Coming Out To Your Conservative Christian Parents? Some Advice From An Evangelical Pastor

Your news might be a bitter pill for them to swallow, but this is a conversation that you must have.

01/07/2017 01:13 pm ET | Updated Jan 08, 2017
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It’s time to sit down with your parents and share something deeply personal - something that’s intimately tied to your future, your hopes, your community.  Just about everything in your life is touched by this.

But mom and dad have an understanding of God that might lead them to reject you on some level, because that’s what they believe God wants them to do...

...which is ironic.

No faithful follower would argue that to be Christian is to attempt to live as Jesus did.  But that guy condemned only one group of people - the holier-than-thou, self-righteous ilk who made it their business to reject others “in the name of God.” 

He had strong words for this group, even a threat or two.

The founder of your parent’s religion traveled around the 1st century Judean outskirts rounding up everyone the religious elite had rejected, delivered the not-so-politically-correct news that they were acceptable to God, then unleashed them into the world to turn it on its head.

If Jesus were here today, there would be lots of gay people in his entourage, which means that there will also be lots of gay people in heaven, so much so that the religious elite might prefer the other place. 

One of the fundamental messages of the Bible, especially the New Testament, is that God has nothing but open arms for you. Unfortunately, as so many pastors in the U.S. are coming to realize, conservative religious people have been historically adept at losing this plot, especially as it applies to the Gay community.  Your news might be a bitter pill for them to swallow. 

But this is a conversation that you must have.  

I don’t know what it’s like to be you, but I do know what it’s like to be a religious conservative, and have spent the past 20 years or so deeply entrenched in the culture you’re getting ready to go up against.  

Following are some steps to consider as you move forward.  

Tell Your Story, and Demand that They Listen

We’re human - we relate to stories better than we do to news - especially if that news might come as a shock to us.  

Tell mom and Dad about your journey - not just the end part - the whole thing.  The more personal you get, the more apt they are to listen. 

It’s OK to practice a bit.  I don’t go into big encounters without rehearsing.  That might sound weird and a bit impersonal, but it helps to give me confidence, and to clarify the things that are most important.  

Tell them how you finally came to realize that you’re gay - talk about what it felt like.  Tell them about your friends, your community, your dreams for the future.  Talk about how scary it is to have this conversation with them.  When you’re done, let them know that you love them, that you want to be as close as you can.

Be prepared for any number of responses.  Your parents might be shocked, or confused.  Few of us show up the way we want to in moments like these.  They might shut you down, or try to convince you that you’re not Gay, that you’re going to hell, etc.

As wrong as it would be for your parents to respond this way, it might happen. 

Instead of lashing out, getting defensive, or retaliating, demand that they deal with the impact that their response is having on you.  Tell them calmly and respectfully that they’re hurting you.  If they get defensive, simply repeat yourself until they understand that they’re causing you pain.  Most religious folk will ultimately get to a place where they’re ready to listen.

If they decide not to listen, remind them that you love them, but respectfully excuse yourself until they’re ready to respond differently. 

Take Shame off the Table

The last thing you need to feel when you meet with your parents is that there’s something wrong with you.  

In my experience, most religious people who view homosexuality as something that needs to be stamped out have some deep emotional/spiritual issues that have nothing to do with someone’s orientation.  I’ve worked for years with people like this.  They’re not healthy folk.  They live with a sense of shame that permeates everything, including their religion. 

They’re typically people who’ve faced significant rejection in their own lives but never managed to reconcile, heal, or move on.  People who live with this level of shame can’t help but pass it to others, especially to the people closest to them.

So have some compassion and some confidence.  You’re not the problem.  

You have every right to tell your story, share the news, and put the ball squarely in their court.  Make eye contact, don’t giggle or squirm - carry yourself like someone articulating the most important news of their life.  Allow some awkward silence, let it sink in. 

And be respectful.  I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like to be respected. 

But in the end remember - if your parents are truly Christian, their job is to accept you, consider you equal, and move forward with love and a deep desire to be close. 

Help Your Parents to be More Like Jesus

If your parents don’t hold an affirming position, they’ll probably recite a few scriptures, and you’ll be left feeling rejected, even if they hug you and bring out the milk and cookies.  Or worse, they might disown you, treat you like a “sinner,” or some other brand of bigoted behavior.

At this point you’ll have two options - retaliation or forgiveness. 

Nobody would blame you if you decide to retaliate, but remember that nothing will eat your soul faster than unforgiveness.  I have friends in their 50’s who are still hating on their parents.  It’s not working for them.

A friend of mine recently came out to her Evangelical parents, who weren’t happy to get the news, but refused to disengage.  Of course, this hasn’t been easy on my friend, but she’s also refused to disengage, continuing to pursue their relationship, awkward and strained as it may be.

She’s an extraordinary person, partly because when life gets hard she responds in extraordinary ways.  Choosing not to hate her parents, to walk with them, give them time to process/re-think things, and forgive them when things get difficult has changed her, made her stronger, more at peace.

And because she’s decided to stay in relationship with mom and dad, they’re compelled to deal with one of the most fundamental tenets of Biblical Christianity - followers of Jesus are to reject nobody, to accept everyone as they are, to let them be different, love them without condition, and consider them equals.  I’d wager that her parents are dealing with this on a personally unprecedented level.

All because my friend made the decision to act like the guy her parents are trying to follow.  

You may never convince your parents to embrace a more affirming view of homosexuality, but you can leverage the fundamentals of Christianity, which might push them over the edge, into a fuller, much more risky expression of their own faith.

While that will yield a spiritual benefit for your parents, for you it’ll feel a bit like retaliation, which makes it even better.  

Sally Forth

There’s no way to do this perfectly.  Religious folk can be tough to deal with on a number of issues, especially this one.  And because you love your parents, your encounter with them will be charged with emotion as you wait on pins and needles for their response.  Will they love you?  Reject you?  Disown you?

Many from my camp would call you a hero for even considering such an encounter, much less doing it in a way that respects your parents and your orientation.

Take your time, talk to some friends, consult a few more resources, practice a bit, then enter this arena.  Regardless of the outcome, you’ll be stronger, less likely to let anyone influence your self esteem - ultimately more skilled at the lost art of finding peace in the toughest of places.

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