Expecting the unexpected…

It’s been a while since I’ve been here.  As I mentioned last year, I left my admin job at my church. The young gal who took my place had a baby in October so I’ve been filling in and will be there until early January.  That’s part of the reason why I’ve been extra busy lately.  It seems like there have been lots of babies born or announcements of babies coming next year.  It brings back so many memories of when I was expecting.  I heard SO MANY stories…some good and some horrific…to the point where I was afraid to give birth (smile).

When I was pregnant with my son, my go to book was “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”  Not sure if that book is still around, but it was chock full of information from the day you found out you were expecting until you gave birth.  But I have to say…no person and no book can really prepare you for what’s to come.  You realize that you are going to be sleep deprived.  You realize that your time is not going to be your own any longer.  You realize that you are going to love your child.  But there really isn’t any amount of preparation that can truly get you ready.  Mainly because every body and every baby is unique.

I had no idea that my baby boy would be so stubborn about being born.  I didn’t know that I was going to have to be induced…twice.  I didn’t know that my labor was going to take 22 hours…that I would push for 4 of those hours.  I didn’t know that the doctor would have several young residents in the delivery room showing them how to deliver a baby with forceps.  I didn’t know that my little baby boy would have colic so bad that he would cry for hours on most days.  I felt so helpless and many days cried along with him as I paced the floors with him.  I didn’t know what tired was until I had my baby boy.  I didn’t know that I would feel the intense protective feelings that I had for him.  I didn’t know that I could love someone with such fierceness.  It’s a different kind of love.

No amount of reading, video watching, or people talking prepared me for what it was like to be a mom.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t do all of those things because it is helpful.  Just expect the unexpected along the way.

I can tell you that I never expected the journey that I’ve been on once that little baby boy got to adolescence.  Talk about being unprepared!  I’ve shared the beginning of that journey with you already, but there is a part of that journey that I haven’t shared.  My husband and I didn’t know what to do with the information we learned about our son.  We wanted to help him because it was so obvious that he was in desperate need of help.  So we read books, and visited websites, and talked to elders in the Christian faith.  The thing that was recommended over and over again is what we later learned to be called conversion therapy (or reparative therapy).  A simple definition of it is this:

Conversion therapy is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological or spiritual interventions.

Specifically what was recommended to us was an organization called Exodus International:

Exodus International was a non-profit, interdenominational ex-gay Christian umbrella organization connecting organizations that sought to “help people who wished to limit their homosexual desires”. It was founded in 1976 and ceased activities in June 2013.

Remember the feelings of protecting my child I mentioned earlier?  Well I was willing to do whatever it took to help him change… because that had been his prayer for years.  I’ve mentioned before that I never thought being gay was a choice.  I had known too many gay people along the way to hold that belief.  I did, however, think that something happened along the way to cause them to be gay.  The problem was that I had been wracking my brain for how this happened to my son and I was coming up empty.  So some help from an organization that dealt with this issue seemed reasonable.  My husband spoke to someone from Exodus for several hours one evening.  He relayed the conversation to me and something in our spirit told us this was not the route we should take with our son.

This type of therapy comes in many different forms.  It wasn’t until years later when I actually met people who had been through conversion therapy that I realized the disaster we had avoided.

I know a young man who went to his pastor and told him of his same-sex attractions.  His pastor told him to attend a meeting at his church.  Here he met other men from his congregation that struggled…with pornography.  He was confused because he didn’t struggle with pornography.  It wasn’t helpful to him at all.  He was told that his “sexual sin” would be cured if he would just marry a woman.  “Fake to you make it” school of thought.  So, he started dating a young lady from his church and they did get married.  He stayed in the marriage for several years until he just couldn’t take it any longer.  He loved his wife…but not in the way a wife should be loved.  She was more of a friend.  He had zero sexual desire for her.  She was devastated when he asked for a divorce.  It wasn’t easy on him either.  He felt terrible hurting her.  Yet his church is what got him into this mess.  It’s what his pastor recommended he do.  When he went to his pastor to let him know he could no longer pretend, he was promptly told he could no longer worship there.

