.
Donna eventually broke down my walls and became my friend. She was also willing, at times, to be an advocate for me to my parents. They pressed her for secrets from our sessions; she kept them in confidence. They urged her to help strong-arm my decisions; she maintained her role as my counselor, not their liaison.
With great patience and grace, Donna helped me and my parents realize a very important truth with which every family in this situation must inevitably grapple: My struggle with SSA wasn’t the problem. Rather, it was the outward manifestation of deeply rooted issues in our family. It wasn’t just about homosexuality, and it wasn’t just about me.
Discover your part in the problem. There’s a big difference between finding one issue to blame for your kid’s struggle and honestly assessing where your family has taken healthy and unhealthy turns. There is no one person or act that caused your child’s human brokenness to take the shape of SSA.
And the resolution is not going to be as simple as addressing your son’s or daughter’s sexual identity issues (as complex as that is) and then getting back to life as usual.
The uncomfortable truth is that God will use your child’s situation to show you the ways in which you as individuals need to repent of any unhealthiness and embrace His will for your family. It’s time to take a hard and forgiving look at each of your hearts, and the good and bad ways you relate to one another.
In truth, that’s really what Christ allows each of His followers to do. He takes our guilt and shame upon Himself, freeing us to participate in the lifelong sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. It’s the same with your family.
There will be sins, both intentional and unintentional, to address. There will be wounds to uncover and feel. There are patterns that need to be abandoned and replaced with new ones. It will be painful and awkward at times, but no one is allowed to be blamed or shamed, and no one is allowed to be shut out.
Thankfully, not all teens go through a rebellious stage as I did. Many of them are eager for the help that Exodus offers. In fact, if my parents had found out a year or two before they did, I probably would have been much more cooperative at the start.
It’s the shame and stigma surrounding this issue that keep young strugglers in the dark. The day Christians stop fearing it and start talking about it graciously, compassionately and with the understanding that it’s just another struggle—one Christ can love us through—is the day that darkness will begin to fade.
Trust God. I’m sorry there’s no technique that provides an easy escape from one of the biggest shocks of your life. The one truth that has comforted me most in the midst of pain and ongoing struggle is that our suffering matters to God.
We’re so often given the impression that God is concerned only with our becoming holy and giving Him glory that, in the midst of crisis, we lose sight of the fact that He cares very much.
He does not coldly survey the brokenness in our lives; He collects our tears. And there is no distance to which you can flee or fall that is out of the reach of His saving grace. “The Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,” the Bible tells us (Is. 59:1, NKJV).
There is a long road ahead, but God will never leave you alone. You can trust Him to provide all you need to restore your family to Him and to one another.
Mike Ensley is the Youth Analyst for Exodus International and the co-creator of the Truth & Tolerance series of resources for student ministries available from Exodus. To find an Exodus International member agency near you, go to exodus.to. Or contact one of their affiliates, Living Hope Ministries, at livehope.org to join a safe, online support group in which you and your family members can talk with ministers and receive encouragement and prayer.