I am not your daughter or your son. But if you are a Christian with a lesbian daughter or a gay son, and if you've allowed yourself to be spoon-fed the traditional condemning rhetoric about homosexuality, I can probably speak for her or him. As the holidays approach, he or she is probably in the same pain that I’ve experienced.
You raised us to believe that God loves us. You told us that Jesus died to provide forgiveness for all of our sins (presumably, whether you and I define "sin" in the same way or not). One of the first songs you taught us in Sunday school was "Yes, Jesus loves me… For the Bible tells me so." And you told us that our place in Heaven was guaranteed, as long as we just believe that.
Then, somewhere along the way, you realized that we were lesbian or gay. And at whatever point we found the courage to tell you, you did an immediate 180, and now you tell us we are an abomination, and our place in Hell is guaranteed.
The most fundamentalist among you claim that you reject your children because you take the whole Bible literally. But that is not true -- and it’s time for you to just get honest about that. If you are aware of the content of the Bible you must know that there is much in there that you do not take literally. How can you not know that? How can you not admit that? You must, at some point, have read where Jesus said that in order to follow Him, one must hate mother, father, sister, brother. (Luke 14:26) But not one of you feels any less a Christian because you love your family. Clearly, scripture must be interpreted in a broader context than its literal words. It amazes me that you still claim to take it all literally.
To be Christian means to seek to be like Jesus, to follow His teachings and example, right? That's what makes your rejection of your LGBT children and their partners so richly ironic. The good news is that the upcoming holiday season provides you with a perfect opportunity to take a step toward turning things around.
If you've stuck with me this far, let me tell you why I'm writing this. I am a lesbian. And I am a Christian. Christmas holds the same meaning for me that it does for you. I grew up enjoying family gatherings, seeing relatives I had not seen all year, enjoying that sense of belonging to a growing, loving family unit larger than my own household – all of the things we enjoy about celebrating Christmas with our closest loved ones. But when I found the partner for whom I had spent years praying, that all changed. At that point, I was forced to choose between spending Christmas with my partner and spending it with my extended family-of-origin.
Of course, my mother wanted me to come “home” for Christmas – me and my children. But my partner was not welcomed. My mother, who I loved dearly, just could not (or would not) understand the position that put me in. I lived with my partner. We woke up together, ran errands together, bought groceries and paid bills together, cooked for each other, washed each other's clothes, worshipped God in church together, took care of each other when one was sick, held each other when one (or both) cried, saved money together to ensure that whichever of us lives longer will continue to live well, fell asleep in each other's arms, and woke up together the next day. I lived with her. In a very real sense, I lived more fully and completely because of her. So after sharing and giving and receiving and being all that we were to each other 364 days of the year, on the most significant day of the year for most Christian families to be together, how fair was it to demand that I take my children and we leave her to go spend that day where she was not welcome?
I desperately searched for some kind of compromise. I offered to bring my children and visit her the week before Christmas. Not good enough. I asked if my partner could just have Christmas dinner with us and sleep elsewhere while my kids and I stayed at Mom's house. Uh-uh. That would be "condoning" our relationship, and she couldn't do that, especially with the children of the family in the house. In genuine anguish, I pointed out that if my partner was not fit to be near my nieces and nephews for one day, neither was I since every fact upon which my mother based her decision about my partner being there was also true of me. She did not respond to that. She was so genuinely convinced that she was obliged to "take a stand" about my life and my relationship -- that she would not meet me any fraction of the way. I had to choose. And the "wrong" choice would break her heart.
But here's another great irony in all of this, my partner -- the very same person that my mother refused to allow to sit and break bread at her table on Christmas Day -- insisted that I go to my Mom's house for Christmas. My partner talked about the fact that she was my one and only mother. She reminded me that, at her age, I could not know which Christmas might be her last (a fact that we both realize is true for all of us, but it seems a greater concern when it comes to elderly parents). She said she didn't want my mother to have a heavy heart on Christmas Day because of my absence.
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The irony does not end there. Just a few months earlier my partner had spent her money buying special groceries and worked hard fixing up our house to entertain my mother like royalty when she came to town for my son's high school graduation. My mother sat at our table and enjoyed the celebratory meal my partner and I prepared and provided together. Mom, on the other hand, wouldn't allow my partner to sit at her table and eat dinner with her family on Christmas Day.
Back to you, homophobic Christian parents, even if we assume, just for a moment, that you're right and that homosexuality is a sin, please, go back to your Bibles and check out how Jesus treated even the worst "sinners" He encountered. And answer this honestly – whose position sounds more like Christ?
"If Jesus were the head of our family, sitting there at the head of the table Christmas Day, how would He have handled this?" Based on everything I've read about Him, every encounter He had with His society's "undesirables," every word that I've read that He said and what He oh-so-conspicuously did not say -- not one word about homosexuality -- I believe that when my partner dropped me and my kids off in front of my mother's house, He would have said to my partner, "Come on in. Have some dinner."
That's what I wish my mother had been willing to do. It will never happen now because my mother has passed away. I’ve gone from spending Christmas with my mother and without my partner to spending it with my partner and without my mother. The opportunity for me to spend Christmas -- or any time -- with the two most important women in my life in one room is gone.
None of this diminishes the love that I will always feel for my mother. I understand why she believed what she believed. I know that she loved me. And I know why she believed that the fact that she – rightfully – loved God even more compelled her to take her stand about including my partner in our holiday gatherings at her home. I also know that, over the years, she found the courage to question much of what she had been taught about homosexuality. She did not act out of stubborn refusal to grapple with questions that were tremendously difficult for her given her life-long indoctrination. She struggled with them. Given the time and place in which her religious beliefs were formed she made tremendous progress toward a more enlightened understanding of God’s radically inclusive love for all people. I am sure that the biggest difference between her journey toward that understanding and mine is that, as a same-gender-loving woman who is called by God to Christian ministry, I was compelled to start my journey at a much earlier point in my life, so I’ve had more time to get there than she had. But she was definitely well on her way. She had come so far that I believe she would be pleased if my sharing this story helps another Christian parent of a child who is gay to take the step she didn’t have quite enough time to get ready to take.
I am grateful that my partner made it unnecessary for me to make a choice that would have hurt my mother. Not having to choose to hurt one or the other of them, on Christmas Day, was a precious gift.
If you are reading this, it’s not too late for you to give your son or daughter that gift. You don't have to understand his or her intimate relationship. You don't have to approve. Just hear this: Jesus clearly never saw spending time in the company of “sinners” and “undesirables” as condoning their behavior. Even He did not see Himself as too “holy” to hang out with them. So you, too, can be kind to your gay children and their partners without “condoning” anything you believe to be wrong. You can just love your child, and be open to the possibility of growing to love someone else who loves your child. It is not too late for you to give him or her that precious gift. Christmas is coming. Invite your child -- and his or her partner -- to come on in and have some dinner. Do that, because, -- in your heart -- you must know that Jesus would. Just be like Jesus. He is, after all, the One whose birth we will celebrate.
Raised in a fundamentalist church environment, Rev. Marilyn Bowens speaks from the experience of her successful quest for spiritual peace as a same-gender-loving woman. A former attorney and professor of Constitutional Law, Rev. Bowens is a dually ordained minister of the Metropolitan Community Church and The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries. Rev. Bowens lives in New Haven, Connecticut. She continues to minister to LGBT Christians, and is a 2011 recipient of the Dorothy Award for service to her LGBT community. Ready to Answer: Why “Homophobic Church” is an Oxymoron is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Author House website.