I know a woman who went to counseling for same-sex attraction and gender confusion.  This was many years ago.  The solution they had for her was shock therapy.  Imagine signing up for that!  Yet she did.  She was desperate to change and her prayers weren’t working so she didn’t know what else to do.  She trusted the therapist.  I forget how long she subjected herself to the therapy, but it didn’t work.  It took her decades to step into another therapist office.  She was terrified.  But hiding her identity was killing her, so she felt like she had no choice.  Thankfully she got one that knew conversion therapy is harmful and she is doing much better today trying to live out her last years as her authentic self.  She is in her sixties.

I know of another person that went through 30 exorcisms to not be gay.  30.

If you look, you will find very severe cases of conversion therapy and then some that seem less harmful.  They are all harmful.  It has been proven to not work.  Yet this practice is still legal in many states…even for minors.  Alan Chambers, one of the leaders of Exodus International issued this apology when they closed their doors.

Last month, I went to see the movie Boy Erased based on the book by the same name written by Garrard Conley.  I found myself holding my breath as I watched knowing that we came so close to exposing our son to this kind of treatment.  The program was called “Love In Action.”  Sounds good right?  It wasn’t.  I’ve read articles whose authors say that the movie took liberties and it was over-dramatic.  In an interview, Garrard tells the audience that they left things out because they didn’t think people would believe it.  In fact, he said the scene where his mom comes to take him out of the program was much more dramatic in real life.  In the movie, his mom played by Nicole Kidman, says, “A mother knows when something isn’t right.”  I totally agree with that statement.  It was an informative movie.  It was hard to watch, but I think it’s important for the information to be out there.

The critics say that there are people who have changed.  I say check with them several years from now.  Alan Chambers from Exodus admits that he still has same-sex attractions even though he is married to a woman.  And John Smid, the leader of Love in Action, left the program and married a man.  Mel White, the author of “Stranger at the Gate,” was married to a woman for 25 years.  He was counseled, exorcised, electric shocked, prayed for, and nearly driven to suicide trying to be straight.

Praying the gay away looks good on paper.  It seems simple.  Love God, believe that He can guide you, have faith that He can change you and you are good to go.  Follow these steps and you will be on the path to happiness.  What works on paper or in theory doesn’t always translate to an expected outcome.  Sometimes we are faced with the unexpected.  Like when a person embraces how God made them to be and the bad fruit is cleared away and good fruit sprouts and grows.

There really is SO much to this topic.  Even I don’t completely understand it because I have never been through it.  I can tell you that I’ve seen first hand the damage that it has done.  I’ve seen people try their best to do what was expected of them and it brought them nothing but pain and almost (and in some cases did) destroy their relationships with God and their families.  Let’s let God be God and not assume we know His plan.  Let’s expect the unexpected.  And let’s love with an expectation that it will heal those who have been hurt.

Because love matters…

 

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It’s not a phase…

Me sitting on my grandmother’s backyard steps.

Apparently when I was a little girl I was a bit of a flirt.  My aunt was only 10 years older than me so when she was 16 years old I was 6.  There were boys that would hang out by my grandmother’s house…clearly to see my aunt.  I can remember standing at the fence talking to them and at one point I announced that one of them was my boyfriend.  I believe his name was Chuck (I remember the last name too, but I will keep that to myself – wink).  I think they all got a kick out of it so he went along with it.  Very innocently of course.  When he would stop by, he would tell everyone he was there to see his girlfriend (me – smile).  I can remember standing at that fence like it was yesterday.

It’s been fun to see all of the back to school posts from my friends and family on Facebook.  I am no longer in that phase of life so it’s fun to relive those times through the posts.  The stories are fun as well.  The answers to the question of “How was your first day of school?” have been funny at times.  One of my friends posted that her daughter came home and was just going on and on about a boy in her class.  When my friend questioned her further about it, her daughter just simply said, “Oh he’s my boyfriend.”  She’s in kindergarten (smile).

In my last post, I shared that 9-year-old Jamel killed himself four days after school started.  He was being bullied for being gay.  It was disheartening to me to see the response this story received.  There was a lot of outcry about it, but not because 9-year-old children bullied a classmate to the point he couldn’t take it any longer.  The outcry was about how a 9-year-old could know he was gay.  There was also a lot of shaming of the mom for “letting” her son be gay at that young age.

