An Open Letter to Homophobic Christian Parents

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 typical, traditional condemning rhetoric about homosexuality, I can probably speak for her or him. He or she is probably in the same pain that I’m in.

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, we realized that we were lesbian or gay. And at whatever point we found the courage to tell you, or you began to suspect, or however you found out, you did an immediate 180, and now you tell us we are an abomination, and our place in Hell is guaranteed.

And you base these pronouncements on what? On, maybe, six scriptures that mention homosexual behavior in negative, prohibitive ways. Have you ever read those scriptures critically, meaning, in their complete contexts? Did you know, for example, that one of them is part of a code of conduct specifically addressed to Israeli rabbis of that day? Did you know that there’s a whole list of prohibitions there, besides the one about gay sex? Like the one that says its forbidden to wear an outfit made out of more than one kind of cloth. How many of you good, devout Christians wear polyester to church? Have you ever wondered why a prohibition in one verse should be interpreted as an absolute mandate, for all people, for all times, while, without the slightest pang of your consciences, you violate the mandates in the verses immediately before and after that one every day?

Then there’s your all-time favorite: the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Is it just remotely possible, do you think, that the great sins for which those cities were destroyed might have been the peoples’ complete disregard for God and their fellow human beings, as evidenced by their intent to commit rape? Have you ever cracked open a book that explains about the culture of that time? Did you know that inhospitality was considered one of the very worst sins? So isn’t it possible that their horrendous treatment of strangers in their midst, rather than gay sex, was what God found so offensive? (Not to mention the fact that these particular strangers were angels sent directly by God.) Does the fact that Lot offered to throw his virgin daughters to that mob to be raped, and is described as the righteous one in this story, suggest to you that, maybe, it’s appropriate to read it with some consciousness that some of its content ought to be seen as belonging in a different time and place? Do you ever read scriptures that pertain to the same subject in conjunction with each other for a fuller understanding? Did you know, for example, that in Ezekiel 16:49 the “sin of Sodom” was identified as “pride, laziness, and too much food, while the poor and needy suffered”? (Nope, not a word about homosexuality.) Did you know that several scriptures refer to these sins, sins of failure to love and care for others, as being “worse than the sin of Sodom”?

The most fundamentalist among you pride yourselves on taking the whole Bible literally. How many of you are women? How many of you participate in your church services? How many of you are men who attend churches where women actively participate? You do know, I assume, that Paul (one of your favorite gay-bashers) said, “Let your women keep silent in the churches.” How do you get around that one? I can see only one way. You must not take it literally. You must interpret it in context. You must be willing to look at who wrote it, to whom, when, and why. That’s the only way to conclude, as you apparently have, that though its literal meaning is unmistakably clear, that statement doesn’t really apply to you, today.

By now, I’ve probably lost a lot of you, so let me hurry to a subject that all Christians love – Christ. Jesus Christ. That is who the “C-h-r-i-s-t” in “Christian” refers to, right? And to be Christian means to be like Jesus, to follow His teachings and example, right? That’s what makes your attitude so richly ironic. Are you so busy reading your six gay-bashing scriptures in isolation that you don’t read the Gospels? Jesus consistently reached out to the most reviled people with whom He came in contact. Didn’t you notice? The tax collector. The prostitute. The woman at the well. All of them and more. All of the people who were, in that day, viewed as you view lesbians and gays today – Godless, abominable, unworthy. And did you notice something else? Whenever Jesus was criticized for embracing these people in His love, he always rebuked those who criticized Him as judgmental, self-righteous hypocrites. (If you can’t say, “Amen,” say “Ouch!”)

If you’ve stuck with me this far, let me tell you why I’m writing this. I am a lesbian. I’m 44, and I’ve spent most of my adult life alone, as in, without a partner, raising my two sons. About a year-and-a-half ago, I met the woman I had prayed God would bring into my life. (Yes, I said prayed that God would bring into my life.) I am in love. I am happy. And I am grateful to God. She is just what I asked God for – a mature Christian woman who has accomplished what people like you make nearly impossible to accomplish – finding peace with both God and our lesbianism. Getting to that place where our sexuality and our spirituality can peacefully co-exist within us, and in our lives. Among the many valuable, and invaluable, things that we share, we share our love for God. We are Christians. And we are partners for life. If you don’t quite get what I mean by that, think husband or wife. We are, to each other, everything that those words represent to you. (Let me clarify that – I mean the 50% of you who actually stay married.)

