Letter of the week:
Hi John! I stumbled across your site about two weeks ago, and have just been absolutely floored as I’ve gone back and read post after post. I’ve been so blessed through your writings and the comments that people have left. As a mid-twenties gay Christian in a small-town, conservative evangelical community, just knowing that you exist has brought me to tears a few times. Thank you.
I just re-read your post entitled “Should I leave my anti-gay church, or try to change it from within?”, and I was very moved and encouraged by your response, as it’s a situation I currently am finding myself in right now. I’m from a very large family, and I currently work on our family farm, proud member of the sixth generation. We’re a pretty tight bunch, and I value that. There was a long season in which I tried to distance myself, both in physical miles and relational ones, from them. The past year or so has seen a great work of restoration on both sides, and I’m now very grateful for my close proximity to them, and especially in the restorative work that the Spirit has done in us all.
The big elephant in the room, however, is that I remain, still, a gay Christian. To my family’s belief structure, this just isn’t possible. My parents and I have danced and boxed around this issue, and we’ve been stuck for quite some time at an impasse: they believe a valid and true faith in Jesus will bring about an eventual healing and change of sexuality for me, and that, in the meantime, I need to practice self-control to live as a good Christian ought to. I see my sexuality as an innate and valued part of my authenticity with my Creator. I don’t have a boyfriend, and I’m not currently looking for one. But I eagerly look forward to a day when I find a wonderful man to share my vision with, and partner in his. Someone with whom I can make a covenant of marriage before our Creator.
My family and I are finding it impossible to move past this. My parents and siblings see it as a refusal to submit to Christ, as outright rebellion against God—even going so far as to say that I am sowing rebellion and destruction in our community by attempting to open a dialogue on the issue. I am feeling patronized and often sidelined, as if I were a person crippled and incapacitated by sin, and not able to be treated as a full and functioning member of the family. I kept thinking that this would change in time, but my parents have known for ten years now that I’m gay, and while we’ve come a long way, it just doesn’t seem as if we’re making any progress here.
So, I’m stuck. I very much desire a deeper relationship with my family, one in which the Spirit flows, and respect, love, and joy flourish. I believe that God is capable of bringing that about, and I pray earnestly and often that he gives me his eyes and heart to view my family members as he sees them, so that I can extend to them grace and forgiveness. I also pray that he shows me where I’m not living and loving well with them, so that I can better serve as an example of a man both gay and Christian. But I also find myself pondering the instances where scripture tells us to, for instance, shake the dust off my feet. I desire for God’s name to be glorified through his work in my life (because God knows it sure isn’t my name that deserves to be glorified), but I’m having trouble discerning whether my family is part of that, or whether they’re hindering it.
Thanks for your time, and thank you so much for all you do. I really don’t have the ability to articulate all that your work has done for me. May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you, my brother.
Dear guy who wrote me this:
As I responded to you moment I read this, what a great, great heart you have. This is beautiful. (And thanks, very much, btw, for your kind words about my work. I really appreciate that.)
You’re, like, the ideal brother and son. You’re … a gay, tractor-driving Wally Cleaver. To say that your family is lucky to have you is like saying Paris is a pretty good town. If I were you, and I lived in your family, I’d have long ago turned the whole sorry lot of them into the greatest fertilizer ever.
I’d be at the county fair, going, “People have asked me how I managed to grow this record-breaking, fifteen hundred pound pumpkin. If you believe anything in this world, believe that I will never, ever tell you.”
But that’s just me. You, on the other hand, have chosen to instead act so Christ-like toward your family that Jesus himself must look down upon you and take notes.
One strategy I might suggest for moving forward in your relationship with your family is to, in fact, do as Christ did, and pointedly, purposefully, and lovingly teach them.
Here’s what you do (I mean, if you want, obviously): Write down everything you wish your family knew about you being gay: what it has and does mean to you personally; how it’s impacted your relationship with others, with God, with Christianity, and with them. All of it: go deep; go honest; go clear. Imagine that your family is a jury to whom you are pleading the totality of your case. You have one chance to convey to them your knowledge, understanding, and experience of being gay.
So you get all that material together, right? Say, in an outline form. (Take special care [obviously] in preparing your explication of the Bible’s clobber passages.)
Once you have all that stuff down, figure out how many half-hours it would take you to carefully and thoughtfully say it all. Let’s suppose that your time estimate for giving that uninterrupted talk is three hours.
Go to your family, and express to them that you want to schedule with them six one-hour long family meetings: after dinner for six nights in a row, or on successive Saturday afternoons, or whatever. Don’t tell them what the meetings are for, beyond that it’s deeply important to you that they occur.
Open the first such meeting by telling your family why you wanted these meetings to take place. Tell them that you know that your sexual orientation has created deep and real fissures in the family unit that means so much to you, and that it’s terribly important to you that your whole family, together, talks about it.
Tell them that at each of the meetings you want to talk, absolutely uninterrupted, for one half-hour; and that after that, you and they can all talk together about the things you’ve just said to them.
If you do this, then at the conclusion of the meeting series you will have a lot more information about your relationship with your family than you do right now.
Did they all show up to the meetings? Did some of them show up, but not others? Did they listen to you? Did they hear you?
What happened during those meetings? What, if anything, did they result in? The answers to that realm of questions will likely reveal to you the path you’ll next take in relation to your family.
No matter what happens during those meetings, or what they result in, they will, in the end, provide you with the one thing you most need: certain knowledge that you tried everything you could to reconcile yourself to your family. The value of that knowledge cannot be overestimated. If you break with your family, the fact that you put forth the effort it took to plan for and hold those meetings will be a source of comfort to you for the rest of your life.
You tried. You were there. You prepared. You showed up, willing to share with the most important people in your life your heart, and all that you are.
You asked them to love you. Moreover, you showed them how little it would take for them to stop seeing you as a inveterate sinner—so that they are free to love you as they should. All it takes is them being open to perfectly valid reinterpretations of a few lines from Paul, and you go from being the problem they think you are, to the blessing you’ve always been.
Here’s to family togetherness! Or award-winning produce!
Wrongest joke ever. Sorry.
Good luck, brother. Here’s hoping your family opens their mind toward you half as wide as you’ve opened your heart toward them.
UPDATE: For those of you who might miss it in the comments section, the writer of the letter of this post wrote in to say this:
Thank you, most ardently. The idea of meetings, and investing myself in them so, is elegant and brilliant. I’d never in a million years have thought of it, so thank you. I intend to do just that, so if it crosses your mind, throw up a prayer for me and my family. I’m going to regularly pray for you and all you do – I just can’t get over how spectacular what you do is, and how much it means to people like me. I think it’s very important to pour into you and your work with what resources I have, and right now, prayer is about it. But at least there’s that!
Thank you, brother, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
PS – A gay, tractor-driving Wally Cleaver? I laughed out loud with a big, goofy smile. I love it!
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