You know…when I was six and announced that one of the boys visiting my aunt was actually my boyfriend…not her boyfriend…no one batted an eye.  No one was shocked or appalled.  No one told me I was too young to know whether or not I liked boys.

I’ve seen the same response with the Facebook post of my friend.  No one questioned her daughter’s age and declaration of liking her boy classmate.  When young children come home and announce that they have a crush on someone of the opposite sex, people think it’s adorable.  They know that it’s innocent.  They know that these kids aren’t thinking about sex.  It is puppy love pure and simple.

I’ve written before about the first boy that I “dated.”  I use quotes because we were in 6th grade and didn’t even hold hands.   Despite that…we were considered a couple.  I thought he was cute.  I liked him.  We danced together at the rec dances and that was it.  My mom and dad didn’t sit me down and tell me that it was a phase I was going through.  They didn’t tell me that I couldn’t possibly know that I liked boys because I didn’t have any experience in dating.  They didn’t tell me that you needed to kiss a boy or have sex before you knew for sure you were attracted to them.  They didn’t suggest that I date a girl too to make sure I wasn’t confused about this boy that I liked.  Yet, this is what gay kids are told all of the time…

Are you sure?
You’re too young to know whether or not you are attracted to someone.
It’s just a phase.
Why don’t you go out with (insert name of someone of the opposite sex)?  You might decide you like them instead.
You’re just confused.
You haven’t had sex yet…how can you know for sure.

That’s disgusting…you can’t like (insert name of same-sex person).
You just haven’t met the right person (of the opposite sex) yet.

The list goes on.  And instead of their attraction being described as sweet or adorable, they have shame heaped onto them for having feelings that they didn’t ask for.

If you grew up attracted to the opposite sex, did you need to explore with someone of the same-sex to make sure your attraction was real?  Did you need to have sex to know you were attracted to the opposite sex?  Of course not.

So yes…young Jamel knew that he liked boys.  He was excited to share with his friends…just like we as straight people like to do.  He was shamed for it and told to kill himself.  And he did.

How many kids will have to die?  How many kids will have to walk around thinking that God hates them?  How many kids will destroy themselves with their secret because they are afraid they will lose your love?

Love matters…

 

It will get better before you get married….

This was my dad’s mantra growing up.  Actually there were two…

Don’t do that…
And
It will get better before you get married…

If you went to him with an injury and said something like, “Dad it hurts when I bend my arm.”  He would respond with, “Don’t do that then.”
Or if you went to him with a bruise, cut, or some other minor injury he would respond, “It will get better before you get married.”
Or if your friend got mad at you…he would just simply say, “It will get better before you get married.”  Sigh…
(He did take care of serious things…these were minor)

I have no idea where he got this saying.  Knowing him he made it up because he didn’t have a solution.  His answer could be annoying at times, but at the same time it seemed to be a sufficient answer for my sister and I.  Since neither of my kids at this time want to get married, I can’t use this “cure-all” for them.  For those minor ailments or problems I’m left with something lame like, “I don’t know what to tell you.” (smile)

It will get better before you get married…

What if the fact that you are getting married is what causes the problem?  What if those closest to you aren’t happy with who you love?  What if they refuse to attend the wedding?  Even worse…what if they cut you out of their lives because of it?

Some say that gay people getting married is ruining marriage and family values.  One thing I know for sure…the legalization of same-sex marriage three years ago has not impacted my marriage at all.  In fact, in about four weeks Mike and I will be celebrating our 30th anniversary.  What I have seen is families torn apart by not accepting who their child or family member loves and intends to marry.

The thing most often said in these situations is…
“I love you, but I can not accept this lifestyle that you are choosing.  I can not go to your wedding because that would mean that I’m ok with it.”  People will defend their stand saying that they can love someone and not be ok with everything that they do.  Well I think it’s pretty safe to say that just about everyone that we love does something that we may not agree with at one time or another.  The difference here is how differently the person who is LGBTQ is treated.

Once again, I would like to point out that people do not choose this.  It is not a lifestyle.  It is who they are and when you don’t accept all of who they are…when you don’t accept who they love…it doesn’t feel like love at all.  Your words are hollow and meaningless.  You can argue your love to the cows come home.  It won’t matter.  You just don’t understand the depths of pain you cause them.