Last Christmas was our first together as partners. And my partner was not permitted to go with me to celebrate with my mother, sisters, nieces and nephews in my childhood home. And you know what? That hurt, but I could have handled that, probably without being driven to my computer to try to exorcise that pain. I had planned to stay here – in our home – and share Christmas with my partner and our children (her two adult daughters; my two teen-aged sons). To be totally honest, I would have felt some sadness. I know that because I felt it on Thanksgiving, when I was absent from the rest of my family because my partner couldn’t go to my mother’s house with me then, either. But I handled it, and I would have again.

Then I got this call from my mother. And she wanted me and my sons at her house for Christmas. All of my sisters would be there. All of their children would be there. And it just wouldn’t be the same without me and my sons. My 76-year-old mother, whom I love in spite of everything, fussed and cried and accused me of choosing my partner over her and the rest of my family, because I refused to be with them, without her. So I desperately searched for some kind of compromise. I offered to bring the boys 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 like “condoning” our relationship, and she couldn’t do that, especially with the children of the family in the house. She is so genuinely convinced that she is 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. And you know what? If it weren’t for my partner, I guess she’d be picking up the pieces of her heart right now. Because I still was not going.

Here’s what Mom doesn’t get: I love my partner. I live with her. We wake up together, run errands together, buy groceries and pay bills together, cook for each other, wash each other’s clothes, worship God in church together, love each other’s children as our own, take care of each other when one is sick, hold each other when one (or both) cries, save money together to ensure that whichever of us lives longer will continue to live well, explore and enjoy the transcendent joy of sex together, fall asleep in each other’s arms, and wake up together the next day. I live with her. In a very real sense, I live more fully and completely because of her. That is my reality. That is the truth. So after sharing and giving and receiving and being all that we are 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 is it to demand that I take my children and we leave her here to go spend that day where she is not welcome? For the first time in my 44 years, I told my mother, “No.”

But here’s the other 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 is my one and only mother. She reminded me that, at her age, you never 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 it would be better to go this time, and give my mother plenty of notice that I won’t go without my partner next Christmas, than to stay away and let her feel as badly as she would have felt. She said she didn’t want my mother to have a heavy heart on Christmas Day because of my absence. And she pointed out that giving in this time would buy us another year (we hope) in which my mother might have a change of heart before next Christmas. So my partner called her sister and arranged to spend Christmas with her, in the same city where I’d be. Just not in the same house.

So here’s what we’ve got: A few months ago, my partner spent her money buying special groceries and busted her behind fixing up our house to entertain my mother, like royalty, when she came for my son’s high school graduation. Mom, on the other hand, wouldn’t allow my partner, who has been nothing but good to Mom’s daughter and grandchildren, to sit at her table and eat dinner with her family on Christmas Day. Who was being more Christ-like? Mom, as the matriarch of my family-of-origin, deems my partner unworthy to be embraced and treated as part of our family because of “the nature” of our relationship — implicitly, by the way, judging me to be unworthy, too, since every fact upon which she bases her judgment of my partner is equally true of me. She was willing, apparently, to put that judgment aside for me because I happened to be born to her. No such dispensation was available to my partner. My partner, on the other hand, fully aware of my mother’s position toward her, convinced me to go to her home for Christmas, with my sons, and without her, so that my mother’s heart wouldn’t be heavy with our absence. Who was being more Christ-like? 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 tell me, honestly, who was being more like Christ? I keep asking myself, “If Jesus were the head of our family, sitting there at the head of the table last 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. That’s what your son or daughter probably wishes you would do. You don’t have to understand. You don’t have to approve. You don’t have to “condone.” Just love your child, and be open to the possibility of growing to love someone else who loves your child. And, next Christmas, give your son or daughter what Jesus will give him or her for Christmas (and every other day) — unconditional love. Just be like Jesus. He is, after all, the One whose birth we celebrate.