And it saddens me because so many don’t try to understand.  If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say, “I just want to follow the truth of the Bible,” I would be a very rich woman.  As if those who support the LGBTQ community have just completely thrown the Bible out of the window.

I can give you examples of thousands of parents and LGBTQ individuals who have scoured the Bible on this topic.  We are accused of listening to what our “itching ears want to hear”.  We don’t research the Bible trying to figure out how to be “ok” with having a gay child or being LGBTQ.  I would say for many of us we start out trying to figure out how to “fix” our loved ones or ourselves.  What we learn is that it isn’t something that needs to be fixed.  You don’t have to agree with that, but knowing that may help you to understand why your love isn’t felt.

So many people I know join Bible studies.  People (some famously known) who have studied certain topics or passages and develop classes, DVD’s,  or books with study guides to explain what they’ve discovered.  People flock to these things.  I’ve been part of some of them.  Learning the original language and historical context of a passage is exciting.  Sometimes you learn that looking at a particular verse in the historical context looks completely different from how you were applying it today.

Sadly many of these same people won’t touch a book that delves into the scriptures used to condemn the LGBTQ community.  We refer to them as the clobber passages.  These books also look at original language and historical context.  These books, however, are seen as un-biblical.  Did you know that reading a book like that shows love to an LGBTQ individual?  The fact that you are willing to even look at them?  You can read them and still not agree with them.  You might be surprised, however, at what God will show you.

I’ve seen too many families broken.  I’ve seen too many children take their lives.  Too many kids kicked out of their homes (two just in this last week).  There have been too many empty chairs at weddings.

God loves these children…are you better than God?

There’s hope…If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have support, there is an ever-growing group of mama bears that are willing to step in and offer that support.  Just send me an email via my contact page.

It will get better when we all learn how to love better…

LOVE MATTERS

 

Lightning bug or Firefly…

Ahhh…summertime as a kid.  No school, no homework, no worries.  Playing outside until the streetlights came on, swimming in the pool, or jumping through a sprinkler.  Those were the good ole days!  But nothing was as special as waiting until dusk and catching lightning bugs.  At least that’s what they were called in my neck of the woods.  And by that I mean Baltimore City (smile).  I know further down south they are known as fireflies.  I recently learned that these fun bugs are not native to all parts of the country.  I feel bad for those who have missed out.

Catching lightning bugs was one of the highlights of summer.  First you had to search for the perfect container.  Once you had that, you carefully punched holes in the top so that the lightning bugs could breathe in their new habitat.  Collecting sticks, grass, and various types of leaves made for the perfect little living space for your prized bugs. The next step was the fun part…catching them.  You had to keep your eyes peeled in every direction.  You would see one blink and then disappear into the dark sky.  You tried to follow with your eyes where they may light up again.  Sometimes we would run in circles after those things, but it was so much fun.  They were magical.  I mean…how and why does a bug’s butt light up?!  And since they only came out in the summer, they were special.

My last post was about the Pride parade and what a fun time that was for everyone.  I’m so thankful to have had that special time because things have been tough lately.  I have been bombarded with so many heart breaking stories, kids in crisis, families seeking help…it’s been a bit overwhelming for this mama’s heart.  I guess you could say that comes with the territory of being an ally, writing a blog, and especially helping to run a PFLAG chapter.  Our chapter is a place where the LGBTQ community and their families come to get support.  Just like those containers we prepared when we were little kids, we try to prepare our space to be a welcoming and loving environment.  We take great care to be present for those who attend because they are special and deserve to be treated as such.

Recently our space has been jeopardized.  We learned on Thursday that we can no longer meet in our space at the church where we’ve met the last two years.  They gave us six days notice before our next meeting.  Can you say panic?!  It seems that an AA group has approached them and they took priority over us.  We were offered a classroom, but that’s where we originally met and we have outgrown it.  They also offered a different night which is what we are going to have to do…even though many have adjusted their work hours to accommodate our meetings.  We really don’t have a choice.  The church where we meet is an affirming church.  And although they suggested we try the church down the street if we want to keep the same night…we aren’t welcome there.

I consider it a bit of false advertisement actually.  You see…if you check out church websites, many will say that “all are welcome”.  But for some, all doesn’t really mean ALL.  In some cases, they mean you are welcome if you deny or hide who you are, and in other cases it means you are welcome and will one day meet the real Jesus and be “healed.”  Since PFLAG is LGBTQ affirming, we are most often not included in the ALL. There aren’t a lot of meeting options in our area.  We were lucky to have an affirming church in the area where we wanted to hold our meetings.  I know they have to do what they have to do…I just wish they would have given us more time.  It does make me sad though that they are one of our only options.  There are some pastors that are affirming, but their congregations are not and it would cause problems for us to be there.  Of course, we don’t want to cause problems for a church.  If it takes meetings and debating, then maybe that isn’t the place for us.

I’m guessing there was a time when an AA group wouldn’t have been welcomed in a church.  Before there was much research into it being a disease, I’m sure people looked at it as a sin that people just needed to get under control.  Although some people have done some pretty drastic things due to their addiction, and some have fallen off the wagon and dragged themselves back onto it, they are welcome.  And I’m glad.  Alcoholism runs in my family so I am very familiar with the disease.  I’m glad that AA is there to help.

The same can’t be said of the LGBTQ community.  This is a community that is turned away.  Part of the problem is that they are reduced to a sexual act.  But even if we did that…if we boiled it down to that one thing…there are many heterosexual people sitting in churches that aren’t following what the church would consider a godly sexual life…yet they are welcome.

I looked up the mission statement for AA and here’s what I found…

AA Mission Statement:
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.

Here is the mission statement for PFLAG…

PFLAG Mission Statement:
By meeting people where they are and collaborating with others, PFLAG realizes its vision through:

  • Support for families, allies and people who are LGBTQ
  • Education for ourselves and others about the unique issues and challenges facing people who are LGBTQ
  • Advocacy in our communities to change attitudes and create policies and laws that achieve full equality for people who are LGBTQ

Would you attend this church if the following were their values?

We believe that lives are transformed by unconditional love. To help people achieve this, we recognize we must exercise compassion for ourselves and others willing to take the journey toward love and acceptance.

We believes in the responsibility of leading by example. To do this, we commit to listening, supporting and responding in building relationships with those we serve.

We believe that the things that make us diverse are what makes us powerful. To ensure that we are being  respectful of everyone we serve, we commit to listening, learning and engaging with diverse communities. We believe true inclusion means to meet others where they are, acknowledging and embracing their stories.

We believe that we are measured by our words and actions. We commit to empowering people in our communities to join together to transform the places where they live. 

We believe learning is the key to positive change. Therefore, we commit to providing and involving ourselves in ongoing learning opportunities to continually broaden our worldview, overcome misinformation and bias, in order to live our values.

If you ask me…sounds like a good church.  In reality, these are the values of PFLAG…yet we aren’t welcome.  (I took out the word PFLAG and words like inclusion – to see the actual list you can visit our website).

I am trying not to lose hope.  Like I mentioned, there have been so many stories of hurt…and honestly this just adds to it.  My mission is to keep educating and advocating, with all the others who have a passion for this community, with the hope that one day the LGBTQ community will be welcomed into every church.   I long for the day that the church takes the time and care to prepare the space.  The day that they extend the love and acceptance that this community so desperately wants and deserves.  I long for the day that they don’t have to hide or deny who they are, but instead can shine brightly for all to see.

Just like my favorite summer time bugs (smile).

This matters…love matters…love well.

Baltimore Pride 2018…

One thing I found challenging when my kids were young was leaving a place when they were having fun.  Every time it was, “Can we have 5 more minutes?  Pllleeeaaassseee?”  My husband and I eventually wised up and gave them the 5 minute warning before we were ready to go.  Surprisingly it worked (smile).

That’s how I felt on Saturday at the Baltimore Pride Parade.

As I mentioned in my last post, I just got back from vacation last weekend.  Although I was sad to see my vacation end, I was super excited that Pride was the following weekend.  I had been looking forward to it all year.  I have to say it’s one of my favorite days of the year.

We had a lot of new PFLAG parents join us this year for the parade.  It’s like watching your child experience something for the first time.  It reminded me of what my first parade was like and how emotional I got when the crowd cheered for the parents.  It’s also heart warming to see the support they are giving their children.  I’m not sure if they realize yet how important this is to their child and how much their kids appreciate their support.

But just like last year, the favorite part for me was giving out mom hugs.  It can be a little chaotic.  We had a group with drums with us again this year which makes it hard to hear (but really fun to march to!).  Some people just want to show appreciation for being willing to give hugs (not everyone is a hugger – smile).  So as I’m going along I try to discern who is asking for hugs.

Some people make it really obvious because they open their arms wide.
Some run up to me.
Some are shy about it.
Some call me mom.
Some ask for a hug just for fun.

Then there are the hugs where you can tell the person doesn’t want to let go.

Even though I’m moving along in the parade, the hugs are full embraces.  In some of those embraces, the person thanks me.  In some of those embraces, they tell me that appreciate my willingness to hug them.  In some of those embraces, since they are of all ages, the person will tell me that their mom has died and it’s been a long time since they had a mom hug.  And in some of those embraces the person will tell me that their mom doesn’t accept them.  I hug them extra tight and when we pull away from the hug I tell them that I’m sorry.  And then I tell them that this mom loves them.

It’s in these precious moments that I want to whine and complain…it’s not enough time!  Five more minutes…pleeaasseee!  I fight back the tears and catch back up to my group.  I smile through the emotions that are catching in my throat since Pride is a happy time.  And I happily give the next hug.

If you’ve been a follower for some time, you know that I left my position as a staff member at my church last June.  I still do work for them, but on a much smaller scale.  I’ve been contemplating what my next adventure will be.  I think God has finally revealed to me what that might be.  Stay tuned!

As I mentioned, not everyone is a hugger.  But everyone should be a lover…because love matters.

Looking for love…

While I was running errands last week, an old song came on the radio.  It’s called “Lookin’ for Love” by Johnny Lee.  I’m an 80’s girl so of course I knew the song (smile).   I think it was in the movie Urban Cowboy.  In one of my recent posts, I asked if anyone had questions.  It seems people really struggle with stereotypes.  In the crazy way that my brain works, this song reminded me of that struggle and something that happened a few years ago related to it.

If you watched the mini series “When We Rise” last year, you got to see what being LGBTQ was like throughout history beginning back in the 70’s.  It ended with the supreme court’s decision in 2015 to make marriage a right for the LGBTQ community.  It was a good series.  Parts of it were difficult to watch.  Saying it was rough for the community is an understatement…on many fronts.  I am so very thankful for the people who fought so hard for their rights.  We still have much farther to go, but things are better than what they were back then.

Since I was born in 1967, I wasn’t aware of what was happening to the LGBTQ community back in the 70’s and even the early 80’s.  Watching the series helped me to understand where that generation got their ideas about the LGBTQ community.  Unfortunately, those ideals were passed down to younger generations.  Until I met gay people as I got older, the only information I had about them was what I heard the older generation say about them and it seemed to me that it all had to do with sex.

In many areas of our country,  it is still hard to be out even today.  Back then, however, it was even more difficult.  The LGBTQ community had to hide.  The series showed what it was like for them.  There were bars and bath houses that they would frequent to basically find people like themselves.  I am sure it was a very lonely existence.   Alcohol and drugs flowed in these places.  It seemed that promiscuity was the norm.  If you look at that era in general though, I think it’s safe to say that this was across the board…straight or gay in many places.

When kids come out, I have found that a big concern for parents is they wonder when their kid is going to start with the behaviors that they’ve been accustomed to hearing about the LGBTQ community.  They think their kid is going to change.  This is why education is so important and something that our PFLAG  chapter stresses to parents new on this journey.  We assure the parents that their kids are the same as they were the day before they found out they were LGBTQ.

A couple of years ago I was reminded of how big of a hurdle the LGBTQ community has in overcoming old stereotypes that are out there about them.  I shared my journey of having a gay child at my church on July 5, 2015.   I talked about our journey, this blog, and the mom’s I’ve met along the way.  My message was about love.  The following Sunday, one of our church members stopped me with a question.  This person went home and did some research on gay people.  I’m not sure what kind of research they did, but they focused on sex.  They were surprised that statistically gay men are having more sex then straight men.  They asked me if I knew why.

As you can imagine, I was quite taken aback by this question.  I felt defeated.  Is this really all this person walked away from when hearing my story??  It took a bit for my brain to catch up to answer their question.  At first, all I could think of was…

Why?
Where did they even find a survey like this?
And Lord help me be gracious as I answer because deep down I wanted to scream, “Why does everyone make it about sex?!”

I reminded them that I wasn’t an expert, but I had a few ideas.  I turned things around and asked them a few questions:

Do you think the research you read took into consideration the kids that have been kicked out of their homes?  Do you know what they often have to resort to in order to survive?  Many of them have to work the streets as prostitutes in order to have food or a place to stay.

If you were told over and over again that you were disgusting and didn’t deserve to live, how do you think you would feel about yourself?  Do you think you would look for love in healthy ways feeling that way about yourself?

If you came from a faith background and were told you were going to hell, would you care about how you lived your life moving forward?

If you were told that love was not for you and someone paid attention to you, do you think it would be easy for that person to take advantage of you?

They admitted that they hadn’t thought of things that way.

Taking all of these things into consideration is another reason why the number one piece of advice that I give parents new to this journey is to make sure their kids know that they are loved.  Granted that isn’t romantic love which many of them crave, but it will help them to have a healthy view of themselves.  Straight or gay that is helpful.  And it doesn’t matter what their sexual orientation is when it comes to whether or not they are going to have sex, when they start having sex, or how often they have sex.

The chorus of the song I heard last week is this:

I was lookin’ for love in all the wrong places,
Lookin’ for love in too many faces,
searchin’ their eyes and lookin’ for traces
of what I’m dreamin’ of.
Hopin’ to find a friend and a lover;
I’ll bless the day I discover 
another heart lookin’ for love.

The only way to break the stereotypes that we’ve been taught is to enter the stories of the LGBTQ community.  They need our understanding.  They need our love so they don’t have to look for it “in all the wrong places.”

Because love matters…

Welcoming AND Affirming…

I posted an article on my Facebook page this week and got a good question in response.  Since I’m sure others have thought this, I thought I’d answer my friend in a blog post.  The article that I posted was in the Advocate and you can read it here.  If you don’t want to take the time to read it, the article explained why the difference between an affirming church and a welcoming church is huge.  The person sharing their story had been through conversion therapy.  Here is the question that I got:

It could be 300-600 or more people sitting in a church for mass or service. Who would know who is different, in what ever way? 
Why does there even need to be a necessity to know anyone’s sexual preference, in a crowd, a bus, or in a church? 
This always confuses me about how people complain about not being accepted. 
Isn’t it someone who is unsettled or self-conscious about something that has the feeling of being unwelcomed?

I’m genuinely interested in the feelings people go through. 
I’d feel unsettled or self-conscious say… if I’d enter a room of tall, slender runway models. 
Of course, at my age now, it wouldn’t bother me as much because I’m much more comfortable being me. Authentic, shortness and all.

Great question right?  And I love that this person stated that they are genuinely interested in the feelings that other people go through.  Just like a skinny person may not understand why it might be a bit awkward to walk into a room full of runway models if you aren’t skinny…a person who is straight is not going to understand what it’s like to be LGBTQ walking into a church.  So it’s good to have conversations to try to understand each other.

First let me say that I am straight.  So I also don’t understand what it’s like to walk into a church being LGBTQ.  I do, however, have some experience as a parent of a gay child.  I’ve also been on this journey now for 10 years and I’ve been in lots of different situations, met lots of people, and heard countless stories of what others have been through.  I just want to make it clear that I’m not an expert, but I think I can speak into this question at least a little bit.  I am just going to scratch the surface on this because there are too many layers to go into in one blog post, but if you’ve been following me for a while you know that I’ve touched on many of these things in other posts.

We first need to understand the terms we are talking about.  Churches may understand these terms in their own way, but generally this is what they mean:

A church that is welcoming, in the context of the LGBTQ community, is open to welcoming everyone.  There is a distinction because there are churches that would not allow an LGBTQ individual to cross their front door (I will go into the question of why does anyone need to know in a bit).  So if a person sees that a church is welcoming, they know that they can attend there if they are LGBTQ.

A church that is affirming is not only welcoming, but they are accepting of the LGBTQ individual completely.  The church does not believe that it is a sin to be LGBTQ.  The church would allow the individual to be married, and they can serve in whatever capacity God has gifted them.

Now to the question.

If you are LGBTQ, you have the right to keep that to yourself.  No one expects you to announce it to the world…let alone the church.  But not knowing where a church stands  can be harmful.  For instance, there have been pastors that have said that all LGBTQ people should be thrown in jail, some that have said they all should be hung, and some that praised the shooting that happened at the Pulse nightclub almost two years ago.  These are normal, run of the mill churches…not extremists like Westboro Baptist that we are all so used to hearing about.  If you know that a church is welcoming, you at least can be somewhat guaranteed that you aren’t going to hear something like that from the pulpit.

I was incognito as a parent of a gay child in my church for some time.  If you asked people at my church what they thought about gay people, I think they would tell you that they loved them.  But yet, I heard things like:
“Gay people are freaks.”
“Gay people are going straight to hell.”
Referenced as “He, she, it…whatever they are”
“It’s just gross…we don’t need to hear about that or see it.”

That doesn’t feel good.  Call me names all you want, but don’t mess with my kid.  I’m an adult and I’m not gay.  Imagine hearing those things as a young person who is gay.  So yes, they can sit in a pew of 300-500 people incognito, but is it a healthy environment for them?  And what about when they do finally tell someone their secret?  If it is not a welcoming church, they could be kicked out.  Young teens have been kicked out of youth group when they come out because leaders think it is somehow contagious.  People have been fired from their church jobs.  So you could potentially attend a church for years…build friendships, and that is all stripped away when they learn this one thing about you.

So let’s now say that someone is in a welcoming church.  People know that they are LGBTQ and they have felt loved.  No one has said anything mean to them.  There haven’t been any condemning messages from the pulpit.  Life is good.    People tell them all the time they have a beautiful voice and they really like singing.  They decide to audition for the worship team.  They are told that although they have a lovely voice they can’t be on the worship team.  The church doesn’t want someone who is LGBTQ upfront on Sundays.  Although the church is welcoming, they believe being LGBTQ is a sin and you must have your act together if you want to represent the church on stage.

That hurts, but you really feel connected in this church so you try to let it go.  God has given you a passion for the homeless and the church has a ministry with the local homeless shelter.  You sign up and once a month you serve this important ministry.  God has grown you in ways that you couldn’t have imagined through your service there.  Your life outside of church is going really well too.  You’ve met someone and have gotten quite serious with them.  When the church finds out, they tell you that you can’t serve any longer.  You are welcome to serve if you stay single, but they can’t condone your relationship.  You are willingly sinning and they can’t overlook it.  In this church, that kind of love is not for you.

This is what it’s like to not feel accepted.  It’s not a matter of being comfortable in your own skin.  It’s dealing with this over and over again.  It tears a person down.  This is why affirming churches are so important.  These things don’t happen because the person is fully accepted.

To go back to the article…this person had been through conversion therapy.  The comment that someone from the welcoming church made to them reminded them of the horror they went through in that kind of therapy.  Conversion therapy has many different forms.  It could be “praying the gay away.”  Being told that you just aren’t praying earnestly enough.  You don’t have enough faith and that is why God isn’t “healing” you.  It takes much darker forms as well.  In some forms, they give the LGBTQ person a drug that makes them physically ill while they show them gay porn.  And in others, they put electrodes on their genitals, show them gay porn, and shock them if they get aroused.  Conversion therapy has been outlawed in several states, but there are many that still allow it to continue.

So that was a lot of info and it is just scratching the surface.  I hope that this gives at least a little bit of a glimpse into why this is important.  A church has the right to believe what it believes.  Although I would love to see all churches be affirming, I know that isn’t going to happen.  My son said he would never set foot in an non-affirming church.  I wouldn’t want him to.  I don’t want him ever to receive the message that God thinks less of him.  I don’t ever want him to get the message that he isn’t loved completely.

Because love matters…